Book Review: The Old Buck with a new heart revisited by Charles R. Clarke

The Old Buck (once the Running Buck public house) on St Margarets Plain is today The Key (Christian outreach centre and café).

This is the third book in a trilogy telling the story of how the parishioners of Bethesda Baptist Church took the brave decision to purchase the ancient Ipswich tavern and former nightclub, the Running Buck, and turn it into a community centre.

The story starts in June 1991 when ‘Cindy’s’ nightclub (later ‘Canes’, as the Running Buck had become) closed for the last time, shutters were fixed to the windows and the building was offered for sale.  As unlikely as it may seem, one of the interested parties investigating possibilities of a future use of the building were the adjacent Bethesda Baptists.   

The Running Buck had been advertised for sale at £700,000 but by the time negotiations started  a slump in the property market had reduced the asking price to £350,000.  The church Deacons initially offered £150,000 (rejected) and then increase the bid to £225,000 (again rejected) finally increasing their offer to a full and final £235,000 (accepted).  What both parties had failed to realise at this stage that VAT would become due on the purchase price (£41,125) and the church was simply unable to find this additional sum.

Negotiations continued throughout 1992 until finally the agents for Brent Walker accepted the Deacon’s offer of £235,000 to include VAT.  Bethesda had raised the money from donations and interest free loans from church members.  Work on the conversion could now start.

I’ll not spoil the detailed story of the conversion, its many trials and tribulations but simply report that after five years there were three apartments on the first floor and The Key café and church meeting rooms on the ground floor.

The Running Buck in 1897, Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year. Photograph courtesy Suffolk Record Office

The final third of the book details the 22 years since the opening through to 2021 and the pandemic, a breathing space which has given Charles Clarke the time and space to update the Bethesda story.

There are final chapters on The Key Outreach in the community, and a detailed history of the coffee shop (The Key Café).  It is an interesting history of a dedicated church group, with a myriad of volunteers and paid key workers with a belief that buying a pub would enhance their message.

John Norman

Also by Charles R. Clarke:

A new heart for the Old Buck, 2000

New heart still beating, 2009;

Bethesda Baptist Church: 100 Years, 2013.

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