Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

People’s bank

British banking expanded in the Victorian period, and it wasn’t just a matter of high finance. In the 18th and early-19th centuries there was a dearth of places where people on low incomes could save on a modest scale, putting away a small amount of money for hard times and unforeseen needs. Local savings banks were one answer, and such banks spread widely after the success of one founded by the Rev Henry Duncan in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, in 1810. It’s said that such a bank was started in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1816. Thirty years later it was large and well enough established to move into these premises in Crown Street.

Lewis Cottingham, a Suffolk-born architect who established his office in London and became well known as a Gothic-revival specialist, was the designer of the bank. This commission came at the end of Cottingham’s life – he had developed a successful career as a repairer of churches and cathedrals (and was the restorer of the Norman gate tower next door to this site), and a builder of houses large and small. For the savings bank he chose neither straight Gothic, nor the classical style so often used for banks, but a red-brick ‘Tudor-Gothic’ style with stone mullioned windows, prominent gables, and tall, ornate chimneys. The brickwork has diaper patterns, which the Victorians sometimes used on their more decorative buildings, from humble cottages to William Butterfield’s vast Keble College, Oxford.

The result is impressive, making good use of the corner site, but not grandiose. There’s a domestic feel to the building, and the look of the date, picked out in dark bricks, is more like something you’d see in homespun by a builder than on an architect-designed bank.  So much so indeed that I took it at first glance to be a group of almshouses, in which the large door led to a courtyard. But a bank it was, and it served the people of Bury in this way until 1892. I’m told the building is now divided into apartments, and must also serve its residents well with light, attractive, and central accommodation.


Gawain said...

Suffolk Tudorbethan makes me wonder whether you have ever explored the subject of the Tolly Follies? It would, I'm sure, be interesting if you did.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

It's interesting to see how many the ways the architect uses to diversify surfaces of otherwise plain machine-made brick. Brick diapering is easy to do - why not on these blank, blank gable walls of recently built blocks of flats, where no doubt the architect thinks they have a vaguely "Georgian" feel, but actually look severe and austere?

Bury is a good town to explore: can we see the station, please? I remember that was a treat.
Nearby Risby and Little Saxham have round-towered churches - but that's another story.

Hels said...

I am not always a huge fan of red-brick Tudor-Gothic revival style with stone mullioned windows, prominent gables and tall chimneys. I wouldn't go as far as saying that a bank needed a domestic feel; if a building was going to be a bank, I suppose it had to represent stability and trustworthiness. Otherwise citizens would keep their hard earned savings under the mattress.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: The station is indeed a treat. I hope I'll get to it, but have one or two other things to get off my chest first.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Well, it's a matter of taste, really. Stability ans trustworthiness are certainly important, and seem embodied by some of the classical banks one sees. But maybe for a savings bank, designed to attract less well-off customers, a more homely style could appeal.

Stephen Barker said...

I think the point about the styles of different types of bank is relevant. In Leicester the building that housed the Trustee Savings Bank in St Martin's by Edward Burgess 1873, is in red brick with stone window frames in a restrained Venetian Gothic, emphasis being on the corner door. Nearby the former Pare's Bank later the National Westminster Bank by S Perkin Pick 1900, is in Portland Stone with giant Ionic columns, rusticated ground floor, carved frieze of classical figures and two Tuscan colonnaded domed towers. There are some nice Art Nouveau touches in the lamp standards flanking the steps. It is probably the the most extravagant building of it's period in the city. Pares was a long established private bank and obviously catering to a different clientele than the Savings Bank on the adjacent corner.

Osbert Lancaster coined the phrase 'Bankers Georgian' to describe the neo-Georgian classical style that many High street bank branches were built in.