Home   Bury St Edmunds   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor follows in the footsteps of elephants down the town’s Eastgate Street





The only vestige of the Eastgate, which gives Bury St Edmunds’ Eastgate Street its name, is the remains of a chimney flue close to the Abbot’s bridge.

One of five gates originally in the town, this was the only gate under the control of the abbey, very handy in the event of riots when the Abbot could use the River Lark as a bolthole.

Opposite, by the ancient Fox Inn - arguably the oldest in the town - is the Broadway, with its iconic animal trough much used by drovers bringing their animals to market. This was generously given by Lady Bunbury in 1875.

A look down Eastgate Street of old
A look down Eastgate Street of old

Close by is the River Lark, where a ducking stool once was used for ‘cheats and scalds’, thankfully removed in 1838, while over the Lark, the William Steggles bridge of 1840 is still with us. This was blamed for the 1968 Bury floods as not allowing sufficient through-flow of the Lark. A Bailey Bridge was proposed to replace it but this did not happen because of opposition from residents. Now Grade II-listed, it still survives the test of time.

I have mentioned the Fox Inn but there were five other pubs in the street. The Ship was at numbers 15-17 (today’s premises of Buck Marshall) and The Ram, where Magna House, at number 24, is today opposite the site of the Abbey’s Vinefields.

Two rows of terrace houses known as Vinefields Terrace and Pelican Court off Eastgate Street were demolished to make way for a new estate, on the site of Vinefields Farm, the entrance to which was by the ancient Vinefields Lane. Opposite, Berrill House at 23a was allegedly built by James Alderton, The Ram’s landlord in 1900, with the profits of illicit gambling!

The former grammar school in Eastgate Street
The former grammar school in Eastgate Street

Behind here were meadows where Bury Town FC formed in 1874, relocated from their King’s Road ground - their new ground aptly called Ram Meadow.

Nearby at number 25 was the wonderful fish and chip shop of Gerald Steavens, his secret ingredient being beef dripping.

On the other side of the road was Charlie Allen’s cycle shop. A great character, he often rode his penny-farthing bicycle about the town for charity and his bicycle collection is now over at West Stow.

Cycle shop owner Charlie Allen was well-known for riding his penny farthing around town
Cycle shop owner Charlie Allen was well-known for riding his penny farthing around town

In July 1969, the adjacent Victorian St James’ mission room mysteriously caught fire. On the resulting site a new showroom with flats above rose like a phoenix out of the ashes. A far worse conflagration started on April 10, 1608, in Randalls the Malsters somewhere near Barn Lane. A fire soon took hold and swept down Eastgate Street consuming all in its path. Somehow, the wind carried it away from The Fox and up Looms Lane into the town centre, destroying properties and warehouses.

We know Randalls was west of the Bury Grammar School corner with Barn Lane as that facility, which was founded by Edward VI in1550, is still with us today albeit as The Ancient House, a private residence. This was owned at one time in the 19th century by the Ridley family who had a tannery behind it.

Only recently closed is the Greyhound pub, a sad loss indeed. It was much frequented by travellers from the second railway station of the town, Eastgate Station, which stood where today’s Bury Bowl and Pot Black are. It opened in1865 till closing in1909 and was demolished by 1924. The Bury A14 bypass, which opened in 1973, follows the former Sudbury to Bury rail line with the A14 flyover in place of the rail-bridge as shown in the photo below.

The old railway bridge over Eastgate Street was demolished and replaced by A14 fly-over
The old railway bridge over Eastgate Street was demolished and replaced by A14 fly-over

The other side of the flyover was where the Eastgate homestead caravan park was during the 20th century. Further up the street on the left hand side was a beer-house, the Suffolk Hunt, and further along stood the Unicorn, its bowling green behind used by the Abbey Bowling Club.

Unicorn Place, a development of 21 houses, was built in1970 on a meadow called The Pightle, once part of Eastgate Barn Farms, a medieval grange of the abbey. Close by were meadows owned by Thomas Taylor where the prestigious Royal Agricultural Show was held in 1867.

In subsequent years of the 20th century circuses pitched their big tops here, elephants arriving there from Northgate Station.

Circus elephants trooped down Eastgate Street from the station
Circus elephants trooped down Eastgate Street from the station

Opposite Unicorn Place were post World War Two prefabs, East Close, these now replaced by modern housing, while another larger development, The Daubentons, is close by. The residents have me to thank for this name as I put it forward to St Edmundsbury Council - Daubentons bats are found in the nearby former chalk mines.

One last thing, who can remember the lorries in the campaign laden with sugar beet trundling up this street to the sugar factory? Thankfully their queuing diesel emissions are no more thanks to the opening of Compiegne Way.

Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton
Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton

— Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.