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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Freston and Its Secrets

An old postcard of Freston Tower c.1900

Just a short distance from Woolverstone Hall and Pin Mill, two of my previous posts, lies the village of Freston. It's just four miles from Ipswich. It is famous for it's mysterious Tower but also something else which is quite shocking...

In the middle cottage of three named Latimer Cottages, in Freston, lived Mr and Mrs Chapman and their four children. On Tuesday 13 September 1910, the third child was taken ill. She had a temperature of 105°F, and over the next six days developed a cough which worsened.  She became delirious and suffered with diarrhoea and sickness. She died on 16 September. On the 21 September, the day after her funeral, her mother developed the same symptoms and died two days later. Mr Chapman, and a near neighbour who had nursed Mrs Chapman, both fell ill and died on 29 September.

This was the last outbreak of plague to occur in England and it is believed that this outbreak, along with two other later confirmed incidents between 1906 and 1918 in Shotley and Trimley, were the result of fleas from rats brought by shipping on the rivers Orwell and Stour which merge at the Shotley Gate peninsular.

That was a hundred years ago, but nearly five hundred years ago the Tower was built.  The purpose of this magnificent building is unclear although there are many theories including; a leisure house for the daughter of the owner, where she could participate in six different pass times (one for each floor) including astronomy from the top floor, a lookout tower against pirates, part of a pleasure garden and also, that it was built especially for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I's visit to Ipswich in 1579. 

View of the Tower from the river

Through dendochronology it has been found that Freston Tower was built between 1578 and 1579 by a local merchant Thomas Gooding. And the most likely explanation for the building was that it was a folly (built entirely for decoration and no specific purpose), if so, it would have been one of the first in the country.

When we visited the property on the Ipswich Heritage Open Weekend in 2012, there were volunteers on the ground floor who explained the history of the building and answered questions while we were waiting.

The stairs

Unfortunately, I can't remember the order of the floors as I had to take a quick snap when there was no-one around, which was quite difficult, so the pictures are in no specific order.

The guest bedroom

The master bedroom

The cosy living room. This was on the top floor.

The views from the top of the Tower are beathtaking.

Looking toward Ipswich

Looking toward Felixstowe

The Tower has been restored by the Landmark Trust and is available to hire for short breaks and holidays. It really is a charming, quaint and unusual place to stay, as you can see, is it has everything you need for a holiday.

The road from Ipswich to Freston winds along the river giving beautiful views of the boats, ships and the many birds which congregate along the the water's edge. The road also gives a close up view of the impressive the Orwell Bridge. The village used to have a lovely little pub The Boot, but unfortunately this has been closed for some time.

Freston Tower is available to hire for holidays from The Landmark Trust.
If you would like a walk near Ipswich, the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths website has a printable leaflet for a walk in this area called the Wherstead Explorer.

The Last Epidemic of Plague in England? Suffolk 1906-1918, Medical History 14, p63-74, David Van Zwanenberg

Woolverstone Hall

Woolverstone village, legend has it, got it's name when a Viking marauder named 'Wulf' sacrificed a maiden on a huge monolithic stone - Wulf-stone!

Woolverstone Hall

We visited Woolverstone Hall on the Ipswich Heritage Open Day in 2012.  It was built in 1776 for William Berners, a property developer from London, who requested it be built in a modern Palladian design. William Berners and his successors also invested in the village itself providing cottages with spacious gardens for his workers and even a holiday home for impoverished clergy.  In later years, the family were also responsible for many of the village's social functions, including the annual flower show and children's outings

When William Berners died, the house passed down to his son who built an obelisk in honour of his father.  The obelisk was burnt down by fire in 1943 and was so badly damaged that it was demolished using explosives.

The building remained in the possession of the Berners family until they sold it to Oxford University in 1937 where it stayed empty until the War Office took it over in 1939. After the war, London County Council leased the Hall in order to re-house the London Nautical School which became Woolverstone Boys Boarding School in 1959 and which closed in 1990.

Ipswich High School for Girls was relocated to Woolverstone Hall in 1992 and is still situated there today.

On our visit we were a little concerned to find a message on the door to the entrance to the underground passageways which reads:
'It's a cruel, cruel world to face on your own, 
Flesh turns to dust, as to dust turns bone, 
Was it really that wise to come here ALONE?'

Err yes! And it was rather spooky!

 There were lots of tunnels and dark, creepy rooms down there

 View from the first floor window

One of the most remarkable things that we saw was the weather vane, not unusual in itself, as you can see here, until you see the other part of the feature, the dial.

Downstairs in one of the rooms, which is now used as an office, is this dial which shows you the wind direction without you having to go outside. It may be totally unique. Fascinating!

There is B&B accomodation within the village at Maytrees
You can hire rooms at Woolverstone Hall for wedding receptions or events.
There is a river walk which takes you past Woolverstone Hall which begins at the Butt and Oyster Inn.  Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Pub AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Pub Walks provides a printable map and details.

