As in former days, Bury's drawing card is the big abbey. The only difference is that – thanks to Henry VIII – only a couple of ruins remain of it. You can have a look at them by walking through the abbey gardens. Some explanatory boards will ease your way trough the ruins and give you an imagination of how the abbey looked like in the early 16th century. For more comprehensive understanding, leaflets and audio tours through the abbey ruins are available from the nearby tourist information office. For an imagination of size, have a look at the picture in the cathedral (which already existed at that time in form of St. James' parish church). Just imagine that the heighth of the abbey church was three times that of the Norman Tower...
The abbey dates back to 663 and thanks to the bones of St. Edmund, became a centre of pilgrimage. It was the 4th largest of its kind in Europe and remained so until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1539. All life in the town was centred around the abbey, but the relationship was full of tensions due to the authority of the abbey and the taxes imposed by it. That even led to the theft of a large bronze door and the destruction of a gatehouse. Another important event took place in 1215 when 26 Barons met here and secretely swore an oath to make King John sign a document which guaranteed basic laws. They eventually succeeded and the document became known as the Magna Carta which can be seen as a kind of constitution.
For some more details about the abbey ruins, please check out my tips about the gatehouses and “Things to see in the abbey gardens”.
The centre of Bury St Edmunds is laid out in a grid pattern, so it is easy to wander around without getting too lost!
Some of the buildings are very old, and many are very attractive and it's definatley worth wandering around to to take a look at them.
Beer has been brewed in Bury St Edmunds since the days of the Abbey, when the monks brewed beer.
The Greene King brewery has a Museum and you can also tour the Brewery - which is very interesting, and at the end you get to taste the beer!!
Free to the public, the gardens are a pleasant stroll any time of year and feature lovely flora and fauna as well as ruins. Site of 9th century Anglian King Edmund's burial, the abbey was also where the Barons met in 1214 and agreed to force King John to sign the Magna Carta. These and other historical notes are found on over a dozen placards throughout the park.
The Abbey Gate guards the main entrance across from the Angel Hotel and reveals a lovely arrangement of flower beds. Benches circle the blooms and grass, offering views of the Cathedral and Abbey Gate. Public toilets are located just north of the gate.
The rose garden, tennis court and bowls/putting green are to the south. There you'll also find the park keeper's office with brochures, wheelchair gate key, equipment rental and tour options.
At the north end is the aviary and a small refreshment stnad which offers ice cream and some light options. Just before the northern gate you'll also find the cozy little Alwyne Tea House with outdoor seating (open W-Sun, lunch til late afternoon).
Across the east half of the park are the ruins and green space. There is more than enough room for picnics, sun-worshipping and a bit of footie. Summer finds a few District- or Town-sponsored events (check online). A river runs along the far edge, hosting numerous ducks and swans happy to gobble up the daily feast of human-provided bread.
Of all the things in Bury St Edmunds I was most taken with the ruins of the old Abbey. Just walking among the broken pillars, arches and walls I got the impression that this was once a Great place. It must have been so impressive in its day.... even thought the Church was resented by the locals even they must have been in awe of the Abbey.
Not only was it one of the largest but the Abbey was one of the richest Benedictine monesteries in Europe. Built in the early 1000s it was 505 feet long and 246 feet across at the westerly transept. The Abbey was where the Barons of England meet to swear to enforce their demands on King John, these demands known as the Charter of Liberties later became known as the Magna Carta. In 1539 the Abbey was dissolved and it became a conveninet quarry for local builders.
One thing to look out for are the houses that have been built into the facade of the ruins at the rear of St James.
Apparently the Nutshell is the small pub in Britian and we couldn't get in because there were already 10 people inside and it was a bit of a tight squeeze without my considerable bulk adding to the general tightness. Hanging from the roof is the dried body of a black cat that was found when building works were being carried out. The story goes that builders used to brick cats up behind chimney heaths where they would die from starvation and the immense heat..... a bit sick in my mind!!!
In the gardens of the abbey the best preserved ruin is this 'Pigeon House'.... I think this used to actually be the Abbot's own house but the pigeons seemed to like it and they tended to concregate on top of it.
Next to the ruins of the Abbey is the impressive Bury St Edmunds Cathedral. It is a very impressive and impossing gothic cathedral. The original building was completed in 1135 but since then there have been a numbre of sizeable additions. The most notable is the new cathedral tower that was completed in 2005. St Edmundsbury cathedral is the only recently completed cathedral in the UK. Inside it is beautiful and very light, not heavy and oppressive like some cathedrals I have been in. Have a look at the ceiling painting. A quick visit inside this cathedral is well worth the time.
One of the most famous sights in the area is the Abbey Gate. Apparently this was the entrance for the servants who worked within the abbey. Built in the early 1000s this impressive gate dominated the wall of the abbey until in 1327 when it was destroyed by the unhappy locals. It was rebuilt again in 1352 and stands as the proud entrance to the Abbey Gardens.
You enter the gardens through the main gate, a huge gate built in 14th century. It dominates the square around it. The gardens are large, there are many different sections and thoughout it you can see some of the ruins from the old abbey. The abbey itself was damaged when the monasteries were destroyed and over the centuries has more or less completely dissapeared. The grave of King Edmund, which gave the town its name, has also disappeared.
The gardens are beautiful, especially the rose garden. I was there in early October and there were still many flowers in bloom.
Some of the streets in Bury are small, cobbled, with interesting little shops. Of course there are some High Street shops, but I like to wander back streets and seek out those little specialist shops.
If you go to Bury, seek out the streets off the main pedestrian walkway
Picture 3 shows the end of one of the pedestrian streets which leads onto a square - very near the Angel Hotel, and shows across the road is the entrance to the Abbey Gate and Abbey Gardens.
I was unable to go into this hotel due to lack of time, but thought that the facade was beautiful, with all the ivy covering the front.
This hotel is right opposite the Abbey Gate. Well worth a look at, and maybe if you have time, have a wander inside.
As you walk through the old Abbey Gate, you arrive at the beautiful gardens.
The Front of the gate can be seen in picture 3.
There are also some ruins in the gardens, and there is wide open space for picnics on the grass, as well as seats around the gardens.
The gardens are accessable for wheelchair users.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, the townspeople made off with much of the stone and even St Edmund's grave and bones have disappeared.
The abbey opens until sunset daily and admission is free
Here is a ghastly tale of crime and punishment involving William Corder, convicted of murdering his lover, a young woman named Maria Marten. After his 1828 trial and execution, his body was dissected. His skin was used to bind the book shown here, which contains an account of the murder and trial.