Sudbury, Suffolk

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Market Hill, Sudbury - - 900492.jpg
Market Hill, Sudbury
Grid reference: TL8741
Location: 52°2’30"N, 0°43’41"E
Population: 12,080  (est.)
Post town: Sudbury
Postcode: CO10
Dialling code: 01787
Local Government
Council: Babergh
South Suffolk

Sudbury is a small, ancient market town in Suffolk, which stands on the River Stour, the boundary with Essex, 15 miles from Colchester in the latter county.

It is a little town with a mixture of pretty cottages and small shops, and blander modernity around it, as is unavoidable, but may be counted amongst the Suffolk villages along the Stour Valley of which much has been made. Across the Stour in Essex is the village of Ballingdon.


Early history

The Stour at Sudbury

The first surviving mention of Sudbury is in AD 799, when Aelfhun, Bishop of Dunwich, died in the town.[1] The town was named Suþburg ("south-borough"), presumed to distinguish it from Norwich or St Edmundsbury, to the north.[2] The town is also mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, as a market town: the market was established in 1009.[3]

A community of Dominicans arrived in the mid-13th century and gradually extended the size of their priory, which was one of three Dominican priories in the county of Suffolk.[4] Sudbury was one of the first towns in which Edward III settled the Flemings,[2] allowing the weaving and silk industries to prosper for centuries during the Late Middle Ages. As the main town in the area, Sudbury prospered too, and many great houses and churches were built, giving the town a major historical legacy. The Woolsack in the House of Lords was originally stuffed with wool from the Sudbury area, a sign of both the importance of the wool industry and of the wealth of the donors.

One citizen of Sudbury, Archbishop Simon Sudbury showed that not even the Tower of London guarantees safety. On 14 June 1381 guards opened the Tower’s doors and allowed a party of rebellious peasants to enter. Sudbury, inventor of the poll tax which had triggered the revolt, was dragged to Tower Hill and beheaded. His body was afterwards buried in Canterbury Cathedral, but his skull is kept in the Church of St Gregory with St Peter Church,[5] one of the three mediæval churches in Sudbury. Simon's concerns for his native town are reflected in the founding of St Leonard's Hospital in 1372, a place of respite, towards Long Melford, for lepers.[6] For the College of St Gregory, which he founded in 1375 to support eight priests, he used his father's former house and an adjoining plot.[7]

From the 16th to 18th century the weaving industry was less consistently profitable and Sudbury experienced periods of varying prosperity.[8] By means of the borough court, the mayor and corporation directed the affairs of the town. They built a house of correction (1624) for 'rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars' and tried to finance the reconstruction of Ballingdon Bridge, which disappeared during a storm on 4 September 1594. Among theatrical companies they paid to visit Sudbury were Lord Strange's Men in 1592 and the King's Men (Shakespeare's own company) in 1610). Minor infringements, such as not attending church, were punished by fines, for worse offenders there was a stocks or a whipping.

During the Civil War a 12-strong band of watchmen was created to prevent the town's enemies, presumed to be Royalists, burning it down.[9]

The Town Hall
Statue of Thomas Gainsborough on Market Hill

Sudbury and the surrounding area, like much of East Anglia, was a place of strong Puritan sentiment during much of the 17th century. Sudbury was among the town's called "notorious wasps' nests of dissent."[10] During the decade of the 1630s, many families departed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the wave of emigration that occurred during the Great Migration.

By the 18th century the fees charged to become a freeman, with voting rights, were exorbitant and the borough of Sudbury was reformed by a Municipal Reform Act 1835. During the 18th century Sudbury became famous for its local artists. John Constable painted in the area, especially the River Stour. Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury in 1727, and was educated at Sudbury Grammar School.[11] His birthplace, now named Gainsborough House, is now a museum to his work and is open to the public. It houses many valuable pictures and some of his family possessions. A statue of Gainsborough was unveiled in the town centre outside St Peter’s Church on Market Hill in 1913.[1]

Victorian times to present day

In the 1841 general election Sudbury became the first place in the UK to elect a member of an ethnic minority to Parliament; David Dye Sombre, the son of an Indian queen, won the seat. However, he was not allowed to take his place in Parliament as he was subsequently declared insane.[12]

The railway arrived in Sudbury in 1847 when Sudbury railway station was built on the Stour Valley Railway. The town escaped the Beeching Axe of the 1960s and maintained its rail link with London, although it became the terminus of the Gainsborough Line, and many villages further up the river lost their railway stations. Road links with the major cities of the area are being improved. Once a busy and important river port the last industrial building on the riverside in Sudbury has been converted into the Quay Theatre. However the river is no longer subject to the local ordinance of 9 November 1893, when the Town Council decided that bathing in the river was to be banned after 8.00am, except at Dobs Hole, where screens had been erected.

During the Second World War an American squadron of B-24 Liberator bombers of the 834th Squadron (H), 486th Bomb Group (H), 8th Air Force was based at RAF Sudbury. This squadron performed many important bombing and photographic missions during the war, but is perhaps best known as the "Zodiac Squadron", as its bombers were decorated with colourful images of the twelve signs of the zodiac painted by a professional artist named Phil Brinkman,[13] who was taken into the squadron by its commander, Capt. Howell, specifically for the purpose of painting the bombers.

The Sudbury Society was formed in 1973 after a successful campaign to save the town's corn exchange from developers. However, in protecting its ancient centre the town has not shut itself off from modern development. As the town has expanded (to a population in 2005 of 12,080) modern retail and industrial developments have been added on sites close to the centre and on the eastern edge at Chilton. The 18th- and 19th-century houses near the town centre have been added to by modern developments.

Thomas Gainsborough's house


  • Cricket: The town's oldest sports club is Sudbury Cricket Club, founded in 1787.[14]
  • Football: AFC Sudbury was formed on 1 June 1999 by the amalgamation of two existing clubs, Sudbury Town (founded 1885) and Sudbury Wanderers (founded 1958)
  • Rugby: Sudbury RFC have their ground is in a neighbouring village, Great Cornard.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Sudbury, Suffolk)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Sudbury's History". Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kelly (1900). Kelly's Directory of Suffolk. Kelly's Directories, Ltd.. p. 327.,136,3+E%3A%5CZYIMAGE%5CDATA%5CHISTDIR%5CTIF%5CLU8FD8%7E1%5C00005RFY.TIF. Retrieved 2008-10-21 
  3. 'Suffolk', Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516 (2005). URL:
  4. 'Dominican friaries: Sudbury', A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2 (1975), pp. 123-124. URL: Date accessed: 29 July 2009. >
  5. "St Gregory, Sudbury". Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  6. 'Hospitals: St Leonard, Sudbury', A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2 (1975), pp. 140-141. URL: Date accessed: 29 July 2009.
  7. 'Colleges: Sudbury', A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2 (1975), pp. 150-152. URL: Date accessed: 29 July 2009.
  8. "Sudbury...very populous and very poor" Daniel Defoe (1722),, "At at present flourishing", Arthur Young (1784)
  9. Records of Archdeaconry of Sudbury
  10. Thompson, Roger, Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629-1640, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994, 98-99.
  11. "Biography". Gainsborough's House. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  12. Minority MP `ought to be commemorated` East Anglian Daily Times, 23 November 2007
  13. Phil Brinkman USAAF Nose Art Research Project
  14. "Cricket club in line for windfall". BBC Online. 2004-04-02. Retrieved 2008-10-28.