New book ‘Lost Bury St Edmunds’. What shops and pubs do YOU miss?
- Credit: Archant
‘Bury would not be the wonderful town it is if the abbey church was still with us, because we would be a city equivalent to Durham or York’ says author
Here's a thought. But for the unpredictable twists and turns of history, Suffolk might today boast a city with the size and influence of York. Ipswich the county town? Bang would go that title. Cambridge outshone? Probably. Even Norwich might feel a bit threatened by this powerhouse 30-something miles down the road.
Everything turned on the fate of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds. Founded in 1020, it became one of the richest and mightiest Benedictine monasteries in England.
Later came Henry VIII, with his disdain for the power of the monasteries and an envy of their wealth and resources. Their days were numbered. Bury's was surrendered to the monarch in 1539. Today, we're left with the 14th Century Great Gate and Norman Tower, along with the abbey ruins, to remind us of the past.
All of which is a roundabout way of introducing Martyn Taylor's latest book: Lost Bury St Edmunds.
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I put it to him that the town in 2019 would be different if the monastery hadn't been swept away.
"I tried not to get drawn into discussing the abbey, as the book starts from around the beginning of the 20th Century," he says. "Yes, I agree with you that if the abbey church was still in place, perversely we would not have had the many places that we miss from the 20th Century.
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"In fact, Bury would not be the wonderful town it still is if the abbey church was still with us, because we would be a city or metropolis equivalent to Durham, Lincoln or York.
"Bury HAS moved with the times. We attract a lot of tourists and visitors. As a tour guide, taking them around, they can't believe what a marvellous town we are. They tell me 'Why haven't we been here before?' and 'We will certainly come back!'
"They, and newcomers settling in the town, see it for what it is today, whereas 'locals' can remember fondly what was once here."
In looking at what's changed in recent-ish years, Martyn's book focuses on aspects such as schools, recreation, shopping and pubs.
One mentioned by the Bury-born-and-bred author is the long-gone Guildhall Street newspaper and tobacconist shop of Anne Major-Davies.
"A heavy smoker, she puffed through quite a bit of her stock every week!" he writes. "She always wore black clothes and heavy make-up, with her jet-black hair slicked back into a tight bun, plus she did like a tipple.
"I delivered newspapers for her in the early 1960s. When entering her shop in the early mornings it always smelt of boiled cabbage - yuck!"
Here are some other landmarks that have been lost. Do you remember any?
Guildhall Feoffment Elementary Girls' School
"Hazells letting agents now occupies the corner of Well Street and Short Brackland, where previously the Guildhall Feoffment Girls' School had been founded in 1852 for 150 girls," writes Martyn.
"They were taught the three Rs and how to be good housewives, knitting, sewing, cleaning, washing, etc. - how times have changed."
The Hardwick Fête
"Run by Bury St Edmunds Round Table, the Hardwick Fête was enjoyed by the town's residents for many years. Being opened by celebrities such as the supermodel Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes) or pop star Tom Jones in 1965, it held popular events such as wellie throwing, obstacle races, bale pitching and vintage car displays.
"Donkey rides and a funfair were for children, with the beer tent for the older generation. Modest entry fees benefitted local charities enormously."
Rollerbury & Reflex Night Club, Station Hill
"Rollerbury was a venture that was the brainchild of Roger Williams, owner of Willhire vehicle rentals. It opened in 1982 and was incredibly popular with adults and children alike.
"Paul Johnson, the manager of Reflex, the adjoining nightclub, was instrumental in achieving a major coup when he secured the services of boy band Take That before they were famous, performing before a few hundred fans at knock-down prices on 1 August 1992.
"Both venues closed in 2001."
Bloomfields Shoe Shop, Churchgate Street
"This family business originated in the middle of the nineteenth century, continuing through Edward, Robert and Derek Bloomfield. Edward had introduced the first factory-produced footwear to the town. Robert, better known as 'Stanley', was joined by his son Derek in 1943.
"Later, Derek's wife Patricia and their son Timothy made up the team. Priding itself on service, it was from another era inside and strung-up wellies were a feature outside. Sold as a going concern in 1995, it later closed."
Lawson's Electrical, Cornhill
"Cyril Lawson was a pioneer in providing electricity for properties unfortunate enough not to have it.
"For the princely sum of £59 10s, those 'out in the sticks' could have a generator that ran on around two gallons of petrol a week, providing enough power for your light bulbs.
"He is also credited with bringing television to Bury in the 1930s. During the 1953 televised coronation, those bereft of a TV set were invited to a seat in his shop to watch the ceremony, with some even standing to see."
