Tag Archives: Suffolk

The Cittie beneath the Ocean sits and sleeps


image of sign at Dunwich cliffs

A simple sign reveals the futility of man’s struggle against the seas at Dunwich, Suffolk

Flood flow and fluvium flings the shingle shore sharply in the waves
As here at Dunwich my horse has homed me thus.
But behold the sea! Battering swells have swung the swarming throng
That I knew well when Bigod was bigging and boasting way back then
And cast them to the corners of the earth leaving but the calm of beach and boat!
For where once was town there now be but waves.

Image of JMW Turner's painting of Dunwich

Dunwich as captured by JMW Turner – when this picture was painted, the wreck of Dunwich was still returning 2 MPs to Parliament even though a handful of people lived in the constituency.

Dunwich, greatest of the citties of the East, a Suffolk surety
Against the predations of France and proudly preaching its excellence
At those pretenders Orford, Blythburgh and Walton – sea towns, sea men and sea bound.
If I listen, I can hear the homesteads and high spirits of merchant, monk and merry man!
If I cast my eye it walks down webs of wicker and wattle, warming on women who weave in the yards!
There was power here once – parliament itself was propped by Clerk and Brantham;
Precursors of a poisoned politik portrayed as but rotten by 1832.

What wrought the stones and crushed them to cobbles clacking?
The sea! The German Ocean, the great North Sea! Smooth swell but swarming.
This sea looks brown as is moves in shallow sands murmuring;
Voices cry from its depths, bells toll to unseen ears, unhearing now and unholy.
Storms moved with menace mightily down this coast and men did quake but to behold them!

Defoe knew well how windmills burned in woe as winds whipped sails beyond endurance.
But the mighty winds of Maurus mocked the men before his time
And more blows too did the cheeks of God bustle forth in His anger at our vanity!

Image of old Dunwich

Dunwich collapses into the sea; today nothing remains of this church

He shut off the river and rendered town rudderless;
Churches were cast to the earth in Middle Age and modern time:
Slowly they succumbed: St James; St Peter’s; St Nicholas; All Saints –
And more! Street by street, the sea sucked away the sand and slurped up the people.

Today a monastery in ruins stands upon the cliffs marking time, making friends.
It knows that like its brothers long ago its boldness will be but bluster
When the waves come to call one last time to waft it to the waters.
Look closely at those cliffs and clear you’ll see the bones of cloistermen
Long gone from Greyfriars, growing from the soil, groaning in lament
Of a time when land loyally lapped their lair, a haven high.

Yet for years all was not lost! Young was its spirit as it clung to old privilege!
In arrogance, this undersea urchin still with unction sent its London members
Till with Great Reform even this last vestige of its vain power was vanquished
In the name of democracy. And duped thus Dunwich died – a footnote to a finer time.
Now, a few houses on a street end sit, stumps of a place once superior now silent
As an English village supping beer in sleepy Suffolk while, just beyond, the old cittie sings
Among the fish, the flounder and the foaming horse.

When we with vanity talk of power
And at our mirrors crow
Just simply think of Dunwich tower
And know which way you’ll go.

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, English Counties, English History, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Suffolk, Touring Britain, Touring England

Lord Bardolph of Agincourt at Dennington


Image of Dennington Church, Suffolk

Dennington Church, Suffolk. The interior will astonish the visitor

Suffolk, the sandlings and sky. Here Le Gringalet guides me through the greenswards of England along the old road to Southwold and the coast of the German Ocean. Flat land, a fair wind and a festival of flowers dot the roadside as here at Dennington I find myself.

As with so much in my quest, the world has turned and wended a way beyond my comprehension. Yet this old church, charming still stands and chides those who choose to turn their heads to the gods of greed and avarice. And well have the centuries like sentinels kept this saintly place!

Square the tower stands as the squires had seen it built, squatting by stonemasons. The nave, when new, nestled here at the junction of quiet lanes and the glass glistered to all who glimpsed upon its luxury. Let us press inside and see what my eyes had seen in the silence of past sights…

Disappointment is not a word which deigns to dirty the glory herewithin. Light cascades as a carapace of calm onto dark figures dancing before the Greatest Deity. Poppy-headed pews portray people, poets and priests. And monsters, mystical figures and even a mermaid sit silently as you in prayer solemnly contemplate order, place and your own insignificance. 

Science and scepticism stop here now to see the Sciapod. Unusual in these islands, our one-footed friend falls in slumber on sunny days beneath the shadow of his single sole. Here he has lain, forever entombed by the bench-end since the day he was carved in oak by a carpenter skilled. Few who come here know of him yet those who find him scarce forget their fortune in such discovery.

More, too, looms here in this noble nave nestling. An old clock whose clicking has long since ceased to clatter and tell the passing of the days. Oaken chests which once chimed with the chink of tithe moneys given. And now, a great prize indeed: the tomb of Lord Bardolph, maligned in ignorance by the great bard of later years but who, in beauty now, belies a legacy undeserved.

Here in his chapel Lord Bardolph chatters in eternity to his cheery wife, holding hands in heaven as here on earth their visage still remains. Study now his armour, beaten on the field of Agincourt by blows French – but yet he stood. The arrows flew, the horses shied, and Frenchmen were flung to the field and drowned in the mud and crush of that October day long ago.

In the horror of that foreign furrowed field did this man found his glory. Here was a man who knew well the wounds of Henry, his cheek chiselled by a charmless bodkin at Shrewsbury in 1403. This man knew in dysentery disembowelled the distress of archers daunted by the chivalry of France. And blessed he was by the baton-beating command of Erpingham: Nestroque! Now Strike!

