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Literary Suffolk

Opening like a
Book; unforthcoming and
Softer than Norfolk.

CJS

'....I became overwhelmed by the feeling that the Suffolk expanses I had walked the previous summer had now shrunk to a single, blind insensate spot.'

W.G. Sebald The Rings of Saturn

Photographs of locations can be seen in my Literary Suffolk Flickr album

 

 
Acton

The writer Ronald Blythe was born here in 1922 - the eldest of six children.
 
Aldeburgh

In the Shell Suffolk Guide Norman Scarfe describes it as 'an ugly, delightful little seaside town'.

The poet George Crabbe (1755-1832) lived here and was inspired to write the long poem The Borough which was published in 1810. The poem, written in heroic couplets, is composed of a series of 24 letters. The 22nd letter concerns Peter Grimes and became the blueprint for Benjamin Britten's opera. E.M. Forster said: 'remember Aldeburgh when you read this rather odd poet, for he belongs to the grim little place and through it to England'.

Ronald Blythe wrote The Time by the Sea (2013) which documents his time in the town from 1955-58 - when he moved in Britten's circle and was friendly with E.M. Forster.

Two of M.R. James' ghost stories are set in Aldeburgh: Rats and Vignette.

The beach famously features a giant clam shell - made by the artist Maggi Hambling which bears the inscription 'I hear those voices that will not be drowned' - which is a quote from Peter Grimes.

The ghost writer M.R. James was a regular visitor to the town and his family owned Wyndham House (situated just below the parish church).

Thomas Hardy stayed in the town on several occasions too.

 
Benacre Broad

This brackish broad lies just north of Covehithe on the Suffolk Coast. There is a delightful description of it in The Rings of Saturn.

Blaxhall

The oral historian George Ewart Evans (1909-88) moved to Blaxhall in 1948 when his wife became the headmistress at the village school. (The school is now a YHA.) And it was here that he started to talk to his neighbours and absorb the local history that would inspire his books - the first of which was Ask the Fellow Who Cut the Hay (1956). He left the village in1956 and moved to Brooke in Norfolk.

There is a small plaque attached to the village sign in Blaxhall to commemorate Ewart Evans.

 
Blundeston

In the novel by Charles Dickens, David Copperfield is born at the Rookery Blunderstone. It is not known whether Dickens actually visited Bunderston - but his did visit Great Yarmouth where much of the novel is set.

'I was born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, or "thereby" as they say in Scotland. I was a posthumous child. My father's eyes had closed upon the light of this world six months when mine opened on it. There is something strange to me even now, in the reflection that he never saw me; and something stranger yet is the shadowy remembrance that I have of my first childish associations with his white grave-stone in the churchyard, and the indefinable compassion I used to feel for it lying out alone there in the dark night, when our little parlour was warm and bright with fire and candle, and the doors of our house - were almost cruelly, it seemed to me sometimes - bolted and locked against it.'


W. G. Sebald passes Blundeston Prison in The Rings of Saturn.

The poet Thomas Gray was a vistor to the village.

 
Blythburgh

Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh dominates the marshes here - a great Perpendicular building with magnificent clerestory windows - which has inspired many painters and writers.

Features at the beginning of Unnatural Causes by P. D. James. The poetry loving Commander Adam Dalgliesh stops at the church. Baroness James had a holiday home in Suffolk and frequently set her Dalgliesh stories here.

There is a splendid poem by Peter Porter entitled An Angel in Blythburgh Church about one of the famous carved wooden angels.

Rodney Pybus, who lived in Sudbury, also wrote a poem about the Blythburgh angels entitled I Don't Believe in Angels which appears in Aidan Semmens' anthology of Suffolk poems By the North Sea.
 
 
Boulge

Boulge Hall was demolished in 1956 but was once owned by the FitzGerald family.

The poet Edward Fitzgerald is buried in the churchyard here. His epitaph is: 'It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves' A.C. Swinburne's friend Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) wrote a sonnet entitled Prayer to the Winds about the rose bushes planted by the grave. The roses were originally from the grave of Omar Khayyam at Naishapur.

W.G. Sebald visits the graveyard during his walking tour of Suffolk in The Rings of Saturn. He observes the 'hideous' FitzGerald family mausoleum - where Edward F chose not to be interred.

 
Bradfield St George

The novelist Angus Wilson (1913-1991) lived in a cottage here at the northern edge of Bradfield Woods. Wilson was also the co-founder of the Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglian with Malcolm Bradbury.


Bramford

Edward Fitzgerald often stayed here with his friend Edward Cowell - even after Cowell married Rev Charlesworth's daughter. (Bramford lies three miles west of Ipswich.)
 
