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Bury St. Edmund's

BURY ST. EDMUND'S, a borough and market-town, having exclusive jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Thingoe, West division of Suffolk, 26½ miles (N. W. by W.) from Ipswich, and 72 (N. E. by E.) from London; containing 12,538 inhabitants. This was a place of importance before the introduction of Christianity into Britain, and is by some antiquaries supposed to have been the Villa Faustini of the Romans. That it was in the possession of that people is evident, from the discovery of many Roman antiquities. Soon after the settlement of the Saxons it was made a royal borough, and called Beodrics worthe, signifying "the dwelling of Beodric:" it subsequently belonged to Offa, King of East Anglia, who, at his death, bequeathed it to Edmund, afterwards canonized as a martyr, from whom it was named St. Edmund's Bury. Edmund, having succeeded to the kingdom of East Anglia on the death of Offa, was crowned here, in the fifteenth year of his age; but, being taken prisoner by the Danes, who in 870 made an irruption into this part of the country, he was cruelly put to death. The circumstances attending his death and burial are thus superstitiously related: on his refusal to become a vassal to the conquerors, they bound him to a tree, pierced his body with arrows, and striking off his head, threw it into a neighbouring forest. After the enemy had retired, the East Anglians assembled to perform the funeral obsequies to the remains of their sovereign; and having found the body, they went into the forest to search for the head, and discovered it between the fore-paws of a wolf, which immediately resigned it on their approach. The head, on being placed in contact with the trunk, is then said to have re-united so closely, that the juncture was scarcely visible. The subject of this story has been assumed for the device of the corporation seal.

Forty days after his death, the remains of Edmund, which had been interred at Hoxne, in a small chapel built of wood, were, from the report of miracles wrought at his tomb being promulgated and believed, removed to this place in 903; and a new church was built in honour of him, by some Secular priests, who were incorporated by King Athelstan, about the year 925, and the establishment made collegiate. The town and church having been nearly destroyed by Sweyn, King of Denmark, in 1010, were restored by Canute, who raised the town to more than its original splendour, rebuilt the church and monastery, which he endowed with great possessions, and, expelling the Secular canons, placed in their stead monks of the Benedictine order. The monastery of St. Edmund in process of time became one of the most splendid establishments in the kingdom; and, in magnificent buildings, costly decorations, valuable immunities, and rich endowments, was inferior only to that of Glastonbury. In the year 1327, the townsmen and neighbouring villagers, assembling to the number of 20,000, headed by their aldermen and capital burgesses, made a violent attack upon it, and reduced a considerable part to ashes: they wounded the monks, and pillaged the coffers, from which they took the charters, deeds, and other valuable property, including plate, £5000 sterling, and 3000 florins of gold. The king, on being informed of the outrage, sent a military force to quell the tumult; the aldermen and twentyfour of the burgesses were imprisoned, and thirty carts loaded with rioters were sent to Norwich. Of these, nineteen were executed; thirty-two of the parochial clergy were also convicted as abettors; and the inhabitants were adjudged to pay a fine of £140,000, which was afterwards mitigated on the restoration of the stolen property. The monastery remained in the possession of the Benedictine monks for 519 years; it contained within its precincts the churches of St. Margaret, St. Mary, and St. James, and its revenue, at the Dissolution, was £2336. 16. The remains consist chiefly of the abbey-gate, still entire, and displaying some elegant features in the decorated English style; the abbey bridge, in good preservation; and detached portions of the walls, which still exhibit traces of former magnificence. About 1256, a fraternity of the Franciscan order came to Bury, but they were compelled by the abbot to remove beyond the precincts of the town, where their establishment continued till the Dissolution.

Henry I., on his return from Chartres, repaired to the shrine of St. Edmund, where he presented a rich offering, in gratitude for his safe return to his dominions. In 1173, Henry II., having assembled a large army at this place, to oppose his rebellious sons, caused the sacred standard of St. Edmund to be borne in front of his troops; and to its influence was ascribed the victory that he obtained in the battle of the 27th of October. In 1214, King John was met here by the barons. Henry III. held a parliament at Bury in 1272, which may be regarded as the outline of a British house of commons; and in 1296, Edward I. visited the town, where he also held a parliament. In 1381, Sir John Cavendish, lord chief justice, was brought hither and beheaded by the Suffolk and Norfolk insurgents, amounting to 50,000 men, who afterwards attacked the abbey, executed the prior, Sir John Cambridge, and continued their career of lawless outrage till they were finally dispersed by the exertions of Spencer, the martial Bishop of Norwich. In 1526, the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk assembled their forces here, to quell a dangerous insurrection of the inhabitants of Lavenham and the adjacent country; and on the death of Edward VI., in 1553, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, made this place the rendezvous of his forces, when he caused Lady Jane Grey to be proclaimed successor to the throne. In 1555–6, twelve persons were burned at the stake, in the persecutions during the reign of Mary: in 1583, her successor, Elizabeth, visited Bury, where she was magnificently entertained.