The Suffolk Village Book, Suffolk Federations of Women's Institutes, 1991

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill

An old postcard of the Butt and Oyster

'...Pin Mill - where the weather beaten fishermen and daring smuggler meet in friendly intercourse, to relate their hair-breadth escapes and wonderful adventures, over a pipe and a jug, at the Butt and Oyster...' [1]

The hamlet of Pin Mill is reached through the village of Chelmondiston, (I was told when I interviewed a local bargeman for University Campus Suffolk, that the locals call it 'Cheldiston'). There is a narrow lane taking you down to the river Orwell and to the Butt and Oyster where there is a customer car park. Otherwise, you can park in the public car park, which stands about half way down the lane, when you can walk past the pretty cottages which nestle alongside the 'boaty' buildings to the water.

An old postcard (sent in 1914). Note; the wooden building to the right has since been demolished.
When doing the research for this historic pub I've come across so much amazing information for Pin Mill and the Butt and Oyster:
  •  The Butt and Oyster is reputed to be the Most Painted Pub in Britain
  • The author of children's adventure stories, Arthur Ransome, spent time at Alma Cottage (just up the road) and based two of his books; We didn't Mean to go to Sea and Secret Water here
  • Some scenes from the 1950 film Ha'Penny Breeze were filmed here
  • An episode of a BBC radio series, Country Magazine, was broadcast from the Butt and Oyster on Sunday 16 March 1951
  • In the 1920's, the tobacco company Churchman's located in nearby Ipswich, produced a card in advertisement of it's Counter Shag showing the bay window. (The picture used for this advertisement hangs above the fire in the bar.)
  • An episode of Lovejoy was filmed here in 1993
  • And, if all that's not enough, what about Hollywood celebrities dining here? In 2006, during filming of Cassandra's Dream, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell came here for lunch! 
The Butt and Oyster from the Orwell in Oct 2012

The Butt and Oyster and indeed, Pin Mill itself, is considered one of the most beautiful places in Suffolk and as such is very popular for visitors and for sailing, but in the past it was very much a working community.  Barges would have been seen going up and down the Orwell on their way to and from the Thames or collecting loads from the big ships which would anchor nearby at Butterman's Bay to come down to Ipswich.

The village of Chelmondiston and the hamlet of Pin Mill together were almost self sufficient, providing over time: a flour mill, a coal merchant, a forge, an undertaker, a boot maker, two grocers, three public houses, a physician and surgeon, a florist, a hairdresser, a saddler, a blacksmith, a butcher, a cycle repairers, a builder, a carpenter, a painter and a police station. But perhaps the most amusing, according to the Women's Institute, two carriers called 'Last' and 'Late'!

Of course, the main industry of the area is the building and maintenance of boats and the transfer of goods. It was a busy landing point for ship-borne cargo, and it was also a repair centre for the Thames Sailing Barges, there are still businesses in Pin Mill carrying on with the marine trade and there is a popular Sailing Club. A previous proprietor of the Butt and Oyster Inn was a Marine Store Dealer whilst later, the 'host' was 'renowned as a public singer of repute in Ipswich and a dealer in the antique'.[2]

View from the Bay Window in October 2013

The Inn is mentioned as early as 1553, when licensing laws began, and when it was issued with its first licence. The Admiralty Courts were held at the Butt and Oyster in 1546, 1549 and 1552 by the Water Bailiffs and Burgesses of the Port of Ipswich.  In 1610, an Admiralty Court was provided dinner and wine at the Butt and Oyster which was paid for by the Ipswich Corporation.

Low Tide September 2012
The area is also known for smuggling, which is interestingly noted in more than one book I have referred to, as an 'industry' rather than a 'crime'.  Will Laud, the smuggler and boyfriend of the local legend Margaret Catchpole, was said to have used the Butt and Oyster for these means.

Pin Mill is a beautiful hamlet mostly frequented by 'boaty' people, dog walkers and those taking in the magnificent view or a picturesque walk. We often visit the popular Butt and Oyster, it's just five miles from Ipswich and is a lovely old building with lots of charm and history and it's always busy, but don't let that put you off, the food here is excellent. It's part of the Deben Inns chain. If you just want to pop in for a drink, they serve continental style coffees, many types of tea, real ale and wines.

The Bar September 2012

Visit the Butt and Oyster any time of the year to take in the view and experience the ambiance. There is seating outside where you can watch the boats and take in the beautiful Suffolk coast in the summer months. Whereas, in the winter months, you can sit inside in the warm and look at the water from beside the cosy real fire. When you're sitting there, you can imagine, a few years ago watching artists, writers and photographers searching for inspiration, whilst go back a hundred or so years and imagine rubbing shoulders with the bargemen or even a smuggler or two.

If you are looking for walks near Ipswich, The National Trust provides details of a lovely walk round Pin Mill. Or have a look at Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Pub AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Pub Walks where you can find a downloadable for a walk which takes you past Woolverstone Hall with a printable map and details.
If you would like to stay in Pin Mill for a holiday or a break, Alma Cottage, once the home of Arthur Ransome, is available for hire on a weekly basis.

