The Museum of East Anglian Life is wonderful and engaging a museum, located in Stowmarket, Suffolk, which specialises in presenting the agricultural history of East Anglia through a mixture of exhibits and living history demonstrations. The land was originally part of the Home Farm for the Abbot’s Hall estate. The estate history dates from medieval times when it was an outlying manor for St Osyth’s Priory in Essex. It passed through numerous owners until it was purchased by the Longe family in 1903. Huge changes in the 1950s and 1960s meant that England was in danger of losing long-established skills, equipment, and buildings, if something was not done to rescue them. Local farmer Jack Carter, the Suffolk Local History Council, and other individuals worked to collect, preserve and display objects from rural East Anglia. After several years of temporary exhibitions, Vera and Ena Longe placed 70 acres of farm land, Abbot’s Hall, its gardens, and 18/20 Crowe Street, in trust to be used as a Museum. The Museum of East Anglian Life opened in 1967 and is a modern memorial to this foresight and vision.
Abbot's Hall & Gardens: - The name ‘Abbot’s Hall’ originated in the 12th century when King Henry II granted the manor of Stowmarket to the Abbey of St Osyth in Essex. Following the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539, a variety of families went on to own the estate. Today’s Queen Anne style house was built in 1709 by Charles Blosse, a local gentleman and merchant. Once inside, each room explores a different notion of home and belonging in East Anglia. Home is not just where we live, but also our sense of belonging to a place. This can be formed by our attachment to landscape and traditions, the preservation of memory, and the friendships we make with other people. The displays include: The history of the House; A fantasy dinner party with guests who were food and farming pioneers; An exploration of the work of George Ewart Evans, the father of British oral history; Unexpected rural homes at the St Audry’s Mental Asylum in Melton, Suffolk; Travellers views of home, featuring a fabulous floral tribute to community leader Dannie Buckley; The traditions of gardening in East Anglia. Visitors can also contribute to a virtual encyclopaedia of the East - A People’s Peculiar - curated by visual artist Robert Pacitti.
Alton Watermill, Mill House & Cart Lodge: - The mill house dates from 1765 although an extension was added in the Victorian period. The mill and the cart lodge were both built at the turn of the 19th century. They were relocated to the museum in 1973 prior to the construction of Alton water reservoir, under whose waters they would otherwise now rest. The buildings stand in the same layout as they were in the village of Holbrook. In 1903, George Blackmore was employed to run the mill. He and his family lived in the mill house until the outbreak of WWII when they moved to Ipswich. Afterwards, the mill was no longer used on a commercial basis. At the Museum, they aim to demonstrate the Watermill on a regular basis, pumping water from the River Rattlesden up to the Mill pond. The swish of the water with the clunk of the wheel, fill the mill with sound and bring it to life once more.
Blacksmith's Forge (1750): - For nearly two hundred years this smithy was a bustling and vibrant place, hot from the glowing furnace and filled with the din of metal being hammered. Its last owner, Frederick Joseph Crapnell, took on the premises in 1913. Both his father and grandfather had been blacksmiths. It was from his father that Frederick learnt the trade. In 1968 he retired at the age of 86. Four years later the timber built smithy and travis (where the horses were shod) were saved from demolition and re-erected here. The Blacksmith played an essential role in the agricultural world. He shod horses, made and repaired tools and machinery, made metal tyres to fit wooden wheels as well as making goods for domestic use such as cooking pots.
Boby Building (1870): - Robert Boby Ltd of Bury St Edmunds began life as an ironmonger in the 1850s. By the 1870s it had expanded into the manufacture of agricultural implements such as winnowing and grain cleaning machinery, malting and milling equipment and machinery for processing flax. The building was the biggest factory in Bury St Edmunds, employing nearly 200 men. The building design is an interesting mixture of urban and rural styles. The cast iron window frames on the ground floor are typical of industrial buildings, whilst the white weather boarding and pantiled roof reflect a style popular in the countryside. Perhaps this can be seen as representative of the work that went on inside this building - an industrial, urban process producing rural, agricultural equipment. The building displays objects from the rural industry and craft collection. Highlights include: A Whitmore and Binyon stationary engine; An 1870 Columbia Printing Press from the East Anglian Daily Times which could print a whole newspaper page in one go! Equipment from the Haverhill Ropemaking Works; A basket-making display with work by the Mullins family who grew their osiers along the site of the Museum’s river trail.