The town is delightfully situated upon a gentle eminence, on the western bank of the river Larke, also called the Bourne, in the centre of an open and richly cultivated tract of country; the streets are spacious, well paved, and lighted with gas. The houses are in general uniform, and handsomely built, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water; the air is salubrious, the environs abound with interesting scenery, and the peculiar cleanliness of the town, and the number and variety of its public institutions, render it desirable as a place of residence. The subscription library, formed by the union of two separate establishments, one of which was founded in 1790, and the other in 1795, contains a valuable collection, and is liberally supported: there are also a newsroom, four circulating libraries, a mechanics' institute, and a billiard-room. The botanic garden, to which the abbey-gate forms the principal entrance, is an agreeable promenade, supported by an annual subscription of two guineas from each member. The theatre, a neat building erected in 1819, is opened during the great fair, by the Norwich company of comedians. Concerts take place occasionally in the old theatre, built in 1780, which has been converted to this use; and assemblies are held during the season at the subscription-rooms, erected in 1804, and handsomely fitted up. The spinning of yarn was formerly the principal source of employment for the poor, and the halls in which the wool was deposited are yet standing; but no particular branch of manufacture is at present carried on. About a mile from the town the river Larke becomes navigable to Lynn, whence coal and other commodities are brought hither in small barges. A railway to Ipswich, communicating with the line from Ipswich to London, was opened in Dec. 1846. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday, the former for corn, &c. and the latter for meat and poultry. Fairs are held on the Tuesday in Easter-week, for toys, &c.; and on October 1st, and December 1st, for horses, cattle, butter, and cheese: the great fair commences on the 10th of October, and generally continues about three weeks.

The Government, by charter of incorporation granted in the 4th of James I., and extended in the 6th and 12th of the same reign, and the 20th of Charles II., was vested in an alderman, six assistants, twelve capital burgesses, twenty-four common-councilmen, a recorder, coroner, town-clerk, four serjeants-at-mace, and subordinate officers; but by the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76., the corporation now consists of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors, and the total number of magistrates is sixteen. The freedom is acquired by apprenticeship to a freeman, and by birth. The borough first received a precept to return representatives to parliament in the 30th of Edward I., but made no subsequent return till the 4th of James I., since which it has continued to send two members. The right of election was formerly vested exclusively in the aldermen, burgesses, and common-councilmen; but, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, was extended to the £10 householders of the parishes of St. Mary and St. James, which constitute the borough, and comprise 3000 acres. The mayor is returning officer. The corporation hold courts of session for the trial of capital offenders, under a grant from William IV.; and a court of record, which embraces all pleas where the cause of action has arisen within the precincts of the borough, and the damages do not exceed £200, is held once a month. Pettysessions occur weekly; and a court for the recovery of debts under 40s. is holden under the chief steward of the liberty. The assizes for the county and liberty, the latter of which comprises seven hundreds within the county, are held here and at Ipswich alternately, there being always a separate commission for the borough and liberty; also the general quarter-sessions are held here for a certain district of the county. The powers of the county debt-court of Bury, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Bury and Thingoe, and part of the district of Stow. The shire-hall, on the site of the ancient church of St. Margaret, is a neat modern building, containing two courts for civil and criminal causes. The guildhall, where the borough courts are held, has a beautiful ancient porch of flint, brick, and stone, on which are sculptured the arms of the borough. The town bridewell, situated on the Hog Hill, was formerly a synagogue; the circular windows bespeak its antiquity, and it appears, from other parts, to be of Norman origin. The county gaol, erected in 1805, is a spacious building upon the radiating principle, surrounded by a stone wall, inclosing an octagonal area, the diameter of which is 292 feet: the house of correction near the gaol is arranged with a due regard to classification.

