The East Anglian Museum of Rural Life was where the History Group (and friends) headed off to on October 7th and we all enjoyed the trip. At the very edge of the town of Stowmarket, this remarkable Museum is set on land which has been farmed for over seven centuries and you can still see the original great barn - one of the longest in Suffolk until one end collapsed in a storm. Now it's an unusual wedding venue, bringing valuable income to the Museum Trust
The Museum was opened in 1967, using the land and buildings donated for the purpose by Ena and Vera Longe. Their father was Herbert Davy Longe, the last man to farm the land.Their grandfather was a Rector of Sternfield, John Longe, which gives our parishes an unexpected connection to the Museum!
Abbott Hall, the family home of the Longes, is a lovely Queen Anne house with walled garden and grounds. It was opened to the public in 2012 using Heritage Lottery Funding and now contains the Museum's temporary galleries. These include a very moving display from the Mental Hospital at Melton Park, a room devoted to famous Blaxhall historian George Ewart Evans, a celebration of the Museum's 50th anniversary and much more. A special treat is the Listening Armchair: snuggle down and press any button - you will hear a story from Stowmarket history.
There is much more to explore in the other buildings set amongst the woods fields and gardens of the Museum where almost every aspect of Suffolk's rural past is illustrated with displays and artefacts from the tiny knitting needle to the monster steam engine. There's farming, of course and related engineering, but also a wealth of small industries, making the visitor realise that Suffolk was once practically self-sufficient in daily needs. The horse-drawn fire-engine, the print-works, the wheelwright, the blacksmith, the brush maker, the basket-makers, the saddler, the rope-maker, the baker, the brick maker, the clock-maker, and many others - all have been rescued from oblivion and are celebrated here.
One day is not enough to explore all the delights the Museum has to offer and besides, we needed frequent breaks to make the most of the excellent cafe - the marmalade ice-cream was highly praised, or was salted caramel the favourite option? Hard to say! We will have to go again to find out!