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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor explains how town got its first purpose-built flats

The Fennell Homes – 57-59, St Andrew’s Street North – also known as the Quaker Homes, were the first purpose-built flats in Bury St Edmunds.

Brother and sister, Samuel and Sarah Fennell, were Quakers and lived at 2 St Mary’s Square – and were notorious for their tightness. Therefore, it was not surprising that when they passed away they had accrued a considerable sum of money, the main beneficiary being Sarah Bott, another Quaker.

The Fennells would have turned in their graves if they knew what she intended to do with ‘their’ money!

The Fennell Homes in St Andrew’s Street North, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Martyn Taylor
The Fennell Homes in St Andrew’s Street North, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Martyn Taylor

Using the legacy, Sarah set up a charitable foundation, The Fennell Trust, with which new homes would be built for respectable women in reduced circumstances with some income of their own. They also had to read The Bible to the poor.

Early in November 1870 she arranged for plans to be drawn up by an architect with the somewhat colourful name of Brightwen Binyon. And in August 1872 land to the rear of The Quaker Meeting House in St John’s Street was given to her by the Society of Friends for the project. However, she met opposition from her brothers, James and William Bott, who tried to get her declared insane.

But with the help of a good friend, Samuel Maw, from Needham Market, she weathered the storm and by 1874 the red brickwork with white brick ornamentation, along with a flight of stairs at each gable end giving access to the first floor,was completed by Bury builder Mr Tooley.

Local historian Martyn Taylor
Local historian Martyn Taylor

Mary Ann Rudderham, the first resident, moved in soon after.

Sarah made a will safeguarding the future of the homes and left a bequest to her sister Mary, but to the others, nothing.

Sarah later moved to Hatfield Peverell from where she had originated. Today, The Fennell Homes are run by the Guildhall Feoffment Trust and are Grade II-listed.

Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Going Underground Bury St Edmunds, is widely available.