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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor turns back the clock and looks at the history of Thurlow Champness & Son jewellers





The building from which it traded is itself steeped in history as it is Grade II listed with a timber-framed core dating from the 16th century and its frontage from the 19th century.

Part of the shop extends up High Baxter Street where it is ‘jettied’.

Thurlow Champness closed in August 2022
Thurlow Champness closed in August 2022

During Victorian times, the shop entrance was at the front, as seen in the Spanton Jarman photograph - today, it is literally on the corner.

One of the shop’s most striking features is the large hanging clock, visible down the whole length of the street. The clock was made by Potts & Son of Leeds in 1900 and what’s strange about it is that its workings are housed within the attic of the shop.

A watchmaker is reputed to have had a business here from 1745, whilst a George Lumley left it to Mary, his wife, and John Gudgeon in 1784. John was a member of the clockmakers’ company and, like George Lumley, made quality timepieces, some of which can be found in the magnificent Gershom Parkington collection of timepieces now in Moyse’s Hall Museum.

This Spanton Jarman collection picture shows the entrance was originally at the front of the shop
This Spanton Jarman collection picture shows the entrance was originally at the front of the shop

Another famous watchmaker, John Vale, purchased the shop in 1839 and a wall clock and a ladies gold wristwatch made by him are also in the Gershom Parkington collection. Vale went into partnership with a Mr Richardson in 1865 and it carried on thus until Mr Thurlow Champness acquired it in 1901.

An early 20th century Borough Guide to the town has a charming advert in it for Thurlow Champness featuring a ceramic wheelbarrow containing wedding rings. It is being pushed by Cupid with the caption, “Please let me have a wedding ring from Cupid’s Barrow. It brought my grandmother luck, my mother too and I want to be as happy as they were.”

This advert came with the caption: "Please let me have a wedding ring from Cupid’s Barrow. It brought my grandmother luck, my mother too and I want to be as happy as they were."
This advert came with the caption: "Please let me have a wedding ring from Cupid’s Barrow. It brought my grandmother luck, my mother too and I want to be as happy as they were."
An early ad for the jewellers
An early ad for the jewellers

Gradually the business developed a name for quality jewellery, timepieces, gold, silver and good service.

In 1950 Peter Thurlow Champness, the son, took over the business with Frank Bacon. Peter, who was born in 1914, had a very distinguished military career from being commissioned in 1939, further promotion to major in 1941 and, after the war, as a Lieutenant Colonel in command of the Suffolk Yeomanry. He was awarded an OBE for services to the Territorial Army, which had evolved from the Yeomanry. Peter died in 1989.

In February 2011 the shop suffered an armed raid by five robbers who were intending to escape with their ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, they had not reckoned with the courage of septuagenarian Michael Graver who was passing by the shop and saw one of the would-be thieves wielding a sledgehammer inside and tackled him. The startled robber fled with only a small portion of his expected haul. Subsequently they were all arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2012.

Martyn Taylor
Martyn Taylor

-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.