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Memories of the The Blackbirds pub in Bury St Edmunds 50 years after it closed





When Colin Green walks by No.14 Bridewell Lane in Bury St Edmunds, the memories of a bygone age come flooding back.

What is now a house on the edge of the town centre was once The Blackbirds pub – a place he called home when it was run by his parents.

Its foundations hold the sights and sounds of his childhood from Saturday sing-songs, the characters who propped up the bar, his love of sports and even a visit from the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds
The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds

Having won about £300 on the football pools in 1953, his parents Neville and Lily set their sights on The Blackbirds as landlady Mrs Rose was retiring.

The pub trade was also in the family’s blood as Neville and his parents had run The Angel pub in Heckfordbridge, Essex.

Just after Colin’s seventh birthday, they moved into the pub in May 1953.

Colin Green with the painting of The Blackbirds pub which his mum and dad used to run. Picture: Mecha Morton
Colin Green with the painting of The Blackbirds pub which his mum and dad used to run. Picture: Mecha Morton

“I loved it,” said Colin, now 76.

“It was a great place to grow up meeting so many different characters and in a time when people made their own entertainment.”

In an era that seemed more innocent, he can recall a piano in the bar and a ‘good old sing-song’ on Saturdays.

Customers included his godfather the late Bert Norman who was their next-door neighbour in Southgate Street and worked for Bury Council on pneumatic drills; butcher Jock Culley, ice cream man Bert Blowers and ‘the three Jacks’ – Jack Balery, Jack Adams and Jack Shepherd – as well as Charlie Roe and Shadow Eley.

A Blackbirds outing in 1968 – from left to right Colin Green, Michael Sargent, Les Gibbon, Keith Baker and kneeling Peter Utting
A Blackbirds outing in 1968 – from left to right Colin Green, Michael Sargent, Les Gibbon, Keith Baker and kneeling Peter Utting

It was also no stranger to the odd VIP as Colin remembers George Brown, Deputy Prime Minister to Harold Wilson, stopping by from Lansbury House, the Labour Party base opposite St Mary’s Church, for a pint or two.

Every week, the magnificent Suffolk Punch horses pulled up outside to deliver barrels and crates of beer.

Although there were many happy times, Colin said his parents found running a pub hard as his dad still worked by day as a painter and decorator.

Blackbirds pub outing in 1972, the year before closure showing Neville and Colin's sister Beryl
Blackbirds pub outing in 1972, the year before closure showing Neville and Colin's sister Beryl

“Mum ran the pub at lunch times, 11am to 2pm in those days,” he said.

“How my father kept working and running a pub for 20 years is hard for me to imagine now.”

In the 1960’s, the Blackbirds had two darts teams and a very good cribbage team, which won the Rose Bowl twice.

Blackbirds pub outing 1972 - landlady Lily Green
Blackbirds pub outing 1972 - landlady Lily Green

John Debbenham won the darts captain’s cup in the early 1960’s.

Colin began playing football, cricket, table tennis and darts in 1961.

Aged 16, he played in goal for the Robert Boby team in 1962 against Barber Greene in a friendly match to welcome them to Bury and his team won 6-2.

Mementoes from The Blackbirds pub in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
Mementoes from The Blackbirds pub in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton

With the late Mick Dobbyn, Colin started St Edmunds YC in 1965 and joined Division Four of the Bury League.

In just five seasons, they were playing for division one.

The strong sense of community at the Blackbirds was encapsulated by the yearly pub outing to Great Yarmouth.

“There were several stops there and back for liquid refreshments,” Colin joked.

The American clock which stood on the fireplace in the bar of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
The American clock which stood on the fireplace in the bar of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
Colin Green has three chairs from The Blackbirds. Picture: Mecha Morton
Colin Green has three chairs from The Blackbirds. Picture: Mecha Morton

But that community slowly dwindled and the once busy pub was hit by the clearance of almshouses in Church Walks and Bridewell Lane with residents moved to Raingate Street as well as the Westbury/Mildenhall Estates.

It was last orders for the pub when Greene King decided to close several watering holes which it felt were no longer viable.

“The Blackbirds was the last Greene King pub to obtain a full licence – it was a beer house only before finally being granted a full licence to sell spirits a few years before its closure,” said Colin.

The 18th century pub closed in May 1973 and Greene King sold it for £7,000 to an interior decorator.

Colin remembers seeing a two page spread in a decor magazine of what the decorator had managed to do on a small budget.

“My parents had mixed feelings (about the pub’s closure) as it had been their life for 20 years but it was time to take things easier,” he said.

His dad was already working for Greene King in the stores while still running The Blackbirds and he retired in 1985.

Neville Green's retirement in 1985 from Greene King
Neville Green's retirement in 1985 from Greene King

When the pub closed, Colin played for The Dove ‘A’ darts team which he captained for six seasons.

They appeared in the Bury Free Press after setting a new Guinness Book record of 116 wins over two and a half years.

Colin said the former pub was also a boarding house and can remember a photograph in the Bury Free Press of Wilfred Brambell standing on the steps outside.

“Whenever I pass there I have lots of very fond memories of absent friends and fun times spent in the bar,” he said.

Long after closure of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds – Neville and Lily Green
Long after closure of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds – Neville and Lily Green

But he also has a few mementoes from a long-gone chapter of the town’s history including the American clock which stood on the fireplace in the bar together with three chairs and trophies from darts competitions held at the pub.

For his 40th birthday, his friends commissioned a painting by the late Tom Felgate of The Blackbirds.

A painting of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds by Tom Felgate. Picture: Mecha Morton
A painting of The Blackbirds in Bury St Edmunds by Tom Felgate. Picture: Mecha Morton

It sits on his wall – a window to the heyday of the pub and a colourful tribute to a lost era.

  • Next week, Colin talks about his memories of two lost firms in Bury St Edmunds – Robert Boby and Barber Greene.