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Bury St Edmunds is a market town in the county of Suffolk, England, and formerly the county town of West Suffolk. It is the main town in the borough of St Edmundsbury and known for the ruined abbey near the town centre. Bury is the seat of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, with the episcopal see at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
The town originally called Beodericsworth, is known for brewing and malting (with the large Greene King brewery) and for a British Sugar processing factory. Many large and small businesses are located in Bury, which traditionally has given Bury an affluent economy with low unemployment,with the town being the main cultural and retail centre for West Suffolk. Tourism is also a major part of the economy, plus local government.
It is in the Bury St Edmunds parliamentary constituency and is represented in Parliament by David Ruffley.
Bury St Edmunds (Beodericsworth, St Edmund’s Bury), supposed by some to have been the Villa Faustina of the Romans, was one of the royal towns of the Saxons. Sigebert, king of the East Angles, founded a monastery here about 633, which in 903 became the burial place of King Edmund, who was slain by the Danes in 869, and owed most of its early celebrity to the reputed miracles performed at the shrine of the martyr king. The town grew around Bury St Edmunds Abbey, a site of pilgrimage. By 925 the fame of St Edmund had spread far and wide, and the name of the town was changed to St Edmund’s Bury. In 942 or 945 King Edmund had granted to the abbot and convent jurisdiction over the whole town, free from all secular services, and Canute in 1020 freed it from episcopal control. Edward the Confessor made the abbot lord of the franchise. Sweyn, in 1020, having destroyed the older monastery and ejected the secular priests, built a Benedictine abbey on St Edmund’s Bury.
The town is associated with Magna Carta. In 1214 the barons of England are believed to have met in the Abbey Church and sworn to force King John to accept the Charter of Liberties, the document which influenced the creation of the Magna Carta. By various grants from the abbots, the town gradually attained the rank of a borough.
Henry III in 1235 granted to the abbot two annual fairs, one in December (which still survives) and the other the great St Matthew’s fair, which was abolished by the Fairs Act of 1871. In 1327, the Great Riot occurred, in which the local populace led an armed revolt against the Abbey. The burghers were angry at the overwhelming power, wealth and corruption of the monastery, which ran almost every aspect of local life with a view to enriching itself. The riot destroyed the main gate and a new, fortified gate was built in its stead. However in 1381 during the Great Uprising, the Abbey was sacked and looted again. This time, the Prior was executed; his severed head was placed on a pike in the Great Market. On 11 April 1608 a great fire broke out in Eastgate Street, which resulted in 160 dwellings and 400 outhouses being destroyed.
The town developed into a flourishing cloth-making town, with a large woollen trade, by the 14th century. In 1405 Henry IV granted another fair.
Elizabeth I in 1562 confirmed the charters which former kings had granted to the abbots. The reversion of the fairs and two markets on Wednesday and Saturday were granted by James I in fee farm to the corporation. James I in 1606 granted a charter of incorporation with an annual fair in Easter week and a market. James granted further charters in 1608 and 1614, as did Charles II in 1668 and 1684.
Parliaments were held in the borough in 1272, 1296 and 1446, but the borough was not represented until 1608, when James I conferred on it the privilege of sending two members. The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 reduced the representation to one.
The borough of Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area, like much of East Anglia, being part of the Eastern Association, supported Puritan sentiment during the first half of the 17th century. By 1640, several families had departed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the wave of emigration that occurred during the Great Migration. Bury’s ancient grammar school also educated notable puritan theologians such as Richard Sibbes, the master of St. Catherine’s Hall in Cambridge and noteworthy future colonists such as Simonds D’Ewes and John Winthrop, Jr.
The town was the setting for the Bury St. Edmunds witch trials between 1599 and 1694.
During the Second World War, the USAAF used RAF Station Rougham airfield outside the town.
The town council was formed in 2003. The election on 3 May 2007 was won by the “Abolish Bury Town Council” party. The party lost its majority following a by-election in June 2007 and, to date, the Town Council is still in existence. In March 2008 a further by-election put Conservatives in control but in the council election of May 2011 the lack of Conservative and other parties’ candidates let in a Labour majority before the election was even held.
Near the gardens stands Britain’s first internally illuminated street sign, the Pillar of Salt which was built in 1935. The sign is at the terminus of the A1101, Great Britain’s lowest road.
There is a network of tunnels which are evidence of chalk-workings, though there is no evidence of extensive tunnels under the town centre. Some buildings have inter-communicating cellars. Due to their unsafe nature the chalk-workings are not open to the public, although viewing has been granted to individuals. Some have caused subsidence in living history, for instance at Jacqueline Close.
Among noteworthy buildings is St Mary’s Church, where Mary Tudor, Queen of France and sister of Tudor king Henry VIII, was re-buried, six years after her death, having been moved from the Abbey after her brother’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Queen Victoria had a stained glass window fitted into the church to commemorate Mary’s interment. Moreton Hall, a Grade II* listed building by Robert Adam, now houses the Moreton Hall Preparatory School.
Bury St Edmunds has one of the wholetime fire stations run by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Originally located in the Traverse (now the Halifax Building Society), it moved to Fornham Road in 1953. The Fornham Road site (now Mermaid Close) closed in 1987 and the fire station moved to its current location on Parkway North.
