by John | Feb 2, 2015 |

Peculiar Architecture on the Suffolk Coast: Woodbridge


With over 1100 years of recorded history, it’s no wonder that over the centuries Woodbridge and the surrounding settlements have accumulated a fair amount of interesting architecture. If you’re keen to find some of the structural peculiarities in the area for yourself, read on!

See also our article on structural peculiarities in and around Aldeburgh.

The Olde Bell & Steelyard

On New Street in Woodbridge is the Olde Bell and Steelyard, a 16th century pub. The interesting feature of this beautiful, black and white timber-framed building is the structure protruding from the first storey. Currently home to a family of doves, this shed-like building, hovering above the road, used to house the ‘steelyard’, a weighing machine.

Local records suggest it was added to the original building around 1680, around the time the government passed a new Road Traffic Act. Carts were getting heavier, and their steel banded wheels were becoming much thinner, thus damaging the road surface. Steelyards were therefore used to weight carts in order to ascertain whether their loads exceeded the 2.5 ton limit put in place by the new act. A toll had to be paid if this weight was exceeded.

The Tide Mill

A large, apexed building, clad in white wooden panels, the Tide Mill has become somewhat of a symbol for Woodbridge.
The first recording of the Tide Mill was in 1170, and it was possibly rebuilt by the Augustinians shortly before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when Henry VIII acquired it.

It was one of the first tide mills in the country, and is the last working tide mill in the country; its water wheel still turns, and is capable of grinding wholemeal flour!

You can see the Tide Mill up close and visit the delightful museum housed inside it by taking the pretty walk past the boats to the quay.

Burgh Windmill

Walking through the countryside between Hasketon and Grundisburgh, you might see an unusual, pointed structure poking out from the trees, somewhat like a dumpling.

This is what’s known as an “ogee cap”, owing to the ogee shape, consisting of two arcs curving in opposite senses.

Burgh Windmill was built in 1842, and worked by wind until 1922. It is seven storeys tall, and at one time had four patent sails and a fantail.
In 1940, it actually became home to the L. 1 post of the Observer Corps; the high vantage point enabled the observers to plot and report the movement of aircraft in the area.

BT Tower, adastral park

A dominant figure on the relatively flat Suffolk skyline, visible from miles around, is the Orion Building at Adastral Park, sometimes referred to as the “BT Man”.
The 200 ft radio tower, “Pegasus Tower” is clearly seen from the nearby A12.

Adastral Park, which is home to several technology companies aside from BT, has a stellar theme, with buildings on the site named after different stars or constellations.
The original laboratories (when BT was part of the Post Office) were first opened by Elizabeth II in 1975.

Martello Towers

At the edge of civilization is Shingle Street, a small coastal hamlet at the mouth of Orford Ness. Here you will find one of Suffolk's martello towers. Altogether, eighteen towers were built along the Suffolk coastline, which together with those in Essex and Sussex formed an unbroken defence against the threat of French republicanism in the early nineteenth century.

Travel southwards to Bawdsey to see Martello Tower Y, renovated by a London architect, who cleverly used camera obscuras to bring window views into the dark structure. Even further south in Felixstowe our martello towers can still be seen along the coast. The round structures are about forty feet high with metre thick walls and wide roofs. Click here to read more about the history of the martellos.

Bawdsey Manor

Remember that ogee cap we were talking about at Burgh Mill? Well Bawdsey Manor has four! Sitting proudly at the mouth of the River Deben, it was built by Sir Cuthbert Quilter in the late 1890s.
The manor is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of radar, having been used in 1936 by the scientists who researched and developed the technology for practical military use. It continued to be used as an RAF base through the Cold War, when Bloodhound Missiles were sited on the cliffs. These remained until the Bloodhound force ceased operations in 1990.

You can still visit the radio transmitter block today.

Swilland Church

In the countryside, 7.5 miles from Woodbridge, you will find a church with the most peculiar tower. In the village of Swilland, St Mary’s church tower baffles any eyes scanning the horizon.

 “It looks like nothing so much as if a giant hand had picked up a Tudor cottage, and threaded it delicately over a lantern spire and onto the stump of the tower.” (Suffolk Churches)

It was designed by John Corder, an architect from Ipswich, known for his "Brothers Grimm" style buildings.

Freston Tower

From one peculiar tower to another, in the village of Freston, just south of the River Orwell, is a six-storey red-brick folly.

In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but looks as though it would have another purpose. Alternatively, it can be a structure so extravagant it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or class of building to which it belongs.
Freston Tower happens to be one of the oldest follies in England, built some time between the 15th and 17th centuries.

There is some disagreement over the purpose of the tower: Reverend Richard Cobbold’s novel, Freston Tower, proposes that it was built by "Lord de Freston" in the 15th century for his daughter Ellen, so she could study a different subject on a different floor six days of the week. It is more likely, however, that the tower was constructed by Edmond Latymer as a lookout over Freston Reach of the River Orwell, or by a wealthy Ipswich merchant called Thomas Gooding.

Photo by Landmark Trust

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