Oh little town of Slowmarket
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The rest of the world goes by
And in thy dark streets shineth
And gathered all above
While locals sleep
the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
What, a day in this little mid Suffolk market town?! Half a day. Or an hour.
Well, we’ll start mid morning and see if we make it through to lunch.
The station’s the best thing about Stow. Because you can leave quickly – it’s on the Norwich to London mainline, and also from Harwich (East Anglia’s passenger port, even greater escape) to Cambridge, and also to Peterborough (inland railway escape, being the interchange for the Midlands and North). But it’s quite a pretty little station, red brick and kind of Tudorbethan looking. And the staff are really nice. It’s got a wee cafe and a shop.
As you leave on the ticket office side, you’ll see the glory of the poodle parlour which was featured on 1980s TV show Lovejoy, who came antique hunting and mystery finding. I don’t expect he found much of either.
Crossing the little Gipping by the new oversized houses, you’ll note the Maltings, which have entertained late nighters in Stow for some decades. It changes its name often. It has one competitor. Note too a couple of restaurants tucked behind it. We many need these later.
Walk up into town towards the church – which looks good lit up, not that we’ll stay long enough to see it – and either street you take (Stowupland or Station), you see several old buildings. We could pop into the church – we have time here – and see the nice large churchyard that once had a sister church. And note that the library’s quite large (keep us warm later) and that there’s the John Peel Arts Centre in the former corn exchange. Pick up a leaflet – the programming sounds quite good. Hm, I’d forgotten John lived round here (Great Finborough, as does cook Delia Smith). We’ll cut through the little alley, Prentice Walk, and stand in the market place. The middle of the row of banks was the entrance to the corn exchange – the one with the copula, said to have a sealed an untouched ball room up there.
We’ve now the four streets of the crossroads to explore. We saw Station Road on the way up, so let’s do the steep one – that’s Bury Street. Note the timbered old house down an alley soon on your left. Some quite cute little shops – no longer Simpson’s toys, or a book shop. But you can knit and get your haircut here. And there’s a cafe. And a bus stop.
Back to the crossroads, let’s go left into the little nub that becomes Meadow Walk. There is another turn into Tavern Street, but there’s only a couple of shops, the town hall, a dept store and a Georgian house down there. And the way to the Rec. What’s a rec? Recreation ground, of course, aren’t you from the 1950s? Public park to the rest of the world.
So to this little open air mall thing, all owned by ASDA (one of many supermarkets here), even the only public loos in Stow. Oh, what’s that green glass barn thing? Best go and see. Tourist information. Well we’ve got time, haven’t we? Not a bad one either. And it’s also the shop of the Museum of East Anglian Life. In the winter, just the grounds are open, but in the summer, there are barns and things to go in. Want to? Mayaswell. Price reflects how much there is to see. Mind the gift aid prices that all museums seem to want you to accidently pay.
Well, there’s actually quite alot here. Beautifully painted gypsy caravans (I saw a kid try to take the handbreak off!) in a large historic barn. They’ve moved here tin hut tabernacles, a farm house with a crown post roof, tractors (say with Suffolk accent and not a rubbish generic rural England attempt) and a mill. And there’s a nice walk by rush fringed water meadows, and animals to meet. And Abbott’s Hall, with costumes and the like. Let’s confess – we are enjoying ourselves. Whether you are from this world (can you spot your own village?) or if rural English life is an anathema, come and amuse yourselves here. Gosh, a couple of hours have gone by.
We should have lunch now. Bistro in the museum or venture into the World of Stow?
We only have one street left to see so pick from what you’ve already seen.
With drink in our hand and cake in our belly (that’s a quote from Margery of King’s Lynn) we face Ipswich Street, which for many IS Stowmarket. It’s been hit by a bomb and the 1950s improvement squad, with some more recent disturbing attempts – look at M&CO. It’s full of cheapy chains and a few independents, by which we do not mean posh, save perhaps Shoephoria. It used to be called Dudley Mason and have a pile of hippos in ascending size, for the kids. Find the many charity shops, peek in Fox’s Yard, once a coaching inn. I was told by an international visitor that it’s quite interesting to potter if you’ve not seen an English small market town before. You can also get quite a few things here, if you have to. Listen to the local accent and make sure you get it right next time you try to do an impersonation. Hard to take off, isn’t it.
Well, we’re at the top of the street now, by the Catholic church that an aforenamed person alleged worships at (don’t crowd her on the way to mass). I know a child who saw the church sign and thought that Our Lady was Stowmarket, personified as a woman. I know another whose first confession was here: ‘Father, I stole a weeble”. I don’t know if that’s funny, cute or sad.
There’s a couple of pubs (avoid Wetherspoon’s – their ethics are the sort that aid workers fight against) and note, by the former pub, now Prezzo’s (does that Italian chain know something we don’t about the rise of Stowmarket) that there’s a cinema. It’s independent and has neon letters. It is called the Regal.
Looks kind of boxy but it’s better inside. No cafe for non patrons but – behold, it’s matinee time and they have cups of tea as part of the programme. Shall we?
All that independent cinema, we need a stroll and then some nutritional fortification. Gosh, it’s late afternoon and we’re still here. Good thing we didn’t pay a pre estimated car park charge. Beyond the Regal is Stow’s second nightclub, Jokers, and a couple of nice houses such as the Veranda, with shutters, and something modern and odd, purpose as yet unknown. The Oddfellows have taken over Red Gables (not green, Anne) which was once a library. It’s a bit leafier though we can see and hear the relief road parallel, which might tempt us to cross it and find the new paths along the river. Gosh, we can walk all the way to Ipswich. No thanks, we’re having too much fun here. Whoops. I’m being sarky, obviously.
Well, over the brow of the hill is an open area – locals tell me there was once an open air swimming pool here – and a little island of chippies, petrol and a pub, which I’m told is one of the better ones. Apart from Stow’s only exposed timber building, there’s not anything more to do, so let’s leave Combs Ford and go and find some dinner. Not at Wetherspoon’s.
Or we can go and sunbathe on the Rec if we want a snake-like lie down afterwards.
Well, we’ve supped; we mayaswell go home now. But as we cut through the little alley by the church – we will see it lit up after all – we remember we quite liked the sound of tonight’s gig at the John Peel Centre. Box office open? Tickets available – we hope so, it’s quite a big building. Can we get back late enough? Trains towards Norwich till 1am – ooh we could go to Jokers or the Maltings after all – and quite late to other local towns (to Ipswich till almost midnight, toward Bury 2235). Good thing it’s not Sunday today when there are big gaps.
Ha ha! I’ve tricked you. You’ve spent not only a day with me in Stow, but the night as well!
And you liked it, didn’t you. Didn’t you?
Don’t mock Slowmarket again!