Westhall village

An interesting article about the village of Westhall (where Belle Grove is located)  from a local writer…

” Passing along Nollers lane, (who was Noller?) I was reminded of the practice in mediaeval times of putting illustrations of dragons, sea monsters and other mythical creatures on the uncharted areas of maps. Here be dragons indeed,foron the roof of Belle Grove, unusual holiday accommodation, a dragon rests on the chimney of one of the buildings. A few times a year, tours of the house are available through Invitation to View; the scheme offers visits to privately owned houses and other places of interest, many rarely open to the public. (Ed note: not now available re Belle Grove until further notice).

The population of Westhall is estimated at something under 400, its houses mostly huddle together around the old pub, with others scattered across its fields. The pub, The Racehorse, a curious name, has been up for sale for some months. There are reports about the tenancy of the pub in the Ipswich Journal of 1846, and, in 2007 it was the venue for a dwile-flonking tournament and at the centre of argument over the rightful home for the dwile-flonking cup.

Pub signs were rarely named by accident and illustrate everything, from religion to royalty, scandal to sport, and battles to inventions. Their origin goes back to the Romanswhen the ‘Tabernae’ would hang vine leaves outside to show that they sold wine. The naming of inns and pubs became common by the C12thand, with pub names came pub signs, as the majority of the population could not read or write.They are collectively a unique record of Britain’s history and many are also beautifully-crafted works of art on public view.

Leaving the village itself I went in search of the church, a mile away, through winding lanes and down a steep and muddy Church Hill. And, there is St Andrew’s Church, on a bit of a mound, surrounded by snowdrops and winter aconites and ancient trees, secretive and other-worldly in the winter sunlight. An early Norman church, with the tower to the west built several hundred years later; and then a new nave to the north, its chancel a hundred years after that whilst the old church became a south aisle. Standing in the space beneath the tower looking back, the richly decorated doorway would have been the main entrance to the Romanesque church. The church has an abundance of historical treasures to feast one’s eyes upon; not least, a seven sacrament font, the painted rood screen, wall paintings, scratch marks and roof angels.

I found that some signposts to nearby Sotherton were misaligned, In true Suffolk fashion, to confuse and baffle the traveller! With a population of about 70, Sotherton is described as a ‘dispersed’ village, and, that is certainly the case; so dispersed, indeed, I am not sure I ever found it, or that it is there to be found.

Sotherton Hall is a grade II listed Tudor timber framed farmhouse or Hall house with a shaped brick gable end, set by a listed C17th-18thtimber framed and weather boarded barn, in a small park towards the north of the parish. It belonged to the Earls of Stradbroke, as part of the Henham Park estate, until 1951.

Crawling along the B1124 road seeking any indication of the way to Sotherton, I was stunned by the sight of some ten or so fallow deer, emerging from the hedge on the right and leaping across the road through the hedgerow to the left. A well-antlered stag in the middle of his harem of female deer, they were led by a white doe – or was it a unicorn? Was I dreaming? By the time my camera was to hand, they were away across the fields and into a copse, the white doe showing up against the backdrop of wintry trees. A magical end to my odyssey.”

For more, see Within 10 Miles

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