His­toric town:

From his­toric plots to present-day fes­ti­vals, we flag up a flurry of fas­ci­nat­ing facts about his­toric Harleston

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

Some sur­prisng facts about the mar­ket town of Harleston


Harleston is bril­liant at cel­e­bra­tions. Whether you want to cel­e­brate spring, an arts fes­ti­val, the Queen’s birth­day, Christ­mas or even the re­turn of mi­gra­tory birds – Harleston gets the flags out. Mak­ing use of the flag­pole and Christ­mas tree hold­ers above shops, a suc­ces­sion of flags are flown. There are flags for St Valen­tine, St David, St Pa­trick and St Ge­orge, there are flags for Easter and the Spring Fair, flags to wel­come the Pink Ladies Trac­tor Run in July, flags for Her­itage Days in Septem­ber and Hal­loween in Oc­to­ber, and flags to wel­come and wave off the swifts. Next month the un­flag­ging flag team (whose Ian Carstairs even in­vented a way of get­ting the flags and poles up and down with­out need­ing lad­ders) will be cel­e­brat­ing Earth Day with flags from all 195 coun­tries of the United Na­tions flown and pa­raded around the town.


The peo­ple of Harleston have taken swifts to their hearts, pro­vid­ing around 150 spe­cial nest boxes to tempt the birds to lay their eggs in the town. Swifts ar­rive in Bri­tain in May, and only stay un­til Au­gust, win­ter­ing more than 7,000 miles away, south of the Sa­hara. The su­perb fliers eat, sleep and mate in the air, land­ing only to nest and lay eggs. Although peo­ple con­fuse them with swal­lows or house martins

their clos­est ge­netic re­la­tion is ac­tu­ally the hum­ming­bird. They nor­mally raise two or three chicks, which can live up to 20 years, re­turn­ing to the same site to nest (and per­haps rest af­ter fly­ing con­tin­u­ously from leav­ing Harleston in Au­gust to when they re­turn in May.)


Origami birds cre­ated in Harleston have taken a mes­sage of peace around the world and to the edge of space. The thou­sand pa­per cranes, in­spired by a Ja­panese girl from Hiroshima who died of leukaemia in 1955, car­ried mes­sages of peace from lo­cal peo­ple. They were ex­hib­ited in Harleston be­fore the wing tips from each crane were placed in a trans­par­ent sphere and taken to New York, shar­ing a mes­sage of peace at the United Na­tions head­quar­ters and Ground Zero memo­rial. Their next ad­ven­ture was to hitch a ride on a re­search bal­loon and soar 22 miles to the edge of space, be­com­ing the high­est peace mes­sages in the world. They parachuted back to earth, and back to Harleston, be­fore join­ing thou­sands more peace cranes at the peace memo­rial in Hiroshima. Even­tu­ally the wing tips, each dec­o­rated with a pic­ture of a swift, re­turned to Harleston. part of Re­den­hall with Harleston. The much smaller vil­lage of Re­den­hall has the main me­dieval church, while Harleston’s Vic­to­rian church was built to re­place an an­cient chapel. In­side im­pres­sive Re­den­hall Church is a dou­ble-headed ea­gle lectern, made in East Anglia more than 500 years ago. There is an­other at St Mark’s in Venice, said to be from the same work­shop.


Its high school is named for a dis­graced arch­bishop. How­ever, to­day’s very suc­cess­ful Arch­bishop San­croft High School, Nor­folk’s only Church of Eng­land high school, is judged out­stand­ing by Of­sted. And to be fair to Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury Wil­liam San­croft, he was ac­quit­ted af­ter be­ing im­pris­oned in the Tower of Lon­don for dis­agree­ing with King James II, who he had crowned. That same year he paid for a cler­gy­man to teach in Harleston - and James was de­posed. But Bri­tain’s top

cler­gy­man then re­fused to swear al­le­giance to the new king and was him­self de­posed as arch­bishop.


Don’t be fooled by the Ge­or­gian frontages – many of the build­ings in the hand­some town cen­tre are much older than they seem. Be­hind the fa­cades, put up by mod­ernisers 250-300 years ago, are me­dieval, tim­ber-framed build­ings. It is said that Harleston would re­sem­ble Laven­ham if stripped of the later fa­cades. It once had a huge mar­ket square, with stalls in the mid­dle grad­u­ally be­com­ing per­ma­nent shops. A me­dieval guild­hall is thought to be lurk­ing within Mer­chant’s House, and a 14th cen­tury grand hall is hid­den by a Vic­to­rian brick shop front.


There’s a mar­ket ev­ery Wednes­day (con­tin­u­ing a tra­di­tion which dates back at least 760 years) plus an an­tiques street mar­ket in June, a food and drink street mar­ket in Oc­to­ber and a Christ­mas street mar­ket in Novem­ber. There are open gar­dens and art trails in May, a fes­ti­val, and sculp­ture trail, in Au­gust, and the Harleston food and drink fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber. Vol­un­teers lead guided walks and from folk singing to foot­ball, there’s a club for al­most ev­ery­one. Harleston Mag­pies hockey club is one of the big­gest in the re­gion, with 15 reg­u­lar Satur­day league teams and a to­tal of 28 teams through the sea­son – for women, men and chil­dren.


Unloved ap­ples go­ing to waste in gar­dens launched a new ca­reer for Ken and Deb Wool­ley. Ken be­gan turn­ing them into cider and two years ago his hobby be­came a busi­ness. Although they now buy in most of the ap­ples for their award-win­ning craft ciders from or­chards in Nor­folk and Suf­folk, more than 10% are still do­nated from peo­ple’s gar­dens. The cou­ple had pre­vi­ously run an en­gi­neer­ing com­pany and were joined by their son, Tim, and his part­ner Ruth. Harleston Cider Com­pany also spe­cialises in ice cider –freez­ing the ap­ple juice to make a thick syrup which is then fer­mented to cre­ate a pre­mium drink – and fire cider, or cider vine­gar in­fused with aro­matic herbs and spices. The com­pany now also has a pro­duc­tion site at Pal­grave, near Diss, with reg­u­lar open days in­clud­ing on the last week­end of ev­ery month.


His­toric Harleston has its own mu­seum, run by vol­un­teers and open Wednes­day to Satur­day from May to Septem­ber. It also al­most had its own place in a plot to kill a Queen. An at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate Queen El­iz­a­beth I was sup­posed to be launched by procla­ma­tions and the play­ing of trum­pets and drums at Harleston Fair on Mid­sum­mer Day, 1570. In­stead, var­i­ous plot­ters were ex­e­cuted and Robert Greene in­cluded it in his play Friar Ba­con and Friar Bun­gay, pop­u­lar in the 1590s and re­vived at the Globe in 2013.

ABOVE:Harleston town cen­tre

SHAR­ING Harleston shares its name with a Harleston in Suf­folk, near Stow­mar­ket, and an­other in South Devon – and is of­fi­cially BE­LOW: Harleston’s Arch­bishop San­croft High School.

ABOVE: Harleston folk singing group Too Many CooksLEFT: Harleston has many Ge­or­gian frontages with older build­ings be­hindBE­LOW:Ap­ple press­ing at the Harleston Cider Com­pany, based at Pal­grave. Ap­ples are loaded into the hop­per to crush them

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