Borough of Sudbury

Borough of Sudbury


Sudbury is a small ‘market town’ on the southern edge of Suffolk where the river Stour borders the county of Essex.  It has many attractive historic features and ancient wood-framed buildings.  Founded on a fortified settlement, it was initially named Suthburgh or ‘Sudby’ for its being the southern borough of Daneland East Anglia.

Sudbury was an Anglo-Danish manorial town made forfeit to the Crown following the Norman Conquest.  It came into the hands of the De Clare’s, the seigniorial lords of the manor town, and as such it was a part of the Gloucester estates.  During the Mediaeval period the town grew in its wealth from wool and became further prosperous in the cloth industry before eventually becoming a centre for silk weaving.  The prosperity of Sudbury is significantly displayed by its three magnificent parish churches.

Probably the most important inhabitant among several was Archbishop Theobald, known as Simon of Sudbury he was both Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England.  Nobody below the king was more powerful.  He was beheaded by an angry mob during the ‘Peasants Revolt’ in 1381.  Simon’s body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral and his head is interred in St Gregory’s at Sudbury.  Another especially important person born in Sudbury (1727) was Thomas Gainsborough the world famous painter whose bronze statue stands prominently in front of St Peter’s church at the top of market hill.

The Freemen of the borough gained letters patent in 1440 by Henry VI (retained for 400 years) and full burghal franchise in 1554 for their support for Queen Mary against the Duke of Northumberland.  Under their royal status, from 1559 Sudbury sent two representatives to Parliament until 1844 when they were disenfranchised for corruption (as a ‘rotten borough’).

The historic Sudbury market has served the town and surrounding villages for many centuries and is as popular as ever today.  It was established in 1009 with gildable (mercate) trading status (hence it was officially Sudbury market town) from its early ‘gild merchant’ and chartered authority.  The town is blessed with a magnificent ‘Corn Exchange’ building that was at one time threatened with demolition until Sir John Betjeman stepped in to defend its outstanding quality of architecture.





The Success of Sudbury Borough (a ‘feminine’ influence)

The location and surroundings of Sudbury have done much to capture its social charms. The wealth of the borough was primarily built on mercantile trade instigated by the demands for wool and cloth.

Subsequently the economy was determined by the activities of the ‘free’ artisan craftsmen. In time the town grew as a market and distribution centre for the wider locality.

Sudbury developed from an insular, fortified, gated burgh or Danish bor into a pre-industrial town attracting a relatively large population of ‘workers’ seeking employment and the benefits it had to offer.

In much earlier times, when the town was little more than a contained village, it very much owed its success to the charms of its special and attractive location. Interestingly, it was possibly due to those attractions that the initiative of three or possibly four, powerful women greatly affected its popularity.

Before the Norman Conquest 1066, Sudbury had been a residence of Aelfgifu or Elvira, Countess of Mercia. William 1 confiscated the property sometime after the initial Conquest and passed it through royal patronage to Amice, daughter of William Fitz-Robert, Countess of Gloucester who married Richard de Clare c1172. She was responsible for several important improvements to the Town.

Undeniably, Sudbury would have gained considerable importance during the period of Simon Theobald through his position as Archbishop and Chancellor of England (most powerful under the king).  The Country at large would have been aware of Simon’s College and that Sudbury was a place to visit St Gregory the minster church.

An elaborate shrine of ‘Our Lady of Sudbury’ was situated in the porch of St Gregory.  This became a popular stopping point for pilgrims from London on their way to Shrines of St Edmund at Bury and Our Lady at Walsingham. Set up in a chapel dedicated to Mary and her mother St Anne, it was situated adjoining the porch.  It had been there for many years since the foundation of the Church and was rededicated by Richard II after the Peasants Uprising in 1381.

A third great lady of majesty was Elizabeth de Burgh, our Lady of Clare (1295-1360) heiress to the lordships of Clare and Usk. Elizabeth refounded Clare College at Cambridge and made many bequests to religious establishments. She did much to administer her Clare estates and had a close interest in the development of Sudbury.

Elizabeth de Clare, of royal descent, played a leading role in society.  During the 1322 rebellion known as the Dispenser War, she was placed under arrest at York when Edward attempted to force her to sign a bond, which she ignored.  Her independence in 1326 is recorded that she stood up for her family’s estates. She somehow remained on good terms with Edward while also welcoming Queen Isabella.

Perhaps the greatest single female effect came when the Freemen of Sudbury by being called to action under Sir Edward Waldegrave went to the rescue of Queen Mary at Framlingham (in full livery) and escorted her to London.  In return for this courageous action Sudbury was awarded a Royal Charter giving the borough full Corporate Distinction in 1554.

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