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Bury St. Edmunds is a market town in the rural county of Suffolk, in the United Kingdom. It has a population of 34,280 (1996 census); but I think that is rising rapidly as of 2001. There is one of the largest open air markets in the UK held every Wednesday and Saturday. You can find a huge variety of pubs, inluding the 'Nutshell' the countries smallest pub. I'd recommend the 'Old Cannon Brewery' in Cannon Street, particulary if you're a fan of real ale. They brew onsite, the beer's great, and the food's first rate also. Once the capital city of East Anglia, Bury has a long history one that stretches back over one thousand years, evidence of which you can see throughout the fabric of the town.

In 838 AD the King of East Anglia, Edmund was beheaded by the invading Danes, near Norwich, his body was taken to Bedericsworth and buried. He was confirmed a martyr, and a shrine built around his grave.

Two hundred years later the Benedictine monks built an abbey on the site of this shrine. The historic core of the city was laid out according to the original Abbot's plans, and his grid like pattern can still be seen today. It was in the abbey church that in 1214 AD tradition says King John was forced by his barons to sign the 'Charter of Liberties', this document was to become known as the Magna Carta, later in Runnymede he signed it. In 1539 Henry VIII dissolved the abbey, and most of it was pulled down by the local townsfolk and used as building materials. Today only flint ruins remain, the remants of the core of the walls, around which the neat dressed facing stones would have stood.

These ruins now contain the 'Abbey Gardens' a huge tourist attraction; whose displays have help win Bury St Edmunds worldwide recognition as a 'Floral Town'. Really a great place to wander around, the ruins are quite extensive and the squirrels can be tame enough to eat from your hand.

The architect of the cathedral in Bury was thought to be John Wastell, famous for designing King's College in Cambridge. Building started in 1503, and is still continuing! Originally there was no spire, but funds have been secured from the national lottery fund here in the UK to finish the job. Nearby is St Mary's church, built in the 14th century on the site of a Norman church. Mary Rose Tudor, Henry VIII's sister was reburied in the sanctuary after the abbey was dissolved.

There are a couple of museums in town, mainly dealing with local history. Most notable is the Moyses Hall museum, contained within one of the oldest houses in the country. Its said to be the only remaining Norman house, and dates from around 1180.

The town is also been home to the Greene King brewery since 1799, which supplies all of the local pubs with their supplies of Abbott Ale. Near to the brewery is the 'Theatre Royal' one of the few suriving Georgian playhouses; a great intimate venue.

It's by and large a great place to live, not the most happening place in the world and a fair amount of young people migrate away; but a fair few also return, and find it largely unchanged.... A very nice place to live and a great place to visit; giving you a good base of operations to scout out the rest of the surrounding area.

My memory is shady, and I haven't touched this stuff in a while, but this deserves at least a brief mention:

In the early days of the abbey, in the 11th century, a monk by the name of Jocelyn of Brakelond began to record the affairs of the chapter in what would later be called simply the Chronicle of Bury St. Edmunds. (Brief note for other Classics dorks: now survives completely only in a single manuscript in the British Museum collection, written in the 12th century and pasted into later volumes, written in a good, late insular minuscule in two columns, on vellum).

In it, Jocelyn details the transition of power from the Abbot Hugo to the Abbot Samson, and the mismanagement and wacky shenanigans which required the removal of the former and the installation of the latter. Hugo had blown his entire yearly budget for several years on entertaining guests to lavish banquets, while simply ignoring most day to day affairs. Monks, without any supervision and still required to complete their assigned tasks, would creep out of the abbey to the shrine of St. Edmund, upon which was hung a seal for use in business transactions by illiterate merchants, locals, and non-Christians, and would borrow money from Jewish bankers to pay for expenses. Unable to pay exorbitant interest-rates, the abbey started pawning off relics just to pay the bills, while avoiding inspection from local authorities through the purchase of papal exemptions. All the while, the Jewish bankers were getting screwed, since they couldn't attack the abbey or the order in court, and had no recourse to church intervention.

The second half of the book is a lot less interesting, basically about the now-blind Hugo taking a forced vacation to the Holy Land and Samson stepping in with disciplinary reforms.

All in all, a nice piece of social history, and well worth a read (there are several translations out there).

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