‘You must start it Barbara’ – a first-hand account of how the Society began
In 1981, when the Society celebrated its tenth anniversary, Mrs Barbara Rampling gave the following address at a reception held in the Athenaeum. It is worth re-printing today:
Most of you will remember that, in the early part of 1971, there was a gathering storm of protest in Bury about the Council ‘s support for plans to demolish part of St John’s Street for the new town centre shopping development. The whole plan was utterly repugnant. Apart from being ugly and out-of-scale, it involved the destruction of well-established small businesses.
Lady Playfair was in the centre of the protest. She called a great meeting in the Corn Exchange attended by several hundred people on 22 June 1971. We all made speeches and expressed our rage at the attitude of our elected representatives. A message expressing our condemnation was drafted and sent from the meeting to the Council.
As the meeting closed and we broke up, I asked a group of friends at the back of the hall – ‘Is there not some way in which public opinion can be brought to bear in the early stages of planning proposals to avoid these eleventh-hour rescue dramas?’ (You must remember that the Corn Exchange itself had had to be rescued from decline in similar circumstances). Jane Dartford was in the group, and she said: ‘Of course, but Bury must have an amenity society and you must start it, Barbara’ The others all agreed that this was a splendid idea and I realised that I had been let in for a considerable job of work.
The group concerned were Mrs Audrey Cardale, Brigadier and Mrs Collett-White, Mrs McLean Luis, Mrs Jane Dartford and my husband and myself. We decided to meet within a few days to discuss the project and the result was the formation of a Steering Committee with Pat Luis as Chairman and myself as Secretary. We agreed to ask others to join us, including Jean Patterson. Some did not wish to join the Committee but nevertheless were extremely helpful in other ways and are still active in the Society today.
Having established our Steering Committee, we were still very vague about the function of the amenity society and what its constitution should be. We knew that Norwich had a successful watch-dog organisation, so Jane and I were sent to Norwich to find out about it.
Start at City Hall.
We decided to start at the City Hall and made for the Planning Department. We must have chosen the right day because, having made our problems known to the receptionist, we found ourselves being ushered into the ‘holy of holies’ to meet all the ‘top-brass’ including the Chief Planning Officer and the City Architect (David Percival) who arranged our introduction to Jean Ogden, Organising Secretary to the Norwich Society. Later in recognition of his kindness and help, we chose David Percival as our main speaker at the inaugural meeting.
The summer of ’71 was spent in endless correspondence and telephoning. The Civic Trust were extremely helpful with the business side of the organisation. The Charity Commissioners’ requirements were rather complicated, but we got it all sorted out in the end. Brian Weller, who at the time was Secretary of the Eastern Federation of Amenity Societies, gave us sound advice on policy. He was able to point out the pitfalls which had caused some societies to fold up within a short time of starting. The Secretary to the Suffolk Preservation Society at the time was Mr Field-Reid and he gave us much fatherly help. All our supporters were as keen as we were that we should get off to a good start.
Sending out Invitations
Lady Playfair would not join us. She said that she preferred to be an activist rather than an organiser. Nevertheless, she was full of ideas and rang me up two or three times a week. Above all, Jean Ogden and the Norwich Society were super helpful. Their advice on the relationships between the amenity society, the planners and the Council was invaluable. We had to get it all right without causing antagonism and yet we must establish our authority and integrity.
So, with our aims now fairly clear, we sent out invitations to about 60 people whom we thought likely to be interested and on Friday, 3 September, we sounded them out at a meeting in the Athenaeum lounge. Norman Scarfe was our speaker and we were given the go-ahead to call the inaugural meeting.
We were told that the general system was to title amenity societies by the name of the place they serve plus the word ‘society’. We had been calling ourselves ‘The Bury St Edmunds Civic Trust Society’ and this became simply ‘The Bury St Edmunds Society’.
The objects were to be:
1. To encourage high standards of architecture and planning in Bury St Edmunds.
2. To stimulate public interest in, and care for, the beauty, history and character of the area of the town and its surroundings.
3. To encourage the preservation, development and improvement of features of general public or historic interest.
4. To pursue these ends by means of meetings, exhibitions, lectures, publications and other forms of instruction and publicity.
Membership was to be open to all and the subscription was to be 50 pence.
We now had sufficient backing to form the Society, but one thing was lacking – a Chairman. We needed someone who was non-political, of good local standing, a worker and not just a figure-head and, above all, someone who understood the needs of an ancient town under severe pressure. The Steering Committee was certain about whom we wanted but he was a very busy man who spent many of his evenings lecturing; and we knew that, if he agreed, he would be making a considerable sacrifice. However, very diffidently, we approached him and he was willing! So, David Dymond became our first Chairman and, with him, the Society was complete.
We booked the Corn Exchange for our inaugural meeting and launched the Society on 1 October 1971. New members were elected to the Committee at this meeting including Richard Hannay, who was a student of landscape architecture at Cambridge University and who put in a lot of work in a study of the amenities of Bury’s rivers.
The early days of the Bury Society were never uneventful. Mr James Gorst and Mr Brian Musgrave of the East Suffolk County Council’s Planning Department were always helpful to Brigadier Collett-White who was our Planning Representative at that time. Certain members of the Borough Council welcomed our foundation, notably councillors Rosa Smith, Harry Marsh, Susan Hayes (now Tamlyn) and Fearnley Jepson. Others warmed to us as time went on whilst some have always regarded us with suspicion and even irritation.
Relations with the Press
Relations with the Press were an area of some delicacy. We were warned that, strange though it may seem, amenity societies were not popular with the press and that the only publicity we were likely to get would be via paid advertising. So we decided to have a specific policy of wooing local editors. I am glad to say that The East Anglian Daily Times, in the form of Robin Williams, was most sympathetic from the start and has been ever since. Though the Bury Free Press is a good friend now, this was not always so. In our early days, they were quite unwilling to believe that our aims were to benefit the town; and they attacked us as objectors to progress and were most hostile.
Ten years has given the Bury Society time to become known and appreciated for what it is. We have made achievements and had failures but, looking back over the decade, I think that the organisation that we created and the aims and objects that we set, have served the need well.