In the frame

A su­perb walk in Gains­bor­ough coun­try

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

When Thomas Gains­bor­ough re­turned to his na­tive Sud­bury with his new wife in 1749 and took a house in Friar Street what was he to do? He’d have rev­elled in spend­ing his days paint­ing the other love of his life, lo­cal land­scapes, but with bills to pay, a baby on the way and peo­ple more ob­sessed by look­ing at pic­tures of them­selves than gaz­ing on sym­pa­thetic scenes, fash­ion­able ‘face­paint­ing’ seemed the only op­tion. El­e­gant Ge­or­gian Sud­bury and its sur­round­ing coun­ties had plenty of as­pir­ing fel­lows, so well paid por­trait com­mis­sions were prob­a­bly only a short walk, can­ter or car­riage drive away. Within months, the ac­com­plished artist found him­self work­ing for an­other pair of young new­ly­weds, Robert and Frances An­drews, of the Au­beries es­tate, just across the fields be­yond Balling­don.

A sim­i­lar age to Thomas, with fin­gers in for­eign trade and real es­tate, Robert was full of am­bi­tion, keen to show off his wife’s dowry-lands and to up his street­cred. Per­haps the young men hit it off and struck a deal to keep them both smil­ing? No one will ever know, but Gains­bor­ough’s Mr & Mrs An­drews, now in the Na­tional Gallery, was the best of both worlds – a double por­trait, set in, yet gen­tly to the side of, a su­perb Stour Val­ley land­scape with the fine town of Sud­bury de­fined as al­most in shoot­ing dis­tance. It’s an iconic piece that smacks of so­cial airs, graces and as­pi­ra­tions, from the non­cha­lance of the young chap with his three-cor­nered hat and gun half-cocked, to his less-thanplay­ful-look­ing wife who has clearly not just gam­bolled through fields of graz­ing sheep in her fine silks to take a stylish seat un­der their newly ac­quired, though an­cient oak. Gains­bor­ough leaves Mrs An­drews’ lap sub­tly ‘un­fin­ished’ – space to add a son and heir per­haps – and sug­gests pos­si­ble storms on the Suf­folk hori­zon. Above all the paint­ing is one great in­vi­ta­tion to walk right into the land­scape.

Start at Bul­mer and you can prac­ti­cally do just that. Alas, paths don’t lead through the Au­beries Es­tate it­self to put you in the pic­ture by that very same oak, which, ru­mour has it, still stands tall and proud to­day. But pub­lic foot­paths there are a-plenty that lead past Ge­or­gian man­sions and an­cient farm­steads, along time­less Belchamp Brook, to­wards Brun­don Mill’s swan-filled pond by the Stour, across East Anglia’s old­est con­tin­u­ously grazed com­mon pas­tures, past fine sym­met­ri­cal town­houses and up Sud­bury ‘heights’, down green lanes through wood­lands and lit­tle vil­lages to Bul­mer Tye and be­yond.

“The land­scape of Gains­bor­ough is sooth­ing, ten­der and af­fect­ing,” wrote fel­low Suf­folk painter John Con­sta­ble. “On look­ing at them, we find tears in our eyes, and know not what brings them.” In many places, to­day’s land­scape is still quite as young Mr Gains­bor­ough would have ex­pe­ri­enced it on his trav­els, just as he would have sketched it or held it safely in his gifted mind’s eye to ex­press it on

can­vas back in the stu­dio. The trees and hedgerows, the mead­ows and val­ley folds, that spe­cial Suf­folk light, those gath­er­ing storm-clouds – they are all around the next cor­ner, down the next trackway, just along the field mar­gin path.

Did Gains­bor­ough’s feet once stride down the hill­side to­wards Belchamp Wal­ter? Did the view of St Mary’s pok­ing its tower above the tree­tops bring a smile to his face? As Es­sex churches go, it’s re­ally rather Suf­folk – a Monk’s Eleigh or Cavendish look-alike for sure.

