5th Mar | The History of Felixstowe – Phil Hadwen

Phil Hadwen gave us a very entertaining talk at our March meeting on the History of Felixstowe. What made it special were all the old black-and-white photos of Felixstowe in the past 150 years, many of them taken by local photographers the Emeny brothers, who had a studio in a two-storey wooden hut in the Walton area.

These original photos were taken from images captured by box cameras, and imprinted on individual glass plates. When the old studio hut was finally demolished and the land around it developed for building, around 60,000 of these glass plates were discovered, 20,000 of which were salvaged. These images show much of the social history of the Felixstowe and Walton area, from the buildings and transport to the landscape and the people, and how they spent their leisure.

Interesting facts about Felixstowe’s past included:-

Off the coast at Walton there was once an important Roman Fort, now crumbling under the sea;

King Edward III stayed at Walton Manor, Kingsfleet, near Felixstowe Ferry, and it was from here that his fleet sailed on his forays across the North Sea to Flanders during the Hundred Years War. This area also included Goseford, a major port on the east coast with many quays. Nearly all goods destined for the area were brought in by sea, and it was a strategic area for defending the country too.


Martello Towers are still a feature of this part of East Anglia, and Felixstowe has 4 of them. Each one was built using half a million bricks and would have been a sturdy form of defence, but not one shot has been fired from any of them.

At the end of the 19th century the Empress of Germany and her children holidayed in Felixstowe, staying at South Beach mansion, an Italianate-style house built on the cliff top, which today is a cafe and tea rooms!

Bawdsey Manor, built in 1886 as a holiday home for Sir Cuthbert Quilter, later became famous for the development of radar. In its early days,Sir Cuthbert built a steam chain ferry across the Deben to Felixstowe and backed the idea of turning the town into a holiday resort, as it was becoming fashionable to take sea air and bathe in the waters for one’s health. Felixstowe beach was popular for this, and had many bathing machines to allow ladies to change into bathing suits and take a modest dip in the sea!

Prior to the First World War Felixstowe was a huge seaplane base and Seaplane Experimental Station where new designs of seaplanes were built and tested.

Felixstowe was a private hideaway for Wallis Simpson during the Royal scandal about her divorce, whilst the case was being heard at Ipswich Assizes.

Lady Diana Spencer was refused admission to Felixstowe College, seemingly for being too shy and quiet at her interview with the then headmistress, Miss Manning. Indeed, the same institution was also deemed unsuitable for Princess Anne because of high security risks – it would have been difficult to ensure her complete safety with all the many entrances and exits.

Phil Hadwen kept us all captivated with these and many more facts and stories about Felixstowe, and I think one of the things we enjoyed was scanning the old photos and recognising familiar landmarks and buildings that still survive in the area today.

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