Bury Saint Edmunds Things to Do

  • Abbey ruins
    Abbey ruins
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    More abbey ruins
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  • Part of the abbey gardens themseleves
    Part of the abbey gardens themseleves
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Most Recent Things to Do in Bury Saint Edmunds

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    Dad's Army connection...

    by arturowan Written Dec 5, 2013

    Although almost every episode of Dad's Army was shot on the outskirts of Bury, the only episode to involve the town itself, was The Lion Has 'phones, which used the filtration tank at the sugar beet factory, to film the reservoir scene...
    However, the town has a strong link to the sitcom, because its leading character, sergeant Wilson, immortalised by John le Mesurier, was brought up in central Bury...
    His parents owned the classical Georgian property at 8 Saint Mary's Square, while he was a child, before moving all of 1 door, to the almost identical house next door, 6
    Thetford was the film crew HQ during the filming of all the Dad's Army series, & its location so close to Bury, was an incentive for John le Mesurier to accept the key role, in what at the time, was an unknown comedy, not expected to go beyond the first series...
    While on location for filming, the actor who grew up as John Halliley, before taking his mother's surname for the stage, often drove from Thetford to Bury, then on to Newmarket, to indulge his passion for horse racing...

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    British Sugar Factory...

    by arturowan Written Dec 4, 2013

    Bury is usually defined by its town centre cathedral & Abbey gardens, but for me, the main association is the British Sugar processing plant on the eastern outskirts...
    If you approach the town on the A11 from Thetford, you know when you're getting close to your destination, because on the horizon are 8 tall siloes with chimneys belching smoke into the air...
    This is the primary destination in East Anglia, for all sugar beet production, which is brought to the plant by the HGV trailor load at the end of the year, through into spring...
    Here, the unlikely looking root, which resembles a huge turnip, is turned into that sweet stuff that arrives at the supermarket in flimsy paper bags...
    The process between arrival at the factory, & the product we all take for granted as refined sugar, is a fascinating chemical alchemy, which few realise the complexity of...
    Sugar beet is a root vegetable with naturally high sucrose content, but in order to turn it into domestic sugar, involves processing the tough Beta vulgaris into a pulp through boiling in giant pans...
    When the fibrous root is broken down into near liquid form, it's crystallised with sugar crystals, which grow naturally into the granulated form of table sugar...
    The refining process is not unlike that of hydrocarbons, with various grades of sugars created according to temperatures & length of crystallisation time...
    As well as the highly refined white sugar, the factory also produces brown varieties, syrups, & treacles...
    No visit to Bury is complete, without acknowledging the factory on the edge of town, with the carefully tended roundabout verge, celebrating the presence of British Sugar plc...

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    The Cathedral

    by christine.j Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The cathedral is standing right next to the abbey gardens, but is much younger than the original abbey, from 16th century. It's a working church and when I was inside, people were coming to attend a funeral service. So of course I didn't take any pictures, but left.
    The inside is very light, bright colours enhance the feeling of width and open space.
    There is a cathedral shop, which sells beautiful stationary, apart from books and souvenirs etc.

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    Ickworth House

    by Tom_Fields Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Ickworth House
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    Just a few miles outside Bury St Edmonds stands Ickworth House. Built by the 4th Earl of Bristol in 1795, its most distinguishing feature is the rotunda. It was designed by Mario Asprucci, one of Italy's top architects. The Earl was, in addition to his royal title, Bishop of Derry in Ireland; this gave him access to a huge amount of wealth. So he had ample resources to travel, and was particularly inspired by what he saw in Italy.

    Ickworth House has some outstanding gardens, landscaped by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. He was England's most famous landscape architect.

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    Buildings around Cornhill

    by Airpunk Written Jan 7, 2011
    Victorian market hall
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    Much of Bury's shopping zone is located around Cornhill, including a new shopping mall. But it is also the place where you can find some interesting buildings:

    One of them was designed as a market hall (hence the name “The Market Cross”) in the 18th century, but became a theatre later on. Today it houses an art Gallery called Smith's Row. The style is entirely Georgian and as a visitor of the art gallery you will have the chance to see the interior which still looks Georgian too.