The Crowe Street Cottages are the last pair of workers cottages to remain as part of the Abbot’s Hall Estate. Containing most of the belongings from their last resident, Mrs Emily Wilding, they are a unique and special record of real life on this farming estate. They trace the many facets of Mrs Wilding’s life through the objects that she used, from cook to dairywoman, wife to mother, and friend to member of the local community. The displays also feature the stories of Foreman and Head Horseman Fred Wilding, Cowman Jimmy Lambert, ‘Backus Boy’ Ken Wilding and Land Army Girls, Miss Jeffcock and Miss Pat Keeble. Make the most of your visit by listening to Mrs Wilding talk about her life here. Just scan the QR codes with your phone as you walk round.
Eastbridge Windpump: - Originally Eastbridge Windpump was one of four pumps that drained the Minsmere Levels near Leiston in East Suffolk. Water was pumped up two metres from the marsh meadows into a new cut or drainage ditch, enabling more land to be used for grazing. This pump was built during the mid 19th century, probably by Robert Martin, a millwright from Beccles. The ‘smock’ design of the windpump takes its name from its resemblance to a miller’s smock. It was in working order until the Second World War when weather damage took its toll. The pump fell into a state of disrepair, with a severe storm finally knocking it down in the winter of 1977/78. In the early 80s, the ironwork was salvaged and the pump was re-erected on this site. Edgar's Farmhouse: - Edgar’s House was ‘discovered’ in Combs, just south of Stowmarket. It had been incorporated into a much larger farmhouse dating from the Victorian era. In 1970 it was saved from demolition and was the first historic building to be re-erected on the museum site. The first recorded owners of the farmhouse were John Adgor and his wife Ascelina. In 1346 they held nearly 40 acres of arable land, 1.5 acres of meadow, 1 acre of pasture, a rood of wood and 3 acres of alderwood in Combs. They paid an annual rent of 12 shillings and attended the court of Lord Edmund of Combs every three weeks to play a role in dispensing laws of the parish. Evidence suggests that the Adgors survived the Black Death (1348-50) and prospered. It is likely that the farmhouse was built after this event, to enable them to live within the land they were farming.
Great Moulton Chapel (1890) is typical of ‘tin tabernacles’ often found in East Anglia, Wales and the West Country. It is believed to have been supplied ‘flat pack’ by the Norwich firm of Boulton and Paul for the price of £105.18s.0d. It was a protestant Chapel, not affiliated to any particular denomination although it does contain a baptismal pool, commonly found in Baptist Chapels. It later became part of the Rural Ministries group and had a more Evangelical focus, but remained non-denominational. As part of this group it had strong ties with other Chapels, in particular Surrey Chapel, Norwich. It was a member of that congregation William Dix, who paid for the Great Moulton Chapel to be built.
The Home Close area of the Museum was once the Stock-yard for the Abbot’s Hall estate. It provided housing for pigs, cows, horses, equipment and harvested crops. The only original building to remain is the Abbot’s Hall Barn, a magnificent 13th century tithe barn with displays charting farming and the seasons. Displays in Home Close include: A marvellous collection of Gypsy wagons and trailers as well as a Fairground showman’s wagon; Domestic life interiors from the 1900’s and 1950’s, along with a school room and recreated shops typical of village stores in East Anglia; The Farming Year featuring a fine collection of vehicles and machinery from the last 250 years, used for cultivating, harvesting, and processing crops in East Anglia.
