A Visit to South Folk and North Folk (Suffolk and Norfolk)

Posted on Nov 25, 2013 by


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Ipswich is grand, absolutely grand. Just don’t go on a Tuesday. It’s closed. The Tourist Board (which was open) said it was a pity we were not there when the Museum was open as it’s well worth a peek as is Christchurch Mansion which has a fine collection of paintings by Suffolk painters Constable and Gainsborough. Gnash Teeth. Oh well, never mind.

Ipswich has some nice old buildings. The Ancient House, parts of which date to the 1400s, is pretty amazing. Amazing it has survived too. It almost didn’t. Woodworm, rot and death-watch beetle all took their toll so foundations were underpinned, rot and infestations treated, floors strengthened, plasterwork restored and windows re-leaded. Two hundred and sixty tonnes of concrete and eleven tonnes of steel were used. Well worth it. Thank you Someone.

Walking from the town centre to the Docks – sorry Waterfront Marina – is a nightmare even with the benefit of a satnav but again, worth it. Yachts and fishing boats make Ipswich special even though a few developers upsticked and left a few skeletons behind. Never mind. They’ll be back. So will we.

On to Bury St. Edmunds where everything was open. Bury is lovely. Lovely enough to book two nights in a dinky little cottage attached to a brill pub. Bury is where the Duke of Gloucester – the ghastly brother of Henry V – died in suspicious circumstances (see Royal Hertfordshire Murders and Misdemeanours). While there, we tried to get into The Nutshell. No joy. Built in 1867, the tiny fifteen by seven foot Bar makes it the smallest pub in Britain (Guinness Book of Records).

On to Norwich. Well worth a visit in spite of Steve Coogan. He is to Norwich what John Betjeman is to Slough. Alan Partridge, the cruel, funny parody of a chat show presenter is cringe making perfection. What is it about Norwich and comedy? Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse, Eddie Izzard and Arthur Smith went to the University of East Anglia. Stephen Fry and Roger Lloyd Pack (‘Trigger’ from Only Fools and Horses, and ‘Owen’ in The Vicar of Dibley) live in Norfolk and don’t let Ruth Madoc’s Welsh accent deceive you. Gladys Pugh of Hi-de-Hi is a Norwich lass. The University is famous for its Creative Writing course founded in 1970 by Angus Wilson and Malcolm Bradbury. The Roll of Honour includes Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Tracey Chevalier and Rose Tremain.

Justifiably famous for its ancient Market, Norwich has many other jewels in its crown. One is Elm Hill in the lovely old Cathedral quarter. Famed for its cobbles, antique shops and quirky cafes Elm Hill is a photographer’s dream. In 2006, it had a starring role in Stardust, a Feel Good Factor film if ever there was one. In it, The Briton Arms, parts of which date from the 1300s, was magically transformed into The Slaughtered Prince guest house. A night shoot in the street involved three hundred extras. The story is about a blazing star crashing into the Magic Kingdom of Stormhold. The ‘star’ is a beautiful young woman who finds herself in mortal danger because she possesses secret powers which everyone wants a piece of. A young villager needs a fallen star to win over his girl friend; a witch needs one to gain eternal youth and a prince wants his father’s throne.

Norwich Castle, Museum and Art Gallery is pretty special too. Hard to single out the highlights but one has to be the awesome dioramas in The Ted Ellis Norfolk Room which Mr Ellis, Keeper of Natural History at the museum, and his colleague Frank Leney created in the 1930s. What a legacy. When they opened to the public they were the finest in Europe. Ground breaking then, they are just as astonishing today.

Ted Ellis, the driving force behind the dioramas, even modelled the wax flowers and berries himself. Frank Leney’s books, guides and exhibition catalogues on the Museum are collector’s Items. Ernest Whatley, Owen Paul Smyth and Horace Tuck painted the backdrops. Smyth, who painted stage scenery, worked with actors such as Sir John Gielgud at the Old Vic in London before joining the Army during World War II. Because of his artistic background, he was put in the camouflage division. Tuck, a Vice-Principal of the Norwich School of Art, was a landscape artist more used to painting small watercolours.

Damien Hirst’s shark, sheep and cow brought him £215 million despite the fact they are not really ‘his’. He says he is not ‘hands on’ because he ‘can’t be arsed’ so employs a team of assistants. Leaving the dioramas you can’t help but wonder how much the virtuoso taxidermists earned. Brian Sewell, the art critic, said of Hirst’s dead animals: ‘I don’t think of it as art … It is no more interesting than a stuffed pike over a pub door. Indeed there may well be more art in a stuffed pike than a dead sheep’. There is most certainly more art inside these glass cases than ever was inside those of Hirst. A heart felt thank you to Mr Ellis in Naturalist Heaven for creating his dioramas and to David Waterhouse, the present curator, who looks after them so that townies such as us who never get up close and personal to nature can marvel at it without spending cold soggy days in freezing hides.

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