Bredfield

Edward FitzGerald was born here at Bredfield House but it was demolished after it was damaged in WW2. W.G. Sebald visits the remains of the house during his tour of Suffolk in The Rings of Saturn.
Bungay

Bungay was home to the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) who was probably best known for her Cazalet's Chronicles. Her autobiography Slipstream dealt candidly with her marriages and various affarirs. She was originally married to the naturalist Sir Peter Scott and later to the novelist Kingsley Amis.

Bungay also has a strong connection with the legend of Black Shuck - the East Anglian hell hound - and there is an anonymous poem which records its attack on the parish church.

 
Bury St Edmunds

Charles Dickens visited the town on several occasions and stayed at the Angel Hotel. The hotel is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers. Room 215 still contains the four poster bed that Dickens slept in when he stayed.

Ruth Rendell's crime novel The Brimstone Wedding is set in Bury St Edmunds.

The rose garden in the Abbey Gardens was paid for by the sale of John Tate Appleby's book Suffolk Summer (1948) - which was an account of the county that he wote while he was stationed here during the final years of WW2.
 
Charsfield

Ronald Blythe moved here in the late 1950s and it inspired his famous book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village which was published in 1969. The book is the result of conversations that he had with the villagers here and, like fellow Suffolk writer George Ewart Evans, he sought to capture a life that was vanishing. However, George Ewart Evans criticised him because the characters did not speak in Suffolk dialect.

A film of the book was released in 1974 and was directed by Peter Hall.

 
Covehithe

The church here was dismantled in 1672 but the tower was retained as a sea-mark. J. S. Cotman painted a water-colour of the scene.

There is a lovely poem by Blake Morrison about the coastal erosion that is occurring rapidly here entitled simply: Covehithe. It is from his 2015 collection Shingle Street.

 
Deben, River

There is an unusual poem called The River Deben by Stevie Smith in which she imagines rowing up the river to Waldringfield accompanied by death.

Death sits in the boat with me
His face is shrouded but he smiles I see
The time is not yet, he will not come so readily.

 
Dunwich

Dunwich has inspired a good deal of poetry. The poet A. C Swinburne came here on a number of occasions in the 1870s with his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton and was prompted to write his long poem By the North Sea. (In this extract he dwells upon the graves which have become exposed by the action of the sea.)  He also wrote Where Dunwich Used to Be. All Saints Church used to stand as a ruin on the cliffs until it finally collapsed in 1914. Dunwich once had eight churches.

Another poem about the lost town is Dunwich by Bernard Barton.

W.G. Sebald visits Dunwich in The Rings of Saturn (1995). He devotes a lot of time to Dunwich and also provides biographical information about A.C. Swinburne. Sebald lived for many years in the old rectory in Poringland.

The poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) visited Dunwich in 1908 and wrote evocatively about it in a letter to his friend George Bottomley which begins: 'Oh Dunwich is beautiful.'

In 1722, Daniel Defoe visited Dunwich in his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. He noted: 'It is true, this town is manifestly decayed by the invasion of the waters......and the still encroaching ocean seems to threaten it with a fatal immersion in a few more years.'

From Dunwich he proceeds to Southwold.

There is another poem about Dunwich in Blake Morrison's collection Shingle Street.

 
Great Livermore

Was home to the famous ghost story writer M.R. James (1862-1936). Many of his stories are set in Suffolk. Whistle and I'll Come to You is set in Felixstowe and Aldeborough is the setting for Rats and Vignette.
 
Felixstowe

John Betjeman wrote a poem inspired by St John's church in the town entitled Felixstowe or the Last of Her Order.

Felixstowe is also the location for M R James' ghost story Oh Whistle And I'll Come to You my Lad. Felixstowe's Martello Tower also provides the location James'  A Warning to the Curious.
 
Framlingham

Poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (c 1517-1547) is buried here. (He was beheaded by Henry VIII.) Together with Sir Thomas Wyatt he pioneered the use of the sonnet in English.
 
Hollesley Bay

As a teenager Brendan Behan was imprisioned here and his experiences inspired his book Borstal Boy (1958). In particular, he succeeded in capturing the dialogue of his fellow inmates. He also enjoyed swims in the River Ore and harvesting fruit in the orchards. Behan had joined the IRA at the age of 16 and embarked on a mission to blow up Liverpool docks. He was arrested and found in possession of explosives.
 
Honington

The poet Robert Bloomfield was born here in 1766. There is a plaque inside the church. Honington Hall was also the holiday home of David Croft who was the producer, director and co-writer of the sitcom Dad's Army. The village was also used as a location for some of the scenes in the series.

