Sudbury: BBC presenter Fiona Bruce describes town as having ‘an over-abundance of charity shops’ in national newspaper column

Lord Andrew Phillips with Lord David Puttnam at St Peter's Church, where he gave a talk last year.

Lord Andrew Phillips with Lord David Puttnam at St Peter's Church, where he gave a talk last year. - Credit: Archant

Television presenter and journalist Fiona Bruce has upset people in a Suffolk town by describing one of its best-loved church buildings as a “relic of the past”, and noting an “over-abundance of charity shops”.

The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsing ahead of their concert at St Peter's Church last ye

The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsing ahead of their concert at St Peter's Church last year

She made the comments about Sudbury in her online column – entitled Fiona Bruce’s Britain – in which she writes about the UK’s ‘unsung attractions’ for a national newspaper.

Fiona Bruce

Fiona Bruce - Credit: Archant Norfolk

But it seems that BBC presenter Ms Bruce, 49, was less than impressed when she paid a visit to Thomas Gainsborough’s birthplace, and in particular with St Peter’s Church, of which she said: “(It) was built during the 15th Century on a Norman site, its pews once full of local folk singing hymns beneath a high painted ceiling.

“Now it’s a relic of past observance, no people, not even a pew.

“A sign declares ‘Saint Peter’s is now redundant’ in care of a conservation trust.”


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In the piece, she also notes Sudbury’s “forlorn empty premises and an over-abundance of charity shops.”

But members of the Friends of St Peter’s group, which looks after the church, have hit back, believing that Ms Bruce’s has “missed the point” of Sudbury and its historic church.

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Town councillor Peter Gray, who represents the council on the Friends’ committee, said: “St Peter’s was closed for public worship in 1971 but it is one of the most used redundant churches in Britain and is second only to one in York for visitor numbers.

“It is booked a full two years in advance for events ranging from farmers’ markets to concerts and art exhibitions.

“In fact it is rare to find a day when it is not being used for something.

“Fiona Bruce says there are no pews in the church but that enables us to use it as a vibrant community centre.

“It is a well-looked-after building and nowhere close to dereliction.”

Group chairman and Sudbury stalwart Roger Green added: “The pews were sold off about 160 years ago so her (Ms Bruce’s) quaint notion of the church being filled with folk singing hymns wouldn’t have been correct for a very long time.

“St Peter’s is a living, vibrant place and we have spent a small fortune bringing fascinating parts of its history alive for 20th Century audiences.

“During the course of a year, we will get around 60,000 people coming into the church for one reason or another and I’m sure most of them wouldn’t be happy with it being described as a relic.

Mr Green added that the group had now penned its own response.

He said: “We have also composed a letter to Ms Bruce inviting her to return to Sudbury to see the things she obviously missed the first time around.”

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