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Suffolk: Widdershins

Updated: Apr 27

Where is Suffolk?

In our thirteenth and fortieth episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Suffolk-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Leiston Abbey

Leiston Abbey is one of Suffolk’s most impressive monastic ruins and has some spectacular architectural features. It was founded in 1182 by Ranulf de Glanville, Henry II’s Chief Justiciar, and was dedicated to St Mary. 

In about 1363 the abbey was moved away from what was evidently a rather unhealthy location on swampy ground, and rebuilt on its present site. The old abbey was dismantled for building materials (though a fragment of it can still be seen) and as a result the 14th century abbey incorporates some Norman features.

Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, oversaw the rebuilding of the abbey on a much larger scale than the original and included several new chapels.

The outside walls were finished with fine chequerwork, while the windows had delicate Perpendicular-style tracery. The abbey was home to Augustinian canons who followed the Premonstratensian rule. Their domestic buildings were damaged by fire in the 1380s and rebuilt.

After the suppression the king bestowed the abbey on his brother-in-law Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. A farmhouse was built into the corner of the nave and north transept and the abbey ruins were used as farm buildings, the church itself being used as a barn.

A new front was added to the house in the Georgian period and it is currently owned by music school Pro Corda. The Lady Chapel was also restored and furnished in 1918.

Bury St Edmunds Abbey

Located in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, the abbey was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. Its remains are extensive and include the complete 14th-century Great Gate and Norman Tower, as well as the impressive ruins and altered west front of the immense church.

The relics of the martyred Anglo-Saxon king St Edmund, whose remains were moved to this site in 903, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. The abbey itself was founded in 1020 and grew in power and wealth up until its suppression in 1539.

Helmingham Hall

Helmingham Hall is a moated manor house in Helmingham, Suffolk, England. It was begun by John Tollemache in 1480 and has been owned by the Tollemache family ever since. The house is built around a courtyard in typical late medieval/Tudor style. The house is listed Grade I on the National Heritage List for England, and its park and formal gardens are also Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

The present Helmingham Hall may have been initially constructed in 1510 on the site of an earlier house called Creke Hall. The exterior was altered between 1745 and 1760, again in 1800 by John Nash, and in 1840. The original half-timbered walls have been concealed by brick and tiles.[3] The house is surrounded by a moat 60 feet wide, over which it is reached only by two working drawbridges, which have been pulled up every night since 1510.

Suffolk Kitchel


50g unsalted butter

500g of your favourite dried fruit

200g ground almonds

2 tsp mixed spice

Some golden caster sugar

Puff pastry

A little egg wash or milk if you prefer


Warm the butter in a thick bottomed pan or melt in a bowl in the microwave if you prefer.

Take off the heat and add the fruit, the almonds and the mixed spice.

Mix well then cover with cling film and allow to cool.

Roll your puff pastry out into squares, I like 15cm x 15cm but the size is up to you.

Put a generous amount of the filling on one half of the puff pastry but leave a 1cm gap around the outside.

Brush the gap with egg wash and fold the pastry over to make a triangle.

Seal the edges by pressing gently with your fingers. Egg wash the top of the kitchel and then with a sharp knife score three lines across the top.

Sprinkle the top with golden caster sugar and bake in an oven at 200 degrees C until golden brown (usually 25 – 30 minutes but every oven is different)

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Make a big mug of tea, grab a kitchel and enjoy a traditional Suffolk working persons lunch!

Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Horse, also historically known as the Suffolk Punch or Suffolk Sorrel, is an English breed of draught horse. The first part of the name is from the county of Suffolk in East Anglia, and the word "Punch" is an old English word for a short stout person. It is a heavy draught horse which is always chestnut in colour, traditionally spelled "chesnut". Suffolk Punches are known as good doers, and tend to have energetic gaits.

The breed was developed in the early 16th century, and remains similar in phenotype to its founding stock. The Suffolk Punch was developed for farm work, and gained popularity during the early 20th century. However, as agriculture became increasingly mechanised, the breed fell out of favour, particularly from the middle part of the century, and almost disappeared completely. The breed's status is listed as critical by the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The breed pulled artillery and non-motorised commercial vans and buses, as well as being used for farm work. It was also exported to other countries to upgrade local equine stock. Today, they are used for draught work, forestry and advertising.

