Unprepossessing Structures or Officers' Quarters?
These 16 single-storey, black weather-boarded properties are often the subject of speculation by visitors. From the privacy of my garden hedge, I have heard various suppositions: railway carriages? Fishermans’' huts? post-war pre-fabs?
Well, this is Thorpeness and they were actually former officer's quarters from the First World War aerodrome at Hazlewood. Money was tight after the war and G Stuart Ogilvie had the ingenious idea of re-cycling the timber huts to provide accommodation for visitors and estate workers. George Cook, who was the Company Secretary, recorded details of all the properties in the village including The Uplands, in a large ledger, complete with photographs.
The Uplands were built on Thorpeness Common in 1919-20 and the architect is unknown but was probably H G Kemp advised by G S Ogilvie. The properties varied in size to sleep 3, 5 or 8 persons and internally all walls were of soft or concrete blocks and the roofs of ruberoid. The timber components were carted from Hazlewood by steam tractor or horse and cart by employees W Vincent, T Easter and R Wolf. According to size, costs were: Nos. 1, 2, 12 & 12A at a total of £2,200; Nos. 3, 5, 9, 11, 14, 15 & 16 at a total of £2,318; Nos. 4, 6, 7, 8 & 10 at a total of £2,185.
In November 1940, a string of 28 bombs fell across Thorpeness, commencing in the channel to the Caribbean Sea and falling on 6 Lakeside, No. 5 The Uplands, across the cricket field into the area north of the sports field. No. 5 The Uplands was flattened but fortunately no one was injured. It was completely rebuilt by W C Reade of Aldeburgh under architect J Adams in 1951 to a higher standard than the original.
Although the Thorpeness Conservation Area Appraisal (2010) describes The Uplands as 'comparatively basic and unprepossessing structures' they are acknowledged as 'an important feature, not only from an historical point of view, (appearing as a fore-runner of the sort of accommodation provided at the mass market holiday camps built years later) but they also contribute to the essential character and appearance of the Conservation Area
(Historic photographs by kind permission of Mrs H Chandler from the George Cook collection).
Hunting for Galloonas in the Flatimore
In March 1911, a 'terrific blow' scoured out and stripped a considerable amount of sand off the Thorpeness beach. After the storm locals soon began to find coins (Galloonas) and other curiosities on the exposed clay (the Flatimore). 110 coins were collected, 86 of which proved to be of trifling value, and many medieval objects.
The individuals involved in this find we're coastguard men William Overed and Charles Thomas Newman, and fishermen and other inhabitants, William Rolfe, Percy and George Westrop, Harry Shipp, William Knights, Henry Harling and Alfred Alexander.
News of the find quickly spread and journalists called it the 'East Coast Klondyke' and it was reported that hundreds of people poured into the Aldeburgh and Thorpeness area in the hope of finding more treasure.
A great argument arose as to who rightfully owned the finds and the Coroners Jury was convened and a Treasure Trove inquest was held on April 14th 1911. It was held at the Aldeburgh Moot Hall and the coroner, Mr. A. F. Vulliamy officiated at the meeting. The point was to decide whether the finds fell from the cliffs, or were washed up by the tide, if it was the latter then the relics would be treasure trove and the property of the Crown, obviously the individuals involved in the finds felt they had a strong claim, also Mr. Stuart Ogilvie, the landowner, had an interest.
The chief expert witness for the Crown was Miss N.F. Layard F.L.S., a well known local archaeologist. Four claimants were represented in the crowded audience that filled the Moot Hall, but strange to say, the fishermen themselves led by Mr. Alfred Alexander, who found the relics, seemed to be left out of the questions altogether. They were clearly puzzled for they had a vague feeling that 'first finders' also had their rights, especially when the objects were picked up on a highway to which they had never been forbidden access.
Despite it being seen that the archaeologist, Nina Layard, was really on the side of the fishermen, and after the officials had argued over the finds it was decided that they were the property of the Receiver of Wrecks. Some items were eventually sent back to the Moot Hall and displayed there.
With thanks to the Aldeburgh Moot Hall Museum for their permission to recount this episode in the history of Thorpeness.
Many of us living in the village have been able to watch the welcome transformation of the old barn in Old Holmes Road as it was given a brand new thatch.
