Sometimes the mixing of old and new can work well and the result can be quite beautiful, both enhancing the past and showcasing the new. One example of this is the south porch of St Peter’s Church in Ipswich. It has a 21st-century metal grille door set within a 15th-century stone and flint arch complete with Tudor roses.
The gates of gilded steel were made in 2008 by Paul Richardson (1967-). The work was commissioned by the Ipswich Hospital Band, when the church was deconsecrated and became a concert venue. If you look carefully you can see the two musical angels are partially constructed using metalwork from musical instruments. They also wear gowns patterned with the Tudor rose motif. I particular liked the golden fish weaving through the scrollwork waves, referencing St Peter as a fisherman and also the proximity to the nearby Ipswich Waterfront.
Sadly though not all the local medieval treasures of Ipswich have fared so well where redevelopment of the harbour waterside has seen a mushrooming of tall residential tower blocks. The new blocks have replaced drab, utilitarian warehouses, but the trouble with these new blocks is that they are much taller buildings and they dwarf the Old Customs House and the medieval churches nearby.
However, although the site of Quay Place from the north is no doubt nothing like the look and feel of its original 15th-century setting, the view from the east, as it lines up with St Peter’s is very pleasing. And, despite the fact that Key Street is now part of a busy one-way system, this is is one of my favourite views in Ipswich. (Sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.)
In the 1990s I lived in a village 20 minutes from Ipswich and every now and then I would drive into the town with my mother and my toddler daughter to visit the shops. Just off the Buttermarket was the newly built Buttermarket shopping centre that opened in 1992 and I remember visiting one of its main shops ‘Owen Owen’, a department store, now long gone.
The Buttermarket has been some kind of street since the 15th century, but by the 20th century it had become a shop-lined urban road with passing traffic and pavements for pedestrians. However, over the course of the last 25 years the Buttermarket has been completely pedestrianized with vehicular access being time-restricted and permitted for deliveries only. It has made it a quieter, cleaner and safer space for shoppers, but even before the year of Covid lockdowns the numbers of people visiting and shopping were on the slide.
Pedestrianization has been one tool in the box of tools urban planners and town councils have used to encourage visitors and shoppers to town centres. Along with the Buttermarket more recently, in 2010, the top of Queens Street at the junction with Princes Street was also pedestrianized and in the process Giles Circus was created. It has become a meeting point and the redevelopment has even included some trees.
In normal times this area has regular market stalls, but when I passed through last Thursday on the way to the bank all was very quiet indeed.
Hopefully, from 12 April onwards life and energy and bustle will return to the town centre even if some well-known retailers will no longer be reopening their shop doors.
Still, for the time being here is a charming bronze dog, Butch. He is part of ‘The Famous Giles Family’ sculpture erected in honour of ‘Giles’, the well-known cartoonist Ronald Carl Giles, who used to work in an office overlooking this road junction in Ipswich.
If you’ve not already seen the film ‘The Dig’ (currently available on Netflix) and would like to come to it fresh and with an open mind, then don’t read on.
Where to begin? The disciplines of archaeology and history are concerned with the substance and interpretation of the past, but interpretation of our past is not the preserve of the academic. This stuff, this substance of the past, provides material for the work of writers, artists and filmmakers to make their own reinterpretations as they create offerings that enrich our lives and entertain us.
However, there is a confidence bordering on audaciousness in taking past events, particularly people’s lives, and re-presenting them in a manner that distinctly departs from the factual, historical record. The question is how far does an interpreter go with invention to bring a history to life? Does it really matter if a film, that in no way suggests itself as documentary, changes the maturity and physicality of a central character. This is the primary difficulty for me with the film, ‘The Dig’. It is a film that retells the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial by Basil Brown and his working relationship with the landowner, Edith Pretty, who commissioned his excavations.
‘The Dig’ has made no claims for historical accuracy and itself is a film drama based on a historical novel (‘The Dig’, John Preston, 2007) which itself is a dramatised retelling of the actual events of the discovery of the ship burial in 1939. For example, in the novel a fictionalised RAF officer, Rory Lomax, photographs the dig replacing the original amateur photographers Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack, who were two visiting school teachers on holiday in the Woodbridge area during the excavations of September 1939.
