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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor peruses the historical shelves of this old retail premises in Abbeygate Street





Not to be confused with Bullens in Bury St Edmunds’ Butter Market, who were cabinet makers, restorers, auctioneers and estate agents, J Bulling Fashions were in business for over 80 years at their premises of 25/26 Abbeygate Street.

These premises had been a music shop in the early 1880s, when it was known as Taylors Pianoforte Saloon. A Mr Alfred Last had owned it in the 1870s carrying out the same trade.

John Bulling purchased the premises from the estate of a Thomas Day, who had died in 1886. His widow, Harriet, had inherited via his will and in turn their daughter Lillias Harriet inherited from her mother. However, the sale contract signed on 25th August 1888 was between a Robert George Bailey, of St John’s Wood, Middlesex. Why, I’m not sure.

25/26 Abbeygate Street was Taylor's Pianoforte Saloon in the 1880s. Picture courtesy Bury St Edmunds Past & Present Society Spanton Jarman Collection
25/26 Abbeygate Street was Taylor's Pianoforte Saloon in the 1880s. Picture courtesy Bury St Edmunds Past & Present Society Spanton Jarman Collection

The price paid by John Bulling was £1,400 for the shop, accommodation and number 6 Lower Baxter Street.

J Bulling Drapers and Milliners were in business for many years and are listed in various directories and also mentioned in Dudley White’s nostalgic reminisces, An Abbeygate Street Story, Memories of Abbeygate Street in the 1920s and ’30s.

Dudley White says: “Bulling’s was a medium class ladies drapers and outfitters. It was a large shop with a good stock of everything from underwear to hats. The Bulling’s family lived over the shop and the business continued until well after the Second World War.”

John Bulling bought the property in 1888 for his drapery business
John Bulling bought the property in 1888 for his drapery business

In fact, John Bulling is listed in Kelly’s 1925/6 as living at 9 Crown Street, Bury. However it would seem as he had passed away by 1937 as only his widow is listed living here. The telephone listing of 1938 for the shop was Bury 110.

It would seem that John’s son Alfred, who was to carry on the business after his father’s death, lived at no 6 Lower Baxter Street.

The final piece in the jigsaw was published in the Bury Free Press of 22nd December 1961. It says: “Messrs H C Wolton & Son announce that instructed by Mr Alfred Bulling, they have sold the important corner block, 25 and 26 Abbeygate Street and 6 Low Baxter Street to Messrs Ridleys Paints Ltd. The sale has taken place as a result of the retirement of Mr & Mrs Bulling from the drapers business which has been carried on at the property for 80 years having been founded by the late Mr John Bulling, father of Mr Alfred Bulling. Beside the double shop, the property comprises two flats and extensive storage accommodation. The asking price was £23,000 and it is understood that Messrs Ridleys Paints Ltd have purchased the property in order to accommodate their growing and wallpaper and paint business.”

Ridley's Paints expanded into the shop in 1961
Ridley's Paints expanded into the shop in 1961

At the time Ridleys Paints were working from premises across the street.

After Ridleys Paints closed and relocated to Victoria Street various businesses operated from here including the Rack, Stack and Store in 1981.

In 1985, with access from Lower Baxter Street, The Owl and the Pussycat was a restaurant and bar above the shop ,as was a bar called Fleetwoods. There was an apocryphal story of a ghost being seen here, whether there was any proof is a matter of conjecture.

There's a medieval well in the basement
There's a medieval well in the basement

A link to the past of this much-altered Grade II-listed property interior is a medieval well in the cellar close to Lower Baxter Street.

Oddbins off-licence was also trading from here for a while.

Phase 8 will soon be moving from Abbeygate Street to the arc Shopping Centre
Phase 8 will soon be moving from Abbeygate Street to the arc Shopping Centre

The current business is that of Phase 8 ladies fashions, founded by Patsy Seddon in 1979 and now part of a chain, so it would seem as if the wheel has gone full circle, though earlier this month it was announced Phase 8 would relocate to the arc shopping centre.

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.