The Museum of East Anglian Life’s 15 restored buildings sit on 75 acres of land, part of the former Abbot’s Hall estate. Exhibits and interactive displays in the Hall explore the theme of home and belonging in East Anglia. The Hall can be visited alone or as part of a visit to the main museum site. Talks are given in the hall about its history.
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The 18th century Crowe St Cottages on the site housed Abbot Hall estate’s workers. They tell the story from the 1930s to the mid 1970s. In cottages number 18 and 20 is a reconstruction of the life of one worker, Emily Wilding. Actual family belongings can be viewed. At the back of the cottage one room is a dairy. The milk was brought from the mansion farm each day and at 7am it was available for purchase by locals.
Another building on the site is the Tin Tabernacle (Great Moulton Chapel), first built c1890, then rebuilt on the museum site in the early 1990s. It was a Protestant non-denominational chapel and has a baptismal pool. It was the hub of village life. Inside is an exhibition of some of the items in the museum’s collection and a Sunday school room. The chapel was lit by oil lamps.
A working watermill offers a picture of the everyday life of the miller as well as the opportunity to see the machinery used and watch a demonstration of the working water wheel. The Home Close was once a stockyard area. It has a collection of gypsy wagons and trailers, domestic life interiors from 1900s, a schoolroom and recreated village shops.
The octagonal Settling House or Round House was located at Bury St Edmunds cattle market. It is a Victorian gothic style building, rebuilt at the museum in 2011. Traders used it to complete their business at the cattle market. Illustrations of the cattle market are found in the interior.
The William Bone building, built in 2001, details 200 years of the history of the engineering firm of Ransome, Sims and Jeffries. The firm started in 1774 as an ironmongery shop and became world leaders in agricultural engineering equipment. The Mortlock building, named after the blacksmith family, used the building to repair agricultural equipment. On display in the building are many of the museum’s working engines.
A barn on the site dates from the 13th century. It was built by St Osyth, the local priory, to house tithes. Originally it had a thatched roof and wattle and daub walls. In the 19th century the roof was tiled and the walls changed to weatherboarding. Unfortunately in 1968 a storm caused the permanent collapse of 60 feet of the barn. There are hand tools on display in the barn.
A blacksmith’s forge at the museum was built in 1750. An ironmonger’s building, c1870, was used for manufacturing agricultural tools and machinery. It employed 200 men. Window frames are cast iron. On display are a printing press, ropemaking equipment, a stationary engine, and basket making of the area.
Edgar’s farmhouse, the first building reconstructed on the site, was built in the 14th century. The Eastbridge Windpump dates from the mid 1800s. It came from the Minsmere Levels in east Suffolk where it was one of four pumps helping to drain the area.
Demonstrations at the museum show past operations. These include the life and work of the blacksmith, seeing the printing press in operation and experiencing the steam farm vehicles and machinery. Visitors to the museum can also handle objects at special times. Changing exhibitions highlight other areas of East Anglian life.
A river trail at the site provides an opportunity to spot kingfishers along the river, as well Pipistrelle bats and birds, water voles and sometimes an otter. Orchids bloom along the river path in the summer. A tour along the trail tells how the land was used to support farming and industry in East Anglia. Working animals can also be seen. (Sadly the Suffolk horse died in early 2014.)
The Mid Suffolk Visitor Centre is located in the shop on the premises. Here you can find out about other attractions in the area. Special events are held at the museum. Allow a minimum of three hours or why not plan a full day out with the family.
Museum of East Anglian Life
Crowe St, Stowmarket, Suffolk
Iliffe Way opposite ASDA in town centre, signposted from A14 and B1115
Tel. museum: 0 1449 612 229; Mid Suffolk Visitor Centre: 0 1449 676 800
Open: last week March-end first week Nov, Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm, Sun, 11am-5pm; Visitor Centre open Mon-Fri, 9am-4.45pm; Sat, 10am-4.45pm; Sun, 11am-4.45pm
Shop; cafe; parking next to museum
Web: East Anglian Life
Text and photos © by Barbara Ballard