Mortlock Building (1920). The Mortlock family were Blacksmiths by trade but also worked as agricultural contractors around Bury St Edmunds and Monks Eleigh. They used this workshop to repair traction engines and other agricultural equipment. As contractors, they hired out steam engines and tackle (threshing drums, ploughs, cultivators, etc) with gangs of workers for use on local farms. Unfortunately, the family never kept up with the times and the invention of the tractor and combine harvester meant their work load diminished. The business ceased trading in 1968. The building now houses many of the Museum’s working engines: Burrell steam traction engine No 3399, ‘Empress of Britain’, built 1912; The only known pair of Burrell steam ploughing engines believed to exist, built in 1879; A pair of Walsh & Clark paraffin ploughing engines from 1919; Tractors including a Case Model C purchased from the Suffolk Agricultural Show in 1934, and a 1948 Fordson E27N. On Steam and Grease Sundays, the Steam Team volunteers bring the sights, smells and sounds of these machines to life as they take them through their paces. To check out the dates, click here.
The historic Settling House (1864), also known as the Round House, Tally House, or Counting House, sat at the heart of Bury St Edmunds cattle market for over 130 years. The Victorian Gothic building, with its distinctive octagonal design, was rebuilt on the museum site in 2011. The Settling House was originally used by traders to complete their business, with the toll collector given permission to sell ginger beer and buns. The building soon became the central hub of the cattle market, the place where traders met and tickets to the auctions were handed out. At the Museum, this building represents a time when the market was not just a place for meeting people and doing business but the symbolic meeting point between town and country, and the place where the dependence of one upon the other was most apparent.
The Bone Building takes us through over 200 years of the history of the world famous engineering firm of Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries. Starting from an ironmongery shop in 1774, swiftly followed by the development of the cast-iron plough share in 1785, this family firm went on to become world leaders in agricultural engineering, exporting ploughs, threshing machines, steam engines and lawn mowers all over the world. Highlights of the displays include: A wooden beamed Ransomes AY plough from 1869 used for demonstrations at agricultural shows. Ransomes, Sims and Head steam traction engine, No 5137, built 1882, and thought to be the oldest surviving engine of its type. A memorial to ‘Employees at the Orwell Works who died for their Country in the Great War’ 1914-1919. An S9 Hindustani plough from 1932, based on early ox plough designs but adapted for use with elephants in India!
The museum is not just the buildings. Their are a vast array of artefacts related to rural life on display, many available for touching. There is free wi-fi available and an app available for iphone users or android users which will enable the visitor to listen to stories from the past and descriptions of the displays. Abbot's Hall: - There is an accessible entrance with a platform lift for wheelchair users, mobility scooters, or pushchairs. An accessible toilet is located on the ground floor. Upstairs galleries can be accessed via a lift. Museum Site: - There is a manual wheelchair available for use, if required. Please ask upon entrance. Electric buggies, driven by museum staff, can be provided upon request. Drop off and pick up times can be arranged. Wheelchair friendly routes are indicated in the visitor guide, available free upon arrival. Accessible toilets are located at both ends of the museum site (and in Abbot's Hall). Due to the historic nature of some of our buildings, they are unable to alter them to allow access to the upper levels. Where possible information about the upper floor rooms can be provided. Assistance dogs are welcome and water can be provided upon request. Visually impaired visitors please note that displays and building information are QR coded to allow you to listen on your phone.
Valuing the environment and promoting sustainability is really important to the Museum of East Anglian Life. Visitors can do their bit and save money by taking advantage of the Museum Green Scheme. The scheme offers a £1 discount off admission for anyone who has cycled or travelled by public transport to visit them. Sitting in the centre of Stowmarket, they are easy to access by train and bus with regular services serving the town. They also provide a cycle shed for cyclists to leave their bicycles. Simply show your bus or train ticket upon entry (or point in the direction of your bicycle!) and the front of house staff will be happy to apply your discount. Carers are admitted for free.
Location : Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 1DL
Transport: Stowmarket (National Rail) 6 minutes. Bus Routes : 88, 89, 384 and 385 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Tuesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 16:30 (Sunday opens at 11:00)
Tickets: Adults £8.25; Concessions £7.15; Children £4.00
Tel: 01449 612229