    Its Victorian Counterpart is located south to it and was especially built for 19th century hygienic standards in meat processing. Note the ventilation holes on top of the windows. Today, it is used by some modern shops.

    Moyse's Hall is located in Bury's oldest building, an 11th century Norman merchant's house. It was once owned by a Jewish businessman called Moyse and retained this nickname ever since. Today, a museum is housed in this house. Next to local history, there are some bizarre things to see. That includes a streak of Mary Tudor's hair, a dried cat and a book bound in the skin of a murderer...

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    Bury St. Edmunds Guildhall

    by Airpunk Written Jan 7, 2011
    Beautiful Tudor porch
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    This beautiful building once played a big role in the history of Bury St. Edmunds. The town was in control of the abbey and although people in some way profited from it, they always had the feeling of being dependent on it. Furthermore, the abbey was able to raise taxes which did not always result in a tension-free environment. That included the imprisonment of the abbot and some monks in the Guildhall in 1327. In another dispute, a large bronze door from the abbey was stolen and hidden in the guildhall.
    People were not allowed to form a city council in medieval Bury. Therefore, they used the trader and craftsmen guilds to organize themselves and built a Guild Hall for the meetings. It was first mentioned in 1279, but is probably some decades older. Some parts are still from the original 13th century building. The building gained its present appearance in the 15th century, although many parts were added in the 18th century. After the dissolution of the monasteries , it was used for council meetings until 1966, when a larger council hall was built southeast to the old abbey grounds. Today, it is used by the Theatre Royal and occasionally for other purposes like meetings. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public. But still, it as a beautiful building you can admire from outside, especially knowing the importance in Bury's citizen's struggle for independence.

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    The pillar of Salt

    by Airpunk Written Jan 7, 2011
    Pillar of Salt
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    This thing looking like a model lighthouse is a real traffic sign. It needed a special permission when it was installed in 1935 as the letters deviated from the norm. It's unique – although I am not yet sure, if I like this thing or not. It looks strange on the former market place (now just a glorified car park), in front of a Gothic gatehouse. In 1998, it became grade II listed and is believed to be the UK's first internally illuminated traffic sign.

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    Statue of St. Edmund and detail next to Cathedral

    by Airpunk Written Jan 7, 2011
    The now-beloved statue of St. Edmund
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    After visiting the Cathedral, you should notice two small things between it and the Norman Tower:

    The androgynous bronze figure of St. Edmund was once the cause of controversial discussions, but has now been accepted by the city's inhabitants. It was place there by local artist Dame Elizabeth Frink 1976. A smaller, older version of it exists in the village of Little Thurlow and is dedicated to the artist's father. The statue in Bury stands on a socket with a concrete base around it. Originally, this base was not place there. But some years after the statue was unveiled, it began to incline itself to one side. The reason behind it was that the statue is placed on a former burial place and one of the former graves collapsed...

    Close to this statue, on the southern side of the cathedral, there is an interesting detail to notice. It marks the boundary between the two parishes, St. James' and St. Mary's. It is located quite near to the main entrance on a spot which was once hidden by a building between the Norman Tower and the Cathedral. The building was a coffeehouse which was run by a local family. Their burial plaque is still attached to the wall, just right above the boundary stone. Some people say, that the coffeehouse was not only used as a coffeehouse by the girls of the family and that it was the reason to pull down the building in prudish Victorian times.