Bury comprises the parishes of St. Mary and St. James, each containing 6269 inhabitants. The living of each is a donative, the former in the patronage of J. Fitz-Gerald, Jun., Esq., and the latter in that of H. Wilson, Esq.: net income of St. Mary's, £110; and of St. James, which is commonly called a preachership, £106. The church dedicated to St. Mary, completed about the year 1433, is a spacious and elegant structure chiefly in the later English style, with a low massive tower; the north door is in the decorated style, and the porch, the roof of which is singularly beautiful, of later date. On the north side of the altar is a modern tablet of white marble to the memory of Mary Tudor, third daughter of Henry VII., wife of Louis XII. of France, and afterwards of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The reredos, or carved screen behind the communion-table, presented by a lady whose name is not divulged, was finished in 1847, and is a beautiful piece of stone-work, harmonizing with the general character of the edifice. A painted window, a memorial of the families of the Bishop of London and the late John Smith and James Conran, Esqrs., of the town, has been fixed over the screen, and forms a fine termination of the vista of this noble building. The church of St. James is a large and handsome edifice, in the later style of English architecture, of which the western end is a rich specimen; the church gate, leading to the precinct of the abbey, is surmounted by a Norman tower. A district church dedicated to St. John has been erected in the parish of St. James; the patronage is vested in the Bishop of Ely. There are places of worship for Independents, Baptists, the Society of Friends, Methodists, Unitarians, and Roman Catholics.

The grammar school, founded by Edward VI., in the fourth year of his reign, and placed under the control of 16 governors, is open to the sons of inhabitants, upon the payment of two guineas entrance, and the same sum per annum, if taught Latin and Greek; the annual income is £411. 15. The school has four exhibitions, tenable for four years, of the annual value of £20 each, founded by Edward Hewer in the 11th of Elizabeth; two others, of the value of £25 each, founded under a bequest by Dean Sudbury in 1670, to either of the Universities; a scholarship at Corpus Christi; and another at Jesus College, Cambridge. The residue of the funds of Dean Sudbury's bequest, which amount in the aggregate to £154 per annum, is applied in apprenticing four children. A new school-house has been erected, over the entrance to which is a bust of the founder, with an appropriate inscription. The school produced Archbishop Sancroft; the three judges, Sir Edward Alderson, Sir John Patteson, and Sir R. M. Rolfe; Bishop Blomfield, and his brother, the Rev. Edward Valentine Blomfield; the distinguished Romilly, and Kemble. The feoffees of the Guildhall estate hold in trust, for charitable uses, certain buildings, lands, and rent-charges, producing an annual income of £2038: a part of the estates was given by John Smyth, Esq., an inhabitant and a great benefactor to the town. The affairs were some years ago in chancery, and in 1842 a new distribution of the funds was ordered to be made. Clopton's asylum was founded for the support of six aged widowers, and the same number of widows, in 1730, by Poley Clopton, M.D., who endowed it with property producing £730 per annum; it is a neat brick building with projecting wings, having the arms of the founder over the entrance in the centre. Some minor charities, amounting in the whole to a considerable sum, are distributed among the poor. The Suffolk general hospital, established in 1825, and supported by subscription, was originally built by government for an ordnance depôt, but was afterwards purchased and converted to its present use.

The abbey remains have been already noticed. Near the north gate of the town, on the road to Thetford, are the ruins of St. Saviour's hospital, founded in the reign of King John, with an income of 153 marks, and where the "good" Duke of Gloucester is believed to have been murdered. A little beyond it stood St. Thomas' hospital and chapel, now a private dwelling; and about half a mile distant may be traced the site of the old Franciscan priory. Various other ruins, connected with the abbey and its early history, are visible. Many minor institutions were dependent on it, of which there are not at present any remains: among these may be noticed a college of priests, dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, founded in the reign of Edward IV., suppressed in that of Edward VI.; an hospital dedicated to St. John, established by one of the abbots in the reign of Edward I.; an hospital dedicated to St. Nicholas, founded also by an abbot of St. Edmund's, and the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £6. 19. 11.: and St. Peter's hospital, instituted in the latter part of the reign of Henry I., or the beginning of that of Stephen, and the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £10. 18. 11. Sir Nicholas Bacon, Bishops Gardiner and Pretyman, and Dr. Blomfield, the present Bishop of London, were born at this place. It confers the title of Viscount on the family of Keppel, earls of Albemarle.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.