THE MANUSCRIPTS OF THE CORPORATION OF BURY ST. EDMUNDS.
The records of this ancient town are neither so numerous nor, for
the most part, of so early a date as might be expected. But the fact
that, until the dissolution of the great Benedictine Abbey, the abbots
were the lords of the place will account for the loss of many records,
which were likely to perish when the abbey was destroyed, while others
may have passed into the possession of Sir Robert Drury and of Nicholas
Bacon, who successively obtained the bailiwick of Bury, or of the family
of Kitson, to which extensive grants of the abbey property were
made. The earliest of the documents were until the year 1890 preserved with those belonging to the feoffees of the town charities described
below, but they were then separated by authority of the corporation,
and a calendar was drawn up and printed by a committee employed
upon their selection. They are now preserved, together with the royal
charters, municipal registers, maces, and all the miscellaneous records,
in a strong fire-proof room in the Town Hall.
The rolls of abbey accounts and rentals will be seen to be of much
interest, and appear to have lain unnoticed hitherto. And the ordinances for the craft of weavers in 1477 (a trade which died out in Bury
centuries ago) supply some of that matter for the history of trade
guilds in England which is to be found among the records of most, if not
all, of our ancient towns, and which needs to be brought to light by the
investigations of this Commission before that history (however much
the general features of trade ordinances may be in their outline similar)
can be completely written. (fn. 1) The orders regarding workmen and
servants in 1571–5 are also noticeable.
In addition to these records I have also examined those of the charity
feoffees, kept in a small chamber over the porch of the fifteenth-century
Guildhall (which is distinct from the modern Town Hall) to which
chamber access is gained through which was once the Minstrels' Gallery,
by a strong and heavy door with several locks, requiring on the occasion
of my visit the help of a smith before it would turn on its hinges.
Here in an oak press containing thirty drawers (some now empty),
which has superseded the use of a great iron bound ancient chest still
in the chamber, are stored the title-deeds of property belonging to the
charities of Bury, having amongst them some of the abbey records, as
well as ancient grants, as will be seen by the description which follows.
The greater part of the contents of the drawers consists, however, of
leases and like documents, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In this Guildhall, of which one half is used for the borough sessions
and the other as a room for a subscription library, is also kept a valuable
library belonging to the parish church of St. James. Among the books
are four vellum MSS.: I. A collection of miscellaneous tracts, chiefly
medical and theological, which, although its binding as one vol. is of the
fifteenth century, formerly formed two volumes in the library of the
abbey, marked respectively M. 27 and B. 237; II. Bede's Hist. Eccl.,
early 15th cent. "Liber domus Sancti Salvatoris de Syon, ex dono M.
Roberti Elyot, A.D. 1490. Orate pro anima ejus." It was given in 1595
to the library of St. James by Augustin Styward, who records that he
was then 36 years old. III. Bede's Commentary on the Acts of the
Apostles and the General Epistles; early 13th century. The epistles
begin and end imperfectly in Romans and Hebrews. Given to St.
James' library in 1639 by Thomas Steevens, headmaster of the Grammar
School. IV. Cassian; 14th cent. "Liber domus fratrum in Dorsborch"
[Dorsberg, near Worms?]. In the 16th cent. it belonged to one Walter
Alan by the gift of Robert Ardern. A fragment from a breviary which
forms a fly-leaf contains part of the office for a festival observed in Germany, but not found in books of English use, "In festo lanceæ et
In the library of the Grammar School there is a fine folio Psalter
with the offices for the dead, &c. written in the 14th cent., which is
supposed to have belonged to the abbey, from its having the name of
St. Edmund in red letters in the calendar, and from his name being
placed next to that of St. Stephen in the list of martyrs in a litany. It
was given to the school library in 1706 by one James Harvey. (fn. 2)
William Dunn Mackay.