A Brief History of St Andrew’s Castle

Old East FacingThere is a record in 1816 of land in St. Andrew’s Street owned by John Stutter. By 1823 the Castle building appears on Ordnance Survey maps and there is another record of John Stutter, Gent. living at St. Andrew’s Castle in 1830 but by 1839 only Mrs. E. Stutter is recorded as living here. Some of the Abbey stone may have been used to build the house, as was the tradition in the town and a gargoyle can be seen in the stonework over the porch. The porch itself appears to have been added at a later date.

Old South FacingIn about 1846 and certainly by 1851 a solicitor – Thomas Collins was living here with his wife Sarah and seven children – Thomas, Fanny, William, Arabella, John, Lucy and Jane. The family had 5 servants living-in and was probably fairly self sufficient. Later records show that the grounds included, “Lawn tennis ground and bowling green, kitchen and fruit gardens, stables, coach houses, cow house, fowl house, loose box and piggeries” and the house had “two excellent wine cellars, beer cellar and store” and also a conservatory, vinery, two plant houses, a fernery and four grass paddocks.

Thomas Collins was also Clerk of the County Council and by 1855 had become a town councillor and appeared to be well off, being mentioned in a local directory as one of the ‘gentry’ of the town. The house was only just big enough for such a large family.  Three large reception rooms, kitchen, scullery and store rooms, together with the impressive vaulted and tiled reception hall made up the ground floor.  The vaulted ceiling in the reception area was inspired by the Refectory in Anglesey Abbey at Quy, near Cambridge. A fine staircase led to four main bedrooms and servants quarters were reached by a smaller back staircase.  Leading from one of the main bedrooms was a dressing-room, linen cupboard and w.c.  The w.c. may have been installed at a later date but was supplied with running water from a rainwater tank in the roof. The auction document which mentions this facility, also says that: “The drainage has been carefully planned and carried out at a great cost”.

The property also included all the land now occupied by St Benedict’s Lower Catholic School, Parkway and the old hospital site, the two cottages fronting onto St. Andrews Street and some of the land now owned by Bream & Sons.

By 1864 there is a record of  Thomas Collins being Clerk to the Magistrates and living in St. Mary’s Square, (this may have been Thomas Collins’ son) and by 1865 George Boby had bought the Castle and was living there. George was a coal, corn, manure and seed merchant and also a maltster but had a share in his brother Robert Boby’s engineering business which occupied the large engineering works further up St. Andrew’s Street, this at one time extended from St. Andrew’s Street westwards to where the Parkway now runs.

George appears to have stayed at the property until his death in 1890 when it was sold at auction by his executors to “Mr. F.A. Collins who purchased for Mr. C.J.E. Sparke” for the princely sum of £3800.00.  Mr. Sparke was another solicitor whose family had been solicitors in the town for many years.  (It is interesting to speculate whether “Mr. F.A. Collins” was any relation to Thomas Collins.)

Mr. C.J.E. Sparke, extended  the property adding more ground floor reception rooms, a  new kitchen as well a house keepers sitting room,  and additional bedrooms.   The interior was also extensively remodelled  with  many features from the Arts & Crafts movement included in the windows, doors and flooring.  Modern plumbing and Central heating via a series of hot water pipes and radiators was also installed for the first time.

Mr. C.J.E. Sparke lived at the Castle with his two spinster sisters, who died before him, until his death in 1927.

The property was then bought by the Convent of the Sisters of St. Louis, who opened a Day Convent School for Girls. The Sisters eventually demolished the conservatory and extended  what was probably Mr Sparke’s study, smoking room or billard room (The Library as it is now) and this room became their Chapel.  They also added a second storey/loft conversion at the rear.  This “portacabin” like extension in the attic was where the novices slept!

In spring 1989 the last few remaining Sisters of the Convent of St. Louis retired and the building was left vacant, thus ending another chapter in the life of the Castle.

The Active Business Centre was founded the same year and took over and renovated the building before opening it’s door as a Business Centre in 1990.

This brief history was researched by Mrs Marie Neal in Sept 1995  from:  the Records Office in Bury St. Edmunds, copies of auction papers on our files and the local press.  Photographs are reproduced by kind permission of the local historical society Bury Past and Present.