Young Thomas cer­tainly painted por­traits for the Ray­mond fam­ily who resided at Belchamp Hall then, and still does. The fine red brick Queen Anne house is com­plete with bay-win­dowed pow­der-rooms added when wigs were top of Ge­or­gian pops. Gains­bor­ough’s por­traits still hang on Char­lie Ray­mond’s walls, in­clud­ing his ances­tor who had grand plans to tame the lo­cal land­scape. Head to­wards Belchamp Brook and you can just catch sight of the aban­doned Vene­tian canal which dug the ec­cen­tric char­ac­ter firmly into debt. What would our nat­u­ral land­scape-lov­ing painter have thought to all that?

Past Heaven Wood and Smeetham Hall, Belchamp Brook’s wide val­ley floor, en­gulf­ing skies and mag­i­cal me­an­ders is rem­i­nis­cent of Con­sta­ble’s Nay­land scenes. The wa­ters soon meet the Stour near Gains­bor­ough’s fa­mil­iar home ter­ri­to­ries around Brun­don Mill and Sud­bury’s his­toric wa­ter mead­ows. There’s time to visit the house where he was born and raised, and much more in his bustling home town.

Be­yond moated Mid­dle­ton Hall, deep-cut green lanes carved by time and trav­el­ling feet lead through Lit­tle Henny’s Home Wood, past the lost church and his­toric hall of The Ryes to Bul­mer Tye.

Here the vil­lage green re­mem­bers the par­ish’s fa­mous lo­cal landown­ers with its own mod­ern par­geted ren­di­tion of Gains­bor­ough’s great work set in a mon­u­ment made from Bul­mer’s highly ac­claimed brick, pro­duced lo­cally since Tu­dor times.

Of course, the de­sign of Belchamp Hall’s smart red façade had called for far more fash­ion­able, and dis­tinctly less than lo­cal, Dutch bricks. No doubt Mr An­drews would have as­pired to a sim­i­larly taste­ful show of wealth and pros­per­ity.

So what be­came of the am­bi­tious young man? In Bul­mer church, a me­mo­rial tablet re­veals all. Robert An­drews Esq ap­par­ently had ‘a long and use­ful life’, reach­ing the priv­i­leged age of 80.

His wife, Frances Mary, only made it to 48, hav­ing given birth to their nine chil­dren. Clearly Gains­bor­ough should have painted her with a much big­ger lap.


Start at Bul­mer Vil­lage Hall. With your back to the hall, go left up ‘Church Meadow’ lane, to fol­low the pub­lic foot­path (right) all the way to the church.


St An­drew’s Church Bul­mer has memo­ri­als to Mr & Mrs An­drews and an im­pres­sive ‘green man’ font. Go around the tower end of the church, through the grave­yard to find a gate­way lead­ing down steps to a tree-lined tar­mac path through Coe’s Meadow (play area - right) and a road. Cross the road, go left, then right down side of black weather-boarded shed. Go too far and you’ll reach the brick con­gre­ga­tional church. The foot­path turns left along back gar­dens of a row of houses (left) with views (right) open­ing up to­wards Belchamp Wal­ter church.

At end of houses, the path turns right down­hill, along a pit­ted (take care) field­edge path. At the bot­tom of the field turn left, then right at the po­lite no­tice. Go through a gap, down steps to a bridge, then a kiss­ing gate. Head across the meadow (to­wards church) to find an­other kiss­ing gate hid­den to the right. Turn left, past cot­tages (left) to the road and go right. 3

Belchamp Hall (left) is clearly vis­i­ble from the road, with im­pres­sive, griffin­topped gates. It starred in the TV se­ries Love­joy, as Felsham Hall, and the sta­bles were Love­joy’s work­shop. St Mary’s Church (right) has Ray­mond fam­ily mon­u­ments and fine 14th cen­tury wall-paint­ings.

