Explore Britten’s legacy in the places where he lived and worked
Snape Maltings Concert Hall
From the very first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 it was clear that a bigger venue would be needed in the long term. The 1960 improvements to the Jubilee Hall certainly helped, but the problem remained: the Festival needed more room to thrive.
In 1965 came news that the Snape Maltings complex was closing. Barley had been malted here for the brewing industry for the previous hundred years. Britten, who knew the site from his time at the Old Mill, saw the opportunity this offered. In those days the idea of converting industrial buildings for new purposes was relatively untried. What subsequently evolved at Snape clearly demonstrates Britten’s vision and the skill of the design team from Arup Associates, particularly engineer Derek Sugden.
The new concert hall seated around 830. It was designed for chamber music, though there were facilities for opera productions. The exposed brickwork was retained and that combined with the striking design of the large, steep-pitched wooden roof made for excellent acoustics. The original Malt House smoke hoods were replaced with the four iconic replica ventilators.
Snape Maltings and the Creative Campus
Britten’s ambitions for Snape Maltings always went beyond the Concert Hall. A study weekend for singers in 1972 eventually led, in 1979, to the creation of the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies. In 2009 Britten’s vision was realized with the opening of major new facilities to expand the ‘creative campus’ at Snape. They include the Hoffmann Building and the Jerwood Kiln Studio, the latter converted from an old malting kiln. The new spaces have allowed Snape Maltings to expand several of its artist development initiatives, including Snape Learning and Inclusion, AYM, Snape Residencies and Open Space, and the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme.
9 Church Walk
This modernist bungalow was built in 1962 and is located near Aldeburgh town centre. It was the home of Imogen Holst, who lived there from 1964 until her death in 1984. Along with working as Britten’s music assistant, Imogen was also a composer in her own right, and daughter of Gustav Holst. Today the Britten-Pears Foundation offers the property as a retreat for composers, and it is not generally open to the public.
Aldeburgh Baptist Chapel
The Union Baptist Chapel dates from 1922, and was used as a venue for lectures in the early Festivals. The Chapel has hosted a remarkable list of celebrated speakers such as William Plomer and WH Auden. EM Forster spoke at the opening lecture, paying tribute to the poetry of George Crabbe: ‘the first in a series of creative events which has produced your Festival.’ Open daily.
Aldeburgh Parish Church
It was the poetry of George Crabbe, a past curate at this Church, that inspired Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. The opening concert of the first Aldeburgh Festival was held here in 1948. Britten is buried in the Lawn Cemetery, and commemorated in a stained glass window designed by John Piper. Open daily.
The Aldeburgh Cinema, a building that dates back to the early 20th century, has links with both Britten and Pears. They, with the encouragement of Chairman Stephen Reiss, joined the independently-run cinema’s board of directors in 1965 and remained actively involved with its administration for ten years, overseeing its purchase and continued use as a cinema-theatre for the town. In 1966 the upper floor of the cinema was converted into offices for the Aldeburgh Festival staff. Britten, who at one stage in his career composed film music, took a strong interest releases both new and old shown at the cinema.
Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall
Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall is only a short walk from Crag House and so it is not surprising that Britten decided to use it for concerts. It was not long before these occasional events developed into the annual Aldeburgh Festival with the Hall as its home. The Jubilee Hall also hosted the first performances of two of Britten’s most popular stage productions as well as some important chamber works. Today the Hall opens regularly for a range of performances and other events.
Britten bought Crag House in the summer of 1947. His growing success meant that he could afford a larger property, and Crag House was right next to the beach, overlooking the sea that was such an influence on his music. The purchase of Crag House, and Britten’s move from Snape to Aldeburgh, soon prompted the idea of starting a festival in Aldeburgh. This blue plaque was unveiled on the Crabbe Street site of the house in 1978, two years after Britten’s death. Crag House is not open to the public; please respect the privacy of the owner.
The Moot Hall
The Moot Hall is one of the best-preserved Tudor buildings in Britain. Today it is the home of Aldeburgh Town Council and also of Aldeburgh Museum. It was in the Moot Hall that Britten received the Freedom of the Borough of Aldeburgh in 1962, and the powerful opening prologue of Britten’s Peter Grimes is set in a coroner’s court here. This photo shows Britten driving past the Moot Hall in June 1964. Aldeburgh Museum opens every afternoon April – October.
The Old Mill, Snape
In 1937 – with both parents dead and the family home in Lowestoft sold – Britten discovered the Old Mill, Snape, while staying in nearby Peasenhall with the family of his sister’s fiancé. He bought it with a legacy from his mother, and had this former windmill converted into a home and studio. The Old Mill is not generally open to the public, but two adjacent cottages are let as holiday accommodation. See below for website.
Peter Pears Gallery
Peter Pears loved collecting art, and spent much time filling the homes that he and Britten shared with hundreds of artworks. When Pears died in 1986, the Festival’s exhibition gallery was renamed in his honour. This photo shows the exhibition curated in his memory by John Piper in 1987. Today, as well as being used for Festival exhibitions, the Peter Pears Gallery is hired out by Snape Maltings for a variety of art and craft exhibitions. Opening times vary.
This striking tribute to Britten and his music stands on the beach just north of Aldeburgh. Unveiled in November 2003, the 4m high steel sculpture bears a quotation from Peter Grimes: ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned.’ It was conceived by the Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling and made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam and Dennis Pegg.
Explore these places by downloading the Britten Trail map now.