Discover Suffolk's fascinating heritage at these top museums

Woodbridge Tide Mill has been redecorated on the outside since it closed Picture: SIMON BALLARD

Woodbridge Tide Mill celebrates 850 years on the quayside site in 2021. - Credit: Simon Ballard

As lockdown restrictions ease Suffolk's museums are opening their doors to visitors so why not put them on your list of things to do this summer?

They're a great way to get to know more about the county and what makes it tick. Many are staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who will tell you about the collections in their care, bringing your visit alive. 

Many Suffolk towns and villages have museums dedicated to their heritage but there are also specialist collections such as the Museum of East Anglian LifeEast Anglia Transport Museum and Ipswich Transport Museum. Here are some to whet your appetite.

  
Woodbridge Tide Mill Museum   
On the banks of the River Deben, Woodbridge Tide Mill was one of first tide mills in the country, and one of the few remaining that still regularly produces flour. It has been on the same site for eight centuries and while it fell into disuse, it has been completely restored to working order. Visitors can make their way through the mill, learning all about the process of making flour, with the mill machinery in action, interactive models, CGI imagery, and audio stations.

To coincide with the mill’s 850th anniversary in June, an exhibit dedicated to Jean Gardener will be taking place on Tuesday, June 1, highlighting her contributions to helping preserve the mill. The mill is open every day between 11am and 4pm. Due to current restrictions, visitor numbers are limited to five per group, for a designated 50-minute slot. woodbridgetidemill.org.uk

Ipswich Museum

Ipswich Museum

Ipswich Museum has a collections spanning millennia of natural history and centuries of social history. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

natural science collections spanning millions of years, to a wide range of social history objects. Covering thousands of years there is a wealth of human and natural history to discover across Ipswich Museums’ three venues.

Explore 500 years of history in the beautiful Tudor Christchurch Mansion, set within Christchurch Park. See a changing programme of local and touring exhibitions, featuring art, museum collections and more at Ipswich Art Gallery. Explore the Victorian Natural History Gallery at Ipswich Museum, travel back to Ancient Egypt or see how the town has changed since the Stone Age.

Ipswich Borough Council, in partnership with National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and The Friends of the Ipswich Museums are embarking on an ambitious project that aims to breathe new life into the museum, transforming it into an exciting cultural hub.

The museum is open with timed entry slots available to book. ipswich.cimuseums.org.uk/visit/ipswich-museum

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Aldeburgh Museum   
The Moot Hall, practically on Aldeburgh's seafront, is a 16th century timber-framed building and home to Aldeburgh Museum. The museum tells of Aldeburgh's rich and varied history through hands-on and digital displays. You can learn all about the building, one of the best-preserved Tudor buildings in the country, local democracy, the fishing and shipbuilding industry, archaeological discoveries and the Anglo Saxons, the Victorian era, the Witches of Aldeburgh and much more.

The Moot Hall in Aldeburgh

The Moot Hall in Aldeburgh houses the town's museum and is one of the finest Tudor buildings in the country. - Credit: David Lamming

The museum collection is in the first floor council chamber and the museum room on the ground floor. Entry to the museum is via the external staircase directly into the Council Chamber, which is still in use today by the Town Council. Inside the museum there is a Discovery Trail for children and a museum shop. The museum is open every afternoon between 1pm and 4 pm.  Face coverings are required.  For further information and to pre-book an entry slot at a day and time to suit you, visit the website at aldeburghmuseum.org.uk

Moyse’s Hall Museum  
Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds is housed in a building at the heart of the town for nearly 900 years. It has served served as a workhouse and a police station before becoming a museum in 1899. 

Moments, a contemporary art exhibition which runs until the end of September.

Moyses Hall tells the history of Bury St Edmunds and beyond as well as hosting important exhibitions, such as Moments, a contemporary art exhibition which runs until the end of September. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Learn about the creation and dissolution of the Abbey, explore artefacts connected with witchcraft and superstition, and see a collection of rare timepieces bequeathed by clock collector and musician Frederic Gershom Parkington. Also on display is art by local artists Sybil Andrews and Mary Beale who was dubbed ‘England's first professional female painter’. Moyses Hall also hosts important exhibitions such as Moments, a cutting edge contemporary art exhibition, featuring works by artists such as Banksy, which runs until the end of September. moyseshall.org

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Little Hall Lavenham

This 14th century family home and workplace is one of the best-kept historic houses in Suffolk. The hall was restored in 1920s and 1930s by twin brothers Thomas and Robert Gayer-Anderson, who filled it with a mix of art, antiques, pictures, books and china from their travels, spread across seven rooms.