Bury is located in the middle of an undulating area of East Anglia known as the East Anglian Heights, with land to the East and West of the town rising to above 100 metres (328 feet), though parts of the town itself are as low as 30 metres (98 feet) above sea level where the Rivers Lark and Linnet pass through it.
The name Bury is etymologically connected with borough, which has cognates in other Germanic languages such as the German “burg” meaning “fortress, castle”; Old Norse “borg” meaning “wall, castle”; and Gothic “baurgs” meaning “city”. They all derive from Proto-Germanic *burgs meaning “fortress”. This in turn derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *bhrgh meaning “fortified elevation”, with cognates including Welsh bera (“stack”) and Sanskrit bhrant- (“high, elevated building”). There is thus no justification for the folk etymology stating that the Cathedral Town was so called because St Edmund was buried there.
The second section of the name refers to Edmund King of the East Angles, who was killed by the Vikings in the year 869. He became venerated as a saint and a martyr, and his shrine made Bury St Edmunds an important place of pilgrimage.
The formal name of both the borough and the diocese is “St. Edmundsbury”. Local residents often refer to Bury St Edmunds simply as “Bury”.
Bury St Edmunds has a Gothic Revival cathedral and a large parish church, and used to have an abbey. Its Unitarian meeting house has existed since the early 18th century as a non-conformist chapel.
In the centre of Bury St Edmunds lie the remains of an abbey, surrounded by the Abbey Gardens, a park. The abbey is a shrine to Saint Edmund, the Saxon King of the East Angles. The abbey was sacked by the townspeople in the 14th century, and then largely destroyed during the 16th century with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but Bury remained prosperous throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, falling into relative decline with the Industrial Revolution.
Bury St Edmunds Cathedral was created when the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was formed in 1914. The cathedral was extended with an eastern end in the 1960s, commemorated by Benjamin Britten’s Fanfare for St Edmundsbury. A new Gothic revival cathedral tower was built as part of a Millennium project running from 2000 to 2005. The opening for the tower took place in July 2005, and included a brass band concert and fireworks. Parts of the cathedral remain uncompleted, including the cloisters. Many areas remain inaccessible to the public due to building work. The tower makes St Edmundsbury the only recently completed Anglican cathedral in the UK. Only a handful of Gothic revival cathedrals are being built worldwide. The tower was constructed using original fabrication techniques by six masons who placed the machine-pre-cut stone individually as they arrived.
St. Mary’s Church is the civic church of Bury St. Edmunds and the third largest parish church in England. It was part of the abbey complex and originally was one of three large churches in the town (the others being St. James, now St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, and St. Margaret’s, now gone).It is renowned for its magnificent hammer-beam Angel roof, and is the final resting place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk and favourite sister of Henry VIII (Mary Rose). St Mary’s is also home to the Chapel of the Suffolk and Royal Anglian Regiments.
The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds was built by National Gallery architect William Wilkins in 1819. It is the sole surviving Regency Theatre in the country . The theatre, owned by the Greene King brewery, is leased to the National Trust for a nominal charge, and underwent restoration between 2005 and 2007. It presents a full programme of performances and is also open for public tours.
Moyse’s Hall Museum is one of the oldest (c. 1180) domestic buildings in East Anglia open to the public. It has collections of fine art, for example Mary Beale, costume, e.g. Charles Frederick Worth, horology, local and social history; including Red Barn Murder and Witchcraft.
Smiths Row, a contemporary art gallery, is located in The Market Cross, restored by Robert Adam in the late 1700s. The Gallery was established in 1972 and today hosts a programme of changing contemporary art and craft exhibitions and events by British and international artists. Artists featured in the Gallery have included Cornelia Parker, David Batchelor, Anri Sala and Mark Fairnington.
The town holds a festival in May. This including concerts, plays, dance, and lecturers culminating in fireworks. Bury St Edmunds is home to England’s oldest Scout group, 1st Bury St Edmunds (Mayors Own).
The UK’s largest British-owned brewery, Greene King, is situated in Bury, as is the smaller Old Cannon Brewery. Just outside the town, on the site of RAF Bury St Edmunds, is Bartrums Brewery, originally based in Thurston.
Another beer-related landmark is Britain’s smallest public house, The Nutshell, which is on The Traverse, just off the marketplace. It is allegedly the smallest pub in Britain and also believed to be haunted. Yearly, the ‘Big Bury Piss Up’ takes place on the first Friday of November. This day is supposedly to remember Big Beer Barry, a townsman that drank himself to death with Greene King IPA on the first Friday of November in 1973.
Bury’s largest landmark is the British Sugar factory near the A14, which processes sugar beet into refined crystal sugar. It was built in 1925 when the town’s MP, Walter Guinness, was Minister of Agriculture. It processes beet from 1,300 growers. 660 lorry-loads of beet can be accepted each day when beet is being harvested. Not all the beet can be crystallised immediately, and some is kept in solution in holding tanks until late spring and early summer, when the plant has spare crystallising capacity. The sugar is sold under the Silver Spoon name (the other major British brand, Tate & Lyle, is made from imported sugar cane). By-products include molassed sugar beet feed for cattle and LimeX70, a soil improver. The factory has its own power station, which powers around 110,000 homes. A smell of burnt starch from the plant is noticeable on some days.
Bury St Edmunds is served by a railway station, operated by Greater Anglia, on the Ipswich to Ely Line.
The town is twinned with Compiègne, Oise, Picardy, France; and Kevelaer, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.