'Vitality of Suffolk and Essex cultural life' shown in Great British Railway Journeys

This week's series 12 of Great British Railway Journeys brings Michael Portillo to Hertfordshire.

Great British Railway Journeys brings Michael Portillo to Suffolk and Essex - Credit: BBC/Naked West/Fremantle

BBC's Great Railway Journeys have highlighted "the vitality of cultural life" in Suffolk and north Essex in its latest series. 

The railway history show sees Michael Portillo travel from Saxmundham down to Dedham, through rail and ferry, brandishing his 1930s copy of Bradshaw’s Guide, a Victorian travel book.

Mr Portillo takes this opportunity, after visiting Ipswich in 2017, to delve into the cultural history of East Anglia in the 1930s between the two great wars. 

He comes to Saxmundham by rail so he can visit Leiston - which used to be accessible by train through the old Alderburgh branch - for what he claims is the oldest children’s democracy in the world, Summerhill School, also covered in a recent TV series, and founded in 1921.

Then it is off to Woodbridge for Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, where an Anglo-Saxon ship was found buried in the earth shortly before WWII.

Mr Portillo then takes the Great Anglia service to Ipswich so he can change for Felixstowe and catch the ferry to Harwich, and explore the Kindertransport that allowed Jewish refugees to flee the Nazis. 

While in the town, he hops on a train to Manningtree so he can get to the Essex village of Dedham.

Here he meets Cedric Morris expert and executive director of Sudbury's Gainsborough House Mark Bills to discuss his life in the village and Morris' East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. 

Mr Bills, who caught up with this newspaper today, was hopeful more people will see how Morris, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable were all inspired by this region.

He said: "Cultural tourism is a way we can inject back into the economy. 

"Why would you go to Stratford upon Avon if not for Shakespeare? Cultural history is really important to the place we live."

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The 57-year-old added that when Gainsborough House reopens in 2022 there will be a room dedicated to Morris' works. 

A trip to see Jenny Hand, director at The Munnings Art Museum, in Dedham, also sees Mr Portillo talk about the works of Alfred Munnings and his lack of interest in newer art that was not "uplifting". 

She told us: "He felt ugly art could be confusing and depressing. 

"There is such a diversity of art here. You can call it the valley of the artist. 

Michael Portillo with Sir Mark Prescott at the National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket

Michael Portillo with Sir Mark Prescott at the National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket, during episode 10 of Great British Railway Journeys series 12. - Credit: BBC/Naked West/Fremantle

"These programmes really do highlight the vitality of cultural life in this part of the world."

In the May 4 episode, Great Railway Journeys also visits Colchester to Chadwell Heath, where Mr Portillo stops at Tiptree, and Abberton Reservoir.

He will then in a May 7 episode go from Newmarket, where he will learn more about the history of horse racing, before moving on to Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds and onto Norfolk. 

Series 12 of Great British Railway Journeys can be seen on BBC Two, from Monday to Friday, at 6.30pm each night or through BBC iPlayer.

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