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Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Historical Description

Bury-St-Edmunds, a municipal and parliamentary borough, an assize, market, and union town, and head of a county court district in Suffolk. The town stands on the river Larke, which is navigable up to within a short distance of it, and it has good railway communication by the G.E.R. It is 14 miles E from Newmarket, and 76 from London via, Sudbury. The town is thought to have been the Villa Faustina of the Romans. It was made a seat of royalty soon after the settlement of the Saxons, and named Beodericsworth, signifying "the dwelling of Beoderic" after a person who had possessed it. Sigbright, the fifth king of East Anglia, on embracing Christianity about 638, founded at it a monastic church. Edmund, who succeeded to the throne of East Anglia in 855, was crowned either here or at Bures, and upon his being slain by the Danes, and acquiring the reputation of a martyr, his body, after having lain some time elsewhere, was solemnly deposited here, and occasioned the place to be called Bury-St-Edmunds. Miracles were alleged to be wrought, and great reputed sanctity was attained. A new church over the royal remains was founded in 925 by Athelstane, and a splendid enlargement of this, with the character of a Benedictine abbey, was commenced in 1020 by Canute, and consecrated in 1032. A gorgeous shrine for Edmund's body was constructed in it, and Canute came hither in person and offered his crown. A further enlargement of the edifice was begun soon afterwards, and completed in 1095. Edward the Confessor frequently dismounted within a mile of the abbey, and entered it on foot. Henry I. did homage in it for his safe return to his dominions. Eustace plundered it in 1153. Henry II. was crowned in it, and he carried the banner of St Edmund in front of his troops at the battle of Fornham, and ascribed to its influence the victory he obtained. Richard I. made a visit to the shrine before going to Palestine. King John was at Bury-St-Edmunds in 1201 and 1203, and a meeting of barons here shared with that of Runnimede the honour of wresting from him the Magna Charta. The Dauphin Louis plundered the abbey in 1216, and took away Edmund's body. Henry III. held a parliament here in 1272, and it was at Bury St Edmunds he contracted the disease which terminated in his death. Edward I. and his queen visited the shrine five times in the course of his reign, and he held a parliament in the town in 1296. Edward II. kept his Christmas here in 1326, and his queen Isabella marched hither with the troops from the Prince of Hainault, and made Bury her rallying point. An assault with great damage was made on the abbey in 1327 by the townspeople, and suppressed by military force. Edward III. and Richard II. made visits to the shrine. The insurgents under Jack Straw in 1381 beheaded Lord Chief Justice Cavendish at Bury, attacked the abbey, and slew the abbot. Henry VI. spent his Christmas here in 1433, and also held a parliament in 1446, and Shakespeare lays a scene here in that monarch's reign. Henry VII. was here in 1486. The Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk in 1526 assembled their troops at Bury to quell the insurrection at Lavenham, Sudbury, and the adjacent country. The Duke of Northumberland, on proclaiming Lady Jane Grey to be successor of Edward VI., made Bury the rendezvous of his troops in support of her cause. Twelve persons were burnt at the stake here on account of religious tenets in the reign of Mary. A visit was made to Bury in 1578 by Elizabeth. A great fire broke out in 1608, destroyed 160 dwelling-houses, and property to the value of £60,000. The plague made such havoc in 1636 that the grass grew in the streets. Forty persons in the reign of James I., two of them tried before Sir Matthew Hale, were put to death in Bury for the imaginary crime of witchcraft.

