Sudbury: Brick discovery boosts St Edmund theory

Historian Barry Wall and brick specialist Peter Minter on the spot in St Gregory's Church, Sudbury w

Historian Barry Wall and brick specialist Peter Minter on the spot in St Gregory's Church, Sudbury where they believe St Edmund was crowned. - Credit: Archant

A discovery of national significance, made by a pair of Suffolk historians, has helped confirm a theory that St Edmund was crowned in a church in Sudbury.

Bricks have been discovered in the tower at St Gregory’s Church on the Croft, which are believed to have been made by Saxons in the 10th century, and are probably the oldest bricks in Britain after the Roman occupation.

Expert Peter Minter, who runs Bulmer Brick Company and is currently helping to restore Hampton Court Palace, made the find after he was asked by a geologist to date a brick originally from nearby Little Yeldham Church.

Having established it was from the 1100s, he then liaised with secretary of Sudbury History Society, Barry Wall, who pointed him in the direction of the former Saxon settlement of St Gregory’s.

Mr Minter told the EADT: “I could tell from the shape, size and technique used to make the brick that it dated back to the 10th century.

“Barry had been looking at the material used to build the different parts of St Gregory’s and he suggested I take a look at the church. I could see the dimensions of the bricks in the buttresses were the same as the brick I had been given, and that they didn’t match up with any that were made in other periods.”

According to Mr Minter, 79, the discovery is of national importance. He added: “Up until now, it has never even been accepted that the Saxons even made bricks.

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“What is really exciting is that we had a Saxon church here in the 10th century that was made of bricks. There are no other Saxon brick churches documented anywhere and this discovery is something that will have the academics swarming to Sudbury.”

The accurate dating of parts of the building has also bolstered Mr Wall’s theory that Edmund, the former King of East Anglia, was crowned at St Gregory’s around 855AD. There is great debate about whether Bury St Edmunds is his final resting place and it has previously been suggested that he was crowned in Bulmer chapel.

But Mr Wall, 78, said: “I have never held with that theory because there was no church on that site at the time. But a ‘church’ in Sudbury was documented in the Saxon Chronicle in 798 and I can now say for sure that in Edmund’s time, St Gregory’s was the only established church in Suffolk and we know it was a very important settlement.

“Although only the centre aisle of the church that we see here today would have existed in Edmund’s time, he was almost certainly crowned in St Gregory’s and we can even pinpoint the exact spot where it happened.”

There is a current push to reinstate St Edmund - who was eventually shot with arrows and beheaded by the Vikings after apparently refusing to denounce his Christian faith in 869 - as patron saint of England.

St Gregory’s is also famed for housing former Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Theobald of Sudbury’s head. Like Edmund, he was beheaded during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

Mr Wall believes Sudbury should trade off the latest discoveries. He added: “Sudbury people have been unaware of what they have on their doorstep, which is the makings of an enormous tourism industry. People certainly won’t see this anywhere else.”