[1] History of Ipswich by G R Clark, 1830 (Inns of the Suffolk Coast by Leonard P Thompson 1946)
[2] Inns of the Suffolk Coast by Leonard P Thompson, 1946
Best Inns and Pubs in East Anglia, James Lawrence, 1988
Inns and Inn Signs of Norfolk and Suffolk, Alfred Hedges, 1976
The Suffolk Village Book, Suffolk Federations of Women's Institutes, 1991

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Ancient House, Ipswich

'There is, about the Ancient House in the Buttermarket, an atmosphere of incredible romance. Proud and serene it stands, not as an ageworn and pathetic relic of a bygone era, but as a jewel of antiquity in a baser setting of unbecoming modernity' 
wrote Philip Orwell in 1946. This applies as much today as it did then.

Postcard of the Ancient House in the Buttermarket c. 1920

The Ancient House in The Buttermarket also known as Sparrowe's House is perhaps the most famous building in Ipswich. You will frequently see it being photographed by tourists and locals alike. It is particularly remarkable because of its unique pargetting (decorative plaster work) especially below the four front oriel windows depicting four continents: Europe with a Gothic church, Asia with a mosque, Africa on a crocodile under a sunshade and America with a tobacco pipe.

I have always understood that there are only four continents depicted because Australasia and Antarctica hadn't been discovered at the time the pargetting was carried out (1660-1670). However, this is not the case. Australasia was discovered by Europeans in 1606 and the first English sighting was in 1622. The four continents were merely an interpretation of the world at that time; Australasia was taken as part of Asia until the late 18th century. So, don't let the guides tell you otherwise!

The Library
Sparrowe's House, as it is also known, is a 15th century grade I listed merchants house. Although the earliest reference of a building on the site dates back to the 14th century, the earliest surviving section was built by Sir Thomas Fastolf as his home some time before 1483 and it continued to be used as a dwelling up until the middle of the 19th century. As well as a family home, it has been occupied as a printers works, a subscription library (see postcard) and parts of it were leased out to an architect and a property developer. The building was used as an advertisement for Ipswich and was photographed frequently inside and out throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries for picture postcards when it was tenanted as a bookshop. In the early 19th century, it housed Madame Tussaud's travelling exhibition.

Stories of Ghosts, Tunnels and Kings

Being such an old building, it has witnessed quite a bit of history. The area of Ipswich in which it sits has seen much change in the years it has stood there. Before 1600 the area was a fish market which would have been extremely busy and very smelly and the first recorded resident on that site, George Copping,  rented the land for his fish stalls and later, then a successful merchant, placed the first house there. In 1601 the first of the Sparrowe family, William Sparrowe, took ownership of the property and by 1635 the fish market was removed in favour of butter, a much more pleasant smelling trade than fish. The Sparrowe family continued to enlarge and enhanced the building to what we see today. The street, however, wasn't named the Buttermarket until the mid 19th century, long after butter had actually been sold there. 

The building being so old has quite a magical feel to it and there have been numerous accounts of ghostly presences and sightings. Staff who worked at the bookshop in the middle of the last century refused to enter the attic after dark. Some of the staff of Lakeland Ltd who currently rent the property, talk of items being moved in the night and also of strange happenings and presences.

The Sparrowe family were Royalists, the beautiful gold pargetting depicting the Royal Coat of Arms for King Charles II in pride of place at the front and middle of the building reflects this. The family were also known to have owned a miniature of Mrs Jane Lane. I have a 1950's guide to Ipswich, which tells of the 'secret room', rediscovered in 1801. The story is that Mrs Jane Lane helped King Charles to escape from Boscobel House after the Battle of Worcester and that he supposedly hid in this chapel or 'priest hole' at some time during his journey from Worcester to Brighton. The likelihood that this actually happened has now been disproven and the Coat of Arms is likely a commemoration of the Kings visit to Ipswich in 1668.

The 'Secret Room', otherwise known as the Chapel or Priest Hole
So, for the tunnels. There were allegedly very deep and very haunted tunnels underneath the heart of Ipswich. This network of tunnels links the Ancient House to Fore Street, Christchurch Mansion and the Old Custom House. Part of the tunnels are reputed to have led to Alnesbourne Priory, three miles away, and this is the tunnel which King Charles supposedly took to flee undetected from the Ancient House. There were definitely tunnels and cellars under the Ancient House as in World War II the cellars were used as air raid shelters and were equipped with chemical toilets and a dartboard! However, evidence of all this was probably lost during renovations in 1984 to stop the building collapsing, over 260 tonnes of concrete were used to fill in the foundations.

The Ancient House was bought by Ipswich Borough Council in 1979 when it was near to collapsing. They restored it to its former glory and promised that Ipswich's most famous building would always be used for commercial purposes and therefore accessible to the public. It is currently occupied by Lakeland Limited, kitchen cookware suppliers.

'The Ancient House Ipswich', East Anglian Magazine, November 1946, Philip Orwell
The Buildings of England - Suffolk, Nicholas Pevsner
Ipswich, Ward Lock
Ipswich Street by Street, Carol Twinch