In one day at Agincourt the flower of France wilted in those furrows and brave men on both sides took belting blows. There is no fame in the fear that frets a man at the moment his life is soon lifeless to become. Yet those who stay behind stall not with their words when stating that they who died on Crispin’s day will be remembered well by Englishmen for all time.

So Bardolph sleeps in  bier ornate

His memory spanning time

In his survival fortunate

In life he saw his prime

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Sutton Hoo, where Raedwald lies


Image of Raedwald of Sutton Hoo

Raedwald of Sutton Hoo - his spirt lives on by the Deben's side at Sutton Hoo.

In times past, when Europe was non-existent and geography was plotted by knowledge rather than maps, Saxon kings moved from place to place by coastal navigation slowly. I should know: I stood on Albion’s shores and watched the raiders come as, indeed, I had seen the Romans before them. Silent rowers, etched in black on silvery waters, moving ever closer to the shore as we watched them from among the gorse and bracken.

Suffolk, named by the Saxons for the South Folk, stands testament to their legacy. As indeed does the whole of eastern England: East Anglia, the home of the East Angles. Here, in this place lay sleeping Raedwald, King of the East Angles; at peace at Sutton Hoo. Let me tell you more…

Today a brooding hough, spur or hoo on the sandlings by the Deben, the mounds at Sutton Hoo once stood proud like temples in the heathland there. When I stand and look now at the shallow ploughed out tumps in the wintry evening light, it fills me with sorrow to think that here, once, great kings imposed themselves on the landscape through death. And before death, of course, life… Life indeed!

Thirteen hundred years ago, the Deben estuary was a different place to now. Not so much a sheltered berth for yachtsmen, tourists and wealthy wives; instead one of the key routes into the East Anglian hinterland from the sea. Picture yourself, reader, arriving from Scandinavia and following the coast of Albion; the Deben, like the Orwell and others beckoned weary sailors to shelter from the dangerous murky sweep of the German Ocean, the great North Sea.

And here it was, all those centuries ago that the people we now called Saxons came to settle, eventually building a magisterial palace at Rendlesham nearby – a palace described by some I knew as “healaerna maest” – the most fabulous of all buildings. East Anglia, as I recall it, was a power base for the early English in these parts: a rich farming land yet with easy communication with friends in distant lands.

This quiet place, far adrift from the heart of England, was the home too of Raedwald, King of the East Angles, a man I remember well. I can see him now in his splendour on the mead bench, distributing rings and gifts to his favoured thanes. In the darkness of the night, he shone by the fire, bedecked in gold and garnets.

His wealth was beyond compare, matchless in these lands; he employed the finest craftsmen to make things for him which even today are almost beyond the wit of those so skilled to mimic.

This warrior lord stood highest in the hall, carrying with him an enormous whetstone, beautifully carved with the faces of his ancestors, as a symbol of his powers. His cloak was clasped with gold buckles inlaid with crimson garnets and finely cut millefiori glass. On his belt, his mighty sword hung by his side. Again gold and garnets glistered there,  while at the centre of his being, a great fire-like buckle interlaced with writhing snakes and weighing as much as a dog’s head, glowed like a hot iron in the smoke-filled room. Hu oa aepelingas ellen fremedon, we might say. How those noblemen wrought deeds of valour!

But now Raedwald’s image in my mind is just that: a memory in the mind’s eye. Yet thanks to providence, we can still today see Raedwald – if not in body then at least in the accoutrements of his power which were uncovered just 70 years ago as I watched in shadows the work of Basil Brown and his colleagues unearthing treasures which today are there for all to see at the British Museum in London.

How I smiled as Brown revealed the remains of the huge ship I saw being dragged up the hill from the Deben so many centuries ago. He did not see what I saw: the ship positioned in the sand and the body of the great king laid to rest with his prize possessions before being sealed within the ship by great oaken boards. He did not see the tears of men and women by the boat-side. He did not witness the last plank being nailed down and Raedwald’s eyes sealed for ever from the glowing sun of this world…

I recall how that ship laid on the hillside for many years before at last the wood began to bend and crack with the sun and the rain and the cold: a vessel stark on the hoo-top, silhoetted against the Suffolk Sky. I remember in my worry that Raedwald would not rest in eternal peace. Yet I need have no fear that the Saxons would not honour their dead.

I remember going back there again a few years later to see the vessel this time being covered in earth so that a great mound – an edifice to a great king – would rise on the Hoo surveying the great Deben and its safe landing places. On the land was a ship and then the ship became the land; Raedwald’s spirit lurked beneath his sandling home. In those days, this place had immense significance – and quite rightly so.

Raedwald was a true king: assertive of his place, protective of his possessions and lands, and, upon his death, commanding such respect and power that for thirteen centuries his body lay undisturbed: free from rabbits, sheep and even the attempted predations of grave robbers. Yet I knew Raedwald and I knew well how he would have laughed to see his worldly goods on display once more for all to see and marvel at.

Sutton Hoo is rightly seen today as one of the world’s great archaeological treasure troves. Yet I recall it when it was a calm inlet to a quiet hinterland. The captains and the kings are now gone again but the treasures of Raedwald will preserve his glorious memory until the ending of the world.

Wel bio paem ye mot aefter deaodaege. Drihten secean ond to Faeder faeymum freodo wilnian! Well will it be for he who after the day of his death may seek out the Lord and ask for peace in the arms of the Father.

Further information:

  • Sutton Hoo is today owned by the National Trust which has an excellent museum in the grounds
  • The Sutton Hoo Treasure is on display at the British Musuem in London, currently on display on the ground floor in an area through the gift display on the right having gone through the entrance
  • There is a special interest group for you to join: the Sutton Hoo Society.

Image of King Raedwald of the East Angles by artist Michael Smith. Copyright Michael Smith 2011. All rights reserved.

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