Bury St. Edmund's in 1836
BURY ST. EDMUND'S, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally situated in the hundred of Thingoe, in the western division of the county of Suffolk, 25 miles north-west by west from Ipswich, and 72 miles north-east by north from London : the borough contains 3,040 English statute acres, and is co-extensive with the two parishes of St. James and St. Mary.
Origins and early History
The origin of Bury St. Edmund's, or St. Edmund's Bury, as it is called by old writers, has been a subject of much discussion. Some say it was the Villa Faustina of the Romans, mentioned in the itinerary of Antoninus, and that it owed its name to Faustinus, or to Faustina, the wife of the Emperor Antoninus Pius ; others say it derived its name from faustus (prosperous, happy), and so signified the 'happy town.' It is at least certain, from the number of Roman antiquities dug up in the neighbourhood, that it was at one time in the possession of that people. At the time of the dissolution of the Heptarchy, it belonged to Beodric, and was hence called Beodric's-worthe or Beoderici-cortis, the villa or mansion of Beodric. Dr. Yates, in his 'History of the Town and Abbey of Bury St. Edmund's,' endeavours to derive its latter name from two Saxon-words meaning a place dedicated to religious worship ; but the former derivation is more natural (as it actually belonged to Beodric), and therefore more satisfactory. Beodric bequeathed it to Edmund the king and martyr, after whom it was called St. Edmund's Bury. Bury, like Beri, burg, burgh, &c., being a Saxon word meaning castle or strong town.
Edmund, having succeeded to the throne of East Anglia, was crowned at Bury on Christmas-day, 856, and in the 15th year of his age. In 870 he was taken prisoner and cruelly put to death by the Danes. The following is the fabulous history given of the circumstances attending his death, to which tradition the corporation owes the devices on its arms and seal. St. Edmund, being a Christian as well as an enemy, was first scourged and then bound to a tree and his body pierced with arrows. His head was then cut off and thrown into a neighbouring wood. On the departure of the Danes, the East Anglians assembled to pay the last solemn tribute of affection to their martyred king. The body was found bound to the tree, and was interred in a wooden chapel at Hoxne; but no where could they find the head. At last, after a search of forty days, the head was discovered between the fore paws of a wolf; which immediately resigned its charge unmutilated, and quietly retired into the wood. 'An unkouth thyng,' says Lydgate, 'and strange ageyn nature.' The head, on being placed in contact with the trunk (which was not the least decomposed), is said to have united with it so closely that the separation was scarcely visible.
Monastery, Antiquities, &c.
Soon after the martyrdom of King Edmund, six priests devoted themselves to a monastic life under the patronage of the royal saint, and founded a monastery, which, in after ages, by the magnificence of its buildings, the splendour of its decorations, its valuable immunities and privileges, outshone any other ecclesiastical establishment in Great Britain, Glastonbury (in Somersetshire) alone excepted. Leland, who saw the abbey probably when in its highest state of perfection, thus describes it: 'The sun hath not shone on a town more delightfully situated, with a small river flowing on the eastern part, or a monastery more illustrious, whether we consider its wealth, its extent, or its incomparable magnificence. You might indeed say that the monastery itself is a town ; so many gates there are, so many towers, and a church than which none can be more magnificent ; and subservient to which are three others, also splendidly adorned with admirable workmanship, and standing in one and the same churchyard.
Amongst the first benefactors of the monastery were King Athelstan and Edmund, son of King Edward the Elder. The latter conferred on it many valuable privileges which he confirmed by royal charter. Previous to the destruction of Bury by Swein in the beginning of the 11th century, Ailwin, who had been appointed to the high office of ‘guardian of the body of St. Edmund'; fearful lest the Dane should get possession of the holy relic, conveyed the remains to London. The bishop of that see clandestinely took possession of the precious relic, and refused to return it ; but after some altercation, it was carried back by Ailwin, then bishop of Hulme, and placed in the abbey church of Bury.
In 1020 Ailwin ejected all the secular clergy from Bury, and established twelve Benedictine monks from the monastery of Hulme in the abbey, exempted them from all episcopal authority, and laid the foundation of a beautiful church, which was consecrated in 1032. The three first churches were built of wood, but in the year 1065 another was erected of hewn stone, under the auspices of Abbot Baldwyn. It took twelve years building, and was embellished by numerous ornaments brought from Caen, in Normandy. It was 505 feet in length ; the transept was 212 feet, and the western front 240 in breadth ; altogether it contained twelve chapels. Part of the ruins of the western front still remain. One of the towers, which seems to bid defiance to time or weather, has been converted into a stable ; and the three arches, which once formed the entrance to the three aisles of the church, have been filled up with modern brick-work, and now form convenient dwelling-houses.
