The Brackland area around 1926 (click on it to enlarge)
The Long Brackland area
A resident's memories by David Burroughs


I remember, I remember, the house where I was born,
The little window where the sun came peeping in at morn,
He never came a wink too soon, nor brought a day too long.

Historical background

The word brack means broken or rough scrubland; this was how this part of Bury St Edmunds was in Saxon and medieval times. It was the land between the rivers Tay and Lark; the Tay is no longer a river but a ditch which can be seen running between today's Hyundi Garage owned by Turners (2015) and the gasworks in Tayfen Road. This was an area locals called the Borders probably when it formed the border of the town.

One side was the Tay-Fen the low land that goes towards Beetons Way and where the Greyhound track used to be, along with Percy Fulchers steelyard and Spring Lane Caravan Park all now built on by Bloor Homes. Osier beds were also here in medieval times, the flexible young willow shoots used in basket making. At one time an Inner Relief Road was put forward to run from Northgate Street to Beetons Way but this was never proceded with despite several properties being blighted.

The other side of the Tay is Station Hill thought to be man-made from the spoil from the railway which came to BSE in 1846; the other side of this is an area known to locals as The Chalks. Nearby to this is Thingoe Hill or Thing-How, hill of assembly or meeting place. Saxon Bury used to have their Hen-How or Shire House here.

Two places of execution in Bury were at one time where the gasometer is today (2015) and on nearby Thingoe Hill; its previous name was Betty Burroughs Hill. The Easter hymn ‘There is a green hill far away without a city wall’ could apply here as it was outside the town wall. Indeed the last woman to be hanged here was a Betty Burroughs who was accused by upholsterer Henry Steward of the murder of Mary Booty. This happened in 1766 at Steward’s house on Cornhill near the junction with Brentgovel Street. The not so innocent Steward got away with it, Betty said as the noose was put around her neck to the clergyman, “would you have me die with a lie upon my mouth; I die innocent as an unbornchild“. It is thought she was a relative of ours, who knows.

So much for Thingoe Hill; once a railway track was dug through it then a 2nd World War tank trap followed by the Bury by-pass.

There is a 15thC map of BSE showing a wall at that end of the town enclosing what was known as Little Brakelonde and Long Brakelonde (spelling & veracity? see Mary Lobels book on BSE) Part of this wall and the Northgate were excavated in 1968 by Dr Stanley West prior to the Northgate roundabout and access road to the new A14 by-pass. The Northgate was demolished along with the other town gates in 1764-6. Evidence of the town wall was discovered, part of the towns defences consisting of a rampart and ditch supposedly constructed by the abbey sacrist Harvey under the instruction of Abbot Anselm who was also responsible for the Norman Tower. For many years it was thought that the tall mixed rubble wall that backs onto a car lot in Tayfen Road from the rear of Peckham Street was indeed part of the town wall, we now know this not to be true.

Up to the beginning of the 19thC this area of the town was underdeveloped but one former famous resident was Joscelyn De Brakelond who wrote a famous chronicle on Bury Abbey including that of Abbot Samson one of the abbey's most charismatic abbots. Samson was responsible for St Saviours Hospital at what was known as Out Northgate.

The tale of how part of St Johns Street became Penny Street has now been told. Part of Long Brackland became St Johns Street after the consecration of that church in 1842. Three-quarters of the way down on the corner of Ipswich Street was the Brittania Pub; at the top was The Kings Head, both sides of a pre-decimal penny! A police station and Salvation Army Citadel were built in St Johns Street, to attend to the needs of industrial Bury! Gasworks, mills and maltings, coal and railway yards contributed to the affluence of the town but brought with it social issues.

The old Seven Stars (C19 rebuild - closed as an inn 1917)

I spent the first 30 years of my life (1931-1961) in the part of Long Brackland between Ipswich Street and Northgate Street. Most of the houses there were workmens cottages built in the early 19thC, around places like The Seven Stars Inn.

