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Just look at how Bury St Edmunds used to be

PUBLISHED: 18:26 05 November 2017

The delivery cart of Arthur Manning, baker of Out Westgate. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

The delivery cart of Arthur Manning, baker of Out Westgate. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

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Martyn Taylor’s book Bury St Edmunds At Work: People and Industries Through the Years is from Amberley Publishing

Marks & Spencer's Buttermarket store in 1959. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING Marks & Spencer's Buttermarket store in 1959. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

Can you imagine an East Anglian town today with more than 40 bakers, nearly 30 butchers and 45 boot- and shoemakers? That’s what Bury St Edmunds boasted in the middle of the 1800s – and, then, the population was under 14,000 people. Amazing how things have changed, isn’t it?

Those shifts are charted in Martyn Taylor’s book Bury St Edmunds At Work: People and Industries Through the Years. No dry tome, it’s full of evocative pictures complemented by bite-size but potent chunks of text.

It chronicles the town’s commercial life from the 11th Century (when we’d have known it as Bedericesworth, under the grip of French abbot Baldwin, who laid out the medieval grid pattern we still follow today) to now.

The Benedictine abbey controlled things for more than 500 years. Bury later thrived as a wool town – until the trade’s downturn in the 18th Century saw jobs go. The middle of the 19th Century saw the slow advance of industrialisation. New industries have emerged – including names familiar to us, such as the Greene King brewery, Bobys Engineering, and the sugar beet plant.

Martyn’s book goes on to look at the impact of war and the rapid rise in the population thanks to London overspill in the 1960s.

Here’s a flavour of some of the details he includes:

n It was in the 1800s that Abbeygate Street became the first road in town to be lit, using gas created by the intense heating of coal. Telescopic gasholders were built in 1857, 1876 and 1952. Then the discovery of natural gas saw the gasworks shut in 1964. The last gasholder was taken down in 2016.

n Bury St Edmunds had a dozen separate malsters in 1844. “In 1852, farmer Frederick King had married Emily Maulkin, the eldest daughter of… one of Bury’s major malsters. Fred then set up his own brewery, the St Edmund Brewery,” Martyn writes.

Looking down a busy Abbeygate Street in about 1900. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING Looking down a busy Abbeygate Street in about 1900. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

“In 1868, Edward Greene had purchased the recently-deceased Henry Braddock’s Southgate Brewery, along with the maltings and pubs, to stop them falling into rival Fred’s hands.

“In 1880, Edward built his own large Foundry Maltings and, seven years later, amalgamated his Westgate Brewery with Fred King to become Greene King.”

n Abbeygate Street was once dubbed The Bond Street of Bury. Olivers, a grocery and provisions shop, had the first phone number in town: Bury St Edmunds One.

n Horringer was known as “The Wash Tub” of Bury as so many women living there, and working in service, brought home items of clothing to wash and iron.

n The Steggles family – builders – were keen on the Suffolk white brick. It was used on buildings such as the Guildhall and Garland Street Baptist Church.

n In 1918, meadows in the area now known as Cullum Road were bought by the Board of Agriculture to grow flax. The linen made from it was used to cover plane wings.

n Dutch company Van Melle came to Western Way in the late 1950s. “How many youngsters (not so young now) can remember the plastic bags full of small square-shaped yummy fruit-flavoured Fruitella chews that were brought home by employees?” asks Martyn.

Late in 1983, the workforce went to 200, but a downturn brought an announcement in 1990 of more than 150 redundancies. The business was later bought by an Italian firm and became Perfetti Van Melle in 2001.

A site plan for Robert Boby's St Andrew's Works, where the firm made agricultural equipment. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING A site plan for Robert Boby's St Andrew's Works, where the firm made agricultural equipment. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

n James Oakes, who had inherited a wool and clothier business from his uncle in 1768, had combing sheds and warehouses in St Andrews Street South. In the heyday of the trade, it was thought a good comber (who used heated iron combs to draw out the fibres) could deliver 33lb of wool for 30 spinners each week, writes Martyn.

n Bury’s livestock market closed in 1998 (though a deadstock sale and flea market continued for a while) “and the last vestige of the market, Pettit’s tea hut, closed in 2006”.

n Martin Neumann, one of two experts brought over in the 1920s, when a new beet factory was built in Bury, would become the grandfather of TV presenter, actor and writer Stephen Fry.

n A Zeppelin raid in 1915 destroyed Johnsons Cleaners & Dyers, in the Buttermarket, along with Days the Bootmakers.

n Greene King’s last horse-drawn dray made its final run in 1958.

n Building work on the near-£100m Arc shopping centre development started in 2007 and finished about two years later. It’s also home to the Apex music and arts venue.

Martyn – born and bred in Bury St Edmunds, author of numerous books about it, and a key figure in the local blue plaque scheme celebrating its history – appreciates today’s opportunities for further education and decent job prospects.

He adds: “It is hoped Bury will not become a satellite of the more expensive Cambridge, though some of the occupants of the 5,000-plus houses being built… will obviously work there.”

Flax bundles to be heckled - combed to make the fibres straight, ready for spinning. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING Flax bundles to be heckled - combed to make the fibres straight, ready for spinning. Picture: AMBERLEY PUBLISHING

A balance that includes cheaper housing is key, he says, and hopes the town centre masterplan will ease the strain on infrastructure, such as parking and traffic flow.

He also hopes Bury won’t lose its identity. “Will we become another clone town? I am sure we will hang on in there, because the thousands upon thousands of visitors who come here… appreciate its uniqueness. Tourism adds so much to the economy of the town.”

Bury St Edmunds At Work: People and Industries Through the Years is from Amberley Publishing at £14.99

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