There appear to have been four grand-gates to the abbey, and its lofty embattled walls inclosed within its vast circumference the body of the monastery, the abbot's palace, the garden, &c., chapter-house, towers, cloisters, infirmaries, the magnificent monasterial church, an extensive church-yard, three smaller churches, and several chapels. The abbey contained 80 monks, 16 chaplains, and 111 servants ; besides the abbot, who was a spiritual parliamentary baron, held a synod in his own chapter-house, and appointed the parochial clergy of the place. He inflicted capital punishment, and had the power to try by his steward all causes within the liberty of Bury.
Beyond the circuit of the abbey walls were several hospitals and chapels under the patronage and protection of the monks. As a proof of the despotic power possessed by the abbot and his monks, it is sufficient to mention that in the 13th century some Franciscan friars came to settle at Bury, and built a handsome monastery ; but the monks of Bury pulled it down, and drove the friars out of the town with impunity. Edward the Confessor granted to the abbot the liberty of coining, and Edward I, and Edward II both had mints here. Some pennies coined at Bury still exist in the cabinets of antiquaries. Henry I, his return to England after his interview with pope Innocent III, came to Bury to pay his devotions to the shrine of St. Edmund.
During the contests which took place between Henry II and his son, a large army was assembled at Bury in support of the king. The rival armies met at Fornham St. Genevieve (a place in the neighbourhood), on the 27th of October, 1173 ; and the victory, which was obtained by the royalists, was chiefly attributed to their carrying before them the sacred standard of St. Edmund. Richard I paid a devotional visit to the shrine of the saint on his return from the Holy Land, and presented to the monastery the rich standard of Isaac, king of Cyprus. It was here also that John was first met by the refractory barons, when he was compelled to sign Magna Charta. In 1272 Henry III held a parliament at Bury. A parliament was also held here by Edward I in 1296, when all the goods and chattels and all the revenues of the monastery were forfeited to the king, upon the monks refusing to pay a subsidy that was demanded from them ; but on their afterwards complying, their goods were restored. In 1446 a parliament was convened for the purpose, as is supposed, of effecting the death of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. Henry VII and Elizabeth both visited Bury, and were entertained here with considerable pomp and magnificence.
This celebrated monastery was 519 years in the possession of the Benedictine monks, and during that time had 33 abbots. At the dissolution of monasteries it was valued by the commissioners at £2,366 and 16 shillings, but that must have been considerably under its real value, for the commissioners in their report, say, ‘we have taken in the seyd monastery in gold and sylver 5000 marks, besydes as well an rich cross with emerelds and also dyvers stones of great value, and yet we have left the church, abbott, and convent, very well furnished with plate of sylver necessary for the same.’ A writer in 1725 says that at that time the immense possessions of the abbey and it's valuable privileges would have been worth £200,000 per annum.
Almost the only relic which remains of the magnificence of this monastic establishment is the western, now called the abbey gate. It was erected in 1327, after the old gate was pulled down by the mob. It is a perfect specimen of Gothic architecture, combining strength and utility with elegance and grandeur. The materials and workmanship are both so excellent that, although without a roof, it is still in the highest state of preservation. Its height is 62 feet, its length 50 feet, and breadth 41 feet. In the north-west and south-west angles were circular stairs ; those on the south-west side but are rather difficult to ascend. The ‘terreplaine’ of the wall forms a terrace all round, and over each angle there formerly was a tower.
The eastern side of this gate, although not so gorgeously splendid as the west side, is the more elegant. The internal walls are beautifully decorated, and amongst other carved work are the arms of King Edward the Confessor. Amongst other antiquities found in digging up an old foundation are four antique heads, cut out of blocks of freestone of gigantic dimensions, and probably representing some heathen deities.
Various ruins of religious and charitable institutions connected with the abbey are still visible. The following are mentioned in Dugdale's 'Monasticon' :- The Hospital of St. John or God's-house without the south gate, probably the chapel, or as it is sometimes called the Hospital of St. Petronilla, was connected with this house ; St. Nicholas' Hospital without the east gate, now a farm-house ; St. Peter’s Hospital and Chapel, founded by Abbot Anselm, in the time of Henry I, now belonging to the trustees of the free grammar school : its revenue at the dissolution was worth £10, 18 shillings and 11 pence. St. Saviour's Hospital, founded by Abbot Sampson in the reign of King John : it was here that the duke of Gloucester is supposed to have been murdered. St. Stephen's Hospital, Jesus College and Guild, erected by King Edward VI in 1481, now occupied as a workhouse ; and, lastly, the convent of Grey Friars at Babwell or North Gate, established in 1256.
