Bury St Edmunds: A Quaint English Town With an Ancient Abbey Dedicated to Saint Edmund

Updated on August 31, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis lives in England and enjoys exploring its history. A lifelong learner, she was awarded a B.A.Hons by the OU at the age of 67.

Bury St Edmunds—once a small medieval market town where a huge and enormously wealthy abbey was one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe—is one of the treasures of the English county of Suffolk. Visitors flock here for the floral displays, wonderful and diverse architecture, and the town's spectacular cathedral. Other must-sees include the church where the remains of Henry the Eighth’s favourite sister, Mary—a Queen of France, were laid to rest, and the ruins of the destroyed Abbey that was dedicated to the memory of St. Edmund. A wealth of specialist shops and boutiques and great award-winning restaurants add to the attractions of this pretty town. I have visited here often, and I am never disappointed. Join me on a tour . . .

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Entrance to the small independent Abbotgate CinemaThe Corn Exchange, Bury St EdmundsShop frontages on Guildhall Street, Bury St EdmundsThe Angel Hotel, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Charles Dickens visited Bury St Edmunds on three occasions and stayed here.A row of terrace housesThe Tudor gables are visible on this regenerated building The Post Office occupies the ground floor of this building on CornhillA view along Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds
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Entrance to the small independent Abbotgate Cinema
Entrance to the small independent Abbotgate Cinema | Source
The Corn Exchange, Bury St Edmunds
The Corn Exchange, Bury St Edmunds | Source
Shop frontages on Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds
Shop frontages on Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds | Source
The Angel Hotel, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Charles Dickens visited Bury St Edmunds on three occasions and stayed here.
The Angel Hotel, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Charles Dickens visited Bury St Edmunds on three occasions and stayed here. | Source
A row of terrace houses
A row of terrace houses | Source
The Tudor gables are visible on this regenerated building
The Tudor gables are visible on this regenerated building | Source
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Source
The Post Office occupies the ground floor of this building on Cornhill
The Post Office occupies the ground floor of this building on Cornhill | Source
A view along Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds
A view along Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds | Source

Take a Tour of the Greene King Brewery

The Greene King brewery has a rich history in Bury St Edmunds, dating back over 200 hundred years. Its traditionally crafted beers are legendary amongst beer drinkers and are nowadays sold in over 3,000 pubs, restaurants and hotels throughout the UK. You can take a tour of the brewery and then sample the beers in the on-site Greene King Brewery Cafe.

Tours cost £14 per ticket (2018) and places are quickly sold out. Book online if you would like to visit.

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The smallest pub in Britain. One of the town's biggest attractions. A not-to-be-missed watering place with many curiosities on display.Officially the smallest pub in Britain, confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records. The bar measures just 15ft x 7ft.Greene King plaque at the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds. The brewery is still operating and is one of the biggest suppliers in the UK
The smallest pub in Britain. One of the town's biggest attractions. A not-to-be-missed watering place with many curiosities on display.
The smallest pub in Britain. One of the town's biggest attractions. A not-to-be-missed watering place with many curiosities on display. | Source
Officially the smallest pub in Britain, confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records. The bar measures just 15ft x 7ft.
Officially the smallest pub in Britain, confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records. The bar measures just 15ft x 7ft. | Source
Greene King plaque at the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds. The brewery is still operating and is one of the biggest suppliers in the UK
Greene King plaque at the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds. The brewery is still operating and is one of the biggest suppliers in the UK | Source

Bury in Bloom

One of the delightful features of Bury St Edmunds is the stunning floral display. 200 volunteers from the Bury St Edmunds Society (now in its 32nd year) and one part-time paid coordinator augment the work of the local authorities, with help from education and the business sector.

Each year a coordinated colour theme runs throughout the town in hanging baskets, planters, beds and other displays.

The Abbey Gardens has won the prestigious Green Flag Award on numerous occasions. Approximately 20,000 plants are bedded out in the spring for the summer display and another 12,000 plants and 20,000 bulbs later in the year for the spring displays.

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Guildhall Street display installed by Woolpit Nurseries
Guildhall Street display installed by Woolpit Nurseries
Guildhall Street display installed by Woolpit Nurseries

Good Places to Eat in Bury St Edmunds

There are restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes and pockets in Bury St Edmunds, many of them providing award-winning food. Visitors are spoilt for choice. Here are a couple of my personal favourites:

Ben’s Restaurant on Churchgate

My family gathered to celebrate my son's 40th birthday (2017) with a traditional Sunday lunch at Ben’s, on the recommendation of my youngest sister, who had eaten there previously. Ben focuses on locally sourced ingredients for his menus and has won several prestigious awards for his food. His restaurant has appeared in the Good Food Guide (which I recommend for all wanting to find great places to eat when travelling around Britain) for the past three years.

