A sign of community

Suffolk has its big skies, its leafy lanes and wonderful coastline but it’s also a county that’s more than blessed with its fair share of village signs.
Anne Gould reports

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In November 2013 the village of Crowfield was treated to a very special “one-off” celebrity concert.

Star of stage and screen, the actor and comedian Roy Hudd, who just happens to live in the village, appeared at the village hall for free - and it was all for a really good cause as he’s helping to complete the £3,500 fund-raising task that’s been undertaken by fellow villager Denise Wilcox for a village sign to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The sign itself is being made by Norfolk sculptor Steve Eggleton, and will show Crowfield’s distinctive All Saint’s church, which is partly half-timbered with a ploughed field in front being scoured by crows. While this sign and work of art is really important to Crowfield it’s also important to Suffolk  adding to its rich community heritage.

Village sign expert David Mulrenan of Brundish says these handcrafted and unique signs are very much an East Anglian tradition.

The idea originally came from just over the border, at Sandringham in Norfolk when the future Edward VII commissioned signs for the estate. Then in 1920 the then Duke of York gave a speech at the Royal Academy promoting the wider use of village signs following which the Daily Mail ran a national competition. Subsequently villages across the country took up the challenge but the concept was grasped most keenly in the east.

Traditionally, says David, they been erected to commemorate a really special occasion like the Coronation, a Jubilee or Millennium. Currently Suffolk has about 375 signs with new signs going up at both Crowfield and Felsham soon.

“What’s so nice is they all have a story to them - depicting something about the village history, the origin of its name or perhaps something to do with the church.

“As a result they are all different and it’s fascinating going round to look at them all and working out what they mean.

“I also think that a village sign is a symbol of village cohesion. If people have got together to make it happen it’s the sign of a lively and vital community.”

David, who was instrumental in organising a sign for his own village says there are various master craftsmen who specialise in this work. Some are carved from wood, some are made from metal and there are few that are quite unusual and different.

For instance the Bruisyard sign created by a local artist Ann Smith, is “fabulous “and depicts a portrait of St Clare - there was once a nunnery in the village. At Brundish the sign shows Edmund Brundish from a 14th century brass in the church and Capel St Andrew there’s an eclectic scultpture of a fisherman by sculptor Paul Richardson. David said there’s another unusual sign at Homersfield near Bungay where there’s a big wooden block on the village green which has been carved into a boat with fish and a man peeping out the top.  Around the block is a poem is a poem written about the Waveney Valley.“There’s one place that I think really ought to have a sign - and that’s Ipswich. They are planning to do some work to the Cornhill and I think it would be an ideal time for a sign to go up there.”

So why has Roy Hudd got behind the village sign fundraising effort?

 “I love the village and the people who live here - they were so kind to us, especially when we first moved her that we are happy to do this show as a one off for free so we can have our sign.

It’s a terrific design, he says and really reflects Crowfield. When you look at the church at the right time of year you can see the ploughed field and the crows pecking the ground - so it really fits the village well.”

Rod first came to Suffolk on the advice of an old friend entertainer Percy Edwards and he’s never regretted the move.  “However” Rod says “I have never ever been on a train from Stowmarket for London that’s got in on time - they are always three or four minutes late. But, I don’t really care that much because the longer I can stay up here in Crowfield the better I like it.”

Rod, who was a Red Coat at Butlin’s in Clacton before making the big time believes it’s really important to support village life - and thanks to him a whole stream of celebrities have got to know the delights of Suffolk too.

“The first year I was here they asked me to open the village fete and then on subsequent years I’ve opened my contacts book and asked my friends to come along too - people like June Whitfield, Graham Cole, Melvyn Hayes and Rick Wakeman too.

“We have lunch and go to the fete and in fact Rick likes the fete so much that he’s been two or three years in a row. So now more and more people come to lunch and we have a great time.”

Between a hectic work schedule - he’s just finished filming Our Robot Overloads, a movie that stars Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson - he’s also a big supporter of local theatre and loves the New Wolsey. “Their pantomime in particular is excellent but it’s an intimate theatre and it does lots of different things and that’s great.”

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