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Historian Martyn Taylor tells the story of Bury St Edmunds' ill-fated Savings Bank building





Savings Bank House, erroneously called Penny Bank House for many years, is a pseudo-Jacobean edifice built in three stages starting in 1846 on the site of a former post office run by Philip Deck.

This date can be verified in the brickwork on the north-facing side opposite the Norman Tower.

The restoration of the tower saw its saviour, architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, not only draw up a specification to restore it but also for plans to build a new bank for the trustees of the Bury Savings Bank.

Savings Bank House. Picture: Martyn Taylor
Savings Bank House. Picture: Martyn Taylor

An order was placed for £2,300 with Thomas Farrow, the builder also with the responsibility for the Norman Tower work. This new build was carried out in three phases, however the last phase, facing Crown Street, was not carried out by Farrow. The iconic diapering here (criss-cross in the brickwork), supposedly caused by burning the header of the brick, is not as pronounced as in the first two phases.

A fine oriel window, with intricate carving below the sill, faces into the churchyard, while a lesser quality oriel window is on Crown Street.

On opening, the Savings Bank had 3,000 depositors ranging from the ‘widow’s mite’ of one penny upwards. However, the opening of the new Post Office in 1896 on Cornhill sounded the death-knell of the Savings Bank, better interest rates on offer elsewhere.

Martyn Taylor
Martyn Taylor

Interestingly, excavation work in the bank cellars l at the end of the 20th century revealed medieval skeletons, proving that the Great Churchyard extended right up to the Abbey precinct wall, the remainder of which sits between the Norman Tower and Savings Bank House.

Over the years some interesting elements pertaining to the exterior of the property have disappointingly disappeared and it is now split into two – Norman Tower House, in Crown Street, and Norman Tower Cottage in the Great Churchyard.

A blue plaque put up by the Bury Society in 2012 to Lewis Cottingham, 1787-1847, convey the origins of this very interesting building.

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