In past times the inlets and rivers of the southern East Anglia coast were popular places for settlements, and Woodbridge, on the river Deben, has been such for well over a millennium.
Just across the river from Woodbridge is Sutton Hoo and its ship burials, the greatest of which is now interpreted as the last resting place of Raedwald, king of the Wuffings. First investigated in the late 1930s, the site has ben re-excavated, and can now be viewed, together with a visit to its interpretation centre.
Raedwald and his family are one of the identifiable royal families from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles. Under Raedwald, who died about 625 AD, East Anglia was a unified kingdom, at turning point in England's history as the country accepted Christianity. As well as the impression of the ship, the great helmet and the other grave treasures, are the intriguing spoons 'Paul' and 'Saul', an indication of Raedwald's commitment. No doubt in those times Anglo-Saxon and then later Viking vessels were regularly seen on the river Deben.
Woodbridge is recorded in the Domesday book, 1086 AD, as part of the Loes Hundred. The Bigod family were the principal land-owners, receiving land given out by William after the Norman conquest.
Back in the town itself, one of the earliest written references, in 1170 AD, is to a mill - on the site of the current mill. The document gives Baldwin of Ufford pemission to enter the building. An Augustinian Priory was established in the area which is now the town centre, and the ownership of the mill is recorded as having transferred to the canons of the order. The mill was sold by Henry VIII who had seized it in the process of the dissolution of the priory; it passed through the hands of several families. The present building was constructed in 1792.
The mill is a tide mill - a very environmentally sound principle for today's world - with water being trapped in a pool as the tide comes in, and then only being allowed to flow out through the wheel, thus providing power for two sessions every day. Today the mill has been fully restored and is open to visitors.
Woodbridge marina is a busy centre for pleasure boating, and it and the other quayside areas are a reminder that from medieval times Woodbridge was a busy maritime centre. The remaining Thames sailing barges that use the Suffolk and Essex estuaries are the living reminder of that heritage. Boat building and boat repairing were important industries in Woodbridge. In the 19th century the quayside was busy with coal being landed and corn, flour and malt being shipped out. Whilst the coming of the railways affected this type of trade all around the East Anglian coast, significant coastal trade continued for Woodbridge into the early 20th century.
The visitor in town today can enjoy a wide range of buildings. The Bridewell is one of the Tudor buildings which has its timber frames exposed. The Bell has a jettied first floor and beside it is the 'steelyard', the device to weigh load carts on their way from the river to the market place. The brickwork of the Lloyds TSB buildings, and the officers houses in Cumberland Street are fine examples of buildings from later times. The Shire Hall makes a fine centrepiece to the town.
One of the town's great benefactors was Thomas Seckford. He was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I; he instigated the Shire Hall and provided the foundation for Woodbridge School and the Seckford Almshouses.
The East Suffolk railway company opened the first station in the town in 1859 for both passengers and freight; it would soon become part of the Great Eastern Railway. The station was closed to freight in 1966 but continues to offer a regular passenger service.
St Mary's church is another of East Anglia's splendid churches, reflecting the prosperity of its townn in the late medieval period. It has some particularly good examples of the use of decorative flint work.
Woodbridge suffered a Zeppelin bombing raid in 1915, when six citizens were killed.
Today Woodbridge makes for a fascinating visit, with plenty of excellent shops in the Thoroughfare - which is pedestrianised for most of the day. As well as the town itself, the Deben estuary is well worth exploring.
The mill was built in its present form in 1792; a new wheel and tide pool were built in 1981, enabling the mill to give working demonstrations
Just some of the medieval flint work, 'flushwork', on St Mary's church
The Shire Hall, looking up the hill from the Bull. Woodbridge Town Council continues to be based here. the town museum is to the left of this picture.
The Thoroughfare, the pedestrianised shopping street in the centre of town, shows of gems from earlier trading premises amongst the modern shop fronts.