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River Alde

The rivers Alde and Ore are in reality just one stretch of water.  They are unusual in hugging the coastline, passing by the well known towns of Orford and Aldeburgh providing over 15 miles of navigable waterway.

Map of part of the Suffolk coast showing the rivers Alde and Ore

Facts & Stats

22 miles

The navigable length of the River Alde / Ore

0 locks

There are no locks on the river

100% tidal

The navigable river is tidal throughout its length

The rise of Snape Maltings

The navigable River Alde runs from Snape Bridge, dominated by the Arts Centre housed in the former maltings, to Blackstakes Reach where it becomes the River Ore.  The waterway is tidal throughout, and only navigable along the upper reaches at high tide.  The navigable channel west of Alde Mud Flats is constantly changing and tortuously wriggly – hinted at by the channel name of ‘Troublesome Reach’.  No works have been undertaken to modify the river for navigation.

Newson Garrett, a Victorian entrepreneur, purchased the business of Osborne and Fennell, corn and coal merchants of Snape Bridge, in 1841 at the already busy port.  From here, he used the river Alde to transport barley across Britain and into Europe on Thames barges.  Within three years of his arrival, Newson Garrett was shipping 17,000 quarters of barley a year from Snape.  Much of this barley would have been destined for breweries, where it had first to be malted.  Demand from the London breweries was growing fast, and it was becoming impractical to make malt and brew beer on the same premises.  In 1854, Newson Garrett began malting at Snape, and was soon shipping malt, rather than barley, to the breweries.

[The photo shows the quayside at Snape Maltings on the River Alde  –  by Christopher Hilton © and licenced for reuse under cc-by-sa/2.0]

The Maltings process at Snape Bridge ended in the 1965 as the then proprietors Swonnell and Son went into liquidation, and seven acres of industrial buildings were left vacant. Thirty acres of land was offered for sale, including dwellings and an inn. It was difficult to imagine how such functional structures could be put to different use.  However, George Gooderham, a local farmer and businessman, recognised the potential. He purchased the site and set about finding alternative uses for the buildings.

At this time, the Aldeburgh Music Festival was outgrowing the limited space available in the Jubilee Hall.  Benjamin Britten started to look around for somewhere to build a concert hall.  Britten had the vision to see the largest malt house, in its magnificent setting overlooking the saltings as a possible site.  Negotiations began with George Gooderham and after little more than a year Snape Maltings Concert Hall was ready to be opened by the Queen at the start of the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival.

[The photo shows the River Alde downstream of Snape  –  by Christopher Hilton © and licenced for reuse under cc-by-sa/2.0]

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