You’re thinking of coming to Suffolk, so we thought we’d edify and educate you a bit about our wonderful county. Then, when you’re on your way, you’ll be able to amaze your family and friends with your inside knowledge.
Now, just so you’re paying attention, there are three untruths in our article. Can you guess which ones they are? Answers are at the bottom.
1. The name Suffolk means ‘southern folk’ and comes from the Angles who settled here in the 5th century and created East Anglia with Norfolk, who were – duh! – the northern folk.
2. From the 14th to the 17th century, Suffolk was one of the most prosperous counties in the country thanks to its cloth-weaving industry. Its legacy remains in the ‘Wool Towns’ such as Lavenham, Clare (pictured), Long Melford and Hadleigh.
3. You’ll find marram grass on dunes along the Suffolk coast, especially at Kessingland, Southwold South Beach and Walberswick. It’s to be encouraged as its deep roots fight against sand erosion by high and rough tides. Marram is Old Norse for sea (marr) and straw or reed (halmr).
4. The Norman Framlingham Castle was where Mary Tudor was staying when she heard she’d been proclaimed England’s first queen. More recently, Ed Sheeran sang about the English Heritage site in ‘The Castle on the Hill’.
5. Hoxne (pronounced Hoxon) is where England’s first patron saint, King Edmund of East Anglia, was captured by Vikings, shot with arrows and beheaded. The head was found later, guarded by a wolf, and when put back with the body the two fused together, clearly a miracle. He is remembered at Bury St Edmunds’ cathedral and Abbey Gardens and St Edmund’s Day is on November 20 when flags are flown.
6. Hoxne’s other claim to fame is the 1992 discovery of a huge hoard of late Roman gold and silver, the largest of its kind to have been found in Britain.
7. Suffolk has two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Suffolk Heaths and Coast around Dunwich and RSPB Minsmere (pictured), and Dedham Vale, also known as ‘Constable Country’ for the renowned landscape painter who was born nearby.
8. Grade I listed Flatford Mill, now run by the National Trust, was built in 1733 and owned by John Constable’s father. It is notable for appearances in Constable’s work, particularly The Hay Wain (1821).
9. Another famous painter, Thomas Gainsborough, has had his boyhood home at Sudbury turned into an eponymous museum. A recent transformation has given it the largest exhibition space in Suffolk.
10. Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk, claims to be ‘the oldest English town’.
11. The highest point of Suffolk is Great Wood Hill, with an elevation of 128 metres (420ft). It’s near the villages of Rede and Chedburgh and is the top of the Newmarket Ridge, 40 miles long which stretches from Hertford to Sudbury.
12. A traditional nickname for people from Suffolk is ‘Suffolk Fair-Maids’, referring to the beauty of its female inhabitants in the Middle Ages. Another is ‘Silly Suffolker’, which isn’t about being dim-witted but is instead a derivative of the Old English word saelig which means ‘blessed’, referring to the long history of Christianity in the county.
13. The most easterly point in the UK is Ness Point, Lowestoft. Nearby, Birds Eye has its largest UK factory, where all its meat products and frozen vegetables are processed. It’s also where the fish finger was invented in 1952!
14. Founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the annual Aldeburgh Festival, one of the UK’s major classical music festivals, is actually held at Snape Maltings.
15. Made by Crosse and Blackwell in the village of Branston, Staffordshire since 1922, Branston Pickle is now mixed and bottled in Bury St Edmunds, made with the same secret recipe and traditional methods.
16. Ipswich Town is the county’s only professional football team. They play at Portman Road, are nicknamed The Tractor Boys, and when they play Norwich City it’s called The Old Farm Derby (you see what they did there? Celtic-Rangers – Old Firm Derby). Their crest includes the Suffolk Punch, named for a local version of the Punch and Judy seaside story.
17. The author of 1984 and Animal Farm is really named Eric Blair, not George Orwell. He took the pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty, described in his first book Down and Out in Paris and London. He chose George as the patron saint of England and Orwell from the Suffolk river which he loved to visit.
