Tuesday, March 10th, 1863, was a red-letter day in the history of Sudbury and one that was remembered for many years afterwards. Some weeks before the Mayor, Samuel Higgs, held a public meeting to decide the best way of celebrating the wedding of the Prince of Wales, (the future Edward VII), and it was resolved that the day should be observed as a general holiday in Sudbury with the shops closed, a procession through the town, a tea party for the children, fireworks in the evening, and money distributed to some of the poorer cottagers. A committee was formed and about £100 was collected.
The wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark was to take place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle – a long way from Suffolk – but loyal Sudburians, along with the rest of the country, were determined to celebrate. The festivities were to begin in Old Market Place with the Volunteers firing cannons at dawn and firing volleys in other locations. The day was to finish with a torchlit procession, illuminations, fireworks and a bonfire on the Market Hill.
A new permanent 40-foot flag staff was especially put up on the roof of the Town Hall in order to display the Royal Standard whilst the Union Jack, Danish flag and British ensign floated from poles projecting from the pediment. Many of the houses and businesses in Sudbury were covered with flags, banners and evergreens, together with lanterns that would illuminate the town in the evening.
In Friars Street, for example, Numbers 17 and 18 were no exception. Mr. Pratt’s house was covered with Chinese lanterns, a large Danish flag and the British ensign. A banner was stretched across the street with the words ‘God bless the Prince and Princess of Wales,’ with evergreens and mottoes attached to poles to form an arch. A splendid trophy was displayed on the central window of the first floor, consisting of several large bouquets of flowers lit up with six illuminated Bohemian glass lustres with wax candles, some white vases, bouquets in silver holders and a plume of feathers at the back. Small statues and lamps were arranged on the front door steps with scarlet damask drapery together with a few illuminating lamps in front.
Even the solicitor, Mr Dowman, next door at Number 18, who was close to bankruptcy and soon to lose his home, had arranged another banner crossing the street with the words ‘England showers her blessings on you.’ Coloured lanterns were suspended underneath. ‘God save the Queen and Alexandra, long may she live’, was ornamented with flags.
The only drawback to all the exciting plans for the Royal wedding was the opposition of the Rev. J. W. H. Molyneux who had decided to take no personal part in the celebrations as the wedding was in Lent. He also went out of his way to persuade his friends and parishioners from celebrating. He preached a sermon against it and wrote several strongly-worded letters to the local press and refused the reasonable request of the Mayor’s Committee that the bells of the parish churches of St. Gregory and St. Peter should be rung on the occasion. The Vicar of All Saints’ Church, Rev. C. Badham, was also approached by the Committee on a similar matter and immediately agreed.
Rev. J. W. H. Molyneux was aware of hostility to his views and took possession of the keys to St. Peter’s Church and had the lock to the belfry door changed the day before the wedding. Therefore, the people of Sudbury were very surprised early the next morning to hear a merry peal ring out from the tower of St. Peter’s. No one knew the identity of the ringers or how they had taken possession of the belfry. As soon as the Rector heard the bells he rushed to the church and unlocked the doors but could not open the door leading from the turret stairs to the belfry as the ringers had barricaded themselves in so he wrote a letter to the Mayor asking him to remove the people who had taken possession of the tower. The Mayor ignored the letter and the bells continued to peal merrily all day.
At noon, the ringers were seen looking over the battlements at the crowd on the Market Hill as the bandsmen from the Volunteers played the National Anthem just before the procession of 2,000 people left for a march around the town. After three cheers had been given for the Queen, the Prince and Princess, another round was given for the ringers, which they answered by waving their hats from the tower. Bell ringing is thirsty work and stone jars of beer were hauled up to the leads for the ringers.
The intense annoyance, dismay and embarrassment of the Rector can easily be imagined as the bell ringers had won the day but there were consequences for the rebels. The story was printed in all the local papers and in some of the national papers too. Although the ringers had had their way and rung the bells of St. Peter’s for the wedding of the Prince of Wales with the support of most Sudburians, the Rector took a very serious view of their disobedience and stopped them ringing the bells at St. Peter’s and St. Gregory’s for a time. (Some of them, led by James Strutt, joined the ringers at Long Melford.)