site unseen 'Southwold Jack', Southwold, Suffolk

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The Independent Online
Anyone who scoffs at the idea of love at first sight should simply be packed off to Southwold in Suffolk. Here is an unspoiled seaside community with a massive common, a harbour, nine greens, a lighthouse, a sailors' reading room, a fine medieval church, wonderful domestic architecture plus many hotels, restaurants and pubs.

A veritable heaven on earth - and anyone who visits Southwold and does not immediately want to return (although I have yet to meet such an idiot) deserves both pity and censure. The rest of us form a kind of Southwold freemasonry.

What gives Southwold its unique character? First of all, there is only one road in and out, making the town virtually an island: in other words, relative lack of accessibility has clearly deterred developers. Its little railway line was closed in 1929. Secondly, Southwold was devastated by its own Great Fire in 1659, and when the town was rebuilt, several greens were specially laid out as fire-breaks in order to reduce the possibility of a future conflagration.

Thirdly, everyone who comes to Southwold suddenly seems to behave better towards their fellow human beings. Businessmen who snarl and spit at work come here for a rest and unexpectedly find themselves patting the heads of dogs, kissing babies and saying "good morning" to complete stran- gers. Motorists give way at crossroads, while day-trippers carefully put their fish and chip wrappers in the bins provided.

Finally, Adnams the brewers provide the town with a useful and regular source of employment, and their dray horses still plod around the streets each day making deliveries. Like many towns, Southwold has had its own brewery since the Middle Ages, but it was the arrival of George and Ernest Adnams from Berkshire in 1872 which really brought success.

People often look at the Adnams logo - a medieval foot soldier holding a sword, ready to clunk a bell - and wonder what on earth he is doing there. The answer to that is to visit St Edmund's Church, completed in 1460 and displaying the flint and hammer beam roof which characterises so many East Anglian churches.

Walk inside and immediately in front of you is the wooden figure of "Southwold Jack", who for many years has struck his bell at the start of each service, as well as welcoming brides on their wedding day. This brightly coloured little chap dates from the 15th century and is so life- like that you can even make out his blood-flecked eyes and five o' clock shadow.

Mind you, the only problem with extolling the pleasures of Southwold is the selfish fear that the world and his wife will suddenly descend in force.

So, for those of you who don't know Southwold, it really isn't worth visiting. I strongly advise you to stay away. Those of you who do know Southwold - see you there next year.

'Southwold Jack' can be found inside St Edmund's Church, Southwold, Suffolk

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