Sudbury Town Trail
The Stories behind the Façades: Explore Sudbury's diverse architecture on The Town Trail
Originally compiled by The Sudbury Society, research by David Burnett
The town of Sudbury has an astonishing 242 listed buildings, all with their own unique story to tell, the unlisted heritage of Sudbury is just as fascinating explored on The Sudbury Society's 'Local List'.
As you explore the Old Town, take note of the semi-circular street pattern which represents successive expansions of the town in late Saxon and Norman times.
The medieval woollen cloth industry, the coming of the River Navigation and the Railway and the 19th century silk industry, all helped to generate prosperity and contributed to the unique and diverse building heritage that is Sudbury’s pride.
We hope you enjoy exploring Sudbury's Town Trail.
The Town Trail starts at the Tourist Information Centre in Gaol Lane. Leave the Visitor Information & Heritage Centre beneath the archway of the former Town Gaol and turn left.
1. The Town Hall
The Town Hall Built by Thomas Ginn in 1828, it is a powerful expression of local civic pride. Sudbury was granted borough status in 1558 as a reward for its loyalty to Queen Mary I against the claims of Lady Jane Grey. It remained a self governing borough until local government reorganisation in 1972. Despite its majestic appearance the town hall was built with value for money in mind - much of what appears to be stone is actually stuccoed brick.
2. Old Market Place
Old Market Place This triangular space at the junction of North Street, East Street and King Street developed as a market place in the 12th century, replacing the earlier Saxon market behind Gregory Street. Once the area was crowded with stalls and bustled with noise, movement and smells. The butchers’ shambles stood by the church and pigs, dogs and rats nosed among the offal. In 1568 all the butchers here were reported to the Borough Court “for casting horns in the highwaye.”
3. Sudbury Arts Centre (St. Peter's)
Sudbury is fortunate to possess three fine medieval churches, testifying to the prosperity created by the local woollen cloth industry. St Peter’s began as a chapel of ease attached to the mother church of Sudbury, St Gregory’s; it later emerged as a parish church in its own right in the 17th century. Inside there are fine timber roofs and a 15th century font, the keen eyed will also notice the chancel is out of line with the nave, such “weeping” chancels are said to be a reference to the head of the suffering Christ on the cross. In this case a more practical explanation might be that the chancel had to be fitted in among existing houses on the site. Today, St. Peter's is redundant as a church but is now a vibrant cultural venue at the heart of the community - hosting a year round programme of events. Following an ambitious Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment programme, St. Peter's re-opens to the public as 'Sudbury Arts Centre' in Autumn 2023.
4. Market Hill
By the 16th century this triangular area, designed by Lady Elizabeth de Burgh as an open 'piazza' centuries before, was surrounded by timber framed merchants’ houses and shops. There were also buildings within the triangle, including the Moot Hall. During a wave of town improvement in the early 19th century the central area was cleared and the market stalls migrated here from Old Market Place. Many of the houses and shops around the edge were also given the white brick or render facades seen today. A weekly Market has been held in the centre of Sudbury for over 1000 years, Sudbury Market is still central to the town today, with a thriving traditional market held every Thursday & Saturday on Market Hill.
5. Thomas Gainsborough’s Statue
This fine Edwardian bronze was unveiled in 1913 by Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter, herself an artist. This is the national monument to Gainsborough; he stands, palette in hand, gazing down Market Hill towards his birthplace. The statue is the work of the Australian born sculptor Sir Bertram Mackennel. Look for his initials behind the 'Gainsborough Lady'.