When the Saxons first ventured up the stretch of water we know as the River Stour, the surrounding land was an unspoilt wilderness of fertile land and wild fowl.
The settlement that came to be known as Tattingstone was more successful than most, and by the time of the Doomsday book, where it was known as Tatituna, the natural beauty had been ‘despoiled’ by hovels built for shelter from the Siberian winds that followed the Saxons up the Shotton peninsular. Putting a roof over your head was known as progress and modernity in those far off times. A roof, running water, and plenteous wild food outside the door – what more could man want?
A more varied diet appears to have been the answer. The water marshes were drained, wheat and barley planted, and by the 13th century Tattingstone was part of the manor of Stutton, and the men who held the land there had become wealthy with the new fangled bread on their table. In 1650 Robert Sparrow built Alton Hall, described as standing in ‘a pleasant acclivity about a mile north of the Stour, near the Holbrook rivulet’. On the rivulet he constructed two corn mills – he had gone into the manufacturing business and was selling flour. Progress and modernity again.
There were no celebrities to demonstrate against this desecration of the natural beauty. ’Housewives’ were only too glad to purchase their flour in a nifty sack – much better than bashing the wheat grains with a rock. If anyone moaned about the increase in carts hauling stone for the Hall it was not recorded. No doubt the dust and the noise as the stone masons chipped away did ruin the sound of the bird song – but it provided employment for the men folk too.
It was still a land of great beauty. By 1880, John South was farming 475 acres of ‘natural wilderness’ now converted to wheat fields. His daughter Maude had no need to toil in the fields, she was able to devote herself to painting the changes in the landscape. ‘Pin Mill’, the commercial mill built to grind the corn, the procession of carts rumbling down the track each day, the men and women cutting the wheat. The cottages at ‘Craig Pits’. Did I remember to tell you that building the Hall had involved digging a huge pit at nearby Craig to excavate the stone? Much work for local hands, and a bit of an eyesore. The lowly cottages built alongside the pit were only able to exist there because by now man had discovered how to dig down to the water table – no longer any need to build exclusively alongside a rivulet. Sure, the ‘well’ would run dry from time to time, and the land round the pit was stony and barren, but you had a roof over your head, water most of the time, and there was still wild duck flying over head.
By the 1960s, steam rollers had appeared, trucks full of stinking boiling tar – the dusty cart track had been tarmaced, and renamed the A137. The corn was cut by belching combine harvesters. Water came out of a tap in your kitchen, though the cottages on the left here, after standing for 400 years, left a lot to be desired. Rented out by the local authority, the staircases had rotted and collapsed – so were removed, and the property re-described as ‘ground floor only’. Two ladies occupied them in that state right up to 2007.
Elsewhere in Suffolk, modernity was marching on, and the good people of Ipswich found that sometimes they turned on their taps and nothing emerged. They grew anxious and demanded action. Men from the government travelled down the tarmaced road to Tattingstone.
‘Tattingstone Vale, the very thing’ they said. ‘For ’tis nowt but a collection of old cottages, that ugly pit, and as for the Hall – when was that last habitable’? In vain did the people cry – ‘but this valley is our home, our work, the roofs over our head; for 1200 years we have created this landscape, drained it, farmed it, lived and died in it, and now you want to put the water back in it?’
T’was to no avail, a plug was installed at one end, and the valley flooded with water. All that remained of the back breaking work creating Alton Hall and the farmland was the name. Alton Water.
The cottages were sold to a footballer who had made a few bob following a pigs bladder round a field once a week. Wealthy Londoners snapped up the other homes.
In 1970 the people of Ipswich were unhappy again. They had all the water they needed now, the Ducks came pre-packaged on polystyrene platters; but they had grown tired of candles – they wanted endless electricity. There were freezers to run, TVs to beam out their pernicious propaganda, floodlit football matches to play in the evening.
Men from a government agency once more trudged down the tarmaced road to Tattingstone. ‘Tattingstone Valley Farm, the very place’, they said. ‘We could put 43,000 solar panels here and provide electricity for 6,000 homes’.
There was uproar, this was ‘desecration’ it was said. There will be increased traffic, where will the cyclists in their colourful lycra go? The ‘unspoilt natural beauty’ of the area will be destroyed. Natural beauty? It is a beauty carved out by hundreds of years of men toiling to tame the landscape to provide the things they needed.
I was reminded of the village of Tattingstone, now divided by the 400 acre storage tank for Ipswich water – prosaically described these days as a ‘natural wilderness, home of wildfowl’ (but not people any longer) – by the current ‘Desolation Row’ over ‘fracking’ to provide gas for the city dwellers.
Lord Howe thinks that fracking should be permitted in the ‘wilderness’ of North East England – but not in the cultivated lands of Kent.
”I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance.”
Surely it is not a matter of whose house is going to be ruined by
carts rumbling up to the mill but where the gas is?
If it’s in the North East, then the North East will have to adapt as Tattingstone has. Tattingstone folk no longer feed themselves by hauling stone for the Squire, but flogging ice creams to the Alton Water tourists.
If it’s in Kent, then the Kentish folks should be the ones to adapt.
So you get a few earth trembles – it’s hardly on a scale with having your entire village deliberately flooded is it?