By 1957 Britten’s success, and that of the Aldeburgh Festival, had made him so famous that he felt he needed more privacy than was possible at Crag House. For a few years he and Pears had been friends with the artist and Aldeburgh Music Club member Mary Potter, and often played tennis in the large garden of her home, The Red House. When the opportunity arose to exchange homes with Mary Potter, who wanted to downsize, Britten traded the busy seafront for the seclusion of Golf Lane, a private road on the outskirts of Aldeburgh.
The Gallery was built in the 1990s over Britten’s open-air swimming pool, which is still beneath the floor. The Gallery now holds both permanent and temporary exhibitions, which draw on the amazing collections at The Red House to introduce Britten and his music.
Suitable for all ages, there is an audio guide to accompany the exhibition, a dress up area for children and an interactive screen exploring one of Britten’s greatest works, the War Requiem.
This year’s temporary exhibition is ‘Queer Talk: Homosexuality in Britten’s Britain’ marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Find out more now.
The Red House
The house Britten and Pears shared for nearly two decades has been carefully re-presented as it was, based on a room inventory and recollections from people who knew the house at that time. The result is a charmingly informal snapshot, as though Britten and Pears had just stepped out for a moment.
The house is open from 2.30pm (last entry 4pm) with guided tours that include the upstairs available at 2pm (book in advance now) except during the Aldeburgh Festival.
Visit the room where Britten wrote such masterpieces as the War Requiem. His desk, piano and other original items have been put back into the elegant first-floor room created for him out of a former hayloft next to the main house. As he wrote to a friend in 1959, ‘I’ve made myself a nice remote studio where I can bang away to my heart’s content.’
Even before moving to The Red House in November 1957, Britten asked the architect HT (‘Jim’) Cadbury-Brown to survey the property and consider options for a purpose-built studio in the grounds. Cadbury-Brown instead suggested converting this building, a former hayloft next to the main house. The studio was completed the following summer. It is clear that Cadbury-Brown took great care over details such as the acoustics and lighting, creating a space that suited his client perfectly.
The Library was built on the site of a disused barn to the west of The Red House in 1963. The architect Peter Collymore transformed the space into a room that would hold Britten and Pears’ large book and music collection and also function as a rehearsal space.
Today the Library is used for recitals. Visit the What’s on to search events.
Britten and Pears entertained guests, cultivated vegetables, and even played croquet and tennis in their much-cherished gardens. There were many important social occasions which took place here, such as the celebration of Britten’s life peerage in 1976. In the summer months we welcome visitors to bring a picnic or enjoy a spot of croquet on the croquet lawn where Britten and Pears played.
Architects Stanton Williams have designed a beautiful building that brings together under one roof collections that were previously across the site, and should keep them safe from fire and flood. The stable conditions needed for long-term preservation are achieved by low-energy, passive means rather than air-conditioning, making this a landmark sustainable building in the archive world.
The Archive is open by appointment to researchers Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm. Visitors are welcome to drop in during weekday opening hours along with special displays during the Aldeburgh Festival and at other times throughout the year. See What’s on for more information.