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Gallery: 10 things you might not know about Stowmarket

10:30 04 May 2014

The top of St Mary-le-Towers tower in Ipswich is roughly the same height above sea level as the River Gipping near Stowmarket Station.

The top of St Mary-le-Towers tower in Ipswich is roughly the same height above sea level as the River Gipping near Stowmarket Station.

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Sometimes overlooked in favour of the celebrated Suffolk greats of Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich, Stowmarket is not without its own charm and illustrious history.

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Guncotton ExplosionGuncotton Explosion

Steve Williams, chairman of the Stowmarket Local History Group, highlights 10 things you probably didn’t know about the town.

1 Stowmarket’s Memorial Gates dedication service in 1920 had one of the early snippets of newsreel film dedicated to it and was shown in the early cinemas across the county.

2 Of all the names of the brave men from all three services who died in both the First and Second World Wars listed on the plaques, there is only one female who is also the only civilian mentioned as one of the War dead. She was Mrs Rhoda Farrow who was unfortunate to be the only fatality in the town during the whole of the Second World War. She had just seen her son off from Stowmarket Railway Station to go back to his RAF unit near Manchester and returned to her Kensington Road house just as bombs were dropped, destroying the old Congregational Church in Ipswich Street, as well as her house immediately behind the church.

3 The top of St Mary-le-Tower’s tower in Ipswich is roughly the same height above sea level as the River Gipping near Stowmarket Station.

4 The Rev. Thomas Young, who was the poet, John Milton’s tutor at Cambridge, was vicar at Stowmarket in the 1600s and was also the person who invited and paid for Matthew Hopkins, the ‘Witchfinder General’, to come to the town. He was reported to have found two unfortunate women that were tried as witches.

5The ‘tonic sol-fa’ (doe, ray, me, far, so, la, tee, doe, - as used in the ‘Sound of Music’ film) music notation system was devised by John Curwen in 1841–42, while he was minister of Stowmarket’ Congregational Church.

6 The Rev. Thomas Young, who was the poet, John Milton’s tutor at Cambridge, was vicar at Stowmarket in the 1600s and was also the person who invited and paid for Matthew Hopkins, the ‘Witchfinder General’, to come to the town. He was reported to have found two unfortunate women that were tried as witches.

7 The original place name for this settlement was Thorney, which means ‘isle of thorns’, a distinction it shares with the site of Westminster Palace and Cathedral in London. It originally denoted a safe crossing place through marshland and rivers etc. However, due to the fact that in the 12th Century the town was granted a licence to hold a market for the hundred of Stow (which means the place), the place quickly became known as Stow’s – market and simplified to what it is today.

8The team gathered together by a government directive to investigate the causes of the ‘Guncotton Explosion’ of Friday August 11, 1871, has been acknowledged as being the official start of the ‘forensic science’ department that is used on many crime scenes today. Two explosions occurred at Prentice’s Gun Cotton factory which killed 28 people, mostly workers at the factory but also some people who had run to the factory after the first explosion and who were caught in the second explosion, including two members of the Prentice Family.

9 When the railway was first brought to Stowmarket in the 1840s, the track layers encounted many problems as they approached the site near to the where the station now is situated. They would lay several metres of track only to return a day or so later to find their work had disappeared completely into the boggy ground and hopelessly un-recoverable. This happened more than once and so a way had to be found to ‘float’ the rails over this large section using thousands of faggots of willow staves and osiers and combined with vast quantities of soil from the surrounding countryside. The mission was successfully completed by 1844.

10 From the late eighteenth through to the early twentieth Centuries, Stowmarket was second only to Burton-on-Trent for its malt product output. At its height the town had seventeen maltings scattered around the town, with the bulk of them along the river bank.

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