Guildhall – Bury St Edmunds

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Things to do


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July, 2019

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Wednesday is Market Day in Bury but there is now an alternative or extra attraction: the Guildhall may be even older than Moyses Hall, the Norman era museum. It is thought to have been built in the mid-twelfth century. There is documentary evidence of its use in 1279, and the Council continued to meet there until the 1960s. One extra unique characteristic is that it accommodates the only surviving Royal Observer Corps Control Centre from World War II. If none of this appeals, a Sensory and Herb Garden has been established just outside.

Approaching on Guildhall Street there is nothing significant about the exterior. Victorian or Georgian brickwork is no preparation for the interior of the porch. A crenellated facade hides a Medieval doorway and the vaulting has heraldic insignia. The public rooms, one for meetings, the other for banquets, are elegantly Georgian in style, but the lower parts of roof timbers hint at something older. Although they can’t be seen by visitors, the timbers are magnificent, with a king post above where the high table would have been in the Middle Ages. Another clue to the building’s age is the thickness of its walls, seen in the window splays.

At the rear original Normal flint courses remain visible. Proof that the large windows are late insertions is provided by brickwork that forms a key between the window frames and the walls. Upstairs some sections of original walls are displayed in what became part of the Control Centre (previously the robing room for dignitaries). It is eerie to be in the Control Centre and see Suffolk divided into small sectors with an aerodrome in most of them and windmills in many that were used as observation posts. These had telephone links with aerodromes and the Control Centre but, astonishingly to post-war ears, the aircraft had no contact with the ground.

An issue that has a contemporary resonance is that women were paid 10d per hour and compared with 1s 6d for men. (No need to translate these figures into decimal equivalence for Silver Travellers!) Equally quaint was the instruction that forbade night shifts by mixed gender staff!

Renovation of the building was achieved by means of a Lottery grant, which means it can be visited on Wednesdays and Sundays between 11 am and 4 pm. There is a Tudor kitchen which serves twenty-first century refreshments and opportunities for children to participate in workshops and re-creation activities. An aircraft treasure hunt is offered in the gardens, where a blast wall was built to defend the Observer Corps, who were further protected by the removal of a glass cupola that could have become a landmark for raiders.

Specialist talks are offered as are flower workshops, while a further use is as a wedding or event venue. On such occasions visitors may feel comforted by the various worthies whose portraits gaze down from the walls.

Bury has more than enough to keep any visitor busy and interested. Now it has one more, and a few steps away is the excellent Guat’s Up coffee house and cafe.


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