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NOSTALGIA: The Abbeygate Street fire of 1882 - from the Spanton Jarman collection

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Abbeygate Street, fire of 1882. From the Spanton Jarman collection
Abbeygate Street, fire of 1882. From the Spanton Jarman collection

The newspaper accounts of the time make it clear that the site of the fire in Bury St Edmunds was a great attraction to the people who came from quite a distance to see the devastation.

On July 15, 1882, the Bury Free Press reported that the town council had proposed to set back the frontage on rebuilding. The front wall of Ridley’s premises (without the shop windows) was taken as the line and it was anticipated that the two undamaged buildings at the corner of Angel Lane could also be altered to correspond with this line. The Bury and Norwich Post reported on June 20 that several very successful photographs of the ruins were taken by Mr W S Spanton of Abbeygate Street and, in reporting arsonist Simon Last’s trial in Norwich, the Bury Free Press on November 4 noted that Mr Spanton spoke to the correctness of photographs of the premises taken by him.

-- This picture is part of a remarkable collection of 4,000 photographs in the care of Bury St Edmunds Past and Present Society which offers a glimpse into the town’s history.

Taken by two families of professional photographers, the Spantons and the Jarmans, the images span a period from the 1860s through to the outbreak of World War Two. The fragile glass plate negatives were donated to the society in 1997 and in recent years many of these have been ‘digitised’ thanks to a Lottery grant and donations - a further £2,000 is needed to complete the task. They can be viewed at www.burypastandpresent.org.uk where you can also find details about membership and the group’s programme of events and lectures. The Spanton-Jarman collection is held at the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Suffolk Record Office. For more details about the Record Office, including its programme of talks and courses, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/sro.