We Love Bury St Edmunds!


I think that, with maybe one or two exceptions, I must have attended some sort of service in most of the churches in Bury. As compared to some Towns & Cities, notably Norwich, there do not actually seem to be that many within the town precincts.

I guess the first church most of us went into was the one where we were Christened or Baptised. I have been trying to find my baptismal certificate but cannot locate it at the moment. I think however, it must have been at St. Mary’s, as that was my Father’s Parish church and where my parents were married.

The first church I can remember going into was St John’s, in the Street of that name; a lovely church with the towering steeple. This was when I attended my first school which was also called St. John’s, which I think was a Church School associated with the church, which was next door. On certain days, probably around Easter or Christmas the whole school would troop next door for a service. Since which time I don’t think I have ever crossed its portals.

If Baptist Church Sunday schools count, then the next I can remember was actually just out of the town in Fornham all Saints. We lived on the Mildenhall Estate then and this was the nearest Sunday school to our house. We used to walk about a mile or so along the road to Fornham , shepherded by my mate Andy Darling’s elder sister to the Baptist Church just on the junction with Tut Hill. It was a small building with a pot-bellied ‘Tortoise’ stove which was stoked with coke. (For the benefit of younger readers, who may not have heard of coke, this was not Coca-Cola or the narcotic version, but a bi-product of coal gas production at the Bury Gas works). These stoves got very hot and we soon learned to treat them with great respect. There was a raised lectern at the front from which the minister conducted the service, after which we would retire into groups for Bible classes. Each Sunday we would be given a Biblical sticker which went into a little book we all had.

I am not sure why, but we were then sent to the Railway Mission Hall on Fornham Road next to the rear of the Railway Station. This was another Baptist Church, or was it Methodist? (Is there a difference?) Which also had a pot bellied coke stove, and was a ‘Bolton Paul Tin Church’. Many of which still exist all over the country, we have one in the village where I live now. A venerable Gentleman named Bernard Markwell was the Minister in charge and I was in his Bible class, until when I was older, I questioned the beliefs he was trying to instil in us once too often and he suggested that perhaps I should move on!! He was a lovely man however and he and his wife used to organise wonderful Christmas parties at the Hall, in which there were many party games, all of which seemed to involve kissing girls!…Awful when we were 8 or 9, but far more enjoyable as we got older!

The other strange thing about Sunday schools which I did not realise the significance of till I got older, was that when we returned home, both my parents having had the house to themselves for the afternoon, would be in their dressing gowns!!

Whilst at the Railway Mission Sunday school we also went on Sunday school outings to the seaside; Yarmouth, Lowestoft or Clacton, wonderful times and it was always sunny!

Also we sometimes went to the other non-conformist churches in Bury; in Garland Street and lower Baxter Street. I don’t remember what for but we always wanted to sit upstairs in the gallery which one or both of them had.

When I was in my early teens I became a member of the Cathedral Choir. I think because one of our neighbours knew several people who were members and they were scouting for talent. Anyway I suppose I must have had a reasonable soprano voice and I was accepted into this illustrious body. We had to wear cassocks and surpluses, but one didn’t get a surplus till you had served a probationary period so the photo which is attached must have been taken during that time, as I am sans surplus! (Can you spot me?) I remember that we used to race home to the Mildenhall Estate after Choir practice to get there just in time to listen to ‘Journey into Space’ on the steam Radio.

It was quite a commitment to be in the Choir because there was Choir practice at least twice a week and services on Sundays. We had a good time in the choir however, despite our very strict choir master the famous Percy Hallam who was the Cathedral Organist. We also got paid! So much a month, or was it a quarter, depending on one’s seniority, and half a crown (12.5p) for funerals and 5 bob (25p) for weddings. This was paid out by the verger and it always felt like trying to extract blood from a stone. There were always the Choir outings, of course on a Mulley’s coach to Lowestoft or one of the other seaside resorts. The verger would hand out Woodbines on the back seat! Not good for our voices I am sure.

St Mary’s Church was just across the graveyard from the Cathedral. A grave yard, which in those days was jam packed with graves and monuments. These provided great cover for the annual snowball fights with St Mary’s Choir who were our great rivals of course.

One very memorable occasion was when I collapsed in a dead faint in the middle of a Sunday Morning Service and was carried out into the Provost’s Garden, fussed over by his wife and given ice cream and cold drinks. These soon revived me and I was able to cycle home as usual.

Another thing we loved to do was to get Percy Hallam to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor on the wonderful full organ that the Cathedral has. He told us he was reluctant to play this too loudly as they were afraid of structural damage to the building…it was LOUD and made everything resonate and vibrate.

St Mary’s Church I remember mainly through family occasions. My Sister was married there and both of my parent’s funeral services were held there. It is strange to consider that both St Mary’s and the Cathedral were merely Chapels to the St Edmundsbury Abbey. What a magnificent building that must have been.

I only went into St. Edmunds Catholic Church once. (I was never Confirmed so was not struck down by a thunderbolt!) This was simply to find out what went on at Catholic services.

I even once attended a service, or rather a meeting at the Quaker Meeting House in St John’s Street. I had a girlfriend whose mother was a Quaker and as I was curious about what went on, I persuaded her to take me there…the spirit did not move me however and I remained silent!

The only other Churches I can remember going to in Bury are St Peter’s in Hospital Road for my Aunt’s funeral service, and the new St Georges on the Mildenhall Estate out of curiosity when it first opened.

I have never been a religious person and certainly am not now. But I do very much value the rich heritage we have in our church buildings. And being a Family History buff, the treasury of records the churches made, without which we would never know who our ancestors were before 1834, when the first national censuses were taken.

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