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  • Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings by Martyn Taylor

    Debenhams, Charter Square. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was asked to write something about this subject I thought the choice would be challenging, it wasn’t, after all the town I was born into has numerous interesting buildings; many within the medieval grid of what is most probably the oldest purposely laid out town in the country from the 11th Century. But what to start with? Well I chose to commence with Debenhams Store on The Arc, a very modern shopping centre in the town. Controversially futuristic in appearance and not very Bury St Edmunds are just some of the descriptions used by people since it was built and opened in 2009. From there the iconic Abbeygate was probably the most obvious to proceed with, it sums up the power of the Benedictine Abbey that owned and controlled Bury St Edmunds for over 500 years whilst the noble Norman Tower, its counterpart further along, is now the belfry for the Cathedral the last to be finished in the country, a triumph of modern craftsmen. Nearby is the wonderful St Marys Church, the final resting place of Queen Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk the youngest sister of Henry VIII. Her subdued and under-stated tomb surprising to all, considering her status in life at one time, Queen of France. St Mary’s magnificent Angel Roof above one of the longest naves of any parish church in the country must be appreciated for the quality of its medieval workmanship, superlatives abound for what is today the Civic Church of the Town.

    Chapel of the Charnel, Great Churchyard. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the book, creating lists is never ideal so I would say to potential readers consider what is within and what is without. Everyone has opinions of what is good architecture, but I have tried to get a balance of the construction of the buildings and their descriptions and some of the stories behind their occupants. The nefarious Arundel Coke who once lived in St Denys on Honey Hill is a case in point. Having lost his wealth in the greedy investment scandal known to history as ‘The South Sea Bubble’ he elicited the help of an assassin to do his dirty work, that of murdering his well-off brother-in-law, Edward Crisp. Unfortunately, it did not go as the script intended, Crisp survived the brutal attack and Coke and his accomplice, John Woodburn, ended up on the gallows.

    Public buildings are well represented, alms Houses, hotels and public houses also. One of these, The Nutshell, is the smallest in the country, as far as I am concerned there are no other contenders! Two buildings not far from each other have unusual names, Goodfellows named after four brave brothers who fought in WWI, three of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice and Notice to Quit Cottages, the origins of which I have yet to fathom out. The Great Churchyard, the scene of the murderous attempt on Edward Crisp’s life is where I finish with the 50th entrant in the book, that of The Charnel House. This consecrated bone depository from 1300 has various plaques on its exterior to The Good, Bad and Unlucky. Bartholomew Gosnold the good founder of Jamestown, Sarah Lloyd for burglarising her employer’s home with her lover and the unlucky Mary Haselton struck down by lightning whilst saying her prayers. For a town so steeped in history Bury St Edmunds punches far above its weight, the many people who come here as tourists and stroll around the beautiful Abbey Gardens are amazed and ask, “Why have we not come here before”? There is no real answer other than to say just keep coming back!

    Martyn Taylor's new book Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings is avialable for purchase now.

  • 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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