Arts & Heritage in East Anglia
Suffolk and Norfolk are counties rich in history, culture and natural beauty. From medieval wool towns and the historic city centre of Norwich, to the sandy beaches and pier at Southwold – and the spectacular wildlife of the Suffolk Coast and Norfolk Broads; or the cutting-edge arts and architecture – set in a landscape of rolling golden fields, under huge open skies with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the UK.
Over the centuries East Anglia has attracted some of the finest artists of their times, including Benjamin Britten, painters Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, and author George Orwell.
For Britten, the place, the environment and his home community were inseparable from his music:
'I like making new friends, meeting new audiences, hearing new music. But I belong at home – there – in Aldeburgh. I have tried to bring music to it in the shape of our local Festival; and all the music I write comes from it. I believe in roots, in associations, in backgrounds, in personal relationships. I want my music to be of use to people, to please them, to ‘enhance their lives’ … I do not write for posterity … I write music, now, in Aldeburgh, for people living there, and further afield, indeed for anyone who cares to play it or listen to it.' (On Receiving the First Aspen Award, 1964)
Around Benjamin Britten’s Centenary, join us for a discovery of Suffolk and Norfolk’s cultural offering, the arts and the built and historical heritage, in what are uniquely rich counties; a place often considered to represent the ‘good old world’ where things were, and still are real…
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Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788)
Born at Sudbury, Gainsborough was famous at his time for portraits, his “profession”, but won a place in art history for his “pleasure”, landscape painting. Gainsborough House in Sudbury gives an overview of the painter’s life at his birthplace, and has an outstanding collection of his work on display.
John Constable (1776–1837)
Works by Constable, who is ranked with Turner as the most important 19th-century English landscape painter, can be seen at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, a Tudor house of 1548 that also holds paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and other historical artefacts.
George Orwell aside who worked in Southwold for some time, Suffolk today is home to two major items of literary interest. Built in 1819 and now run by the National Trust, the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds is the only example of a Regency playhouse in England. Recently restored to its original splendour, it offers period drama and modern productions alike. At the modern end of the spectrum, the Poetry Trust must be mentioned, driving force behind a popular poetry festival every November and the biggest live-poetry event in England, the Poetry Prom in August; up in Norfolk, the Writers’ Centre Norwich is a powerhouse for the development of new literature, and projects exploring the artistic and social impact of creative writing.
Maggi Hambling’s bold sculpture, the Scallop on Aldeburgh Beach, has recently provoked quite a debate that shows how healthy the relation between people and the arts here is. But, equally, the Henry Moore outside Snape Maltings Concert Hall; the Sir Norman Foster-designed Willis Building in the city centre of Ipswich and its modern, bold Waterfront including a dedicated venue for dance, the DanceHouse; or the modern art collection at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, capital of neighbouring county Norfolk, are all part of the region’s exciting contemporary mix.
Hardly surprising, the unique cultural mix of the East of England is also backdrop to one of the world’s finest universities, Cambridge. From Ipswich, it is little more than an hour’s drive on the A14 or 75 minutes on the train – Greater Anglia operate a direct service from Ipswich.
Useful organisations and links
Boydell & Brewer
Publications about Britten
Britten–Pears Foundation, Aldeburgh
Britten's home, studio and archive
Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich
Collection of Constable and Gainsborough paintings in tudor mansion
Concerts at King’s
Concert series at King’s College Cambridge
One of the UK's leading dance organisations
Familiar Fields, Norfolk
Association of grass-roots Britten centenary events promoters in East Anglia
Gainsborough House, Sudbury
Collection of Gainsborough's paintings
Guide to arts and heritage in Suffolk
Historic properties in East Anglia include Sutton Hoo and Ickworth House
The Poetry Trust, Halesworth
One of the UK's leading promoters of live poetry events
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich
Leading collection of modern art
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Period Georgian theatre
Writers’ Centre Norwich
Powerhouse for the development of new literature