'"...there is not an East Anglian born without a latent foxiness and guile which he conceals from the stranger beneath a mask of impenetrable shyness and apparent simplicity. And simple of heart you will find him, if he likes you; but should you offend him, he will remain qrafty and suspicious to the end of your acquaintance."
I was directed towards the writings of Julian Tennyson by a friend. We were discussing if there was a definable East Anglian character, both having grown up in the area. He mentioned the writings of Tennyson, the grandson of Alfred Tennyson.
In Suffolk Scene, J T wrote of his experience and observations living in the county. The book's title in full is Suffolk Scene: A Book of Description and Adventure, although the ‘adventures’ to be found are largely rural observations and East Anglian particulars.
When considering writing on the area, the authors that leapt to mind were W.G. Sebald or Ronald Blyth, titles such as Akenfield, Rings of Saturn, or The Yeoman’s House to name but a few. But I was delighted to hear of another individual having put their observations to paper, and Tennyson’s are a wealth of quotable dissection. Both warm and inexplicably amusing, the book seems to take the stance of a passionate defence of the county, one ‘for the explorer and the lover of loneliness.’
The writer goes to great lengths to compare the secretive nature and hard-won affection of East Anglian people, with the easily-missed appeal of their country.
"In aspect and outlook Suffolk seems content to amble along at least a century behind the rest of England. Because it has not been visited with the questionable comforts of modernity, it remains shy and unsophisticated. Not only are the people shy, but the spirit of the country itself is independent, capricious and elusive…"
Despite writing during the last century, I found more than one of Tennyson’s observations recognisable. The passage on the famous Suffolk Punch horse for instance, the agricultural muscle of yesteryear, brought to mind the example of Equus ferus that once lived across from us. Prone to falling asleep against the main fence, a quick nap frequently resulted in the destruction of that already failing and patchwork boundary. Most residents of the village recall on more than one occasion waking to find over two-thousand pounds of horse breakfasting in their front gardens.
"The hedges are the key to the variety of the fields, and to the wildness and uncouthness of the whole county. They are fascinating, extravagant and dramatic. Hazel, may, bramble, blackthorn, anything that can find a place in them runs amok in a dizzy tangle until the hedges tower twelve feet above their banks and the overburdened lanes seem to contract to half their real width."
His discussion of Suffolk hedgerows is still apt, albeit a great deal have been removed to make way for larger farming practice in some areas of the county. But they are still to be found around the studio and around my home.
"I love these overblown and unruly hedges, and of all the jumble that clings about them I like the dog-roses best. Oh, those June roses in Suffolk, with their wide, delicate cups of pink and white! Nowhere else have I seen them in such mass and riot, for nowhere else do they have the chance to grow as they please year after year. For one month they run wild over
the hedgerows, and their soft, spreading brightness blinds you to the deeper colours beside them. Their scent is sweet and slight, so that the faintest wind carries it beyond your grasp; but in the evenings, when the breeze has died away, it hangs about the lanes so heavily that it overrides even the scent of the hay in the neighbouring fields. I do not mind when
the hedges are suddenly cut down, for in Suffolk it is a most spacious and unusual feeling to find yourself walking for a mile or two between cornfields that come sweeping down to the very edge of the lane. I am not even troubled that all their glory is ruthlessly demolished with them; but I do miss the dog-roses."
Having not given much thought to the composition of the hedgerows, but having enjoyed their unkept appearance for many years, I decided to explore possible hedgerow specimens the next time I was out walking. Mushrooms, wild fruits and rose hips all make an appearance in the collection I produced last year, ‘Found and Foraged’.
No doubt, I will defer to a Tennyson quote again when next discussing this county and its particulars. For now, I hope this acts as an introduction to those of you who haven’t heard of him or require a thorough examination of rural Suffolk’s idiosyncrasies.