Literary licence is sanctioned in historical fiction to bring a story to life and when a book is made into a film that licence is often expanded to accommodate other constraints such as, let’s say, a film’s marketability. The long held view from the film industry seems to be that for commercial success well-known stars are required. The brilliant casting of Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown (with the best Suffolk accent I’ve ever heard from a screen actor) is met with the odd casting of Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.
My response to the whole film is coloured by this choice. Casting Carey Mulligan (35 years old) as Edith Pretty (56 years old and unwell at the time of the excavations) was possibly a choice for marketability at the expense of any vague nod to the lives of the real people in this historical drama. The sidelining of twenty years of a woman’s life and experience is seemingly of no consequence. In fact this woman, Edith Pretty, had had an unusual life for her class and times; she had travelled extensively, married late at 43 years old and had her only son, Robert, at 47 years old. However, this (dialogue below) is how her full and colourful backstory is summarised in the film. Using one scene Mrs Lyons (the housekeeper and cook), describes Mrs Pretty’s life for the benefit of Mr Brown:
She’s only been here 12 year. Came down from Cheshire. Then she married the Colonel. He first met with Edith when she was still at school. And then on her 17th birthday he asked her to marry him. She turn him down. She say she can’t possibly leave her father. She care for her father another 13 year, until he died. She finally accepted the Colonel’s proposal. He’d been asking every year on her birthday. Just after they had Robert her husband went and died too. Imagine that.
Mrs Lyons, Cook & Housekeeper. Film ‘The Dig’, 2021.
During the course of the film there were also a couple of scenes where Edith Pretty experiences episodes of illness and a trip to a London physician for her to receive a diagnosis of serious heart disease. The film gave no indication of her previous adventurous life at all and sadly, all the melancholic staring across the Suffolk landscape together with make-up to both age and make Ms Mulligan look poorly, still did not make her interpretation a believable Edith Pretty. Perhaps actors such as Saskia Reeves (59), Helen McCrory (52) or Tamsin Greig (54) could have brought some depth and drive to the role of Edith. This was after all a woman who had visited excavations in the Nile Valley, served with the French Red Cross at Vitry le Francois in 1917, became one of the first women magistrates and turned down a marriage proposal over 25 times.
If filmmakers are going to paint a watercolour of a central character rather than give us the oil painting and thus alter the dynamics at the centre of a story why not just make a different film. This film is based on the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial where the word ‘based’ is doing the heavy lifting, particularly where the female characters are concerned.
The best part of the film was the gorgeous shots of Suffolk’s coastal waterways. The most surprising and unexpectedly disappointing aspect of the film was there was no grand reveal at the very end showing the treasure found on the Anglo-Saxon boat which is now on display at the British Museum thanks to the generous gift of Edith Pretty.
The last time the Beast from the East visited Suffolk was back in late February 2018. I remember it clearly as I live on a hill, on a residential street that never sees the gritters. Vexingly, early on the morning of the initial heavy snow I was one of the first residents who had to drive down the treacherous road on my way to a 7.45 am appointment for an MRI scan at the hospital. I had been grateful that I was parked facing down the hill. It was an unpleasant and tricky few minutes behind the wheel.
This time the Beast from the East has turned up courtesy of Storm Darcy. It arrived as I walked down early on Sunday morning to pop in to see my father and drop off his Sunday newspaper. The arrival of a snowstorm and the subsequent whitening of the town does unite the disparate untidiness of the urban view, but it could hardly be called picturesque.
By the time I had walked back home my backyard was covered. I don’t consider it looks particularly picturesque either, and by Tuesday it simply looked comical.
It’s now Thursday afternoon and still the temperature hasn’t risen above freezing today even though it’s sunshine and blue skies, but at least it isn’t as cold as Braemar’s -23 Centigrade!!!!
Tomorrow Netflix is showing ‘The Dig’, a film featuring the discovery of the early seventh-century, Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The original dig was begun on 20th June 1938 when the owner of Tranmer House and Estate, Edith Pretty, invited a local, gifted yet amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the earth mounds on her property. The film stars Ralph Fiennes (incidentally born in Ipswich) as Basil Brown and Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.
The following year, in September 1939, the ship burial and inhumation were discovered and found to be intact as the excavation proceeded.
