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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!!
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.
Prior to the dissolution of England's monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1539, this Benedictine monastery was the richest in the country. Most of it is now a ruin, with a more recent church built nearby. It has some fine 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.
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!!!
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.
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.