By Ann Follows and Simon Raven
W&BA Halesworth Representatives
In this series of blog articles, Spotlight On… takes a closer look at the 8 towns which make up the W&BA micro-region from the perspectives of our local area coordinators within our management committee. In this article, our two Halesworth representatives introduce us to what is remarkable about their Suffolk Market Town.
Halesworth sits at the heart of the Blyth Valley. It is one of Suffolk’s quietly modest gems, close to the Heritage Coast with a wealth of historic, ecological and natural features. Over many years Halesworth has been a transport hub for the local agricultural, brewery and fishing industries, taking products – first by wherry and later by train and road – from the beautiful surrounding farmland and the harbour at Southwold down to Ipswich and London. Now it is a thriving residential town that celebrates its heritage and provides opportunities to enjoy a wealth of cultural, social and environmental activities.
Culture is well represented through various buildings in the town. At one end of the Thoroughfare, the pedestrianised town centre, is the Halesworth Gallery on the top floor of a terrace of oak beamed ancient alms houses next to the church, while at the other end of the Thoroughfare (about ninety meters beyond the roundabout) is The Cut Arts Centre – an all-purpose urban sized arts–hub created out of a large ex-maltings building. Between these, is the impressive glass-fronted 1996 Library building (Suffolk Libraries) which is a busy hub for all generations living here.
The Cut has established a regional reputation for its programme of visual art exhibitions and performing arts shows, as well as regular arts-related classes and one-off workshops and lecture presentations. It also houses a permanent interactive museum space – The Malt Experience – dedicated to the C19th malting industry which was a major reason for the town’s growth and prosperity. A short walk up the adjacent Station Road takes the visitor to the Halesworth & District Museum which houses an amazingly varied collection of artefacts, models and documents telling the much older history of the town and its environs.
An unusual feature of this small Suffolk town, is the scope and range of its independent retail and service businesses – everything from a lively local bookshop to solicitors and estate agents. In fact shoppers can get anything from antiques and bric-a-brac to sewing needles and repairs, key-cutting to specialist craft jewellery, seasonal fruit and vegetables fresh from the two independent grocers, or locally grown meat from the two independent butchers. The World Land Trust – a significant international conservation organisation – has its base and walk-in shop and gallery here as well.
Shopping along the pedestrianised Thoroughfare is on a truly human scale with opportunities to browse, relax and refresh. There are numerous small cafés, two pubs and international food outlets in the form of delis and takeaways. A favourite is ‘Focus Organics’ which has a café, deli and ethnic-oriented life-style shop. In good weather it is an additional pleasure to sit and watch the world go by from their outside tables. The Angel Inn on the corner is famous for Cleoni’s, its Italian restaurant.
It is interesting to walk around and see the town’s history revealed in its architecture and landscape. There’s a large town house, formerly the brewery house, where father and son botanists Sir William and Sir Joseph Hooker briefly lived. Sir William was the first Director of Kew Gardens. Local conservation and volunteer groups are restoring the health of the River Blyth and the New Reach canal while a recently formed group of enthusiasts are restoring the town-end of the Halesworth to Southwold heritage railway.
Halesworth also boasts an active social and artistic community. Many clubs and groups are based here including an extremely creative University of the Third Age and Halesworth In Bloom which maintains attractive plant displays throughout the town centre using planters made by the local Men’s Shed. To appreciate all these aspects of the town, you can take a short circular walk signposting all the main historic houses and sites.
Just over the town’s ring-road is the beautiful natural environment of the Millennium Green – said to be the largest such Green in England – an area of conservation and wildlife managed by the Town Council and a team of local volunteers. Here you can meander along the quiet footpath by the New Reach canal or through the adjacent wild flower meadows. For cyclists, there’s a registered cycle path that travels for a mile from Halesworth through the Millennium Green to the village of Mells. Adjacent to the Green is Town Park where the sound of children playing in the well-equipped playground and teenagers skateboarding reminds us that Halesworth is a place that offers something for everyone, residents and visitors alike.
Find out more about the best places to visit in and around Halesworth in The Suffolk Coast’s Guide.
Read our Spotlight on Great Yarmouth, and look out for features on our other towns coming soon.