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The expert's view: Great Suffolk buildings

PUBLISHED: 12:39 24 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:26 20 February 2013

The expert's view: Great Suffolk buildings

The expert's view: Great Suffolk buildings

Anna Forrest, National Trust curator for the East of England, chooses her favourite buildings in Suffolk

Anna Forrest, National Trust curator for the East of England, chooses her favourite buildings in Suffolk




Thorington Hall, near Stoke by Nayland


This large farm house is in the Dedham Vale my favourite part of Suffolk. As soon as I walked through the door I was smitten, and intrigued by the fact that very little was known about it. A programme of research has untangled the buildings history from 1550 to 1730 and weve discovered that its interiors were once decorated in highly fashionable colours and patterns all long since covered up. It feels like a benign house despite the large number of decorative features which were placed there to ward off evil spirits. It boasts a beautifully carved Jacobean staircase and an incredible chimney, acting as a landmark and as a powerful status symbol in its day.


(Owned by the NT, but occupied by tenants, and open to the visitors once a year on Heritage Open weekend).



The Guildhall, Deanery Tower and St Marys Church, Hadleigh


Im cheating with this group of three buildings, but what a fabulous trio! The Deanery Tower dates to 1485 and was intended as the gateway to a fabulous palace planned by Archdeacon Pykenham. The similarities between the Tower and Oxburgh Halls gatehouse in Norfolk (1482) are striking, and it would be nice to think that the same craftsmen were involved. A spire on a Suffolk church is very unusual; St Marys soars to 135 feet, and you can only wonder at how they built it in the 14th century. The group is completed by the Guildhall, which the wonderfullynamed Hadleigh Market Feoffment has owned since 1438. I grew up in Hadleigh and was married in this church, so apart from the architectural significance of these buildings there is a very personal reason for my love of them.



St Mary the Virgin, Wissington


I came across this church when I was writing my Masters dissertation. It is located in a beautiful but pretty isolated spot, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end when I went in it for the first time. It was built in the 11th century and, Victorian improvements aside, its interior is still tangibly ancient and such an atmospheric place.


It has a very good surviving Norman chancel arch, but above all it is the medieval wall paintings that are so remarkable. They date to c.1280 and the complete cycle is still just about visible.


It is rivalled in my affections by St Marys, Thornham Parva, which contains one of the most significant items of medieval art (the wonderful retable) and its difficult to choose between them!



The Willis Building, Ipswich


As a piece of ground-breaking architecture, this deserves to be on this list. It is hard to believe that it was built in the early 1970s it really hasnt dated. It was one of Sir Norman Fosters first experiments with glass wall construction, which has now become his signature (e.g. The Gherkin in London). It looks great lit up at night, but I like the way the smoked glass shows the reflections of the surrounding buildings during the day. It is a sharp contrast with the neighbouring 18th century Unitarian Meeting House (also Grade 1 listed).


When it was given its Grade 1 listing in 1991, it was the newest building ever to have been awarded such a status.



The Great Gate, Bury St Edmunds


When I walk beneath this gate, I say to myself, Think what this building has seen. The history and sense of permanence, that it embodies is quite something.


It has stood looking out over the town since c.1330, a witness to 700 years of history, and long outliving the Abbey it was designed to serve. Yet most of us just wander through it without thinking, en route to the Abbey Gardens. It is a really exquisite example of the Decorated Style of medieval architecture, with wonderful tracery, 6-pointed stars and 4- petalled flowers.

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