W Gates & Sons, Buttermarket
"This high-class tailoring, clothier and draper's business had a shop at No. 22 Market Hill, Sudbury, and at No. 37 Abbeygate Street in the early 1870s. Then Waite Gates (strange Christian name, that) moved up to Buttermarket.
"As a prime location, it was viewed as a potential site for national chain Marks & Spencer Ltd, and their new premises opened for business in October 1932 after Gates & Son ceased trading."
Pettitt's Tea Hut
"This popular tea hut run by Phyllis Pettitt and her family had been on Bury's Cattle Market for many years, but sadly closed as the lease was not renewed by the council in preparation for the Arc [shopping centre] development.
"The last brew was in August 2006; sadly, Phyllis passed away that December. All was not forgotten because a plaque to her memory and the hut was put up near The Apex [event venue] in April 2017."
Elephant and Castle pub, Hospital Road
Bury had 79 inns and hotels in 1911, points out Martyn. In 2019, about 21 pubs and nine bars are left.
One that's gone is the Elephant and Castle - known to regulars as The Trunk. Joe and Ellen Bruton were the publicans from 1901.
"After her husband died in 1940, Ellen continued as landlady until 1963, her longevity making her Greene King's, and possibly the country's, oldest serving licensee as she was well into her nineties when she passed away."
Some patrons were great characters - such as Les Freeman, the town's last rag and bone man.
Martyn writes: "A recollection told to me was of its regulars gathered around the public bar's open fire on a cold winter's day; logs were put on the fire end on, occasionally getting a kick from a boot as they burnt down.
"These not-so-young regulars filled out betting slips for the Harold Beeson betting shop over the road on Hellfire Corner, their wagers getting more obscure as they slowly but surely got well-oiled."
The Elephant and Castle shut in 2012. After a revamp, it opened as Meredith Greengrass Funeral Services.
Lost Bury St Edmunds is from Amberley Publishing at £14.99
Martyn was a committee member with the Bury Society. He co-ordinated a local blue plaque scheme, has written - and talked - about the town's history, and published many books (including last year's Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings).
We asked him to nominate five "Lost but not Forgotten" aspects of Bury St Edmunds's past that most mean something to him:
Playground games such as British bulldog and tag, "though these were often banned, as the vulnerable were easily targeted. Those who took part in piggy in the middle, What's the time Mr Wolf and rounders games found out there was always a competitive element".
More: Using a stick to roll a hoop; conkers; skipping on Hardwick Heath; roller skating; French cricket; "flicking" cigarette- and tea-cards; cat's cradle; building dens.
"The superb 1937 art deco 1,300-seat Odeon cinema by impresario Oscar Deutsch was the first in Bury to be designed for films with sound. The first full-length feature film shown was Beloved Enemy.
"For the younger generation, 'Saturday Morning Pictures' was a great treat: 6d for 'downstairs' or 9d for 'upstairs', it was always well attended!
"The Odeon had a name change to The Focus in 1975, but the popularity of home videos saw audiences dwindle and it closed in 1982, suffering an ignominious demolition a year later, along with the neighbouring auctioneers Cheval Lawrence, Ethelbert Taylor's barber shop and the ancient White Lion public house.
"On the site of these properties a shopping precinct - Cornhill Walk - was built, and we know what happened to that!"
(Initially popular, it later failed. "Subsequently, several planning applications to demolish and rebuild have been submitted.")
If the fall in the number of pubs charts societal change, so too does local football.
The Bury & District League once had 64 teams from villages such as Ixworth and Elmswell, along with factory sides from places such as Westgate Brewery.
Its centenary in 2007 brought a change of name, to St Edmundsbury Football League, but in the summer of 2018 only eight teams registered - playing each other three times, as well as cup matches
The number later fell to seven, and the league disbanded this year.
Bury Rugby Club disaster
The saddest section in the book concerns March 3, 1974, when a Turkish Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 plane crashed into a forest near Paris. A cargo hatch door had failed, causing decompression of the hold.
All 345 on board were killed. Eighteen were members of Bury Rugby Club. They'd been to watch a Five Nations Championship match in Paris.
"Families were robbed of sons and brothers, ten women were widowed and nineteen children lost their fathers. A memorial service was held a fortnight later. St James Cathedral was packed out…"
A local disaster fund raised £123,000 over about five years.
The Cattle Market
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) led to restrictions on the sale and movement of cattle in the mid-1990s and helped bring an end to Bury St Edmunds's livestock market, which had been a fixture since 1828.
It closed in 1998 - replaced much later by the "ultra-modern" arc shopping centre (currently celebrating its 10th birthday).