There is a choice of roast beef, lamb or pork with all of the usual trimmings on the Sunday lunch menu at Ben's. Highly recommended. Booking is essential.

Number 4 Restaurant and Bar

In July 2018, I was in town with a friend on a U3A coach trip. We met up with my sister to eat lunch at the Number 4 restaurant and bar, which adjoins the bijou Abbeygate Cinema. From an extensive menu put together by Canadian chef, Alex Rotherman, I chose warm Cavalo Nero salad topped with grilled prawns. A delicious and memorable light lunch at a very affordable price of £9.75. The waitresses were charming, and the service was excellent. A lovely place for lunch or dinner before a film.

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Fabulous Food!Ben's on Churchgate, Bury St Edmunds Photograph courtesy of Ben
Fabulous Food!
Fabulous Food! | Source
Ben's on Churchgate, Bury St Edmunds Photograph courtesy of Ben
Ben's on Churchgate, Bury St Edmunds Photograph courtesy of Ben | Source

Stroll the Abbey Gardens and Benedictine Abbey Ruins

The extensive, award-winning municipal gardens are situated on the site of what was once one of the richest and most important Benedictine monasteries in England. The monastery was destroyed during the 16th-century dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, and only a fragment now remains of what once was. Enter through the magnificent and complete Great Gate, marvel at the ruins, stroll along the meandering pathways through the flowerbeds and take a welcome break in the Garden Cafe.

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 Norman Gate and Tower at Bury St Edmunds Abbey GardensBury St Edmunds GardensA gardener at work in one of the immaculate Abbey Gardens flowerbedsBury St Edmunds Gardens
 Norman Gate and Tower at Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens
Norman Gate and Tower at Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens | Source
Bury St Edmunds Gardens
Bury St Edmunds Gardens
A gardener at work in one of the immaculate Abbey Gardens flowerbeds
A gardener at work in one of the immaculate Abbey Gardens flowerbeds | Source
Bury St Edmunds Gardens
Bury St Edmunds Gardens | Source

How Did Bury St Edmunds Get Its Name, and Who Was Edmund the Martyr?

  • Bury St Edmunds was named to honour Edmund, a King of the East Angles.
  • Edmund was born on Christmas Day 841 BCE and became a king at the age of 17.
  • He fought alongside King Alfred of Wessex against invading Vikings and was captured by them in 869.
  • The Vikings ordered him to renounce his Christian faith. When he refused he was bound to a tree, shot through with arrows and beheaded
  • Local legend tells that the decapitated body of the martyr was found by local people. The cries of a wolf drew attention and it was discovered that he was howling over the head of Edmund, which later was miraculously re-attached to the body.
  • In 902 King Athelstan founded a religious community care for Edmunds shrine, which became a place of pilgrimage.
  • The Abbey, the remains of which are in Abbey Gardens, was built by King Canute in the early 11th century to house Edmunds remains. A cult grew around St Edmund the Martyr and the wealth of the town and the abbey grew as pilgrims flocked to visit the shrine.
  • The abbey was destroyed and the monks turned out during the 16th-century Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. The remains of St Edmund were taken to France.
  • In 1911 the remains were returned to England and are now kept in the chapel at Arundel Castle.

The Wolf and the Crown Statue in Bury St Edmunds. The crown sitting on top of the stones represents the severed head of King Edmund
The Wolf and the Crown Statue in Bury St Edmunds. The crown sitting on top of the stones represents the severed head of King Edmund | Source
Statue representing the sainted King Edmund. By Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink (1930-1993)
Statue representing the sainted King Edmund. By Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink (1930-1993)

Edmund was the first Patron Saint of England. He held the title until 1348 when Edward III declared St George the new Patron Saint.

A Visit to Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral

Step inside the cathedral and the first impressions are of a light, bright interior and a stunning array of tapestry kneelers which await worshippers, a different design on each of them. Explore a little further to find exquisite modern craftsmanship and spectacular arts and craft works.

The great church of the once immense and wealth abbey has undergone substantial improvement works in recent years. The Millennium Tower was completed in 2005. Further works have been funded by an allocation from the Government's First World War Cathedrals Renovations Fund, which was allocated in preparation for the 2018 centenary celebrations of the end of the War.

