Digging up the past

IPSWICH has a fascinating history. For a thousand years the town has hosted notable and important and historically interesting visitors. Today, as we launch our Heroes of History series, feature writer JAMES MARSTON reveals how he discovered events which happened centuries ago.

IPSWICH has a fascinating history. For a thousand years the town has hosted notable and important and historically interesting visitors. Today, as we launch our Heroes of History series, feature writer JAMES MARSTON reveals how he discovered events which happened centuries ago.

BEFORE I ever took up newspaper journalism, I trained as an historian.

I have a degree in English and European medieval history and it's a passion I have enjoyed for years.

However, for obvious reasons journalists are rarely called to report on events that happened centuries ago; the nature of fast moving news is that it is immediate and happening today.

So when the idea came to delve deep into Ipswich's past moments of glory, I knew finding out about events which took place beyond living memory would not be easy.

But we journalists always have a few tricks up our sleeves, and today I want to share with you how I began researching this week's forthcoming series of features, and came across some intriguing stories from ages past.

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This week we have prepared for you a series of features that step back in time to celebrate our town's fascinating history.

Some of Ipswich's most memorable visitors, from Kitchener to Nelson, Dickens to Douglas Bader, Mary Tudor to Charles II, still make an impact on the town and our collective imagination.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing them.

However by the end of the weeks of research, I will be glad to get back out of the libraries of Suffolk to report today's news!

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Drop me a line at eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk to say what you think of the series.

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Tomorrow: How Tudor times brought one of history's most notorious kings to Ipswich.

Ask the experts

One of the first rules of journalism - find an expert who knows more about the subject than you do.

To begin with we already had a vague idea that Elizabeth I had come to Ipswich - but was this based on truth or was it just a myth?

Did the Virgin Queen really set foot in our town and was there anything left to prove it?

I didn't know, but I knew a man who would. Philip Wise, heritage manager at Colchester and Ipswich Museums, got me started. In a brief conversation he began by suggesting some names.

“Of course there was the royal wedding in 1297,” he said, tempting me to ask more.

Soon afterwards we met to discuss the series, and explored in depth some of the more fascinating characters that visited out town - the background to the fascinating royal wedding included.

David Jones, Ipswich Museum's keeper of human history, knows the town's history well and also proved to be an invaluable fount of knowledge.

Check your sources

The second rule of journalism - check, check and check again.

This is instilled in every decent reporter from the beginning, and you need to be sure of your facts before publication.

Ipswich Record Office is where our county's records are kept. It contains primary historical sources, such as contemporary letters, accounts, parish and borough records, and photographs as well as secondary historical sources such as books written by historians and specialists about the history of the town.

Collections manager Bridget Hanley met me at the Gatacre Road office to go through some of the sources relating to those heroes of history that visited the town. She puts a lot of time into helping people with historical projects.

She said: “We have a letter referring to Elizabeth's visit. I found quite a bit on Lord Kitchener's visit and there was quite a lot on Lord Nelson.”

Find the pictures

Clearly our photographic team cannot just pop out of the office to take a picture of Bloody Mary or Prince Albert - they are long dead.

There were a few images in our Star library, based on woodcuts and the like before photography was even dreamed of.

Finding images to illustrate events which took place hundreds of years ago is tricky. As you would expect, many of the documented visitors were members of the royal family and it was to Buckingham Palace and the Royal Collection that I turned for help.

The Royal Collection - a trust which looks after many of the nation's treasures collected over the centuries by various kings and queens - had the images I needed. The press officer there put me in touch with their picture library and, thanks to modern technology, their faces were emailed to The Evening Star and we were able to reproduce their images in print.

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