Southwold and Dunwich

Southwold is a lovely coastal town I have visited before but never fully explored. So when a family holiday was proposed, I looked forward to finding out some details and obviouly some photos.
Southwold was mentioned in Domesday Book (1086) as a fishing port. It received its town charter from Henry VII in 1489. The grant of the charter is still marked by the annual Trinity Fair, when it is read out by the Town Clerk. As a town its fortune was directly linked to the neighbouring town of Dunwich, which we also visited during our weeks stay in Southwold.

Gun Hill Green - one of the many `greens` around Southwold.

Nearby Dunwich had, by the thirteenth century, become one of the greatest east coast ports in England and one of the ten largest towns in the country. Its wealth was derived from trade, shipbuilding and the town’s large fishing fleet, due to the large harbour, the “Kings Fleet”, which was sheltered behind a shingle spit extending south from Southwold. However, the east coast was struck by three major storms in 1286 – 87, which extended the spit to block the harbour mouth. This spelled the beginning of the end for Dunwich and the beginning of the rise of Southwold. In 1328, another huge storm struck the Suffolk coast causing the coastal shingle bed to shift. It washed away a significant part of Dunwich town, causing great loss of life and blocking off its harbour completely. Further storms followed in 1347 and 1362. Helped by Southwold and neighbouring Walberswick residents, the Blyth and Dunwich rivers were diverted through a new cut across the shingle spit, north of Dunwich. In parallel to Dunwich’s decline, Southwold began a steady rise in status and in its economy, aided further by a Royal Charter in in 1490 granting them the right to provide safe haven for the King’s ships.

Another major event for Southwold occured on 25th April 1659 when a huge fire devastated the town. It`s economic fortunes fell in 1659 when a fire destroyed most of the town in the space of four hours. The Town Hall and the town records it contained, the market place, prison, shops, granaries and warehouses all went. Three hundred families were made homeless. Many people remained destitute for years, despite charitable donations from all over the country. The town’s famous greens are evidence of early town planning designed to prevent the spread of fire in the future, Gun Hill Green above being an example.

A walk to the south side of Southwold past the beach huts and glorious Foxgloves and arriving at the old harbour area looking across to Walberswick (below)

The ferry point.

On the walk back we saw beautiful stormy skies as above, and of course, more beach huts!

Designed by John Bennett, the award-winning building is owned and run by the Southwold Film Society, a charitable Trust committed to the educational value of film. The primary aim is to recapture the experience of cinema-going in the mid twentieth century, acknowledging that the activity is not just about seeing a film but recognising also that the personnel, environment and programming have an equally important part to play in terms of a “good night out”.  So you will find a commissionaire outside, usherettes, a front of house manager in a DJ, and a “Tiny Wurlitzer” organ rising up mysteriously during the interval.  The National Anthem is played at the end. Brilliant!

Construction of Southwold Lighthouse began in 1887 under the supervision of Sir James Douglass, Engineer in Chief to Trinity House. The lighthouse replaced three local lighthouses which were under threat from severe coastal erosion at Orfordness to the south. While the masonry tower was built a temporary light was shown from a wooden structure which was first lit on 19 February 1889.

The present lighthouse came into operation on 3 September 1890. The light was originally provided by an Argand burner, this was replaced by a Matthews incandescent oil burner in 1906. A Hood 100mm petroleum vapour burner was installed in 1923 and remained until the station was electrified and demanned in 1938. The character and range of Southwold lighthouse were changed in December 2012 with the main light being increased from 17 to 24 Nautical Miles in advance of the decommissioning of Orfordness Lighthouse.

The Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room was built in 1864 as a refuge for fishermen and mariners when not engaged at sea, as an endeavour to keep them out of the pubs and encourage them in Christian ideals.

Displays of a seafaring nature line the walls and fill glass cabinets. Pictures and portraits of local fishermen and seascapes, model ships and maritime paraphernalia offer a fascinating history of Southwold’s connections with the sea.

So next, a walk in Dunwich, which is a fascinating place I always think. I guess its history (above) is the trigger for that feeling.

We walked through Greyfrirs Wood ….

…… past the beautiful Foxgloves ….

 ….. through the ruins of Greyfriars abbey ….

…. Until we came to a solitary grave stone. As it tuns out, the huge collapses of the Dunwich coast and town have left just this last grave stone from the Church. No doubt, coastal erosion will continue in the coming decades and even this, and the ruins will disappear under the sea.

We then walked across the heathlands and finished with a deserved coffee and cake in the coastguarde cottage tearooms.



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