 
Ipswich

The poet and novelist Jean Ingelow lived in the town and there is a plaque commemmorating her house. She wrote a beautiful poem about the River Waveney.

In Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller travel to Ipswich and stay in the The Great White Horse. Dickens himself once stayed at the hotel.

In 1722 on his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain - Daniel Defoe found the town decayed due to the drop of the coal trade between Newcastle and London.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard was educated at Ipswich Grammar School.

 
Kessingland

Henry Rider Haggard purchased a house here named The Grange in 1895 which he used as a place to write. Rudyard Kipling often visited him here.
The house has now been demolished.

 
Lavenham

During WW2 a young American serviceman was stationed at Lavenham Airfield and wrote a delightful portrait of the county called Suffolk Summer which was published in 1948. The airman's name was John Appleby and his book was an intimate account of his journeys by bicycle and bus during the final years of the conflict. However, the book was not directly about the war but about the buildings, landscape and people of Suffolk. Money from the sale of the book went towards establishing a rose garden in the Abbey Gardens at Bury St Edmunds.

De Vere House in Lavenham was used as the film location for Godric's Hollow - the fictional birthplace of Harry Potter.

 
Long Melford

The poet Edmund Blunden is buried here.
 
Lowestoft

W. G. Sebald stays at the Albion Hotel in Lowestoft on his journey through Norfolk and Suffolk in The Rings of Saturn (1998). His tour took place in August 1992. In the book there is a photograph of Lowestoft railway station.

Joseph Conrad disembarked here in 1878 - not speaking a word of English. The town's Wetherspoons is named after him.

 
Mellis

The nature writer Roger Deakin lived in a moated farm house here (Walnut Tree Farm). He is particularly remembered for his book on wild swimming entitled Waterlog (1999). In it, he travels round the country visiting wild swimming locations - recording them in his deightfully informative prose. He did much to promote the conservation of rivers and waterways.
 
Middleton

The critic, poet and translator Michael Hamburger is buried in the churchyard here. He lived in the village until his death in 2007. He appears (as himself) in W.G. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn. Sebald (or the narrator) visits him during his walking tour of Suffolk. Hamburger used to translate work by Bertolt Brecht, Rainer Maria Rilke and also by Sebald.

Hamburger was a fine poet and composed a memorable poem entitled: Winter Evenings, East Suffolk.
 
Orford

The novelist Maggie Haemmingway was born here in 1946. She is known for her novel The Bridge (1986) which is set in Walberswick. (The novel was also turned into a film set in Walberswick.)

In The Rings of Saturn W. G. Sebald comes here and climbs to the top of the castle to experience the view.

There is also a poem entitled Orford by Zoe Skoulding which begins:

The castle safe in its demesne
(an oyster cradling seed
pearls around a f(r)iction)
is ringed with small hills,
looks out, not in.

 
Orford Ness

Is a large shingle spit which is attached to the coast at Aldeburgh but then heads south to North Weir Point. This bleak stretch of the Suffolk coastline has inspired a number of writers including the poet Alun Lewis and Richard Cobbold.

Lewis wrote a poem while stationed here during WW2 entitled Dawn on the East Coast.

W.G.Sebald also came here in The Rings of Saturn and there are three photographs of the Ness in the book: one of a pontoon bridge and two of the WW2 bomb-testing buildings. He also startled a hare while he was here and there is a vivid description in the book.

Orford Ness is a strange shingle landscape littered with remnants from the war/cold war. There is also unexploded ordnance - so it is important to stick to the paths. The Orford Ness lighthouse stands perilously close to the sea and won't be around for much longer.

 
Oulton Broad

George Borrow moved into a cottage here in 1840. It was here that he wrote The Bible in Spain, Lavengro and Romany Rye. He used to write in the summer house of the cottage. The cottage no longer exists.

 
Pin Mill

Situated on the Orwell estuary - has inspired a number of writers including Arthur Ransome: We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (1937) and E Arnot Robertson's novel Ordinary Families (1933). In Ransome's book, the children get caught in a fog bank and then lose their anchor and drift out into the North Sea. The boat in the story is called The Goblin - which was based closely on his own cutter the Nancy Blackett. They end up sailing all the way to Flushing in the Netherlands. Secret Water is another Ransome book set on the River Orwell.

 
Polstead

The crime writer Ruth Rendell lived in a farmhouse here for many years. Her novel A Fatal Inversion is set in Polstead and Nayland. Polstead is the place where the infamous Murder in the Red Barn occurred - so provides a fitting location for one of the queens of crime writing.

Redisham

The novelist Adrian Bell moved here from Stradishall. Redisham was fictionalised in the novels as Grunsham Magna.

 
Rendham

George Crabbe began to write The Borough here in 1801.
 
