All Fired Up!!

A Right Royal Fire Mark

High up on a wall dividing numbers 19 and 20, Abbeygate Street is this fire mark, a vestige of when this building owner insured this property against fire in the 19thC. Before the advent of municipal fire brigades by insuring your property with an insurance company you could use their fire brigade within the town.  In Bury’s case it was stationed in Whiting Street.

The Royal Insurance Company was founded in 1845 in Liverpool, hence the Liver Bird. Similar to a Cormorant it is holding a sprig of broom in its beak; broom being the symbol of the Plantagenet family that had ruled England.  The Latin name for broom is Planta Genista and that’s where the family name originated.

A member of that dynasty (King John) had granted Liverpool its charter in 1207.

20, Abbeygate Street, W H Collis and Son was probably the oldest business in the town. A Mr Collis opened a jewellers here in 1805, although the property itself dates from around 1720.  It has a flying freehold with number 19.  Maybe the premium paid to the Royal was by a member of the Collis family, protecting their investments. 

The shop front was designed by a London shopfitter in 1897. At the same time the display cases still in evidence up to 2012 were installed!

The trading name of Collis continued with its purchase in 1921 by William Miles, passing to his daughter and then onto her son Peter Aves.  He was one of the last owners of a business in Bury to occupy his shop premises. Sadly after a botched burglary he was murdered here in 2012.

The fire mark was restored in 1984 by Chelmsford Technical College at the behest of Brian Jenkins, the then manager of the Anglia Building Society at number 19, now Corals Bookmakers.

Churchgate Street Fire

On Tuesday 3rd November 1903 the grocery premises of George Rowland Harvey caught alight at number 45, at 1.40am in the morning.  PC Offord who was patrolling down Westgate Street at the time noticed a bright light over in Churchgate Street.  By the time he arrived at the scene there were flames shooting through the roof of the ancient property.  He alerted residents nearby including Mr Edward Bloomfield whose boot manufacturing store was adjacent. Edward rushed upstairs and grabbed his sleeping nine year old son Stanley.

Fortunately for the fire brigade who according to reports were very efficient. There was plenty of water to be had from hydrants nearby.  They were able to prevent the fire spreading into the boot shop and down the street to a taxidermists run by a Mr Travis but Harvey’s Stores were gutted.

Both the boot shop and the grocers were insured for loss of stock and damage to buildings but Mr Travis was not; the cause of the fire, unknown.

The conflagration was likened at the time to the great fire of Bury in 1608…..more than a slight exaggeration! The rebuild of the premises was carried out in a mock Jacobean style with black painted beams, a look that over a hundred years later still confuses people thinking it is genuine.  A similar style was at one time used on both The Fox and Dog & Partridge.

In 1925 Marlow & Co, timber and builders merchants purchased former alms house in College Street as stores, the site linking round to no 44/45 Churchgate Street, which later were to serve as their showroom for bathrooms and sanitary ware.  Marlows moved to a new site in Hollow Road in 1973/4.

And finally…..The Three Lasts

The name of Last appears in Bury St Edmunds court records covering a span of nearly 20 years, although they were probably not related.

In 1882 a Simon Last was involved with arson at his failing tobacconist shop in Abbeygate Street near the corner of Hatter Street.  He was seen leaving the building soon after he had set the fire.  Perhaps the most damning evidence against him however was that his compensation claim from his insurance company arrived there whilst the fires embers were still glowing!  He was given five years hard labour for his trouble.

Seven years later a lesser felonious Last but nevertheless exasperating was up before the magistrates charged with dereliction of care to his wife and children.

The Lasts lived in Finsbury Square, just off Bridewell Lane.  All that is now left is its name on the side of a house.  When given one month’s hard labour by the “Beak”, Freddie turned and said “If it was twenty years it would be no worse than twenty years of marriage”.

Perhaps the most inept member of the Last trio was Simon H Last, not to be confused with the arsonist.  A watchmaker by trade he was found guilty at Thingoe Petty sessions in 1901 and given a 40 shilling fine (£2) or a month in jail. This Simon had stolen four bushels of bran and chaff from a neighbour out at Bradfield St George.  A local constable was called and had no problem in solving the case; he just followed Simon’s footprints in the snow back to his house!

At first he denied it but when the goods were found hidden under sacks, he admitted his guilt!

For a copy of Martyn Taylor’s book Lost Bury St Edmunds please ask at Waterstone’s or The Cathedral Bookshop, Bury St Edmunds

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