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Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group

Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group Programme 2018

The Family History Research Centre 

The Group runs an informal family history Research Centre in Leiston.  It is in the Leiston Council offices, open to all — members and non-members — free of charge. 

Opening times are 10 a.m. to 12 noon on the first and third Saturday mornings of each month.  It can also be open on Wednesdays, by prior appointment — but if you wish to request such an appointment, please contact our Secretary, Angela Skelcher, on 01728 830949 or 

The Research Centre contains much local information which is not available online, including graveyard catalogues for Benhall, Saxmundham, Leiston, Eastbridge, Aldringham and Sutton, censuses, directories, information on local war memorials, books and historic maps.  We have a large number of CDs and microfiches of local interest — in fact, we hold a wide variety of records for Suffolk and other counties.  An index is available.  

There are also computers with internet, a printer and a scanner. 

Experienced family history researchers are present to give assistance if required.  The Group looks forward to helping you with your research, including the guilty pleasure of tracing those elusive black sheep!

The Research Centre is upstairs in the old Council Offices, Main Street, Leiston, IP16 4ER, in the same building as, and to the right of, the Library, opposite the Long Shop Museum.  Please note that access is by a steep staircase.  You can park outside free of charge for one hour, or there's an “unlimited” free car park in Valley Road — go straight down past Barclays Bank and it's 100 yards or so on the right.

To gain access to the Research Centre on a Saturday morning, you will need to ring the doorbell, and wait for one of the volunteers on duty to 'run' down the stairs to welcome you and let you in — we keep the door locked to deter nefarious intruders.

Visitors are always most welcome.


18th June: Lifeboatmen and Fisherfolk 7.30pm

City of Winchester Launch 0003a 2 

Fisherfolk and Lifeboatmen – The DOWNINGS of Aldeburgh 

Those who were able to tear themselves away from live coverage of England’s opening match against Tunisia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup were well rewarded by an entertaining talk by John Martin given to the June meeting of the Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group. 

John, whose father worked at Garrett’s, is a native of Leiston and already well known to friends of the Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group as a long serving committee member and recently retired treasurer. He is also passionate about family history and has patiently researched his wife’s ancestors, the DOWNINGS of Aldeburgh, back to the mid-eighteenth century.  Along the way he has also gathered many striking photographs, a number of which were used to illuminate his talk. John’s absorbing account balanced tragic stories of lives lost at sea with lighter moments, also drawing on some fascinating ‘snippets’ of local history.

So we learned of the terrible events of 1899 when the lifeboat ‘Aldeburgh’ capsized in treacherous seas at Aldeburgh, resulting in the deaths of seven crew members, including Herbert Downing. We were also reminded of another fatal, but less well known disaster, when the latterly named lifeboat ‘Pasco’ was lost at sea while assisting the brig ‘Unity’ on 21 December 1859. On that fateful occasion, three of the fifteen-man crew were drowned. One of those who lived was 21-year-old John Downing who, 53 years later, was an honoured guest of the annual Sprat Dinner, as the only remaining survivor.

Delving deeper into his family history, John showed us a fascinating photograph in which five members of the Downing family, spanning several generations, are captured. The picture also features a fishing boat with the registration number IH61. With this information it is possible to trace the full history of the vessel (date built, size, location and ownership) by consulting the local Register of Sea Fishing Boats held at Suffolk Record Office.

During the course of his research John has drawn material from a number of books, notably ‘A Lifeboatman’s Days’ written by the renowned, longest serving lifeboat coxswain, James Cable, and ‘The Story of the Aldeburgh Lifeboats’ by Jeff Morris. The latter reflects a number of family names other than Downing, including Ward, Pallant, Pearce, Green, Butcher, Morris, Crisp, Easter, Pead and Chatten. Interestingly, some members of the audience identified ancestral connections with these names, leading to a lively question and answer session.    

16th July: History: Fact of Fiction 7.30pm

The July meeting of the Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group will be a talk by Sue Liddell entitled  "History – Fact or Fiction?”: a whimsical consideration of the ways in which writers have reconstructed historical characters and events – was Richard III a villain? Yes, says Shakespeare,  No, says Josephine Tey – or historians have presented historical characters and events to fit the mood and climate of the day – Oliver Cromwell a hero? Yes, says our contemporary, Professor Barry Coward, No, says nineteenth century historian, Thomas Carlyle. And what about the way historical novels can disturb our sense of time altogether?  Lots to think about and ponder...

Sue Liddell has been a tutor/lecturer in English and History for the WEA and London University’s Extra-Mural Department/Birkbeck College and Essex’s Continuing Education Department since the 1960s.  She was also closely involved in running the Essex History Fairs, and with her husband, Bill Liddell, published Imagined Land: Essex in Poetry and Prose.  Since moving to Suffolk they helped to set up the Historical Association's Suffolk Branch that has now sadly ceased; but she continues her interest in history and literature through volunteering at the Long Shop Museum and being a member of a local reading group. She is also church secretary of the United Reformed Church in Saxmundham.

The meeting  will be at 7.30pm on Monday 16 July at Leiston United Church.  Admission is £1 for members, £3 for non-members and includes tea/coffee.
17th September: Witches in and around Suffolk 7.30pm
15th October: What's in a Name? 7.30pm