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  • The town of Bury St Edmunds by Martyn Taylor

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-1 Interior of the cathedral (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    When I take visitors around the wonderful town I was born into, Bury St Edmunds I am told so often “we never knew about this place before”. My job as a tour guide is to make sure they do and want to come back for more. There is so much on offer for people to enjoy with the undeniable jewel in the crown that of the magnificent Abbey Gardens. Laid out six years before Victoria ascended the throne they follow a design found then in The Royal Botanical Gardens in Brussels.

    However, there had to have been something there before the owner the Marquess of Bristol asked the gardens creator and curator Nathaniel Hodson to lay them out; it was the Great Court of the Abbey. The monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St Edmundsbury were the custodians of the shrine of the first patron saint of England, St Edmund the Martyr who met his death in 869. The motto of Bury as it is simply known by locals is ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’ for it was here in 1214 that twenty-five barons swore an oath to compel King John to agree to Magna Carta. This foundation stone of democracy was acquiesced by John a year later at Runnymede. Looking at the two plaques put up mid-nineteenth century to commemorate this event it is hard to envisage the enormous central tower they are affixed to for all that is left is a flint core.

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-3 King Raedwald's helmet in the British Museum (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    In the Domesday Book it is recorded that between the years 1066 and 1086 a total of 342 houses were built on agricultural land, urban expansion indeed! Abbot Baldwin had started laying out the town in 1065 making Bury a contender for the earliest purposely laid out town in the country. That medieval grid can still be followed today.

    For over 500 hundred years, from the first abbot Uvius in 1020 to the last John Reeve in 1539, the abbey ruled the town. When that fateful day came and Henry’s commissioners came to do their worst it did not take too long for the townspeople to realise that this religious yoke could be loosened forever so they dismantled it piece by piece, stone by stone.  It is said you will not find abbey stone much further than six miles outside the town, the distance a cart would travel back and forth within a day; however, you will find it all over the town.

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-2 Tostock Place (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    The idea of a book using an alphabet format covering the history of the town or parts of it came to me one day, not just the historic core. This way many more locations not previously dealt in books would have the opportunity to be read by people.  So the concept of A-Z of Bury St Edmunds was born, starting with the letter A and finishing where else but Z. The letter X did cause a great deal of head scratching and churning up of the old grey matter but eventually it was solved, whether Dr Johnson would approve I am not sure!

    So what is the content of A-Z of Bury St Edmunds? There is the obligatory number of past pubs, disasters and deaths; nasty and nice people; churches and chapels.  Obviously the pictures enhance the stories, many of them never published before. You could say there is something for everyone in it but I would say that wouldn’t I!

    9781445654164

    Martyn Taylor's new book A-Z of Bury St Edmunds is available for purchase now.

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