Medieval barn blaze prompts priory fears

URGENT protection has been called for at an historic priory site after arsonists destroyed one of the region’s finest medieval barns.

The 14th-century thatched and timber building at St Bartholomew’s Priory, in Clermont Avenue, Sudbury, has been lost following the blaze on Tuesday night.

Police have now confirmed that the fire is being treated as arson and are urging anyone with any information to contact them.

The barn as well as the chapel and farmhouse at the site, have been on Babergh District Council’s Buildings at Risk register for a number of years due to the “vulnerability” of the unoccupied buildings to vandalism and other acts of destruction.

Members of the community have said they foresaw the disaster, and calls are being made for security to protect the remaining two buildings.

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Plans by owners Frederick and Jane May, who are devastated by the loss, have included a wedding venue and homes, but agreements have never been reached with the relevant authorities.

Most recently the house has remained boarded up, though Mrs May said the barn had been in use.

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She said they had done all they could to protect the site, and they are now hoping to sell the house to be used as a home, with the chapel coming with it, once an issue has been resolved with a contractor.

Barry Wall, chairman of Sudbury History Society, said: “We now want the number one concern to be the preservation and protection of the remaining two buildings.”

Mr Wall said the history society has seen the disaster coming, adding how five years ago it had released a statement about their concerns.

He said group members had cried on the phone to him about the loss of the “magnificent” building, which was one third of what was believed to be the only complete priory in the county.

He believed if the buildings had been an amenity for the community the damage would not have been caused, adding how he had hoped English Heritage could take the site over.

Peter Clifford, chairman of Chilton Parish Council, said if the site had become a wedding venue it would have been properly fenced and secured “and maybe this would not have happened”. Mrs May, who owns Lady Jane clothes shop in Long Melford, said she and her husband were at the site every day, and had put cameras up before, but they were targeted by vandals.

“We have done all we can. There’s no more we can do. We have it patrolled the whole time.”

She believed the play area next to the site, which is surrounded by housing, did not help as it attracted a lot of the “wrong people”.

Anyone with any information about the fire should contact Sgt Paul Heighway at Sudbury Police on 01284 774100.

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