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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Bungay, situated in the beautiful Waveney Valley on the Suffolk side of the river, is a small market town steeped in history and full of character.
Like many of East Anglia's old market towns, Bungay has a quiet, rather old-fashioned atmosphere which is undoubtedly treasured and encouraged by a number of specialist and antique shops.
Much of the town was devastated by fire in 1688 - with the result that many of the streets and buildings date from the reign of William and Mary, giving it a very distinctive and unified air.
Part of Waveney Distinct Council's area, it is often described as "the jewel in Waveney's crown."
Its assets include the river, where you can hire rowing boats and enjoy a relaxing trip around Outney Common, a near 400-acre beautyspot which includes an 18-hole golf course.
There is a Bungay Town Trail to guide visitors around the town's historic attractions which include such buildings as the redundant St Mary's Church, Holy Trinity Church (c1041), the Butter Cross (1689) and Bungay Castle, built by the Bigod family in 1170.
The castle is now ruined, but provides the setting for many Bungay Festival events in July each year, and in 2000 a visitor centre is being built there as a focal point for the Town Trail.
The town has the Godric Cycle Way among its assets, as well as a weekly market on a Thursday and a good range of shops.
Carrying the name of Bungay world-wide is bookprinters Clays, one of the country's biggest printing factories, employing over 500 people. It was established in 1877.
Bungay is also unique in being the only place in the United Kingdom still retaining the ancient office of Town Reeve, said to date back to Saxon times, as figurehead and chairman of the Bungay Town Trust. Bungay Town Council is its civic body, headed by The Mayor.
History of Bungay
The Saxons established a settlement there - recent evidence has shown that there was a community there 400 years before the Norman Conquest - and today Bungay (it means "The Good Island") is a place with a population of around 5000 and establishing a growing reputation as a place for tourists to visit.
For over 700 years there has been a weekly market at Bungay, and today it still takes place in the shelter of the Butter Cross in the Market Place (see top picture).
It makes this historic community on the River Waveney on the Suffolk-Norfolk border a true market town, though its origins go back even further - recent discoveries suggests there was a Saxon settlement there at least 400 years before the Norman Conquest.
After the Norman invasion of 1066, Bungay flourished, with Baron Hugh Bigod building Bungay Castle (above) in 1174. He was one of the signatories to Magna Carta in 1215, but when he later rebelled, with other barons, against Henry II the monarch responded by ordering his men to destroy Bungay Castle.
They only partly succeeded, and the castle was rebuilt by Roger Bigod in 1294, though by the 15th century it had fallen into decay. Its ruins remain as an attraction today.
Holy Trinity Church (right) predates the castle, its round tower originally being built as a watch tower around 1040, with the nave added 100 years or so later.
The Priory of St Mary's was established in the 13th century and St Mary's Church soon after. The ruins of the Priory are still in the churchyard, and St Mary's Church, now redundant, dominates the town centre scene.
It was the scene of Bungay's most famous story. On August 4, 1577, during a violent thunderstorm, a black dog burst into the church, ran down the aisle, and so frightened worshippers that two died of fright on the spot. That part of the story has not been verified, but two people in the tower at the time did die.
The Black Dog of Bungay, later described in a report as "the devil in such likeness," and "a hellish monster" is known throughout the country and draws many visitors to the town.
In 1688 a disastrous fire hit Bungay, destroying virtually the whole of the town centre - around 400 homes, shops and factories were affected in all and many were left homeless. A petition in the name of the King and Queen was sent round the country to raise 30,000 to pay for it.
The two market crosses were destroyed, and the present Butter Cross was built the following year. Today it is Bungay's most picturesque landmark in the Market Place.
The town generally was rebuilt and some fine Georgian houses are evidence of how Bungay recovered.
Navigation along the River Waveney from Yarmouth to Bungay was established in the 1670s and Bungay thrived on the trade in coal, corn and wood. Matthias Kerrison, who owned the navigation rights for many years, became a millionaire as a result.
The coming of rail and later road travel saw trade decline in the first half of the 20th century and river trade ceased in 1933. Bungay had a railway station on the Waveney Valley Line for 90 years. It cut through part of Outney Common, 400 acres of beautiful heathland and grazing marshes.
Horse racing was held on the common for over 200 years, with the last meeting held there in 1957.
Today Bungay still has a Town Reeve as its figurehead - an ancient office which is now unique to the town, and which is thought to date back to Saxon times. The Town Reeve heads the Town Trust, which until the early part of the 20th century was the main administrative body. The urban district council was formed in 1910, but the Town Trust remains in being and still owns the Butter Cross, almshouses, the Castle Hills and town lands.
Trustees are known as feoffees, with a proportion of them being elected by the town council, Bungay's municipal body since local government re-organisation in 1974.