18. The most significant archaeological find in Suffolk was turned into the Netflix film The Dig, starring Ralph Fiennes. The story was based on the unearthing of an Anglo Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge containing a ship and treasure belonging to King Raedwald.
19. Bernard Matthews has production facilities in the county, not least Holton near Halesworth where turkeys are reared with breadcrumbs on their skin, rather than feathers. They have also developed an added-value three-legged turkey for an extra drumstick, although nobody knows what they taste like – nobody has caught one yet.
20. Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle’s 2019 romantic comedy Yesterday was filmed throughout Suffolk, including at Halesworth (pictured), Dunwich, Shingle Street, Ramsholt and at the Latitude Festival.
21. Newmarket is in Suffolk despite almost all its border being contiguous with Cambridgeshire. In fact, one of Newmarket’s two racecourses is in the other county. The tiny corridor that connects the world-famous home of horseracing with Suffolk is so thin that one side of the A14 is inside Suffolk and the other isn’t! So if you drive from Bury St Edmunds to Newmarket you don’t leave Suffolk, but when you drive back you go through Cambridgeshire.
22. Suffolk has a strong claim to be the home of the legendary Black Shuck, a huge black dog with flaming red eyes. According to Abraham Fleming’s 1577 pamphlet ‘A strange and terrible wunder’ the dog, ‘or the divil in such a likeness’, killed two people in St Mary’s church in Bungay and later the same day burst into Blythburgh Church – during a thunderstorm – and killed more people. There are still ‘scorch’ marks on the church door, referred to as the ‘devil’s fingerprints’.
23. National newspaper cartoonist Carl Giles has a bronze statue of his character ‘Grandma’ in Ipswich town centre. Nearby is the 5th century Ancient House, notable for its fine example of pargeting, a decorative façade.
24. The most important American air bases outside the USA are in Suffolk – Mildenhall and Lakenheath, where more than 10,000 service people are stationed.
25. You’ll notice many old buildings painted ‘Suffolk pink’. The colour dates from the 14th century when local dyers added natural substances to the traditional limewash including sloe juice, elderberries, and pig and ox blood.
26. Grade II listed Southwold Lighthouse, built in 1889, is one of only two working lighthouses in Suffolk but the only one you can take a tour of! It’s with Adnams Brewery Tours and you get a pint of beer at the end.
27. You’ll think you’ve stepped into a fantasy world at Thorpeness, a holiday village of mock Tudor villas, the House in the Clouds (a red house on top of a water tower) and a shallow mere where you can row to fairyland isles that were all named by the Peter Pan creator JM Barrie, who used to visit the resort’s creator Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie.
28. Visit Orford Castle, built by Henry I, and discover the story of a wild merman who was caught in the nets of fishermen in the early 13th century and imprisoned until finally let back out to sea. According to Cistercian monk and diarist Ralph of Coggeshall, the merman never spoke ‘even when suspended by his feet and tortured’.
29. If you’re in Rendlesham Woods, watch out for the Shug Monkey, a fantastical beast that’s part muscular bear, part enormous ape. One witness, in the 1960s, said she stared at the beast in horror as it shimmered and then shifted its shape to become a winged gargoyle, taking flight into the darkness.
30. There’s also a UFO Trail at Rendlesham following a 1980 incident, dubbed ‘Britain’s Roswell’, when US servicemen on patrol from RAF Woodbridge saw bright lights descend into the woods. They witnessed a glowing object that was metallic in appearance with coloured lights but as they approached, the lights zoomed off and animals in a nearby farm ‘went into a frenzy’. No explanation has ever been found.
How did you get on? Did you spot the made up ‘facts’. They were 13 – Ness Point is true but the fish finger was invented in Bird’s Eye’s factory at Great Yarmouth. 16 – Ipswich Town’s Punch on their logo is a Suffolk Punch horse, not the wife beater puppet. 19 – Bernard Matthews does have a factory at Holton but doesn’t rear breadcrumbed turkeys or fowl with three legs. Well done if you got them!
Enjoy your visit to Suffolk!