The Suffolk Heritage Coast is in the news as the government agrees to the construction of a new and nationally important nuclear power station at Sizewell whilst a strike at the port of Felixstowe has put at risk the daily operations of the largest container port in Britain. Suffolk sits alongside the eroding edge of England, a study in contrasts but of growing national economic importance. And with a new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister with adjacent constituencies in Suffolk and Norfolk, perhaps it will enjoy enhanced political significance too.
Until comparatively recently, this was Betjeman country. Agriculture and fishing together provided employment. Picturesque villages both inland and along the coast were served by strikingly large churches built on the proceeds of medieval wool wealth. Everything seemed unchanged since at least Victorian times. Carefully husbanded reed beds and inland waters provided sanctuaries for migrating birds. The modern world intruded from time to time – most acutely as USAF and RAF aircraft flew over en route to attack Nazi-occupied Europe – but never for long and quiet isolation soon re-asserted itself.
The composer, Benjamin Britten, made his post-war home in the small town of Aldeburgh but he was born in the nearby and much larger fishing port of Lowestoft. The two places are now worlds apart as are many of the towns and villages along the Suffolk seaside. Nor is the Heritage Coast as idyllic as it can appear in weekend newspaper supplements and as it once was in reality. Recent decades have seen the growth of plumply upholstered and newly-enriched upmarket communities resented by many of those born and bred in the area and who now feel marginalised.