Suffolk has been the home and birthplace to many famous people throughout its history. See a compiled list of famous people that have originated from Suffolk below.
If you’re interested in learning more about Suffolk, why not browse our guide to Suffolk Villages and Towns.
Suffolk has a rich history, unique architecture, stunning beaches and breath-taking countryside as well as first class local food & drink, so it’s no wonder that we attract a host of celebrities & famous residents, both past and present.
Benjamin Britten, (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976). 2013 was the centenary of his birth in Lowestoft to a dentist father and an amateur musician mother. Britten was educated at Old Buckenham Hall School in Suffolk and in 1927 he began private lessons in music that would be the beginning of his world-famous musical career.
In 1947 he and his partner Peter Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival, an English arts festival devoted mainly to classical music. In 1976 Britten accepted a life peerage as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh but he died of heart failure soon after at his house in Aldeburgh, and is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears lived and worked together for almost thirty years, is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation which promotes their musical legacy.
Bob Hoskins, 1942 – 2014, – well known and award-winning actor, Bob Hoskins, was famous for playing a great variety of roles in many films over a long period (his acting career began in the 1960’s and lasted until close to his death). He was particularly known for playing tough, Cockney gangsters – but was actually born in Bury St Edmunds in 1942! His mother was evacuated to Suffolk from London as a result of the heavy bombings, and the Hoskins family left Bury while Bob was just a baby. Star of The Long Good Friday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and many more, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease and retired in 2012.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (approx. 1471-1475 – 29 November 1530) – this historical political figure and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church was born in Ipswich and attended Ipswich School. Wolsey came into great power as King Henry VIII’s chief adviser, and held Henry’s confidence until the King decided to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey’s failure to secure the annulment is widely perceived to have directly caused his downfall and arrest. In 1529, Wolsey was stripped of his government office and property and accused of treason. Wolsey fell ill and died just before his hearing on 29 November 1530. See the Thomas Wolsey statue on our Heart of Ipswich trail.
Ed Sheeran is a singer-songwriter who is currently signed to Asylum / Atlantic Records. Sheeran broke through commercially in June 2011, when his debut single “The A Team” debuted at number 3 on the UK chart. He was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire to Irish and English parents, before moving to Framlingham, Suffolk. He learned guitar at a very young age, and began writing songs during his time at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham.
George Orwell – Born: Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) – the English writer, George Orwell, penned works such as Ninteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, and is considered one of the 20th Century’s best narrators of English culture. His work displays high intelligence and keen wit, focusing on social injustice. Orwell’s family set up home in Southwold upon his father’s retirement. Orwell attended a Cram School there and visited frequently in his later life. In 1929 he returned to his parents’ house in Southwold, where he stayed for 5 years. The family was well established in the local community and his sister Avril was running a tea house in the town. During his last year in Southwold he wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter, based on his life as a teacher and on his experiences in Southwold. On 21 January 1950, Orwell died of a burst artery aged just 46.
Griff Rhys Jones
Presenter, comedian and documentary maker, Griff Rhys Jones may love the open road and exploring rivers but home is where the heart is. For Jones that means Holbrook with a garden sloping down the banks of the River Stour, on the Shotley Peninsula in Suffolk, where he lives with wife Jo and Labrador Cadbury.
After making his name alongside Mel Smith in Not The Nine O’clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, the multi-talented Jones went on to star on stage and screen.
A keen sailor who first tacked his way around the East Anglian waterways with his father Elwyn, Jones has brought the magic of sailing yachts to life through programmes such as Three Men in a Boat and the BBC series River Journeys, which have featured the River Orwell and Pin Mill. He is a keen conservationist who supports the work done by the RSPB and has owned several boats over the years, often based at Shotley Marina.
Jimmy Doherty (born 1975) – this Suffolk-based farmer and television presenter was born in Ilford, Essex and trained as a farmer in Cumbria. It was here that he met Michaela Furney, his future wife, and the two of them set up The Essex Pig Company utilising free–range meat production practices. Jimmy went on buy his own farm in Wherstead near Ipswich, which became the base for his BBC TV series, Jimmy’s Farm. The series followed Jimmy’s trials and tribulations as he set up his rare breed pig farm. Jimmy has since established the farm as a visitor attraction with shops, butterfly house, gardens, animal pens, market and events throughout the year – you can visit the farm by clicking here Jimmy’s Farm, Ipswich.
Since Jimmy’s Farm, Doherty has made a number of series for the BBC including Jimmy’s Food Factory, In Darwin’s Garden, The Wild Honey Hunters and Farming Heroes.
John Peel – the influential DJ and radio presenter, John Peel lived in Suffolk for 33 years, and his gravestone was erected three years after his death. Peel was Radio 1’s longest serving DJ when he died aged 65 in October 2004, famously championing The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks on his show. He was quoted as saying he would like the song’s line “our teenage dreams so hard to beat” on his tombstone. The DJ is buried in St Andrew’s Church, in the village of Great Finborough, Suffolk. Peel’s widow, Sheila Ravenscroft, said: “We have put the words on the stone that he would’ve wanted. I wouldn’t dare do anything else!”.
