Bury St Edmunds

Another stop en route to Norwich was Bury St Edmunds primarily to see the Abbey and the Abbey gardens, but when we got there we were enticed into the cathedral instead. Bury St Edmunds grew up around the powerful Abbey of St Edmunds in the Middle Ages. For 500 years pilgrims came from all over the world to worship at his shrine. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries (yep – good ole Henry VIII again), the abbey church – one of the largest Norman buildings in Europe – fell into decline.

But before I take you into that wonderful building here’s a glimpse of the Abbey and surrounding area.


We parked in Angel Hill, a cobbled square which is opposite the Cathedral and the Abbey Gate and in front of the very colourful Angel Hotel (above). When I drive through historic places like this I always feel guilty – cars ought not to be allowed, just pedestrians and maybe a horse and carriage.

Abbey Gate
Abbey Gate

The Abbey Gate stands at the entrance to the Abbey Gardens and is part of the perimeter wall of the former abbey. The original gatehouse was destroyed by an uprising of the local people in 1327 and rebuilt in 1347.

The Abbey Gardens were created within the walls of the former medieval monastery and a mixture of bedding plants and quiet corners in which to relax. The park was laid out as a botanic garden in 1831 and opened to the public in 1912. The best time to see it is spring when 40,000 bulbs are opening. I will write more about the gardens on my Earth laughs in Flowers blog next month.


The old walls can still be seen around the back of the cathedral and behind the Norman Tower you can see the arches of the west front of the former abbey, which have been built around to create houses.


St Edmund and the wolf in the Cathedral grounds in front of the West Front

Between the West Front and St Mary’s Church is the Great Churchyard which contains many ornate and carved tombstones.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s was built between 1290 and 1490 as part of the abbey complex. We didn’t have time to go inside, but it is the third largest parish church of the county and has a unique hammer beam ‘angel’ roof. Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII is buried here.

At the bottom of the green is another tall building, the Norman Tower (St James Gate). Built between 1120 and 1148 as a gateway to the abbey precincts. It houses the bells to the nearby cathedral and is the best preserved of the former abbey buildings.


And I know someone will be wondering what on earth the wolf sculpture is all about. It is part of the Wolf Trail inspired by similar art trails across the UK, such as the Norwich Gorillas and Chester Rhinos. The wolf was chosen for Bury St Edmunds due to the connection with the Edmund story; it is said a wolf guarded Edmund’s head after his martyrdom.

Next to the Norman Tower is an impressive red-brick Victorian Gothic revival building.


Designed by architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham (1787 – 1847), this was the Savings Bank House and built in 1846.

This is just a tiny part of Bury St Edmunds, a town that is deserving of a lot more exploration. For instance it has the only surviving Regency theatre in the country and is open as a National Trust property between May and August and has a programme of performances the rest of the year. There is a street market in the Buttermarket and Cornhill which has been held for over 1000 years and in May they hold an arts festival.

Bury St Edmunds’ motto is:

“Sacrarium Regis,
Cunabula Legis”

Latin for “Shrine of a king, cradle of the law” – which combines the town’s links with Edmund and the Magna Carta. Legend has it that the barons responsible for the Magna Carta met at the shrine of St Edmund in 1214 to swear an oath that they would force King John to accept their Charter of Liberties, later to be known as the Magna Carta.


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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

24 thoughts on “Bury St Edmunds”

  1. I haven’t been there since the 70s, but by coincidence, Julie and her daughter went to the Christmas Market there last Saturday. Julie had never been before, and came home raving about what a wonderful place it was. She is keen to return, so I will probably accompany her, in better weather.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. We didn’t get as far as the shopping area, but from what we did see it looks like a nice town. We wouldn’t mind going back at some point.

  2. I think we stayed overnight but I couldn’t tell you where. We had the brolly up most of the time and I remember running past that gate and through a covered market into the ‘smallest pub in Britain’. It had no loo so after too many halves of Guinness it was tappy lappy back to the market and the loos. Several times! (well, it wouldn’t stop raining 😦 ) Not quite your experience! 🙂 Your photos of the Abbey remind me of Norwich, though that’s grander. I’d have loved a better look around the ruins but I was young and daft(er) then. 🙂 Thanks for the lovely not quite memories.

  3. Wonderful, wonderful walk and tour. Love the architecture. Gives me goosebumps talking about building constructed so long ago. In Canada, we don’t have as many old structures.

  4. Wow, Jude! These tours you take blow me away – just the depth of history alone is almost beyond my imagination. In today’s post I’m obsessed with the photos of the “gates” … so much more than your standard ‘gate’.

    1. So much history here it is hard to avoid it Jo. We deliberately picked some of the more ancient towns and cities on our trip this time in order to visit some of the best cathedrals and castles. So more to come….including ‘gates’ 🙂

      1. I’ve been trying to plan a trip for next spring and I’ve been inspired by your posts.
        Originally I had wanted a hiking trip to Scotland, but then you seduced me with the coastline of Wales, then Cornwall, and now the east coast with so much history to explore.
        At the rate you’re going, I will need a year to cover all the territory you keep introducing me to 😉

  5. Ahh, dear Jude, this is a part of the world I know very well! Just one look at the road sign in your first photo tells all: I lived in a village 9 miles from Ipswich, went to school in Stowmarket and the dentist in Sudbury! I had a good friend from college who lived in Bury St Edmunds, and I had the pleasure of showing hubby around my old stomping ground a few years ago when we attended a wedding there (we stayed in Lavenham but loved the look of The Angel!) and took the same walk as you around the Abbey and gardens. Great post, thank you for taking me back ‘home’ for a little while 🙂 xxx

      1. I moved to Suffok when I was 10 and lived there for the next ten years. I didn’t go to Bury St Edmunds as often as other places, but yes, definitely my old stomping ground in good old Suffolk! And now, I haven’t seen your Lavenham posts…I’ve missed too many of your posts Jude. Are they recent, if so I’ll check through or if not, can you send me the links? Would love to see them, thanks! 🙂

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