The Ipswich Society visit on 8 August 2007

At 9.30 am on a very pleasant morning thirty of us set off by coach and were soon enjoying a coffee and visit to the farm shop near Aldeburgh. Our next stop was Leiston Abbey which belongs to English Heritage and is managed by the Pro Corda Trust, a national school for young music players based at Leiston Abbey House.

St Mary’s Abbey was founded at Minsmere in 1182. Owing to this ‘unhealthy swampy site’ the Order of Augustinian Canons Regular obtained permission to transfer to the present site near Leiston in 1363. After the Dissolution Leiston Abbey was granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It was used for various purposes until in 1946 it was bequeathed to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. In 1977 it was purchased by the Pro Corda Trust.

It was very interesting to explore the abbey ruins and read the English Heritage notices abut life in the past. In contrast we could see the youngsters with their instruments milling around the buildings used by the school as rehearsal studios, barn concert hall, recital hall and recording studios.

Next we called at Aldeburgh church to see Benjamin Britten’s and Peter Pears’ graves and the tunning John Piper window depicting the three church parables of Britten. As a cat lover I became fascinated with a book in the church about Samson, the Aldeburgh cat, and a carving of him.

Finally, the coach driver managed to squeeze the coach down the lane to the Red House, the former home of Britten and pears. As a fan of Britten for over forty years I was thrilled to visit this house. In fact he was one of the reasons I moved to Ipswich from Lancashire in 1970.

We were made welcome with a drink and an introductory talk and DVD. We were invited to look round the library and exhibition. I have seen all Britten’s operas and was delighted to see the exhibits concerning Death in Venice and The Turn of the Screw. There is so much stored in the archives that there is only room to show so much at a time.

We hen went round the actual Red House which ahs a long history and was originally a farm. It has a lived-in feeling as it is still used for entertaining. It was very touching to see the cosy ‘old dining room’ where the Queen and Prince Philip had lunch before opening the Maltings. It was also affecting to see Britten’s and Pears’ old comfortable arm chairs and all their furniture. As Pears was a great collector, there are many superb paintings by artists as varied as Constable. Gainsborough, David Hockney, Harry Becker, Philip Wilson Steer, Mary Potter and many more.

Everyone seemed to enjoy this visit even though they were not as obsessed as I! We are all very grateful to Beryl Jary for organising such a superb outing.

Valerie Lloyd