The best places to time travel in East Anglia
Words by Harriet Cooper
It’s 1940s weekend in Sheringham in September, with thousands of people descending on Norfolk’s seaside resort to celebrate the wartime spirit. But if swing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other opportunities to turn back the clock across the network. From learning how to drive a Roman chariot in Colchester to descending into a Cold War bunker deep in the Essex countryside, here are the best places to step back in time…
Do the jitterbug
1940s Sheringham Weekend (this year on 14 and 15 September) is not to be missed. Grab your tea dresses and fedoras for a fun-packed couple of days celebrating the wartime spirit with music, dancing, military reenactments, stalls, vintage vehicles, ration food, music and much more.
The ‘people’s parade’ finale on Sunday is a spectacle not to be missed. The nearby town of Holt (accessible by steam train from Sheringham) also embraces the era for the weekend.
Nearest station: Sheringham
Follow the Roman Road
Did you know that Camulodunum – aka Colchester – was the capital of Roman Britain and Britain’s first ever city? The Roman town was home to no less than three theatres, as well as the only Roman chariot-racing circus in the country – a monumental structure, seating up to 8,000 spectators.
Embark on a self-guided walking tour of the town, which will take you past Roman ruins and mosaics, to Colchester Castle where you can explore the Roman vaults and try your hand at steering a chariot.
Nearest station: Colchester
A slice of Victoriana
Audley End was once one of the largest and most opulent houses in Jacobean England. Having been renovated extensively by the 3rd Lord Braybrooke during the early 19th century, the house is a shining example of the Victorian way of life.
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the servants wing; explore the nursery suite where the eight Braybrooke children would have lived; and say hello to the resident horses in the stable yard. The Bringing Audley End to Life weekends in September will see costumed characters recreate the house’s Victorian heyday.
Nearest station: Audley End
Trace the Tudors
Norwich was known as England’s second city during the Tudor period, and now visitors can learn about the city’s historical past thanks to a newly-launched free walking guide, compiled by Professor Matthew Woodcock, who lectures at the UEA.
The map – available from Norwich’s Tourist Information Centre – pinpoints 16 city centre locations, all of which promoted entertainment from 1540 to 1642. These include inns, open spaces and landmark buildings, which hosted theatre troupes, civic celebrations and even a visit from Queen Elizabeth I in 1578.
Nearest station: Norwich
The Elizabethan House Museum, set in a historic 16th-century merchant’s house on the quayside in Great Yarmouth, gives a fascinating glimpse into the past. Exhibits trace the life and times of the people who lived there from Elizabethan to Victorian times with a wealth of artefacts, period furniture and paintings on display, as well as costumes to be tried on.
Visit the kitchen and find out what it was like to work as a scullery maid, and don’t miss the Conspiracy Room used by Parliamentary supporters planning the execution of King Charles I.
Nearest station: Great Yarmouth
Fresh from celebrating the bicentenary of renowned 18th-century gardener Humphry Repton’s life last year, Sheringham Park is a lesson in Georgian landscaping. Indeed, the National Trust-owned park is the most complete and best surviving example of Repton’s style.
Visit the onsite Repton exhibition to see the story of his 1812 design during a turbulent period of history, before exploring the 1000 acres of woodland, parkland and clifftop – don’t forget to climb the towers for breathtaking views of the landscape.
Nearest station: Sheringham
Capers with Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, though the former Lord Protector’s family home was once in nearby Ely.
This has now been converted into a fascinating museum, where you can experience what domestic life would have been like in the 17th-century; wander the period rooms (you can visit Mrs Cromwell’s kitchen), enjoy the English Civil War exhibition and interactive displays, try on costumes and venture into the ‘haunted bedroom’… if you dare.
Nearest station: Ely
It is 1954… and the East Anglian Intelligence Agency has come to learn that a Soviet-backed spy cell has hidden a top-secret file on board a train or possibly somewhere in the waiting room at Chappel Station.
The Chappel Dossier contains sensitive decryption codes and must be handed back to military intelligence as a matter of urgency - lives depend on it. And you can help: search for evidence, uncover vital clues, solve puzzles and save the nation during this Codebreaker Experience at the East Anglian Railway Museum.
Nearest station: Chappel & Wakes Colne
The stormin' Normans
Norfolk has a unique Norman history and there’s a huge amount of heritage from the Middle Ages across the county, including Norwich Cathedral, the most complete Norman cathedral in the UK, and Norwich Castle, established by William the Conqueror as a Royal palace in 1067.
Though if it’s the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle you’re after, head to Thetford where the castle was built just after 1066 and dismantled in 1173. Also worth a visit is Thetford Priory, founded in the early 12th century.
A trip down memory lane
The Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket has 17 historic buildings set in 75 acres, covering a wealth of different eras, all of which have a particular focus on the region’s strong agricultural character.
Explore Abbot’s Hall, the Queen Anne-style house built in 1709; the 13th-century barn housing hand tools through the age; an original blacksmith’s forge; and Crowe Street Cottages, a pair of cottages largely untouched for 200 years. There are a wealth of family-friendly activities, tours and exhibitions to be enjoyed throughout the museum.
Nearest station: Stowmarket