The Saxon Tower, or Church Gate
This noble structure was the grand portal into the churchyard opposite to the western entrance of the monasterial church. At the dissolution it was converted into a belfry for St. James's Church, ' and to this circumstance,' says Mr. Yates, 'most probably the antiquarian is indebted for the gratification of now surveying this venerable relic of ancient piety and taste.' It is considered one of the finest specimens in existence of what is called Saxon architecture. It is a quadrangular building 80 feet high, and is remarkable for its strength and simplicity. The date of its erection is unknown. The stone of which it is built abounds with small shells. Near the base on the western side are two curious bas-reliefs, one representing mankind in its fallen state, by the figures of Adam and Eve entwined with a serpent, and the other, emblematic of the delivery of man from bondage, representing God the father sitting triumphantly in a circle of cherubim. The interior of the arch presents some grotesque figures, and forms a carriage-entrance to the churchyard and the shire-house. We regret to say that several wide fissures appear on one side, and the other it is said is 12 inches out of the perpendicular.
Bury is a borough by prescription, and its prescriptive rights were first confirmed by James I in the fourth year of his reign.
The exclusive criminal jurisdiction over the whole town and one mile round it, which was granted to the Abbot of Bury by Edmund, son of Edward the Elder, and is now vested in the corporation, ceases under the Municipal Corporation Act from the 1st of May, 1836. The borough Courts are a court of sessions, a civil court called the court of record, a court-leet, and a court of Pie-poudre. The sessions are held three times a year, in February, June, and November, and as the county assizes are held within the town there are annually five gaol deliveries. Petty sessions are held every Thursday, and are very well attended by the magistrates. The court of record is held once a month, and embraces all pleas where the cause of action has arisen within the precincts of the borough and the damages do not exceed £200.
A court-leet is held once a year. There is also the court of the steward of the liberty, called the 'Much Court,' which is held once in every three weeks before the town-clerk, but which is limited to debts under 40 shillings. The town is watched by night, and has an efficient police. The borough gaol has not been used since 1805. The prisoners are all confined in the county gaol which is within the precincts of the town. The property of the corporation is worth about £1,016 per annum, out of which they have to pay crown rents to the amount of about £58, 6 shillings and 6 pence per annum, and £9 to two charities. Bury first received a precept to return representatives to parliament in the 30th year of the reign of Edward I, but made no subsequent return till the 4th of James I, since which time it has always returned two members. The number of voters registered after the passing of the Reform Act was as follows :-
Householders - 560
Burgesses - 30
The boundaries of the borough are the same as they were formerly.
Present state of the Town, Churches, &c.
The town of Bury is pleasantly situated on the river Larke, and from its delightful walks, clean streets, and well built houses, and from the urbanity of its inhabitants, forms as pleasant a country residence as any small town we know of. A great part of the town was burnt down in 1806, but was shortly after rebuilt in its present regular manner. There is a subscription library, which contains a valuable collection of books, and four circulating libraries. The new subscription rooms on Angel Hill are very handsome and contain a well proportioned ball-room, card-rooms, billiard-room, &c. There is also a subscription coffee-room and billiard-room. A new theatre was built in 1819, and the old one has been converted into a concert-room. The entrance to the botanic garden is through the abbey gate, and the walls that surround it are part of the old walls of the monastery. The river Larke flows, at the bottom of the garden. The collection of exotic plants, which is already pretty good, is rapidly increasing.
St. Mary’s Church was begun in the year 1424, and was completed in about nine years ; it is 130 feet long, exclusive of the chancel, which is 74 feet by 68 and 67½ in breadth. It has three aisles, which are divided by two rows of the most elegant columns. The height of the middle aisle is 60 feet, to which circumstance its beautifully carved roof owes its present existence, it being too lofty for the Puritans to exercise their fury on. The roof of the chancel is exceedingly beautiful, the ground being blue and the carved work guilt ; it is supposed to have been brought from Caen in Normandy. On the north side of the communion table is a marble slab erected to the memory of Mary Tudor, third daughter of King Henry VII of England, who first married Louis XII of France and subsequently Charles Brandon duke of Suffolk. The monument which inclosed the body was for some time supposed to be only a cenotaph, but in opening it, in 1731, a covering of lead containing a body was found with the following inscription upon it :-
In the middle of the chancel lies buried John Reeves, the last abbot of Bury, and on each side is a handsome altar-monument : one to Sir William Carew, who died in 1501, and his wife who died in 1525 ; and the other to Sir Robert Drury.
