"BURY ST. EDMUND'S, is a market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, comprises the two parishes of St. Mary and St. James, and is the county town of county Suffolk, 14 miles to the E. of Newmarket, 26 miles to the N.E. of Ipswich, 43 miles S.W. of Norwich, and 71 miles by road from London, or 942 miles by railway via Ipswich, and 86 via Cambridge. It is a station on the Great Eastern an Eastern Union railway. Bury, the principal town in West Suffolk, is situated in an open and highly-cultivated country, on the banks of the river Larke, a branch of the Ouse, and is a place of very high antiquity. It is not ascertained by whom or at what time it was founded, but from the number of Roman antiquities found, and from the quantity of Roman bricks and tiles employed in the building of the abbey church, it is considered to have been an important place under the dominion of the Romans, probably the station Villa Faustini. It was subsequently named by the Saxons Beodrics-worthe, i.e. "house of Becdric," to whom the manor belonged in the early part of the 9th century. It was a royal burgh at that period, and was bequeathed by Beodric to Edmund, who succeeded Offa as King of East Anglia. Here Edmund was crowned in 856. During an irruption of the Danes, in 870, he was captured and barbarously slain. The device of the corporate seal commemorates a miraculous circumstance attending his death. The remains of the martyr and king, after being interred at Hoxne, where miracles were reported to have been wrought by them, were removed and deposited at this town in 903, which thenceforth bore the name of St. Edmund's Bury. A church was erected to his memory, which was made collegiate by King Athelstan about the year 925, who also incorporated the six secular priests, who had founded a monastery, at the same time. The town and monastery having suffered greatly from the Danes under Swegn, were rebuilt by Canute, about 1020. The secular priests were expelled, and monks of the Benedictine order were then established in their place. Bishop Aylwin took part in the foundation of the new abbey, which was richly endowed, and subsequently attained a degree of magnificence and privilege unrivalled by any monastery in Great Britain, with the exception of the abbey of Glastonbury.
The abbot was mitred and sat in parliament. He had jurisdiction over all causes within the liberty of Bury, which comprised seven hundreds and part of an eighth. He had the power of inflicting capital punishment, and the privilege of coining. The number of monks, chaplains, and servants in the abbey exceeded 200, and the revenue of the establishment, according to the estimate made at the Dissolution, was £2,337, which was probably below the real value. Thirty-three abbots in succession ruled the monastery during a period of 519 years from the time of its restoration by Canute, till the 4th of November, 1539, when this magnificent establishment was broken up, and the site and endowments surrendered to Henry VIII. The abbey was visited by Henry I. on his page from France, and in 1214 King John held a conference with the barons here. Parliaments were held at Bury by Henry III. in 1272, by Edward I. in 1296, and by Henry VI. in 1446. The shrine of St. Edmund was visited by Henry VII. and his Queen Elizabeth. In 1327 a violent attack was made on the abbey by the people of the town and the surrounding villages, the aldermen and burgesses taking the lead, and many of the parochial clergy sanctioning and abetting it. After the destruction of a large part of the buildings and the pillage of their rich and valuable contents, the riot was quelled by the soldiery, many of the rioters were captured and imprisoned, and 19 were sentenced to death. Bury was the rendezvous of the forces of the Duke of Northumberland, when the Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen. The site and estates of the abbey were chiefly given by Henry VIII. to the Eyre family, but part of them were granted to Sir Nicholas Bacon. They have passed through many hands in succession, and now belong to the Marquis of Bristol. The town of Bury St. Edmund's is pleasantly situated on the W. bank of the river Larke. Destructive fires having occurred in 1608 and 1644, the houses are mostly of modern date, well and uniformly built. The streets are spacious and regular, well paved and lighted with gas, and the water supply is abundant. The surrounding district is dry and healthy, and contains much agreeable scenery. The spinning of woollen yarn was formerly carried on here, and the old Wool Hall still remains, though no longer used as such. The principal business of the place is the corn trade and pursuits connected with agriculture, Bury being a grand market for agricultural produce of all kinds. The public buildings are:-the shirehall, a modern edifice in which the assizes are held, built on the site of the old church of St. Margaret; the guildhall, a handsome building with an ancient porch, in which the borough courts are held, and county business transacted: it contains some curious old portraits, including one of Admiral Hervey, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the left wing is appropriated to the West Suffolk library; the county gaol, au extensive building on Southgate Green, with accommodation for 140 prisoners, built about 1805 at a cost of £30,000, and surrounded by a lofty wall; the bridewell, an ancient edifice in the Norman style, with round windows, formerly occupied as a synagogue, but now used as the police-station; the athenæum, a spacious edifice, erected about 1853, containing a noble hall, library of 6,000 volumes, reading-room, museum, &c., the ground-floor, comprising the news-room and billiard-room, is occupied by the Gentlemen's Club; the Suffolk Hospital, a plain but commodious structure, recently enlarged by adding to the wings; the theatre, erected in 1819; a concert-room, which was originally the theatre; handsome subscription-rooms, mechanics' institute, library, &c. The Botanic Garden, established in 1820, is a great acquisition to the town, and is entered by that magnificent ruin, the Abbey Gate, which has been judiciously repaired. Bury is a borough by prescription, but a charter of incorporation was granted by James I., about 1606, the provisions of which were afterwards extended. The elective franchise was exercised on one occasion by the burgesses in the reign of Edward I., but not subsequently until the 4th of James I., since which time the borough has regularly sent two representatives to parliament. Under the Municipal Corporations Act it is divided into three wards, and is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The limits of the municipal and parliamentary borough are co-extensive, and comprise, according to the census of 1861, 2,847 houses, inhabited by a population of 13,316 against 13,900 in 1851, thus