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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 > Long Melford

Kentwell Hall, Long Melford

Long Melford

If I mention Long Melford, what is the first thing that comes into your mind? I would bet that it is antiques and an old TV programme about an antique dealer called “Lovejoy”.

It is just possible that you will also mention the wonderful Kentwell Hall, the privately owned hall, farm and gardens that is world famous for its re-creations of history.

So is there more to Long Melford than volunteers conversing in Tudor-speak and antique shops to browse in? I decided to find out.

As its name suggests Long Melford is a village that has developed along a three mile stretch of the A134 into a community of about 3500 residents. Along with a primary school, churches, and, of course, all those antique shops, the village has a range of 150 businesses involving everything from building caravans to breeding Alpacas. For the more day to day requirements there are shops selling clothes, china, furnishings, and works of art, books, kitchenware and food.

Roger Kistruck

Roger Kistruck gave Rachel a guided tour

My guide to Long Melford was Roger Kistruck, the webmaster of the very informative village website which perfectly describes the main road through the village.

Hall Street, the main north-south road, is wide and spacious, and even allows parking throughout much of its (considerable) length. Nowadays it is lined with a remarkable collection of buildings dating from the fifteenth century onwards. Black and white Tudor beams at the Bull Hotel rub shoulders with Georgian facades and Victorian terraces.

"Galleries are becoming a very important part of the shopping scene in Long Melford,” Roger explained to me, "The housewares and the decorative side, the ‘house beautiful,’ is perhaps a theme for shopping in Long Melford, we also have other types of furnishings besides antiques."

Landers Book Shop, Long Melford

Landers Book Shop, Long Melford

In this age of book buying via the internet or with your groceries at the supermarket, Long Melford is one of the few Suffolk communities still to have an independent book shop. Landers book shop has been in Long Melford for over twenty years as I heard when I met the owner, Sarah Wilson, who bought the shop two years ago after  moving to the village from London. I asked her how she competes with supermarket special offers and the convenience of internet shopping.

"I think there is always going to be a place for the independent bookshop. People like to browse in bookshops. They like the individual attention and next day customers’ orders and the searches for second hand books. A friend of mine says that she just likes the smell of books, which you can’t get on the internet!" 

The other thing that strikes you about Long Melford is the number of pubs, hotels and restaurants. There are thirteen places to eat listed on the village website and nine places offering somewhere to stay, including five hotels.

As well as Kentwell Hall, Long Melford also boasts the National Trust property of Melford Hall. The 16th century Elizabethan house with its red bricks, tall chimney stacks and octagonal turrets, was devastated by fire in 1942 but was restored by Sir William Hyde Parker, whose family had owned the house since 1786. It was transferred to the National Trust in 1960.

Jos Wilson, House manager at Kentwell Hall

Jos Wilson, House manager

The Trust have said that the house has changed little externally since 1578 when Queen Elizabeth I was entertained here, and it retains its original panelled banqueting hall. It has been the home of the Hyde Parker family since 1786. It has a Regency library, Victorian bedrooms, good collections of furniture and porcelain and a small display of items connected with Beatrix Potter, who was related to the family. The garden contains some spectacular specimen trees and a banqueting house, and there is an attractive walk through the park.

Last year 24,000 visitors made their way through the gateway of the impressive red brick wall and walked past the pampas grasses that line the driveway to Melford Hall with its 130 acres of parkland. The season had just one month left to run when I visited. At the end of October the team of volunteers would leave, and the family would take possession again. What would happen at the hall during the quieter months?

"Everyone thinks we have a rest", laughed Jos Wilson, the house manager, "Actually it’s our busiest time of the year. We shut here because of the family,  it reverts to a family home. Over the course of the winter we have to do the conservation of our collection and we do any training and out-of-season jobs that are better suited to a longer day without opening".

Church Warden, Diana Banks

Church Warden, Diana Banks

Almost opposite Melford Hall, overlooking the village’s wide grassy common (perfect for picnics and for children to play) is Holy Trinity church, at 250 feet the longest church in Suffolk. Built in the 15th century by wealthy wool merchants, the original tower was destroyed by lightening around 1710, and a new one was added in 1903.  Nowadays the church is used for regular worship and for concerts.

I was surprised to see an old blue tractor parked in the nave but was reassured by church warden, Diana Banks, that it was there just for the harvest celebrations!

Along the main street and set back from the road, almost hidden behind a wall, is the United Reformed Church and church hall. This is the home of the village playgroup and the Suffolk County Council Library, and is a chapel that, as Rev Samantha White told me, lives by its motto of "Bringing Christ to the Heart of Long Melford". 

So, with its history, shops, restaurants, hotels and antiques, Long Melford will continue to be popular with visitors and, as for the local people, well they must have the most beautiful homes if all those shops are anything to go by! I need a return trip to shop and to look inside some houses perhaps!

last updated: 11/06/2008 at 12:19
created: 03/10/2007

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