Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Last chance to win a genuine Maggi Hambling painting

Sun on breaking summer waves  Maggi Hambling Oil on Canvas 10 x 14 inches

For some years the artist Maggi Hambling has been a good friend to Gainsborough's House.  She has been the Patron of the Friends and supported fundraising events.  Maggi was born in St Leonards Hospital in Sudbury and was brought up in nearby Hadleigh.  One afternoon her mother drove her over to Gainsborough's House.  She has said of the experience:-

'I don't have much memory of being born,but the experience of seeing great painting for the first time remains with me to this day.  I couldn't believe that cows or clouds, woods or dogs, trees or land could be made so real with paint.  Or that so much activity could take place on such a small scale, within a gold frame.  This childhood encounter was exciting and mysterious.

'Experiencing another reality, apart from life (but of life), had a profound effect on my decision to become an artist'

Recently Maggi has donated the painting above to Gainsborough's House, and it is being raffled to raise funds for the future development of the museum.  As many of you know there are ambitious plans afoot to transform the current site. The aim is to create a venue that will meet the demands of the 21st century visitor, contribute more to the life of Sudbury, and inspire a whole new generation of artists.  I will be writing about this in more detail in the months to come.

The raffle is being organised by NADFAS.  Tickets are £20 each.

 In order to take part you should send your name and address plus a cheque or other payment details to Eden Ryder, NADFAS House, 8 Guilford Street, London WC!N 1 DA with an stamped addressed envelope by 4th December.  Mark your envelope 'Maggi Hambling'.   You should indicate whether or not you wish NADFAS to share your details with Gainsborough's House.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Suffolk Ghosts and Hauntings

From Andy Sheppard

Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Robert Halliday to the Parish Room where, on a stormy and windy night, 34 brave (and ghoulish?) souls came along to hear about the paranormal activity recorded in Suffolk. They were not to be disappointed, especially when, near the end of Robert’s presentation, his projector appeared to change the pictures on our screen all by itself. Thankfully there was a quite harmless explanation, but it certainly got the attention of our audience.

Robert began his talk by describing his own personal paranormal experiences, which though benign were certainly fascinating. He described what he saw, on two separate occasions, on the north (or evil) side of St Andrew’s church in Walberswick: a blue person-shaped object which sadly disappeared before he could get close enough to see it properly. He did however examine the part of the graveyard where it was, finding the immediate area cold and damp, despite the evening being warm and dry scary! He subsequently came back some time later for a proper examination, staying for four hours but without seeing the object again.

Robert’s talk then shifted to some of the many (and repeated) records of unexplained activity in Suffolk, keeping the audience alert to the end.

Sutherland House in Southwold
Is the site of many sightings of a phantom lady who in the Seventeenth Century was working in the house waiting for the return of Lord Sandwich, the man she loved, from a sea battle with the Dutch. Sadly he was killed and on the anniversary of his death on 28th May, footsteps and the sound of doors opening and closing spontaneously may be heard. She may also on occasion be spied in an upstairs window dressed in C17th attire. Happily subsequent owners of the property are not spooked by such goings on.

The most haunted house in England - Borley Rectory near Sudbury.
The large Gothic-style Rectory was built in 1862 for the rector of Borley and his family. It gained fame as "the most haunted house in England", was badly damaged by fire in 1939 and subsequently demolished in 1944.
The Rectory was alleged to be haunted since it was built, and such reports multiplied in 1929 after the Daily Mirror published an account of a visit to the rectory by paranormal researcher Harry Price, who wrote two books supporting claims of paranormal activity.
The uncritical acceptance of Price's reports prompted a formal study by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), of whom Harry Price was a member. The SPR report rejected most of the claimed sightings as either imagined or fabricated, casting doubt on Price's credibility. His claims are now generally discredited, but neither the report nor biography of Price quelled public interest in the stories, with new books and television documentaries being produced to satisfy public interest in the Rectory.

