Well-known People with Links to Suffolk

People Past and Present: Actors, Writers, Inventors, Sportspeople, Other

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An extensive list of Suffolk’s links to celebrities and well-known people past and present.

Writers: Novelists, Poets and Playwrights

Enid Blyton books, David Copperfield, Tenniel's illustration of the Ugly Duchess, the Tempest, the Tale of Jeremy Fisher and Humpty Dumpty, Ruth Rendell

Before her massively successful career as a children’s writer, Enid Blyton  trained as a Kindergarten teacher in Ipswich. She enrolled on National Froebel Union course in the town in September 1916, a month after her 19th birthday. She also trained as a kindergarten teacher at Ipswich High School.

The half-sister of Lord Byron was Augusta Leigh, who lived at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket. Byron visited her there in the autumn of 1814. Augusta was implicated in the scandal that made Byron “mad, bad and dangerous to know” (Lady Caroline Lamb’s famous assessment of him). Byron’s wife, Annabella, accused them of incest and Byron is said to have been the father of Medora, one of Augusta’s children. This was one of three charges that made him flee the country in 1816. Byron refers to incest in poems such as “Parisina” and  “The Bride of Abydos”.

John Le Carre is the pen-name of  David John Moore Cornwell, the author of espionage novels such as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”. He was abandoned by his mother when he was five years old. When he was 21, he wrote to her brother to ask if she were still alive and received a reply from her telling him to catch a train to Ipswich and to meet her at the barrier. They remained in touch, but the relationship was never a warm one.

Joseph Conrad (nee Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski), the Polish author of “Heart of Darkness“, got off a British steamer (the Mavis) and landed in Lowestoft in June 1878 speaking only six words of English.

Daniel Defoe – author of “Robinson Crusoe” – once said that Suffolk butter was “the best in England”.

Thomas Grey, who wrote “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” in 1750, died at his home in Blundeston in 1809.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, who wrote “King Solomon’s Mines”, was educated at Ipswich Grammar School as his father could not afford the more expensive private education that his brothers had been treated to. After marriage, he moved to a cliff-top house at Kessingland – and Rudyard Kipling (of “Jungle Book” fame) often visited him there.

Maggie Hemingway, who was born in Orford before moving to New Zealand age 3, wrote the 1986 novel “The Bridge“, which won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was adapted into a film of the same name. She also wrote “Stop House Blues”, “The Postman’s House” and “Eyes”.

Adventure and thriller writer Hammond Innes lived in Kersey with his wife Dorothy in his later years and died there 10th June 1998. Four of his earlier novels were made into films. “Snowbound”, a 1948 film starring Dennis Price and a group of people searching for Nazi treasure, was based upon “The Lonely Skier”; “Hell Below Zero” (1954) was based upon “The White South”; “Campbell’s kingdom”, a 1957 adventure film starring Dirk Bogarde, was based upon a 1952 book of the same name; “The Wreck of the Mary Deare”, a 1959 adventure co-starring Michael Redgrave, Charlton Heston and John le Mesurier, was based upon a 1956 novel of the same name. “The Golden Soak” was adapted into a TV series.

Wendy Holden, who lives in a small farm in Suffolk, wrote the novelisation of Simon Beaufoy’s famous screenplay “The Full Monty“.

John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost“, was taught by Dr Thomas Young at Cambridge. Dr Young later became vicar of Stowmarket in 1628. Milton visited Dr Young at Stowmarket on frequent occasions.

George Orwell (“Animal Farm” and “1984“) was born Eric Arthur Blair in India in 1903 but went to school near Southwold and returned there for 5 years in 1929. He named himself George Orwell after the River Orwell.

Beatrix Potter was the cousin of Ethel Hyde Parker – who married Sir William Hyde Parker of Melford Hall. Beatrix often visited her cousin there and the West Bedroom (where she slept) is now authentically furnished as it would have been in her day; the model of Jemima Puddleduck that she gave to her cousin’s children is also on display. “The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher” is dedicated to Stephanie (one of the children at Melford) and she drew many of the illustrations for the book whilst visiting.

Ruth Rendell once lived in Polstead and was created Baroness Rendell of Babergh (of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk) in 1977. See Suffolk and Literature for details of where our county appears in her books.

William Shakespeare – some even say that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford who owned a manor house at Lavenham, was the “real” Shakespeare. De Vere called himself “Spear shaker” due to his jousting prowess and was an educated, well-travelled courtier; by contrast, William Shakespeare himself was said to be poorly educated. Whatever the truth is, Shakespeare’s company played Ipswich and he would have been familiar with our county. See a list of where our county appears in his plays.

