A history of 1,500 years of seafaring by Robert Malster
‘Suffolk is, as John Kirby points out in the first sentence of The Suffolk Traveller (1784), a maritime county.' And thus begins Bob Malster's latest volume - and indeed this review. Inside the handsome covers of Maritime Suffolk we find expansive chapters from Saxon seamen via Colliers, billyboys and barges all the way to the twenty-first century metal goliaths of The port of Felixstowe.
Having pulled off his remarkable history of maritime Norfolk in 2012/13 which - owing to the volume of material - ran to two volumes, this is the third in Bob's exploration of maritime East Anglia. Despite its 314 pages, the author apologises for having to omit several topics from his book. Such are the frustrations of authorship and publishing. However, what is here is a wealth of illustration, some in colour, including period photographs, engravings and drawings, maps and some fine aerial views. This is a book which should appeal to readers who aren't particularly interested in sea and river-going vessels.
Of course, this reviewer wouldn't be doing his duty if he didn't turn immediately to sections on Ipswich. By page (ix) we are there with a 1970s photograph of Cranfield Brothers' flour mill in the background, with R&W Paul's brick-built maltings on Albion Wharf in the foreground - today the bearer of an Ipswich Society blue plaque to the artist Edward Ardizzone. The caption draws our attention to the newer brickwork on the top floor, indicating where repairs were made after bombing during World War II. I shall look out for it.
We learn that the Romans forded the Orwell at the lowest point possible around today's Great Whip Street to Foundry Lane area. From the early seventhth century the Anglo-Saxon rulers of East Anglia, the Wuffingas, formed the small settlements around the river to become ‘a trading entrepôt', Gipeswic. The variety of treasures uncovered at Sutton Hoo are testament to the remarkable extent of international trade during their reign.
Elsewhere we find stories of Bartholomew Gosnold (1571-1607), born in Grundisburgh and whose family seat was Otley Hall, and his voyages to the New World; photographs show the replica vessels the Susan Constant and the Godspeed which can be seen in Jamestown today.
The chapter entitled Life and death at sea reminds us of the extraordinary risks run by mariners from the earliest times. A William Vick photograph from around 1890 of St Clement (‘The Sailor's Church') in Ipswich reminds of a time when the church was the venue for the Ipswich Shipwrecked Seamen's Society anniversaries.
Tales from Felixstowe, Aldeburgh, Southwold and Lowestoft are included to show the economic and social importance of the herring industry to the county, as well as providing havens for barges, barquentines, brigs, drifters, lifeboats, luggers, smacks, schooners, sloops, trawlers and yawls. An East Anglian born and bred, Bob Malster is probably our best-known local historian, living close to Ipswich and a frequent attendee at Ipswich Society events. This book is priced at £19.95 and is published by Peter Stibbons at Poppyland, a Cromer publisher. It is available from the Tourist Information Centre and the Record Office.