Devil's Stone, Bungay

One of the very few well-known stones of Suffolk stands in St. Mary's churchyard. Called variously the Druid's Stone, Devil's Stone or Giant's Grave, it was in folklore the scene of Druid rituals. Apart from being rather rough and mossy, it could at first glance be mistaken for just another gravestone, but it's actually an embedded granite glacial erratic 60cm x 30cm x 76cm high.

In the early 1920s it was referred to as a "fallen monolith", but was re-erected on its original site in about 1925.

One theory proposed it had been taken from the ruins of Bungay Castle for use as a headstone. The legend of the Druid's Stone says that after having danced about it, or knocked upon it, 12 times, young girls would place their ears against the stone to hear the answers to their questions or wishes. Another version states that children would dance around it 7 times on a certain day of the year, then wait for the Devil to appear.

Raedwald and Sutton Hoo

In June 1939, archaeologists painstakingly brushed away layers of sandy soil to reveal the shape of a ship beneath a mound. In the centre of the ship, they found a burial chamber full of the most extraordinary treasures. It turned out to be an Anglo-Saxon royal burial of incomparable richness, and would revolutionise the understanding of early England.

The objects in the burial chamber were designed to signal power on earth and in the hereafter. Each object tells a story and reveals something about the person they accompanied into the afterlife.

Weaponry such as a pattern-welded sword suggests a great war leader, a lyre evokes a musician and poet, the exquisite gold and garnet craftsmanship on many items represents a patron of the arts, whereas objects like the drinking horns speak of a generous host.

Items such as the shield are thought to have been diplomatic gifts from Scandinavia and speak of someone both well respected and highly connected. The shoulder clasps modelled on those worn by Roman emperors tell us of someone who borrowed from different cultures and power bases to assert their own authority.

Together, these treasures form a potent piece of power poetry, suggesting the burial of a king.

Roger Bigod and Framlingham Castle

from English Heritage

Framlingham Castle was built by the Bigods, a powerful Norman family in the 12th century. The first stone buildings at the site were probably the work of Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk (d.1177). But it was under his successor, Roger Bigod II (d.1221), that the huge stone curtain walls we see today were built.

Through the disgrace of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Framlingham came into the hands of Mary Tudor, elder daughter of Henry VIII, in 1552. It was around this time that the castle played a key role in a succession crisis.

Although the Catholic Princess Mary had been named Edward VI’s heir by their father, the young Edward attempted to bequeath the throne to the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. On Edward’s death on 6 July 1553, the Duke of Northumberland moved to secure the throne for Lady Jane, his daughter-in-law. Learning of Northumberland’s plans to capture her, Mary fled to Framlingham to gather her troops, arriving there on 12 July. Thousands of her supporters flocked to the castle.

It was while she was at the castle that Mary received the news that Northumberland had surrendered and she had been proclaimed England’s first ruling queen. One of her first acts as ruler was to restore the estates and dukedom to the Howards.

The Battle of Sole Bay

The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 by Willem van de Velde the Younger (an example of exactly the kind of painting Martin so dislikes...)

The Battle of Solebay was the opening battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672-74.

On the evening before, Admiral Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, urged the Duke of York to take the fleet to sea to avoid the risk of being surprised by the Dutch while at anchor on a lee shore in Solebay (Southwold Bay, Suffolk) on the English east coast.

The advice was not taken and the Dutch fleet, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, did appear and attacked Sandwich's unsupported squadron in the bay.

Sandwich, in the 'Royal James', 100 guns, was heavily engaged with the squadron of Admiral Van Ghent, who sent in two fireships. The 'Royal James' sank them both but a third fireship, commanded by Jan van de Rijn, grappled the English flagship and set her ablaze.

When she was engulfed by the flames Sandwich tried to escape by boat, but it was swamped by people who jumped into her with him and he was drowned.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness, a ten-mile long shingle spit on the Suffolk coast, is one of the most extraordinary places in Britain.

Its environment, part natural, part man-made, provides a perfect, and in places rare, habitat for an enormous variety of flora and fauna. But, more than that, for the greater part of the 20th century it was one of the most secret experimental military sites in the country.

Here, armed guards – not commonplace in Britain – discouraged outside interest as boffins worked to challenge and change the course of events, or we know not what.

Specialist, unique, structures were built to experiment, test and conceal; and then, it having been judged redundant, Orford Ness was abandoned.

Now, the gaunt relics of its clandestine past are scattered across its often bleak landscape, like fading signposts to our recent history, while the flourishing wildlife gets on with survival.

