Sunday, 12 April 2009

You're the dirty rascal!

For our first UK Easter in 2008 there was snow. In 2009, Easter Day began similarly bleak and it looked like we would be spending the day at home. That morning Wayne put in a call to Callum, Declan and Ethan back in Australia. While talking to them about the excitement of their own day Declan asked what we were going to do. When we said that the weather wasn’t going to be very nice, he said that he would pray, ‘So that Daddy and Meg and Brock and Quinn could go out somewhere’. Sure enough the weather cleared, all we had to do was to decide where we were going.

Quinn has been doing Media Studies as part of his course this year and one of the tasks that he had to do was to film some footage to be used for a music video. The song he and his partner had chosen to do it to was called ‘Jump, Jump’, so we decided to go somewhere where he could jump around. We have not spent any time in Suffolk, which is one of the closer counties to Hertfordshire, so we decided to head out toward the coast and another English Heritage building.

Our route took us across through Harlow to the M11 heading North. At Ickleton we continued upon the A11 out through Abingdon to Six Mile Bottom. As we went around the horse racing town of Newmarket we merged onto the A14 which took us through Bury St Edmunds, Blackthorpe, Beyton and down into Stowmarket. At Creeting St Peter we turned on to the A1120 which wound through Stowupland, Forward Green, Stonham Earl and Earl Stonham (we’re not joking, the two towns have those opposite names, you can look it up). The A1120 continued through Stonham Aspal, Pettaugh and Earl Soham before we turned onto the B1119 at Saxtead Green for the last mile or so into Framlingham.

Many of those villages are exactly as you might picture an English village with such a picturesque name. There were cottages with thatched roofs, small stone churches at the centre surrounded by a village green, snug little laneways that led out into the fields of local farms or small wooded areas, wonderful stone bridges over rapidly flowing streams, and lots and lots of pubs. As we drove the weather cleared even more so that it was a lovely, fine day and people made their way into the outdoors. Traffic wasn’t bad, but all around us were people having picnics or doing other activities. Spring had truly sprung.
Framlingham is a market town and bigger than the others largely because of the presence of the castle. Raedwald (one of the powerful kings of the East Angles) is said to have founded it between A.D. 599 and 624. One of the Saxon monarchs of the region, Edmund, owned the castle by AD 870 and fled there at the invasion of the Danes in that year. They drove him out and put him to death at Hoxne (about 19 klm away) by binding him to a tree and shooting him with arrows. After many years his remains were removed to a place called Bederics-gueord however, because of this distinguished grave, it seems apt that the town is now known as Bury St. Edmunds.

After the Norman conquest of 1066, the castle fell into the hands of William the Conqueror and his son Rufus. During the reign of Henry I it was granted, along with the manor of Framlingham, to Roger Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk. While various of the surnames changed over the next few hundred years (from the Bigods to the Mowbrays, then the Howards) it largely stayed with the Earls or Dukes of Norfolk, apart from a slight digression where John Howard (not the former Australian Prime Minister) was slain at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and it went through Henry VII to John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford.

Henry VIII then seized it from yet another Duke of Norfolk in 1547, but King Henry died not long after and his son, Edward VI, gave it to his sister, the then Princess Mary. When Edward died at the age of 15 it was to Framlingham that Mary went for refuge during the brief period while Jane Grey took the throne. By the 19th of July, 1553, Mary had raised an army of nearly 20 000 men at Framlingham (and when you see the size of the castle, you wonder where she must have put them). At this point, with uproar among the people and a large army gathered in Suffolk, the Privy Council changed their minds about Jane Grey, and messengers were sent to Framlingham proclaiming Mary as Queen.

After Queen Elizabeth had died, James I returned the castle to the Howard family and particularly to Thomas Howard, the first Baron Howard de Walden, who was proclaimed the Earl of Suffolk. However, he had a property already at Audley End (which we visited last year, and you can understand why someone might prefer it to Framlingham) and didn’t want to move so he let it fall into decay. Over the next few hundred years it was bequeathed to Pembroke College, Cambridge, in trust for various charitable uses. It has variously been used as a prison and a poor house, but in 1913 it came into the hands of the government and is now run by English Heritage.

