Wednesday 2nd September 2015
Today we beetled off eastward to the rolling green landscape of Suffolk to the busy market town of Bury St Edmunds. Edmund was the C9th King of East Anglia who was murdered by opponents and his body dismembered and he was beheaded. Allegedly a wolf guarded his head until supporters came to find him and his body was eventually buried at the town now known as Bury St Edmunds. Today there are wolves everywhere around town and the story is alive and well.
It was market day today and we enjoyed the Autumnal sunshine wandering the streets and sharing in the Salamanca Hobart like bustle and excitement with buskers everywhere. It is a very smart shopping centre with or without market day and the whole town generates a sense of pride and purpose. The Palladian Corn Exchange was particularly busy with a very popular beer brewing festival in full swing.
The town retains a high sense of history with its ancient abbey ruins dating from 1065 and plundered by Henry VIII’s operatives. Today the ruins form part of a huge and beautifully tendered garden presentation much loved by families.
A Benedictene Abbey existed on the site of Bury St Edmunds from 1065 but was destroyed by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Today only the city gates to the monastery, parts of the old wall and a few scattered ruins remain but the townsfolk have kept the site in the middle of town and transformed it into a beautiful garden park with stunning summer flowers and playgrounds for children
During the English Reformation work began on not one but three Protestant churches in Bury St Edmunds. One, St Margarets has been demolished. Two remain, and ironically they stand side by side with only a cemetery in between…St James’ Church was begun in 1503 as a late Gothic design with additions in 1711(new chancel) and the C19th (new roof and another new chancel). The most radical changes occurred post 1914 when St James was consecrated a Cathedral. Since that time massive changes have occurred the most recent of which include a new quire and crossing (1970), a new cathedral centre and song school ((1990); new Gothic style lantern tower (2005) and new cloisters and transfiguration chapel (2008). Bury St James’ “Gothic” Cathedral is effectively England’s newest Gothic style Cathedral and it is alive and kicking with a lively congregation and a magnificent interior.
Also since the Reformation, St Mary’s church has arisen from the destruction of the Benedictine Abbey of St Edmund. It is larger than St James and the nave at 213 feet is the longest English parish church. Unlike the Cathedral St Mary’s has had few major changes and remains an authentic late Gothic church with wonderful stained glass, the tomb of Mary Tudor, third sister of Henry V111 and an ancient porch dating from 1440 commemorating merchant John Notyygham and his wife Isobel. According to the folk we spoke to both churches have lively congregations, one “High Church” and the other “Low Church”. It is an interesting phenomenon.
We drove on from Bury St Edmunds to the Elizabethan Melford Hall which sits 15kms from the town in the beautiful Village of Melford which indeed also has its own very large parish church.
Melford Hall has been in the Hyde Parker family for the past 300 years and is set in the midst of idyllic Suffolk wool country. The home is run by the National Trust but the family still alive in one wing of the building. It is no treasure house and the charm of this home is that the furniture and fittings are not so totally removed from everyday life although there are some magnificent individual items.
We both felt really at peace in this quiet corner of Suffolk ..not as intense as the tightly knit villages of some other counties and a sense of distance on a sunny day…idyllic England of the poets…. hard to capture with our camera
A unique feature of this home is the prevailing influence of children’s writer and ecology campaigner Beatrix Potter who was a cousin of the Hyde Parker family. Here is found the original Jemima Puddleduck and a large number of original paintings and drawings of Beatrix Potter and her influence is seen in the garden design and other elements of the home. The small villages of Suffolk are enchanting and we drove through many of them today. An English sunny day in the country is difficult to match!
Two more Beatrix Potter paintings of many at Melford Hall