At the sign of the Barking lion...

The churches of Bury

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


The churches of Suffolk

The churches of Ipswich

The churches of Lowestoft

The churches of Felixstowe

The churches of the Saints

The ruins of the great Abbey of St Edmund

St James, or 'St Edmundsbury Cathedral'

St John the Evangelist

St Edmund

St Peter

St George

Christ Church, Moreton Hall

Fornham All Saints

Fornham St Martin

St Mary, Westley

St Thomas of Canterbury, Westley

Angel Hill, with the entrance to the Abbey beyond

Officially, it is St Edmundsbury. Its popular name is Bury St Edmunds, but Suffolkers call it Bury.

Of Suffolk's towns, Bury is third in size. But it can make a reasonably convincing claim to be the most significant. Ipswich and Lowestoft are away on the east coast, whereas Bury is central; Bury was, until 1974, the county town of West Suffolk. And, more than a thousand years ago, it may well have been the capital of all East Anglia. This, and then the martyrdom of the Saxon King Edmund by Viking invaders; his body was brought here to lie in state, and be buried. A great abbey grew up around the shrine, which became the third most popular site of pilgrimage in the country after Canterbury and Walsingham.

Bury Abbey had a chequered history, particularly in its relationship with the medieval town that grew up around it. Small wonder, then, that it suffered the full fury of the Reformation, being almost razed to the ground.

Substantial ruins remain, as well as the two abbey churches of St Mary and St James (now reinvented as an Anglican cathedral). Despite their location in a public park, the ruins are haunting, and we need to cross the county border to Ely or Peterborough to imagine what was here before. A third abbey church, St Margaret, has now gone, but the charnel house survives in its former churchyard.

St Mary is one of the grandest churches in Suffolk. St James, or 'St Edmundsbury Cathedral' as it is now known, is also big, but this is a testimony to an extraordinary man, Stephen Dykes Bowers. He began as the architect of the transformation, and ended up paying for it. Many millions of pounds later, his final legacy is the mock-gothic tower that is beginning to rise above the crossing. Inside, everything is safe and comforting, a curious mixture of gothic mystery and Festival of Britain confidence.

One might imagine from the tourist guides that Bury is nothing more than a historic market town. In fact, it was a major 19th century industrial centre, and remains so today. The successful way in which the old and new continue to be merged make it a fascinating place.

The Victorian expansion gave it one of Suffolk's most interesting 19th century churches - St John the Evangelist, built by WilliamRanger in a pre-Camden Society mixture of Early English and Bavarian Castle. Today, it is Bury's anglo-catholic centre. Also a product of the 19th century is Suffolk's busiest Catholic church, St Edmund, where Sunday congregations of 800 or more dwarf the bigger Anglican churches. Unusually, the church was built in a Greek revival style, much of which survives.

Another Victorian church is St Peter; less distinguished than the other two, but interesting for its setting in the terraces near the brewery.

Bury's development continued in the 20th century, with a large industrial area to the north and east of the town centre. The A14 Birmingham-to-the-coast road threads through the town here, making it wholly urban. The Mildenhall Park estate is challenging, and St George sits quietly amongst the deprivation. More successful is the Moreton Hall estate of the 1980s and 1990s, where you'll find busy Christ Church. There is also All Saints, to the west of the town centre. It is a sign of Bury's resilience and prosperity that none of these churches have become redundant.

Careful town planning has meant that no historic villages have been absorbed by the town's considerable growth. Fornham All Saints and Fornham St Martin are both effectively part of the urban area, as is Westley, where you'll find the curious Italianate St Mary, as well as the ruins of the medieval St Thomas of Canterbury.

The churches of Bury St Edmunds: Bury Abbey, Bury All Saints, Bury Christ Church, Bury St Edmund, Bury St George, Bury St James, Bury St John, Bury St Mary, Bury St Peter, Fornham All Saints, Fornham St Martin, Westley St Thomas of Canterbury, Westley St Mary



Amazon commission helps cover the running costs of this site