The town occupies a gentle descent, on a sandy soil, amid pleasant environs. It measures about 1½ mile by 1½, and is well built. The shire-hall is a modern erection, incorporating part of the ancient church of St Margaret, and contains two convenient courts for criminal and civil causes. In this building the quarter sessions and the summer assizes are held, the spring assizes formerly held here having been removed to Ipswich. The Guildhall gives name to a street, is a handsome edifice with an old porch, and contains some interesting old portraits. It is used for the transaction of the general business of the borough, one wing being devoted to the use of the West Suffolk Library. The old County Bridewell is now used as an hospital for infectious diseases. Moyses' Hall or the Jews' House is a fine and almost unique specimen of Norman Domestic architecture, some portions dating back to the end of the llth century. It was formerly used as a police station, but a new station, constructed on the most approved modern principles, was erected in 1892. The Corn Exchange was built in 1862, has a frontage of 82 feet and a depth of 119 feet, consists of nave and aisles, and has an elliptical iron roof, glazed for about 20 feet on each side of the arch. The Athenaeum was built in 1854, is a spacious structure, and contains apartments for a public club, a reading-room, a museum, a library of about 12,000 volumes, and a large hall. The Mechanics' Institute, formerly held in the Town Hall, was in 1878 removed to the Athenaeum. The Botanic Garden was established in 1820. The theatre was built in 1819. Mediaeval vaults are under the Angel Inn. Five gates were in the town walls, but have disappeared. A Franciscan priory, a college, five hospitals, and at least twenty-eight churches or chapels, besides the existing parish churches and the abbey chapels, were in the town at the Reformation, but most are known now only by their sites or even only by their names. The college was founded by Edward IV., and is now used by the poor-law guardians as a board-room, pay-room, vaccination station, &c.; St Saviour's Hospital was founded in 1184, appears to have been of great extent, and has all perished except a gateway; St Nicholas' Hospital was converted into a farmhouse; the stone chapel became a small inn; and two or three other chapels are represented by fragmentary ruins. The abbey church was cruciform, 506 feet from end to end, 241 feet along the transept; had a nave of thirteen bays, a choir of five bays, a circular apse containing the shrine, several chapels, a central lantern, and two octagonal western towers; and was built of flint and boulder cased with Barnack stone. The cloisters and other buildings connected with it were of corresponding magnitude. Three arches of the west front are incorporated with modern houses; the central tower, 36 feet wide and 86 feet high, still stands, was restored in 1847, forms now the grand entrance to the churchyard of the two parish churches, and is a fine specimen of Norman architecture; and the abbey gatehouse, 50 feet by 40 and 62 feet high, also still stands, and is rich Decorated English; but all the other parts hare perished. The revenues were equivalent to about £50,000 of the present day, and passed at the dissolution chiefly to the Ayres and the Bacons. St Mary's Church, one of the finest churches in England, was built in 1005 and rebuilt in 1424-80, is 213 feet long, and contains altar-tombs of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and five persons of the 15th century. St James' Church was built in 1200, rebuilt in 1500, and repaired in 1820, and the chancel was rebuilt very ornately in 1869. St John's Church was built in 1841 at a cost of £6000, and is a handsome structure. St Peter's Church, a plain flint and stone building, with spire in the Decorated style, was erected in 1858. There are also several dissenting chapels in Bury. The Baptists have chapels in Westgate Road and Garland Street. The Roman Catholic chapel in Westgate Street was erected in 1837, and has a fine statue of St Edmund, the martyr king, and an alms box said to have been made from the wood of the tree to which he was bound. There is a Congregational chapel in Whiting Street; a Friends' meetinghouse in St John's Street, erected in 1750; a Primitive Methodist chapel in Garland Street, rebuilt in 1851; a Unitarian chapel, built in 1750, in Churchgate Street; and a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Brentgood Street, erected in 1878. The Brethren have also a small chapel in Garland Street. The Grammar School was founded by Edward VI., and is well endowed. It was formerly lield in Northgate Street, but was moved to a more open site in 1883. It ia now managed in accordance with a scheme sanctioned by the Charity Commissioners in 1879, and possesses some valuable exhibitions and scholarships. There are also the Guildhall Feoffment Schools, consisting of the Guildhall middle school, the girls' elementary school, and the boys' elementary school, which are partially endowed. The Suffolk General Hospital was rebuilt in 1864 at a cost of £13,000. Clopton's Asylum for decayed tradesmen of the town, with an annual income of £700, is an edifice in the Tudor style, built in 1842.

The town of Bury is well built, and is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors, and a recorder. Under the sanction of the corporation, sewer, main drainage, and irrigation works have been completed at a cost of about £38,000, and the corporation liaving become the urban sanitary authority, have secured an excellent supply of water at a cost of about £12,000. The town formerly returned two members to Parliament, but by the provisions of the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, it now returns one only. Very little manufacture is carried on here, but the town is a great market for agricultural produce of all kinds. The market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays- the Wednesday market being chiefly for corn and cattle, and the Saturday market for provisions. A large fair for caftle is held here on the first Tuesday in December, but the fairs formerly held in Easter and October have fallen into disuse. It has a head post office, is the seat of assizes and sessions, publishes three weekly newspapers½ and has three banks. Its borough boundaries, both parliamentarily and municipally, are the same as those of the two parishes and of the district. Acreage, 2947; population of the municipal and parliamentary borough, 16,630; area of the civil parish of St James, 1331 acres; population, 9968; area of St Mary, 1616 acres; population, 6662. Lord Chancellor Aungervile, Bishop Gardner, Battely the antiquary, Sir J. Cullum, Capel Lofft, Bishop Tomline, Bishop Blomfield, and Repton the landscape gardener, were natives; Norwold the annalist, Eversden the historian, and Lydgate the poet, were connected with the abbey; Archbishop Sancroft, Lord Keeper North, Anstey, Cumberland, the Bunburys, Romilly, and a number of other distinguished men were educated at the grammar-school, and Madame de Genlis, Defoe, and Wollaston were residents. The town gives the title of Viscount to Earl Albemarie.

The two civil parishes are St Mary and St James; the latter includes the ecclesiastical parish of St John, formed m 1846, and all three vicarages are in the diocese of Ely. The vicarage of St James is of the gross yearly value of £480; the vicarage of St Mary, of the gross value of £350 with residence. St John's was endowed with £100 yearly out of land at Little Saxham by the then Marquess of Bristol, and it receives aid from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and from Queen Anne's Bounty. It is in the gift of the Bishop of Ely. St Peter's Church is without endowment, and serves as a chapel of ease to St Mary. Population of the ecclesiastical parish of St Mary, 6662; of St James, 4281; and of St John, 5687.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySuffolk 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Bury St Edmunds from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Suffolk is available to browse.


Online maps of Bury St Edmunds are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Suffolk papers online:

DistrictSt. Edmundsbury
Postal districtIP33
Post TownBury St. Edmunds