Rendlesham Forest

Often billed as the “British Roswell,” the Rendlesham Forest incident was an alleged UFO encounter that took place at this Suffolk site in December of 1980.

At the time, the location was a short distance from an American Air Force base, and the alien spacecraft was supposedly witnessed by a number of military personnel.

The Rendlesham Forest incident was a fairly well-documented episode. Details of the event spread like wildfire through the country, even though, according to an information board at the site, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is alleged to have said “Don’t tell the people.” It began with the sighting of strange lights moving around in the woods. Then some troops claimed to see the craft itself, described as a triangular shape with three legs.

Nowadays, Rendlesham Forest is a picturesque Suffolk woodland popular with families. The walk from the parking lot and visitor center to the UFO “landing” site is very pleasant, around 3 to 4 miles round trip.

George Crabbe

George Crabbe was born in 1754 in the village of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England. He apprenticed to a doctor at the age of 14 but left his village and medical career in 1780 to pursue his literary interests in London.

With the help of Edmund Burke, Crabbe published The Library (1781) and became a clergyman.

Eleanor and Martin at the beach in Aldeburgh

Writing out of the Augustan tradition, he used primarily heroic couplets. In The Village (1783), he eschewed idealized visions of pastoral life and portrayed the hardships of rural poverty.

His poem The Borough (1810) included realistic descriptions of characters in a village. His other collections of poetry include The Newspaper (1785), Tales in Verse (1812), and Tales of the Hall (1819).

Benjamin Britten and The Red House

In 1957, classical composer Benjamin Britten moved with his partner and muse, the English tenor Peter Pears, to a secluded farmhouse located on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in coastal Suffolk.

The couple immediately fell in love with the bucolic setting and the tranquillity of the spot away from the hustle and bustle of the sea-front.

That’s why they decided to spend the next two decades there until Benjamin Britten’s death in 1976.

Learn about the Red House and its archive here:

The Green Children of Woolpit

The legend of the Green Children of Woolpit starts during the reign of King Stephen, in a rather tumultuous time in England’s history called ‘The Anarchy‘ in the mid 12th century.

Woolpit (or in Old English, wulf-pytt) is an ancient village in Suffolk named after – as one might gather from it’s name – an old pit for catching wolves! Next to this wolf pit in around 1150, a group of villagers came across two young children with green skin, apparently speaking gibberish and acting nervously.

According to writings at the time by Ralph of Coggeshall, the children were subsequently taken to the nearby home of Sir Richard de Calne where he offered them food but they repeatedly refused to eat. This continued for some days until the children came across some green beans in Richard de Calne’s garden which they ate straight out of the ground.

It is thought that the children lived with Richard de Calne for some years, where he was able to slowly convert them over to normal food. According to the writings of the day, this change in diet led to the children losing their green complexion.

Katie and Eleanor in rehearsals for their show about the tale.

The children also slowly learnt to speak English, and once fluent were asked where they had come from and why their skin was once green. They replied with:

“We are inhabitants of the land of St. Martin, who is regarded with peculiar veneration in the country which gave us birth.”

“We are ignorant [of how we arrived here]; we only remember this, that on a certain day, when we were feeding our father’s flocks in the fields, we heard a great sound, such as we are now accustomed to hear at St. Edmund’s, when the bells are chiming; and whilst listening to the sound in admiration, we became on a sudden, as it were, entranced, and found ourselves among you in the fields where you were reaping.”

“The sun does not rise upon our countrymen; our land is little cheered by its beams; we are contented with that twilight, which, among you, precedes the sun-rise, or follows the sunset. Moreover, a certain luminous country is seen, not far distant from ours, and divided from it by a very considerable river.”

Shortly after this revelation Richard de Calne took the children to be baptised in a local church, however the boy died soon afterwards through an unknown illness.

Black Shuck

Us during 2021 with the hellhound's clawmarks in the door of Blythburgh Church

Black Shuck is one of many ghostly black dogs recorded across the British Isles.

The sightings in Bungay and Blythburg are particularly famous accounts of the beast, and images of black sinister dogs have become part of the iconography of the area.

There are varying accounts of the Black Shuck's appearance, especially in size. According to reports, the beast varies in size and stature from that of simply a large dog to being the size of a calf or even a horse.

Sometimes Black Shuck is recorded as having appeared headless, and at other times as floating on a carpet of mist. However, it is generally described as about the size of a mastiff, with shaggy black fur and glowing red eyes.