Jane Taylor was born in London but was living at Shilling Street, Lavenham, when she wrote the children’s poem “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in 1806 at the age of 23. She later moved to Colchester.

Dorothy Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were both frequent visitors to Thomas Clarkson, the anti-slavery campaigner who lived in Playford, Ipswich. (See Thomas Clarkson and Bury St Edmunds.)

TV, Film and Radio: Actors, Actresses, Presenters and Directors

Cary Grant, Love Actually, Twiggy, Delia Smith, Doctor Who, Kavanagh QC and The Lord of the Rings

George Baker  See main entry

June Brown, (Dot Cotton in “EastEnders“) was born in Needham Market in 1927 and was educated in Ipswich. She went to Miss Daisy’s in 1930 when she was just three years old, then to St John’s Church of England School, Ipswich; she then won a scholarship to Ipswich High.

In his second year as an actor, 22 year old Michael Caine learnt some valuable acting skills at Lowestoft Repertory Company – when he came onto stage staggering around acting as a drunk, the director told him to BE a drunk NOT to act a drunk (“A drunk is a man who is trying to act sober; you are a man who is trying to act drunk. It’s the wrong way round”. This and other advice from the “wily old” director always stuck in his mind. Whilst at the theatre, he also fell in love with the”absolutely gorgeous” leading lady , Patricia Haines – they married a few weeks later in Lowestoft.

Before he became the Hollywood heartthrob known as Cary Grant, a young Archie Leach ran away to join an acrobatic troupe (the Pender Troupe) at Ipswich. He was just 13 and was the youngest member of a stilt walking troupe.

Phil Claydon  See main entry.

David Croft  See main entry.

Richard Curtis, screenwriter, producer and director who has brought us smash hits such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral“, “Notting Hill“, “Love Actually“, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and the TV series “The Vicar of Dibley”, has bought a fisherman’s hut in Walberswick with his partner Emma Freud.

Jimmy Doherty, childhood friend of Jamie Oliver who met his wife and rose to fame when “Jamie’s Kitchen” visited the Cumbrian farm where he was working, has since moved to Wherstead, near Ipswich, and starred in his own TV series – “Jimmy’s Farm“. Jimmy’s Farm is now a popular tourist attraction. Jimmy has also presented other TV shows such as “Jimmy’s Food Factory”, “Jimmy Doherty In Darwin’s Garden”, “Jamie & Jimmy’s Friday Night Feasts”,  “Jimmy’s Farming Heroes” and “Jimmy and The Wild Honey Hunters”.

Ralph Fiennes (actor in “Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient”) was born in Ipswich in 1962.

Sir Clement Freud, the grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, father of Emma Freud and a famous panellist on Radio 4’s “Just a Minute”, had a summer home in Walberswick. He appeared on the cover of the 1973 Wings album: “Band on the Run“. As an MP, Sir Clement was arguably responsible for bringing down the Callaghan government and ushering in Thatcher’s Tories – in 1979, although asked by the prime minister’s office to abstain from a vote of no-confidence in exchange for a freedom of information act, he refused and voted against the government and Margaret Thatcher won the vote by 311 votes to 310 and thus forced a general election.

Emma Freud, who has bought a second home in Walberswick with her partner Richard Curtis, was script editor for some of her partner’s famous films and series (for example, “Notting Hill” and “The Vicar of Dibley“) and has also presented the former chat shows “Pillow Talk” and “Plunder” as well as appearing on radio shows such as Radio 4’s “Loose Ends“. She was awarded an OBE for her services to Comic Relief.

Steven Fry  See main entry.

Paul Greengrass, director of smash hits such as “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Bourne Supremacy“, has a home in Walberswick.

Sir Peter Hall  See main entry.

Abi Hood  See main entry

Bob Hoskins  See main entry

Becky Jago  See main entry

Griff Rhys Jones, famous for shows such as “Not the Nine O’clock news”, lives at Holbrook on the Shotley Peninsula.

Michael Maloney   See main entry.

Noah Lee Margetts  See main entry.

John Le Mesurier  See main entry.

Bill Nighy, who starred in films such as “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and “Love Actually”, lives near Aldeburgh.

Hermione Norris, who has co-starred in “Spooks” and “Wire in the Blood”, used to holiday in Southwold when young.