At the bottom, where the New Inn was built, was a large open square where big carts pulled by horses or bullocks could unload into smaller carts; the larger not being able to manage the somewhat narrow streets of the town. They in turn would make deliveries returning with more goods to be re-loaded for the onward journey home; the large carts being able to turn around in the open space.

Some carts took their wares to be loaded onto barges on the nearby River Lark many of the local men worked on them. One of them kept the King William 4th public house, AKA ‘King Billy’. He was known as ‘Bargee’ probably stemming from when he worked on the river.

Long Brackland - VE Day (Note building materials)
The houses reputedly were built with flints taken from the abbey after it was dissolved; the abbey site basically becoming a builder’s yard for hundreds of years to come, for the construction of these two up, two down poor quality terraces. There was a single outside tap and a privy at the bottom of the back yard shared by two houses lit by either an oil lamp or candles should you be unfortunate to have to make a visit in the night!

Everybody knew everyone else; families like the Burroughs, Frouds, Chinnerys, Freemans, Shorters, Bulls and Jennings. The latter lived further up the street which was a bit better. Of course everybody knew each other’s business as it had been for generations. There were lots of characters good and bad. One evil "so and so" used to go out drinking, got drunk and then abuse his poor blind wife often turfing her out into the street with little more than a night dress on. People would take her in and she would go back home the next morning after he gone to work or sobered up. He was an evil man; sorry but there was no other way to describe him. Neighbours looked after each other, no loneliness or age gaps because everyone was in the same boat!

During the war, when the telegram boy came down the street, the women would watch him in case he stopped at a house to deliver one of those fateful messages that their son or husband was missing or had been killed in action. They would then rally round and give what help they could.

The Brackland was recognised as a law unto itself, the roughest street in the town. Police had to patrol in twos on a Saturday night and the ‘Billy’ had more than its fair amount of bother. You know when you are in a rough part of any town if the Salvation Army is close by. Not only was it close by but their ‘soldiers’ lived among us, I admired them for that.

People would avoid walking down by our street, preferring to go via Tayfen Road, Ipswich Street or Cannon Street. Mind you as kids we never feared anyone, roaming about as we wanted and if anybody interfered with us they had the whole street to deal with, both men and women! They looked after their own, but I’m sure they knew what we were up to!

There were three children in our family and one of my earliest memories was one night going to bed with a candle. I was playing about with it and it caught alight to my pyjama jacket, I was four years old, my sister Phyll was five and Bertha six. Phyll took me downstairs to Mum but by the time we got down my jacket fanned by the draughts in the house was ablaze. I spent months in hospital and months as an out-patient. A year later I was chasing Phyll and tripped over a door tread breaking my knee. These were the days before the NHS so I don’t know who paid for it all!

Another early recollection was one hot summer, they were always hot in those days,and there was a lot of Scarlet Fever going around. As it was a close community it spread like wildfire, so if you got it you taken into the isolation hospital, which at that time was up the top of Barton Hill. However the ambulance was like a big black horse drawn box with the driver sitting on top. To me it looked a terrible thing, in my imagination like a coffin with the devil taking you down to Hades. I dreaded having to go in that.

Thinking about diseases, I remember playing with someone for about a year or two then suddenly you would miss them. When you asked what had happened to them you were told you would not see them again. They had gone into White Lodge, which was a T B hospital. I lost two of my play mates like that. So you can imagine when many years later I was told that another friend of mine had got T B and had gone into White Lodge and that I would never see her again. Anyway she ended up marrying my best friend and didn’t seem to suffer from it at all!

When they pulled most of The Brackland down I was told that Dr Cockram said it was the best thing that could have happened to it as was a breeding ground for T B.

The houses although two up, two down had large families in. I once went to a cousin’s funeral and was told she was one of 13, eight girls and five boys. She was the only girl to grow up and I can’t help but wonder why only the girls died. Another aunt had 11 children, her husband had been shell shocked in WWI, and was often out of work. Once, when one of the children was born he was out of work and there was no food or anything in the house. There was a collection in the pubs for them.

