Michael Portillo of Great Railway Journeys visits Sutton Hoo


The BBC’s Great Railway Journeys highlighted “the vitality of cultural life” in Suffolk and North Essex in its latest series.

The Railroad History Fair sees Michael Portillo traveling from Saxmundham to Dedham, by train and ferry, holding up his 1930s copy of Bradshaw’s Guide, a Victorian-era travel book.

Mr Portillo takes this opportunity, after visiting Ipswich in 2017, to delve into the cultural history of East Anglia in the 1930s between the two great wars.

He comes to Saxmundham by train so he can visit Leiston – which was previously accessible by train via the old Alderburgh branch – for what he claims to be the world’s oldest children’s democracy, Summerhill School, also covered in a recent television series, and founded in 1921.

Next, head to Woodbridge for Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, where an Anglo-Saxon ship was found buried in the ground shortly before WWII.

Mr Portillo then takes the Great Anglia service to Ipswich so he can change to Felixstowe and take the ferry to Harwich, and explore the Kindertransport which allowed Jewish refugees to flee the Nazis.

While in town, he hopped on a train to Manningtree so he could travel to the Essex village of Dedham.

Here he meets Cedric Morris’ expert and general manager of Gainsborough House in Sudbury, Mark Bills, to discuss his life in the village and Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing.

Mr Bills, who contacted the newspaper today, hoped more people would see how Morris, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable were all inspired by this region.

He said: “Cultural tourism is a way to reinject into the economy.

“Why would you go to Stratford upon Avon without Shakespeare? Cultural history is really important to where we live.”

The 57-year-old added that when Gainsborough House reopens in 2022 there will be a room dedicated to Morris’s works.

A trip to see Jenny Hand, director of the Munnings Art Museum, in Dedham, also sees Mr. Portillo talking about the works of Alfred Munnings and his lack of interest in more recent art that was not “uplifting”.

She told us, “He thought ugly art could be confusing and depressing.

“There is such a diversity of art here. You can call it the artist’s valley.

Michael Portillo with Sir Mark Prescott at the National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket, during Episode 10 of the Great British Railway Journeys Series 12.
– Credit: BBC / Naked West / Fremantle

“These programs really showcase the vitality of cultural life in this part of the world.”

In the May 4 episode, Great Railway Journeys also travels from Colchester to Chadwell Heath, where Mr. Portillo stops at Tiptree and Abberton Reservoir.

He will then depart in a May 7 episode of Newmarket, where he will learn more about the history of horse racing, before moving on to Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds and Norfolk.

Great British Railway Journeys Series 12 can be seen on BBC Two, Monday through Friday, 6:30 p.m. each night or via BBC iPlayer.


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