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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor explains why the letters 'MW' appear on a Greene King brewery building

High up on the gable wall of the Greene King building which faces the rear of The Dog & Partridge in Bridewell Lane, there are the letters M W and a date of 1789.

The letters stand for Matthias Wright, whose family had owned a brewery on this site for much of the 18th century. In fact, three generations had been involved.

The family had made astute marriages to landed gentry in both Norfolk and Suffolk, so much so that they were to become foremost in the activities of Bury St Edmunds.

MW - Matthias Wright - high on the Greene King building in Bridewell Lane, Bury St Edmunds
MW - Matthias Wright - high on the Greene King building in Bridewell Lane, Bury St Edmunds

Matthias was involved in the brewing business for 30 years with his brother Walter who, though a member of the Bury Corporation for a time, never achieved what Matthias did and that was to become Alderman.

Not only was Matthias involved in local politics, he found time among his business duties to become a local JP whilst living in Barrow. During his fourth term in office as Alderman he died in1805.

His Westgate brewery had been put on the market in 1798, but for several years after there were no bids. After his death, however, an offer was put in by a newly formed business partnership, that of former Bury wool merchant William Buck and newcomer to Bury in 1799, Benjamin Greene, a brewer from Oundle, Northamptonshire.

The bid was accepted by Wright’s executors.

Buck had been in the wool trade with James Oakes – 'Mr Bury St Edmunds' of his day – but with the decline of the wool trade, Oakes moved into banking.

Buck died in 1819 and Benjamin Greene’s Westgate Brewery would, by his third son Edward Greene, merge with Fred King’s St Edmunds brewery in 1887 to become Greene King, possibly the largest independent brewery in the country. So when you see Greene King’s Royal Doulton plaques for 1799, remember it is not strictly true!

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