Saint Cross, South Elmham

The poet Elizabeth Smarth is buried here. She was closely associated with George Barker who lived for many years at Itteringham in Norfolk.


Seckford Hall

Near Woodbridge was an inspiration for Enid Blyton.
 
Shingle Street

Blake Morrison's 2015 collection of poems is named after this village which lies at the mouth of Orford Ness between Orford and Bawdsey. The first poem in the collection is entitled The Ballad of Shingle Street and begins:

On Shingle Street
The summer's sweet,

W.G. Sebald also visited in The Rings of Saturn describing it as: 'The most abandoned spot in the entire region....which now consists of just one wretched row of humble houses and cottages.'

The author of the Shell Guide to Suffolk, Norman Scarfe, once lived at Shingle Street.

 
Sizewell

Provided the inspiration for P.D James' Devices and Desires. There are also two poems about Sizewell - written by Andy Brown and Deryn Rees-Jones (Midnight Beach at Sizewell B) which appear in the Suffolk poetry anthology entitled By the North Sea (2013).

 
Somerleyton

W.G. Sebald gets off the train here on his way to Lowestoft in The Rings of Saturn. He visits Somerleyton Hall and observes the bizarre minature railway in action.

I worked at the Calf at Foot Dairy here and wrote the following poem: At the Pace of Cattle.

 
Southwold

When Daniel Defoe visited the town in 1722 during his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain he was impressed by the church which he described,as: 'well built, and of impenetrable flint'.

George Orwell (aka Eric Arthur Blair) lived here with his family at Montague House on the High Street from 1932 to 1941. (His sister ran a tea room in the town.) Orwell didn't enjoy the genteel society of Southwold though. Orwell's novel The Clergyman's Daughter (1935) is set in the fictional Suffolk village of Knype Hill. The novel, which Orwell was never entirely happy with, concerns a clergyman's daughter who suffers from amnesia. Orwell took his penname from the Suffolk river.



In The Rings of Saturn W.G. Sebald visits the Sailor's Reading Room which is his favourite place in the town. He also sits on Gunhill Green.

Crime writer P.D. James lived in Southwold for many years. Southwold is also a key location in her Children of Men.

 
Stradishall

Adrian Bell abandoned a career in journalism to come here and learn how to be a farmer. He would go on to write a trilogy of books about Suffolk: Corduroy (1930), Silver Ley (1931) and The Cherry Tree (1932). His novels were not best sellers but he evoked country life with unerring accuracy.
 
 
Sutton Hoo

Located on the banks of the River Deben, this is one of the most important Anglo Saxon burial sites in the country. Most notably, it contained the remains of an undisturbed ship burial dating from the early 7th century and an amazing ceremonial helmet. The site was first excavated in 1939.

There are a number of (Heaneyesque) poems about Sutton Hoo - including Hauling a Boat (Sutton Hoo) by Aidan Semmens and a lovely sequence entitled Little Egypt by Pauline Stanier. (Little Egypt is the local name for Sutton Hoo.)

It wasn't the pull of the tide I felt,
but the pull of men
raising the funeral-ship on the far shore;

The old English poem Beowulf also evokes something of the world of Sutton Hoo.
 
Sweffling

George Crabbe was rector here. There is also a sonnet about the churchyard written by John Cowper Powys entitled Sonnet Written in Sweffling Churchyard.

 
Thelnetham

John Middleton Murry, the author and farmer, is buried here.
 
Walberswick

Maggie Hemmingway's novel The Bridge (1986) is set in Walberswick. It concerns the love affair between the painter Philip Wilson Steer and a young woman and was based, in turn, upon Steer's famous painting of the same name. Set in the summer 1887 - it is a tale of forbidden love. Hemmingway was born at Orford in 1946. 

Virginia Woolf and Edward Thomas were both visitors.

There is an old rhyme which mentions the town:

Swoul and Dunwich and Walderswick
All go in at one lousie creek.


 
Waveney, River

The Waveney provides the border between Norfolk and Suffolk for a considerable distance. There is a delightful poem about the river written by Jean Ingelow River Waveney.
 
Woodbridge

Edward Fitzgerald used to lodge on Market Hill in the town. He liked the company of his 'Woobridge Wits'. He later moved to a property on the edge of the town known as 'The Laird of Little Grange' and Tennyson visited him here.

The River Deben, which flows through Woodbridge, was the isnpiration for a poem by Stevie Smith. (See River Deben)

W.G. Sebald stays at the Bull Inn during his tour of the county in The Rings of Saturn.

 
Yoxford

In The Rings of Saturn W. G. Sebald gets off the bus here before heading up the Roman Road towards Harleston.
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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