Thorpe St Andrew bungalow with a bizarre interior full of Oriental treasures
- Credit: Archant Library
Derek James takes a look at an “oriental palace”… once created in a bungalow at Thorpe St Andrew
From the outside it was a pleasant-looking semi-detached bungalow blending in with the neighbouring properties on Cyril Road…but open the door and you were transported to another world, full of dazzling and glittering Far Eastern treasures which had all been collected…in Norfolk.
It was 60 years ago when this incredible and unique collection was packed up by its owner, the talented Gordon Suckling, and taken to Australia where he was starting a new life.
Gordon, who had been born in Australia in 1925, arrived in Norwich with his family in 1936 and went to the Art College where he developed his skills which equipped him for a job in a poster artists’ studio before taking a job as an artist with the Norfolk News Company publishers of the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News and many other papers.
His work included producing brilliant drawings, maps and all kind of illustration for news stories, features and advertisements. He worked with us from 1948 until 1960 when he emigrated and went to work in the graphics department for ABC Television.
And as he was leaving he invited one of our reporters into his home at Thorpe who wrote: “Few indeed of those living nearby knew that behind the prosaic front door and plain curtains was a dazzling display of oriental treasures. Memorials to those bygone days when a craftsman would gladly spend a week or more perfecting a tiny detail of design.”
With him to Australia went four large packing cases full of extraordinary items but before they were packed away Gordon proudly showed off his collection of embroideries, shrines, lamps which once hung in mosques and temples and rich robes which graced the ladies of the Imperial Court of China.
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We reported back in 1960: “Naturally one would associate such a collection with wide opportunities for travel – business and perhaps the Services. But no: these beautiful and increasingly rare treasurers were all picked up in the salesrooms and curio shops of Norfolk.
“Most fantastic bedroom in Thorpe – or Norwich for that matter was the little square apartment which I edged at his invitation, keeping my elbows close and a wary eye on the strange objects that hung or stood in every inch of available space,” we wrote.
Our reporter was impressed and continued: “From the ceiling hung several ornate inlaid brass and silver lamps from Moslem or Buddhist shrines; over the bedhead presided a Chinese god seated in an elaborate carved lacquer shrine while another oriental deity in a somewhat smaller but no less ornate gazed across from the other side of the bed.
“From some hidden corner came the tinkling notes of a Swiss music box and the heavy scent of incense clung to the nostrils.”
I’ll pause for a moment while you take it all in.
Returning to Cyril Road our reporter, by now almost overwhelmed by what was hidden behind the net curtains, continued: “Rare and rich fabrics have a particular fascination for Mr Suckling and the collector’s enthusiasm lit up his eyes as he handled gold and silver embroidered sari borders and ’kincobs’ – similarly-worked Indian silks.
“There are fine examples of old Kyoto embroidery from japan and his collection of 35 shawls range in origin from the Chinese mantilla to the Scottish Paisley, from Kashmir to Norwich.” He wrote. But his largest piece in the cramped living room was a magnificent cared and inlaid wooden shrine having the dimensions of a big wardrobe.
“Intricately carved soapstone ornaments and examples of Japanese Shibiamur ware, finely inlaid gold lacquer, ivory and mother of pearl are another of Mr Suckling’s favourites,” wrote our reporter.
How could such an extraordinary collection be built up in Norwich?
“The answer is tied up with the passing of the British era in India and the Far East. The civil servants, the military men, and the business people who made their careers in those exotic lands brought their long-treasured mementos and keepsakes home to Norfolk,” he wrote.
And, with the passing of time, many of those items ended up in salesrooms or second hand shops…where they were snapped up by Gordon.
It was in 2011 when Raymond Suckling wrote to us from his home in Australia saying his brother had died. He had retired in 1990 but for many years helped the Save the Children Fund.