Fire damage offers glimpse into Sudbury’s rich history

Market Hill, Sudbury where the fire struck in September 2015. The renovations on the former White Hart Inn building have now been completed.

Market Hill, Sudbury where the fire struck in September 2015. The renovations on the former White Hart Inn building have now been completed.

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As buildings damaged in a serious fire reach their final stages of restoration, a historian says important secrets in Sudbury’s history have been revealed.

Barry Wall was on the scene the morning after the fierce blaze in September 2015, and was asked to advise firefighters on what the most important historic buildings to save were.

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury.

Picture Mark Westley

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury. Picture Mark Westley

He was in no doubt, singling out the Anchor, the former White Hart Inn and the HSBC building.

Thankfully, all three were saved but the 19th century Mattingly’s building in between was totally destroyed.

The facade to number 43-44 Market Hill, now annexed to HSBC, was retained and restored following the fire.

Mr Wall, chairman of Sudbury History Society, said this was important as it indicates the roof level when it formed part of the old White Hart Inn, with the upper floor a Victorian addition.

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury.

Picture Mark Westley

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury. Picture Mark Westley

The major surviving portion of the White Hart, annexed to its neighbour The Anchor in the late 18th century, has also been restored.

Mr Wall praised the work here, in particular the restoration of the mansard roof with the replacement of its dormer windows which were removed in the 1960s.

“It’s a very historic site and I want people to appreciate what they can see,” said Mr Wall.

“People need to realise how lucky we are that this has survived. These buildings are a lovely example of what people come to Sudbury to see; to see the old shops and experience the ambience.”

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury.

Picture Mark Westley

Old White Hart Inn Market Hill Sudbury. Picture Mark Westley

The first floor was the assembly room of the White Hart and is the reason the inn was acquired by the neighbouring tavern, which never had one.

The two also formed, and still form, the boundary between Market Hill and Friars Street, with The Anchor, now forming half of the Javelin clothing retailer, the first property on Friars Street.

The White Hart was the emblem of Richard II, who as a boy was crowned by Simon of Sudbury. The inn was a 14th century foundation and was Sudbury’s major hostelry for pilgrims on the way to St Edmund’s shrine in Bury.

It was also valuable accommodation for merchants attending Sudbury’s cloth fairs.

A less willing guest in February 1555 was Dr Rowland Taylor, Rector of Hadleigh.

He was the Marian Martyr who, following his trial in London, was sentenced to be burned at the stake in his home town and was escorted from London to Aldham Common. He spent a night at the inn on his journey.

By the end of the 18th century, it was facing stiff competition from The Rose and Crown, The Black Boy, The Swan and The Angel. It was closed and the site sold off in sections.

The large gap between the restored portions was sold to Mr Goldsmith, who demolished his portion, which included a gatehouse and steelyard at the rear, and built himself a brick mansion. This was then rebuilt in the 19th century.

Mr Wall says the devastation and demolition brought by the fire has allowed glimpses into the site’s history, including parts of the former steel yard where wagons were weighed using a system of chains and pulleys.

Although this part is not open to public view, nor the medieval brickwork that has been opened up following the fire, Mr Wall says the wonderful Flemish gables and architecture should be enjoyed by Sudbury’s residents before the Mattingly’s building is rebuilt.

This includes the oldest surviving building on the street, The Anchor.

The 14th century building was given a new facade in the early 19th century. The major part stretches behind and was a wool merchant’s house in the 15th century, before became a tavern in the 17th century.

Until the 1930s, the rear portion included a viewing gallery for watching entertainment in the yard, before being converted into a skittle alley and later demolished to provide garages.