New exhibition about Bungay, the town dubbed ‘Little London’

Bungay Market Place, a watercolour by Eric Scott, c. 1930.

Bungay Market Place, a watercolour by Eric Scott, c. 1930. - Credit: Archant

A new exhibition highlights the buildings of one of East Anglia's most delightful small towns - Bungay. Chris Reeve reports.

Bungay Grammar School, Earsham Street, c. 1900.

Bungay Grammar School, Earsham Street, c. 1900. - Credit: Archant

An exhibition in St Mary's church, Buildings of Bungay – Ancient & Modern, during the May Bank Holiday weekend, focuses on the wide variety of architectural styles in the streetscapes of the town. Had it not been for the Great Fire of 1688, the centre today might survive as a quaint little Lavenham with crooked, timber-framed buildings jostling cheek by jowl like old mawthers enjoying a gossipy mardle.

But, instead, following a national appeal, and a rapid rebuild, the town rose so triumphantly from the ashes that by the Georgian period, it could offer a range of shops, businesses and amenities that could hardly be equalled throughout the Waveney Valley.

For a delightful occupation on a sunny afternoon, come and take a leisurely stroll around the streets, and appreciate how the town came to be known as 'Little London'. In a short circuit you can spot a Roman well, an Anglo-Saxon church tower, the remains of a medieval priory, the keep and gatehouse of one of the most significant Norman castles in Britain, and the elegant flint-faced tower of St Mary's church which graces the landscape for miles around.

These ancient treasures are clustered only a short distance from the lead-domed Butter Cross surmounted by the imposing statue of Justice, maintaining a watchful eye on fair trading, and intermingled with a fine array of Georgian houses built for the local landed gentry, who enjoyed over-wintering in the town and sampling all the pleasures it had to offer.

You can have fun spotting the red brick vestiges of Tudor buildings hidden behind Georgian facades. And there are fascinating individual features, including the carved figures of Samson and Delilah, and Hercules wrestling with dragons on a window-sill in St Mary's Street, a Venetian window nearby, an elaborately sculpted Saint Edmund on the façade of the Roman Catholic Church, and a low-level Diocletian window in Trinity Street. You won't see many of those elsewhere in Suffolk!

A style that proliferates in Bungay perhaps more than in any other town is the 'Mock-Tudor'. It became fashionable in the late 19th century and was enthusiastically embraced by Frederick Smith, a wealthy solicitor, who commissioned various buildings in the style, including a splendid row of almshouses with knobbly Tudor chimneys, steep gable ends, and mullioned windows.

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John Doe, a local builder, designed a pair of quaint 'Arts & Crafts' houses in Webster Street but also incorporated 'Mock' features into other dwellings, and in his renovation of the Fleece Inn and the Three Tuns, although these are actually original Tudor buildings.

Included in the exhibition are early 20th-century photographs of Flixton Hall, the grandiose stately home on the outskirts of the town. It had more than 60 rooms, and was very expensive for upkeep, maintenance, and heating. Major General Sir Allan Adair, who inherited it in 1949, found it so cold (no central heating) that his children had to wear overcoats indoors throughout the winter to stay warm.

Due to huge death-duties, he was obliged to sell, and a murmur of horror reverberated throughout the region when, in 1952, the purchasing speculator obtained immediate permission to demolish.

The exhibition also features watercolour drawings of the streetscapes of Bungay, by Alan Cobb, painted around 2012, with every building, old and new, charmingly delineated. Copies of these will be available for sale.

The exhibition preview takes place on Friday May 25, 7.30pm, with an introductory talk by artist and tutor Malcolm Cudmore, followed by refreshments. Tickets are free, but booking is essential: call Keith Parker on 01986 893133, or John Warnes, 01986 892855.

The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday May 26 to Monday May 28, from 10am-4pm at St Mary's Church, Bungay. Entrance free, donations welcomed.