All About Bury St Edmunds – Key Facts about Our Town’s Famous People, Literature, Media Connections and Industry
Film, TV, Stage and Radio – Part 1: Famous People (Directors, Actors and Actresses)
George Baker, who played Inspector Wexford in TV’s Ruth Rendell adaptations, reopened the Theatre Royal in 1965 after it had been a barrel store by the Greene King Brewery for 40 years from 1925-1965. He was artistic director at the Theatre Royal for 6 years from 1965. In 1969, he also began his own national touring company – Candida Players – which was based at The Theatre Royal after it received an Arts Council grant of £20,000; Candida Players was based at Bury for 20 weeks of the year and George Baker also worked with local schools.
Phil Claydon, who was born in the town in 1976, has directed “Lesbian Vampire Killers” and “Alone“.
David Croft, who lived at Honington Hall until his death in 2011, co-wrote series such as “Dad’s Army“, “You Rang M’Lord“, “Hi de Hi“, “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” and “Are You Being Served“.
Judi Dench: “The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds holds a unique place in the history of theatre in this country as well as a special place in my heart.”
Stephen Fry’s maternal grandfather, Martin Neumann, moved from Slovakia to Bury St Edmunds in 1927 and was a manager at the sugar beet factory.
Sir Peter Hall was born in Bury in 1930. He founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, was director of the National Theatre and artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He is currently president of the restoration appeal for Bury’s Theatre Royal.
Abi Hood, who appeared in an episode of “The Bill” and who has also done other theatre work throughout the country, began her acting career at the Angela Morgan School of Dancing in the town. Growing up in Bury, she attended Beyton Middle School and Thurston Upper School.
Bob Hoskins – famous for films such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Mona Lisa” – was born in the town in 1942 after his mother was evacuated to Bury during the war – although he left again when he was just 2 weeks old!
TV personality Becky Jago was born Rebecca Gunton in Bury St Edmunds in 1976. She was a “Newsround” presenter for CBBC and a sidekick for Chris Tarrant on “Capital Breakfast” radio. After working for “The Wright Stuff” and “Sky Sports News“, she now co-presents “ITV News Anglia”.
Famous names who have stayed at The Angel Hotel include Angelina Jolie (she stayed there whilst filming “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” at Elveden Hall) and Pierce Brosnan (who filmed part of “Tomorrow Never Dies” at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath).
John Le Mesurier was born in Bedford in 1912 but moved to Bury when he was small and, in 1930, became an articled clerk for Greene and Greene, a firm of solicitors in the town; he is best known for playing Sergeant Wilson in “Dads’ Army” although he has appeared in numerous films and TV programmes.
Noah Lee Margetts, who was born in a small village near Bury in 1970, has appeared in films such as “Batman Begins” and “Buffalo Soldiers“.
Michael Maloney was born in the town in 1957. He has starred in programme’s such as the BBC’s “Love on a Branch Line” and “Truly, Madly, Deeply” and has also appeared in other films, TV and radio programmes.
German super-model Claudia Schiffer married Matthew Vaughn, producer of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“, in nearby Shimpling and bought Coldham Hall in Lawshall.
Frank Taylor, who produced the 1961 film “The Misfits” starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, met the Kray twins at Gedding Hall in 1967 to discuss a biography and film about their life of crime.
Well-known actor Timothy West is Patron of the Restoration Appeal for The Theatre Royal.
Film, TV, Stage and Radio – Part 2: Films and Shows
The world premiere of “Charlie’s Aunt” was staged at The Theatre Royal in 1892; the world premiere of “Talking to Terrorists” was staged there in 2005.
“Dad’s Army” – many scenes of the fictional Walmington-on-Sea were shot in and around Honington, where the series co-writer, David Croft, lived. (It is said that he asked for “Dad’s Army” to be filmed in East Anglia so that he could work from home!) For example, the outside of Honington Primary School served as the Church Hall used for those Home Guard drill sessions and Honington Church served as St Aldhams Church in the series. Bardwell Village Green, Drinkstone Windmill, the lane leading to Sapiston Church and The Six Bells, Honington, have all appeared in the series. Even the British Sugar Beet filtration tank was filmed – it doubled as a reservoir.
In Episode 1 of the “The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain“, Simon King and Dave Myers visited the Pakenham Water Mill, The Nutshell and Barwells Butchers in Bury – and also stayed at The Ravenwood Hall Hotel in Rougham when they developed a problem with one of their bikes.