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    St. Mary's Parish Church

    by Airpunk Written Jan 7, 2011
    St. Mary's Parish church with spooky cemetery
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    Despite or because this was a finer example of a church in comparison to St. James', it was not chosen to become the cathedral. It is the third largest Parish church in England and has one of the largest naves in the country. St. Mary's is a Norman Church, being only slightly younger than the Norman Tower. It was built from around 1120 on consecrated around 20 years later. Their current form, however, was shaped in the 15th century, including the large wooden angels on the roof. The main attraction, however, is most certainly the grave of Mary Tudor. That's not Mary, Queen of Scots nor Bloody Mary, but Henry VIII's younger sister. She was a favourite with her tyrant brother and his warship, the Mary Rose, was named after her. For a short time, she was even Queen of France through her marriage with Louis XII and later became the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, the famous nine day Queen. However, she did not see her granddaughter grow up as she died at an age of only 37 in 1533. Neither her husband nor her brother attended the funeral.

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    Guided City walks

    by Airpunk Updated Jan 7, 2011

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    One of many houses you will hear of...
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    Guided city walks are offered from the tourist information office which is located next to the town council and right in front of the abbey gardens (close to the Abbey Gatehouse). They usually take place in the early afternoon once a day, but it is recommended to inform right beforehand as chances are that there are time changes or it is cancelled altogether. You'll have to contact the tourist information anyway as they are the only place which sells the ticket for the tour (exception: When office is closed, you may pay the guide directly). The tour lasts around 90 minutes and was excellently prepared. Michael Dean, our guide, has the unique qualities which is typical for tourists guides in Britain, but rarely found elsewhere: Conveying historical information while adding an appropriate amount of humour and caring for the individual needs of the different participants. Some things overlap with the cathedral tour (see respective tip), but most was new to me. I especially enjoyed the idea of showing us pictures from the past (usually early 19th century artist's impressions) and making us find the differences. In a place like Bury St. Edmunds, where attractions are not abundant or obvious, an enjoying tour which points out details you'll most likely not discover on your own, can make the difference. If you stay in Bury until late, look out for the ghost walk which is organised by the same guys in a similar way.

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    What to see in the Cathedral

    by Airpunk Updated Jan 7, 2011
    New part of the cathedral with restored organ
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    As a young cathedral, this one is not full of treasures or historic gems as others. The relics of St. Edmund, the drawing card of the abbey, disappeared during the reformation never to be found again. St. Edmund's chapel, located in the northeastern corner of the cathedral, shows a beautiful wooden figure of him being tied before suffering from his martyrdom. Two sets of coats of arms are displaced. One has the coats of arms of every diocese in England, with York and Canterbury standing out in size. The other one is more interesting in my eyes and shows the coats of arms of the 26 barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It was on the abbey grounds that they came together and swore an oath to make John sign what is in a certain way the UK's constitution. Do not forget to admire the beauty of the stained glass windows. Note that the first on the southern side (close to the entrance) is far younger than the others. The reason was that until the 19th century, there was a building between the Norman Tower and the Cathedral. Only after it was pulled down, it was possible to install an additional window with stained glass. The roof in the new part and around the tower also deserves some attention. They are kept in bright, medieval colours in contrast which in combination with the large, light-friendly windows make a contrast to the dark atmosphere known from other cathedrals. Have a look at two pictures. One dates from a medieval book showing boy King Henry VI worshipping the shrine of St. Edmund and is the only known picture of this shrine. The other is an impression of how the abbey looked like short before the dissolution of the monasteries. Have a look at the size compared to St. James' church (today's cathedral).
    P.S.: Did you know that the cathedral is probably oldest church with a pure Anglican history? It was consecrated only shortly after the creation of the Church of England.

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    Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral

    by Airpunk Written Jan 6, 2011
    Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral
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    The cathedral of Bury St. Edmunds is one of the youngest. Not only because it was not until 1914 that the diocese of Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich was founded (making the former St. James parish church a cathedral). But also because the Cathedral in its present form was not completed until 2005. The cut between the former parish church is visible, not only because of the architectural style (although Gothic was maintained), but also because of the almost pristine colour of the Barnack limestone in the rear part of the Cathedral. The rear part was designed by Stephen Dykes Bower, but was delayed several times as funds ran out. For several years, there was even a concrete platform to temporary seal off the spot where the tower was to be built- Dykes Bower was not even able to see the completion of his work. He died in 1994 but left 3 million pounds to the church. Together with further fundraising, the cathedral was completed 11 years later.
    Prince Charles led the founding stone for the new part. There is anecdote going around that he asked to see it when he was in Bury for the inauguration of the new part. When he was shown “his” stone and asked by the mason why he was so interested in it he said:”Well, the trees I plant always get replanted and I just wanted to make sure my founding stone wasn't.” For information about details in the cathedral, please read my tip about “What to see in the Cathedral”. Or check out their website to have a look when the next guided tour is taking place. They are conducted on an irregular base but are good and for free (although some donation is always welcome).

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    Things to see in the abbey gardens II

    by Airpunk Written Jan 4, 2011
    Former tower with house inside
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    Between St. Mary's and the cathedral, you will find four private houses which were built into the abbey ruins. They were built into what were once the entrances for the abbey church. The famous bronze door which was once stolen from townsfolk and hidden in the guild hall was from one of these entrances. Given the size of these entrances, you could imagine the size of that church. Its tower had three and a half times the size of the nearby Norman tower (visit the cathedral for an artists's impression of the abbey church in comparison with today's cathedral). People may ask themselves who would buy such a house and why Victorians did use the ruins for building houses. Well, Victorians were eccentric and today's people are too. One of the houses was sold recently for over a million pounds. And if it wouldn't have been for the architects who had that idea, those ruins may have been decayed or pulled down like most of the rest. By the way, remains of the former abbey can be seen throughout the town. Have a look at different walls and houses in the town centre and you will find some odd-looking limestones.

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    Things to see in the abbey gardens I

    by Airpunk Written Jan 4, 2011
    Herbal Gardens
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    There are small things in the abbey gardens which should not be left unseen. It would take to long to mention them all, but at least, here are a few:
    Herbal gardens: Even in wintertime, you can smell some of the herbs in this garden. The herbs were once used for different purposes by the monks, mostly for cooking but also for curing. Note the “Green Man” above the exit to the cloister. It is originally a pagan symbol for the strength of nature, but has found its way (sometimes as symbol for a saint) into Christianity and is often found in churches and abbeys.
    Cemetery: The burial grounds between the Cathedral and St. Mary's have widely been left untouched since decades. This gives it a spooky atmosphere and one of the main stops of Bury's guided Ghost Walk. The charnel house (used to store remains which haven't been decomposed when a grave is opened and occupied by a new “inhabitant”) which is one of only five surviving examples in Britain is worth a detour. It does not only contain a memorial stone to Martha Gosnold, an early deceased daughter of colonist Bartholomew Gosnold which named Martha's vineyard after his daughter. It also contains some curious gravestones, including one with a simple, but philosophical poem.

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    Abbey Gatehouse and Norman Tower

    by Airpunk Written Jan 4, 2011

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    Norman Tower (with cathedral in background)
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    Two of the main entrances into the abbey survive to this date: The Abbey Gatehouse and the Norman Tower. The Abbey Gatehouse is the younger of the two, being erected in 1352, It was built next to the remains of a former gatehouse which was destroyed by a mob in 1327. Nothing remains of the old gatehouse except a detail: Abbeygate Road was once leading through this former gate. It is not in line with the present gate, but was so with the former one. The new Abbey Gatehouse is a fine example of late Gothic architecture. However, at the time of visit, it was showing damages and was closed. Therefore, it could only be admired from a safe distance.
    The Norman Tower is the older one and the oldest intact structure of the former abbey. It dates back to the year 1120. There are two details to mention: First, the different styles of Architecture: It is Romanesque, with exception of some later added Gothic details. That makes it also the only such structure in an otherwise pure Gothic environment. Second, the level of the fundament. It shows that street level was lower at that time than it is now. He reason behind it was the difference in height between the town centre and the abbey. When it rained, all the mud and water flew into the abbey. To make this less unpleasant, the street level was artificially raised around the border to the abbey.

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