The history of Leiston owes much to the Garrett family in the early eighteenth century. Chiefly, they were responsible for founding Garrett Engineering, specialising in the engineering and manufacturing of steam engines. Achieving world renown, Leiston was famous for developing the first ever engine production line, known as the 'Long Shop', hence today's Long Shop Museum.
Steam engines were only the start. The company grew, as did its work force and manufacturing site, eventually covering most of the town. It was the major employer for nearly a century. When the wars came the company moved over to the production of munitions including aircraft. This made it the closest munitions works to the enemy forces.
The engineering works were also a big factor in British Rail building the Saxmundham – Aldeburgh rail line. It had a siding directly off the mainline into the industrial site. Today the Leiston Works Railway group are a volunteer led group working to restore the old railway line that serviced the town.
Since the demise of Garrett Engineering the major site is now a very busy industrial estate for over thirty smaller businesses. In one area of the original works is the Long Shop, a very welcoming and exciting museum displaying a wide range of exhibits detailing the history of the works that played such a large part in the history of Leiston itself.
The historic Leiston Abbey was moved stone by stone from its original site on Minsmere marshes due to worry over it being lost through flooding in 1363. More recently it has been adopted by the specialist musical education school Pro Corda, under the guise of English Heritage.
Once again during World War II the Garrett Works were involved in production and manufacture of munitions, but Leiston also had another major role in WWII. It was home to the United States Air Force bomber station at Leiston Airfield.
Leiston Airfield was the base of the 357th Fighter Group, an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. The 357th operated P-51 Mustang aircraft as part of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. Its members were known unofficially as the Yoxford Boys after the village of Yoxford near their base in the UK.
Annually a remembrance service is held on the old airfield, although in recent years natural age issues have limited numbers visiting from the USA to remember the loss of family members who served here. A P-51 Mustang has completed a fly past most years. A memorial remembering all those that died has pride of place on dedicated site along Harrow Lane. The major part of the old airfield is now the home of Cakes and Ales caravan and camping site. The reception centre and entertaining block contains a variety of memorabilia. The Airfield Museum also has pride of place on the campsite.
Leiston Town Athletic Association (LTAA) is Leiston Town's Sports and Social Club, originally the Leiston Garrett Works Social Club. With the demise of the Garrett Works the sports ground facilities were handed to the local district council for management on behalf of Leiston's residents. The LTAA has provided football, cricket, tennis and bowls among other outdoor sport facilities. Darts, snooker and pool have also been successful for them.
Leiston Town Bowls Club plays just behind the LTAA club house which was purpose built and financed by the members. The green with its associated facilities, pavilion and changing rooms is seen across the county as one of the best bowls facilities in Suffolk.
The history of Leiston is not complete without the historic link to Sizewell Beach. The history of Sizewell goes back to early stories of smuggling along the Suffolk coast. Margaret Catchpole (1762 -1819) was notorious for her smuggling and was eventually deported to Australia.
War defences are still evident on the beach, however the shooting range is now buried below the power stations. One memorable feature is recognisable on the beach next to the tea hut, Sizewell Tea. Here a statue of three kayak oars has been placed in memory of thirty two Dutchmen. They tried to escape their homeland in 1941 by paddling to England in kayaks. Only eight survived the journey, and only three survived the war. The rich history of Leiston makes it a fascinating place to live and visit.
Sizewell Power Stations have been a feature on the coastline since the 1960s. However EDF are now looking to develop a new nuclear site next to the existing two. There are mixed feelings among the locals and others about the need and impact of the proposed developments.
The CLT recognise that this is an emotive topic. But as a body looking to develop Leiston and its town centre, it would be remiss of us not to discuss how the works associated with the build and development of this new nuclear power station can be integrated into the development of Leiston.
The construction of Sizewell C will bring thousands of staff and contractors to the area along with a huge uplift in traffic and HGVs. EDF are in discussions with key stakeholders such as the County Council, the District Council, the Town Council and Leiston CLT in order to best mitigate the impact of these changes.