The corporation of Bury St. Edmunds: Introduction

The Manuscripts of Lincoln, Bury St. Edmunds Etc. Fourteenth Report, Appendix; Part VIII. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1895.

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Historical Manuscripts Commission, 'The corporation of Bury St. Edmunds: Introduction', The Manuscripts of Lincoln, Bury St. Edmunds Etc. Fourteenth Report, Appendix; Part VIII, (London, 1895), pp. 121-122. British History Online [accessed 18 June 2024].

Historical Manuscripts Commission. "The corporation of Bury St. Edmunds: Introduction", in The Manuscripts of Lincoln, Bury St. Edmunds Etc. Fourteenth Report, Appendix; Part VIII, (London, 1895) 121-122. British History Online, accessed June 18, 2024,

Historical Manuscripts Commission. "The corporation of Bury St. Edmunds: Introduction", The Manuscripts of Lincoln, Bury St. Edmunds Etc. Fourteenth Report, Appendix; Part VIII, (London, 1895). 121-122. British History Online. Web. 18 June 2024,


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 clavorum."

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.


  • 1. Some peculiarities of spelling and phraseology are worth notice in these ordinances; and amongst them the following:—By is always written be, and shall, xall. Withhold is used in the sense of holdwith, agree with, and examples are found of the use of aseeth=compensation, and aloyne=to carry away.
  • 2. Mr. Montague R. James, M.A., fellow of King's College, Cambridge, is engaged in preparing for publication a catalogue of the library of the Abbey, and tracing such books as are still known to exist. To him I owe my knowledge of this Psalter.