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7 things you walk past every day in Bury St Edmunds and may not know their 'hidden' history




Some are beautiful, some profound, some are mysterious, and some are just plain 'stinky'.

With Heritage Open Days in full swing this week, although on a somewhat more limited scale, history in 2020 is still very much alive, and in the current pandemic, very much still in the making.

For the first time, England’s largest festival of heritage and culture will feature online events as well as carefully managed activities.

Heritage Open Days (HODs) helps uncover stories, sites, places and people that traditional history has overlooked or forgotten.

This year, people can experience virtual tours and take part in online discussions as well as visiting historic places and green spaces in person, around Suffolk .

During lockdown earlier this year, Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds launched a series of videos revealing some of the 'hidden histories' from within the museum itself, including the inner workings of the town clock.

Heritage officer, Dan Clarke, at one of the pre-lockdown events at Moyse's Hall Museum. Picture by Mecha Morton
Heritage officer, Dan Clarke, at one of the pre-lockdown events at Moyse's Hall Museum. Picture by Mecha Morton

The introduction of digital events this year also marks a significant shift for HODs and its network of volunteer organisers, too.

Continuing this theme, we challenged Moyse's heritage officer, Dan Clarke, who starred in the videos, to share some of his favourite 'hidden histories' in Bury St Edmunds itself.

Here's what he came up with.

The Reflector

The reflector is a relic for a former bus station. Pictures by Dan Clarke
The reflector is a relic for a former bus station. Pictures by Dan Clarke

The reflector on the wall at Brentgovel Street is a relic from where the main bus station was three decades ago. The site is now occupied by McDonalds.

The buses would drive up Brentgovel Street and the reflector would help guide their way.

The Skull

A broken piece of gravestone has irked many a visitor
A broken piece of gravestone has irked many a visitor

This stone skull is in wall as you enter Abbeygate. Half way through Abbeygate, there is a side door to the right. Enter through that and the skull is directly in front above a second doorway.

Though many growing up in the town thought it was real, it’s actually a broken piece of gravestone, re-used when the small side building was constructed over a century ago.

The wolf skull 'hole' shows the where the medieval street level would have been (approximately)
The wolf skull 'hole' shows the where the medieval street level would have been (approximately)

The Wolf Skull 'Hole'

In 1845, a three-year project began to restore the decaying Norman Tower. Around five to six feet of groundwork had built up over a 600-year period and during excavation, the following year, around twenty wolf skulls and one wolf hound were discovered nearby.

A highly 'mysterious' find, the best example of a wolf skull can be seen at Moyse’s Hall today: perhaps the killing of such a 'pest' would have been considered a payment to the Abbey for monies owed.

The street level, or 'hole',is also closer to how it would been in medieval times.

Stink pipes, or 'stench' pipes let out smelly and harmful gases
Stink pipes, or 'stench' pipes let out smelly and harmful gases

The Stink Pipe

There are several of these in Bury St Edmunds with the best two examples on Eastgate Street and also Fornham Road.

They were made by sewage specialists and iron workers, William E Farrer Ltd of Birmingham in the early 20th Century.

Stink pipes, sometimes called 'stench pipes' were hollow iron structures that let out smelly and often harmful gasses that built up in the sewage pipes under the roads and pavements.

The plague marks a spot where the fire of 1608 ended
The plague marks a spot where the fire of 1608 ended

Fire Plaque

The plaque above Adnams shop may not even be noticed as people pop in for a their beer.

It does in fact landmark where the great fire of 1608 finished, having destroyed a huge part of the town.

The plaque is a later copy of an original, and has been translated as:“Tho ‘furious fire the old Town did consume, Stand this till all the world shall flaming fume.”

King Cnut (Canute) and his flatterers. Pictures by Dan Clarke
King Cnut (Canute) and his flatterers. Pictures by Dan Clarke

The Statues

The four statues under the central gable above WH Smith, in the town centre.

Seated is King Canute surrounded by advisers. Under Cnut (Canute) reads: King Canute Rebuking His Flatterers.

The four statues are: Agricola, Edmund, Edward I and Edward VI.

With the exception of Agricola, all have links with Bury St Edmunds. Agricola (died. AD 93) commanded the 20th Legion in Britain in A.D. 77 before becoming governor and conquering most of the country.

King Cnut founded the Abbey of St Edmund.

Edward I exempted the Abbey from taxes and Edward VI founded the grammar school.

From 1903, Boots introduced a mock-Tudor style for shops on prominent sites, believed to be designed by Treleaven, to make them more attractive to the middle classes.

Treleaven was the 'in-house' Boot architect early 20th Century. The shops on prominent sites included 'Venetian' oriel windows, mock timber framing and statues of prominent historic figures.

The Bury shop is a reworking of Treleaven's 1905 shop front for Winchester.

And the building museum staff are most asked about.

The hoist still remains today, something of mystery
The hoist still remains today, something of mystery

The Hoist

A hoist on the back of Moyse’s Hall, Brentgovel Street.

Something of a mystery, museum staff say it dates to the turn of the twentieth century(Fin de siècle).

It could have been placed there by Montgomery’s Cycle and Motor-Cycle Shop which occupied that spot around that time.

The motor-cycle side-car is rumoured to have been invented at the back of Moyse’s Hall.

For all events, online or otherwise in Suffolk, visit: www.heritageopendays.org.uk

For more on the history of Bury St Edmunds visit: Bury St Edmunds Association of Registered Tour Guides

For more from the town museum, visit: Moyse's Hall Museum

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk

Read more: All the latest news from Bury St Edmunds