This attractive rural town takes its name from St Edmund, the last great Saxon king of East Anglia, who was martyred at the hands of the Danes in AD 870. His bones were taken to a shrine at the town's monastery, which soon became an important place of pilgrimage. So much so that it was raised to abbey status by King Canute in 1032.
Today the imposing abbey ruins stand in colourful gardens and parkland to the east of the town centre, a lovely place to walk or take a picnic. The 13th-c Abbot's Bridge still spans the River Lark, which flows along the edge of the gardens.
On the edge of the former abbey precincts is the l5th-c St Mary's church, the resting place of Mary Tudor, which has an impressive hammerbeam roof decorated with angels. Between the two abbey gateways sits the slightly later St James's, with its 150ft Gothic style tower, that has been the town's cathedral since 1914.
Angel Hill, in front of the main abbey gatehouse, is a spacious square surrounded by many fine buildings, such as the 18th-c Athenaeum. An assembly hall where Charles Dickens once gave readings. The novelist also stayed at the nearby ivy-clad Angel Hotel in 1859/61. The narrow pedestrianised Abbeygate Street, which leads up from Angel Hill to the main town centre, is lined with quaint little shops, tea rooms and restaurants.
Near the top of the town centre, at the junction of Cornhill and Butter Market, is the medieval Moyse's Hall. This fine flint faced hall, built in 1180, is said to be the oldest Norman house in East Anglia, and houses the town's local and natural history Museum. The nearby Market Cross building, off Cornhill, was designed by Robert Adam in 1771, and now contains an art gallery. At the other end of Cornhill (leading to Guildhall Street) is the l5th-c Guildhall, with a central tower and 13th-c gateway.
The town is a pleasant area to shop with many Georgian shop fronts preserved in some streets. There are many other places of interest in Bury, including the Malthouse Project heritage centre and the Theatre Royal built in 1819 by William Wilkins (architect for the National Gallery), one of only three surviving Georgian playhouses. In The Traverse, behind the Guildhall, is The Nutshell - thought to be the smallest pub in England.
Tourist Information Centre:
|6 Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 1UZ - Tel: 01284 764667|
This restored 12th-c building houses the town's local history museum. Exhibits include Bronze Age weapons and iron age artifacts excavated from West Stow, archaeology and social history. Among the fascinating collections are some gruesome artifacts from the notorious William Corder (regarding the Red Barn Murder) and also part of the Gershom-Parkington collection of clocks and watches.
Opening times: Mon-Fri 10.30am - 4.30pm, Sat & Sun 11am - 4pm. Admission Charge
Location: Cornhill, Bury St Edmonds IP33 1DX
Tel: 01284 706183
Bury St Edmunds Abbey was once larger than Ely Cathedral, but all that remains today are two gatehouses and fragmentary ruins. The west front, now stripped of its facade, has houses built into it. The impressive l2th-c bell-tower still stands, originally one of the Abbey's main gates. Another later 14th-c and highly decorative gateway stands in Angel Hill, forming the main entrance to the Abbey Gardens. The main bulk of the abbey, situated in the extensive grounds behind these two gateways, is now a crumbling ruin. A great fire destroyed the abbey in 1465. It was then rebuilt again in even greater splendour, only to be torn down just one year later as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
A small plaque on one of the remaining central pillars marks the spot, where in 1214 King John's barons urged the king to accept the Magna Carta, an event recalled in Bury's ancient motto, "Shrine of a King, cradle of the Law".
During the Middle Ages the abbey became an important centre of learning. Its scribes produced many exquisite illuminated manuscripts which are today some of the most treasured possessions of museums across the world.
Opening times: any reasonable time. Admission Free
Location: Main entrance off Angel Hill, east of the town centre.
Contains once of the most extensive collections of military memorabilia in the country. Including weapons (ancient and modern), uniforms, insignia, photographs, medals, badges and musical instruments.
Opening times: Apr~Sept: 1st & 3rd Wed & 1st Sun each month 9.30am - 3.30pm. Admission Free
Location: Gibraltar Barracks, Newmarket Road, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3RN - Tel: 01284 752394