Hazells Histories

The Flax Factory

In 1918 in and around what we know today as Cullum Road, meadows were purchased by the Board of Agriculture to grow flax so its end-product, linen, could be used for the covering of aeroplane wings. Though the factory was in full production by 1919 the war’s end meant a cessation of any further involvement in this linen making process with the factory closing down, 1923/4.

The workforce had consisted mainly of women whose job was to break down the flax plant, remove seeds for future planting and then use a scutching machine to separate the long flax fibres known as Tow and the waste woody matter called Shive. The flax was then soaked in large retting tanks to soften the cellulose for around twenty days. The factory had its own spring so the water supply was not a problem.  It was then dried and the bundles of flax were then combed through a ‘heckling’ machine to make the fibres straight ready for spinning.

When the factory opened there was local opposition from Westgate Street residents probably as their gardens overlooked the site and from Edward Lake, managing director of Greene King. This is surprising as his 6 sons uniquely all fought in the war. They all returned home (a remarkable achievement) which led him to donate a large recreational sports field of twenty-six acres now known as The Victory Ground not only in their memory but to twenty-one brewery workers who died in WWI. After the closure of the Flax factory the largest retting tank was put to good use by locals for swimming.

The Sugar Beet Factory

In 1925 the MP for Bury St Edmunds Walter Guinness, the minister of agriculture, was involved in discussions to build a new sugar beet factory in Bury; two experts in their ‘field’ Dr Robert Jorisch and Martin Neumann were brought over from Surany, Slovakia. A 45-acre site was chosen to the North-east of Bury and building commenced in 1925. 

Local land-owner Colonel Long was very supportive of the factory as he knew that sugar beet was a good crop for the area. A new access road, Holderness Road with housing for workers was opened, there was even a hostel built for Irish workers who came over to work in the ‘campaign.’ The five month harvesting season began in September when the beet was lifted.

Until the Compiegne Way relief road was built many a local can remember the queues of overflowing beet lorries and tractors along Eastgate Street going to the factory and onto the weighbridge then depositing their loads into large heaps. The beet underwent various operations: quality check, washing, sliced into strips called cosettes then steamed to get the sucrose out which was then dried leaving sugar crystals. Nothing was wasted in the processing of the beet, washed off topsoil returned to farmers at a cost, stones sold off, pulp sold for animal feed and the water returned to settle in huge lagoons.

Bury did not have a refining plant until the 1970’s when Silver Spoon’s massive refining and packaging plant was built, its silos dominating the Bury skyline. The main players in establishing this sugar beet factory were to have subsequently very different lives. Tragically Walter Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne was assassinated in Cairo in 1944. Robert Jorisch married celebrated local author Norah Lofts, And Martin Newman was to have a grandson, well known TV personality Stephen Fry.