Suffolk: Anger over centralised heritage centre

Bury St Edmunds Suffolk Record Office, Raingate Street.

Bury St Edmunds Suffolk Record Office, Raingate Street. - Credit: Archant

A CALL to move the county’s archives and records into a single heritage centre in Ipswich has been greeted with anger and led to accusations that the importance of west Suffolk is being ignored.

The Suffolk County Council archives are currently split between three record offices, at sites in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, and Lowestoft.

County bosses, who are planning to bring them altogether in one location and digitise them, are officially looking in detail at two potential homes – in Ipswich linked to UCS or in Bury St Edmunds linked to West Suffolk College.

But while a final decision will not be made until the end of 2013, the cabinet member responsible for heritage and planning Guy McGregor has already said the Suffolk record office should be housed in a new building on Ipswich’s Waterfront.

He added: “This should be in the county town which people sometimes forget is absolutely central to the history of this country.

“It is the oldest English town, and Suffolk was the home of many of the great advances for this country, particularly in agriculture.”

Adopting the Waterfront site would mean that rare documents currently housed in the Raingate Street offices in Bury, including a signature by Elizabeth I on a lottery grant to King Edward IV Grammar School and letters by Charles Dickens about his stay in the town, would all be moved to Ipswich.

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About seven staff work at the Bury St Edmunds office.

Alan ]ary, chairman of the Bury Society, a charity dedicated to protecting Bury’s heritage, said moving the records to Ipswich would be a “downgrading” of west Suffolk’s importance.

He added: “We are obviously bitterly disappointed. It has never been disclosed what sites they have looked at in Bury St Edmunds and I think we would like to know what sites they have looked at.

“When the council was reformed and we went for the current structure, things were divided between Bury and Ipswich, and this is another instance of slowly, slowly an important facility going east.”

Mr Jary said although he backed county’s proposals to digitise records and make them more accessible online, he would like to see the important documents remain in the town.

He added: “If there is to be a new site at the Waterfront, we would insist that there is something that makes sure that those things which have been willed to Bury St Edmunds remain here.”

Mr Jary said he felt a decision to centralise records in Ipswich could reinforce an east/west Suffolk divide.

He added: “Ipswich want to control the whole caboodle. You have got this semi-ill feeling. You go into Ipswich and it says this is the county town of Suffolk, but there is nothing to reciprocate what Bury St Edmunds is.

“Bury is a very important town for Suffolk and we are very much against the downgrading of Bury St Edmunds as important regional centre. We have the great history of the Abbey and many of the records will apply to that.”

Roy Proctor, Bury Society treasurer added: “It’s heritage stripping to some extent. “There’s always a bit of rivalry between east and west Suffolk and certainly I think people in Bury St Edmunds would like to keep our stuff here.”

Mark Ereira, who represents the Tower district in Bury St Edmunds at county council, said: “We’ve got a sense of being west Suffolk that a lot of people want to maintain. Bury is a special historic market town and I think people like Mr McGregor need to bear that in mind and be a bit more sympathetic of the desires and wishes of people in the west.”

Mr McGregor insisted that a move to Ipswich would not ignore west Suffolk’s “rich history.”

He added: “Not at all, we would be enhancing it, we would have a better collection and a better ability to promote Suffolk as a whole.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “I don’t want to get into an argument with our cathedral town but a fact is a fact and Ipswich is the county town - and is the best place for the record office.

“Bury can be content with its wonderful cathedral and historic buildings - but the record office should be here in Ipswich.”

On Wednesday Ipswich Borough Council gave outline planning permission for the redevelopment of a large site centred on the former Tolly Cobbold Cliff Quay brewery. That would be converted into a heritage centre - and the new county record office could be linked with that.

An original proposal to create a new store for the Suffolk Records Office at the Museum of East Anglian life in Stowmarket was abandoned last year.

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