Of course the 11 weren’t in the house at the same time, some had grown up. In fact the oldest daughter was having her first baby at the same time as her mother was having her last! Can you believe it, uncle and nephew being born on the same day and the nephew an hour or so older than the uncle!

It is surprising how many children you could get in a bed by topping and tailing. How you smelt wasn’t that much of a big deal as we all smelt the same. Sharing a toilet with next door could be a problem if several of you wanted it at once. The ‘old go'sunder’ (chamber pot) saved a lot of queing up!

The house we lived in was one of three and just a little more modern. It had higher ceilings and sash windows and its own tap and toilet. Some of our girl cousins who lived down the street would come up to use our toilet because they couldn’t wait.

We had a wooden floor unlike the rest of the houses that had brick floors. These had to be scrubbed once a week and the kitchen range with the oven on one side had to be black leaded as well. There was also the old copper with a fire underneath for boiling the wash and heating the bath water. An aunt of mine used to make a big stew in it big enough to feed the family for a couple of days. Bath night was usually on a Friday night, whether they wanted it or not. The old tin bath was in front of the fire in the winter; all the children shared the same water being topped up by a kettle or from the copper. Everyone was then clean for the weekend.

There was Jack Booty the milkman with his horse and cart, the brass churns carrying the milk. You had it poured into your own jug, no bottles then. Jack had never taken a day off in his working life, never had a holiday not even Christmas Day nor never seen the sea! You never got your milk before lunchtime and sometimes nearer tea time.

Mr Sharman, "the midnight coalman", often delivered coal at 10 o’clock at night with his horse and cart; once his horse dropped down dead between the shafts.

Other people who delivered with horse and cart were Freeman the fish merchant and Jim Braybrook, who had his stables in Ipswich Terrace. Jimmy Redet lived in a stable there with his horse, it didn’t pay to stand and talk to him for too long unless you were up wind of him! But the horse didn’t seem to mind.

There were coaches at the railway station waiting for people to come off the trains; The Angel Hotel had their own coach that waited there. Cars were only just beginning to come into the town. In the ‘King Billy’ yard were two real gypsy caravans with round canvas roofs, carved and painted. There were those people who lodged in the ‘Billy’, one and a half pennies a night. The lodging house on the corner of St Martins Street was the same price with fleas thrown in for free.

We played games in the street as there were very few cars about, for instance marbles in the gutter, we didn’t care what was washed down them. A rope was stretched across the road for skipping was mostly on bank holidays like Good Friday. There were shops nearby like Cunnolds, the Post Office and general stores and Bettles who sold newspapers, 2nd hand books and comics. There was a lot more reading pages in a pre-war comic than a war time one. In Northgate Street, Rowlands sweet shop had a cat that lay in the window among the trays of sweets. Also there was Mitchell’s hardware store on the corner of Cannon Street.

When I started school I went to St Johns infants school, it wasn’t very successful for me as I lost a lot of time with a burnt arm and broken leg. The first day I came out of assembly and with five other boys was told to stand to one side and we had a ruler across our hand because the teacher said we were talking during prayers! Whether it was true or not, that finished me with school before I had really started - preferring to take a back seat; even if I knew the answer to a question I didn’t bother to put my hand up.

So much so that when I went to St Edmundsbury I couldn’t even read! However, a teacher there took me to one side from the rest of the class and taught me, from then on I was always reading and I still do. I was always reading anything and anywhere; you could read in the toilet in those days because the toilet paper was the Bury Free Press cut into squares. I still have a hang-over those early school days. I am still reluctant to volunteer for anything preferring to be asked to help.

Sunday school was what I liked best, no fear of the cane and you were encouraged to talk. In those days just about everybody went either to the Salvation Army or as in my case the Railway Mission. Altogether I attended there for about 68 years.