“Lovejoy” used different local locations for filming, including Ickworth Park and the bar of The Dog and Partridge. Ian McShane’s cottage and workshop were filmed at Mulberry Farm, Elmswell (which was owned by the BBC at that point).
In “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen, the Crawfords and Bertrams rehearse a play whilst Sir Thomas is away – Sir Thomas returns and declares the play to be improper and specifically states that he does not want his daughter, Maria, playing the part of Agatha. The play concerned is “Lover’s Vows” – a play where Agatha, a baron’s daughter, had a bastard son and was initially disowned by her father. “Lovers’ Vows” was written by Elizabeth Inchbald, who was born in Stanningfield in 1753. Elizabeth was a well-known dramatist and novelist in her day – she had 19 of her plays performed in London theatres and also wrote 2 novels; many of her plays featured strong female characters fighting against the constraints of their day and this early feminism is said to have been an inspiration to Jane Austen.
Edward Harold Begbie was born in Fornham St Martin in 1871. He cowrote “Shackleton: A Memoir”, Ernest Shackleton’s autobiography about his polar expeditions. As well as being a journalist for “The Daily Chronicle”, he wrote almost 50 books and poems. “Clara in Blunderland” was a parody of “Alice in Wonderland” that dealt with the Boer War.
Robert Bloomfield, who wrote poems such as “The Farmer’s Boy”, was born in Honington in 1766.
In “After the Funeral” by Agatha Christie, Hercules Poirot originally sends Mr Entwhistle to Bury St Edmunds to drive to Forsdyke House, a mental home, and ask Dr Penrith about a discharged patient called Gregory Banks. Later we learn that this is a decoy as someone was listening.
Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (of “Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” fame) visited the anti-slavery campaigners, the Clarksons, at Bury and Catherine Clarkson is credited with persuading him to reduce his reliance on laudanum.
After his release from prison, Daniel Defoe visited Bury in 1704 as part of his Tour Through the Eastern Counties of England and described it as “It is a town fam’d for its pleasant situation and wholesome air, the Montpelier of Suffolk, and perhaps of England.”
In “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens, Mr Pickwick stayed at The Angel Hotel – “The coach rattled through the well-paved streets of a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in a wide open street, nearly facing the old abbey.” Dickens himself stayed at the hotel in 1835 when he was reporting on the elections for “The Morning Chronicle”. He also stayed in 1859 and 1861 when he read extracts from “Pickwick Papers”, “David Copperfield” and “A Christmas Carol” at the Athenaeum. Room 215 – complete with the original four-poster bed where Dickens slept – is now called The Charles Dickens room.
Note that the girls school where Mr Pickwick had an “adventure” could have been on either Southgate Street or Westgate Street – or could be a school in Rochester.
Dr Johnson said of Harry Hervey of Ickworth Hall: “He was a very vicious man, but very kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey, I shall love him”.
Revd Charles Kingsley, author of “Westward Ho” and “The Water Babies“, lectured at The Athenaeum in 1860.
Author Norah Lofts was born in Shipdham Norfolk, in 1904 but moved to Bury when she was 10 and lived there until her death in 1983. The town appears as Baildon in her East Anglian novels. Alison Weir of The Independent describes her Suffolk Trilogy as “the most outstanding historical novel that I have ever read”. She also wrote biographies of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon; her murder-mystery novels were written under the pseudonym Peter Curtis. In 1966, Hammer turned “The Devil’s Own” was into the horror film “The Witches”; other novels turned into films include “Jassy” in 1947 and “Guilt is my Shadow” in 1950. The American director John Ford also used her “Chinese Finale” as the basis for his film “Seven Women”.
Ruth Rendell set “The Brimstone Wedding” in and around Bury.
Robert Louis Stephenson visited his cousin, Maud Babington, at Cockfield in 1870 when he went to the marriage of another cousin at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. He returned to Cockfield in 1873 and fell in love with Mrs Fanny Sitwell. It is thought that the two islands in the moat at Cockfield Rectory (his uncle was rector there) may have proved his inspiration for “Treasure Island“. It is also thought that a local road man – one Peg Leg Brinkley – might have been the inspiration for the one-legged Long John Silver.
W M Thackeray, author of “Vanity Fair”, visited The Athenaeum in 1860.
Evelyn Waugh dedicated “Vile Bodies” to Bryan Moyne and Diana Mosley – Bryan was the future 2nd Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds. Diana later married the fascist Sir Oswald Mosley (see Other Famous People below).