Trevor Nunn was born in Ipswich and attended Northgate School. He was director of The Royal Shakespeare Company 1968-78 and The Royal National Theatre 1979-2003. He is currently the director of the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Neil Pearson was born in Battersea but won a scholarship to board at Woolverstone Hall School, near Ipswich, age 11. He got his first opportunity to act at Woolverstone and is now well-known for series such as “Drop the Dead Donkey” and “Between the Lines“.

Libby Purves, who lives in Suffolk, was the youngest presenter of the “Today” programme and the first person to broadcast live from Beijing.

Former “Blue Peter” presenter Peter Purves moved to Sibden in 1999.

Claudia Schiffer  See main entry.

John Simpson, the BBC foreign correspondent, spent much of his childhood in Ipswich and Dunwich.

Celebrity chef Delia Smith married journalist Michael Wynn Jones (former editor of Sainsbury’s magazine and the Daily Mirror magazine) at Stowmarket in 1971 and still lives in the area.

Frank Taylor  See main entry.

Twiggy, the world-famous model, lives in Southwold. Southwold is responsible for her role in M&S adverts! After a walk on the beach, Twiggy was relaxing with her husband in a local pub – looking not quite her usual glamorous self in a woolly hat and old anorak! – when she bumped into the Executive Marketing Director for Marks and Sparks.

Timothy West  See main entry.


John Constable, the famous landscape painter, was born in East Bergholt, 11th June 1776, the son of Golding Constable, who owned mills at Flatford and Dedham and also ran a barge transport business. He is known for drawing landscapes of the Dedham Vale; The Hay Wain (1821) depicts the Stour Valley between Suffolk and Essex.

Thomas Gainsborough, a famous painter or portraits and landscapes, was born in Sudbury on 14th May 1727. He was a founding member of the Royal Academy (1769). A famous painting is Mr And Mrs Andrews”.

Carl Giles – better known as just Giles – lived in Badger’s Cottage, Tuddenham, and worked in Ipswich for much of his adult life. He produced the much-loved cartoons for “The Daily Express“.

Laura Leahy, an up-and-coming artist living in Suffolk, has created a digital study of Aspall orchards called An Account of Apples.

Equestrian painter Sir Alfred Munnings was born at Mendham in 1878; he lost one eye at the age of 20 but still continued to paint and became president of The Royal Academy of Art in 1944. The 2013 film,  “A Summer in February”, is a romance about the love triangle between Sir Alfred Munnings, Gilbert Evans and Florence Carter-Wood.

Portrait painter and water-colourist, Mary Potter , moved to Aldeburgh in 1951.

Philip Wilson Steer, an avant-guard impressionist painter 1860-1942, often visited fiends at Walberswick. The Tate calls the paintings he did on Walberswick beach “mong the most authentically impressionist works produced in Britain”. His 1889 “The Beach at Walberwick” inspired Orford-born Maggie Hemingway to write “The Bridge”, a novel that was adapted into the 1992 film of the same name starring Saskia Reeves.

J M W Turner visited Suffolk, especially the coastal areas, on a number of occasions. Works range from paintings of coastal scens at Aldeborough and Lowestoft to “Sketches of the Suffolk Coast: Orford, Aldeburgh and Southwold 1822” where the sketches were often less than a centimeter high and simple geometric shapes such as a square and a triangle are used to depict landmarks along the coastline.

Pop Stars, Singers and Musicians

Composer Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft on 22nd November 1913. By coincidence, this is St Cecilia’s Day – St Cecilia is the patron saint of church music! He is famous for works such as “Peter Grimes” (a 1945 opera based upon a poem by Suffolk-born George Crabbe) and “War Requiem” (1962) and “Noye’s Fludde”. In 1948, Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, together with writer Eric Crozier founded the Aldeburgh Music Festival; in 1967, the created a permament home for the festival at Snape Maltings. Britten and Pears lived in Aldeburgh.

Rock band The Darkness were formed in Lowestoft in 2000.

International singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was born in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, but moved to Framlingham as a child; he attended the Thomas Mills High School Framlingham. He played a number of small local venues, such as the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich,  before his rise to fame and fortune.

Pop star Nik Kershaw was born in Bristol but grew up in Ipswich and attended Northgate Grammar School for Boys. He sang in a number of Ipswich bands such as Half Pint Hog and Fusion before going solo in the 1980s.

Radio 2 DJ Simon Mayo and his wife, former radio producer turned ceramic artist Hilary Mayo, now live in Walberswick.