But the Burroughs family weren’t strong on church except my mother, who was a Christian. You would mostly find the Burroughs in a pub, the King Billy or the Brittania. The ‘Brit’ was kept by my Uncle Charlie and you could go in there on a Saturday night and the bar would be full and you wouldn’t find half a dozen there that weren’t related to me in there. No woman would go in the bar but into the Lounge Bar and again it would be full of my aunts and cousins.

I don’t suppose my father went out of the street, except to work, more than once a year and often not that, but whatever he was he never laid a finger on us children, and whether he was drunk or hung over he had a wonderful sense of humour, there was always laughter in the house. Today it would be thought I had a deprived childhood but we were all in the same boat and we didn’t know it. I had a happy childhood.

Cockton's house and plaque - part of The Seven Stars
We had some famous people that came from the Brackland. In the middle ages there was Joscelyn De Bracklond. He wrote a Chronicle about the Abbey. Then there was Henry Cockton, a popular Victorian author, he was well known in his day and he wrote Sylvester Sound about a sleepwalker and Valentine Vox about a ventriloquist. One of the books gives a vivid description of Bedlam, a lunatic asylum. Cockton married the daughter of the landlord of the Seven Stars which he took over when his father-in-law retired. The Seven Stars, although closed, is still there today as housing, unlike the King Billy.

My wife told me not to spend too much time writing this down so I am now coming to a close. All the area around the Brackland was due to be pulled down before the war but it was delayed. All those areas, St Edmunds Place, Alexandra Cottages had their families moved such as the Longs. Jim Long was born in the Brackland and moved up to a new council estate on The Priors.

The Brackland lingered on until being pulled down in the 1960’s. They say the rubble was offered to the Americans at 50 shillings a ton as it came from the old Abbey; it would have made good souvenirs! But the Yanks didn’t want it so it was dumped.

The Billy was pulled down in the early Seventies, I helped in the demolition. My poor father would have turned in his grave. Some say there are ghosts who hang around that area we knew as the Chalks, one figure wrapped up in a cloak with his head to one side as if hung by its neck. Well I lived and played around there and have never seen it, but then she probably doesn’t appear to family!

Long Brackland street party - end of WWII
Editor's Notes

David Burroughs lived at 44 Long Brackland, moving away in 1961 when he married Pearl Wisbey from Fornham St Martin. David was born on 28th June 1931 and died aged 73 on 26th January 2005. David's mother moved out of Long Brackland in about 1962. Soon after this Long Brackland was demolished in phases as part of a programme of slum clearance.

David's sister Phyll was Phyllis, and she also supplied some details to Martyn Taylor's book on "Bury St Edmunds Memories." She was born in 1930, and when she married, she became Phyllis Chapman. Their grandfather had worked at Boby's Engineering works, and Phyllis supplied a photograph of the men working on the production of paravanes during WWI. Their father was Bob Burroughs and he worked at the nearby gasworks. She was one of three children, and recalled the street party and dancing held at the end of WWII.

David's historical accounts should be treated as educated oral folklore rather than as objective history. By 1906 there would have been no barges able to reach beyond Icklingham into Bury St Edmunds. By 1928 the Lark navigation had become disused above Mildenhall. The river was now navigable only up to West Row, according to Bradshaw's 1928 Guide to Waterways. Even the landlord of the King Billy, called "bargee" could have inherited that nickname from his father, as was common practice at the time.

The King William was the last of the Brackland pubs to close in the late 1960s or possibly the early 1970s. The Britannia stayed open until the end of the 20th century.

The White Lodge hospital was in Exning Road, Newmarket. It had previously been the Newmarket Union Workhouse, built in 1837, became the Newmarket Institution in 1930 and was named White Lodge Emergency Hospital in 1939 for the duration of the war. In 1951 it became Newmarket General Hospital, but remained known as White Lodge to the public.

This article was written by David Burroughs for Martyn Taylor's research into "Bury St Edmunds Memories"

His book of the same name was published in 2015.

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