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Suffolk Garlands

In May 2022 A New Suffolk Garland: an Anthology of Suffolk Writing and Art was published. Although not mentioned in the text it is the fifth in a line of Suffolk Garland volumes stretching back over 200 years.

The first, The Suffolk Garland, was published in 1818, by John Raw of Ipswich and edited by the Reverend James Ford (1779-1851). The title page shows a ‘Representation of St Edmund’s head, copied from a pane of painted glass, which was taken from a window of the Abbot’s Palace at Bury…’. This was essentially a literary volume, ‘a collection of poems, songs, tales, ballads, sonnets, and elegies’. One of the authors, Suffolk born Robert Bloomfield, is still well known today. Described as an English labouring-class poet he is often compared with John Clare and in other ways with George Crabbe. His poem ‘The Suffolk Horkey’ covers eight pages and today can be found on the internet, entitled simply ‘The Horkey’

The second volume is The New Suffolk Garland ‘collected, compiled, and edited by John Glyde, Jun. (1823-1905) and published in 1866. Glyde is recognised as the leading nineteenth-century historian of Ipswich and Suffolk. His bequest of books and manuscripts to the Ipswich Corporation in 1905 is now in the Suffolk Archives in Ipswich and includes this volume. There is a blue plaque at 9 Eagle Street Ipswich where he lived until 1844.

In the preface Glyde writes ‘…all the persons noted in the volume have been either natives of, or residents in the County of Suffolk.’ Two of these, Matilda Betham Edwards and Elizabeth Cobbold (1767-1824), were included in the recent exhibition ‘Women Don’t Do Such Things’ at The Hold, the Suffolk Archives repository in Ipswich. This New Suffolk Garland includes the long poem by Edwards, ‘The Golden Bee’, and a poem sent by Cobbold to her first husband. The introduction to this latter poem is particularly interesting. ‘Miss Elizabeth Cobbold, a lady well known as one of the leaders of the literary, artistic and fashionable circles in Ipswich during the first quarter of the present century, married in her twenty-third year, William Clarke, Esq., of Ipswich, a gentleman twice her own age, by whose death she became a widow within six months of her marriage. Her sentiments towards Mr. Clarke, and her indifference to the remarks which the disparity of years had occasioned, may be solicited from the following lively verses, which she addressed to him on St. Valentine’s Day, soon after their marriage.’

The volume also includes two poems by Eliza Acton, an author we have had the recent pleasure of re-discovering through the novel The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs. The introduction to the poems discreetly avoids mentioning the bankruptcy of her father which led to Eliza leaving Ipswich to live for a while in France but describes in detail her move into a different genre. ‘... on her return to England [from France] she went to live in Hampstead. Whilst residing there, she turned her attention to a different subject to poetry. She prepared a “Cookery Book,” which was published by the Messrs. Longman, as “Miss Acton’s Cookery Book,” and it having become the best book in the trade, it was doubtless to her much more remunerative than poetry.’ These entries and the rest of the volume can be read online in a copy digitised by Cornell University Library.

The third Garland is more restricted geographically. In 1928, Ernest R. Cooper (1865-1948), a solicitor, Town Clerk of Southwold published A Suffolk Coast Garland. Cooper is well known as a historian of Suffolk and as he points out in the Preface this is a ‘A History of the Suffolk Coast’ written as ‘… a kite flown by the author in the hope that it may influence someone, learned in research work, and with more ability and opportunity, to delve into the Records relating to the once important seaports of a County which in early days, in industry, navigation, and prosperity, was second only to Middlesex-cum-London.’

Unlike the previous two Garlands this is not a literary inspired publication, referring only briefly to Charles Dickens and Edward Fitzgerald, the latter exploring the ownership and history of the yacht ‘Scandal’.

The fourth, A Suffolk Garland for The Queen, was published in 1961. Text on the book cover describes the volume perfectly. ‘This delightful and unconventional miscellany of Suffolk Life and letters, scenes and sketches, arts and crafts, has been produced to mark the royal Progress through Suffolk of Her Majesty The Queen and H.R.H. Prince Phillip on July 21, 1961 – the first official visit of a reigning monarch to the County for some four hundred years’.

The book was ‘a co-operative venture of a group of authors, artists, photographers, printers and bookbinders, all living and working in the County of Suffolk today’. This makes the publication unique among these Suffolk Garlands, providing a snapshot of literary life at the time with contributions from authors such as W. G. Arnott, Robert Greenwood, Hammond Innes, Paul Jennings, Allan Jobson, Adrian Bell and Norman Scarfe, who, twenty years later, was heavily involved in the setting up of the organisation which became the Suffolk Book League. Proceeds from the sale of this fourth Suffolk Garland were given to the ‘King George’s Jubilee Trust’.

As mentioned earlier, the most recent Garland was published in May and is ‘…respectfully dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen on the Occasion of Her Platinum Jubilee.’ It has been edited by Elizabeth Burke, Dan Franklin and John and Mary James of the Aldeburgh Bookshop and published by The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, an Imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd. for the Festival of Suffolk Limited.

This anthology contains an eclectic mix of writing interspersed with a range of old and new images. Again the text on the book cover excellently describes its contents. ‘A New Suffolk Garland gathers the best writing, new and old, from people who love this special county: from a twelfth century monk to Ed Sheeran, through Gainsborough, Dickens, W. G. Sebald, Ronald Blythe, Robert Macfarlane, Michael Ondaatje and Penelope Fitzgerald to Roger Deakin, Melissa Harrison and Helen Macdonald…..[and] contains specially written new work by Craig Brown, Ralph Fiennes, India Knight, Olivia Laing, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Robin Robertson and Lucy Walker’.

Clearly, due to space limitations, many excellent writers were omitted, but Suffolk continues to inspire a range of authors and I’m sure we can look forward to a sixth Garland, hopefully sooner than later.

Thanks to the Suffolk Archives for providing access to the first three Garlands.

Jeff Taylor


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