Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor mourns the town’s lost pubs
In the past, the town had a large number of pubs associated with several breweries, now only Greene King the largest independent brewery in the country remains. It has seen the town’s number of public houses decimated.
According to Whites Directory of 1874 there were 65 public houses in the town, however some of these were Beer Houses. Following the passing of the Beer House Act of 1830, for the princely sum of 2 guineas you could brew or just sell beer from your front room or parlour but not spirits. This was to combat the reliance of the lower classes on ‘Mothers Ruin’ – gin. Around 1960 there were 62 hostelries in Bury, now it’s down to 25 if taken into account bars.
At one time a metaphorical pub crawl, for instance, could take in six pubs in Southgate Street all now gone. Starting near St Mary’s Square was, King of Prussia, The Three Crowns, then the Toper Arms, Ye Olde White Hart, The Plough and, finally, The Sword In Hand, the last to close. So why was there a number of pubs in the one street? Perhaps it was just the convenience of being able to use ‘Shanks’s pony’ – any pub within walking distance would become your local, but as time progressed the motor car would be able to take you further afield.
The advent of the Road Safety Act of 1967, which introduced legal limits for alcohol consumption while driving, established penalties for those quite rightly caught driving under the influence of alcohol. This may have been a major contributor to why some pubs went by the wayside.
Another consideration was the economics of keeping a pub open. In 1969, 10 shillings (50p) would buy you three pints of bitter and still leave change to buy you a portion of fish and chips from Flittons! Controversially, did the change over two years later to decimalisation, when the buying power of the pound psychologically shrank from 240 pennies to 100 pence, contribute to the downfall of many a pub. However, you were still going to get a working man’s thinking of his right to a pint at the end of his day’s toil but soon increased costs curtailed that.
Another sad decline in pubs is the loss of community involvement. In so many cases cribbage, darts and football leagues have suffered, participants either losing interest through plain apathy or a willing landlord to provide space and time. More likely is that there are far more choices in life these days. So is this what has happened in the town?
So let us look at some of those that have come and gone. Through no fault of their own because of Parkway, The Chequers in Risbygate Street and The Cricketers in King’s Road were demolished. The Priors Inn, also gone; the site it sat on providing far more valuable properties than a single pub. The Glad Abbot, on Abbotsbury Road, has closed, still empty with no reason why. The Merry Go Round on the Howard Estate should still be with us, as should The Minden Rose, in Newmarket Road, but lack of investment for them meant their closure. Sadly, the former when closed became the victim of an arson attack.
A downturn in financial markets has seen the Rising Sun in Risbygate Street, Elephant & Castle in Hospital Road, Castle Hotel on Cornhill and the Queen’s Head in Churchgate Street morph into other commercial enterprises, while the Three Goats in Guildhall Street, Blackbirds in Bridewell Lane, Falcon in Risbygate Street, Unicorn in Eastgate Street and the Golden Fleece in Churchgate Street have all been given over to residential, as so many others have. The latter was one of the last pubs in Bury to brew its own beer, this was way before micro-breweries came about. Fortuitously, the St Edmunds Head in Cannon Street still survives, having taken up brewing in recent years.
Two traditional pubs still with us are the Rose and Crown in Westgate Street and The Dove in Hospital Road.
The list of lost pubs is almost endless, but just a few more deserve a mention: The Anchor opposite Looms Lane was partially destroyed in a World War One Zeppelin attack, and the Three Horseshoes, in Out Northgate, was pulled down for the link road to the A14. The White Lion, in Brentgovel Street, suffered the same fate for the ill-fated Cornhill Walk.
At the time of writing The Greyhound, in Eastgate Street, has an application to be turned into two properties, its long-standing landlord Peter Baldwin with his many wonderful photos of Bury adorning its walls, ‘would turn in his grave’ on knowing this.
These are just a few of the many drinking establishments that have contributed to the rich heritage and history of our town. I’m sure many readers have fond memories of those no longer with us, we ought to be grateful with those still with us, the old adage still applies, use ’em or lose ’em!
-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.