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Focus on Orford

Written by Aimee Anderson on

Orford: A History of Houses

Midway along the Suffolk coast lies the picturesque town of Orford; its lighthouse, church and castle have acted as historic landmarks for North Sea sailors for many centuries.

The town was first occupied by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. Since then Orford and its coastline have changed beyond recognition. Being battered by winter storms over the years, the coastline has been gradually eroded - the lighthouse which was, just a century ago, well back from the shore is now lashed by waves at each high tide. 

Yet some of the silt moves just a short distance down the coast, in the form of the Orford spit which grows daily and has formed a wildlife haven known as Havergate Island. This is now the largest shingle spit in Europe and is a protected wildlife conservation area.

The Old Post Offce, OrfordHistorically, Orford is of great significance; a 12th century map shows only one major road on the coastal stretch of Suffolk – from Orford to Grimsby.  This was important to the Romans, as the Angles settled here and so did the Danes.  Eventually the area was divided into 'Hundreds' and become relatively peaceful for the next 500 years.  Orford's fortunes were founded on fish and wool, particularly the former and the town flourished from the 9th century onwards. A charter of King John states that Orford elected 12 'portmen'; a privilege shared by just one other town, Ipswich.

Millers Cottage, OrfordAll three pubs are ancient inns, (built between the 11th and 14th century) albeit the Crown and Castle is now hidden behind a 19th century façade.  There was a water mill and several windmills in the town as well as ship building (the Marie of Orford was one of the fleet sent by Henry VII to vanquish the Scots in 1497).  The sheepwalks of Sudbourne, Tunstall, and Butley maintained large flocks of sheep and the rich wool merchants built magnificent houses and rebuilt Orford church with the money they made. Meanwhile stone was delivered by boat to construct Orford Castle in 1165, both as a military stronghold and a visible symbol of royal authority.  In 1138 Orford had three churches, a house of Austin Friars (still there) and two hospitals. The market square 'Market Hill' was refigured and properties such as The Old Post Office, built.

Wing Cottage, OrfordWith the loss of port access (due to coastal erosion) and the demise of the wool trade, Orford became something of a backwater, only revived by the Marquis of Hertford, whose London home now houses the Wallace Collection.  Residing at Sudbourne Hall, he was the principal landowner in Orford and Gedgrave in the 1830s; his Orford properties included many properties now let by Suffolk Cottage Holidays including Wing Cottage and The Great House. Houses in the village were repaired and enlarged to the Marquises family and friends. The estate which then exceeded 11,100 acres was purchased in 1904 by the Clarke family, Lord Kenneth Clarke, the art historian, being the son.

The Great House, OrfordIn both World Wars Orford was out of bounds to the local population, Orford Ness being used for the development of Radar and the testing of war heads. From the mid 1950s many cottages were let to American servicemen, stationed nearby throughout the Cold War. Only in the 21st century did Orford return to its former glory. Now boat trips run from the quay, Orford Ness, under the management of the National Trust and RSPB which is open to the public. Visitors have discovered the delights of The Butley Orford Oysterage and the Trinity Restaurant at The Crown and Castle. And don’t forget the nationally renowned and award-winning Pump Street Bakery - we highly recommend their Portuguese custard tarts!

As you can see, Orford has it all! Not only is it one of the most picturesque towns in Suffolk, it is also rich with history, a wildlife haven and full of wonderful eateries to treat your tastebuds to some locally produced delights. Make Orford your next holiday destination and you'll be coming back again year after year.

To find out more about booking a holiday in Orford, take a look at our selection of Orford properties.

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Aimee Anderson

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Suffolk Cottage Holidays - Suffolk self-catering made easy