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Neil Storey's The Little Book of Suffolk gives an all-you-need-to-know look at the county he loves




Out in the garden on a summer day you are suddenly aware of tickly little legs crawling up your arm. Could it be a bishy-barnibee - or maybe even an arrawiggle?

Meanwhile, lurking in damp places under the leaves an army of hodmadods is waiting for nightfall before emerging to chomp through your lettuces.

And as dusk descends a flittermouse swoops through the sky.

Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk
Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk

It might sound as if you've stepped into a fantasy world. But those strange-sounding creatures are just the ones we meet every day ... with their Suffolk dialect names.

Their better-known identities are revealed in The Little Book of Suffolk which is due out in paperback this month.

Award-winning author and social historian Neil Storey has taken an affectionate look at all things Suffolk - a county he has known and loved for many years.

Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk
Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk

The book is packed with facts from the serious to the quirky to the bizarre, all delivered in bite-sized chunks.

Bishy-barnibee (ladybird), arrawiggle (earwig), hodmadod (snail), and Neil's personal favourite the flittermouse (bat) appear in a list of old county names for "all creatures great and small".

Topics covered range from the county's early military history to the fact that singer Ed Sheeran comes from Framlingham.

It is a mine of information that Neil believes will prompt even the most knowledgeable native to say "I never knew that ..."

Neil Storey has written The Little Book of Suffolk, which tells all sorts of facts about the county he loves
Neil Storey has written The Little Book of Suffolk, which tells all sorts of facts about the county he loves

"The whole point of this book is it's the kind of thing you can shove in your pocket and just dip in and enjoy it," he says.

"It doesn't pretend to be authoritative, although what's in it is all true."

The book covers subjects like battles, people, work, transport, crime, food and drink, sport, and myths and legends plus countless random facts.

Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk
Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk

It tells us humans have been around in Suffolk for at least 700,000 years - the date pinpointed by the discovery of flint tools in cliffs at Pakefield.

Racing on through history the Romans left behind archaeological treasures like the Hoxne hoard of gold and silver coins - the biggest ever found in Britain.

The Anglo Saxons also left their mark - most notably with the iconic ship burial at Sutton Hoo.

Older treasure turned up in Ipswich when six gold torcs (neckbands) from around 75BC were unearthed during building work in Ipswich.

Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk
Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk

Five were discovered in 1968 by the operator of a digger preparing the land for a housing estate.

The sixth was found a year later by the occupant of one of the new houses when sifting through a pile of earth in his garden.

There are almost four times more Suffolk residents now than 200 years ago. The population in 1801 was 210,431. In 2011 it was well over 700,000.

Census returns from the 19th century reveal some unusual - you could say unfortunate - surnames (including one too shocking to publish here).

But among the repeatable entries are Leah Grope from Woodbridge, William Maggot from Eye, and Margaret Puke from Onehouse.

Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk
Illustration from The Little Book of Suffolk

Meanwhile, Ann Rose Shitter was living in Bramford, Isabella Prig in Wickhambrook, and Eliza Wart in Lavenham.

Bury St Edmunds was home to Billy Bastard, Lavinia Bent hailed from Bungay, and Augustus Bollock from Ipswich.

Mary Buttock lived in Cavendish, Willy Crotch in Woodbridge, and Alice Dung in Felixstowe.

Norfolk-born Neil has written more than 40 books and is a go-to expert for TV and radio, both on air and behind the scenes.

Credits include Who Do You Think You Are, where he was the main historian for the programme on the nation's favourite TV cook Mary Berry.

He has family and friends in both Suffolk and Norfolk andis a graduate of the University of East Anglia.

Other books have covered local history, true crime, the role of women in both world wars, and the women's suffrage movement.

Military history is another interest. He is a founder patron of The Tommy Club - a community supporting Royal British Legion Industries to enable the best care for veterans of recent conflicts.

Neil has always been drawn to ephemeral facts, and the quirky aspects of history.

Strange and dark stories, ghosts, legends and folklore are another passion and featured in his earlier Grim Almanacs series.

"Those are the sort of things that really give a place its identity and character.Everyone loves a story round the fireside, and the generation that knew them was passing.

"I don't write about things I don't have an enthusiasm for - life's too short to write about stuff you don't have real empathy with.

"I have been collecting stories since 1989 when I started writing.

"Having a county identity in a fast changing world is important. It gives you a sense of place and of who you are.

"These are places to cherish, people to cherish, stories to cherish."

One of his favourite parts of The Little Book of Suffolk is the old names for animals, birds and insects, and distinctive dialect words.

"They're names my grandad and uncles would have used - that wonderful generation," he says.

Wordsnow rarely if ever heard include hully for very, and mardle for gossip.

Honker-donks are big ugly feet, flop is cow dung, and a twiddle is a small pimple.

Rafty would come in handy in November as it describes raw, damp weather, while a tissick is an irritating cough.

And we've probably all spuffled at times - it means to fly about pretending to be busy.

