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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor follows the fortunes of a once prominent town family





William Steggles and his son, also called William, were prolific builders during the 19th century, operating yards in the Brentgovel Street area and also owning a great deal of property in the town – they must have worked on nearly all of the streets in the town centre at one time or another.

William senior, who died at the respectable age of 79 in 1834, has his moniker at one end of Cannon Place (today Pea Porridge Green), which was built in 1825.

The Steggles family businesses were certainly diverse – surveyors and masons; another son, Humphrey, was a coal merchant, publican and malster, while William junior’s son Edward was a chemist in Chequer Square and yet another son of junior, William Henry, went into the family building firm.

The family's mark at Cannon Place. Picture: Martyn Taylor
The family's mark at Cannon Place. Picture: Martyn Taylor

The Steggles builders favoured the Suffolk White brick, mainly from Woolpit, and used these on the Garland Street Baptist Church, which they built in 1834 for the princely sum of £1,000, the William Barnaby almshouses in College Street in 1826 and the re-fronting of The Guildhall. This was owned by the Guildhall Feoffees, as was Long Row, in Southgate Street, which the Steggles built in 1811.

Whether the family overstretched themselves financially is a matter of conjecture, suffice to say in 1839, the year they were given the contract to carry out a major civil engineering project, William junior and William Henry were entered into the London Gazette as being in bankruptcy.

The project in question was Eastgate Bridge, which was completed in 1840, and it would seem that their past trading record must have gone some way for the Eastern Counties Bank in Bury’s Buttermarket (now Lloyd's) to allow payment in one form or another to their creditors.

The Steggles' name is on Eastgate Bridge. Picture: Martyn Taylor
The Steggles' name is on Eastgate Bridge. Picture: Martyn Taylor

This bridge was erroneously blamed for the terrible floods of the town in 1968 as not allowing sufficient water to pass under but the flooding, apocryphally, was caused by the then Marquess of Bristol opening up the sluice gates at Ickworth (where the River Linnet rises) to protect his fish stocks in the lake there, thus the engorged Linnet exacerbated the amount of water going into the River Lark.

Bury St Edmunds' Guildhall. Picture: Ash Jones
Bury St Edmunds' Guildhall. Picture: Ash Jones

Thankfully, this fine bridge survived demolition, as proposed back then, and is now listed.

As a matter of interest you can see the family tomb of William and his wife Mary in the Great Churchyard near St Mary's, William junior having died aged 82 in 1859.

Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton
Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton

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