Sudbury: Town keeping up gift custom by donating clothing vouchers to older community

Around 30 Sudbury people aged over 70 received clothing and food vouchers from Sudbury Major Jack Ow

Around 30 Sudbury people aged over 70 received clothing and food vouchers from Sudbury Major Jack Owen. - Credit: Archant

THIRTY-FIVE retired people have received gifts as part of a tradition that dates back more than 350 years.

Sudbury Municipal Charities handed out £25 vouchers to townsfolk aged over 70, at a ceremony in St Peter’s Church yesterday morning.

The tradition began when Martin Cole – a 17th-Century Sudbury draper – bequeathed the rental charge from Shallford Mill at Great Henny to be used to make up “50 shirts and 50 shifts” to be distributed to local people on Ascension day.

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

Then in 1668, Sudbury alderman and mayor, Nathaniel King – who would have administered Martin Cole’s will during his terms of office – added to the gift when he bequeathed his money to pay for 100 ‘six- penny loaves’ to be shared among the same people who received the shirts.

In those days, Sudbury’s poor and needy – 50 men and 50 women – would be given smocks, shirts and loaves of bread on Ascension Day. These days, people over 70 who live in the town are invited to apply for the £25 vouchers, which can be spent on clothing at Winch & Blatch or food at the Co-op.

The money comes from an annual income of around £1,000 which the Sudbury Municipal Charities still receive. Their chairman Geoffrey Challacombe said: “The tradition has been carried through, and although we can’t give out smocks, we provide a modern-day equivalent – a voucher that can be spent on clothing or food.

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“It is these small traditions that make Sudbury special and we are delighted recipients allow us to keep it going after more than 350 years. It was Martin Cole’s wish that this should carry on forever, and we aim to perpetuate if for as long as we can.”

Yesterday, in his final engagement in the role, the current mayor Jack Owen said he was proud to present the vouchers and continue the tradition started by his predecessor Nathaniel King.

He added: “As far as we know, Sudbury is the only town to have an Ascension Day tradition of this kind. It’s a really special thing for the town.”