When Basil Brown began digging Mound One he had no idea that the excavation would turn into one of the most dramatic events in British Archaeology.
The discovery of the ship burial and a magnificent collection of grave goods is considered to be one of the most significant finds of Anglo-Saxon art to date in Europe.
In a startling symbolic composition, a snake body provides the protective rim across the crown. Its beady garnet eyes and gaping mouth meet the beak of a fierce bird, whose wings make the eye-brows, whose body forms the nose and whose tail forms the moustache of the implacable human armoured face.
Martin Carver, ‘Sutton Hoo Burial Ground of Kings?'(1998)
Since 1997 the site at Sutton Hoo has belonged to the National Trust and is open to the public. Recently, in August 2019 a £4 million Visitor Centre was opened to mark the 80th year anniversary of the discovery. The site now includes a cafe/restaurant and shop joining the purpose-built High Hall, exhibition space.
Last September, when Covid restrictions eased and visitors were allowed inside public spaces, my daughter and I went for a look. Of course, she remembered her first visit when we came down from Norwich in 2005 and it had been much, much quieter.
After walking round the mounds we queued briefly, donned masks and signed in (Covid protocol) to see inside Mrs Pretty’s home, Tranmer House.
Only parts of the ground floor were open and the space where 15 years ago my daughter and I enjoyed a delightful and memorable retelling of Beowulf (with puppets), is now a small exhibition space. A few photographs of Edith Pretty’s life and many photographs of the 1939 dig are on display.
Before leaving, we noticed the queue for the High Hall had disappeared so following the same mask and signing-in routine we entered the exhibition to be greeted by a representation of an Anglo-Saxon, highborn warrior swooping down from the ceiling.
As you progress through the exhibition many of the exhibits are high quality replicas such as the complete helmet of bronze, silver and tin by Ivor Lawton. There are a few early finds from Mound 17 (the warrior horseman and horse burial site) on display. These are similar to some of the artefacts excavated from Mound One.
A look round Tranmer House and the displays in High Hall are interesting, but all the significant finds are in the British Museum in London. However, that’s not really the point of visiting Sutton Hoo. It is about experiencing the site, knowing the history and seeing the strange Burial Mounds set within the Suffolk countryside.
As I write only the estate walks are open due to the current lockdown restrictions.
Last Saturday, we had blue skies with winter sun in Ipswich from dawn to dusk and despite the temperatures hovering all day around freezing, plenty of people visited the local parks for their permitted exercise. I was walking through the park as the sun began to set and stepped away from the busy paths to stand for 10 minutes to capture the sun doing down.
You can see there were both family groups and joggers making circuits of the pond,
and also plenty of dog walkers too, but everyone began to rapidly vacate the park as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Nobody wants to be locked in by mistake in these freezing temperatures.
When I got home and scrolled through the pictures I liked the ‘through the big old trees’ shot so much I am now using it for the background on my phone. Even though it’s a winter scene and the trees are dark and towering, there is a warming glow (much more noticeable on my phone than it appears here) which I find genuinely uplifting each time I open the phone. For me this is an example of the usually insignificant aspects of daily life that have become those brief pleasures helping many of us get through these grim days.
The first person I know to get the Covid vaccine has been my father. I took him to the GP’s surgery this afternoon and the whole process ran very smoothly. All the staff and nurses were pleasant and kind. The ‘Covid Vaccine Clinic’ was well organised especially considering the need to keep the elderly folk, many with walking sticks or wheelchairs, the appropriate two metres apart. And, of course, it was masks for everybody.
After the nurse ran through the usual health questions with my father I asked her how many people they’d vaccinated so far. She said they had been allocated a batch of 900 doses and had already vaccinated over 600 elderly Ipswich residents this week.
As you probably have already heard in the news everybody has to sit and wait for a further 15 minutes after the jab. This is a precaution in case of an adverse allergic reaction. It soon became obvious that waiting for 15 minutes was more bothersome for some people than the actually jab, but helpfully they were all given a Covid Vaccination information leaflet to help pass the time.
