Saxon bricks at town church the ‘oldest in Britain’

WHAT A DISCOVERY: Peter Minter and Barry Wall at St Gregory's Church in Sudbury.
WHAT A DISCOVERY: Peter Minter and Barry Wall at St Gregory's Church in Sudbury.
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Historians have claimed that bricks made in the 10th century and discovered at a Sudbury church are the oldest in the country.

The bricks, which were found in parts of St Gregory’s Church in The Croft, are believed to be of Saxon origin.

Brick maker Peter Minter, who runs Bulmer Brick Company, said he made the discovery after analysing sections in the church’s tower.

“I didn’t set out to discover the bricks – I just came across them,” said the 79-year-old.

“I am asked to date bricks quite often, but this was purely by chance. I have known the church all my life, but it wasn’t until I really began to look at it that I noticed these bricks could be Saxon and were something quite interesting.”

Mr Minter, who has helped restore Hampton Court Palace and been involved in work at Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, said his initial interest gathered momentum after being asked to date a brick from Little Yeldham Church, which was found to be from the 1100s.

The brick was matched in style to those in the buttresses at St Gregory’s and Mr Minter took his theory to Barry Wall, from Sudbury History Society, who was researching the materials used in building the church.

The pair quickly realised, having looked into the size, shape and technique that went into making the bricks, that they were on to something.

“Brick-making history says the Saxons didn’t make bricks, because it was thought that they did not really need them,” said Mr Minter from Bulmer.

“But clearly they did. I have been handling bricks all my life and I understand them and the ages. “These are probably the oldest bricks in Britain.”

Mr Wall said the age of the bricks at the church, which had sections built by Simon Theobald of Sudbury in the 1350s, lent support to his view that St Edmund – the former King of East Anglia – had been crowned in the building in 855AD.

Edmund died at the hands of the Vikings in 869 after refusing to denounce his Christian faith.

“I believe that Edmund was crowned at St Gregory’s,” said Mr Wall. “It was the only well-established church building in the area at the time and we know it was a very important settlement.”

Mr Wall, who lives in Alphamstone, said the discovery of the bricks was of “national significance”.

“Nobody knows of a building built of Saxon bricks standing anywhere in Britain,” he said. “Sudbury has been ignoring what it has on its doorstep.”

Simon of Sudbury, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Both he and his father, Nigel, had a hand in building parts of the church, which is named in the Saxon Chronicle in 798AD.