Curiouser and curiouser: Charlie Haylock’s new book on quirky Suffolk

Charlie Haylock, who is publishing his latest book on Suffolk.
It has a section on the campaign t

Charlie Haylock, who is publishing his latest book on Suffolk. It has a section on the campaign to make Edmund patron saint of England. Here's Charlie Haylock next to Edmund's statue in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

A man commanded to break wind for the king every Christmas Day… the Dutch mapmakers who tweaked our placenames so they could claim extra pay… You couldn’t make it up – but you could pull it together to make a book. It’s all in Charlie Haylock’s latest offering. STEVEN RUSSELL takes a look

Charlie Haylock with a copy of his new book on some of the quirkier aspects of Suffolk life and its

Charlie Haylock with a copy of his new book on some of the quirkier aspects of Suffolk life and its history - Credit: Archant

When the creative folk rebranded Suffolk The Curious County in a bold move to encourage more “furreners” to head east, it got Charlie Haylock thinking. The perfect opportunity, he mused, to air some of the quirky information he’s accumulated over the years and ask questions such as: Is Lord Nelson really half-Suffolk? And which town has a “Groaning Stone”?

He’s collected curious facts and stories from a number of sources, including granddad Bill Haylock, a proud Suffolk story-teller. Some have come to light during the research he’s done for the handful of books written over the past decade. Others are provided by folk who come up after his talks and one-man shows to pass on Suffolk oddities and anecdotes.

Then there’s the great help from fans of his weekly slot on BBC Radio Suffolk, Haylock’s Half Hour for Forty Minutes, who share their knowledge and love of their home county.

Last, but not least, is Charlie’s most recent venture: a topical cartoon produced in collaboration with Suffolk illustrator Barrie Appleby that appears in the EADT on Saturdays.

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When it comes to curious, it seems Suffolk has an unlimited supply. “People were knocking The Curious County idea and I thought ‘I’m going to come in with a celebration of why it’s curious,” he explains.

The new title, Don’t Hurry Me – I’m Suffolk, is a potpourri of the odd, the fascinating and the great. There’s a combination of longer chapters, shorter pieces and snippets. “I didn’t want it to be an encyclopaedia or a dictionary, so hopefully there’s a mix of different styles there, to make it interesting all the way through.”

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Here’s a flavour of some of the content:

• Newmarket is so named because Exning had the plague. Exning was the main local market town, but in the 1200s disease hit and the market was disbanded. A new one was set up down the road – Newmarket.

• Debenham has a “Groaning Stone”, said to be at the true source of the River Deben, where legend says the ancient Celts had a throne. At full moon, the stone is said to move and moan at midnight.

• Bury St Edmunds is known as “The Cradle of the Law”. In 1214, the English barons met secretly in the abbey, seeking inspiration from Saint Edmund. They drafted the Magna Carta, the cornerstone of English liberty. King John signed it a year later at Runnymede.

• Bradfield Combust gets its name because of a great fire, when the granary barns were set alight in 1329, during the Peasants’ Revolt. They were objecting to the wealth of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds, so set fire to the abbey’s granary at Bradfield.

• Catherine Suckling, from Barsham, just outside Beccles, married a rector from Norfolk and gave birth to Lord Nelson. “Therefore Nelson is half Suffolk!”

• Dutch cartographers were employed in the 1700s to make maps of England more detailed. They were paid by the letter… so they added letters to earn more money! Edwardston became Edwardstone, for instance.

* There is a penny whistle on the village sign at Coney Weston because it was invented there by farm labourer Robert Clarke. He ended up rich enough to buy the farm he worked on. “The whistles are still made and sold around the world but these days they are produced in Kent. Apparently the 2013 Eurovision winner, Denmark, used a Clarke tin whistle!”

• When local government reform was producing the one county of Suffolk that we know today, in 1974, there was talk of making Newmarket and Haverhill part of Cambridgeshire and bringing Colchester into Suffolk.

