With a history as an industrial site stretching back over 175 years, the roots of Snape Maltings as it exists today were planted by the composer Benjamin Britten and landowner George Gooderham, who both recognised the potential of the striking Maltings buildings and their stunning location.
The Early Maltings
Having bought the already busy shipping port at Snape Bridge in 1841, Victorian industrial entrepreneur Newson Garrett built Snape Maltings over the following decades in order to malt barley and ship it by Thames barge to breweries in London and elsewhere. The business expanded quickly and thrived throughout for decades as demand from breweries increased. A purpose-built branch of the East Suffolk railway line was built to Snape Maltings to support the business and from 1859 to 1960 up to three trains a day would run to and from the Maltings. At full industrial use Snape Maltings grew to some seven acres of buildings and was one of the largest flat floor maltings in the country.
The Maltings Closes
In 1965, after 120 years, the malting of barley ceased, the direct result of inefficiencies of a large complex and the site was purchased by Suffolk farmer George Gooderham.
Meanwhile the composer Benjamin Britten had founded the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, five miles from Snape, in 1948 and the festival quickly established an international reputation, outgrowing its small venues in Aldeburgh and other locations around the Suffolk coast. In the course of the 1950s and 60s Britten explored ways to build a larger venue to host the festival, and in 1965 he leased the largest building at Snape Maltings from George Gooderham to convert into the 810-seat Snape Maltings Concert Hall, which was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth in 1967. This became the home of the Aldeburgh Festival and a venue internationally renowned for the superb quality of its acoustic. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use.
The Hall suffered serious fire damage two years later, re-opening in time for the Aldeburgh Festival in 1970. The conversion of the building was undertaken by Arup Associates, with the acoustics supervised by Derek Sugden.
The Site Develops
From 1967 to 2015 there were parallel developments on the site, with the Gooderham family gradually creating an independent retail complex and Britten and his successors expanding beyond Snape Maltings Concert Hall to create a musical campus that would enable his vision of a place for not only an international performance programme but also work with young artists, education and community engagement. The retail and residential complex went under the banner of Snape Maltings, while the organisation running the music and arts activity became known as Aldeburgh Music, making clear that the work was the year-round expansion of the ideas and vision at the heart of Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival.
The festival always had a distinctive feel, thanks to its mixture of stunning natural environment, international stars, up-and-coming artists and local community involvement. Britten died in 1976, but his pioneering vision for a place international in its scope yet rooted in its local community has inspired his successors to convert many more former maltings buildings on the site to create one of the world’s great centres of music, a place filled with the energy of artists creating work throughout the year.
A Unified Site & Vision
In 2006, Aldeburgh Music and the Gooderham family put together an ambitious scheme which enabled Aldeburgh Music to purchase the Concert Hall, the Britten-Pears Building and a number of adjacent buildings, and for the Gooderhams to develop the site. Aldeburgh Music’s creative campus opened in 2009, with many new spaces inside the Hoffmann Building, including the site’s second concert hall, the Britten Studio (capacity 340), enabling Aldeburgh Music to expand its artistic offering, leading to year-round programme of events, artist development and education.
Meanwhile the Gooderham family continued to own and operate the remaining buildings at Snape Maltings, restoring and converting the buildings for high-quality residential and holiday accommodation, as well as running a highly successful retail business, which includes the monthly farmers’ markets, and the annual Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, now one of the UK’s largest food festivals.
In 2015 the Gooderham family put its part of the site up for sale and Aldeburgh Music purchased it with help from Arts Council England. Following this, the two organisations have come together under the name Snape Maltings to create a unified site with a unique offer for visitors.
Bob and Doris Ling
Born in 1923 and 1920 respectively, Bob and Doris Ling were a couple with a long history intertwined with Snape Maltings and Britten & Pears. Bob worked at Snape Maltings before it was a concert hall, when it was used to turn barley into malt, as did his father, grandfather and great grandfather. In 1965 the company was liquidated, Bob and 70 other were put out of work.
Bob and Doris worked as mobile gravediggers - travelling around the country in a van with a bed and cooker inside, digging graves wherever it is needed. After this, they got jobs as milkmen, which proved to be the worst jobs they have experienced. While complaining about this job, someone overheard and told them about a job going at Snape Maltings. They went down and got the job, which is how they eventually met Benjamin Britten.
While working as stage managers at Snape Maltings, Bob and Doris would often be visited by Benjamin Britten on his way from the dressing room, who would say "Get me a whisky, will you Bob, so I can have a wet when I come off stage?".
When the Queen Mother came to open the Britten-Pears School, the first question she asked Peter Pears was "How did they build those lovely brick ceilings?". He said "Well Bob knows all about it." So she said, "Well I'll walk around with Bob and you follow us". That instant rapport was typical of the way Bob and Doris endeared themselves to everyone, including Britten and Pears themselves and the many famous musicians who worked and performed at Snape.
I know life can be so very hard and cruel but it is a strange and wondrous thing too isn't it.