The Brown Monk of Bury
The old Abbey Gateway in Bury is one of many locations where witnesses have seen apparitions of monks. These in the 1960s were dubbed 'brown monks' by locals, despite the fact that the monks of the Benedictine Abbey wore black habits. Abbeygate Street itself has seen many monk sightings, whilst cellars in the old Suffolk Hotel building in Buttergate are said to be haunted by 'brown monks'. Many staff in the shops along Abbeygate Street also seem to have witnessed ghostly monk apparitions, though whether of the same or different monks is unknown. 

The Mill Hotel Sudbury
Many inns and pubs claim to be haunted.often by the ghosts of animals long dead manifesting themselves. At the Mill Hotel the ghost is a mummified cat, found many years before the building became a hotel.  This was later sold to a nearby shop. This shop suffered many disasters before finally burning down, though somehow the mummified cat survived the conflagration. Thereafter the cat was held responsible for the mayhem and returned to the Mill Hotel when everything returned happily to normal.
Bricked up to bring good luck to the original mill building, the mummified cat was rediscovered in 1971 when the mill was converted to a hotel. In 1999 it was again removed, and over the next few weeks the road outside the hotel exploded, the manager’s office flooded several times, and the person who had removed the cat met with an accident. All returned to normal once the cat was returned.

Haunted Walberswick, George Orwell's Ghost
Eric Arthur Blair’s family hailed from Southwold. After much travelling to India, Burma and many parts of the UK, Blair decided that East Anglia was his home and took the pen name George Orwell, presumably from the river running from Felixstowe through Ipswich and Stowmarket (as the Gipping) to Mendelsham Green near Gipping.
In a letter to friend Dennis Collings in August 1931, although not believing in the paranormal, Orwell wrote that he had seen a ghost in Walberswick cemetery. He was so shocked that he included a detailed diagram of his walking route in the letter to demonstrate the geographical impossibility that a figure he had seen would have been able to walk away so quickly.
I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw a figure pass, disappearing behind the masonry and presumably disappearing into the churchyard. I wasn’t looking directly at it so couldn’t make out more than it was a man’s figure, small and stooping, dressed in lightish brown. I had the impression it glanced towards me but made out nothing of the features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me the figure had made no noise and I followed it out into the churchyard. There was no one in the churchyard and no one within possible distance along the road - the figure had therefore vanished.
Orwell concluded that this was probably an hallucination.  However 84 years after Orwell’s curious experience near an English cemetery what he saw, and how he saw it, remains a mystery.

LWHS trustees have an open mind about happenings as described above, but interested readers can easily search the internet or, better still, visit the places described to perhaps see and experience for themselves what may, or may not, be happening there - enjoy!

Our next event will be on 16th December at 7.30 in The Parish Room Little Waldingfield, when David Steward will talk and walk us around Hampton Court Palace and gardens, showing us what Cardinal Wolsey started and Henry VIII continued (after he “acquired it”).

We look forward to welcoming guests new and old for what is sure to be a quite fascinating evening’s entertainment and a wonderful story of a building that celebrated its 500th anniversary last year

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fairer funding achieved as Lisa departs.

I was very sorry to hear about the resignation from the County Council last week of our Cabinet Member for Education, Lisa Chambers.

Although we have not always agreed on everything, Lisa was very good to work with. I have  huge respect for her professionalism and her total dedication to her Cabinet role. Under her direction, over the past two and a half years, educational attainment in Suffolk Schools has certainly turned the corner both at the secondary and primary level.  As a recent nasty and, to my mind, gratuitous letter in the EADT showed, Lisa, perhaps inevitably, was not always popular with all members of the teaching profession, but she was brave, stuck to her guns, and got results.

In addition to her work on school improvement, Lisa was a steadfast campaigner for Fairer Funding for Schools.  This was a movement supported by a coalition of some 40 MP’s and many councillors from all over the country. They worked tirelessly to achieve a change in the national funding formula for schools. Under the current arrangements schools in the best funded areas in England receive a per capita grant per pupil that is over £2000 higher than the worst funded.  Suffolk comes towards the bottom of the pile.