Art and Music
Artist Sybil Andrews was born at 90 Guildhall Street, B St E in 1898 and in 1925 became the first secretary of The Grosvenor School of Modern Art. She specialised in linocuts. Sybil started making a tapestry which took nearly her lifetime in the making; she finished it and presented it to St James Cathedral. Note that one of her ancesteors was the Walter Tyrrell who was said to have killed King William II. More info…
Benjamin Britten wrote the Fanfare for St Edmundsbury for Three Trumpets for the 1959 Pageant for Magna Carta held at the cathedral in the same year. The Fanfare was originally performed in the abbey ruins under Britten’s direction.
“My Song is Love Unknown” is a hymn that was written by Samuel Crossman, who was born at Bradfield St George and then was a minister to both an Anglican and Puritan congregation at Sudbury.
Bill Wyman, bass player for The Rolling Stones from 1962-93, lives in London but has owned Gedding Hall (1 15th century manor house at Gedding, near Bury St Edmunds) since August 1968 and plans to be buried in the village churchyard. When in Suffolk, he enjoys using a metal detector to find some of the ancient artefacts.
The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait of Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds and 4 portraits of Arthur Wright Callis, a former headmaster of Bury ST Edmunds Grammar School.
The Tate Gallery has a lithograph of Abbeygate by David Gentleman.
Other Famous People
Sir George Biddell Airy, who established the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, visited the Athanseum in 1859 and inspired the townsfolk to create the Observatory.
Former MP for Bury St Edmunds was Sir William Aitken – father of Jonathen Aitken, the Conservative Minster of State for Defence Procurement who was jailed for perjury.
Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, the architect who was responsible for restoration work on St Mary’s Church, also worked on Rochester and Hereford Cathedrals and Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford. He pioneered Gothic Revival architecture and is commemorated by a Blue Plaque on Savings Bank House, Crown Street.
Marcus Evans, who bought Ipswich Town Football Club in 2007 and is, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, Britain’s 143rd richest person, grew up in Walsham le Willows.
Walter Guinness, who was born in Dublin but had a family seat at Elveden, became Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds in 1907 and became Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds in 1932. he was a director of the brewing company Guinness and was responsible for commissioning the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver (it opened in 1938 as the longest gate in the Empire). During WW2, he chaired the Polish Relief Fund before being appointed Deputy Resident Minister of State in Cairo in 1942, tasked with defeated the AXIS forces in North Africa. He was assassinated in on 6 November 1944 by Lehi, a Jewish Militant group.
Bryan Walter Guinness, the future 2nd Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds, married Diana Mitford in 1929 – she later divorced him and married British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley in 1936 at the home of Joseph Goebbels with Adolf Hitler as the guest of honour.
The explorer Captain Bartholomew Gosnold (who later founded Jamestown, Virginia) married Mary Golding from Bury St Edmunds. His oldest daughter Martha was baptised in the town in 1597 but died tragically young in 1598 and is buried in the Great Churchyard. (His wife Mary and her parents are also buried in the Great Churchyard.) When Captain Gosnold discovered a beautiful island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 1602, he named it Martha’s Vineyard after his daughter.
Lady Victoria Hervey, who lived at Ickworth House until the age of 2, has modelled for Christian Dior, been an “It” girl and wrote the “Party Animal” column in “The Sunday Times” and appeared on reality TV shows “The Farm” and “Love Island“. She has dated Shayne Lynch from Boyzone and F1 driver David Coulthard.
Infamous gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray retreated to Gedding Hall after killing Jack “the Hat” McVitie in 1967 – a local legend is that police searched the hall lake for his body. The hall was then owned by Geoffrey Allen – a career criminal who was called their “godfather” and who is thought by some to be the brains behind the Great Train Robbery. (Geoffrey Allen is buried in the village after his death in 1992.) A mere 2 weeks after this murder,Geoffrey Allen loaned them the hall for a day in order to con a film producer who was thinking of making a biography or film about their lives (see Frank Taylor above) into thinking that the Kray twins owned the hall, thereby creating an image of a Cockney criminal turned into country landowner and making their life story more appealing to him. It has also been speculated that this pre-arranged meeting with Frank Taylor was the real reason why Reggie Kray murdered Jack McVitie – they would then both be murderers and their life story would hold more interest to a film producer.
James Moore, who was born in Long Brackland on 14th January 1849, won the world’s first cycling road race (the 1869 Paris–Rouen race, sponsored by Le Vélocipède Illustré and the Olivier brothers’), cycling 130 km in 10 hours and 25 minutes to win 1000 Francs. He also won a race in St Cloud Parc in Paris, on 31st May 1868, when he took 3 minutes 50 seconds to cycle 1200m along a gravel track; this is often said to be the world’s first official documented cycle race although some do say it was the world’s second race. From 1873-77, he won other international races and set other distance records.
