The Village Sign, usually called ‘The Bishop’ has been in place for just about 50 years. It was paid for initially by ‘The Stradbroke Players’ then our active amateur dramatic society. The sign was designed by Frank Ward, a skilful artist born in the village in 1914, the fourth of nine children and who remained in touch with his family and Stradbroke until his death in 1998.
The oak for the post and the figures were given by Mr Peck, the owner of the almost derelict Stradbroke Rectory at the time. In the past, the Rectory had been a magnificent and impressive house but had by then fallen into considerable disrepair. Some of the rooms were even used for rearing chickens! Soon afterwards, it was demolished and the extensive gardens were used for the houses in what is now Bishop’s Way and Woodfields. The red brick garden wall of the Old Rectory on Wilby Road still survives and the house just inside it is helpfully and accurately named ‘The Bishop’s View’. The two figures on the sign were two of the very few famous people who have lived in Stradbroke.
The Bishop was Bishop Grosseteste who was reputedly born in Town House (now Lavender & Jude) in 1168. There is a plaque to his memory in the porch of the building. It states that he became Bishop of Lincoln in 1235 and died in 1253. There was a Teachers’ Training College in Lincoln and since 2012, a University which bears his name. The younger man at his feet was an itinerant poet, James Chambers who died and was buried in Stradbroke Churchyard. He was born in Soham in Cambridgeshire in 1748 and a book of his ‘Poetical Works’ was published in Ipswich in 1820. He begged for food and shelter in Stradbroke and the district around and in return wrote poems for his benefactors. He called himself a ‘poetaster’. He therefore missed the chance of meeting Bishop Grosseteste by a little more than 500 years! Such is artistic license! However, he would surely have delighted in being represented on the Stradbroke Village Sign!
The original oak sign gradually deteriorated and by 2005 it was no longer possible to repair it. To replace it in seasoned oak would have cost too much and so moulds were taken from the original carvings and a fibreglass replacement sign was made. It was completed in Colchester by Ken Morgan and then transported back to Stradbroke. Newly bright and cheerful, it was placed back on the original post in July 2006.
Sadly, by the end of 2015 our village sign had become rather shabby and was in very much in need of repainting. After some research by Don Darling, the Parish Council appointed Wayne Townsend, a local professional sign-writer to bring it back to its original condition as best he could. When ‘The Bishop’ was taken down in January 2016 it became very clear just how bad a state it was in. The fibreglass was sound but the whole painted surface had faded badly. Different kinds of mould and moss had established a foothold and on top of that, the sign was well covered with a layer of bird droppings
With the help of a high pressure spray at a local car wash, the dirt and the old paint was completely removed. The fibreglass surface was then ready for a good coat of primer, a crucial and necessary step in order to ensure the new top coat would bind properly. Using some of the original photographs as a guide, Wayne matched and added the base colours.Finally, he completed the fine details, especially the Bishop’s cloak, the shading on the boy’s smock and the marbled effect on the base.
As you can see from the photographs, he made a splendid job of it. Frank Ward would have been delighted that the design that he did all of 50 years ago was again restored to its full glory.