REVIEWS

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Laurie Forsyth reviews a newly published book about the Suffolk Sandlings.

We live in a world where there are layers upon layers of ghosts. People, communities, events, landscapes and ways of life flourish and then vanish into the past. Continuity is short-lived, but change is unending, and the Suffolk we know and understand today will fade into history and become as elusive as all the other Suffolks that have come and gone.

Valerie Fenwick and Vic Harrup are joint authors of Untold Tales from the Suffolk Sandlings. It is an unusual title for a history book, but this is an unusual book, because it uses a lot of material from manuscripts and other ancient records that has never been published before. Untold Tales tells us about a part of the Sandlings within the ‘Triangle’ formed by Woodbridge, Orford and Bawdsey: its focal point is Butley.

Geology and climate have always shaped the distinctive character of the Triangle: the sandy, heathy tracts are the result of underlying Crag sands. Acid, arid and prone to ‘blow’, the light soils nevertheless underpinned centuries of exceptional prosperity in the past, stemming from sheep that produced wool, milk and cheese – and also fertiliser. Sheep grazed 3,000 acres of heathland by day, and skillful overnight ‘folding’ in the arable fields greatly increased soil fertility.

The powerhouse of the region was Butley Priory, with its large estates, enormous wealth and influence that extended beyond the Sandlings. Ranulph Glanville founded the Priory in 1171, and until the dissolution in 1538 the buildings and its community of Augustinian ordained priests dominated the whole area. The Priory was self-sufficient in its needs, with a large staff running the farms, estates and woodlands, and providing food and other essentials.

Carter, cooper, slaughterman, horseman, candlemaker, boatman, laundress, swinekeeper, baker, warrener and many other vital medieval trades are listed against the names of over 60 people in the final inventory of the Priory household in 1538. One of them was Richard Denny, who worked in the pantry and buttery, and the book hints that his sudden wealth after the Dossolution was due to his filching wines and catering from the Priory, with circumstantial evidence that he also stole the silver refectory plate, crucifixes, spoons, a chalice and other valuables from the Priory.

This story came to light solely because the authors dug deep, and unearthed a single sheet of paper relating to a case before the Court of Star Chamber some 470 years ago. There are many such untold tales running through the pages, and the athors have selected enticing titles for their chapters that encourage you to dip in and out of the book as you wish.

Who can resist chapters headed The Fateful Marriage, The Wily Lawyer, Two Widows Wronged, Pastimes for the Men, and Story from a Gravestone? Not me. There are 20 chapters, scores of old maps and photographs, reproductions of paintings, and many handy bite-sized panels of additional information scattered through the chapters.

Untold Tales from the Suffolk Sandlings is a major advance in our understanding of people, events, and places in a small corner of Suffolk that was once important and very prosperous. The book looks and feels good in the hand, and it is good. In fact, it is excellent.

You can buy it in hardback at £25 from Waterstones and local bookshops throughout the Suffolk Sandlings.

Helen Macleod. Village Voices, the local newsletter for Hollesley, Boyton,
Capel and Shingle Street

This major beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated hardback book has been published just in time for Christmas and will make an ideal present for anyone interested in the Sandlings and its historical background. Valerie Fenwick and Vic Harrup are local historians whose names and work over many years will be known to our readers. They have delved into old manuscripts, talked to elderly residents and extensively researched the area.

The book tells the story of the past glories of Butley Abbey, Sudbourne and Rendlesham estates, the buildings and the people who lived in them. Orford castle and town and smaller places like Alderton, Boyton and Wantisden all have a story to tell. Fascinating insights are revealed of the lives of the rich landowners, but also of their servants and ordinary people. There are the histories of the mills and old pubs and many anecdotes and stories are found in easy-to-read text boxes within the pages bringing the reader right down through the centuries to the present day.

Staverton, The Clumps, the greens, Burrow Hill, Butley oysters, the marshes are all here. The story is told of Boyton fine clay and later the Coprolite rush, farmers and craftsmen, even the smugglers. The churches and especially the chapels of the area give an insight into their importance in years gone by.

You can keep this book by you for reference, or dip into it to read a few anecdotes at any time. The authors are to be congratulated that their hard work over many years has culminated in such a splendid book of  ‘Untold Tales’, many told for the first time, which make fascinating reading for readers of  Village Voices.

Local Historian, Norman Scarfe

Read his comment here