Martin Lightfoot (Chairman 1977-1979)

My family and I came to Bury St Edmunds in 1964 after three years in the Royal Air Force. We came here because the town was attractive and the old established dental practice, which I joined, was in a fine Georgian house (and the partners were alright as well).

My interest in buildings had been sparked by close friendship with a fellow an architect completing his National Service. Being at heart a conservationist, whether that of my patients’ teeth, old cars, furniture and old ruinous houses, I moved to Bury, I was horrified at the ease with which fine houses were demolished to make way for new, so called better, developments. The listing then was rudimentary, we had no conservation officers, and the planning officers, now with the district authority rather than the county council since 1974, did their best, but with very limited powers. Progress, particularly new roads, was an unstoppable steamroller. The achievement which still brings me pleasure is the saving of Eastgate Bridge.

The severe flooding which the town had experienced in 1968 was partly blamed on this bridge, and by 1977 the ugly concrete sluice to the west of the bridge had been constructed. The road planners had desperate to achieve an arterial-type road driven east-west though the town and the flooding gave the excuse for a new brick motorway -type three lane flyover bridge (Looms Lane had been widened as part of this scheme). The Society objected and it went to appeal. Sitting in the hearing, which seemed to go on for days, with Dr Marcus Bird (responsible for the country view still seen from Abbeygate Street) sitting on my left, we were constantly shown a projected image of how the bridge would look. In my opinion horrible, and completely out of keeping with the fine square in front of the Fox Inn and the terraced cottages to the east.

But I noticed this image was just an artist’s impression showing grassed banks sloping down to the Lark, so plucking up courage I asked whether the image shown was exactly what was proposed to be built. The inspector put this question to the council officer who agreed that it was. I then pointed out that it would not very satisfactory as it had no foundations or supporting piers on each side. The inquiry stopped and was then adjourned indefinitely.

Later this bridge did rear its ugly head, but when the local residents were told that the build would require six months continuous pile driving, following their protests, it was quietly dropped, along with the enthusiasm from the for the new east-west road. It had also come out at the inquiry that the concrete sluicing was planned to continue through the Abbey Gardens. Again, on this false worship of roads, the Traverse Scheme was an early example of recapturing roads for people.

The idea of the previous Society chairman David Chrispin, working with the architect Hugh Thomas, proposed paving the absurdly wide road in front of the Nutshell and providing a welcome seating area with a shading tree. Unbelievably now, we were told then, unlike the Continent, no one would ever want to sit outside at a café, and the seats would be occupied with drunks from the Nutshell. However monies were raised and it all came to pass, completed in my time as chairman , and opened to commemorate the Queen ‘s Silver Jubilee. I have pleased, and quietly smile to myself, to see that during Iockdown this area has been neatly set aside with attractive seating.

The placing of the Elizabeth Frink statue of St Edmund was first proposed to placed alongside the nave of the cathedral, but the Society considered that it should be in a more prominent position. So, one evening a tea chest was procured and in front of an invited quorum of experts (the Bury Society committee), Max Milburn was invited to stand upon said chest, in various sites, in front of the west front which is where St Edmund now stands.

From my time as chairman, I was very aware of criticism directed at the Society, in that we were perceived to be critical, and not prepared to actually try to make improvements ourselves, and this gave me the prompt to join with others of similar mind to form the Bury St Edmunds Town Trust as a charitable buildings preservation trust, whose work continues today in High Baxter Street.


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