Tom Murray from Bury was one of the few official photographers for The Beatles – one of their few official photographers was . His “The Mad Day: Summer of ’68” photoshoot in 1968 was the last official shoot for the Beatles as a group and consisted of 23 iconic, impromptu shots around London. Tom was also the youngest photographer ever to be commissioned by the Royal Family – at age 25 he photographed Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and their children David and Sarah. He has also photographed a host of other famous designers including Calvin Klein, Yves St Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Dustin Hoffman and Angelica Huston.
Humphry Repton, the landscape gardener, was born in the town in 1752.
Guy Simonds, who was born in Bury St Edmunds on April 23rd 1903 and moved to Canada when he was 9, commanded the II Canadian Corps during the WW2 Normandy campaign. During this campaign he invented the “kangaroo” – a troop carrier (made from other military vehicles) that offered soldiers protection from bullets and shrapnel. As Acting Commander of the First Canadian Army whilst General Crerar was ill, he led the Allies to victory at the 1944 Battle of the Scheldt. He rose to the most senior position in the Canadian army in 1951-55: Chief of the General Staff.
Lord Tebbit, former Conservative Cabinet Minster, lives in Bury with his wife Margaret. As Employment Secretary, Lord Tebbit made headlines when he was quoted (misquoted?) that the unemployed should get on their bike and look for work.
Terry Waite, who went to Beruit in 1987 as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy but was then held hostage for almost five years between 1987-91, lives in Hartest.
Sir John Wheeler, former Minster of State Northern Ireland Office, has retired to the town.
Work, Industry and Inventions
William Hyde Wollaston, who began to practice medicine in Bury in 1789, discovered how to make platinum malleable and also discovered the elements palladium and rhodium.
Greengages are often said to be named after Sir William Gage of Hengrave Hall. Sir William imported some fruit trees from France in 1724, including some Reine-Claude plums from Armenia. The green plums became known as Green Gage’s Plums – or greengages. Note that others say that the fruit is named after his cousin, Viscount Gage of Firle, Sussex.
The British Sugar factory is the UK’s largest milled sugar plant and can process 14,000 tonnes of sugar beet per day. Each year, it produces 40,000 tonnes of milled sugar products, 210,000 granulated sugar, 100,000 tonnes of dried animal feed, 60,000 tonnes of top soil and 70,000 tonnes of LimeX70.
In 1818, John Orridge from Bury St Edmunds was asked to advise the Empress of Russia on how to create an ideal prison.
John Edlred, who built Nutmeg Hall in Great Saxham in 1597, is credited with introducing nutmeg into England.
The One Bull, Angel Hill, won the Best Wine Pub 2014 – an award organised by The Publican’s Morning Advertiser.
This is a summary of the most important events and people in our town’s history. For a more in-depth look, please see our Bury through the ages post.
The town was originally called Beodericsworth after Beodric, who owned a mansion or villa there. Its name was changed to St Edmund’s Bury in the 10-11th century after St Edmund, the 9th century king of East Anglia who was killed for his religion by invading Danes in November 869 and who was later buried in the town 33 years later.
Note: Bury means fort or fortress. The town’s name does NOT refer to the saint’s shrine – although the first part of the town’s motto (“Shrine of a King; Cradle of the Law”) does refer to it.
King Stephen’s only legitimate son, Eustace de Blois, – died at Bury St Edmunds in 1153 after a set-to with the abbey monks.
A battle was fought at Fornham St Genevieve in 1173 as part of the conflict between King Henry II and Earl Bigod (Bungay and Framlingham). The abbey raised 1200 locals in support of the king and the rebels were defeated with heavy losses.
Abbot Samson raised money for the ransom of King Richard the Lionheart – although he refused to allow St Edmund’s shrine to be ransacked.
In 1190, Bury St Edmunds became the first town in England to expel a Jew. (Not a fact to be proud of!)
The town is known as “cradle of the law” because, on 20th November 1214, 25 barons met at the abbey and vowed to make King John sign the charter that was to become Magna Carta.
1338: Thomas of Brotherton, son of Edward I and Margaret of France, was buried in the choir of the Abbey.
In 1447, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the heir to the throne and the uncle of King Henry VI, died – assumed murdered – at St Saviour’s Hospital.
