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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor reveals some of the unusual previous uses of the town’s Moyse’s Hall

However, Moyse is a common Suffolk name and with its close proximity to that part of the market known as Hogs Hill this would have been an unlikely setting for such a place of worship.

Another suggestion is that this could have been, at one time, a hostel for pilgrims visiting St Edmund’s shrine.

Moyse's Hall, now a museum, has been during its long history a town house, a police station and a left-luggage office.
Moyse's Hall, now a museum, has been during its long history a town house, a police station and a left-luggage office.

Built mainly of flint with Barnack stone dressings, architectural features of Moyse’s Hall include a tracery window on the west side with a sill that has a weather worn carving of St Edmund’s head and the wolf.

The west side of the building shares a flying freehold with the former Castle Hotel (Superdrug since 2018). The east side of the facade has two fine Norman-style arched windows, while the east end was rebuilt in 1806.

Moyse’s Hall has a fine undercroft obviously once in the ownership of someone wealthy, perhaps a merchant. It escaped the ravages of the great fire of Bury in 1608, at the time probably being the only stone residential property in the town centre.

The undercroft at Moyse's Hall in Bury St Edmunds
The undercroft at Moyse's Hall in Bury St Edmunds

In 1626 the Guildhall Feoffees acquired the building, which they still own today, but back then there was indecision as to what the best usage could be. Ultimately, it became a workhouse and then, in 1721, a house of correction. Following this, it became a bridewell or local ‘nick’, not to be confused with the bridewell in St Andrew’s Street, later Bridewell Lane. Later it was used by the Borough Police Station and then a left luggage office for the Great Eastern Railway.

In 1858, Sir Gilbert Scott carried out restoration work and put on a turret. It was around this time that the town clock was installed, now hardly visible from afar as it is sadly obscured by a large tree.

The final ‘translation’ was when it became the Borough Museum in May 1899 and acquired several assorted compendiums that were donated by residents.

Currently, internally, there is a gallery devoted to the Suffolk Regiment, the Gershom Parkington clock collection, a macabre assemblage of witches’ artefacts and an 18th century gibbet cage used for murderer John Nichols. However, probably the most viewed disturbing relics are those of the Red Barn murderer, William Corder – his death mask and a book of his trial is bound in his own skin.

In 200,2 the acquisition of the former Townsends toy shop enabled an extension to develop further display areas and facilities. A recent procurement with the aid of generous grants has been that of an aestel, a rare golden gem pointer-end for reading, contemporary with St Edmund.

The very capable Moyse’s Hall staff continue to put on innovative exhibitions such as the highly successful sci-fi, Dr Who and medievalist displays; well worth a visit.

Martyn Taylor
Martyn Taylor

-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.