showing a falling off in the decennial period of 584. It has a revenue of about £2,670. Quarter sessions for the borough and the spring assizes are held at Bury, which is also the head of a County Court district, a polling place, the election town for the western division of Suffolk, and the headquarters of the West Suffolk Militia. The borough comprises the two parishes of St. Mary and St. James. The living of St. Mary's is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Ely, in the patronage of trustees. The church, which was erected about 1430, is a large and beautiful structure of freestone, in the perpendicular style, with a low tower of more ancient date. It has a fine porch on the north side, and an exquisitely carved roof of genuine Suffolk oak, but which is erroneously said to have been brought from Normandy. In the chancel is a monument to Mary, daughter of Henry VII., queen to Louis XII. of France, and afterwards married to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She died in 1533, and was interred in the Abbey church. Here are also a monument to John Reeves, last Abbot of Bury, who died in 1540, and two fine altar-tombs, one to Sir William Carew, who died in 1501, and the other to Sir Robert Drury, privy councillor to Henry VIII. This fine church has been tastefully restored, at the cost of £7,000, under the direction of the late architect Cottingham. The living of St. James's is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Ely, in the patronage of H. Wilson, Esq. The church is a spacious and handsome building of freestone, also in the perpendicular style, erected partly by Abbot Sampson, and completed in the reign and partly at the expense of King Edward VI. It was thoroughly repaired in 1820, when a new gallery was added. It contains a monument to Chief Baron Reynolds, who died in 1736, and has 2,000 sittings, of which 250 are free. The two churches stand in one very spacious and pleasant churchyard, adorned with lime-tree avenues, from which there is a good view of the town. There are several buildings besides the churches in this churchyard, among which are the venerable church gate, Clopton's Hospital, the old residence of Lydgate, the poet, &c. Besides the parish churches there are two district churches. That of St. John is an elegant structure, built by subscription in 1841; it contains 850 sittings, of which half are free. The living is a perpetual curacy value £113, in the patronage of the bishop. The other, only just finished, is dedicated to St. Peter. Towards its construction the munificent sum of £3,000 was sent by an unknown benefactor. There are two chapels belonging to the Independents, two to the Baptists, and one each to the Wesleyans, Unitarians, Roman Catholics, and the Society of Friends. The Roman Catholic chapel is a building of considerable pretensions, dedicated to St. Edmund, and erected in 1837 from designs by C. Day. Bury has a free grammar school, founded by Edward VI., which has attained a high standing, and at which several men of eminence have received their education; as Archbishop Sancroft, Lord Keeper North, Richard Cumberland (the dramatist), Sir Samuel Romilly, and Dr. Blomfield, late Bishop of London. Several exhibitions at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are connected with the school, and its revenue from endowment is above £1,600 per annum. The charitable endowments of the town are valuable, amounting to nearly £4,000 per annum. Of these the principal is the Guildhall Feoffment, a fund belonging to the corporation, and applicable to various purposes. Several free schools, on a large scale, for boys and girls have been founded and are partly supported out of this fund, the annual produce of which exceeds £2,000. There are also National, industrial, and infant schools. Clopton's Asylum, for six widowers and six widows, has a revenue from endowment of about £700 per annum. The Suffolk General Hospital was founded in 1825. The building was originally built for an ordnance depot. Bury contains nearly a hundred almshouses, established and endowed by various persons, which are managed by trustees. Of the magnificent abbey, which was twelve years in building, and was of great extent, the remains are few. The church was 505 feet in length, 212 feet broad through the transepts, and had a west front of 240 feet. It had twelve chapels attached to it. The abbey walls enclosed, besides this church and the monastery, three other churches, the palace of the abbot, the chapterhouse, cloisters, offices, &c. The walls were embattled, and the entrance was by four grand gates. The western or abbey gate is still standing, and in good preservation. It is about 60 feet high, and is an interesting specimen of the decorated Gothic style. It was built in 1327, after the great riot already mentioned. Close to St. James's church is the church gate, a massive quadrangular structure 80 feet in height, and a very fine example of Saxon architecture. It was restored and strengthened by Cottingham. Numerous churches, hospitals, and charitable institutions existed in the town, of only a few of which any portions remain. Among these are the hospitals of St. Saviour, St. Thomas, St. Edmund, St. Nicholas, St. Stephen, St. John, and the chapel of St. Petronilla. In St. Saviour's Hospital the parliament of Henry VI. was held, and the " good "Duke of Gloucester was believed to have been murdered. Several arches of the abbey bridge, called Eastgate Bridge, may still be seen. Four colossal antique heads, cut out of blocks of freestone, were discovered amongst some old foundations, and are supposed to represent heathen divinities. In the reign of Queen Mary twelve martyrs suffered death at the stake in this town for their religious faith. The plague broke out here in 1636. A few years afterwards forty persons were hung at Bury on the charge of witchcraft, and in 1664 Sir Matthew Hale here sentenced two others to death on the same charge. Bury is the birthplace of many distinguished men, among whom may be named Lord Chancellor Aungerville, Bishop Gardiner, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Battely, the antiquarian, Capel Lofft, the friend of the young poets Kirk White and Robert Bloomfield, Repton, the landscape gardener, Bishop Towline, and Dr. Blomfield, the late Bishop of London. Lydgate, the poet, was connected with the abbey. Two newspapers, called the Bury and Norwich Post and Bury Free Press, are published in the town. The Keppels, Earls of Albemarle, take the title of viscount from this place. Wednesday and Saturday are market days, the former for corn, the latter for provisions. A pleasure fair is held on Easter Tuesday, and a great fair, lasting three weeks, opens on the 10th October; fairs for cattle, horses, &c., are held on the 2nd October and the 1st December."
Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)