The writing on the wall: What’s in a name?
In last month’s article about no.2 King Street, I urged you to look up for there is much more to a building than its ground floor, such as the stone plaque high up on a side wall of No.2: ‘T. Jones 4 May 1816’. There are many such plaques on Sudbury’s buildings. They were amongst the things I noticed when I moved to Sudbury – along with the ubiquitous flower motif over windows and doors. (Have you noticed it? No? You will now I have pointed it out!)
The plaques tell you something if you can ‘read’ them – and I don’t just mean the actual words. Do you ever wonder why buildings have been given the names they have? Is there a story behind the name? Such names as ‘St Gregory’s Terrace’, ‘Stour Valley Villas’, ‘Riverside Cottage’ or ‘Victoria Terrace’ (Melford Road) are self-explanatory except the latter has another plaque: ‘G G 1858’ probably indicating that the builder was George Grimwood. The Grimwood family were one of the most important building companies in Sudbury in the 19th and 20th centuries.
But back to names, for instance: a row of modest houses on Melford Road is labelled ‘Bombay Cottages HS 1864’. You don’t have to be a historian to know that relates to the British Raj in India. [PHOTO]
Another one relating to the Indian subcontinent is a three-house terrace called ‘Kyber Villas 1897-8’ on York Road, note the mis-spelling. This relates to the Khyber Pass on the North-West frontier between India and Afghanistan. It appears to commemorate the expedition of 1897-8 in which Anglo-Indian forces re-opened the pass after its capture by local tribesmen.
In 1916, one of these houses was the home of Charles Hayward, a ticket collector at Sudbury station. The Suffolk Free Press reported that in assisting a soldier, Private Theobold, onto the train, Hayward and the soldier’s brother, who was also on the platform, fell against the moving train onto the rails. Sadly, both men died.
Walk past the terrace of cottages on Prince Street and look up! A stone panel (in poor condition) states Girton Terrace. Has it any connection with Girton College, Cambridge? Yes! George Grimwood and his son won the contract to build Girton College. In order to erect the new building they had to demolish some cottages. They rescued the stonework bearing the name ‘Girton Terrace’ and incorporated it into the Sudbury terrace.
Yet another on Melford Road by Mulberry Vets is a terrace of cottages called ‘Rifle Terrace’ [PHOTO] prefixed by ‘W.B. 1868’, A strange name but named after a long-demolished pub on the site of the vets’ practice, the Rifleman’s Arms. Why was the pub called the Rifleman’s Arms? Note the date when W.B. built this terrace: 1868. Britain feared invasion by the French under Napoleon III and built forts around Portsmouth and other coastal defences. Inland, the 19th century equivalent of Dad’s Army was mobilised in most towns. These ‘civilian soldiers’ had uniforms (some quite fancy) and were issued with rifles. There was frequent drill and target practice, some of which took place in this area near the water meadows. Thus pubs often had names such as The Rifleman, The Volunteer, hence Rifle Terrace.
There are buildings the origin of whose names I have not yet discovered. One that comes to mind is Norway House on Gainsborough Street and the three-storey Norway Cottage on Queen’s Road. Is there some connection between the two of them and Sudbury?
Another is in Siam Place near Siam Gardens: Terry Cottage. Who, or what, was ‘Terry’?
A row of beautiful Victorian villas on Stanley Road has two mysteries: stone plaques show 1894 and initials AEM – who was he? But, most intriguing of all, why were they named after 16th century Protestant martyrs Cranmer and Lattimer?
Who built all these villas, cottages and terraces? Some were built by established companies such as Grimwoods. Others were put up by speculative developers who sought to cash in on providing houses for workers in the burgeoning silk-weaving industry, others were a result of several silk weavers pooling their money, buying land and building houses for themselves or to sell or let. Builders of all types often put their initials and the date of the building on a stone plaque. Keep your eyes open. Look up. I’ve given you a few to start: how many more can you spot? Many of these people had other occupations and thus are not listed as builders in contemporary town directories or censuses so, in many cases, we might never know to whom the initials belonged. But they all, quite literally, made their mark on Sudbury by their writing on the wall.