Sudbury: Loss of medieval barn ‘a tragedy’

A COMMUNITY has been left devastated after a fire destroyed a “beautiful” medieval barn of historic importance.

The building, at the site of St Bartholomew’s Priory, in Clermont Avenue, Sudbury, has been completely lost following the blaze at about 8.50pm on Tuesday.

St Bartholomew’s Priory, which is Grade-II listed, is believed to have been the only complete priory in the whole of the county, consisting of the barn, the chapel and the house.

The thatched barn, with oak beams, dated back to the 14th Century.

Speaking yesterday, Jane May, who owns the site with her husband Frederick, said: “We are absolutely devastated. I haven’t slept a wink and I’m so upset about it all. It’s been in my husband’s family for over 100 years.”

Mrs May, who owns the Lady Jane clothes shop in Long Melford, added how the barn had been in use, containing hay, straw and machinery.

Barry Wall, chairman of Sudbury History Society, said: “The barn is a tragic loss because it is one-third of an important historic site, and I feel it is the equivalent of Lavenham losing its Guildhall. There would be a huge furore if the Guildhall went up in flames. It’s a very, very significant loss, not just locally, but nationally.”

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Peter Clifford, chairman of Chilton Parish Council, said: “I’m absolutely devastated and sick to my stomach about this – it’s an absolute tragedy to see such an important and historic building completely destroyed.”

Fire crews from Sudbury, Long Melford and Nayland and a water bowser from Sudbury attended the blaze, but the barn was completely engulfed by the time they arrived.

Watch manager John Bromley, fire officer in charge, said: “It was 100% involved when we turned up. There was nothing we could do to the actual barn, just protect everything around it.”

He said about 22 firefighters had been involved and a crew was on site yesterday while the fire burned out.

Sue Brotherwood, Sudbury town clerk, witnessed the blaze from her home in Highview Close, adding: “It was about 8.45pm when I looked out of the window and saw the fire.

“It seemed to come from nothing to an enormous raging fire. There was an incredible amount of debris pouring into the air from all the straw and wooden beams inside, and the mess in the morning covered everything.”

Yesterday, a police spokeswoman said they were aware of the blaze and officers were waiting for the fire to burn itself out before going in and carrying out an investigation. She said arson could not be ruled out.

Mr Wall said the medieval priory was founded in the 12th Century by Wulfric, master of the Sudbury mint.

He gave it to Westminster Abbey, who owned it through to the 19th Century. Mr Wall said Westminster Abbey closed the priory in the 1500s, but then Henry VIII closed all the abbeys and gave St Bartholomew’s back to the abbey as part of an endowment as it was refounded.

Westminster Abbey later leased the priory out as a farm and the chapel was still used for services right up until the 19th Century.

More recently there were plans by owners to transform the priory into a conference centre, restaurant and wedding venue, but they were never realised.