Oldest known picture of Halesworth uncovered

Sitting hardly noticed thousands of miles away their significance was barely acknowledged.

Drawings and writings that gave an insight into life in Halesworth and Dunwich more than 400 years ago were not able to be appreciated by those who live there today.

But now, after the efforts of two Suffolk historians, hundreds will be able enjoy the work of an educated Elizabethan draper – including the earliest known image of Halesworth.

For the last 80 years a 16th century manuscript by Halesworth's Thomas Fella had been at the prestigious Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, USA.

John Blatchly, former headmaster of Ipswich School, and Martin Sanford, head of the Suffolk Biological Record, both knew of his work and after approaching the library for help are now able to bring his 160 pages to a wider audience with the publishing of the manuscript in His Booke of Divers Devices and Sorts of Pictures.

The work includes copied poems, songs and a calligraphic alphabet, as well as many drawings that Mr Fella had copied and then added in people from Halesworth and Dunwich. But there is also a picture of a windmill which is now the earliest known image of the town.

Vic Gray, of Halesworth and District Museum, said he was thrilled by the discovery, which is almost 200 years earlier than another picture of the town.

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He said: 'I'd spoken to John Blatchly about the book and knew that there were scenes of country life that must have reflected what he saw around here, but the fact that there was a picture of Halesworth had not been appreciated.'

Mr Gray said that he had previously known little of Thomas Fella and this was a very important moment.

He added: 'It really is quite an exceptional find and I don't think anyone in Washington knew of the significance.'

Dr Blatchly said that compiling the book was a very exciting project to be a part of, having previously looked at Mr Fella's work through microfilm in the Suffolk Record Office, in Ipswich.

He said: 'It is a very rare window into the Elizabethan world in Suffolk. He is generally copying continental or London original drawings but the people have become those from Suffolk, so it is crammed with people he would have seen every day in Halesworth and Dunwich.'

Dr Blatchly believes that Mr Fella had access to between 40-50 books from which he based his work, with quotations and images adapted from those and his life, showing activities including baking, ploughing and woodcutting.

He added: 'He must have been an incredibly well-read man and had either a vast library of the books already in print in the 16th century or friends with good libraries who would lend them to him.'

The manuscript was written in Halesworth between 1592 and 1598, with the final few pages completed in Dunwich in 1622.

The book will be launched at an illustrated talk by the two Suffolk authors at The Cut in Halesworth on Tuesday, June 26, at 7.30pm. Entrance will be �3.

Thomas Fella

Born in Bramfield in 1556 he is believed to have studied at a grammar school in either Halesworth or Bungay.

Rather than going on to study further he chose to become a draper and did so based through Dunwich.

His Booke of Divers Devices and Sorts of Pictures was compiled between 1592 and 1622, with the majority written between 1592-1598.

In 1611 he set up of the Robert Launce Charity to provide a bread charity for the poor of Halesworth. A manuscript of this is at the Lowestoft Record Office.

He had two children and left his manuscript to his grandchildren when he died in Halesworth in 1639.

The manuscript then travelled from north-east Suffolk into north Essex before arriving at the Folger Library in Washington DC in 1930.

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