At home with Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten was born in the house seen in these photos on November 22nd, 1913. The house is 21, Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft in Suffolk. It was Britten's home until 1934, by which time he had composed his Simple Symphony op. 4, based on music written in the house between the ages of nine and twelve.

The two photos above shows the attic room that was Britten's bedroom for twenty-one years, and it is here that he composed much of his early music. The top photo shows the room today; the lower one was taken by Britten himself in late 1934. On the writing desk, where he composed, can be seen a small bust of Beethoven.

The North Sea, with its many moods, is a leitmotif that runs through all Britten's music. The breakers can be heard from his bedroom, and the photo was taken by me looking out to the shore on a typically grey and murky autumn day.

This is the same view photographed by Britten himself in December 1934. The view to the sea is the same, but progress hasn't yet claimed the grass in front of the house as a car park.

This photo shows the exterior of 21, Kirkley Cliff Road, or Britten House as it is now known. The Grade II listed Victorian townhouse was bought by Ann and Colin Ceresa several years ago and has just opened as a five star guesthouse after complete renovation. My photographs are the first glimpses of Britten's childhood home after its restoration to its former glory.

This photo shows the house seen from exactly the same viewpoint at the time that the Britten family lived there. Robert Britten, Benjamin's father, was a dentist who built up a substantial practice at the house. 21, Kirkley Cliff Road remained a dentist's surgery after it passed out of the Britten family, and dental equipment was still in the house when it was purchased by its present owners.

The listed house retains may original features, as can be seen from my photo of the entrance hall.

This photo shows the fifteen year old Britten leaving for school through the same entrance hall.

The drawing room is now the breakfast room for the guesthouse.

In Britten's day the drawing room housed the all important piano. This undated photo shows the young Benjamin at the keyboard. His prodigous talent is already evident as he appears to be playing four scores simultaneously.

This is another photo of the house which was Britten's home throughout his education. Although he was a boarder at Gresham's School in Holt, Norfolk and at the Royal College of Music in London, Lowestoft remained his home base until he started work with the GPO Film Unit in London in 1935. The photo below of schoolboy Britten was taken in the house when he was aged around eleven.

It is wonderful that 21, Kirkley Cliff Road has not become a stuffy museum. Under Ann and Colin Ceresa's ownership it remains a working and welcoming home, and one that can be enjoyed by Britten's many admirers around the world. Benjamin's bedroom is one of the eight comfortable guestrooms. Visit the Britten House website for more details and tariffs. I would like thank Ann and Colin for giving Overgrown Path readers this exclusive view inside Benjamin Britten's home as we celebrate his birthday.

All contemporary photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path except the header which is courtesy of Britten House. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Email received:

The B. Britten house looks good right now.

Quite different : the John Coltrane House, link is

There were pictures of the house on . It’s in dire straits. John Coltrane composed all his masterpieces in a small room above the garage.

“It is a little-known fact that Dix Hills was home to one of the greatest American jazz musicians. John Coltrane spent the last years of his life in Dix Hills. It was there that he recorded A Love Supreme, which many consider to be his best work. On May 4, 2004, the Huntington Town Council voted to designate the John Coltrane a local Historical landmark. For more information on the Coltrane House visit”


Perhaps a challenge for the President elect? -
Civic Center said…
How cool is that? A guesthouse rather than a "stuffy museum." If I ever get to England again, this will definitely be an overnight destination. Thanks for the pics.
Anonymous said…
Odd series of departures. All connected with a pre-Britten world.

Madeleine Milhaud, January 17
Lady Barbirolli, January 25
Ursula Vaughan Williams, October 23
Lady Bliss, November 20
Pliable said…
Good to see this article mentioned on WGBH 89.7 in Boston on Britten's birthday -
No way is Britten 15 years old in that picture. 8, maybe.
Pliable said…
I couldn't disagree with you Skinasanas.

David Matthews biography of Britten identifies the photo as having been taken in 1928 - i.e. at age 15. But it which may well be an error.

I will see if the Britten-Pears Library can help with the correct date.
Pliable said…
See comments above - email received -

Hi Bob

Hmm. That photo has been poorly captioned, in that case. Our catalogue gives 'early 1920s' as the date., search for 'PH/1/8' in RefNo.

I'm afraid we can't be any more specific than that, as there's no information on the back of the photo, and we've just made a rough estimate going on how old BB looks.
I hope that helps!

All best


Jude Brimmer

Britten-Pears Foundation
The Red House
Golf Lane
Suffolk UK IP15 5PZ
Erazmus Lint said…
Brittens music is far more pleasurable than the root canal, crown and several extractions I had in his former house. nice to see it in slightly better condition than it was. don't know about the rest of kirkley cliff though- thats always been a bit rough.

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