What you can learn about Bury St Edmunds' history with virtual tour

Bury guides L-R Terry O'Donoghue, Adrian Tindall, Peta Levantis, Lynn Whitehead. Picture: SARAH LUC

Bury guides left to right: Terry O'Donoghue, Adrian Tindall, Peta Levantis, Lynn Whitehead - Credit: Archant

This virtual tour of Bury St Edmunds will take you on a historical journey where familiar places may take on new meaning or hidden gems may be revealed.

While the daily tours run by Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides are on pause until April, here they take you around the town centre, home to the ruins of the Abbey of Saint Edmund.

Town Guide John Saunders, of Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides, said: "For many people, whether by day or night, a guided tour of Bury St Edmunds is an eye-opener."  

Here the town guides give readers a taster of what lies in store on their daily tours:

1. Starting at the Angel Hill, Melanie Mills points out the peculiar looking signpost known locally as the Pillar of Salt. Designed by Basil Oliver, it aroused public controversy when it was installed in 1935. It had five-inch high lettering and there had to be a compromise for it to be a lawful traffic sign. Now serving a very useful purpose by illuminating the Abbey Gate at night, it has seen change over the years when it first signed the A45 main road through the town but now points the way to the A14, which has by-passed the town since 1973.

Bury town guide, Melanie Mills. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bury town guide, Melanie Mills, at the Pillar of Salt - Credit: Archant

2. One of our greatest attractions must the Abbey Gate but as Steve Ruthen explains it is a replacement for the gate that was destroyed in the riots of 1327 and on closer inspection you can see that this one was designed not to be knocked down! It led into one of the biggest and most famous abbeys across Europe and had the shrine to St Edmund.

Bury town guide Steve Ruthen. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bury town guide Steve Ruthen at the Abbey Gate - Credit: Archant

But the Gate has its own mysteries. Why are there shields on its inner walls? What was in the alcoves? Why are the Stars of David on its fascia? Martyn Taylor answers these questions and explains more as we go through the gates, including how it was guarded by troops in an upstairs room who had the ability to shoot invaders through the arrow slits and drop its portcullis and close the inner gates as a last resort.

Bury town guide Martyn Taylor. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bury town guide Martyn Taylor outside the Abbey Gate - Credit: Archant

Most Read

3. We come out of the abbey grounds into the Great Churchyard, which at night holds so many ghostly and macabre stories. John Saunders narrates how the martyrs’ memorial is there to commemorate those who were burnt at the stake in Bury in the mid-1500s as part of Bloody Mary’s quest to wipe out dissenting protestants. But these were ordinary Suffolk folk including weavers, a labourer, a wheelwright and a sawyer. None of the martyrs came from Bury – they came from such places as Coddenham, Hadleigh and Stoke by Nayland because the practice of burning people on ‘home ground’ had often resulted in local protest.

Bury town guide, John Saunders. Picture: SARAH LUCYBROWN

Bury town guide, John Saunders, in the Great Churchyard - Credit: Archant

4. The Guildhall is the next highlight of our tour being one of the oldest civic buildings in England. Terry O’Donoghue tells us that this was the administrative centre of the town at a time when there was friction between the townspeople and the abbey.

Town guide Terry O'Donoghue in front of the Guildhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Town guide Terry O'Donoghue in front of the Guildhall - Credit: Archant

Within is a portrait of one of the town’s greatest benefactors, Jankyn Smyth, who lived in the 1400s and whose generosity and that of other charitable donors later became part of the Guildhall Feoffment Trust. Annually a service is held at St Mary’s Church followed by a procession to the Guildhall where Jankyn is toasted with cakes and ale, this practice dating from 1622, which is thought to be the country’s oldest endowed service ceremony.

Town guide Terry O'Donoghue in front of the Guildhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Town guide Terry O'Donoghue in front of the Guildhall. - Credit: Archant

5. We move towards the town centre where we find another fascinating building, measuring 15ft x 7ft and formerly holding the claim as England’s smallest pub. By day we see the quirkiness of its interior with banknotes of different countries and denominations adorning the ceiling. The mummified cat gives a clue as to why this is a stop during the ghostly and macabre tour but Lynn Whitehead tells us that there is more to it than that. A bellarmine jar filled with such items as nail clippings, hair and bird bones once occupied the threshold to repel witches. Look long enough at the upstairs window and you might see the face of the little boy in this reputedly haunted house.

Bury town guide Lynn Whitehead in front of what formerly had the title of England's smallest pub, The Nutshell

Bury town guide Lynn Whitehead in front of what formerly had the title of England's smallest pub, The Nutshell - Credit: Archant

6. Our tour continues past the many landmarks of the town into its centre and the striking of the clock at Moyse’s Hall Museum brings our tour to a close. But the last words are with John Saunders: “The museum here is an example of the many places of interest in the town – it holds one of the finest collections of timepieces, chilling exhibits from past crimes, the works of local artists and, not least, a range of artefacts relating to our abbey and St Edmund. The building itself dates back to the 12th century when it was a house; its construction of imported stone and flint being signs of great wealth. A guided tour is an excellent way of finding out the extra pieces that make the town so interesting.”

Bury town guide, Caroline Holt in front of Moyses Hall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bury town guide, Caroline Holt in front of Moyse's Hall Museum - Credit: Archant

  • Information about the tours, dates, how to book and pay can be found on the Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides website. The ghostly and macabre tours are currently suspended, but will be reinstated as soon as restrictions are lessened. As the new year approaches the guides are busy refining their six new abbey-related tours to mark 1000 years since the founding of St Edmund’s Abbey.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter