Like a number of other Suffolk communities, the town of Beccles, in north-east Suffolk, had a dedicated outdoor recreational site, which Beccles called The Game Place. Records also show that Beccles had its own local players, and other performers, during the late medieval and early modern periods. However, based on the fragmentary nature of the records, it is not possible to confirm or to deny a connection between The Game Place and the players. This lack of clarity concerning the playing tradition in Beccles is typical of the difficulty with Suffolk in general. Parish and civic records copiously confirm that villages and towns in every corner of the county staged plays. Early Suffolk also had innumerable dedicated outdoor recreational sites, called by various names and used for various diversions including, in one verifiable instance, the staging of plays (see below). Those sites turn up in communities great and small in every part of the county; indeed, no other region of England approaches Suffolk in its number of dedicated playing sites. Further, the great majority of surviving play texts from the late medieval period have certain, if confounding, connections with Suffolk. As John Coldewey has observed, of the ‘thirty-five vernacular English play texts and fragments [that] survive from the late middle ages’, many derive from East Anglia – and many of those from Suffolk. But while all these evidences indicate the presence of an extraordinarily rich playing tradition, the tradition itself remains obscure, and largely disconnected from the culture that created it. The dots strenuously resist connecting. This study, focusing as it does on one small town resting in a part of a county that was rich in parish drama, hopes to offer a few brush strokes to one corner of what turns out to be a very complex, and largely unfinished, picture of local drama in early Suffolk.
The Borough of Beccles
Beccles is situated on a rise overlooking the River Waveney in Wangford Hundred in north-east Suffolk, nearly equidistant between the towns of Bungay and Lowestoft. It is one of the oldest towns in Suffolk, and in earlier centuries was ‘the most substantial [town] between Ipswich and Norwich’.