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Bury St Edmunds historian hits out after Suffolk County Council announces plans to axe West Suffolk archive branch

A town historian has blasted plans to close the West Suffolk branch of the county archives facility.

Martyn Taylor, who is also chair of the Bury Society, said the proposal to axe the West Suffolk branch, currently based in Raingate Street, Bury St Edmunds, had come as an 'absolute bombshell’.

Suffolk County Council has announced proposals to close the branch, along with that in Lowestoft, for East Suffolk, as it bids to make £64.7m budget cuts.

Martyn Taylor, chair of the Bury Society
Martyn Taylor, chair of the Bury Society

It says centralising all the archives at the Hold, in Ipswich, could save about £140,000 a year.

Martyn Taylor said: “This is an absolute bombshell.

“I knew that they were going to look at different proposals but they have never said anything about the closure of the records office by the end of 2024.

“The Bury Society will be looking into initiating a public campaign to oppose this.

“We would be losing part of our heritage, simple as that. We are the oldest purposefully recorded Norman town in the whole country.

“There are many interested parties that have given historic records or loaned them to the Bury archives; including Bury Hospital, the Catholic church of St Edmund, The Spanton Jarman Collection and Suffolk Regiment archives: there are lots of people who loaned records.

“I knew something was going on, but this news of closure has come right out of the blue – and it’s just not on.”

In February 2023, Suffolk County Council committed £3.4m to move the West Suffolk Archives branch to the proposed Western Way development in Bury St Edmunds.

Remaining at its current location would have required over £5m to protect the historic records and meet modern archive standards.

West Suffolk Council has since decided to shelve the Western Way development.

John Saunders, local historian and chair of St Edmund’s Catholic Church History Group, said: “This is devastating news for local individuals and groups.

“In the past, people have entrusted historic documents on the understanding that they will be locally held and available and I am sure that many will now examine whether they should require these items to be returned.

“The decision has been made against a background of income generation from the disposal of buildings in the Shire Hall area and extensive outlay on the creation of the Hold at Ipswich, leaving the people of Bury St Edmunds as the poor and forgotten relations.”

Suffolk County Council is also planning to save £500,000 by stopping the core funding to art and museum sector organisations from April 2025 as part of £64.7m budget cuts.

To assist with the transition, £528,000 of Covid recovery money will be made available to those organisations for 2024/25 to cover the funding blackhole for one year.

Suffolk Archives include a wide range of historical council and parish records, plus various commercial records, local historic book collections, local historic newspapers and various personal items.