In 1528, Stephen Gardiner of Bury St Edmunds was sent to Rome with the impossible task of securing an annulment from the Pope for the marriage of king Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, moved to Westhorpe Hall after marrying Charles Brandon in secret after her husband King Louis XII of France died – said to be after “excessive bedroom exertions”. Mary is now buried in St Mary’s Church. Their grand-daughter was the tragic Lady Jane Grey.
1605: Ambrose Rookwood from Stanningfield was one of the main financers of the failed Gunpowder Plot. He was duly hung, drawn and quartered for High Treason alongside Guy Fawkes.
1662: The trial of Amy Denny and Rose Cullender from Lowestoft for witchcraft was conducted at the Court of County Assizes in Bury. 30 years later, in 1692, the conduct of this so-called trial became the model for the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts.
James Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded for treason in 1685 for trying to usurp King James II, was once under the guardianship of William Crofts of Little Saxham and was once known as James Croft.
Thomas Clarkson, who collected the evidence that led to the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, married Catherine Buck from Bury and lived in the town from 1806 – 1816.
1828: William Corder, who was found guilty of murdering Maria Martin at Polstead in the infamous Murder in the Red Barn case, was hung at Bury St Edmunds county jail on August 11th. His death mask can still be seen at Moyses Hall museum.
1st Bury St Edmunds Scout Group was formed on February 5th, 1908, and claims to be the oldest Scout group in England – although the Scout Association does not uphold this and 1st Southwold Scout Group claims to be the first Scout group in Suffolk.
Bury Town is the 4th oldest non-league football team in England.
The Epsom Derby was very nearly named after a man whose country estate was Barton Hall in Great Barton. Sir Charles Bunbury (who was the son of the Vicar of Mildenhall) tossed a coin with the 12th Earl of Derby to see what a new horse race should be called. The Earl of Derby won the toss and The Epsom Derby became so-called – but Sir Charles Bunbury’s horse, Diomed, won the first race on 4th May 1780.
Note: Sir Charles was uncle to the Sir Henry Edward Bunbury who built The Bunbury Arms in 1844.
The “Pillar of Salt”, a Grade II listed road sign on Angel Hill between the Angel Hotel and the Abbey Gatehouse, was erected in 1935 by Basil Oliver, the architect to the town council. It is thought to be Britain’s first internally illuminated street sign. At a time when other road signs used letters that were 4.5 inches high and numbers that were 6 inches high, the Ministery of Transport approved this sign on condition that both letters and numbers were 5 inches tall.
The A1101, which runs for 53 miles from Bury St Edmunds to Long Sutton (disappearing for a couple of miles at Littleport) is the lowest road in Britain. It runs through the Fens and rarely rises above sea level.
The Ghost Club, which claims to be the oldest organisation in the world devoted to psychical research, is chaired by Alan Murdie from Bury St Edmunds.
The Nutshell’s claim to be the smallest pub in Britain has been confirmed by The Guinness Book of Records – although others have challenged this claim. It measures just 15ft by 7ft. The record (created in 1984) for the number of people who can squeeze into it is 102. It is believed to be haunted by a young boy who died there and it is said to be bad luck to touch the mummified cat that hangs above the bar – a bar lady who cleaned it lost her job shortly after and when men from RAF Honington “stole” it, they returned it a while afterwards after kitchen fires and a crashed plane were blamed on the cat!
St Mary’s Church claims to be the third largest parish church in England and claims to have the largest West window and the third longest aisle in England.
St Edmundsbury Purse, sold by Barwells, is steak encasing a pocket of mustard, cheese and ale.
Bury has its own rose: Saint Edmund Rose was created in commemoration of the completion of the Millennium Tower and the visit of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, on 22nd July 2005.
Built in 1819 by William Wilkins (who built the National Gallery), The Theatre Royal is the country’s only surviving Regency theatre. In 1979, The National Trust took it over from the Green King and it is now the only theatre owned by The National Trust.
1852: “Women and children first”, famous expression that dates back to the sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1852. When the ship struck a rock, many Suffolk soldiers were amongst those who paraded on deck whilst the women and children boarded the few lifeboats. There is a memorial to them in St Mary’s Church.
The Green Children of Woolpit is a local legend. In the reign of King Stephen, a boy and a girl were found wandering and starving. They had green skin, spoke a foreign tongue and would eat nothing but green beans. The boy died but the girl grew up, married and told how they had come from the land of St Martin – an underground land where the sun did not shine.
The Flemish glass at Hengrave Hall is the only pre-Reformation glass remaining in a domestic chapel in England.