What an adventure! After weeks of windless, cloudless, rainless days of scorching sunshine, the weather did a U-turn on Saturday 10 August.
Settled in the coach, ready for our 8:45 am start, Paul advised us that Melford Hall had had to close, due to safety concerns over surrounding trees in the high wind. He had decided on Lavenham as an alternative venue and would have an extra half hour at Sutton Hoo, leaving at 1:30 pm, instead of 1 pm. Arriving at Sutton Hoo, we found similar concerns. The advice was to visit Tranmer House first, as it was likely to close soon, the Royal Burial Ground was already closed and, before we left, we heard that the whole site would be closing at 2 pm.
As advised, we first visited Tranmer House, where the downstairs rooms tell the story of the initial excavation of the ship burial by Basil Brown and his team. Exhibits, film and recordings tell of the important discoveries, further investigation of which had to be shelved for several decades, due to the second world war.
Then it was back to the main object of the visit, the new, four-million-pound reorganisation of the exhibition hall, which had opened for the first time on 5 August. This bears not the slightest resemblance to the exhibition many people will remember, featuring a replica of the burial chamber and its contents, shown in the position in which they were found. All that has been replaced by features like inter-active displays and picture-boards. These tell the story of the ordinary people of the seventh century, describing the life of a soldier, a housewife, a slave girl, a minstrel and so on. Of course, King Raedwald is at the heart of it all, but it is as much about the work and customs of the common people as royalty. Altogether a most impressive and imaginative display - “refurbished” doesn’t do it justice!
At 1:30 pm we continued our amended day out with an hour-long scenic drive to Lavenham. Our driver, Tim, negotiated narrow winding lanes, sharp bends and large on-coming vehicles with consummate skill and put us down in the car park opposite the church of St Peter and St Paul. This massive medieval church was begun in in the fourteenth century and had various additions and partial re-builds until the sixteenth century. During a nineteenth century restoration a number of stained-glass windows were added. At one time the church had several memorial brasses, but these have vanished, leaving only impressions in the floor. Just one floor brass remains, a touching tribute to a ten-day-old baby. Showing his tiny body wrapped in swaddling clothes, it, sadly resembles a flat fish. An art exhibition was being held in the church that day, making an added interest.
The other main interest in Lavenham is, of course, the Guildhall. Most people have visited it at some time and seen the displays which tell the story of life in the town through the many uses that the building has been put to, since its original use as a meeting-place for the town’s wool merchants.Unfortunately, the Guildhall is some distance from the church and a number of members decided the walk was too much of a challenge. However, we could all admire the many very old and attractive buildings.
Our visit ended at 5 pm, with a heavy shower as we made our way back to the coach (hardly Paul’s fault!). Everyone agreed Paul’s revamped day had worked splendidly and he and Tim were given rounds of grateful applause.