Suffolk: A County of Culture
Published: Saturday 1st Mar 2014
Written by: Betheny Ellis
Visitors will find an array of cultural treasures associated with Suffolk. From history and archaeology to music and art - some of the country’s most famous cultural icons hail from this beautiful county. Here’s a culture vulture’s guide to Suffolk.
Two of Britain’s most revered artists have strong connections with Suffolk. Eighteenth century portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, and his family home is now a museum housing the largest collection of his works to be found anywhere in the country. More of Gainsborough’s works can be found in nearby Ipswich at the Wolsey Art Gallery, part of Christchurch Mansion, which also boasts the largest collection of paintings by John Constable outside London. Known for his pastoral landscapes, Constable was also born in Suffolk at East Bergholt and plied his trade in the early 19th century. He painted his best known work - The Hay Wain - at Flatford Mill in Suffolk, now a National Trust property, where visitors can take in the buildings and pastures that have remained relatively unchanged since they were immortalised 200 years ago. Suffolk’s beauty continues to attract artists today and many places, such as Long Melford, Aldeburgh and Southwold, offer galleries of contemporary works.
Famous composer Benjamin Britten was born in the Suffolk town of Lowestoft and left an indelible mark on the county when he started the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 1948. Established as a key event on Suffolk’s cultural calendar, many of the concerts are held at nearby Snape Maltings, whose concert hall is world-renowned and plays host to a year-round programme of performances. To celebrate Britten’s connection with Aldeburgh, artist Maggi Hambling created the famous giant scallop shells sculpture on the town’s beach which has become an iconic Suffolk landmark. Another musical venue worth checking out is the Apex centre in Bury St Edmunds, which holds an impressive range of music and comedy events.
The Suffolk coast has connections with many well-known writers. George Orwell spent a lot of time in Southwold while W G Sebald based his best-known book Rings of Saturn on a walk along the Suffolk coast from Lowestoft to Bungay. Some our most respected naturalist writers, such as Ronald Blyth and Roger Deakin, lived in and were inspired by the Suffolk countryside. Both Southwold and Aldeburgh hold annual literary festivals, while the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival is also well-established.
There is no shortage of places of historical significance in Suffolk, but the most famous has to be Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge – the site of one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time. The finds from Anglo Saxon burial mounds unearthed on the banks of the River Deben have given experts a crucial insights into the lives of people living as far back as the 6th century. Now owned by the National Trust, visitors can see a life-size replica of the burial chamber of a warrior king, complete with his treasures. The magnificent Framlingham Castle will also be of interest to heritage buffs, as the stronghold where Mary Tudor took refuge before becoming Queen in 1552.
Theatre & Cinema
Thespians should head for the Grade I listed, Regency Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, the only working theatre in the National Trust’s portfolio of properties. The riverside Quay Theatre in Sudbury is also recommended, as are the Abbeygate arts cinema in Bury and the bijou Electric Picture Palace in Southwold, which holds a year-round programme of films.