10 Northgate Street
The house at 10 Northgate Street is the home of the Bury St Edmunds & Farmers Club.
It is an ancient house with a lot of fascinating history.
Parts of it date back to the 1350s – medieval times – when it was probably part of one larger building, consisting of what are now numbers 9, 10 & 11 Northgate Street. This would have been a fine house for its day – it almost certainly belonged to either a wealthy merchant or a senior person connected with the abbey. Sadly, there are no records going back this far. Our Northgate Suite includes some parts of the 14th century building.
The building was progressively extended. A new section was added in Jacobean times (1603-1625). From 1662-1689 a hearth tax was used to raise money and the building then had 17 hearths! One of those still remains in original condition: the fireplace in our Lower Lounge.
Seventeen fireplaces makes a very substantial house, whether in the 1600s or today!
Other features dating back to that time include the fine Jacobean staircase in the lower lounge and the exposed timbers of what was the original outside wall, now the wall of the main corridor on the first floor.
Since then, Number 10 has had many owners and uses.
In the late 1600s, the Gage family, of Hengrave Hall, used it as their townhouse in Bury St Edmunds. They were an immensely powerful family, Catholics at a time when Catholicism was illegal in England.
By 1761 an MP, John(?) Leathes lived here. He was a member of another powerful Suffolk family. He stayed until 1823.
About this time the property was further extended and – as happened to many timber framed properties in the town – a brick skin was put on it. Half-timbered buildings just looked so old-fashioned!
From about 1850 the property passed into the hands of yet another powerful local family: the Greene dynasty. During these years the house was used, amongst other things, as the lodgings of the travelling judges who, from time to time, came to Bury St Edmunds to deal with serious criminal cases at the local Assizes.
It was John Wollaston Greene who finally sold the house to the Bury St Edmunds & Farmers Club in 1947.
Number 10 Northgate Street has a mass of interesting and important architectural features. As a result, it has been Grade I listed. This status is reserved for buildings of exceptional interest. There are only about 9,000 in the country.
There is a 14th century 3-bay hall, now known as the Lower Lounge and the most interesting part of the building. At the west end of the hall, a 16th century fireplace has a 4-centred arch and carved decoration, partly Jacobean, partly reproduction in early 16th century style. The walls have square Jacobean panelling.
Against the north wall are 2 flights of late 17th century stairs, extensively restored, with pierced splat balusters, ornate lantern newels and moulded handrails, one flight leading to the gallery, the other to the rest of No.10 which is on a higher level. In this area there is also a Crown-post roof, with housings in the centre for a louvre to draw off the smoke of the open hearth.
To the west of the hall is a parlour, now with complete Jacobean panelling, some reproduction.
Beyond that is our “Regency” dining room, actually extensively remodelled from the original timber framed building in the 18th century. The ground storey ceilings are very high with tall sash windows on the south; a panelled dado and wood cornice to the walls.
At first floor level the original timber framing of the original building is exposed.
Beyond that lies the rest of the building, mainly dating from Victorian times.
The Farmers Club
A group of local farmers and businessmen – in reality, more business-people than farmers – bought the building in 1947. They later bought the land that is now the Club’s car park. This was at a time when we still had food rationing; and when there were very few places to eat in Bury St Edmunds.
It is hard to come up with authoritative figures for the number of members in the Club’s early years. The history of the Club (“Meet you at the Club”), written in 1997, says that:
- There were “just over 500” a year after the Club was launched in 1947
- Some 585 in March 1983, when it was proposed to limit members to avoid congestion and over use
- Around 600 in 1990
- “Just over 700” in 1992
We now (2019) have about 450 – a number that we would like to increase to about 750.
Very few of our members are farmers. About half are businesses and the others private individuals of all types and ages.
The thing that binds them all together is the love of this amazing old building and the enjoyment of good food and good company.