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Rear view of St. Edmundsbury CathedralA close up of the decorated christening fontThe highly decorated christening fontTapestry embroidered kneelersThe vaulted ceilingOrgan PipesThe cloisters at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. Artwork by local school children.
Rear view of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral
Rear view of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral | Source
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A close up of the decorated christening font
A close up of the decorated christening font | Source
The highly decorated christening font
The highly decorated christening font | Source
Tapestry embroidered kneelers
Tapestry embroidered kneelers | Source
The vaulted ceiling
The vaulted ceiling | Source
Organ Pipes
Organ Pipes | Source
The cloisters at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. Artwork by local school children.
The cloisters at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. Artwork by local school children. | Source

A Visit to Saint Mary's Church

Originally part of the Benedictine Abbey, St. Mary's Church was one of three churches built into the abbey precincts. It is now the Civic Church of the Town and Borough of Bury St Edmunds. Distinctive features of the church are the 213-foot nave, which is the longest in an English parish church, and the unique hammer beam 'angel' roof.

The remains of Mary Tudor, the favourite sister of Henry VIII, for whom he named his famous battleship the Mary Rose, lie in an insignificant resting place by the High Altar. Mary married the King of France and after her widowhood returned to her native country with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. A stained glass window, given by Queen Victoria, depicts her story.

The Regenerated and Repurposed Guildhall

With the help of lottery funding, the Guildhall opened in July 2018 as an exciting visitor attraction designed to interest people of all ages. Here in the oldest continuously used civic building in Britain, you can discover Bury's past, present and the future in a travel-through-time experience. Allocate 1.5–2 hours for your visit.

Special events are held throughout the year. Check the website for more details.

The Guildhall at Bury St Edmunds. An exciting visitor experience and a Tudor sensory garden.
The Guildhall at Bury St Edmunds. An exciting visitor experience and a Tudor sensory garden. | Source

The Last Working Regency Theatre in the UK

Built in 1819, the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is now owned by the National Trust and is operated as a lively working theatre. It is said to be one of the most beautiful, intimate and historic theatres in the world. I can attest to the uniqueness of the theatre, having visited here several times to watch performances by the Hazelwood Dance School attended by my niece during her younger days. If you plan to attend a performance at the theatre, you will find that the seating in the pits is on wooden benches. Take a cushion!

Tours lasting 75 minutes are available on certain days, except during the winter months. Tickets cost £7.50 (2018). The theatre's website provides full information.

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The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bury St EdmundsThe exterior of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
The exterior of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
The exterior of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds | Source

Getting to Bury St Edmunds

Only 35 minutes from Cambridge and just under 2 hours from London, Bury St. Edmunds is easily accessible by road and by rail. The train station is a ten-minute walk from the town centre. Regular trains run from London Liverpool Street Station, Cambridge, Ipswich, and Peterborough.

Note: There is a major road improvement scheme currently taking place on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. It is not scheduled to end until 2020/21. Expect traffic delays or find an alternative route to Bury St Edmunds.

The centre of Bury St Edmunds is quite compact and all attractions are within easy walking distance
The centre of Bury St Edmunds is quite compact and all attractions are within easy walking distance

Interesting Places to Visit Close to Bury St Edmunds

Ely Town and Cathedral - 26 miles

Newmarket Racecourse (on race days) - 18.1 miles

Ickworth National Trust Property - 3.8 miles

Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum - 28.7 miles

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 GlenR

    Comments

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    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Glenis

      Enjoyed this little trip.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      2 months ago from Tennessee

      Seems like just the type of place I would love visiting. I plan to visit London this fall, but doubt this will be on our agenda, but I'm going to bookmark this just in case.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      This is lovely. I've just done a hub on Norwich and its Cathedral and this is another magnificent yet pretty building, ornate but stylish. I'm very fond of Norfolk which I know only a little but have not visited Suffolk. I must get round to visiting more of both.

      You've given us a comprehensive picture of Bury St Edmunds and a super variety of places to visit and eat. Thanks for sharing it all.

      Ann

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing the rich history, with the impressive sights and impressive architecture of St. Edmunds. Sunday lunch at Ben's is very appealing right now.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      What a gorgeous place! The architecture in Bury St. Edmunds is gorgeous. The cathedral is spectacular as are the gardens. That is an interesting story of how that place got its name. Thanks for sharing all of your beautiful photos with us.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      2 months ago from UK

      Thank you, Afroditi :)

    • profile image

      Afroditi Chaida 

      2 months ago

      Great article and beautiful town!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 months ago from Chicago Area

      What amazing photos! When I FINALLY get to the UK one day, I will have to put this on the to-visit list. Thank you for sharing with us!

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      2 months ago from UK

      Can easily be combined with visits to Cambridge (the Fitzwilliam Museum is wonderful) and Ely Cathedral, Mary. And if you like horsed racing, Newmarket racecourse is nearby. :)

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      another place to explore when we get to the UK. Now, I have to read about St. Edmund. I would love to see that Regency Theatre.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for the tour of Bury St Edmunds, Glen. Very interesting and informative and great photos.

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