Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor opens the door on two historic town buildings
It is called Norman House because behind its front door there is a 12th century doorway, Romanesque in design and origin with a strong rounded stone arch.
This building may have been a ‘wash and brush up chapel’ for pilgrims on their journey’s last leg down through the Churchgate (Norman Tower) to see Edmund’s shrine.
Across the road is The Guildhall, possibly the country’s oldest civic building in continuous use. The earliest positive record of it is from 1279, though it certainly predates this. At the rear of the Guildhall the proof of its age is visible because the wall facing Whiting Street is 3ft thick and the flint courses have enabled building conservators to date it with some of certainty.
According to 19th century historian Samuel Tymms, the Guildhall façade was re-fronted in 1806/7 using Woolpit White bricks by William Steggles, sash windows replacing ancient lancets. However, some of this work may have been carried out during the 18th century as recent evidence discovered by eminent local historian Dr Pat Murrell proves it was Georgianised mid-18th century.
The entrance to the Guildhall is via a 15th century porch with a chamfered early gothic stone arched entrance doorway inside. This porch has on the outside the borough coat of arms and a wolf sculpture as well as rows of alternate bands of red brick and knapped flints. Behind this façade above is a muniment room containing a medieval wall safe made of oak and bound with iron straps once thought to house documents belonging to Jankyn Smyth, a major benefactor of Bury. His endowed service from 1481 is still celebrated. Alderman of the town seven times he was also a prominent member of The Candlemas Guild, the fore-runner of the Guildhall Feoffees; the Guildhall Feoffment Trust in fact still owns the Guildhall.
The Guildhall has two wings each 55ft long, the council chamber on the right was being used as such until the end of 1966. The former court room on the left still shows the ends of arch braces in its ceiling; part of a more elaborate timbered roof including a king post that is hidden from view.
For the keen-eyed reader though, look to the top of the porch arch, is this the face of a ‘Grey Alien?’
-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.