Stories told in the book include the nightmare-inducing 'marching spiders' of Bury St Edmunds.

In 1660 thousands of spiders were seen swarming through the streets to the house of one-time member of parliament, Mr Duncomb.

They got in under the door, spun a huge web between the door posts, and stayed suspended there until servants lit straw underneath and destroyed them in a flash of flame.

Mr Duncomb is said to have believed the spiders were sent by witches.

Suffolk has had its share of notorious killings, like the Red Barn murder at Polstead.

But the book's crime section also includes lesser-known villains and lawbreakers.

One of the county's most infamous highwaymen was a woman - Margaret Matthews, the daughter of a Lavenham swordmaker.

She teamed up with Thomas Rumbold to terrorise the roads of Suffolk and Essex before retiring to Norwich where she died of dropsy in 1688.

Suffolk has a long history of smuggling. "Giffling" Jack Corbolt was a respectable innkeeper by day and a violent smuggler by night.

He and his 50-strong gang ran thousands of horse-loads of contraband across the county's beaches.

In 1745 he was captured but escaped in an ambush while being taken to Norwich for trial.

Equally notorious were the Hadleigh Gang who operated armed to the teeth with pistols, cutlasses, clubs and daggers.

One of their leaders John Harvey of Pond Hall near Hadleigh was eventually caught and sentenced to seven years transportation.

The last man to be hanged at Bury St Edmunds was 23 year-old George Cant who was executed for the murder of Mary Payne in 1851.

But suffragettes Evaline Birkitt and Florence Tunks were keen not to endanger human life when they burned down the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe in May 1914.

They commited their crime when the hotel was closed for refurbishment before the summer season.

The book's food and drink section includes traditional recipes like Suffolk rusks, Southwold bacon and onion dumpling, and Fourses Cake made from lard, flour, sugar and currants, which farm workers ate as an afternoon snack.

The greengage is named after Thomas Gage of Hengrave Hall who imported the fruit from France and started growing it in the 18th century.

Suffolk cheese was once notorious for being almost inedible, described as 'so hard even rats and mice refuse it'.

Suffolk's sporting history is also covered. Campen, an ancient forerunner of football, was a free-for-all that often resulted in injury and violence.

It died out in the late 18th century after two men were killed during a match at Easton near Framlingham.

Ipswich Town Football Club was formed in 1878 and entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1890.

And did you know .....

  • The highest point in Suffolk is Great Wood Hill, near Rede which is 420ft above sea level.
  • Ness Point near Lowestoft is the most easterly place in the UK.
  • Ipswich once had a castle but it was destroyed on the orders of King Henry II after the revolt of his sons in 1173. Nothing remains and even its location is uncertain.
  • The county's more unusual listed buildings include the Ipswich HQ of Willis, Faber and Dumas insurance, built in 1975 (Grade I).
  • Grade II listings include a pillar box in Double Street, Framlingham, K6 phone kiosks in Stanningfield, Orford and Earl Soham, and Nacton Water Tower.
  • The last invasion landing by foreign troops in England was in 1667 when the Dutch tried unsuccessfully to storm Languard Fort at Felixstowe.
  • More than 10,500 Suffolk men were killed in the First World War.
  • The world's first fully operational Radar station opened at RAF Bawdsey in 1937.
  • Artist Beryl Cook, known for her saucy and humorous paintings, briefly held the tenancy of a pub in Stoke by Nayland.
  • John le Mesurier - Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army - grew up in Bury St Edmunds
  • TV soap icon June Brown - Dot Cotton in EastEnders - was born in Needham Market in 1927.
  • Lavenham was used as Godric's Hollow in the film of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • Ipswich is the home of the ancestors, and some living relatives, of Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400a)
  • Poet and novelist Jane Taylor (1783-1824) wrote Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star while living in Lavenham.
  • In the 19th century Suffolk shepherds counted their flocks using their own system instead of conventional numbers. It started unna (1) tina (2) wether (3) tether (4) pinkie (5) hater (6) skater (7) tara (8) dara (9) dick (10).
  • In 1851 there were 11 children aged between 10 and 14 employed as chimney sweeps in Suffolk.
  • The biggest recorded herring catch at Lowestoft was 310 crans (equivalent to almost 60 tons) in 1913.
  • In 1787 the Ipswich Journal reported that a farmer from Stowupland had sold his wife to a neighbour for five guineas.
  • Bury Autumn Fair was an annual event for around 600 years but after increasing complaints about disruption and rowdy behaviour it was abolished in 1871.
  • Clubs and societies in Ipswich 100 years ago included The Piscatorial Ramblers, The Licensing Laws Vigilance Society, The Sons of Temperance and the Large Black Pig Society.
  • The first internet bench where people could connect laptops to the internet was installed in the Abbey Gardens in Bury in 2001.

The Little Book of Suffolk by Neil R Storey is published by The History Press and is on sale from November 23.

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk