Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Family History Guide

Parishes in Bury St Edmunds

  • Bury St Edmunds St James, Suffolk
  • Bury St Edmunds St John, Suffolk
  • Bury St Edmunds St Mary, Suffolk

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

BURY-ST. EDMUNDS, a town, two parishes, and a district, in Suffolk. The town stands on the river Larke, at a meeting of railways from the E, the N, and the W, 14¼ miles E of Newmarket. The Larke is navigable to within about a mile of it; and the railway from the N is the Bury and Thetford line, authorised in 1865, but not commenced at the beginning of 1868. The town is thought to have been the Villa Faustina of the Romans. It was made a seat of royalty soon after the settlement of the Saxons, and named Beodericsworth, signifying "the dwelling of Beoderic," after a person who had possessed it. Sigbright, the fifth king of East Anglia, on embracing Christianity about 638, founded at it a monastic church. Edmund, who succeeded to the throne of East Anglia in 855, was crowned either here or at Bures; and, upon his being slain by the Danes, and acquiring the reputation of a martyr, his body, after having lain some time elsewhere, was solemnly deposited here, and occasioned the place to be called Bury-St. Edmunds. Miracles were alleged to be wrought; and great reputed sanctity was attained. A new church, over the royal remains, was founded, in 925, by Athelstane; and a splendid enlargement of this, with the character of a Benedictine Abbey, was commenced in 1020, by Canute, and consecrated in 1032. A gorgeous shrine, for Edmund's body, was constructed in it; and Canute came hither in person, and offered his crown. A further enlargement of the edifice was began soon afterwards, and completed in 1095. Edward the Confessor frequently dismounted within a mile of the Abbey, and entered it on foot. Henry I. did homage in it, for his safe return to his dominions. Eustace plundered it in 1153. Henry II. was crowned in it; and he carried the banner of St. Edmund in front of his troops at the battle of Fornham, and ascribed to its influence the victory he obtained. Richard I. made a visit to the shrine before going to Palestine. King John was here in 1201 and 1203; and a meeting of barons here shared with that of Runymede the honour of wresting from him the Magna Charta. The Dauphin Louis plundered the Abbey in 1216, and took away Edmund's body. Henry III. was several times here; held a parliament here in 1272; and contracted here the disease which terminated in his death. Edward I. and his queen visited the shrine five times in the course of his reign; and he held a parliament in the town in 1296. Edward II. kept his Christmas here in 1326; and his queen Isabella marched hither with the troops from the Prince of Hainault, and made Bury her rallying point. An assault, with great damage, was made on the Abbey, in 1327, by the townspeople, and suppressed by military force. Edward III. and Richard II. made visits to the shrine. The insurgents under Jack Straw, in 1381, beheaded Lord Chief Justice Cavendish at Bury, attacked the Abbey, and slew the abbot. Henry VI. spent his Christmas here in 1433, and held a parliament here in 1446; and Shakspeare lays a scene here in that monarch's reign. Henry VII. was here in 1486. The Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, in 1526, assembled their troops here to quell the insurrection at Lavenham, Sudbury, and the adjacent country. The Duke of Northumberland, on proclaiming Lady Jane Grey to be successor of Edward VI., made Bury the rendezvous of his troops in support of her cause. Twelve persons were burnt at the stake here, on account of religions tenets, in the reign of Mary. A visit was made to Bury, in 1578, by Elizabeth. A great fire broke out in 1608, destroyed 160 dwelling-houses, and destroyed property to the value of £60,000. The plague made such havoc in 1636 that the grass grew in the streets. Forty persons, in the reign of James I., two of them tried before Sir Matthew Hale, were put to death in Bury for the imaginary crime of witchcraft.

The town occupies a gentle descent, on a sandy soil, amid pleasant environs. It measures about 1½ mile by 1¼; and is well built. The shire-hall is a modern erection, incorporating part of the ancient church of St. Margaret; and contains two convenient courts, for criminal and civil causes. The Guildhall gives name to a street; is a handsome edifice, with an old porch; and contains some interesting old portraits. The county jail cost £30,000, and has capacity for 176 male and 24 female prisoners. The bridewell, now used as a police office, outside the prison walls, was once a synagogue, and is a very old Norman building. The corn exchange was built in 1862; has a frontage of 82 feet and a depth of 119 feet; consists of nave and aisles; and has an elliptical iron roof, glazed for about 20 feet on each side of the arch. The athenæum was built in 1854; is a spacious structure; and contains apartments for a public club, a reading room, a museum, a library of about 5,000 volumes, and a large hall. The botanic garden was established in 1820. The theatre was built in 1819. Moyses' hall is a late Norman house, with a vaulted lower story. Mediæval vaults are under the Angel inn. Five gates were in the town walls, but have disappeared. A Franciscan priory, a college, five hospitals, and at least twenty-eight churches or chapels, besides the existing parish churches and the Abbey chapels, were in the town at the Reformation; but most are known now only by their sites, or even only by their names. The college was founded by Edward IV., and is now a workhouse; St. Saviour's hospital was founded in 1184, appears to have been of great extent, and has all perished except a gateway; St. Nicholas' hospital was converted into a farmhouse; the stone chapel became a small inn; and two or three other chapels are represented by fragmentary ruins. The abbey church was cruciform, 506 feet from end to end, 241 feet along the transept; had a nave of thirteen bays, a choir of five bays, a circular apse, containing the shrine, several chapels, a central lanthern, and two octagonal western towers; and was built of flint and boulder, cased with Barnack stone. The cloisters and other buildings connected with it were of corresponding magnitude. The chapter-house is now used as a stable; three arches of the west front are incorporated with modern houses; the central tower, 36 feet wide and 86 feet high, still stands, was restored in 1847, forms now the grand entrance to the churchyard of the two parish churches, and is a fine specimen of Norman architecture; and the abbey gatehouse, 50 feet by 40, and 62 feet high, also still stands, and is rich decorated English; but all the other parts have perished. The revenues were equivalent to about £50,000 of the present day; and passed, at the dissolution, chiefly to the Ayres and the Bacons. St. Mary's church was built in 1005, and rebuilt in 1424-1480; has a west Norman tower; is 213 feet long; and contains altar-tombs of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and five persons of the 15th century. St. James' church was built in 1200, rebuilt in 1500, and repaired in 1820; and the chancel was rebuilt, very ornately, in 1869. St. John's church was built in 1841, at a cost of £6,000; and is a handsome structure. St. Peter's church is a recent erection, at a cost of £3,000. The dissenting chapels are two Independent, two Baptist, one Quaker, one Unitarian, two Methodist, and one Brethren. The R. Catholic chapel was built in 1837. The grammar school was founded by Edward VI.; educates 110 boys; and has an endowed income of £1,529, with six exhibitions at the universities. Three feoffment schools educate 450 boys and 150 girls, and were modified in 1865 to receive orphans. There are two national schools. The Suffolk general hospital was rebuilt in 1864 at a cost of £13,000. Clapton's asylum and school is an edifice in the Tudor style,-built in 1842; and has an endowed income of £730. The total endowed charities within the borough amount to £3,923. There are likewise a mechanics' institute, a concert room, and subscription rooms.

The town has a head post office, a railway station with telegraph, four banking offices, and four chief inns; is a seat of assizes and sessions, and a polling-place; and publishes two weekly newspapers. Weekly markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday; and fairs on Easter-Tuesday, 2 Oct., and 1 Dec. Little manufacture exists; but a large trade arises from the markets, and from the demands of numerous wealthy neighbouring families. The town has sent two members to parliament since the time of James I.; and is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors. Its borough boundaries, both parliamentary and municipally, are the same as those of the two parishes and of the district. Acres, 2,934. Real property, £52,741. Direct taxes, £10,187. Electors in 1868, 697. Pop. in 1841, 12,538; in 1861, 13,318. Houses, 2,852. Lord Chancellor Aungervile, Bishop Gardner, Battely, the antiquary, Sir J. Cullum, Capel Lofft, Bishop Tomline, Bishop Blomfield, and Repton, the landscape gardener, were natives; Norwold, the annalist, Eversden, the historian, and Lydgate, the poet, were connected with the Abbey; Archbishop Sancroft, Lord Keeper North, Anstey, Cumberland, the Bunburys, Romilly, and a number of other distinguished men were educated at the grammar school; and Madame de Genlis, Defoe, and Wollaston, were residents. The town gives the title of Viscount to Earl Albemarle.

The two parishes are St. Mary and St. James; the latter includes the chapelry of St. John; and all three are vicarages in the diocese of Ely. The value of St. Mary and St. James, not reported; of St. John, £113. Patrons of St. Mary, Trustees; of St. James, H. Wilson, Esq.; of St. John, the Bishop of Ely. The district is not divided. Poor-rates in 1866, £6,634. Marriages in 1866, 106; births, 465, of which 61 were illegitimate; deaths, 317, of which 90 were at ages under 5 years, and 15 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1,007; births, 4,067; deaths, 3,145.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].


Below is a list of people that were declared bankrupt between 1820 and 1843 extracted from The Bankrupt Directory; George Elwick; London; Simpkin, Marshall and Co.; 1843.

Adams Jonathan, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, grocer, July 3, 1829.

Baldry George, jun., Bury St. Edmunds, and Ipswich, innkeeper, July 23, 1841.