The church is surmounted by a fine Norman tower, containing a very good set of bells. The northern porch is handsome, and the exterior of the southern aisle is particularly beautiful.
St. James's Church, like St. Mary's, is built of freestone, and is a very handsome building. It was not completed till the Reformation, when Edward VI gave £200 towards its completion. Its length is 137 feet, and its breadth 69 feet. Near the western door are two handsome monuments, one to the Right Honourable James Reynolds (Chief Baron of the Exchequer), who died in the year 1738, and another to Mary, his wife, who died in 1736. Both the livings are in the patronage of the corporation of Bury. The net income of St. Mary's is £110 per annum ; that of St. James's £106 per annum.
The Churchyard is of considerable dimensions, and has a beautiful avenue of lofty lime-trees. It contains both churches, the Saxon tower, abbey ruins, Clopton's hospital, the shire-house, and the mausoleum ; the latter was formerly ‘the Chapel of the Charnel,' where it is said Lydgate the poet resided. Not many years since it formed the residence and workshop of a blacksmith. It is surrounded by shrubs, and forms an interesting object from the number of tombs grouped together.
The Shire Hall, a neat modern building, is situated on the ancient site of St. Margaret's church, and contains two good-sized courts, which have but one inconvenience, that is, having no internal communication. The Guild-hall, where the borough-courts are held, is a handsome structure, built of flint and freestone.
The County Gaol, about half a mile from the south end of the town, is built on the radiating principle, and is surrounded by a wall twenty feet high, inclosing an octagonal area, the diameter of which is 292 feet. The keeper's house, which is an octagon and stands in the centre, is so elevated above the rest that from his windows he can command the whole building. In the centre of his house is a chapel, divided off into numerous partitions, so that the different classes into which the prisoners are divided and subdivided are kept separate and cannot even see each other. Upon the whole, for its accommodations and internal regulations, this gaol is one of the best in the kingdom. Two tread-mills have lately been added to it. The house of correction is near the gaol, and is equally well managed, being under the superintendence of the same keeper. It at present only contains female prisoners, all the men being confined in the gaol.
Part of the town is well paved, but the principal streets are Macadamized. It is well lighted, and has a sufficient supply of water. About a mile from the town the river Larke becomes navigable to Lynn, whence coals and other commodities are brought in small barges. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday ; the latter for meat and poultry, the former for corn, &c. Fairs are held on the Tuesday in Easter week, and on the 1st of October and 1st of December, for horses, cattle, cheese, &c. But the great fair, which is justly celebrated, generally commences about the 10th of October, and lasts about three weeks.
Bury St. Edmund's contains 2,292 houses, of which 2,231 are inhabited. The population in 1831 was 11,436, out of which 6,190 were females. There are 2,492 families, nearly all engaged in agriculture and retail trade. The assessed taxes are £4,994.
The Grammar-school, which is a neat modern building, with a commodious house adjoining it for the master, was founded by King Edward VI, whose bust is placed over the door with an appropriate inscription. It has four exhibitions of £20 each, and two of £25 each per annum, to either of the universities, a scholarship at Corpus Christi, and another at Jesus-college, Cambridge. A new school-house has lately been erected. There are now about 100 boys on the foundation.
Bury also possesses three charity-schools, in one of which forty boys, and in another fifty girls are instructed and clothed. They are supported partly by subscription and partly by an endowment of £70 per annum ; as well as two Lancasterian schools, one for boys, the other for girls, established in 1811 ; and 98 almshouses, founded by different persons, amongst whom the principal benefactors were Mr. Edmund King and Mrs. Margaret Drury. They are under the superintendence of trustees, and their funds altogether amount to about £2000 per annum. Boley Clopton, M.D., founded an hospital (called Clopton, after the founder) for the support of six aged widowers and widows, and endowed it with property worth £200 per annum. It is a neat brick building, with the arms of the founder over the principal entrance. A large erection, built by government for an ordnance depot, has been purchased and converted into a general hospital, which is supported voluntary contributions, and now contains about forty patients.
There is a Roman Catholic chapel, a place of worship for Baptists, the society of Friends, Methodists, and Unitarians, and two for Independents. A mechanics' institute recently been established.
Amongst other men of note who were born at Bury St. Edmund's was Bishop Gardner. John Lydgate, commonly called ‘the Monk of Bury,' spent the greatest part of his life in this place.
About three miles from Bury is Ickworth, the magnificent seat of the marquess of Bristol. It is a circular house, 140 feet in height and 90 feet in diameter, in the centre of a park which has a circuit of 11 miles.