Commemorative plate produced to mark the opening of the Suffolk Regiment Depot in 1878. The Armoury, now known as the Keep, the only surviving building from the original Depot, is now the home of the regimental museum.
As part of his far-reaching Army reforms in the 1870s, Edward Cardwell, the Secretary of State for War, proposed to divide the country into 66 infantry districts, each of which would have a regimental depot. The objects were to link infantry regiments with their localities, encourage recruitment locally, provide an administrative centre and better facilities for training and help link the Regular Army with the Militia. Suffolk was designated the 32nd Military District, with its depot in Bury St Edmunds. Although the West Suffolk Militia already had a depot in Bury (the site of Yeomanry Yard, off King’s Rd), it was decided to build a new depot which would accommodate the Militia and the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment (which in 1881 would become the Suffolk Regiment).
A site of 15 acres on the north side of Newmarket Rd was purchased by the War Office from the Governors of Bury Grammar School. The buildings were designed at the War Office by Major H C Seddon, Royal Engineers, and built by Martin Wells and Co of Aldershot at a total cost of around £50,000. The site came into use in June 1878 – one of 22 similar ones built around the country by the early 1880s.
The complex was named Gibraltar Barracks in 1938, after the first of the Regiment’s Battle Honours. Until the 1939-1945 War, the Barracks remained the Depot of the Suffolk Regiment. From then until 1959, this role was increasingly taken over by Blenheim Camp (on the opposite side of Newmarket Rd), with the Keep serving as the Armoury and Quartermaster’s Stores. This arrangement continued after 1959 with the two sites acting as the Depot for the 1st East Anglian Regiment and (after 1964) the Royal Anglian Regiment. By the time the Royal Anglians moved to the new Depot of the Queen’s Division at Bassingbourn in 1969, most of the buildings on the 1878 site had been demolished.
Apart from some of the perimeter walls, the only building on the site that now survives is The Keep, originally built as the Reservists’ clothing store and Armoury. A newspaper account in 1878 of the newly-built barracks complex described the Keep as:
a spacious building three stories in height with accommodation for 1,000 stands of ammunition on each floor; the lower part of the stands is divided into a corresponding number of lockers, each of which will hold one man’s kit. At the east end of the Armoury (the upper floors of which are reached by a lift as well as by a staircase) is a lofty water tower which adds much to the picturesque appearance of this group of buildings. The water supply is maintained by means of a three-horse power steam-engine in the basement. The roof is constructed of concrete arches, coated with asphalte on the outside, and from it a very agreeable view of the town is obtained.
The ‘toy fort’ design was typical of these buildings and was no doubt meant to impress the local population.
The Keep is one of the few Keeps from the 1870s to survive in military use; it, and the surviving boundary walls, are Grade II Listed Buildings.