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Great author brought back to life at Bury St Edmunds Athenaeum for lecture on Abbey

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Enthusiasts gathered at the Athenaeum on Thursday evening for a restaging of M. R. James’ lecture on Bury St Edmunds Abbey - first delivered a century ago.

The recreation was performed by Robert Lloyd Parry, a professional M. R. James impersonator.

He read in full the writer’s 1932 address to the Athenaeum.

Robert Lloyd Parry performs as M. R. James.
Robert Lloyd Parry performs as M. R. James.

M. R. James is best-known today for his ghost stories, but he was also a respected historian of medieval England.

He grew up near Bury, and was familiar with the Abbey site since childhood, publishing a two-volume study on it in 1895.

His 1932 lecture - which was reviewed in the Bury Free Press at the time - gives an outline of the Abbey’s design and history, and urges its excavation.

Robert Lloyd Parry brings M. R. James back to life.
Robert Lloyd Parry brings M. R. James back to life.

James was at the height of his fame when he presented to the Athenaeum, and the lecture was, by all accounts, positively received.

However, the original text was lost for decades.

It was only recovered in recent years by Dr Richard Hoggett, who found James' notes in the Cambridge University Library archive.

Dr Hoggett reconstructed and published the transcript in a local history journal in 2020.

This text was the basis for Mr Lloyd Parry's rendition on the lecture.

James is not the only great writer to have spoke at the Bury Athenaeum.

Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde also lectured there in their day.

Thursday's event was sponsored by the Bury Society.