Back in July of this year the builders of ‘The Hold’ completed their part of the project and handed over the keys to Paul West, the Suffolk County Councillor with responsibility for heritage. On receiving the keys Mr West commented, “We can get on with fitting out and that’s a two to three month project. Then we’ll have a sort of phased opening over the autumn. We hope to have an exhibition in November.” Well, as we all know November 2020 brought us another lockdown.
If you’re not from Ipswich or Suffolk, you are probably wondering what on earth is ‘The Hold’. The answer is, it is the new, purpose-built complex that will house the Suffolk County Archive.
I have followed this project with interest since 2017 when, firstly and sadly, I noticed some large trees were being chopped down. Then a smart black fence of boards was erected securing the site and carrying a display of information about the development.
Over the past 18 months I have been taking the odd photograph as the buildings started to take shape. The Hold is situated on the edge of the University of Suffolk complex and is close to the Ipswich Waterfront. It has been mostly erected on part of the university car park, it was a pity about the trees though.
Originally this £20 million project was scheduled to open around Easter 2020 no doubt with a special, civic event, however that date passed in the middle of the first lockdown and ‘The Hold’ finally opened in October.
It may have taken an extra six months to complete, but the finished building looks interesting and inviting and I look forward to visiting in normal times.
Shall I just begin with saying that I find it disappointing to be writing about ChristmasDay in November, but this year the issue of the ‘Corona Christmas’ is all over the media. You can’t switch on the news, pick up a paper or scroll down your social media feed without being bombarded with headlines and commentary on what could be the situation come the 25th December and what rules may be in place. There is plenty of speculation, but mostly it looks like it’s going to be a numbers waiting game for the government before plans are announced.
Whatever the authorities decide the Covid vaccination programme will not be up and running to any significant extent for us ordinary folk. Individually it will come down to how risk averse people feel about spending hours indoors with relatives and friends. Of course there are alternative possibilities, you could meet up for a festive walk somewhere beautiful or failing that reach for your screens for a zoom Christmas catch-up or even postpone the whole Christmassy thing until February, March, April . . . . or even Christmas 2021.
Regardless of our personal choices at least here in Ipswich the usual Town Centre and Waterfront Christmas trees have been installed. On my way home last night after checking in the weekly supermarket order for my father, I noticed the Waterfront Christmas tree was lit and twinkling.
There was a slightly strange moment when the colours changed through the blues to turquoise, on to the pinks and then the top bauble beneath the star turned red and, to me anyway, it had an eerie resemblance to models of a certain virus!
If you’ve been following the news much during this first week of lockdown 2.0, you might have seen or heard that traffic levels in various parts of the country haven’t reduced as they did during the first lockdown. Obviously, the main difference this time is that the schools have stayed open and many children are driven to school. However, when I walked down to see my father on Sunday morning it was very much quieter than usual.
It was so quiet at this normally busy junction in Ipswich that I was able to capture this damp autumn street view. Not a single car in sight. Disappointingly though, by the time I arrived at my father’s flat, the early mist had almost lifted. This was a pity as my photograph would have been greatly improved if the bulk of the hulk had been shrouded instead of spotlit by the morning sun.
It was just a quick picture from his balcony as even though I wear a mask and the door is open for fresh air, I try not to stay too long in his flat, just in case.
Speedy visits are not the only changes to my walks down to the Waterfront. Back on 29th April this year, Suffolk County Council closed the Waterfront to vehicles, apparently for three weeks. This was to enable plenty of space for physical distancing for the 2,000 or so residents who live in the surrounding apartment blocks. Yes, the closure was for just three weeks! Knowing what we all know now it comes as no surprise that the road is still closed half a year later.
Here we are again. It is Day One of Lockdown 2.0. This second lockdown is in response to the rise of Covid 19 infections across England. And, what better time to take a walk in the local park.
For the next four weeks, and maybe or maybe not for longer, non-essential journeys to the beach or drives out to the countryside are not permitted and so, for town and city dwellers, the local parks will be the places to go for wide open spaces and greenery.
And Holywells Park in Ipswich has plenty of trees and a beautiful cascade of spring water ponds. It is a lovely park to stroll through.
The leaves are most certainly turning and some have already dropped, but there’s enough greenery to make the final stretch of my walk a dark and dramatic tunnel with light at the end, perhaps a metaphor for our times.