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Sheila thrives on trip back in time

PUBLISHED: 00:52 14 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:40 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK author Sheila Hardy knows historical characters of the past like old friends.

And the things she doesn't know about them, she makes up - bolstered by her sound historical knowledge and a dose of artistic licence of course!

So when the Tattingstone based author was researching her new book The House on the Hill, which has just been launched, her heart stopped when she came across a reference to a fee paid to a certain Anne Candler, the central character in one of her previous books.

SUFFOLK author Sheila Hardy knows historical characters of the past like old friends.

And the things she doesn't know about them, she makes up – bolstered by her sound historical knowledge and a dose of artistic licence of course!

So when the Tattingstone based author was researching her new book The House on the Hill, which has just been launched, her heart stopped when she came across a reference to a fee paid to a certain Anne Candler, the central character in one of her previous books.

Faced with gaps in her knowledge when writing the part-fact part-fiction account of the Sproughton housewife, Mrs Hardy had plumped for making Anne run her own school for a while.

The scratchy note, in the workhouse ledger, read "to Anne Candler, for teaching children to read," and proved the author's hunch had probably been right. If Anne was teaching when she was down on her luck and in the workhouse then it was likely that she would have run her own school at some point.

"My son often says I know a lot more about people who were living in Ipswich in the 1800s than I do about what's going on it town today," jokes the retired English teacher of The Close, Tattingstone.

"I want to make history readable. I'm interested in people that lived in the past – the people who didn't make it into the history books, the ordinary, everyday people who have a story to tell."

Mrs Hardy's ninth book looks at the history of the Samford House of Industry, or workhouse, in Tattingstone, which later became the St Mary's Hospital before being developed into a housing complex.

Researched from original ledgers and minute books at Ipswich Records Office, the book offers an insight into the lives of up to 500 people who lived there.

"Many of us have an image of them as poor downtrodden people who must have been docile but it wasn't like that," she says, reeling off colourful stories from the porter who went berserk and tried to kill the master, to the shenanigans of prostitutes.

The House on the Hill is entirely based on fact, and Mrs Hardy said: "I don't like not to know, and I felt my own knowledge of the workhouse, where Anne spent 20 years, was limited and that we had a very sentimental view of it general."

Researching the book took three years and Mrs Hardy, who is also village history recorder, is now considered to be such an expert on the site that when Landfast Ltd were developing it for 32 new homes the company turned to her for historical advice.

Mrs Hardy has written nine books based around Suffolk and although some have been snapped up by major publishers including Macmillan, she has published the last three herself.

Tired of being "at the end of the chain" Mrs Hardy relishes being in control of her own work, from editing to typesetting and marketing the finished product.

"I don't need to be wined and dined by publishers in London," she said. And with friends in the 1800s, who needs modern-day publicists?

N

Mrs Hardy's book is available for £9 plus £1 postage and packing, by writing to her at 8 The Close, Tattingstone, Ipswich.

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