Bury’s Only Castle

Bury St Edmunds did not need a castle to subdue its inhabitants when the Normans invaded in 1066; it was already under their control through its French abbot, Abbot Baldwin. However, in St Andrews Street South there is a property that is called St Andrews Castle.  According to Thomas Warren’s maps of 1776 and 1791 the “castle” was built during this period.

An attorney, Ezekiel Sparke (1762-1816) was the owner of this so called “strawberry gothick” creation; it has a stone vaulted ceiling in the reception hall.  County archivist M P Statham in 1961 refers to it as Sparke’s Castle.

Probably the first major build outside the town’s medieval western defences, the Ditchway, it was built on land that once belonged to the Ray family who were prosperous yarn makers in the town.  Orbell Ray died in 1768 and left his business to nephew James Oakes who had entered the family firm aged 16!  As the wool industry declined, Oakes got out and went into banking, with Ezekiel Sparke becoming his attorney.

The castellated walls of St Andrews later appealed to one George Boby who lived there from 1865 to his death in 1890.  George Boby ran a coal yard on Station Hill; called Boby Bros. (Robert in name only).  Robert had the very successful engineering works at St Andrews Ironworks, situated on Oakes former combing sheds.  Bobys grew into one of the towns largest employers.

In 1929 the Sisters of St Louis opened a Convent school at the castle; it was granted Grammar School status in 1958 becoming a state run Catholic school in 1971.  The school left the castle in 1989 but still stayed on site.

The Active Business Centre opened a year later and it is still here.

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