We got out of the car in the carpark next to the bowling green and walked the short distance to the English Heritage office. Once again our membership came in handy as we received a rebate of our parking fee and were able to enter the Castle for free (except for the purchase of one of the books concerning the place). Then it was a short walk (maybe a couple of hundred metres at most) along the main path, across the bridge over the moat and through the enormous doors into the castle itself.

Unlike many of the castles we have now been to, where the bulk of what you see is the keep and much of the outer walls are missing, this castle had a curtain wall with regular mural towers. Indeed, Framlingham is one of the earliest examples of this type of castle. It was designed to be both a stronghold, providing security, and a statement that the owner was a powerful man. Like many of the buildings in Suffolk, it was built from the flint that makes up much of the landscape. Nowadays the inside is regularly used for English Heritage Events to teach young people about their past and today was no exception. Because it was Easter Day there was a giant Easter Egg hunt on (we had discussed on the way there the possibility that Brock and Quinn might have to let smaller children find the eggs rather than pushing them over and stealing them) however the Easter Eggs were large cardboard pictures with a letter which you needed to use to spell the secret code.

Only a couple of the buildings which use to fill the castle are still extant. No matter where you look, however, there is evidence that the inside of the castle was a thriving, bustling place; a town within a town. The walls show spaces where rooms used to extend out, giving the opportunity to access windows, and also the remains of chimneys which exited via the mural towers. The building that does remain was the poorhouse, and prior to that the remains of the old medieval hall. Lots of families with young children were already present playing in the grounds as we moved in to the poorhouse (which is now a combination shop/office/museum). To Meg’s dismay it was quite a steep set of stairs which led to the top of the wall, but everyone agreed that it was well worth the climb.

From the top of the wall, looking across to the west you see over the Framlingham Mere to one of the most beautiful looking schools we have ever seen. Not only was the main building massive and impressive, but it was clear that the grounds were equally splendid. Visible were a couple of golf holes, some extensive lawns, and the possibility of further sports fields. Framlingham College was founded in 1864 in memory of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, who had been a great supporter of education and science. Today the College describes itself as ‘a dynamic centre of academic, cultural and sporting excellence providing fully co-educational boarding and day schooling’. The buildings are mock gothic and in front (although we couldn’t easily see from our vantage point) is a statue of Prince Albert.

Technically, the castle is now in ruins, but a wonderful job has been done in creating a pathway around the top of the wall. Although there were places which, from down below, looked quite terrifying it was very stable and solid all the way around. There were some amazing sights to be seen. Suffolk is quite a flat county so it was possible to see some distance over the countryside. It was also possible to see much of the town of Framlingham and the ruins of parts of the outside of the castle, including the pylons from an old bridge.

Of course, as well as the wonderful views, we were providing our own interesting spectacle for the benefit of the other visitors. Having asked for permission from the staff to do some filming on the site, Quinn was jumping around various parts of the wall, backwards and forwards. At times this meant having to wait for other members of the public to get past, so that Quinn could bounce, tigger like, around a corner or along a path.

As well as the museum, which not only covered the various historical periods that the castle had seen but also the living conditions for those who had been in the poorhouse, there were also themed games and toys provided for children in the courtyard. Various paths around the castle were linked to audio tours and there were signs and panels which displayed all sorts of information. Having walked, bounced and toured around (and collected all the letters for the Easter Egg hunt) we were very impressed, yet again, at how well everything was maintained. After a short break it was back to the car for a slightly different journey home.

This time our route took us down toward Ipswich before heading across to Colchester and then to Braintree. Here we stopped at a local pub for our evening meal before heading home. It had only been a relatively short trip but to a place in which an amazing amount of very significant history had taken place. Although it is relatively unknown it is really well looked after and there were are goodly number of people there on an Easter Day when it might have been expected that people would be elsewhere.

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