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with its fashionable society thronging the Assembly Rooms, the newly-opened Theatre Royal
and the Botanical Gardens, ‘the nicest town in the world’.
To COCKFIELD RECTORY near Lavenham came the young ROBERT LOUIS
STEVENSON (1850-94) in the summer of 1873, to stay with his cousin Maud and her
husband Churchill Babington, the rector. Writing to his mother, RLS said ‘I am too happy to
be much of a correspondent. Yesterday we were away to Melford and Lavenham, both
exceptionally placid, beautiful English towns.’ Part of his happiness could have been Mrs
Fanny Sitwell, also a guest at the Rectory. In his letters sent to her later he described her as
‘Madonna’ and ‘mother of my soul’ but their romance never developed although they
remained friends. Biographies have suggested that he saw her primarily as a surrogate
mother and an intellectual companion.
Another encounter at the Rectory was with Sydney Colvin, Professor of Fine Art at
Cambridge, who introduced RLS to a London editor, and membership of the Savile Club
where he met Edmund Gosse and many other literary figures as his writing career began to
form. Treasure Island was published in 1883, and Kidnapped in 1886. When Stevenson was
in Samoa he wrote the Vailima Letters to Colvin who later edited them for publication
posthumously and editions of Stevenson’s letters and works.
VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882–1941) and her sister Vanessa Bell stayed at Blo’Norton Hall
near THELNETHAM on the Norfolk Suffolk border in 1906. The sisters explored ‘a strange
lonely kind of country’ that seemed deserted and Virginia wrote The Journal of Mistress
Joan Martyn based on Blo’Norton Hall and its history. In 1916, Virginia and her husband
came to WISSETT LODGE (between Wissett and Chediston, near HALESWORTH), to visit
Duncan Grant and David Garnett. The visit had an affect on Woolf’s next novel, Night and
Day, and she wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell ‘I am very much interested in your life [there]
which I am thinking of writing a novel about’. To Lytton Strachey she wrote ‘Wissett seems to



lull asleep all ambition – don’t you think they have discovered the secret of life?’ Visitors can
now stay at Wissett Lodge which provides bed and breakfast accommodation.
MARJORIE ALLINGHAM (1904–1966), one of the acknowledged ‘Queens of Crime’,
often visited Suffolk where her parents lived. She wrote the first Albert Campion novel
Crime at Black Dudley at the Old Vicarage LETHERINGHAM which her parents were
renting at the time. Later they took on The Dairy House outside the village of SHELLEY
near HADLEIGH and here, on lengthy visits, she wrote Look to the Lady in 1931 set in the
surrounding countryside. ‘The village of Sanctuary lay in that part of Suffolk which the
railway has ignored and which motorists have not yet discovered,’ not exactly true today!
Police at the Funeral was also written here.
The Suffolk coast has particularly attracted visitors. In the 1870s the poet ALGERNON
SWINBURNE (1837-1909) wrote lines on the North Sea and DUNWICH, where from
the town lost under the sea he imagined the dead inhabitants ‘spurned and scourged of wind
and sea like slaves’.
HENRY JAMES (1843-1916), the novelist, explored the locality on a bicycle in 1897 and
wrote of Dunwich in his essay ‘Old Suffolk’ the last in English Hours. ‘I defy anyone at
desolate, exquisite Dunwich to be disappointed in anything.’ James thought it had ‘a sort of
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