The Museum

Saxmundham Museum is in the heart of rural Suffolk, recording and preserving the history of Saxmundham, Kelsale-cum-Carlton and Benhall. The IP17 area is one of the largest postal areas in the UK and has been a very important part of east coastal Suffolk.

There are a few explanations for the meaning of the Saxmundham name, some believe that it refers to the home of a warrior lord called Seismund or Seizmond.

In his book ‘The Place-Names of Suffolk’ (pub. 1913), the Rev. Walter William Skeat provides the following interpretations.

SAXMUNDHAM. Spelt Saxmundeham, H.R.; Saxmondeham, D.B., p. 116. An s has been dropped; the original form must have been Saxmundesbam, where Saxmundes is the gen. case of Saxmund, an O. Merc. form. Though Saxmund is not in Searle's list, it is perfectly regular; since Sax- is a common prefix, and -mund a common suffx. The sense is “Saxmund's home” or “enclosure.”

BENHALL. Spelt Benhall, Ipm., p. 161; but Benhale earlier, Ipm., p. 121. D.B. has Benhala, pp. 57, 128; Benehala, pp. 57, 130; Benenhala, pp. 56, 130; Benehalla, p. 34. The right form, amongst these, is Benenhala ; where Benen represents A.S. Beonan, gen. of Beona; a personal name occurring in Beonanfeld, in Kemble's index. The sense is Beona's nook.'

The O. Merc. hale, A.S. heale, only appears in the dative case ; the nom. ended in h, the O. Merc. form being ha,lå, and the A.S. heath. Hath has given us the modern haugh, which is explained in the E.D.D. as meaning ' low-lying, level ground by the side of a river'; while the prov. E. hate (from the above dative case) is similarly defined as 'a piece of flat alluvial land by the side of a river.' The old sense of halh or healh seems to have been a corner, nook, or sheltered place ; it seems safe to define it as 'a sheltered spot, beside a river'; perhaps we may call it 'a nook' for the sake of brevity.

KELSALE. spelt Keleshulle, ROB. (wrongly); but Keleshale, H.R. ; Ipm.; and Keleshala, D.B., p. 59. Copinger has many other forms, giving the prefix as Cheles (in Norman spelling, with che for ke), Kales, Kelis, Keils, Kels (very rarely with ll ) ; so that the vowel was long. Perhaps the prefix was Céoles, gen. of Céol, a known name; for though Céol would normally be palatalised to Chele, this process was sometimes arrested by Danish influence, as in the case of Kellington in the West Riding, which is from Céolinga-tün; gee Prof. Moorman's explanation of this name. The very same thing seems to have occurred again in the case of Kelshall (Herts.), which has the same prefix, though the suffx -hall has there been substituted for ' hill'; see my Place-names of Herts., p. 34. Thus the name probably means ' Céol's nook.'

STERNFIELD. Near Saxmundham. Spelt Sternfeld, Ipm. ; Sternefella, D.B., p. 72. But an es has been lost, in a difficult position between rn and f; hence we also find Sternesfella, D.B., p. 71 ; Sternesfelda, D.B., pp. 33, 128. The apparent meaning is “Stern's field.” This personal name is not otherwise recorded; but cf. AS. styrne, E. stern, adj. 'severe.'

NOTE: Carlton is not specifically mentioned in the book but might be similar to the following text.

CARLTON. Carlton Colville is to the S.W. of Lowestoft ; and Colville is the name of a norman family connected with it. Spelt Carleton, T.N., H.R.; Carletuna, D.B., p. 254; Karletuna, D.B., p. 43. For A.S. Carla tün, ' farm of the churls' or husbandmen. Carlo is the gen. pl. of cart, a churl, a husbandman; where cart is not the true native word, but borrowed from the O. Norse kart, a man, rustic, carle ; the A.S. related word is ceorl, mod. E. churl ; as in CHELSWORTH.

The Suffolk ShowHosting the Suffolk Show on many occasions in the past, the town has changed over the years with the loss of the livestock market, replaced by a modern large store, and the mixed fortunes of the A12 bypass taking traffic away from the high street.

OldimagesWe have a touch-screen Media Station that allows access to many photos of days gone by. Take the time to browse, you’ll see photos of mills, streets and people of yesterday.

One image in particular, with lorries crowding the high street, shows why the bypass was needed.

At first glance Saxmundham Museum looks tiny. However once you’re inside, you’ll see why Saxmundham was once one of the most important towns in East Suffolk.

Saxmundham Museum has five main rooms

Click on one of the images below to open a slideshow.

The Ticket Office

Victorian station booking officeFirst, you’ll be transported back to the late 1940s and a complete station booking office, with staff, ladies room, etc. Take a peep through the booking office window to see the staff hard at work.

The model of Saxmundham railway station shows the pedestrian bridge that once connected the north and southbound platforms. The colour photograph of the town from the air was a new addition for 2015.

The Green Room

Documents, information and artifacts in the Green RoomThe Green Room is packed with local history and fascinating artifacts.

We also have a replica of the head of Claudius (the original cast being found in Rendham).

Here you will find the touch-screen Media Station that provides access our collections of photographs, oral history recordings and local videos. It also hosts the unique
'Mattinson Collection of WWII leaflets', including German propaganda dropped over East Anglia in 1943.


The CinemaNext, you’ll find yourself in our cinema. 

By the end of the First World War the ‘Kinema’ was opened in the High Street by C.R. Punchard.

In 1934 Captain Atkinson converted a building in Church Street to form The Playhouse cinema. It was opened by Lord Cranbrook on the 11th of November. The first film to be shown was Melody in Spring, supported by Death takes a Holiday. Along with Sunday evening concerts with performers such as Jackie Trent and Joe Brown, it continued to show films and Saturday matinees until 1962 when it finally closed and the building became a showroom for car dealer Smith and Wesby.

Henry Foster remembers...

The site is now occupied by a well known supermarket.

Our cinema plays homage to the Playhouse. Settle down under the watchful eye of the usherette and pass an hour watching bye-gone days, sitting in the tip-up seats. Photographs and further information are on display alongside one of the original projectors from the Playhouse.

The cinema seats twelve and is available for hire to host your own movie evening.

Please note that the Museum is not responsible for external content.

The Street Scene

Replica shop fronts line the courtyardAs you walk on to the Courtyard you’ll be amazed by our street scene, with replica shops from Saxmundham.

Look for the cell where the Beadle and the prisoner talk over his crime! Find out what happened to the man and what colour he ended up!

Hear a snippet of their conversation...

Can you work out what the 'Drawing Competion' is all about (hint: it didn't involve pencils)? Come and have a look in Crisp's shop.

The Exhibition Room

The Exhibition Room display this year showcases Saxmundham Schools.

Lots of Middle School photographs, lots of reference material to look at and papers to take away if they relate to you or your family.

The exhibition traces the local provision of education from its tangible beginnings up to the present day.

There is a specific focus on the Modern School, which closed in 1973, becoming the Middle School from 1973 to 2012, after which the Free School that we have today.

If the names of these characters take you back to your school days, then this exhibition will be of special interest to you ... Mr. Westthorpe, Mr. Rasmussen, Miss Addy, Mr. Minton, Mr. Lovett, Mrs. Dudley, Mrs. Free, Mr. Short ... and more recently, Mr. Atherton

This is a real community display, where local people, who may never have previously visited the Museum, are encouraged to do so, along with their family and friends.

And it will be of general interest too, charting the many and varied places of education from Mr. Sparrow’s Academy in Albion Street to a girls ‘Finishing School’ in Church House.

Some oral reminiscences...

Admission is free so come and see us soon!

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