Con­tin­u­ing along the road, look out for a stile (right) just past Munt House be­fore the junction. This leads through a wooded area (gar­dens – right) to farm build­ings. Pass the car­a­van (right) and at end of the green area, a track leads down (right) into woods (re­mains of the Vene­tian canal - right). When it emerges, bear right with the track to a wide val­ley with open mead­ows and trees (left). The track sweeps right with Heaven Wood ris­ing to the right and fi­nally be­comes a field-mar­gin path along­side high trees (right). Ig­nore the foot­path lead­ing left up­hill. Stay on the track go­ing straight ahead (wil­low carr right, The Rook­ery - left).


Go left to meet The Rook­ery’s gar­den in the cor­ner by the drive. Pass in front of the house – is that an ele­phant peer­ing at you as you turn right down the drive to the road? Turn right (take care), then at next junction turn right. Go over Bard­field Bridge and turn left down a bri­dle­way - a long stretch along­side Belchamp Brook (left) all the way to a track and, fi­nally, the Great East­ern Rail­way Cam­bridge to Sud­bury line trackbed.


De­ci­sion time! Head down to Sud­bury’s wa­ter-mead­ows (turn left signed Stour Val­ley Path – also be­comes Gains­bor­ough Trail) or take the firmer short-cut right along the dis­used rail­way line, leav­ing it just be­yond the pump­ing sta­tion (left) by tak­ing the slope down to Balling­don Road at Balling­don old rail­way bridge (8).


Brun­don Mill is famed for swans on the great mill pond. Pass the mill, head­ing down Brun­don Lane to take foot­paths just be­yond the Stour across North Meadow Com­mon, past Salmon Leap Weir, through Fulling Pit Mead­ows.


Exit at The Croft, by St Gre­gory’s to visit Sud­bury town and the Gains­bor­ough sites, or con­tinue across Free­man’s Com­mon, past the white mill (ho­tel). Cross the Stour to­wards Kings Marsh to exit at Noah’s Ark Lane (where the cat­tle were led two by two). This joins Cross Street just be­fore Balling­don road bridge. Turn right, go over the bridge. Con­tinue to the old rail­way bridge.


At Balling­don old rail­way bridge cross the road. To the right of the bridge is a foot­path (Stour Val­ley Path – SVP) which leads to Kone Vale re­serve. Go all the way through to exit by a hous­ing es­tate. Cross over the road, go­ing up­hill, fol­low­ing SVP signs through streets (Meadow View Road), bear­ing left (Hall Rise), then fi­nally right into Pinecroft Rise to a foot­path in the cor­ner.


Sud­bury Heights. Take care on this stretch - the hedged path goes sharply up­hill and there are sharp, un­fenced drops (left) in places. The path can be nar­row and there are some tree roots. The views across Sud­bury are im­pres­sive though. The path even­tu­ally emerges into a field which it crosses (grave­yard for dou­bledeck­ers – left) to a track which leads up­hill.


At the brow of the hill, leave the SVP by turn­ing right onto a foot­path. This leads to a leafy, down­hill hol­low lane where chick­ens roost in trees (re­ally) fi­nally ex­it­ing onto a tar­mac lane. Go right past Dutch gabled houses (right walled gar­den, left) to meet the road. Go right along Ryes Lane to the A131. Turn left, along the pave­ment through Bul­mer Tye.


Bul­mer Tye vil­lage green is on the right where the A131 sweeps left. Cross with care to find Mr & Mrs An­drews on the vil­lage mon­u­ment. Go di­ag­o­nally across the green to a Jenk­ins Farm sign (bot­tom left hand cor­ner). Turn right, past pink Tu­dor house (left - vil­lage green, right) along the lane which soon be­comes a grassy track (houses, right), then a field­edge path.


At Bul­mer CEVAP school (left), turn left onto road. After a few me­tres, take the par­al­lel per­mis­sive path (left) along the field mar­gin to the vil­lage hall.

Belchamp Hall

Sud­bury’s wa­ter mead­ows

ABOVE:The great painter’s me­mo­rial BE­LOW: Gains­bor­ough’s fa­mous por­trait of Mr and Mrs An­drews

Mr and Mrs Gains­bor­ough

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