Abbot's Hall - Stowmarket
I had a lovely visit to Abbot's Hall in Stowmarket the other day. The Hall, an elegant Queen Anne House, some 300 years old, is part of the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) and has recently undergone a complete restoration with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding.
On the day I visited, the weather was cold and miserable, but the hall was warm and inviting, as was the welcome I received from the staff on duty there. I was given a brief introduction to the history of the building and the exhibits and then left to wander around at my leisure. The interpretation in each room is excellent, with plenty of interaction - there are things to listen to, comments to make, and things to touch.
The dining room has an exhibit about food and farming with the table laid, as if ready and waiting for invited guests to arrive and enjoy delicacies such as calf's head soup, boiled fowl a la Bechamel and lobster cutlets. People had sturdy stomachs back then!
A visit to Abbot's Hall is an opportunity to learn about the families who lived there and their way of life. You will also learn about the social history of the region, since the focus of MEAL is wider than just Stowmarket, as is evident from the mix of exhibits.
These included a room about George Ewart Evans, a schoolteacher, writer and folklorist who became a collector of oral history and oral tradition in the East Anglian countryside; St Audrey's asylum at Melton; the travelling community; traditional folk music; farming and rural life.
I particularly liked the room about agriculture and gardening. Visitors are asked "What does your garden mean to you?" and invited to write their thoughts on a label and tie them to the wall. This room overlooks the tidy vegetable garden and extensive grounds of the museum, which inspired some of these responses:
Next to the Hall is the stable block, which has been left in its original state and I really hope it remains so. It has a faded beauty to it, and a sort of sadness too, as it would have been a noisy, busy place in the past and is now so still and empty.
I hope you will take time to visit this little gem in the heart of Stowmarket. Make sure you pop into the tourist information centre, just next door, which has a mass of information on Suffolk and do visit The Osier Cafe on the museum site, for a coffee and a piece of their excellent shortbread!
Abbot's Hall is open all year round and has free entry.