The Little Hall in Lavenham

The Little Hall in Lavenham was restored in the 1920s and 1930s by twin brothers Thomas and Robert Gayer-Anderson, who filled it with a mix of art, antiques, pictures, books and china from their travels. - Credit: Tudor Morgan-Owen

Particularly worth seeing are the study, which features exotic Persian panels, and the spectacular upper chamber with its striking crown post. Also, make time to explore the house’s peaceful, traditional English walled garden. Open 1pm to 4pm, Friday to Sunday.   littlehall.org.uk

Southwold Sailor's Reading Room  
Established in 1864, Southwold Sailors' Reading Room was originally built as a refuge for fishermen and mariners when not at sea, with the idea of keeping them out of the town’s pubs.

Sailors' Reading Room at SouthwoldPhoto: Bill SmithFor: Stock Archant © 2007

Sailors' Reading Room at Southwold. - Credit: Bill Smith

The Grade II-listed building houses a collection of nautical treasures, including portraits and pictures of sailors and seascapes, model ships and other maritime paraphernalia that provide an insight to Southwold's past and its connections with the sea.   
All being well, the museum will open from June 21. southwoldsailorsreadingroom.co.uk

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National Horse Racing Museum  
Newmarket is the birthplace of thoroughbred horseracing and has a museum dedicated to the sport and the art that goes with it.  
Newmarket’s National Horse Racing Museum was formally opened by the Queen in November 2016 and is set on a five-acre site in the heart of the town. It explores the fascinating history of horseracing through three attractions.

Newmarket's National Horse Racing Museum

Newmarket's National Horse Racing Museum brings together the history of the sport told through art and sporting memorabilia, as well as providing a chance to meet retrained racehorses. - Credit: Marc Atkins / Art Fund

The National Horseracing Museum in the Trainer’s House and King’s Yard Galleries houses works of art, silver, bronzes, and artefacts, including silks worn by famous jockeys Lester Piggott and Frankie Dettori. Using the latest interactive and audiovisual displays the museum also takes a different look at the sport, examining the physical attributes of the elite equine athlete and the importance of thoroughbred pedigree. Historical artefacts include the Salisbury Charter, the first ever printed race results from the 17th century, and an archaeological presentation of the horse skeleton thought to be Pot-8-os, the famed thoroughbred horse who won over 30 races in the 18th century. 

The Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art in Palace House, the remaining element of Charles II’s racing palace, house paintings by George Stubbs and Sir Alfred Munnings, works by John Singer Sargent and John Wootton, and the finest British sporting art from around the UK.

As well as images of traditional rural pursuits, you'll find contemporary artwork from Peter Blake and Mark Wallinger. The gallery explores the development of these popular sporting images through paintings, sculpture, print-making and the applied arts. Significant loans have come from the Tate and Victoria & Albert Museum along with a number of private and public art collections.

The Rothschild Yard, built by Leopold de Rothschild in 1903 and returned to its former glory to stable retrained racehorses, comprises four galleries that explain the work of the Retraining of Racehorses charity. Visitors can meet former racehorses. 

Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 4pm.  nhrm.co.uk

The Red House, Aldeburgh  
The Red House was the Aldeburgh home of composer Britten and his life partner, the tenor Peter Pears, for nearly two decades. Britten dies in 1976, Pears a decade later and the house is now a museum dedicated to Britten's life and work. Visitors can explore his music, as well as his eclectic art collection, his books and possessions, and wander around the gardens. 

The Red House by Philip Vile - Britten Pears Foundation

The Red House, the home of composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears. - Credit: Philip Vile - Britten Pears Foundation

A must-see is the Composition Studio with the composer's piano and desk, where Britten wrote masterpieces such as War Requiem, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Noye’s Fludde. The museum has a new shop and garden café. Pre-bookable slots are available on the museum’s website for visits in May, June, July and August, Thursdays to Sundays. brittenpears.org/visit

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