John Peel Centre for Creative Arts. The former Corn Exchange building in the Town Centre of Stowmarket is being converted into a top quality centre for creative arts in honour of the legendary John Peel who lived just outside the town. A group of dedicated volunteers – including John’s wife, Sheila – have done some excellent work to raise funds to carry out initial improvement work to which will enable the building to be used to host events.
June Brown MBE – a true British Treasure, June Brown, is best known for her role as the chain-smoking gossip Dot Cotton in the popular soap opera EastEnders. She was born in Needham Market in 1927. During the Second World War, she was evacuated to Wales. At 17, she met and married the actor John Garley, but he suffered depression and committed suicide at home in 1957. In 1958, she married Robert Arnold, star of the well-known early BBC television programme Dixon of Dock Green. Since Arnold died in 2003, June has lived alone in their house in Surrey.
The former owner and chairman of Ipswich Town Football Club spent his early years in a family cottage in the small village of Walsham le Willows, near Bury St Edmunds.
That abiding memory was a factor when he bought the Portman Road club in 2007 at a knock down price.
A keen golfer, he has two homes in London, but is a regular visitor to Suffolk, often arriving by helicopter and staying and dining close to the Ipswich club.
BBC Radio 4 and Newsnight Broadcaster Martha Kearney lives in Suffolk where she enjoys producing honey from her six beehives. Watch her on a BBC4 TV series called The Joy of Honey in 2014.
P. D. James
P.D. James – the renowned crime fiction writer, P. D. James, had a second home in Southwold and was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. Several of her novels were set in Suffolk – for example, in Unnatural Causes, when Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh spends a quiet holiday at his aunt’s cottage on Monksmere Head, just south of Dunwich. However, all hope of peace is soon shattered by murder. On his initial journey, the detective stops at Blythburgh church and enters ‘the cold silvery whiteness of one of the loveliest church interiors in Suffolk’. Covehithe is the setting for Death in Holy Orders, and in The Children of Men, a novel set in the future, Southwold is the centre for the compulsory suicide of the old! P. D. James’ autobiography is full of local allusions, including pictures of the Cathedral of the Marshes at Blythburgh.
Poldark Robin Ellis
Did you watch Poldark on BBC on Sunday evenings? The original Poldark in the 1970’s was Robin Ellis, who plays the Reverend Mr Halse in the recent series. Robin Ellis is an actor and cookery book writer who was born in Ipswich and he remains a loyal Ipswich Town Football Club supporter to this day even though he now lives in France. Find out more about Ipswich here.
Ralph Fiennes was born in Ipswich on 22 December 1962. As well as being a world famous actor (credits include Schindlers List, The Constant Gardener, The English Patient, Harry Potter etc etc) he is an 8th cousin of the Prince of Wales and a 3rd cousin of adventurer Ranulph Fiennes. He is the eldest of six children and his siblings include actor Joseph Fiennes as well as Martha Fiennes, a director (in her film Onegin, he played the title role); Magnus Fiennes, a composer; Sophie Fiennes, a filmmaker; and Jacob Fiennes, a conservationist. Ralph Fiennes is a UK UNICEF Ambassador and his full name is ….Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes!
Ruth Rendell – another much loved author, Ruth Rendell once lived in Polstead, and in 1997 was created Baroness Rendell of Babergh (of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk). Rendell features Suffolk in many of her novels, produced her own illustrated Ruth Rendell’s Suffolk. Make Death Love Me begins with a robbery at the Anglia Victoria bank in Suffolk, and – written under Rendell’s penname, Barbara Vine – Gallowglass is set in Sudbury, while she wrote about Orford and Aldeburgh for part of No Night is Too Long, Polstead and Nayland for A Fatal Inversion and Bury St Edmunds and its surroundings for The Brimstone Wedding.
Sir Peter Hall CBE
Sir Peter Hall CBE was born in Bury St Edmunds on November 22, 1930 and during his life founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed the National Theatre, Glyndebourne and then his own The Peter Hall Company.
Peter Hall made his mark at the age of 24 when, in 1955, he produced a new play by a relatively unknown writer – Samuel Beckett. The play was Waiting for Godot and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1974 Peter made a film based loosely upon the book ‘Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village’ by Ronald Blythe. The book has been described as a work of rural realism and is based in East Anglia. The author himself appeared in the film, as did Sir Peter Halls father, and all other parts are played by real-life villagers who improvised their own dialogue.
Twiggy & Leigh Lawson
Twiggy – one of the world’s most famous models, Twiggy, shares a home in Southwold with her actor husband, Leigh Lawson. The couple can often be seen taking a walk along the beach in Southwold, and Twiggy says she loves shopping – especially for food – in a number of Suffolk markets. It was one winter in 2004, when the couple were having lunch in a pub after one of their walks on the gusty beach, that she was spotted by Steve Sharp, the marketing executive for Marks & Spencer….the rest, they say is history. Read our guide to Southwold here.
He had the immediate idea of using her in the well-regarded M&S campaign. Twiggy says, “I’m very happy I went to that pub. It’s funny, when I think of all the times I’ve been to meet someone about a job, and worried about what to wear, and got changed a million times. And then there I am that day in Southwold in my woolly hat and anorak, and Steve spots me. It just shows, doesn’t it?”.