In his budget speech yesterday George Osborne confirmed the news that there will be a new national funding formula for schools from 2017, and it is believed that this will benefit rural areas such as Suffolk. Of course money is not everything, but it certainly helps, and Lisa’s efforts in this area have clearly paid off.

I wish Lisa all the best in the future and am sure that she will continue to shine brightly in her new job. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reasons to love South Suffolk (2). Gainsborough's House

The Reform Club

Following on from the previous post, Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury is another reason to love South Suffolk!

The museum is doing well at present, enjoying increased visitor numbers and grant support. There is an exciting expansion scheme in prospect which will take the scope of the museum to a completely different level.   These plans, while exciting in themselves, are a vital step towards making the museum sustainable for the future.  The aim must be to rely less on fundraising and more on commercial activities, but in the meantime, and for some years yet, the fundraising must go on!

Accordingly, on Thursday evening the Gainsborough’s House Patrons held their Annual Dinner at the Reform Club in Pall Mall(where Phineas Fogg made his bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days), and it was in every respect a truly glittering occasion. We were addressed by the eminent writer and art historian, Peyton Skipwith, there was an exciting fundraising auction, and a good time was had by all.

The Friends and Patrons Groups are essential to the future of the museum and the generosity of those who attended on Thursday is very welcome.  The financial environment for arts organisations is always challenging, and particularly so now.  For many years the museum has received much appreciated support from Suffolk County Council, Sudbury Town Council and also from Babergh.  However, in the current climate of austerity this can no longer taken for granted. Last week the Independent reported the news that Lancashire County Council is to cut its cultural budget by 90%.  Two textile mill museums, together with the Museum of Lancashire in Preston, the Judges’ lodgings in Lancaster and the Fleetwood Museum, will be closed.  The impact of these closures on the local economy will be very damaging.

Gainsborough’s House has never depended over-heavily on public funds, but nonetheless the trustees are mindful of the need to boost income from other sources.  The support of individuals is really important in this respect.  This is not just because of the donations received.  Supporters, from Suffolk and beyond, comprise a vibrant ‘Gainsborough’s House community’. They participate in events, volunteer at the museum and help to build its unique spirit and reputation.  The London dinner is just one small aspect of this activity.

It is possible to support Gainsborough’s House at a number of different levels.  For more details please contact the museum on 01787 372958, or call in at reception in Weaver’s Lane

Exhibit from the current exhibition 'The Painting Room' at Gainsborough's House, featuring Sir Joshua Reynolds's easel.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reasons to love South Suffolk (1) South Suffolk Food Day

James and Jimmy's Farm produce
 Yesterday evening, along with other Babergh District and County Councillors,  I was lucky enough to be invited to the Palace of Westminster to attend South Suffolk Food Day.  This event was organised just off Westminster Hall by our Member of Parliament, James Cartlidge, and took the form of a series of displays from some of the very fine food producers that are based in the South Suffolk area.

Delicious morsels were on offer from a number of companies.  I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to sample some of the wines from Gifford Hall Vinyard in Hartest. The dry as dust pink was particularly delicious!  The charming proprietor told me how the volume of wine that he is able to produce is gradually increasing year on year.  Gifford Hall wines are now sold nationwide in Loch Fyne restaurants,  and locally by Waitrose. We enjoyed an interesting conversation about how wines were produced in our area as long ago as Roman times.   Many legionnaires from the Roman army settled on land around Camolodunum, now Colchester, principally it seems because the local wines in the area were renowned across the empire.

Then on to a diet busting session with local chocolatier, Hadleigh Maid.  It seems that a number of the visitors present were unaware that we have a local chocolate manufacturer in Hadleigh.  I do recommend the chocolate bars and other products, some of which can be purchased at Hollow Trees Farm Shop in Semer, selected outlets of the East of England co-op and Heeks in the Market Square Lavenham.  Mail order is also available.

