Bury St Edmunds, a Quaint English Town With an Ancient Abbey Dedicated to Saint Edmund
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 . . .
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 £20 per ticket (2020) and places are quickly sold out, often several months in advance. Book online if you would like to visit.
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.
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.
Edmund was the first Patron Saint of England. He held the title until 1348 when Edward III declared St George the new Patron Saint.
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.
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.
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
Bury St Edmunds Guildhall is the oldest continuously used civic building in Britain. 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 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 Dance School attended by my niece during her younger days. If you attend a performance you will find that the seating in the pits is on wooden benches. Take a cushion!
Some location shots in the 2019 film A Personal History of David Copperfield were filmed in this theatre.
Tours lasting 75 minutes are available on certain days, except during the winter months. Tickets cost £7.50 (2020), or are free for National Trust members. The theatre's website provides full information.
Recommended Places to Eat in Bury St EdmundsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Glen Rix