Taken from Martin Taylor’s ‘Abbey Ruins’ in Secret Bury St Edmunds (2014), here is a brief look at the history of those weird and wonderful ruins that sit in the Abbey Gardens of Bury St Edmunds.
St Edmundsbury was once one of the greatest abbeys in the country, on a site of several acres; all that is left now is a mere glimpse of its magnificent Abbey Church. This was 12 bays long, 515 feet long and , at the widest, the west front 246 feet across.
Of its main two towers, we can only speculate the height.
Building started at the east end in 1080 by Abbot Baldwin, and was finished around 1210, although several catastrophes such as fires and towers collapsing happened at different times.
At the shrine of St Edmund, once a patron saint of England, attention was given by between sixty and eighty Benedictine monks. They were helped by lay-brothers, a term that for many years was thought to be the origin of labourer. The town of Bury St Edmunds owed its very existence to Edmund.
The construction of the abbey’s buildings consisted of limestone blocks, mostly obtained from Barnack on the Northamptonshire border. As the walls progressed, a core mixture of flint and lime mortar was then poured in, which gradually worked its way upwards with the limestone, with both components of this core readily accessible beneath your feet.
All that remains today is that core stripped of the limestone casing, soon after the dissolution in 1539. If the town’s people ever wanted revenge for the rule of the abbey, now was the time to do it.
To quote from the poem Ozymandias by Shelley, “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair, nothing beside remains”. Some people may look at the ruins now and see something completely different.
To the keen eye looking southwards, two shapes appear, on the left a cockerel complete with an eye, on the right a kettle. Trivial but fun nevertheless.
From: Martin Taylor, Secret Bury St Edmunds (Amberley, 2014).