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Southwold history traced in new illustrated book

PUBLISHED: 17:12 20 April 2012

Simon Loftus has written a new book on the history of Southwold.  Picture: Nick Butcher

Simon Loftus has written a new book on the history of Southwold. Picture: Nick Butcher

© Archant 2012

COLOURFUL beach huts, fish and chips, and a frothing pint of locally-brewed real ale - it is the seaside experience synonymous with Southwold.

But the town was once known for its proximity to a famous naval battle, unruly pirates and its link to a famous author, as a new collated history reveals.

Looking back to the Stone Age, An Illustrated History of Southwold provides a concise account of the events and people which shaped the community today.

The book, published by Southwold Museum, is the work of author Simon Loftus who pulled it together in a matter of months after spotting what he saw as a need for an updated and readable account of the town’s past.

Mr Loftus, the president of the Southwold Museum on Victoria Street and known to many in the town through his long association with Adnams, said: “I was asked to become president of the local museum a year ago and I have always been a big supporter of it – it is a wonderful organisation.

“When I took over as president I realised there was no real history book on Southwold. Various people had put together leaflets, essays or anecdotes, but there has not been a consecutive history for over 100 years.

“I was struck by this, so I rashly volunteered to do it and said I would see that it was ready for sale by Easter.”

The book begins 700,000 years ago when remote human ancestors arrived on foot from mainland Europe, with traces of their existence found in the cliffs off Pakefield.

But it is not until the mention of Southwold in the Domesday Book in 1086 that a community begins to emerge on record. Southwold is described within it as a “poor” and “tiny” settlement with no natural resources other than fish, while the neighbouring village of Reydon had two churches and enough land to support 53 men and their families.

By medieval times, the town of Southwold is depicted as a dangerous place renowned for its band of lawless pirates who had been reported for attacking ships in Orford harbour.

Speaking about the production of the book, Mr Loftus said: “I wanted to make it local in all aspects, so I got Spring (the Southwold-based design agency) involved with the design and encouraged the company’s founder Erika Clegg to become one of the trustees of the museum.

“We wanted to produce something that will sell for the sensible price of £8. We also wanted it to be something that any member of the public could grasp, read and enjoy.”

Elsewhere in the book, Mr Loftus provides an account of the Great Fire of Southwold in 1659, the Battle of Solebay in 1672, the construction of Adnams’ Sole Bay Brewery in 1825 and the recent refurbishment of Southwold Pier.

The book also gives a short account of Southwold’s links to writer George Orwell whose parents had a home in the town. The renowned author of 1984 and Animal Farm – whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair – returned to Southwold to live with his parents in 1929 and he fell in love with a gym teacher at St Felix Girls’ School. However, was turned down when he proposed marriage.

Mr Loftus, who retired as Adnams’ chairman in 2006 but remains on the company board, said he was not short of material for the book – and said it should be of interest to locals and visitors alike.

“One of the difficulties of writing the book has been sticking to the word length,” he said. “It has been very interesting trying to distil the history.”

● The book is due to be published on Monday and is available to buy from Southwold Museum for £8. All proceeds will go to the museum. The museum is now open 2pm to 4pm until the end of October.

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