Procession in Sudbury marks 350th anniversary of gift-giving tradition

Sudbury Municipal Charities chairman Keith Robins accompanies Sudbury Town Mayor Sue Ayres through t

Sudbury Municipal Charities chairman Keith Robins accompanies Sudbury Town Mayor Sue Ayres through the town with mace bearers Michael Wheeler and Barry Hibble in the background. Picture: ROSS BENTLEY - Credit: Archant

A special procession to celebrate the 350th anniversary of a Suffolk gift-giving tradition took place in Sudbury last week.

The distribution of gifts on Ascension Day in the west Suffolk town has its origins in two significant dates.

In 1622 Sudbury draper Martin Cole bequeathed that the rental charge from Shalford Mill at Great Henny be used to make up “50 shirts and 50 shifts” and that they should be distributed to local people.

He also allocated six shillings and eight pence to pay for a sermon to be preached, and 40 shillings for a ‘corporation feast’.

Later in 1668, Sudbury mayor Nathaniel King added to the gesture when he bequeathed his money to pay for 100 six-penny loaves to be shared among the same people who received the shirts – and the tradition of the Sudbury Ascension Day gifts was born.

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Today, these bequests are administered by the Sudbury Municipal Charities, which each year invites people aged over 70 – both men and women – who are residents of Sudbury to apply for the gift.

Nowadays it takes the form of a £30 clothing voucher, which can be redeemed at Sudbury stores Winch & Blatch and Roys.

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This year 48 people applied for the gift.

The 350th anniversary of Nathaniel King’s bequest was celebrated with the special procession through the town on Thursday, May 10.

Sudbury Municipal Charities chairman Keith Robins, dressed in period costume as Nathaniel King, was accompanied by Sudbury Town Mayor Sue Ayres as he made his way through the market place towards St Peter’s where the gift giving ceremony took place.

They were accompanied by mace bearers Michael Wheeler and Barry Hibble.

Mr Robins said he isn’t aware of any other town that has an Ascension Day tradition of this kind.

“To have a tradition that stretches back 350 years is wonderful,” he said.

“Sudbury is a special town and it is traditions like this that make it the place it is.”

Ascension Day commemorates the Christian belief of the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.

The day is officially celebrated on the 40th day of Easter and occurs 39 days after Easter Sunday.

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