A GARRETT traction engine.

A GARRETT traction engine.

The maltings were built in 1846 by Newson Garrett. This entrepreneur was a rich merchant of the Garrett family of nearby Leiston. They are best known for the traction engines they built and exported across the world. Newson Garrett was not interested in the engineering business and had gone to London to make his fortune as a merchant. On returning to Suffolk he purchased the corn and coal business at Snape and expanded it into malt.  This was a success.

He had two famous daughters, both of whom were prominent in the women’s movement in addition to being exceptionally talented. Millicent  was a suffragist  who among other things co-founded Newnham College at Cambridge. Her married name was Mrs Fawcett. Her elder sister Elizabeth Garrett was pioneering woman doctor. She was the first female to gain her medical qualifications.  She is known as  Dr Garrett Anderson (Anderson was her husband’s name), and the Garrett Anderson Hospital in London which she founded was exclusively for female patients and specialised in obstetrics.  It closed in 2008. In 1908 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first woman to hold the position of mayor in the UK.

Snape maltings, 1958.

Snape maltings, 1958.

Snape maltings today is virtually synonymous with Benjamin Britten, his music and the Aldeburgh Festival, although for most of the year it is more frequented for its shops. Aldeburgh is only about six or seven miles away, and Britten was extremely fortunate that such a beautiful and eminently suitable building became available for holding concerts when the maltings closed in 1965. As a cultural centre it has an international reputation.

The first building in Snape to be converted to use for the Aldeburgh Festival was the malting hall itself. The builders were all local men and they took a pride in what they were doing. Almost as soon as it was finished however it suffered a disastrous fire on the first night in 1969. Despite this setback the hall was restored in time for the Festival of 1970. The Britten-Pears School of Music was opened in an adjoining building at Snape two years after the composer’s death which occurred in December 1976.

I have never been to a concert at the hall and all my memories of Snape maltings come from the time when it was a working industrial site. These pictures were taken the 1958, some seven years before it closed. In 1888 a short branch line had been laid to the maltings to take goods traffic only.  There was a junction on the East Suffolk line to the south of the Aldeburgh branch. The railway never operated a passenger service and the branch was ended in the first batch of post-war closures 1952.

snape beerIn the first view of the maltings you can see a worker leaving the premises on his bike, the normal method of transport at the time; the growth of car ownership had not at that time reached the manual labour force. Road transport for malt was another story. In this picture of the maltings you can see one of the lorries leaving the site. You can see it is a beer lorry, but I wonder which brewery it belonged to? Road transport became all important for the maltings as the way of distributing the malt and bringing in the barley once the railway had closed. Thames barges had traded up the river Alde in the 19 century and had brought the barley and removed the malt to London. Until the railway arrived in 1880 they were the transport link which made the maltings such a success.  By the time I am talking of after the the Second World War the river traffic had withered, and although Thames barges still sail up the river Alde to Iken they are all now of course converted for pleasure or leisure use.



A watercolour of Snape maltings was bought by my father from the Blythburgh studio of artist William Benner (1884-1964). I can remember this occasion, when we also purchased a watercolour of St Edmund’s church in Southwold. This too was in 1958, the same time that the photographs of Snape were taken. The maltings were one of his favourite subjects, although he painted subjects from all over the country including Whitby in Yorkshire and Tiverton in Devon. Apart from his landscapes he was obviously a bit of a railway enthusiast. He did some straight forward views of the Southwold Railway, but scattered round his studio were some amusing cartoons of events on the railway, with a startled looking porter dropping a case on the platform and other suchlike events.

Besides being a concert hall for classical music today the maltings is a complex of nine shops aimed at the upmarket tourist. Things have certainly changed, but even when it was still an industrial area you could see the way things might develop. It was already known as beauty spot, with artists using it as an attractive subject, and young tourists like me photographing it.

For those interested in traders in this part of Suffolk I have recently come across a website on the history of businesses in Southwold. Click here to visit Southwold & Son, over a century of Southwold shops.




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