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Art & artists

Aldeburgh – a ‘fortress’ of art

— October 2013

Article read level: Art lover

Associated media

Theronda Hoffman, Fish and Chips, Aldeburgh, 2012

Tim Coates' new book covers the entire history of a town closely associated with the arts

Aldeburgh: A Song of the Sea by Tim Coates

In July this year I went to the book launch of Aldeburgh: A Song of the Sea by Tim Coates.

Aldeburgh is one of my favourite places and over the years I have interviewed Maggi Hambling  about her wonderful Scallop sculpture on the beach, met up with Tony Penrose  who was giving a lecture there about his mother Lee Miller, and generally used every excuse I can find to return to this lovely place on the east coast, with its history of art and creativity.

Although it was a hot day the bookshop was packed, and in his speech Tim Coates said he would be brief as he knew so many people were longing to get to the beach. Tim’s writing style is very accessible as he appears to be himself. He talked of falling in love with his wife, whose parents lived in the old custom’s house at Aldeburgh, and now one of their sons a professional cellist often plays at Snape Maltings  so the link with Aldeburgh carries on. Tim explained that ‘Burgh’ means fort and ‘Alde’ means old so the literal meaning of the name of this Suffolk town is ‘old fort’, a name it has had for over a thousand years. Indeed, the Romans extracted salt to preserve meat for their army from the marshes as far as Snape Maltings.

The  book’s text takes the reader from these earliest accounts of Roman occupation, through to the development of maritime trading links, to the industrial expansion of the Victorians, and the development of the town as a popular holiday resort. The unchanging aspect of the town is its proximity to the sea, which has proved both lucrative and inspiring, but equally destructive, as the waves continue to erode the coastline. Floods have caused terrible damage to the town over the years.

Aldeburgh is illustrated with unusual archive material and colourful contemporary works, several reproduced in book format for the first time. Artists include J.M.W. Turner,   John Piper, Thomas Churchyard, Glynn Thomas, Tom Cringle, Jules George, Jill Carver, and sculpture by Maggi Hambling (the famous scallop shell on the beach). The cultural heritage of the town is covered in depth, as many writers and thinkers have lived in or visited Aldeburgh, most notably, Edward FitzGerald (the poet who translated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam),Thomas Hardy (author of the many ‘Wessex’ novels), J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), and Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White). The book also examines the lives of several of the sons and daughters of Aldeburgh, who include George Crabbe, the 19th century poet, whose evocative verses inspired Benjamin Britten, and the Garrett family, whose members included Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman doctor, and Millicent Garrett,  a leading campaigner for women's suffrage.

The most famous resident of the town was the composer Benjamin Britten who, with the tenor Peter Pears, founded the Aldeburgh Festival and developed the Garrett family's old industrial site into the Snape Maltings music centre, with two concert halls, a music school and for holiday visitors wonderful shopping areas featuring Suffolk arts and crafts, and foods.

Aldeburgh: A Song of the Sea is a companion volume to the titleSouthwold by Geoffrey Munn. Southwold is the sister town just along the coast. Anyone wanting to give a lovely present to someone who loves Suffolk  and East Anglia need look no further than either or both these titles, published by Antique Collectors Club.

Aldeburgh: A Song of the Sea by Tim Coates is published by Antique Collectors' Club 2013. 208pp. 176 colour illus, £35.00 hardback. ISBN 9781851496075


Sue Ward

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