Tenor Peter Pears founded the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 1948 with his partner Benjamin Britten. In 1977, the founded the Britten – Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies to provide courses for young musicians and singers.

Martin Shaw composed the tune for the hymn “Hills of the North Rejoice” at All Saints’ Church, Little Cornard.. It is therefore  called “Little Cornard”.

Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones lives at Gedding Hall. See Bury St Edmunds facts for details of Gedding’s links with the Kray brothers, the Great Train Robbery and “The Misfits” film director.

Inventors and Discoverers

Rafflesia Arnoldi, the largest flower in the world, was discovered in 1818 by an Indonesian guide working for Dr Jospeh Arnold from Beccles. It was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, the leader of the field trip in Bengkulu, Indonesia. The Rafflesia Arnoldia is called the corpse flower as it has a strong small of decaying flesh.

Captain Charles Cunninghm Boycott, who was born in Burgh St Peter (Norfolk) and died in Flixton in 1897, has the dubious distinction of being responsible for the word “boycott“. Boycott was a cruel land agent for Lord Erne, Lough Mask, County Mayo, in the 19th century. In 1880, the Irish Land League began a plan of boycotting him – the locals refused to harvest Lord Erne’s crops, serve him I shops, do his laundry or let him receive mail.

In the 1950s, Sir Christopher Cockerell invented the Hovercraft whilst living in a caravan by Oulton Broad. He created an early model by using a cat food tin inside a coffee jar and using a vacuum-cleaner for air flow; he then tested his idea on Oulton Broad and the first commercial hovercraft crossed the channel in 1959.

Durban, South Africa, is named after Sir Benjamin d’Urban from Halesworth. On 25rd June 1835, the name was changed from Port natal to Durban in honour of Sir Benjamin, who was governor of Cape of Good Hope in the 1830s.

Sir Joseph Priestley’s first ministry was at the Dissenting congregation at Needham Market 1955-58. Priestley is famous for discovering oxygen and for discovering that graphite can conduct electricity. He also invented the rubber when he discovered that India rubber can erase pencil marks. When investigating the “heavy air” that floated over fermenting grain, he discovered a gas that was later called carbon dioxide and also invented soda water.

Admiral Vernon who lived at Orwell Park, Nacton, was nicknamed Old Grog as his coat was made from Grogham.  In 1740, he devised this way of serving diluted rum to sailors to reduce drunkenness on board ship; the citrus fruits were added to prevent scurvy. Grog – rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice – is named after him.

John Winthrop from Edwardstone founded Boston, America, in 1630, and became one of the first governors of Massachusetts.

Politicians and Public Figures

Jonathan Aitken, Conservative Cabinet Minister who was jailed for perjury in 1999, grew up in Halesworth and attended Orwell Park School. His father, Sir William Aitken, was Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds.

Ian Smith served in the RAF during WW2 and was stationed at RAF Martlesham for a time. He later became Prime Minister of Rhodesia 1964-79.

On 27th October, the divorce between Mrs Wallis Simpson and her first husband, Edward Simpson, was heard at the Ipswich Assizes. A decree nisi was awarded. In December 1936 Edward VIII abdicated and married Mrs Simpson on 3rd June 1937 in France.

Historical Characters

Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III, was buried at Clare Priory in 1368.

Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, inherited the lands belonging to the Honour of Clare.

Thomas a Becket received the Honour of Eye from  Henry II in 1161.  Ralph de Broc – one of the four knights who murdered him – later held Haughley for King Henry II during skirmishes with Earl Bigod.

Eustace de Blois  See main entry.

Anne Boleyn was born over the border at Blickling in Norfolk at the start of the 16th century, but her aunt and uncle (Sir Phillip and Lady Amy  Calthorpe)  lived at Erwarton and she often visited them there whilst growing up. She also visited Erwarton with Henry VIII. When she was beheaded on trumped up charges of adultery and incest with her own brother (George Boleyn) on 19th May 1536, she was buried at the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Legend has it, however, that her heart was secretly brought back to rest at Erwarton, where she enjoyed happy childhood times. Interestingly, in 1838, work was done to the church and they found a heart-shaped casket in an alcove in the north aisle. The casket was filled with dust – believed to be the heart of Anne Boleyn.

Another county link to Anne Boleyn: ironically, Anne had once accused The Duke of Suffolk (Henry VIII’s brother-in-law) of an incestuous relationship with his own daughter – the Duke of Suffolk was one of the jury members at the trial of Anne and her brother George (for incest) on 15th May and then present at her execution by a French Swordsman on 19th May. What goes around comes around!)

