Have you heard of this strange saying from Bungay?

The grammar school bungay

The fine Grammar School was founded in 1565 with a curriculum based on that of Eton. It is now a residential home for the elderly. - Credit: Courtesy of Bungay Museum Trust

Our great towns have wonderful stories to tell. Across Norfolk and Suffolk they are wonderful places to explore and discover how those who went before us lived their lives.

Bungay is one such place and is fortunate to have Christopher Reeve as one of its historians. An accomplished and thoughtful author whose books are both entertaining and important.

His latest offering, Bungay History Tour is the perfect pocket companion to take with you on a fascinating journey around one of the most attractive towns in the east.

Anyway, back to that  “new bottomed.”

The phrase dates back to the 17th century and tends to cause a ripple of titters when trotted out during the guided tours of the town.

“However,” says Christopher, "in just seven words it encapsulates fundamental aspects of the town’s history, which helps to explain how the small Waveney Valley town gained its prominence following the Norman Conquest in 1066.”

Bungay guildhall

Facing St Mary’s churchyard are three premises in a large building dating back to the late 15th century which became the Guildhall. - Credit: Courtesy of Bungay Museum Trust

There are two interpretations of the phrase.

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The first refers to the town’s river navigation trade and the repair of sailing vessels. Next to the River Waveney it provided ideal access to other towns when the waterways were the easiest form of travel.

“The Staithe was the centre of navigation, providing links to large East Anglian towns, such as Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and the city of Norwich, and it was in this area that boats and larger transport vessels would have been built, repaired and ‘new-bottomed’,” writes Christopher.

The second relates to the booming tanning trade in Bungay which survived well into the 19th century.

The water meadows around the river were ideal for cattle and after the animals were slaughtered in the Shambles area of the Market Place, the carcasses went to tanners who sold them after  treatment to the many leather manufacturers in the town and region.

There is a great story behind Cork Street Alley.

There is a great story behind Cork Street Alley. - Credit: Courtesy of Bungay Museum Trust

A whole range of goods were made, from boots and shoes to furniture.

“It included leather breeches, of which the tailoring and repair was a major Bungay industry, hence the phrase ‘Go to Bungay to get new bottomed’,” explains Christopher.

He also points out that the terms “bottoming” and “bottomfying” were in common use. For example, the brick repair of the Borough Well in 1747 states: “Paid Mr Cluff for Bottomfying the Town Well – 7s 6d.”

In his new book Christopher takes on a journey around Bungay highlighting 50 places to explore, starting at the chief visual features of the town centre. The Market Place and the Butter Cross.

The handsome Cross with its domed roof surmounted by the imposing statue of justice and the green and leafy vistas of the churchyard from which the lofty tower of St Mary’s arises, a prominent landmark for miles around.

“Every step you take as you wander through the picturesque streets with their varied architecture, makes you aware of the prosperity and prestige of its history,” writes Christopher.

The smart fire brigade having their photograph taken outside the King’s Head.

The smart fire brigade having their photograph taken outside the King’s Head. - Credit: Courtesy of Bungay Museum Trust

The  book takes in the Norman castle, the 11th century Trinity Church tower, the ruins of the Benedictine priory along with the sculptured façade of St Edmunds and, which may be of interesting to younger visitors, Clay’s Printing Works where the bestselling Harry Potter novels have been produced.

Over to Christopher: “So, dear visitors, we welcome you to Bungay and wish you a pleasant ramble around our fine old town, where you will find much to intrigue, delight and edify you, followed by a refreshing real ale, tasty meal, or a delicious home-made cake in one of our numerous and quaint old pubs and cafes.”

How could you resist?

Bungay History Tour is published by Amberley (amberley.books.com) at £8.99 and is in the shops now.