Bury St Edmunds

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Bury St Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds City Center.jpg
St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds
Grid reference: TL855645
Location: 52°14’51"N, 0°43’6"E
Population: 35,015  (2001)
Post town: Bury St. Edmunds
Postcode: IP28–IP33
Dialling code: 01284
Local Government
Council: West Suffolk
Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds is a pretty market town in Suffolk. The town centre has a ruined abbey and a living cathedral, and a bustling, close-set collection of shopping streets. The cathedral is the episcopal seat of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

The town is known for brewing, malting and sugar-making; here will be found a large Greene King brewery and a British Sugar processing factory, making sugar from the vast sugar-beet harvest of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Many large and small businesses are located in Bury, which traditionally has given Bury an affluent economy with low unemployment, and the town is the main cultural and retail centre for western Suffolk. Tourism is also a major part of the economy.

About the town

Post Office

Near the gardens stands Britain's first internally illuminated street sign, the Pillar of Salt which was built in 1935, at the terminus of the A1101. There is a network of tunnels which are evidence of chalk-workings,[1] 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.[2]

Among noteworthy buildings is St Mary's Church, where Mary Tudor, Queen of France and sister of King Henry VIII, was re-buried, six years after her death, having been moved from the Abbey after her brother dissolved the abbey. Queen Victoria had a stained glass window fitted into the church to commemorate Mary's interment.[3] Moreton Hall, a Grade II* listed building by Robert Adam, now houses the Moreton Hall Preparatory School.[4]

Name of the town

Bury St Edmunds has an alternative name no longer used of the town at least; St Edmundsbury. Both forms of the name are of the same root and come from the abbey which stood here until the Reformation, dedicated to and containing the bones of Edmund, the martyred King of East Anglia. It appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Scte Eadmundes burg

It is said that before the charter of the abbey was granted, the place was named Beodericesweorþ. The town is supposed by some to have been the Villa Faustina of the Romans.

The formal name of both the borough and the diocese is "St. Edmundsbury". Local residents more often refer to Bury St Edmunds simply as "Bury".


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 330 feet, though parts of the town itself are as low as 100 feet above sea level where the Rivers Lark and Linnet pass through it.


Bury St Edmunds has a Gothic Revival cathedral and a large parish church. In the Middle Ages it was dominated by an abbey, dissolved at the Reformation.


In the centre of Bury St Edmunds lie the remains of an abbey, surrounded by the Abbey Gardens, a park. The abbey was a shrine to Saint Edmund, the King of the East Angles. The abbey was sacked by the townspeople in the 14th century, and then largely destroyed during the 16th century at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


The Great Court and St Edmundsbury Cathedral

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 United Kingdom. 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

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).


Early period

Bury St Edmunds was one of the royal towns of East Anglia. 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 King 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.[5]

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.[5] 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.[5] The town developed into a flourishing cloth-making town, with a large woollen trade, by the 14th century.[6] In 1405 Henry IV granted another fair.[5]

In 1327, the Great Riot occurred, in which the local populace led an armed revolt against the Abbey.[6] 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.[6] However, in 1381 during the Great Uprising, the Abbey was sacked and looted again: this time, the Prior was executed and his severed head was placed on a pike in the Great Market.

Modern period

The Abbey was at last dissolved by Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Instead of declining with the loss of such a major economic factor, Bury began to thrive and remained prosperous throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, falling into relative decline only with the Industrial Revolution.

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. King 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.[5]

On 11 April 1608 a great fire broke out in Eastgate Street, which resulted in 160 dwellings and 400 outhouses being destroyed.[6]

Thomas Warren's map of Bury St Edmunds, 1776

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.[5] The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 reduced the representation to one.[5]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Between 1599 and 1694, the town was the setting for the Bury St. Edmunds witch trials.[9]

During the Second World War, the United States Army Air Force used RAF Station Rougham airfield outside the town.[10]


Theatre Royal
  • 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.
  • 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, costume, horology, local and social history; including Red Barn Murder and Witchcraft.[11]
  • Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery in The Market Cross, restored by Robert Adam in the late 1700s.

The town holds a festival in May. This including concerts, plays, dance, and lectures culminating in fireworks.

Bury St Edmunds is home to England's oldest Scout group; 1st Bury St Edmunds (Mayor's Own).

Local economy


The Nutshell pub

The United Kingdom'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.


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). Also coming from the process are molassed sugar beet feed for cattle and LimeX70, a soil improver. The factory has its own power station,[12] which powers around 110,000 homes. A smell of burnt starch from the plant is noticeable on some days.

Picture gallery

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Bury St Edmunds)


  1. "The Glen Chalk Caves, Bury St Edmunds" (PDF). English Nature. http://www.english-nature.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1003555.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  2. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1978/nov/29/housing-subsidence
  3. Knott, Simon. "Suffolk Churches". Archived from the original on 2007-12-03. http://web.archive.org/web/20071203124850/http://www.simonknott.co.uk/suffolkchurches/burymary.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  4. British Listed Buildings. Moreton Hall School, Bury St. Edmund's (English Heritage Building ID: 466967)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Statham, Margaret (1988). The Book of Bury St Edmunds. Buckingham, England: Barracuda Books. pp. 12 –13. ISBN 0860234053. 
  7. Thompson, Roger, Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629-1640, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.
  8. Thompson, Roger, Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629-1640, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994, 18.
  9. Notestein, Wallace A History of Witchcraft In England from 1558 to 1718 , American Historical Association 1911 (reissued 1965) New York Russell & Russell , ISBN 8240954829816
  10. "America in Suffolk". St Edmundsbury Borough Council. http://www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/sebc/visit/suffolk-america.cfm. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  11. "Moyse's Hall Museum". St Edmundsbury Borough Council. http://www.moyseshall.org. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  12. Industrial-scale evaporators Chemical Engineering Department, University of Cambridge