Sir Thomas of Brotherton  See main entry.

King Charles II  See main entry.

King Canute  See main entry.

Elizabeth de Clare, daughter of Gilbert de Clare (owner of Clare Castle) and Joan of Acre, founded Clare College, Cambridge. Whilst born in Acre, Elizabeth inherited the Clare lands and lived there for a time.

St Edmund has famous links with Suffolk. See main entry.

Edward the Elder  See main entry.

Guy Fawkes owes his notoriety and death to the Earl of Suffolk, who led a search of the cellars under the houses of parliament and found Guy Fawkes with a suspiciously large number of faggots. Guy Fawkes claimed to be a servant who was looking after his master’s fuel but the Earl of Suffolk was suspicious, reported him to the King and the cellars were researched. Ambrose Rookwood of Coldham Hall, Lawshall, was executed for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. Note that the Gunpowder Plotters were said to have met at Cotton Hall.

Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Charles II by Barbara Villiers, was created Baron of Sudbury, Viscount Ipswich and Earl of Euston in 1672 when, aged just 9 years old, he married 5 year old Isabella, the heiress of the Earl of Arlington.  In 1675, Charles II created him Duke of Grafton – the Honour of Grafton is in Northamptonshire but the seat is at Euston Hall in north Suffolk and the Dukes of Grafton are traditionally buried at St Genevieve’s Church, Euston. Famous descendants include Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, who was Prime Minister from 1768-70 and Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. The current Dukes of Grafton still live at Euston Hall.

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester  See main entry.

King Harold was Earl of East Anglia prior to 1066. After the Battle of Hastings, William Malet of Eye was entrusted with burying King Harold’s body.

Queen Isabella, Mortimer (her lover) and Prince Edward landed with French mercenaries at Walton, Felixstowe in September 1326. Within months, Edward II was captured and forced to abdicate.

Lady Jane Grey was the grand-daughter of the Duke of Suffolk (Charles Brandon – a commoner who took his name from the village of his birth) and Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII who is buried in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. (Charles Brandon was created the Duke of Suffolk after Henry VIII recovered from his anger at his secret marriage to Mary Tudor – persuaded in no small part by jewels and pleading letters –  and was also given the Honour of Eye.) Another Suffolk link to the tragic queen is that John Gosnold III, Lord of the Manor at Shrubland and Coddenham, MP for Ipswich and Solicitor General at the time of Edward VI, was asked by the dying King Edward to ensure the succession of Lady Jane Grey. Against his better judgement, he agreed.

Lady Jane Grey’s younger sister, Catherine, was confined to the Tower of London when she displeased Queen Elizabeth I by marrying Edward Seymour in secret in 1560. Elizabeth I was frightened that she had a rival claim to the throne and so, even after she had the marriage annulled (and her children declared bastards) she moved Catherine from one place to another before finally sending her to Cockfield Hall, Yoxford, where she died 14 days later in 1568. Catherine was originally buried at Cockfield, then her body was sent to Salisbury Cathedral (although it is said that her heart is still buried under the lectern at Yoxford church).

King John  See main entry.

Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III, was buried at Clare Priory in 1368:.

Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, inherited the lands belonging to the Honour of Clare in 1509. See Bury St Edmund’s links to her divorce.

Duke of Monmouth  See main entry.

Sir Thomas More married Jane Colt from Colts Hall, Cavendish. As is portrayed in “A Man for All Seasons“, Sir Thomas More was Speaker of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the reign of Henry VIII before being executed for treason when he refused to sign the Oath of Succession when Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and split the Church away from the Catholic Church.

St Sigebert  See main entry.

The future King Stephen received  the Honour of Eye from his uncle King Henry I in 1113 when he was still Count Stephen de Blois.

Catherine Suckling, mother of Horatio Nelson, was born in Barsham on 9th May 1725.

Mary Tudor  See main entry.

King William II was killed with a stray arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest. The man who was blamed for this was Walter Tyrrell, the brother-in-law of the two brothers who had inherited the Honour of Clare, Suffolk. Walter Tyrrell was a close friend of Prince Henry (who conveniently inherited the throne after his brother’s death) and he – and the Clare brothers – were part of the king’s small hunting party. Whilst the intent to kill was denied, neither Tyrrell, the Clare brothers (nor Henry I) troubled themselves with overseeing the recovery of the fallen king’s body – which was eventually found by peasants.

Cardinal Wolsey – he who was charged with arranging the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – was the son of an Ipswich butcher.

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