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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor takes a stroll down Southgate Street which once had six pubs but now has none





It is amazing to think that Southgate Street, one of the main thoroughfares of Bury St Edmunds no longer has a retail shop. It is also quite incredible that a street that once possessed six public houses in the 20th century now has none!

Starting at St Mary’s Square end of the street, number one was a beer-house, The Duke of Prussia.

The building is no longer with us (a new property is on the site), but its name lives on with the diminutive Prussia Lane. Due to its German connection it was renamed the Lord Kitchener following an horrific Zeppelin bombing raid on the lane on March 31,1916.

The site of the Duke of Prussia which was damaged in a Zeppelin raid
The site of the Duke of Prussia which was damaged in a Zeppelin raid

Father and son, Henry and George Adams were killed in the attack.

Landlord of the Duke, Frank Dutton, only narrowly escaped being a victim too, as he had been in his garden with his young son in his arms just a few minutes earlier. Another consequence of the Zeppelin raid is that the Duke’s roof was badly damaged. It lasted barely three years under its new name with Greene King not renewing its licence in 1919.

Next pub in the street, at number seven, was the Three Crowns which Frank Dutton took on following the demise of The Lord Kitchener.

The Three Crowns, at number 7, survived until 1932
The Three Crowns, at number 7, survived until 1932

Unbelievably, 300 years ago the pub was mentioned in records but by 1907, the year the licensed premises of the town were re-appraised by the Licensing Committee, it was close to being shut-down. It survived, some-how, however now somewhat in a dilapidated condition and it only survived until 1932, suffering the same fate as The Lord Kitchener.

At number 13 was The Jolly Toper, the meaning of which is ‘a habitual drinker of alcohol who is frequently intoxicated’ - a drunkard!

The landlord during much of the 19th century was a Richard Watling who, according to Whites Directory, was also a wheelwright and timber merchant but living next door at number 12, a strange anomaly. Though it started as a beer-house in 1833 The Jolly Toper eventually became a fully licensed premises, serving its last customers in 1908. Toper Lane off Raingate Street leading to the rear of Nos 12/13 is a vestige of what was once here.

The Jolly Toper served its last customers in 1908
The Jolly Toper served its last customers in 1908
Toper Lane, named after The Jolly Toper
Toper Lane, named after The Jolly Toper

Number 35 is now the Abbey Hotel but was once The Olde White Hart aka White Hart, the motif or personal badge of Richard II.

Until it was taken down in 1801, St Botolph’s Chapel stood in the yard of The White Hart here in Southgate Street. Large amounts of limestone blocks, some carved, have been found here as Southgate Street, a suburb of the town was a processional way and much used by pilgrims on the way to St Edmund’s shrine, St Botolph being one of the patron saints of travellers.

The White Hart is now The Abbey Hotel
The White Hart is now The Abbey Hotel
The sign from The Olde White Hart
The sign from The Olde White Hart

The White Hart was owned at one time by Henry Braddock, who owned the Southgate Brewery until his death in 1868, it being acquired by Edward Greene to stop it falling into the hands of rival brewer, Frederick King. Braddock also owned maltings to the rear of the White Hart which Greene King were using well into the 1930s.

The Plough Inn was at number 83 Southgate Street
The Plough Inn was at number 83 Southgate Street

Across the road at number 83 was the Plough Inn, mentioned during the 18th century and a popular stop-off point for drovers on their way into town. It closed in 1917 when Greene King decided its portfolio of licensed premises was too large, having acquiredthe pubs owned by the Risbygate Brewery. As with all the pubs mentioned in this article it is now a private house.

The site of The Sword in Hand
The site of The Sword in Hand

Lastly, but not least, at number 64 is The Sword In Hand from the 18th century at number 64. Not only was it a fine drinking establishment but it also had a quality bowling green as well as hosting popular Friday night jazz events, where jamming sessions could lead anywhere. The ‘Sword’, as it was colloquially know, and the White Hart were the last 2 pubs to close in the street, a very sad loss.

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.