The Bury Best
Published: Wednesday 1st May 2019
Ancient sites sit side-by-side with every contemporary and cultural essential in a town full of contrast – it’s easy to see why the Sunday Times named Bury St Edmunds as 2019’s Best Place to Live in the East!
The landmark buildings of Greene King and British Sugar signal that you’re nearing the centre of Bury St Edmunds… continue on and you’re in for a true taste of time travel, for those local food and drink icons merely hint at the adventure that awaits everyone with an appetite for heritage, history and every modern-day must-have.
At the centre of historic Bury, the Abbey of St Edmund celebrates its 1000th anniversary in 2020. This was the burial place of St Edmund, who travelled to East Anglia from Germany in the mid ninth century to become the last Saxon king before Danish and Norman rule. Today it is little more than a beautiful ruin amid the well-tended Abbey Gardens, the Great Gate, Norman Tower and the impressive West Front of the immense church among its remains. The neighbouring St Edmundsbury Cathedral stands on ancient ground but has many modern contrasts. Building here commenced in 1065 and was completed only in recent years – work on a Millennium Tower ended in 2005 and a magnificent painted and gilded vault was added in 2010.
Close by, and the cultural heart of the town in times past, The Athenaeum was built in the early 18th century as Assembly Rooms where the locals could gather to read books, play cards and attend social gatherings – authors Charles Dickens, Rev Charles Kingsley and WM Thackeray all gave readings here in the 1800s. A Grade I listed building now owned by the local authority, The Athenaeum still boasts an ornate Georgian Ballroom complete with chandeliered ceiling, while a green dome that graces the roof is an observatory constructed by the Victorians in the year of Donati’s spectacular comet.
The town’s sturdy Victorian and Georgian architecture contrasts with gravity-defying timber-framed dwellings, while the 12th-century Moyse’s Hall Museum is believed to be one of the oldest stone-built domestic buildings in the country.
Just a few steps away, the characterful Butter Market and Cornhill are where a twice-weekly street market is held. All around, big-name shops vie for trade with trendy independent stores, while modern shopping centre The Arc is statement-making in design and ideal for a ‘quick fix’ of retail therapy.
The buzz of Bury St Edmunds continues long after the shops and historical sites have closed. Unchanged since 1819, the Theatre Royal – the only theatre in the National Trust’s property portfolio – is one of only three places in Britain where you can enjoy a traditional bill of plays, pantomime, music, concerts and comedy in a restored Regency setting.
If you’re more of a movie buff, you’ll love the Abbeygate Cinema, a beautifully modernised yet perfectly original 1920s cinema showing everything from timeless classics to the latest box office releases. Alternatively, catch a live show at The Apex, where performances range from comedy to classical music.
What To Do In Bury St Edmunds
- Follow the self-guided Blue Plaques Trail, which links people of the past with the buildings of the present. See where Charles Dickens stayed, visit author Norah Loft's home where she wrote many of her historical novels – some loosely based on Bury St Edmunds – and discover where acclaimed artist Sybil Andrews produced her sought-after lino cuts. www.burysociety.com/plaques
- Visit The Nutshell, a tiny Victorian pub plastered with memorabilia and quirky ephemera, including a mummified cat. On The Traverse and measuring just 15ft by 7ft, it’s reputed to be the smallest pub in Britain. www.thenutshellpub.co.uk
- Step behind the scenes at Theatre Royal. Close Encounters: Live Interactive Tours run on Saturdays until September 7 this year, bringing the theatre’s history to life with a chance to meet prominent characters from the past in situ, dressed and behaving as they would have been when they were originally at the theatre. www.theatreroyal.org/tours
- Explore the Suffolk Regiment Museum, housed on the edge of the town centre at The Keep – the surviving building of the 1878 Regimental Depot. Displays tell the story of the regiment from its foundation in 1685 to amalgamation with the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1959 and cover the regular, militia, volunteer and war-time battalions as well as the experience of individual soldiers. www.suffolkregimentmuseum.co.uk
- Discover how real beer is brewed using natural ingredients and traditional brewing methods during a tour of Greene King’s beautiful and historic working Brewhouse. Tours end with a tutored tasting session before visitors head home with a free beer of their choice. www.greenekingshop.co.uk
Click here to view our range of luxury self-catering holiday cottages in Bury St Edmunds.
Written by Gill Bendall