A Good Read: Stories of smugglers, pirates, and a North Sea battle

Julia Jones

Julia Jones - Credit: Archant

Louise Denyer explores the story behind a well known pub landmark near Woodbridge

Lion of Sole Bay

Lion of Sole Bay - Credit: Archant

When you live in a place for a long time it’s easy to become complacent about surroundings, especially familiar landmarks.

For many years I’ve frequently passed the Red Lion at Martlesham, between Ipswich and Woodbridge, yet have never really taken time to study the prominent figurehead that adorns the front of the former 16th century coaching inn. I remember hearing mythical stories when I was younger about how it had originally come from a pirate’s or smuggler’s ship that had been wrecked off the nearby coast, but truth is often stranger than fiction.

In May 1672 a fierce battle was fought between the English and the Dutch in Sole Bay, 10 miles off the coast at Southwold. The Anglo-French fleet was commanded by the Duke of York, who later became King James II, and the local townsfolk were ordered to stay put in case they needed to repel an invasion. Losses were heavy on both sides and the battle ended inconclusively. One enemy ship to be captured was the Stavoren, and it was this vessel that the Red Lion carving came from.

This intriguing artefact resembling an oriental dragon inspired Julia Jones to write the fourth novel in her Strong Winds series, a nautical tale set in Merlesham, which in old English means a settlement near the mooring place. Aimed at teenagers, this is an unsentimental adventure story for a modern audience. While the practically minded characters of Luke, Angel and Helen bare distinct traces of Ransome and Blyton, and the plot explores how self-sufficient teenagers can be when the need arises. The drama is realistic and its complexities reflect situations and struggles, such as stepfamilies and epilepsy that young readers of today can identify with.

Red Lion figurehead

Red Lion figurehead - Credit: Archant

The Battle of Sole Bay plays an important catalytic role in the novel and, aided by intricate drawings by local artist Claudia Myatt, Jones masterfully interweaves interesting facts about this defining moment in history. As well as the Dutch characters the story lightly touches upon Russian and northern Europe folklore and mysticism, which serves as a reminder of just how international our heritage and traditions have always been, and the imprint these cultures have left on our natural as well as man-made landscapes.

Julia Jones is a writer, editor, publisher and owner of Arthur Ransomes’ wooden sailing yacht Peter Duck. Born and bred in Woodbridge, her family’s connection with this well-known literary figure influenced a lifelong enthusiasm for books and all things nautical. Jones is also an authority on the early twentieth century crime writer, Margery Allingham, and her wider family.

The Battle of Sole Bay by Willem Van de Velde

The Battle of Sole Bay by Willem Van de Velde - Credit: Archant