Monday, February 1, 2021

Leiston, Suffolk


Back in November 2019, the Resident Wise Woman and I made a trip to Suffolk to visit the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, look at some old buildings, visit Sutton Hoo, and gorge on some very good fish and chips. Orford Castle, which I featured in my previous post, was one place on my itinerary. Quite early on the Sunday, before the poets started reading, we visited Leiston Abbey to wander among its 14th-century ruins and enjoy a little of the seclusion that the medieval canons who lived there must have enjoyed or endured as they followed the regime of prayer, study, and work that was imposed on them by the Premonstratensian rule that they lived by.

The abbey was founded by Ranulf Glanville, justiciar of Henry II, in 1182 but the original site proved impractically swampy. So they moved to the location of the present ruins, taking some of the materials of the original building with them when they built anew. This, together with the austere values of their rule, may account for the fact that the architecture that’s visible on the ground is mostly very plan: round piers, arches with very simple mouldings.† This is the kind of architecture that can be seen in the view from a transept through a chapel to the sanctuary in my photograph above. If there were any more decorative details from the 14th century, they’ve gone, although there’s a littler ornate Gothic ornament in some brickwork from a later repair.

We had the ruins to ourselves on our visit, but the abbey did not feel quite as secluded as I expected because there were people in residence. At the dissolution the building passed to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who built a farmhouse along one side of the nave; some of the monastic buildings were used agriculturally. The house was refronted in the Georgian period and is now the quite substantial home of the Pro Corda music school. As we walked around, peering through arches and working out where we were in terms of the monastic layout, the air resounded with fragments of Brahms from a clarinettist and something mellifluous but unidentifiable† on the violin. An example of what I call ‘accidental music’, that’s to say, music that I encounter by accident, which for its unexpectedness is often some of the most enjoyable of all.

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• On the hand, it is probably also the case that some or more decorative stones were removed after the dissolution. 

† I mean unidentifiable by me – there was nothing wrong with the playing, just a gap in my musical knowledge.

1 comment:

bazza said...

I do enjoy that part of England. Incidentally did you see the TV film The Dig about the finds at Sutton Hoo? It's been the number one item on Netflix recently!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s awkwardly adroit Blog ‘To Discover Ice’