Le­man’s legacy

Lessons in his­tory at Bec­cles Mu­seum

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS & PHO­TOS: Lind­say Want

Take a wan­der along Bec­cles Bal­ly­gate and there’s one build­ing that’s sure to catch the eye. Faced in fine flint and brick with many gothic-style win­dows, ‘Disce aut Discede’ – Learn or Go – it de­mands au­thor­i­ta­tively along­side a rather flam­boy­ant coat of arms.

Hand-forged num­bers swirl a 1670 date-stamp, but it’s the lit­tle bell tur­ret perched on the porch and the sud­den plain­ness of brick walls which gives away the school­room his­tory of the prop­erty that now houses the Bec­cles & District Mu­seum. Step in­side, and the ex­hibits and arte­facts couldn’t be more at home, every dis­play a metic­u­lously planned les­son in Bec­cles bor­ough, or lo­cal and nat­u­ral his­tory. Spot a but­ter­fly col­lec­tion here, a cabi­net of cu­riosi­ties there, full of pre­cious finds like old rum­bler horse bells, buck­les, coins and bits of an­cient pot­tery. Great wooden boards, where proud lo­cal school­leavers made their fi­nal mark, grace the walls along­side smartly carved em­blems, ev­i­dently the revered touch­stones of many a school house cap­tain. And hid­ing amongst the tales of trade and trans­port, the medicine cabi­net and den­tists’ drill-bits come the flip-top desk, writ­ing slates and pen­cil boxes, stripy ties and school re­ports,

not to men­tion the much prized tro­phy cup­board. “The build­ing is much older than it looks,” ex­plains smil­ing cu­ra­tor and ex­pert meeter-and-greeter, Alan Free­man. “It’s tim­ber-framed re­ally, from around 1570, and was the home of Sir John Le­man. Bec­cles High School still takes his name, but the free school was here from Le­man’s day un­til 1905.”

Head into the mu­seum’s El­iz­a­bethan room and you’ll find an ex­cel­lent model of the Sir John Le­man School in 1841 com­plete with stu­dious stu­dents.

The old school­room space next door is still very much in­tact as the main ex­hi­bi­tion room, filled with all the ex­pla­na­tions and para­pher­na­lia of trades where young lads may have sought ap­pren­tice­ships in the days when Bec­cles ranked third in Suf­folk af­ter Bury and Ip­swich. Along­side tales of prin­ters, clock­mak­ers, millers, malt­sters and wheel­wrights, may­oral robes show off the pomp of civic life and a lonely bed lays bare the harsh re­al­i­ties of Vic­to­rian poverty and the Met­ting­ham work­house.

One of the joys of Bec­cles Mu­seum is that it hasn’t suc­cumbed to an over­load of touch-screen de­vices be­yond its well-utilised digital archives. It’s like a Boy’s Own an­nual packed with ex­cit­ing dis­cov­er­ies, from the gi­ant pike caught in the Waveney to the aero­plane pro­pel­ler built by a lo­cal Ed­war­dian avi­a­tion business, church war­dens’ nose warm­ers (clay pipes) to a mysterious tal­is­matic ball from An­glo-Saxon times.

Plenty to pon­der as you sit out­side in the mu­seum gar­den, re­al­is­ing that the shouts of young­sters in the Lido be­low echo those of school­boy ancestors splash­ing in the Waveney af­ter a long day of lessons.

ABOVE: Bec­cles Mu­seum in the house of Sir John Le­man, which he be­queathed to the townLEFT: Sir John Le­man por­trait

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