A recent jaunt to Norfolk and Suffolk consisted of lots of sea drive-bys and stops. And spotting of places that had been Farrow and Ball-ed to within an inch of their gentrified lives. Southwold has its fair share of tasteful paint jobs, boutique and crafty nick-knackery shops. It’s a very knowing version of itself as a seaside town. But no less enjoyable for that.
My favourite place in Southwold – by far – was the Sailors’ Reading Room. It was built by a Mrs Rayley (the widow of one Captain Rayley) in 1864, as a place for ‘sailors and fishermen to meet, read and chat rather than spend their time and money in the pub.’
The Reading Room is still redolent of everything that went on before. It even smells of old books and sailors – if you know what I mean. A lovely plaque outside has two perky mermaids wriggling on it, presumably beckoning sailors toward a comfy chair and a dog-eared book. Or cup of tea and a snooze underneath the old photos and ship models.
The reading room is not much changed, I’d say, since 1864. Even if the profession of sailor has. It was empty of sailors or anyone on the sunny cold day I popped in. Happily, the smart red brick and glossy white painted building looks out to sea. So sailors old and new will always be able to sit and watch the ships (or the mermaids) go by.
If I lived in Southwold I would become a member. I would.