The town of Eye derives its name from the Old English word for 'island'
and it is believed that the first settlement on the site would have
been almost entirely surrounded by water and marshland formed by the
River Dove to the east and south east, its tributary to the north and
by the low land – part of which now forms the Town Moor, to the south
and west. Through the years Eye has had a deer park, a Leper hospital,
a gaol, a workhouse, a David Fisher Theatre, a coaching inn with
posting pstablishment (now White Lion House), a Working Men’s Hall and
Reading room, a Guildhall (now a private house next to the church), a
Grammar school (now the primary school) and an airfield which was
occupied by the 490th USAAF Bomb
Group during World War II. Until 2005, Eye also boasted one of the
smallest professional theatres in the country, which inhabited the
assembly room of the former White Lion Coaching Inn.
White Lion House, Broad Stree
Looming over the small
market place is the extensive rendered
frontage of White Lion House, which until 1987 was the White Lion
Hotel. Now divided into houses and flats, the gateway into its yard has
a unique sign.
The pleasingly curving sign over the coach entrance off Broad Street
Photograph courtesy Andrew Smith
The building is listed
grade II and it dates from the 15th
century. It was formerly a Family & Commercial hotel &
house. In 1830 the inn was listed in Market Place and the 'Monarch'
coach to London (via Ipswich) called here every evening at 7pm whilst
the 'Monarch' coach to Norwich called every morning at 6am. Also the
'Star' to London (from Yarmouth) called every morning at half past ten
whilst the returning 'Star' to Yarmouth (via Bungay & Beccles)
called every eve at half past five. In February 1986 it was reported
that the inn was closed for alterations including expansion plans to
create a series of 7 bar areas - but it never reopened. It was
subsequently converted to shops and a theatre (since closed). This
information from the Suffolk CAMRA site (see Links).
Other dwellings were made from the stables and a small group of houses
was built on the former garden in a simple but traditional form.
Through the archway is the Adam-style Assembly Room built in the
courtyard in about 1735. It was the centre of fashionable life in Eye.
Balls, concerts and banquets were held here. Between 1988 and 2005 it
was used as a theatre, firstly as the Somershey and then from 1991 as
the Eye Theatre.
Lambseth Street reaches out north-westerly from the
town centre and, close to the bridge over a tributory of the River
Dove, is a fine example of the crinkle-crankle wall.This serpentine
wall is built to form a strong and durable wall which is only one brick
thick, saving materials whilst producing a visually pleasing effect.
However, it is very labour- and skill intensive. Behind this wall, is
Chandos Lodge, dating from 1811, but more well known as the home of the
late Sir Frederick Ashton, once Director of the Royal Ballet. Other
examples of crinkle-crankle walls can be seen in Tunstall and
This triple-gabled building has letting tucked away
over the windows. The present almshouses date from 1850, when they
replaced buildings which had been endowed by Nicholas Bedingfield in
1636. They exhibit many high Victorian details, such as 'fish scale'
tiles, neo-Tudor chimneys, red brick with blue brick diaper work, and
stone canopies and window surrounds.
Reading for the left, the upper tablet in its niche reads:
We assume that the
(rather important) name of the philanthropist, Nicholas Bedingfield,
suffered a 'typo' under the chisel of the inscription carver. There is
certainly no space there for the 'i' in 'Bedingfield'. We also assume
that this tablet was saved from the original almshouses and reinstated
Below this is the lettering in sharp relief on a stone scroll:
Above: the central ornate gable bears a niche with a much degraded coat
of arms – presumably of the Bedingfield family – with the scrolled
words 'ANNO DOMINI' (somewhat damaged) below.
The third gable features another rescued tablet in a niche:
THOMAS FARRON, Archt.'
The attribution to the
architect is reasonably reliable, but the final line of text is badly
split and unreadable. Below ths is the scrolled date 'MDCCCL' (Roman
numerals for 1850).
The inscriptions above the windows, strung together read ‘BELIEVE
RIGHT, DOE WELL, AVOID ILL FOR HEAVEN AMEN, POVERTIE, HUMILITIE,
PATIENCE AND CHARIITIE’.
All images 2022 (unless shown)
Grade II* listed, the building was commissioned to
replace the Corn
Exchange in Broad Street, which had previously been used as a civic
meeting place; it was largely paid for by the local member of
parliament, Sir Edward Kerrison, 2nd Baronet. It was designed by Edward
Buckton Lamb in the Italianate style, built in red and brown brick with
rhombus-shaped sections of flint decoration and was completed in 1857.
