Historians unlock Halesworth’s past

The rich history of a shopping precinct is set to be explored as historians delve into the past of a north Suffolk town.

Researchers from the Centre for East Anglian Studies, part of the University of East Anglia, together with the Suffolk Records Office and volunteers, will be holding a one-day drop-in session at the Halesworth library where people will be able to turn the clock back on the shops they use every day.

The event, Explore Its High Street: The hidden stories behind Halesworth’s Thoroughfare, has been inspired by the BBC TV series TurnBackTime’s High Street History.

It will be followed up by an evening lecture and an exhibition in the town plus publication of the team’s findings on the Halesworth town website.

Work will continue after Christmas, culminating in the exhibition.

Lucy Marten , director of the Centre for East Anglian Studies at the UEA in Norwich and who is leading the project, said: “Traditional shopping in small towns is facing an unprecedented challenge from the supermarkets.

“I chose Halesworth for this project because it is immensely fortunate in still having a full retail offering in its independent shops. There are few such towns left and they deserve to be held up as national treasures.”

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To complement the project, BBC Radio Suffolk will be presenting an afternoon programme live from the Angel Hotel in Halesworth on November 24.

Dr Marten wants local people to come and help her team research the history of all Halesworth’s shops from collected documents and old photographs.

A team of researchers from the UEA and local historians and archivists will be on hand at the workshop in the library on November 28 from 11am to 3pm to uncover the history of retailing in the town, from written sources and from your oral recollections.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, shops around the town will be able to display a poster in their window revealing all that has been discovered from their past.

Dr Marten added: “Many of the shop premises in Halesworth’s Thoroughfare go back as far medieval times and so have been at the centre of life in the town for hundreds of years. I expect some of them have exciting secrets to give up.”

Sandra Leverett, chairman of Halesworth Town Council, welcomed the research.

She said: “It’s quite exciting and a positive step. Hopefully it will highlight all the positive aspects of our Thoroughfare with the shops and the individual shops. When we have friends come to visit, say from Norwich, they are always amazed how they receive such personal service in the shops.”