TASTING SUFFOLK’S HISTORY
A new book by Sarah E Doig tells the story of Suffolk in bite-sized chunks
The Little History of Suffolk by Sarah E Doig is a small book with a huge punch. It is perfect to read as a whole or dip in and out of – an accessible history of a county that the author clearly loves.
Sarah says: “What I try to bring out is the social history aspect – you know, what people really got up to in the Tudor era, for instance, in Suffolk - not the usual Tudor history that people learn about in school, like Henry VIII and his six wives, just going beyond that and how it affected people in Suffolk.
“There was no way it could be a completely comprehensive history, so what I did was choose my favourite bits and if they appeal to me, then hopefully they appeal to somebody else.”
She adds: “For instance, my favourites are about the boom of the seaside town - when the railways came it helped places like Felixstowe, Southwold, Aldeburgh to become these wonderful chic Victorian seaside resorts and to tell the story of that and how they developed because of that.
“Also, things like grammar schools back in the Tudor times - how they changed education, for not only the rich boys predominantly then, but everybody in society.”
Sarah’s book reveals the devastating effect of the dissolution of the monasteries, the decline of the once-booming cloth trade, drastic erosion of the coastline, and the disappearance of large country estates.
She also writes about the captains of the brewing and iron industries who put Suffolk firmly on the post-Industrial Revolution
map, and the key wartime role the county played over many centuries.
Sarah was born in Hertfordshire and grew up in Bury St Edmunds.
She moved back to Suffolk in 2010 after a 20-year career in the Foreign Office and now works as a freelance local history researcher, writer and speaker.
Sarah says: “To me, Suffolk today is special. And I think it’s special because of what it has gone through over the centuries.
“It’s got such a wide variety – you’ve got that wonderful coastline which I absolutely adore. You’ve got the Brecklands right in the north, a completely different character again and they’ve got a story to tell because they’ve offered up lots of flints and things like that which people used over the years.
“Bury St Edmunds is where I grew up, so I’m slightly biased, but it has that wonderful story to tell. It is what it is today because the monks founded a monastery there and it was so large and powerful and wealthy. But since the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII the town has taken it upon itself to go from strength to strength and it’s the wonderful tourist place it is today.”
She adds: “Some of the villages in Suffolk are so picturesque it’s unbelievable. Lavenham, obviously the prime example, is there because people made money and did a lot of work making money from the wool trade – so it is there for us to enjoy today because of what it’s gone through over the centuries.”
Sarah is keen to share her passion and interest in history with others.
“I’m not an academic historian, I’m really somebody who has come to it pretty much later, as a second career,” she says. “And so, therefore, I just work on the premise that if I find something interesting and I can put that across in an interesting way, whether in print or doing my talks, then somebody else might be hooked and interested enough to find out more.”
It’s special because of what it has gone through over the centuries
The Little History of Suffolk is published by The History Press (www.thehistorypress.co.uk) priced £12.
Take a look at Sarah’s website at www.ancestral-heritage.co.uk
The old cast-iron bridge at Stoke, Ipswich, manufactured by Ransomes. The illustrations here are from The Little History of Suffolk.
A threshing machine.
Butley Priory, as it was in 1785.
Sarah E Doig indulges her passion for Suffolk’s history in her latest book.
A medieval illumination depicting the martyrdom of King Edmund.
A bathing machine, as pictured in Sarah E Doig’s new book.