• Suffolk has four villages with Celtic origins (Iken, settlement of the Iceni; Kenton; Monewden and Clare) and only four with a Norman derivation. These are Boulge (“heather-covered waste land”), Bures (a row of houses), Capel St Andrew (a chapel dedicated to St Andrew), and Capel St Mary (chapel dedicated to St Mary). Other Suffolk villages are Anglo-Saxon, Frisian or Viking settlements.

There’s an examination of the reasons for the rise and fall of the fishing industry, and Charlie also takes a close look at some influential Suffolk figures: historic and modern.

In the former camp is the Chevallier dynasty, the family behind Aspall Suffolk Cyder. The family’s roots lie in Viking stock and go back to the Norse invaders in northern France, “and in particular Rollo himself, who became the first Duke of Normandy in 911AD, and great great grandfather of William the Conqueror”.

One Chevallier, Frances, married Lt Col Henry Horatio Kitchener in Aspall church, near Debenham. One of their sons was Earl Kitchener – the man with the moustache and pointing finger on the famous First World War recruitment poster.

John Barrington Chevallier, meanwhile, founded Derby County Football Club and played in four FA Cup finals. “He was the first Chevallier to spell cider with a ‘y’. He also exported Aspall Cyder to the officers’ mess in India, so that his cousin, Lord Kitchener, could still enjoy his Aspall Cyder.”

Charlie also takes the opportunity to bang the drum for King Edmund – “crowned in Sudbury on Christmas Day in 855AD”. He writes: “Some say Bures, but I prefer the evidence for Sudbury… it’s more chronological and feasible.” King Edmund was slain by the Danes in 869 AD and buried in present-day Bradfield St Clare, “not Hoxne”, he says. Soon after, his body was removed and laid to rest in Beodricsworth.

“His burial tomb became a popular place of pilgrimage. Edmund’s fame grew and grew and eventually he was made a saint. Beodricsworth was renamed St Edmundsbury, meaning a fortified town dedicated to St Edmund (and not meaning the place where St Edmund is buried).

“He became patron saint of England, and remained so, right up to the Crusades. Then he was unceremoniously relegated and St George took over. It’s about time we had St Edmund back.”

This latest title marks something of a departure: for the first time, Charlie hasn’t donned his traditional rural flat cap and waistcoat for the publicity pictures! That’s because while the Haylock approach and humour is still there, he’s trying to gently move things along a bit.

“These books have served a purpose. They really have – about the Suffolk dialect, why it’s important, the history of Suffolk and recipes around it. But you can only go so far with that,” he says of his first four publications. “That’s why, for the first time, you haven’t got a Suffolkised title.” (No phrases like “rum owd dew!” or “caw’d a hell”.) “This is going for a wider audience.”

It’s only a tweak. He’s still aiming to present good-quality historic information in a way readers can digest easily, and is grateful when people tell him he’s hit the mark.

“One of the best for me was a 16-year-old boy at King Edward VI School at Bury St Edmunds. I was giving a talk on the evolution of spoken English and how the Suffolk dialect was important.

“This lad came up to me and shook me by the hand. ‘Thank you, Mr Haylock, for a lovely talk. We’ve got your books here as textbooks. I’ve learned so much, but at the same time I’ve had a smile and a laugh. I’ve got to go now – I’ve got a bus to catch – cheerio!’ I didn’t even have time to reply!”

We can’t close without having a look at that breaker of wind by royal appointment. (And please excuse the use of a minor F-word here.)

“It’s recorded that in 1250AD one Rolland le Pettour (Norman French for ‘Farter’), held land in Hemingstone, Suffolk, by serjeantry,” explains Charlie. “This meant that, instead of paying a rent, the holder would have to annually complete a specific task or act for the king.

“In this case, Henry III decreed that Rolland le Pettour had to appear before him every Christmas Day, to do a jump, a whistle and a fart. This carried on for some years, and by 1330 the eventual holder of this particular serjeantry was referred to as Rolland le Fartere.”

So now we know.

Don’t Hurry Me – I’m Suffolk, which includes illustrations by Barrie Appleby, is published by Countryside Books at £7.95. See for a list of Charlie’s book-signing sessions

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