Jimmy's Farm, pictured above, needs no introduction to those who have followed Jimmy's progress on TV from his earliest struggles to his current fame and fortune.   The farm has developed a great deal from the early days and now, in addition to its own butcher's shop, hosts a number of other interesting shops.  A taste of two sorts of sausages reminded me of the Farm's unwavering commitment to producing a real quality product and I vowed to make a trip there before Christmas.  Once again mail order is an option.

Adnams Brewery and the Suffolk Food Hall also had displays, and an honourable mention must be made of Mrs Bennett's pickles in the goody bag! All in all it was an impressive showcase for gastronomic South Suffolk.

After the event we were taken on a conducted tour of the House of Commons by James.  Despite having worked in the House for a couple of years in early youth, I picked up a number of facts that were new to me.  We were lucky that the House of Commons was not sitting and we were able to walk through the voting lobbies.  The method of voting has remained unchanged for hundreds of years and to be able to simulate the experience was quite exciting for those of us for whom it is too late to do it for real!

Suffolk Food Hall outside Ipswich

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Farewell to William

Group Chairman, Graham Newman, pays tribute to William (left in red)
On Saturday many of the County Council Conservative Group met at Ixworth Cricket Club to say goodbye to our political support of 8 year's standing, William Hooper.

William is off to work with the Conservatives at nearby Norfolk, so we are sure to continue to see him.  This is a good thing because he has done a fantastic job while he has been with us.  He has a great talent for cutting through to the nub of tricky arguments and clarifying the collective mind in meetings.  He also really understands what it means to be a Conservative, and is good at keeping policy discussion on the straight and narrow.

He is not just a political geek however.  William is really knowledgeable about all sorts of subjects, and is a great musician and stage performer.  He can sit down at the piano and produce a very entertaining hour or so of songs, all amusing and all composed by himself!

William has been a great friend and support to me while I have been at the County Council, and I will miss him a great deal.

Cllr. Patricia O Brien and her husband James admire our gift to William.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cameron and the state of local government finance, hypocricy or ignorance?

The Left has been quick to brand David Cameron ‘hypocritical’ because last week he wrote to complain to Oxfordshire County Council about cuts to local services in his Whitney Constituency. Surely he must be aware, they claim, that it is the financial constraits imposed by his own government that is causing the reduction in front line services to residents?

However, I am not sure that Cameron is being hypocritical  since hypocricy would imply that he has  a real understanding of the current state of local authority finances.  To my mind, his letter shows that this is not the case.  Rather he and his Government are actually only vaguely aware of the real difficulties now being experienced by many councils.

Perhaps, given the continuing need to do something about the level of national debt, it is easier for the government not to think too hard about the impact on councils of deep cuts in funding, past, present and future.  However, at the end of the day, anyone who gives it a moment's thought knows that one cannot keep hacking away at an organisation's cost base without some consequences.  There are certainly some councils that were very inefficiently run in the past.  These may well  have further fat to shed, but other more efficient operators, such as Suffolk County Council for example, are finding necessary cost reductions increasingly hard to find. 

Some Conservatives, in defence of the Prime Minister, have accused Oxford County Council of crying wolf....apparently the council started to warn of service cuts as long ago as 2010 and they have managed reasonably well to date.  Perhaps these warnings might have been premature, but there is no doubt in my mind that five years on OCC's complaints and fears are real.   A good deal of their grant from the centre has now disappeared, and there is only so far that one can go in reorganising and pruning the back office (as was suggested to them last week by Cameron). In any event  ultimately back office cuts if too extensive do impact on the front line. Moreover, research tells us  that faced with an impossible financial situation a council will cut services, even those that are statutory obligations,  rather than risk financial meltdown.

As I have written on this site before, earlier this year a report from the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance stated that when it came to financial strength 'local government is on a cliff edge'.  They criticised central Government for its lack of understanding with regard to the relative financial strength of different public bodies and their ability to withstand cuts which have been indiscriminately and equally imposed across the board.

Mr Cameron's letter provides further evidence that the ICLGA was right; so not a hypocrite perhaps, but certainly ignorant.