More Secrets of Bury St Edmunds

The Hidden Gardens of Bury

This fund raising initiative for St Nicholas Hospice started in 1987 when a hospice committee fund raiser, Tricia Mellor, decided to open her garden to the public.  It occurred to her if members of the public were willing to traipse through her meagre plot others could be persuaded to open their gardens up as well.  And they did!  A name for this venture “The Hidden Gardens of Bury” was adopted, over £15,000 being raised in the first five years!

After Tricia retired, Isobel Ashton and Pam Whittingdale took over the reins.  From day one, the gardens which now open for one Sunday in June were identified by the letters of the alphabet, A-Z hence twenty six!  There are now over 30 involved!  Planning starts months ahead.  The scheme tries to keep within the old boundaries where the town gates were situated, so it was always possible to see as many gardens as you could during the opening hours from 11am until 5pm.  Entrance to the wonderful secret gardens is by programme, on the day at the small marquee on Angel Hill or in advance When Pam retired, Isobel’s co-partner became Elizabeth Barber-Lomax and gradually it has evolved into a significant fund raising event with sponsorship and even businesses taking part. Jill Carter, Dianne Knights and Sheila Blackmore are now the organisers. One great thing about Hidden Gardens are the visitors, their comments such as “I never knew this was here” or “I wish my garden was like this” inspires them to go forth with enthusiastic ideas for their own patch.

The garden hosts with inward warmth, sell their ice creams, cordials and cakes etc to help swell the Hospice’s much needed funds; Hidden Gardens having now contributed over a quarter of a million pound since its inception, from thousands of people.  A truly communal effort for a local charity!

Penny Street (St John’s Street)

Most of Long Brackland was renamed St Johns Street after the building of St Johns Church in 1841, the church and its parish a much needed addition to the town. Brackland meaning broken ground was along with its counterpart, Short Brackland one of the least fashionable streets to live in.  Brackland is mentioned from at least the late 12th century when one of its most famous inhabitants, Jocelin of Brakelond, a monk of St Edmundsbury Abbey lived here.  He wrote a celebrated chronicle of life at the abbey including the abbacy of one of its most charismatic abbots, Samson. Four years after St Johns Church was consecrated in 1842, the railway came to Bury.  Then, roughly three quarters down the former Long Brackland, a new street was then created named Ipswich Street, supposedly called because of the connection with the railway line from Ipswich. On the corner of this street, a beerhouse, The Brittania, opened in 1869.  The last landlord of this no nonsense public house was Eric Bull whose family had been associated with it for nearly fifty years.  After this pub closed around 1980 the building became Brittania House, a hostel for the homeless.

Well, at the top of St Johns Street, on the corner with Brentgovel Street was another pub called The Kings Head.  An inn had been on this site from the early 18th century. One of its more colourful landlords was Eddie Hunt, Magic Circle magician; often he would do you a trick before serving you a pint! When this pub closed in 1976 it was replaced with a Mothercare store. From the Kings Head to the Brittania, St Johns Street acquired the nickname by some locals, Penny Street, as they were the two sides of a pre-decimal penny!

Shakers Lane

This narrow country lane once went from the top of Eastgate Street right through to Rougham Hill.  As it is now no longer possible for vehicles to travel through here it is a haven for flora and fauna.

The origin of Shakers is that it derives from the word shackage. Lands where right of “shackage” existed is connected to “shack”. This was when gleaning could be carried out after a crop had been harvested and probably dates back to medieval times when peasants could enter a field after harvest.

Undoubtedly the fields in Shakers Lane had a crop on them in the summer and sheep were penned there to eat the leavings over winter. The term “shackage” has also come to mean moveable pens for sheep, as opposed to sheepfolds. As East Anglia was noted for its wool trade large flocks of sheep were kept, their dung was beneficial for fertilising the soil. The common rights or permissions to do this could only be given by the owner or occupier of the land, these ancient rights had all but fallen into private hands by 1791.  Following the Land Enclosure Acts the land commissioners responsible for implementing these did not need to report back to parliament after 1801 so country folk lost out further!

On Thomas Warren’s map of 1791, Shakers Way as it was then known, is shown as lined by several fields and labelled as “several shackages of Sir Wm Davers flock”.  Today on that site is a sheltered home for the elderly appropriately called Davers Court. The Davers family were prominent landowners of Bury St Edmunds, with their family seat at Rushbrooke.  On several occasions they had provided one of the two MPs that Bury used to send to parliament (until 1885).

Gibraltar Barracks

The Gibraltar Barracks are named after the 12th Regiment of Foot’s (Suffolk Regiment) heroic defence of the rock between 1779 and 1783.  All that is left is the keep and curtain walls.  The 16-20 acre site, once part of St Peters Barn Farm was purchased in 1875 for just over £4,000 from the Governors of the Bury Grammar School by the War Department.

One of only nine surviving examples in the country, it opened in 1878 and was designed by Major Seddon R.E. Costing around £66,000 it had up to date facilities including married men’s quarters, canteen, gymnasium, reading room and officers and other rank’s messes.  The actual billets for the men numbered 250.

Marking the perimeter of the site are stones with W D on them for the purchasers.  Once the large parade ground used to echo to marching boots of soldiers especially on “Daffodil” Sunday and Minden Day (August 1st) it now it resonates to the sound of students and the motor vehicle.  The Suffolk Regiment merged with The Norfolk Regt. in 1959 to become The Royal Anglian Regiment, the barracks closing in 1960.  As Bury was no longer a garrison town, the barracks were chosen to be the new location of the West Suffolk College.

The College had originated at the Silver Jubilee School around the corner in Grove Road in 1951; seven years later a decision was made to move to new premises, opening in May 1961.  Now part of the University Campus of Suffolk, the college has had many extensions over the years but 2013 saw the tired 1960s building encased in a new façade totally transforming it, winning awards.

The keep now houses the regimental museum.