A journalist writing for The Builder
described the structure as a 'very successful brick building', whereas
the architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, described it as 'the
horrible town hall of 1857 with the horrible tower'. The building
continued to serve as the headquarters of the Borough Council for much
of the 20th century, but ceased to be local seat of government when the
enlarged Mid Suffolk District Council was formed in 1974. Instead, the
building became the meeting place of Eye Town Council.
3 Church Street
'LACONS ALES & SPIRITS'
Turning off Broad Street
into Church Street, one finds a former public house Two versions of the
brewer's advertisement are painted on the brickwork and well-preserved:
white capitals on a green ground in a white-borderd cartouche. The
White Horse traded here from 1840 and 1920. There are Lacons brewery
signs around the East Anglia, see our page on Bungay
for details about
the Great Yarmouth Brewery.
12 Church Street
In 2009 the 'Eye Branch' lettering
had been splendidly picked out in blue – all whited over by the 2020
photograph (above). Also worth noting are the Art Deco-style capitals
supporting the over-sign.
41/43 Church Street
At this end of the street, note the steady curve towards the church,
which follows the outer bailey, or earthworks which enclosed the inner
bailey and 'motte', the mound on which the castle stood, of Eye
This chunky style of house name frame can be seen
several times in variantions in Church Street. Those on the left sid of
this group echo the 'gothic florid' letterform of Denmark
Cottages.Those on the right are more workaday capitals.
Here is a view of the motte and castle behind the
in, logically, Castle Street. In Anglo-Saxon Britain, prior to the
Norman Conquest, Eye was one of the numerous holdings of Edric of
Laxfield, a wealthy and influential Anglo-Saxon and the third largest
land holder in Suffolk. After the Norman Conquest, the importance of
the town was firmly established in the region when the Honour of Eye
was granted to William Malet, a Norman Lord, and continued to be held
by royal or noble families until 1823. Between 1066 and 1071, Malet
constructed a castle, to establish his military and administrative
headquarters, and started a highly successful market thus initiating
the urbanisation of the settlement. Later in 1086-7, Robert Malet,
William’s son, founded the Benedictine Priory of St Peter, a cell of
the Abbey of Bernay in Normandy. The Abbey (now a private house)
occupies the site and there are very few remains of the priory still in
existence. Eye began to lose its strategic importance after 1173 when
the castle was attacked by Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, during the
rebellion against Henry II, and later during the Barons’ War of 1265
after which it never regained its former status. Its prison continued
to be used use until the early 17th century despite a gradual
demolition of most of the castle buildings during the 14th century. A windmill, built in 1561-2,
stood on the motte until the circular mock keep was built in 1844. The
ruins of the keep are still in place today, and Castle Street and
Church Street trace the elliptical shape of the former outer bailey.
Gospel Centre chapel
Because The Vine Church, accessed via Dove Lane off Castle Street, is a
former Baptist chapel (1868), we assume that the Gospel Centre is a
former Methodist chapel. The lettered name board in a recess at the top
of the gable probably covers an original stone tablet saying 'Methodist
The two foundation stones shown below include the builder's name. A.A.
Jermyn 'of Lynn' (the early name for Kings Lynn) may have been a
Methodist elder who was instrumental in the setting up of the chapel.
WAS LAID BY
OF THIS TOWN
OCT. 24 1877
D. DAY. BUILDER'
WAS LAID BY
OCTOBER 24TH 1877.'
We haven't even mentioned the fine Guildhall and huge church at the end
of Church Street...
18 Lowgate Street
Lacons sign is preserved on 18 Lowgate Street, formerly The Horse Shoes
public house. Other ceramaic Lacons signs can be found around Suffolk,
for example in Knodishall and Westleton. Started trading in the 18th
century and closed in either 1991 or 1992. Eye now has only one public
house, The Queen’s Head. In 1850 there were fourteen, and five beer
houses. Until the early 20th century there were two breweries, one in
Lambseth Street, and one in Wellington Road, plus the maltings found in
most Suffolk towns.
Corner of Lowgate Street and Magdalen
Well, it certainly looks like a bank. That pediment
between balustraded decoration, surely once bore the word 'BANK' carved
in stone. The ghost sign 'ESTABLISHED' can be made out, but not the
date. Today it is the Bank Arts Centre – it seems to think that it's at
18 Castle Street, which is an Eye eccentricity, presumably.