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29 October 2014

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Rachel's Weekend Visits

You are in: Suffolk > BBC Radio Suffolk > Rachel's Weekend Visits > Woolpit

Pew ends and rood screen


Nine miles from Bury and seven miles from Stowmarket, Woolpit is a thriving village of shops and businesses.

You can see the spire of St Mary’s church from the A14 as you drive to Bury St Edmunds.

As you approach the village centre you pass small developments of modern homes, but it is the historic medieval buildings, clustered around the village square, that make you reach for your camera.

Woolpit is the sort of community that many people dream of living in. It has more facilities than most villages, numerous organisations and clubs, a school and a real feeling that here is a community that gets things done.

Ros Melvin preparing the church

Ros Melvin preparing the church

Indeed, the week of my visit was the start of the 32nd Woolpit Festival and lined up to appear were Barrie Norman talking films and Annette Crosbie from Calendar Girls and One Foot in the Grave.

There were also some musical events planned including The Lochrian Emsemble performing Mozart in costume, by candlelight, jazz from The Terry Lightfoot Band, and a picnic performance from the steel band Ebony.

Community spirit

Chairman of the Woolpit Festival Society, Ros Melvin, told me how a community of 2000 can support such an ambitious programme.

"We make an enormous loss and have to fund-raise all year. We have a very loyal band of supporters, 190 members, who pay a small subscription to join, and then get a newsletter from me and a slight reduction on their tickets for the festival.

That ensures we have about £2000 coming in, and then with fundraising we make up the rest."

But why bother with an arts festival when larger towns like Bury and Ipswich now have very successful festivals that are quite nearby?

"It’s so lovely to have the artistes just come on our doorstep, and most people walk. It’s such a privilege to actually see them – and so much better than television!"

Village festival

This year's Festival also featured an Open Gardens event, something not attempted since 2000. That was also when a village Millennium project was involved in the making of a series of panels depicting local history.  Made from appliqué, patchwork and embroidery these are displayed in the Woolpit Institute on the village square.

The Institute houses a museum, which is run by a committee of volunteers and is also the home of the local playgroup. Along with the village hall it is also a meeting place for some of the village organisations.

Early history of the Institute building is a bit of a mystery but it was used as a bicycle shop at the beginning of the 20th Century and was given to the village after the First World War by Dr Aubey Woods. 

Mrs Yale with Jake, Bronwyn, Stuart and Ellie

Mrs Yale with the children

Mysterious Woolpit

Elizabeth Cockrayne is a keen local historian and she showed me the series of framed pictures that show events from long gone, such as the medieval shrine to Our Lady of Woolpit, a site of pilgrimage and the famous legend of the Green Children of Woolpit.

This was the story of a pair of children who appeared before reapers in the fields in the 13th Century and spoke a strange language. No-one ever knew where they had come from, with their mysterious green skin,

"There is a clinical explanation," Elizabeth explained. "There is a green sickness called chlorosis, and people who do not eat enough meat get this type of anaemia…. and you often find it in anorexics".

The legend of the Green Children of Woolpit continues to mystify even now and local children have appeared in village productions about the story.

I finished my visit to Woolpit at the primary school where I learnt about their interest in all things environmental. Recycling, energy conservation, gardening and wildlife are all important to this eco-school.

They have hopes of being awarded a Green Flag for their work, (as my guides, Bronwyn, Ellie, Jake and Stuart informed me). Their teacher, Mrs Yale, explained why this type of school work was so important.

"It’s the way we have to go in our lives and so it’s really showing the best practise to the children.  We’re looking at a water campaign, picking up our litter and we’ve just had a walk to school week and have a lot of children who come to school on bikes or scooters or walk."

I enjoyed visiting Woolpit, why not go and see the village for yourself sometime.

It’s also worth calling into St. Mary’s church and see if you can count the 200 odd angels carved on the hammer-beam roof or to check out the medieval carved pew ends. 

last updated: 11/06/2008 at 12:24
created: 21/06/2007

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