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Martin Newell discoversthe existence of Frontier Man and other peculiarities in one of Suffolk's most unique villages
Long-term village trader and keen musician,Les gazes at me with pale blue eyes and tellsme emphatically, Peasenhall is a workingvillage. For Peasenhall, about six milesequidistant from the towns ofFramlingham, Halesworth and Saxmundham,business seems always to have been steady.Of Saxon origin, the linear village lies in a shallowvalley surrounded by pleasant and fecund farmland.
Peasenhalls economy was chiefly agricultural frommedieval times onwards and then, during the 19thcentury, came the international success of SmythsSeed Drill Works, which provided employment andbrought prosperity.Nowadays, however, Peasenhall is becoming knownfor a handful of established specialist shops.
If there isever to be an effective revolt against the rapine of thesupermarket giants, it is probably Suffolk which willbe at the forefront of proceedings. It was at nearbySaxmundham, after all, where the redoubtable LadyCaroline Cranbrook successfully saw off a bid to builda Tesco superstore.Les is the proprietor of Campaign and The Shed part-curiosity shop and part-furnishings emporium.
Campaign and The Shed also does a specialist line incarpet slippers and carpet bags both items madefrom actual cuts of Axminster carpets. Of bohemiandisposition and baby-boom vintage, Les was born justup the road, near Halesworth. Hes well worthlistening to upon the subject of village shops and thepeculiarities of his native county.Peasenhall, as Les points out, has a garage, convenience store-cum-post office, a butcher and a famous delicatessen. Emmetts ofPeasenhall has been trading from the same sitesince 1820.
To give you an idea of roughly howlong ago that was, George III was still justabout on the throne and over in Belgium,theyd barely finished sweeping up after theBattle of Waterloo. Four decades ago, theQueen Mum bestowed upon Emmetts a RoyalWarrant for the excellence of its ham.
Theshop today, also sports a brace of more recentaccolades from the metropolitan foodie set.Campaign and The Sheds laid-backproprietor, meanwhile, when asked if hethinks Peasenhall will become as popular withvisitors as Walberswick currently seems to be,ponders for a minute and says bemusedly,Well, people do come and wander round thethe village. I dont quite know why...
He says that people will drive a couple ofhundred miles at the weekend just to go toCreaseys, the butchers shop over the road.Emmetts attracts people from all over thecountry and abroad. I get people seeking meout, too, he adds.Here the story gets a little stranger. A lot ofmy market is with Frontier Man and FrontierWoman.At first I wonder if Les is pulling my leg.Then he picks up a refurbished camping stool,demonstrating how it folds into a tiny roll,whilst he explains about a strange breed ofretro-camper. Frontier Man, or FrontierWoman, will have a period tent, a period bedand will go camping in the middle of nowhere.And then, theyll want to buy all the old oillamps the whole gig. Les gestures at variousold artifacts either hanging up or arrayed uponhis shelves.Theyre not the sort of people whodassociate themselves with a club although,theyre often aware of each other. Theyre verykeen on finding the source of the Nile, forinstance, or even the Orwell. I get theGlamping crowd as well, he says, referringto the type of luxury campers, who favouryurts and exclusive locations over cub tentsand caravan parks.
Whichever way you look atit, Campaign and The Shed is replete withobjects of desire for exactly such people. Itseems to be thriving on it.
Just along the street, set back on a small green is The New Inn. This beautifullypreserved building isnt actually an inn at all,nor is it new, although it was during the latemedieval period. Restored a few years ago, itbelongs to the Landmark Trust charity, whichhires out the adjoining cottages for weekendlets. If timber beams, laths and flagged floorsare the sort of thing you like, then theres anembarrassment of riches for you here. Thebuildings main hall is often left unlocked sothat visitors may walk in and marvel at itshigh ceiling and timber construction.Equally interesting for me however, isPeasenhalls village hall, situated a fewhundred yards up the road. The AssemblyHall, to give it its proper name, is built inSwiss chalet-style and looks delightfullyincongruous like part of the set from TheSound of Music.It was built in 1888 by Josiah Smyth of theSeed Drill Works, who having returned from acontinental tour, had become fired up with apassion for all things alpine.
Those who preferthe medieval aspects of Suffolk may be slightlydismayed by the building. For me, however, itsa surrealistic treat which only adds to thevillages strange wealth of architecture. Insidethe hall is an old poster, which boasts that inaddition to Peasenhall, Smyths also had worksin Witham, Essex and in Paris.
Peasenhall has a brook, the Causeway, whichruns parallel to the main road through a longculvert. With a capriciousness typical of thearea, the brook sometimes runs and at othertimes, doesnt, so that the culvert is often dry.The village is also known for an unsolvedEdwardian murder of 1902 documented, overthe years, in a number of prurient accounts.Yet its not the most salient thing aboutPeasenhall. Up every lane and track, aroundhere, as Les at Campaign will tell you, seems tobe something interesting some secret labourof love or project carried on just for its ownsake. Such private eccentricity seems to be inthe general nature of this quietly defiantcorner of the world. If Les doesnt quiteunderstand why people come to wanderaround Peasenhall in their spare time, Ithink I do.