Katie in the 2018 Rust & Stardust production of Black Shuck

St Botolph and the Marsh Demons of Iken

The church of St Botolph is one of around 60 which bear the saint's name and is one of Suffolk's hidden gems, a thatched church built on a bluff above the River Alde where the Saxon nobleman Botolph landed and was gifted land on which to build a monastery.

It was here that Botolph set about 'exorcising' the swamps of the "devils" that glowed in the night and filled those that lived close by with fear at what lay in waiting on the marshes.

from St Botolph's Church, Cambridge

Botolph and his brother Adolph lived in the seventh century and were sent away to be taught at a Benedictine Abbey in France - Adolph became a Dutch Bishop while Botolph returned to East Anglia to build his house of worship... and banish demons!

Martin as Penda of Mercia in Rust & Stardust's production of The Marsh Demons of Iken.

The Lost City of Dunwich

There were prehistoric people in Dunwich, and the Romans likely had a sea fort there.

Later, the chief town and the original see of the Anglo-Saxon bishops of the Kingdom of East Anglia was a place called Dommoc. King Sigeberht of the Angles brought Felix of Burgundy to Britain and elevated him to bishop here in 630.

For hundreds of years, it was believed that Dunwich was this ancient capital.

It was an important centre of religious patronage, and during the medieval period there were buildings for the Franciscan and Dominican orders as well as for the Knights Templar. In 1154, Dunwich had 19 churches, two monasteries, and two hospitals.

In 1282, Dunwich was the sixth-richest town in East Anglia, but the tide was beginning to turn for the town. Disastrous storms in the 1280s and then in the 1320s resulted in severe damage through the blocking of its harbour and the destruction of hundreds of houses and community buildings.

The Black Death in England (1348-49) added to the town’s woes and Dunwich continued to decline over subsequent decades, with erosion chipping away at what remained of the settlement, skilled labour leaving, and general economic decline all having a snowball effect which ensured it would never return to its past glory.

Despite a slight resurgence in its fortunes in the 15th century, Dunwich was a quarter of its peak size by 1602 and in 1832 it was declared a ‘rotten borough’.

All Saints Church finally tumbled into the sea in 1919, and bones from its graveyard still sometimes fall out of the cliff today. Eerily, too, a local legend has it that the sound of church bells can be heard emanating from beneath the waves...

The Westleton Witch Stone

St Peter’s, built around 1340, is a quaint, thatched church bereft of tower or spire, a peaceful place that harbours an incongruous secret: for a local tradition has it that the Devil himself lives below a small grating at the base of the wall to the right of the priest’s door and that if a particular ritual is observed, Old Nick will rattle his chains below ground.

In front of the Devil’s grating is the Witch’s Stone, a 14th century gravestone which has fallen and is flush with the ground – legend has it that grass will never grow over the stone and that if you use it as a base, you can summon Satan’s wrath by performing a simple ritual.

Place a handkerchief or a piece of straw in the grating and then run round the church three or seven times anti-clockwise but never look at the devil’s lair until you have finished the ritual – back at the Witch’s Stone, the item you’ve placed in the grating will have vanished or you’ll hear Satan rattling his iron chains from his underground home.

The Stowmarket Fairies

The whole of the Stowmarket Hundred is remarkable for fairy stories, ghost adventures, and other marvellous legends.

Fairies frequented several houses in Tavern Street about 80 to 100 years since. They never appeared as long as any one was about. People used to lie hid to see them, and some have seen them.

Once in particular by a wood-stack up near the brick-yard there was a large company of them dancing, singing, and playing music together. They were very small people, quite little creatures and very merry, but as soon as they saw anybody they all vanished away.

In the houses after they had fled on going upstairs sparks of fire as bright as stars used to appear under the feet of the persons who disturbed them...

The Wild Man of Orford

A strange myth from the 13th century still pervades Orford Castle. It stems from the writings of Ralph of Coggeshall who, in 1207, reported that: happened that the fishermen, fishing in the sea, caught in their nets a wild man, whom in their wonder they brought to the castellan.

Martin being wildly happy at Orford Castle

The ‘castellan’, or constable, went on to keep the poor ‘wild man’ in custody, probably at Orford Castle, ‘many days and nights’ and even tortured him. Our chronicler muses that ‘Whether this was a mortal man or some fish pretending to have human form, it is not easy to conclude’.

The mysterious prisoner eventually made his escape back to the sea.

His story is still remembered though, and his likeness is found on the font in Orford church.

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