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Ipswich mayor refutes Bury St Edmunds' county town title claim as 'not in the same league'

PUBLISHED: 14:57 28 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:57 28 February 2017

St Edmundsbury Cathedral viewed from the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Phil Morley

St Edmundsbury Cathedral viewed from the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Phil Morley


Ipswich's role as the county town of Suffolk is being questioned, with some suggesting Bury St Edmunds is more deserving of the title.

Ipswich WaterfrontIpswich Waterfront

The debate has seen some claim an Ipswich focused county has meant the west of Suffolk is being overlooked, with a return to the East and West Suffolk system of old being mooted.

However, the mayor of Ipswich said while Bury may be a “splendid” market town, it is “simply not in the same league”.

Historically Bury was the county town of West Suffolk between 1889 and 1974, while Ipswich served as the county town of East Suffolk. The two operated as separate county councils.

Wading into the debate on Facebook, St Edmundsbury Mayor Julia Wakelam said: “Obviously Bury should be the county town, but we [west Suffolk] should go further and secede. And obviously St Edmund should be the national saint.”

Ipswich Mayor Roger Fern. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNIpswich Mayor Roger Fern. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

But Ipswich Mayor Roger Fern rejected the argument, adding: “[We] have large and growing municipal and financial service sectors for employment, a university, Ipswich Port, a stunning Waterfront, unparalleled sports facilities, a leading football club with an illustrious history, more parks and open space per head than any major town in the country, and a rich heritage and history but with a vision fit for the 21st century. Furthermore, we are the county town of Suffolk and we are proud of it.”

Nadia Cenci, leader of the Conservative opposition on Ipswich Borough Council, said: “I think Ipswich is the natural county town for Suffolk – but I don’t believe it is helpful to start separating and moving apart. We need to work together.”

The debate was started after driving instructor Adrian Baldry asked his followers on Twitter whether the “vibrant and forward thinking” Bury should be the county town.

Andrew Speed, Bury Town Council chairman, said, like the mayor Ms Wakelam, he wants to see power devolved and Bury restored as West Suffolk’s county town.

Ipswich Cornhill. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNIpswich Cornhill. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

He said: “The industry and the wealth has very much moved west from the east and that’s why the county council no longer serves west Suffolk as well as it should.”

A county town is defined as the centre of judicial and local government functions. It is not always the largest town in the county, but usually is.

Why Ipswich?

Elevated view of Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREGG BROWNElevated view of Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ipswich’s claim to being the county town of Suffolk dates back to the formation of Suffolk County Council in 1974.

There are several reasons for it to hold on to the role, and over the decades since the single Suffolk council was created it could be argued it now has an even stronger claim.

• Bigger – Ipswich has a population of around 140,000 to 42,000 in Bury St Edmunds

• The criminal courts – the only crown and magistrates’ courts are in Ipswich

Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, pictured during a warm day. Picture: PHIL MORLEYAbbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, pictured during a warm day. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

• Gateway to Suffolk – most people travelling to Suffolk, will come through the Ipswich area, by train or road

• Port town – Ipswich has an operating port, and is well connected to England’s largest port at Felixstowe

• Transport connections – Ipswich is well connected to London and Essex

• University town – the University of Suffolk is based in Ipswich

• Ipswich Town Football Club – the county’s most successful sporting club is in Ipswich

Why Bury?

Bury St Edmunds’ claim to becoming the county town of Suffolk dates back to 1889, when the West Suffolk County Council was created. This lasted until 1974.

Those arguing for Bury have cited several reasons.

• St Edmundsbury Cathedral – Suffolk’s only cathedral

• Jewel in the crown – Bury, with the Abbey Gardens, beats most when it comes to aesthetics – borne out in its successes at In Bloom awards

• The law – Bury played a key role in the Magna Carta, on which our law is founded. Courts for the region were historically held there. Today, Bury hosts employment tribunals and a divorce court for London and south of England

• The Guildhall – the oldest civic building in England. This, along with the cathedral, means key civic events are held in Bury

• Greene King – the UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer is in Bury. Their IPA can be tasted around the world

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