Bury St Edmunds (Beodricesworth, St Edmund's Bury), supposed by some to have been the Villa Faustina of the Romans, was one of the royal towns of the Saxons. Sigebert, king of theEast Angles, founded a monastery here about 633, which in 903 became the burial place of King Edmund, who was slain by the Danes about 870, and owed most of its early celebrity to the reputed miracles performed at the shrine of the martyr king. By 925 the fame of St Edmund had spread far and wide, and the name of the town was changed to St Edmund's Bury. Sweyn, in 1020, having destroyed the older monastery and ejected the secular priests, built a Benedictine abbey on its site. In 942 or 945 King Edmund had granted to the abbot and convent jurisdiction over the whole town, free from all secular services, and Canute in 1020 freed it from episcopal control. Edward the Confessor made the abbot lord of the franchise. By various grants from the abbots, the town gradually attained the rank of a borough. Henry III in 1235 granted to the abbot two annual fairs, one in December (which still survives), the other the great St Matthew's fair, which was abolished by the Fairs Act of 1871. Another fair was granted by Henry IV in 1405. Elizabeth I in 1562 confirmed the charters which former kings had granted to the abbots, and James I in 1606 granted a charter of incorporation with an annual fair in Easter week and a market. Further charters were granted by him in 1608 and 1614, and by Charles II in 1668 and 1684. The reversion of the fairs and two markets on Wednesday and Saturday were granted by James I in fee farm to the corporation. Parliaments were held here in 1272, 1296 and 1446, but the borough was not represented until 1608, when James I conferred the privilege of sending two members. The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 reduced the representation to one. There was formerly a large woollen trade.
There is a network of tunnels which are evidence of chalk-workings, though there is no evidence of an extensive tunnels under the town centre. Some buildings have inter-communicating cellars. Due to their unsafe nature the chalk-workings are not open to the public, although viewing has been granted to individuals. Some have caused subsidence in living history.
Among noteworthy buildings is St Mary's Church, where Mary Tudor, Queen of France and sister of Tudor king Henry VIII, was re-buried, six years after her death, having been moved from the Abbey after her brother's dissolution of the Church. Queen Victoria had a stained glass window fitted into the church to commemorate Mary's interment.
The second section of the name refers to King Edmund of East Anglia who was killed by the vikings in the year 869. He became venerated as a saint and a martyr, and his shrine made Bury St Edmunds an important place of pilgrimage.
The abbey was largely destroyed during the 16th century with the Dissolution of the Monasteries but Bury remained prosperous throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, falling into relative decline with the Industrial Revolution.
The Abbey Gardens surrounding the ruins had an Internet bench installed in the late 1990s, which people can use to connect laptops to the Internet. It was the first bench of its kind. Within the first week two teenagers discovered they could also make free telephone calls from the bench. They phoned the Borough Council (owner of the bench) to notify them, then attempted to contact Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, to tell him.
Bury St Edmunds Cathedral was created when the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was formed in 1914. The cathedral was extended with an eastern end in the 1960s, commemorated by Benjamin Britten's Fanfare for St Edmundsbury. A new Gothic revival cathedral tower was built as part of a millennium project running from 2000 to 2005. The opening for the tower took place in July 2005, and included a brass band concert and fireworks. Parts of the cathedral remain uncompleted, including the cloisters. Many areas remain inaccessible to the public due to building work. The tower makes St Edmundsbury the only recently completed Anglican cathedral in the UK. Only a handful of Gothic revival cathedrals are being built worldwide. The tower was constructed using original fabrication techniques by six masons who placed the machine–pre-cut stone individually as they arrived.
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. The restoration of one of the last Georgian theatres in the country will ensure a vital part of our theatrical heritage will survive for future generations.It presents a full programme of performances and is also open for public tours.
Moyse's Hall Museum is one of the oldest (c. 1180) domestic buildings in East Anglia open to the public. It has collections of fine art, for example Mary Beale, costume, e.g. Charles Frederick Worth, horology, local and social history; including Red Barn Murder and Witchcraft.
The town holds a festival in May. This including concerts, plays, dance, and lecturers culminating in fireworks. Bury St Edmunds is home to England's oldest Scout group, 1st Bury St Edmunds (Mayors Own).
Notable people from Bury St Edmunds include artist and printer Sybil Andrews, actor Bob Hoskins, theatre director Sir Peter Hall, author Maria Lousie de la Ramé (also known as Ouida), cyclist James Moore, World War II Canadian general Guy Simonds and the 18th-century landscape architect Humphry Repton, as well as Thomas Clarkson fact-finder behind the abolition of the slave trade.
Although not from Bury St Edmunds, BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel lived nearby in Great Finborough and, on 12 November 2004, his funeral took place at the cathedral. It was attended by a thousand people including many artists he had championed. During a peak of local musical activity in Bury St Edmunds in 2002, he referred (tongue-in-cheek) to the town as 'The New Seattle'. Notable bands from Bury St Edmunds include Jacob's Mouse, Miss Black America, The Dawn Parade and Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes.