Seckford Hall is a beautiful Tudor mansion set in incredible countryside near Woodbridge in Suffolk. It’s now a large country hotel with restaurant, pool and spa; my clients asked me to create a map of the hotel, grounds and surrounding area for the guests. As usual, I researched the area online before I started and, as usual, I found it to be a place full of stories. This is a tale of how mapmakers act as ‘editors’ – deciding which stories to add to a map, in the client’s interest, and which stories to lose… Tailoring a map to the needs of the patron is how it’s always been, right from the beginning.
The hall was built in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Seckford, an official at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, although the site goes back as far back as the Domesday Book. Thomas cared deeply about the poor and apparently his ghost is said to roam the halls even now, angry at the injustices of the world. People love a good ghost story….
Sir Thomas was influential at the court and one of his duties was to accompany the monarch on her journeys around the country. It is, without doubt, a boast of all historic homes in Britain when royalty has visited and it’s known that Elizabeth I did make her court for a while at the hall. Imagine what a grand sight her entourage would have made, precariously navigating the muddy roads of the time.
And guests enjoy hearing of the talented and famous too. Another visitor was Enid Blyton who stayed at the hall in 1916. She loved the ‘haunted’ bedroom and the wild farmland. The rumour of the secret passage (between the hall and Woodbridge) must have certainly inspired storylines in her ‘Famous Five’ books. Singer, Ed Sheeran, (one of the world’s most successful musicians) also made an appearance at the hall, shooting a short video there before presenting the MTV music awards in 2017….
In the surrounding area, guests can visit Sutton Hoo, famous as a site of one of the most important historical finds in Europe ever. In 1939, the remains of a huge ship and massive treasure hoard were excavated from a barrow grave, probably belonging to a great 6th century king. The craftmanship is stunning and who knows what sad and grand ceremony took place on those windswept plains a thousand years ago.
And of course, one of the strangest stories connected to the hall is the UFO sighting in nearby Rendlesham Forest in 1980. Around 3:00 a.m. on a bitter Christmas night, a weird, brightly lit phenomenen was reported descending into the trees by a security patrol at Woodbridge RAF base. The men investigated and found what they described as a glowing metallic object with coloured lights which started moving through the trees. The event was never investigated as a security matter but is the most significant UFO sighting in the UK and sometimes described as ‘Britain’s ‘Roswell’.
All these are big, interesting stories but the story connected to Seckford Hall that I really like, is that of Christopher Saxton, mapmaker. He was asked by Sir Thomas, in his courtly capacity, to make a survey of the entire country – a huge request. How many muddy roads did he walk? How many windswept plains or dark forests did he explore? How many things did he notice but could not include (or chose not to) in his maps in deference to his patrons?
From his research, Saxton created an atlas which was published in 1579 by command of the queen. It was the first atlas made from a survey and was ground breaking at the time. Within the long timeline of mapmaking, Saxton was very important and he’s important to me as a mapmaker. However, to the average visitor, his story probably doesn’t count for too much. I had to consider how important he was to my clients – they were the patrons who had employed me after all. Eventually, and with much regret, I realised that, with all these big stories, there simply wasn’t enough room to include him. And so, the story of Saxton, the mapmaker, important to me personally but not totally vital to the hotel, was left out …
And that, friends, is how mapmaking goes sometimes. Maps have documented places throughout history and there will have been many reasons behind the making of a map and many patrons with different agendas. Each time we look at a map, we should never forget one thing…
There will be many stories that are lost…