After falling into disrepair and almost reaching dereliction over the last twenty odd years it is very pleasing to have the roof so beautifully restored.
The thatcher was Glen Baker, originally from Rendlesham but now working from Diss. He was a young and very personable man who seemed happy to talk to all of us, always ready to have a chat, answering our questions and letting us play with his adorable little dog. He said he’d been thatching for fifteen years and he did most of the work, which took him some six months from October 2015 through to March this year 2016, on his own apart from last few weeks when he had a co-worker.
The reeds came from Hungary and took seven days to get here on a huge lorry. He would have used Norfolk reeds but the quality he was offered was not good enough as they tend to keep the best for themselves in Norfolk!
As a thatcher I imagine he’s used to working in all weathers but he did have some terrific winds and rainy conditions to contend with during his time here and everyone must agree that he’s done the most wonderful job on that old barn.
The earliest reference I could find to the sluice cottage area is from John Kirby's book 'Suffolk': his Maps and Road book. Dated 1736.He reports that a 'great sluice' was located near to the mouth of the River Hundred but no cottage was mentioned.
Between 1826 - 46 However it was clear that there was a cottage in that area, with a large black windmill standing nearby, positioned to drain the Aldeburgh Meare.
In more recent times I understand the cottage's last occupant was a Mr. Tom White and his wife, living there around the 1960's. Tom, it was said, was to be seen regularly pushing a large water butt on wheels to Aldeburgh for a refill, the cottage not being connected to the mains water supply.
Today it is unclear as to the future of Sluice Cottage which remains in a derelict state.
Thorpeness in the Thirties BY Janey Blanchflower
What was Thorpeness like in the 1930s, some twenty years after its emergence as Great Britain's first planned seaside resort? The twelfth edition of Concerning Thorpeness, published between the wars in 1933, gives a remarkable picture of the village before the advent of international travel for the masses. The booklet, a forerunner of today's holiday brochures and websites, was published at regular intervals from 1912 onwards, giving up to date details of G S Ogilvie's latest developments at Thorpeness, together with yearly and monthly rents of furnished houses and bungalows and tarifffs at The Country Club and The Dolphin Inn.
The introduction states that 'Thorpeness is a Village and will remain a Village when the last of its houses has been built. It is the latest example of artistic town planning. Those who build their own houses can, with reasonable limitations, follow their own tastes, but most of the houses in the Village itself are reminiscent of the finest examples of Jacobean and early English Domestic Architecture'. One wonders how this bold statement would sit with today's planning authorities....
The description continues 'Apart from the inherent beauty of our little hamlet, situated between sea and lake, and backed by the purple heather and golden gorse of the Suffolk Wolds, the primary attraction of this new seaside resort is that it offers rest, recreation, and escape from the nerve-wracking noise and tumult of modern cities.' I am sure that 21st century visitors would agree. The booklet notes that Thorpeness is situated in the very centre of the Suffolk dry zone and the exhilarating and health-giving ozone of the East Coast is particularly beneficial to young and old alike.
Those clients who took houses for a year or longer had the benefit of facilities for weekend visits to their houses with the minimum amount of trouble. The Company was keen to attract custom from the Colonies:- 'Every year, as our Model Village becomes more and more known in Egypt and the Far East, we find an increasing number of Colonial Visitors bringing their wives and children to spend their English Holidays at Thorpeness. Particular attention is paid to ensure the comfort of these welcome friends, in order that they may feel that they have found a Holiday HOME in the Old Country. Colonial visitors are referred to page 5 which states: 'Plate, cutlery and linen are not supplied in any of our furnished houses, but, for the convenience of Overseas visitors who do not wish to bring these household requirements, an adequate supply can be hired from the Company at a fixed low charge.'
The booklet includes a testimony from the Hon. Sir Thomas Wilford, KCMG, KC, the High Commissioner of New Zealand who, with Lady Wilford and their grandchildren, spent their Summer Holiday in Thorpeness in 1931. In a speech made at the Children's Regatta prize-giving, Sir Thomas said: "As a visitor he could not help saying what a charming place he had found Thorpeness and, no doubt, its conception was the work of a genius. He had visited thirty-two different countries in the world, but he had not met with a place with such amenities, and he was surprised that it had not been copied. Thorpeness was a place unrivalled for the amusement and recreation of children."
