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Where’s best- east or west Suffolk?

PUBLISHED: 19:31 11 December 2019 | UPDATED: 21:39 12 December 2019

A service record photograph of Julian Tennyson. He had no qualms about fighting for his country  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

A service record photograph of Julian Tennyson. He had no qualms about fighting for his country Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

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Writer Julian Tennyson found Stowmarket ‘rather dull’, and Aldeburgh ‘a far more pleasant place fifteen years ago’.

The  River Alde, with views of Iken church in the background. 
Julian Tennyson said he wanted to be buried at the church. He called the Alde 'the river of my boyhood and the loveliest river in England'  Picture: Andrew Mutimer/citizenside.comThe River Alde, with views of Iken church in the background. Julian Tennyson said he wanted to be buried at the church. He called the Alde 'the river of my boyhood and the loveliest river in England' Picture: Andrew Mutimer/citizenside.com

The great-grandson of Victorian Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson knew he risked jeers when he declared of Suffolk that "the west, taken as a whole, simply does not compare with the east". That was about 80 years ago, and it's a debate that has raged ever since.

Old Etonian Julian Tennyson reckoned it was because "the west is more civilized".

Steady…

"I don't mean that the people are more sophisticated or more progressive, or that the villages are more modernized… But the country itself gives the impression of being more orderly, more controlled; it has never run wild in the same way as has the east, and for that reason it has neither the same depth nor the same charm," he wrote.

Towns were a different kettle of fish - "when it comes to towns, west Suffolk puts us to shame. Its small towns… are incomparable".

But get this: "The only two that I do not care about are Stowmarket and Needham Market" - which he defined as being in the west, more or less - "I find them both rather dull."

Julian Tennyson, captured on film by a cousin  Picture:Rachel TennysonJulian Tennyson, captured on film by a cousin Picture:Rachel Tennyson

And what about this? Julian had firm words about "progress", and Aldeburgh. He'd lived there in his teens.

"I must confess that Aldeburgh was, to my mind, a far more pleasant place fifteen years ago than it is to-day.

"A good beach, beautiful country, a romantic river designed by providence for sailing, fishing and shooting - these things may bring prosperity, but more often than not in these days that prosperity is exploited in a cheap, careless manner which relegates æstheticism to the ash-can."

He cited a walk in the Aldeburgh area with a friend. What they found "broke my heart".

"There, nestling against the bank, exactly opposite our favourite wildfowling haunt, were two newly built villas; on either side of them were plots neatly marked off and boards extolling the desirability of having a residence in such a position.

"For a full half-hour we sat together on the bank, watching in a kind of speechless horror."

The new edition of Suffolk Scene alongside the 1938 and 1983 offerings  Picture: Poppyland PublishingThe new edition of Suffolk Scene alongside the 1938 and 1983 offerings Picture: Poppyland Publishing

Who was he?

These teasing opinions appear in Julian Tennyson's Suffolk Scene: A Book of Description and Adventure. It was written in 1938 (he was 23) and published in 1939 as the storm-clouds of war gathered. His writings reminded people what they could lose.

Poppyland Publishing has brought out a new edition with added oomph. Historian Elaine Murphy has penned a biographical introduction - and critiques to examine the changes over eight decades.

Julian Tennyson was born in 1915. His family was well-heeled, without having lots of cash. Father Sir Charles Bruce Locker Tennyson had worked for the Colonial Office.

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In 1922 the family left London for a village near Henley on Thames. Julian's two years there developed his love of the countryside, its people and ways, writes Elaine.

In 1925 the family stayed at Aldeburgh - "described by his father as 'a grim little town' and in just as dismissive terms later by Julian himself…"

But it did fan a passion for Suffolk.

After a spell on the Isle of Wight, the family came back in 1935: to Peasenhall. Julian would write most of Suffolk Scene there.

He had some journalism work, had poems and prose published in magazines, and fell for Yvonne (Yve) Le Cornu.

They married in 1937. The following year his book Rough Shooting came out. In 1938, too, he joined the Territorials (London Irish Infantry).

Iken church. Julian Tennyson wrote that 'When I was a child I decided that here was the place for me to be buried'  Picture: Peter Cutts/citizenside.comIken church. Julian Tennyson wrote that 'When I was a child I decided that here was the place for me to be buried' Picture: Peter Cutts/citizenside.com

In 1939 Suffolk Scene came out and "became a classic of the countryside". December saw Yve give birth to twins.

In 1945 Julian died in Burma, during a Japanese mortar attack. Elaine writes: "While his mortal remains may lie in Burma, Julian's spirit is elsewhere."

He'd loved Iken, on the River Alde, and in Suffolk Scene revealed that "When I was a child I decided that here was the place for me to be buried."

In fact, he wrote to his wife in 1942, from a military camp: "Beloved, something which I've been unable to speak of before. Just in case anything happens, could a headstone be put in Iken Church? Sounds absurd, I know."

But it was done - and Yve's name was added after she died in 2007.

The memorial to Julian and Yve Tennyson in Iken churchyard, near Snape  Picture: Poppyland PublishingThe memorial to Julian and Yve Tennyson in Iken churchyard, near Snape Picture: Poppyland Publishing

Some of his 'likes'

Suffolk! "In aspect and outlook Suffolk seems content to amble along at least a century behind the rest of England. Because it has not been visited with the questionable comforts of modernity, it remains shy and unsophisticated.

"Not only are the people shy, but the spirit of the country itself is independent, capricious and elusive - if you don't treat it properly it will, like an unresponsive tortoise, retire to the seclusion of its own shell and escape you for ever.

"That slight animosity of Suffolk attracts the right people and repels the wrong ones."

Terrain: "As to the landscape, I would refer any detractors to the unanswerable arguments of John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. To my mind its beauty rests with three things: the wealth of trees, the size of hedges and the shape of fields."

Suffolk's character: "Solitude, and all the beauty that goes with it, is the whole essence and character of Suffolk; not the severe, inhuman desolation of the wilderness, but that deep and inherent sense of peace which comes only from an old, wild land, a land too shy and too lonely and too forgotten ever to be tainted by the doubtful benefits of progress."

Julian’s daughter Pennie Tennyson and Elaine Murphy cut a celebration cake at the launch of Suffolk Scene at Snape  Picture: Poppyland PublishingJulian’s daughter Pennie Tennyson and Elaine Murphy cut a celebration cake at the launch of Suffolk Scene at Snape Picture: Poppyland Publishing

* Suffolk Scene is from Poppyland Publishing at £19.95.


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