It’s all change at Suffolk, writes Jonathan Scott, with new projects on the ground and on the web
A new home for Suffolk archives is being built on Ipswich’s waterfront
The oldest treasure looked after by Suffolk’s archive service is an early 12thcentury Charter of Henry I to the monks of Eye Priory. But a chilling document from more recent times is a diagram of the
Brookes slave ship commissioned by a local campaigner.
The Brookes was built in Liverpool in the 1780s, named after its owner and builder James Brookes. The print was commissioned by Bury St Edmunds abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846). It was used to illustrate the appallingly cramped and unsanitary conditions aboard the slave ship – which at the time was legally allowed to transport 454 slaves – and helped to galvanise the anti-slavery movement.
The service’s Second World War resources include visitors’ books from Gainsborough’s House Hotel in Sudbury, which contain the names of many US servicemen who stayed there during the war. There’s also the Phyllis Page collection of diaries (1939–1945), ration and rent books, photographs and postcards. Phyllis, the daughter of a fish salt and manure merchant, was born in Lowestoft in 1922. She lived with her grandparents at 420 London Road South, and her diaries give an eyewitness account of wartime life.
There’s also the collection relating to Beccles Dispensary and Hospital. This includes records made during an interesting period in early 1939 when it became part of a centralised state-run Emergency Hospital Service, employing doctors and nurses to care for those injured by enemy action. Beccles War Memorial Hospital was part of Eastern (No. IV) Region.
During our last visit to the county in our October 2013 issue, we delved into the collections held by the three archive branches at Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Lowestoft. As a general guide, Bury St Edmunds holds material for West Suffolk, Ipswich covers East Suffolk, and Lowestoft looks after material for the north-eastern parishes. These include original parish registers, plus parish chest material such as vestry minutes, churchwardens’ accounts, and Old Poor Law records such as settlement examinations, removal orders, bastardy bonds and relief payments.
However, changes are on the horizon. In January the county council approved plans to build a new, state-of-the-art home for Suffolk archives on Ipswich’s waterfront. Developed in partnership with the University of Suffolk, the new building will be known as ‘ The Hold’, boasting public research facilities, fitfor-purpose strongrooms and collections care spaces.
According to searchroom services manager Judith Stephenson, there will be dedicated spaces for digitisation, conservation and cataloguing; an exhibition gallery, shop and
café; and a learning space and teaching facilities.
“In May 2016 we were thrilled to receive an initial pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop the proposals, and planning permission was received in January,” she says. The new building will be situated near the junction of Fore Street and Grimwade Street, part of the university campus, and will be run by the county and university together.
The total cost of the project is expected to exceed £20 million – the council has pledged £5 million, the university £1 million, there’s the HLF development funding of roughly £0.5 million, and a decision from the HLF on the next round of funding is anticipated this spring. All being well the building should open its doors by the end of 2019.
Judith also reports that they will be continuing to offer services at the Bury and Lowestoft branches – although the latter is currently the subject of public consultation “to decide the future shape of the service in Lowestoft”.
Online there have been changes too. A new and dramatically improved archival website launched in 2016 ( suffolkarchives.co.uk), which boasts help pages, guides, ‘Suffolk Stories’ and a unified online catalogue through which you can order document downloads. You can also search for details of specific collections relating to famous Suffolk companies such as brewers Greene King, Tolly Cobbold and Adnams, or the
engineering firms Garretts and Ransomes, or trawl Lowestoft’s maritime collections, or perhaps Felixstowe’s history as a spa resort.
“Recently we have started to add digital images [to the catalogue] that customers can view for free in the searchroom or pay to download online,” Judith adds.
To date the archivists have already uploaded Suffolk wills from the archdeaconry of Sudbury (covering West Suffolk, 1660–1760) and the archdeaconry of Suffolk (East Suffolk, 1703–1857), and they are continuing to add wills as they digitise them.
“We have also added a selection of images from two of our major collections at Ipswich, which cover the whole county.”
The first relates to Isaac Johnson (1754–1835), a land surveyor from Woodbridge who surveyed and mapped estates in almost every parish in East Suffolk, as well as many in West Suffolk. His patrons included local nobility, clergy and gentry, and London author and publisher John Nichols (editor of The
Gentleman’s Magazine for nearly 40 years). The catalogue for the collection is now live on the website, as well as digital images for 50 of the surveys, which are available free of charge.
The second is the Cautley and Barefoot Architects’ drawings. At the end of 2012 Suffolk Record Office was awarded a grant to catalogue a large collection of architects’ plans and drawings. The original collection, held at the Ipswich branch, covers nearly 100 years with the earliest items dating from about 1890.
Judith says: “The archive forms a seamless dynastic architectural tradition in Suffolk, starting with the important Ipswich architect Frederick Barnes and continuing into the late 20th century. It is a fascinating resource for anyone interested in property, social, business and church- history studies across Suffolk and neighbouring counties.”
The full catalogue is now online, along with 112 images that are available for free.
Catalogues go online
In addition to all these digital images, the team has been editing and uploading paper catalogues. “We want researchers to be able to do as much work as possible before coming to the branches, so that they get the maximum amount of time with the documents. In the last year we have added nearly 102,000 catalogue records to the website. Once the catalogues are online customers can order documents in advance of their visit, request a quote for copying and build wishlists of items to view.”
Meanwhile the archive has also acquired a huge number of new collections since our last visit. Some highlights include manorial records regarding Cockfield Hall and Earls Hall (1331–1899), including court rolls and court books – which may be useful to researchers who have exhausted parish registers.
There’s also a collection of material from the 94th Bomb Group Memorial Association, 1943–2013, including numerical lists of missions flown, with copies of photographs of crews, aircraft, badges and aerial photographs, formation diagrams and more. The archive services has two air-raid logs covering Ipswich and the surrounding area (between September 1939 and October 1945); a Suffolk Constabulary cell book for Stradbroke Police Station (1886– 1971); and a hand-drawn Second World War Roll of Honour for Stradbroke.
The archive has also taken receipt of baptisms, marriages and burials registers for St Edmund’s Catholic Church, Bury St Edmunds. This includes notes on the state of the mission and some confirmations (1756–1832).
This photograph from the 1950s shows herring trawlers unloading their catch on the quay at Lowestoft
The Tide Mill Living Museum in Woodbridge, by the River Deben – there has been a mill on the site since the 12th century
This poster for London & North Eastern Railway promoting rail travel to Ipswich features the protagonist of Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1837), who visits the town in the course of the novel
The Greene King Brewery was founded in Bury St Edmunds in 1799