The Company aimed to ensure that everything possible was done to make long or short visits free from anxiety as regards domestic matters by recommending good servants in order that clients did not have the trouble of bringing their own maids. During the winter months, when houses were unoccupied, the Company undertook, on their clients' behalf, to keep their houses aired and have fires lit periodically. The Company was also willing, at a small commission, to sublet furnished houses at most attractive rents if clients did not wish to occupy them during any month of the year.
Rentals varied from 85 guineas to 235 guineas per annum according to accommodation and position. Monthly rentals varied according to the season, a convention still observed today. An example of the 1933 rental charges for a furnished house in a central position containing 5 bedrooms, sitting room, dining room, kitchen (gas cooker of the most modern type), electric lighting, independent hot water system, bathroom and usual offices was:-
Yearly Rent 120 guineas
October-March 8 guineas (per month)
April & May 12 guineas
June 18 guineas
July 35 guineas
August 55 guineas
September 35 guineas
These rates were inclusive of all rates, taxes, water, sanitation and upkeep of garden.
A note to the Twelfth Edition of Concerning Thorpeness apologises that: 'The chief difficulty in providing an adequate account of the many unique attractions of Thorpeness lies in the fact that, owing to its phenomenal growth since our village has become more widely known, each edition becomes obsolete almost before the ink is dry. No less than £72,881 has been spent within the last six years in buying or building houses on the Thorpeness Estate. This considerable sum of money does not include the many thousands of pounds spent upon tarring and macadamising the roads and introducing water, gas and electricity throughout this Old-world Hamlet.'
Visitors to Thorpeness may well have been puzzled by the unusual black weather-boarded house whose upper floor straddles the footpath on Old Homes Road at the west end of Peace Place. A clue lies in the name of the building, ‘The Lamp House’, whose tower-like shape is a tangible reminder of its forerunner, the Thorpeness Acetylene Gas Generating Station.
This 500-light ‘Leading Light’ acetylene gas plant had been installed at Thorpeness by 1912 according to W H Parkes’ ‘Guide to Thorpeness: The Home of Peter Pan’, published that year. The Guidebook emphasizes the advantages of gas as opposed to oil lamps:-
‘Perceiving from the first that no village now-a-days could claim to be ideal which depended upon the smoky, smelly and exceedingly dangerous oil lamp for its illuminant, the Company [Seaside Bungalows Ltd.] entered into a contract with the Leading Light Syndicate, Ltd., to erect a central generating station with a 500-light installation, capable of being immediately increased to 1,000 or more lights (as and when required) and lay mains, with branch, with branch service pipes, to everyone of their houses.’
Thorpeness had the distinction of being the first township in Great Britain to be equipped with one shilling slot meters and cooking apparatus. The ‘cooking apparatus’ included gas rings, with atmospheric Bunsen burners and ovens. Parkes’ Guidebook goes on to extol the virtues of acetylene gas:-
‘It is cheaper than coal gas as an illuminant, infinitely safer than oil lamps and as clean as electric light. It cannot be too widely known or too strongly insisted upon that the proper use of Acetylene gas is not attended by any special danger. It is in actual fact safer than any other form of artificial lighting. The gas has a pungent smell which, in the event of a leak, causes it to be detected immediately. It takes moreover ten times as long as coal gas to fill a room of given size and when full it is not too injurious to health, as in the case of coal and other gases. The above facts have long been recognised by all the leading Fire Insurance Companies, who make no extra charge on the premium of houses insured, where the Acetylene gas is properly installed.’
An advertisement in the Guidebook explains that acetylene gas had become an established form of lighting for small townships, villages, churches, mansions, hotels, factories and workshops, on account of its illuminating power, ease of installation and simplicity in operation. The installation at Thorpeness consisted of a central generating station in Old Homes Road, the gas being conveyed through mains and service pipes to the bungalows etc. The Leading Light Syndicate, Ltd., suppliers of the Thorpeness gas plant, was based in Parrott Street, Hull, Telegrams: ‘Acetylene, Hull’.
Although today the gas in Thorpeness is no longer generated by courtesy of the Leading Light Syndicate and we can no longer boil our kettles on atmospheric Bunsen burners, whenever we use our gas cookers or turn on the gas central heating, we should thank G Stuart Ogilvie for providing the infrastructure.