Felixstowe

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Felixstowe is a seaside town on the North Sea coast of Suffolk, England. The town gives its name to the nearby Port of Felixstowe, which is the largest container port in the United Kingdom.  The town is situated across the estuary of the River Orwell and the River Stour from Harwich in Essex.

A village has stood on the site since long before the Norman conquest.  The early history of Felixstowe, including its Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and medieval defences, is told under the name of Walton, because the name Felixstowe was given retrospectively, during the 13th century, to a place which had already been important for well over a thousand years.

It continued as a linchpin in England’s defence, as proved when in 1667 Dutch soldiers landed near the Fludyers area and failed to capture Landguard Fort. The town only became a major port in 1886. In addition to shipping, tourism increased, and a pier was constructed in 1905 but is now unsafe. Indeed, during the late Victorian period (after circa 1880) it became a fashionable resort, a trend initiated by the opening of Felixstowe railway station, the pier, (see above) and a visit by the German imperial family. It remained so until the late 1930s. In 1953, at least 48 people died in the town in the North Sea flood.

Landguard Fort stands on the site of the last opposed invasion of England in 1667 and the first land battle of The Duke of York and Albany’s Marines. The current fort was built in the 18th century, and modified in the 19th century with substantial additional 19th/20th century outside batteries. The fort hosts regular military re-enactments, including Darell’s day with a Sealed Knot celebration of the last invasion, art exhibitions and alternative theatre. Landguard Fort is in the care of English Heritage and managed by the Landguard Fort Trust.

A museum telling the story of Felixstowe, with a reference library, historic maps, photo archive and 14 rooms of artefacts from Roman finds, the Martello towers, military social and domestic history through two world wars and into the new millennium is managed by volunteers from the Felixstowe History and Museum Society. It is located in the old submarine mining establishment building at Landguard Point, between the Fort and Port.

During the Second World War the majority of the pier, at the time one of the longest in the country and complete with its own train, was purposely demolished by Royal Engineers to prevent it being used as an easy landing point for enemy troops. Unfortunately after the war the damage was never repaired and the pier never regained its original length. Felixstowe was also one of the few places bombed by the Italians during the Blitz. Benito Mussolini’s airforce proved to be no match for the Royal Air Force, who shot down a fair number of Italian biplanes over the English Channel and around Felixstowe itself – one of the few pictures of a shot-down Italian plane over the UK being from here.

By the late 1990s the pier had been neglected so badly that it was deemed to be unsafe and closed to the public. Plans have been presented from time to time since the closure of the pier for its redevelopment along with large disused areas of the seafront near the former site of the Felixstowe Beach railway station, but nothing has come of them.

The sole remaining railway station, known as Felixstowe Town, opened in 1898 in the well-preserved building which now houses a Co-Operative supermarket, locally known as “Solar”. It also houses other shops, including a pub, ‘Play ‘n’ Exchange’ game and joke Shop, ‘Adam and Eve’ hairdressers and Felixstowe Music, which is run by Felixstowe Radio, the local community radio station.

In its prime the railway station saw more than 20 services an hour, but now hosts only one, the service to Ipswich. The station now has only one platform, which has been created from the far end of one of the original platforms.

Felixstowe Beach railway station was demolished in 2004 despite a storm of protest from many local people keen on saving the 137 year-old historical building which the council had branded as ‘unsafe’. The station was originally opened in 1877 and was used continuously until 1959, after which it was the site of a small printers for many years until its demolition.

From 1877 until 1951 there was also Felixstowe Pier railway station sited inside the area of the modern day docks at a small ier popular with pleasure boats, and paddle steamer link to London. A dock next to the pier was approved in 1879.  Felixstowe railway station is the terminus of the Felixstowe Branch Line passenger service to Ipswich the line itself branches before the station going on to the Port Of Felixstowe.

The Harwich Harbour Ferry operates between the View Point (near Landguard Fort) in Felixstowe and Halfpenny Pier, Harwich throughout the summer. The Bawdsey Ferry crosses the River Deben from Felixstowe Ferry.

Felixstowe is twinned with the German towns Wesel and Salzwedel.

Felixstowe lies within the Suffolk Coastal parliamentary constituency. The Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal was John Gummer from 1983 but he has stood down from this role to be replaced at the General Election on 6 May 2010 by Dr Therese Coffey.

Landguard Fort is a scheduled ancient monument and visitor attraction with a nearby nature reserve. At the opposite end of the town is Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club which is amongst the oldest in the UK, having been established in 1881. The Rt. Hon. Arthur Balfour, Captain of the Golf Club in 1889, became Captain of the R&A in 1894 and British Prime Minister from 1902–1908.

Felixstowe has a recently refurbished sandy beach south from the pier, and a stoney beach north of the pier. A Victorian promenade runs along part of the beach, from the nature reserve in the southwest to Cobbolds Point (Maybush Lane in east), with traditional beach huts along most of that length. An amusement arcade with snooker halls and food outlets occupy the southern end. The pier, now disused except for a cafe and amusement arcade, stands before a leisure centre, with swimming pool, owned by the local council, now managed by a contractor.

From Brackenberry fort to Felixstowe Ferry there is a walkway and is the start of the 50 mile Suffolk Coast Path. The is no path between Cobbolds Point and Brackenberry fort as the coastal protection work now prevents pedestrian access along the beach. At low tide from Jacob’s Ladder it is possible to glimpse the seaweed-covered remains of a Roman fort, and could possible be the place of Dommoc, in the water about 50 yards from the coast.

In the very centre of the town is South Beach Mansion now in private ownership. Originally built by the Eley family (famous for the Eley cartridges); town wits called it Eley Cathedral.It then passed to the Tollemache family and was at one time owned by the King of Portugal.It was also here that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and his family came to stay in 1893 putting Felixstowe on the international social map.Since then this grand Italianate mansion has played host to Mrs Simpson (who is reputedto have invented the Club Sandwich whilst visiting here)and T. E. Lawrence who stayed here for two years in the 1930s under the assumed names of Ross and Shaw.During the war it was an army headquarters before becoming the Felixstowe Town Hall. With Felixstowe’s abdication of power to Woodbridge, the town hall was no longer needed and the property reverted to private ownership. The property has been extensively renovated and returned to its former glory in recent years.

Perhaps the most striking building on the front is Harvest House. Originally built as the Felix Hotel it then became Fisons’s headquarters. Now it is a home for the elderly. It is a condition of residence that on arrival new residents are at least 55 years old.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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