Monument record BSE 281 - Houses in the West Front, Bury St Edmunds Abbey

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West front of the Abbey Church of St Edmunds Abbey.


Grid reference Centred TL 8565 6408 (28m by 62m)
Map sheet TL86SE


Type and Period (2)

Full Description

1992: During the second half of the sixteenth century, following the dissolution, the Abbey Church of Bury St Edmunds (see BSE 010) was reduced to ruins. Most of the high quality stone features were removed to be reincorporated into other buildings elsewhere in the town. What remained at the west front were the rubble remains of the three main arches flanked by a smaller arched opening on either side and with an octagonal tower at the south west end. The exact use of the west front of the Church between 1539 and the 17th century is not known. In the 17th century a number of structures were built into the ruins of the former west front of the Church, their layout and design being determined to a large extent by the monastic ruins. Three houses were built within each of the three main arches and were flanked on the south west side by agricultural type buildings and on the north west side by a yard. In the 18th century the houses were renovated to varying degrees, the central house being extensively refurbished. It is possible that in the 18th century one or more of the upper rooms belonging to the central house were relinquished for use by the north arch house. Such a 'flying freehold' arrangement was certainly established in the 19th century, and indeed the house within the central arch ceased to exist as a self-contained unit in the early 19th century when all of its rooms were taken over by the houses on either side. 19th century alterations to all the buildings were to extensive and took place in several phases. They included the creation of a new house at the end, alteration and extension of the structures within the three main arches, and in 1863 the conversion of the south west buildings to create a further house for use as the 'Registrar's residence', with a 'Probate registry' in the south west tower (S1).
For the site of the former St Dennis's Church, which was demolished to make way for the N tower of the W front by Abbot Anselm (1121-1148), see BSE 386.

1994: The original ensemble of the abbey's western structure consisted of a western transept surmounted by an axial tower and flanked by double-storeyed chapel blocks and octagonal structures. Unpicking some of the domestic structures inserted into the ruins has revealed that alterations to the fabric after either the collapse of the west tower in 1430 or the fire of 1465 was more extensive than previously suspected. The standing walls have been stripped of their ashlar facing, the west front is buried for c.3m and domestic structures have been built into it (S2).

2001: During a period of stone replacement, conservation and cleaning in late 1999 and early 2000, the opportunity was taken to examine and analyse the fabric. The clerestories were also scaffolded, their relationship with the west front was studied. The west front was in construction from c.1503 to c.1550. A final phase of Medieval work using slavaged Abbey stone to raise the aisle walls and the parapets is suggested. There were major repairs in the mid 19th century, the gable being replaced when the roof was reconstructed (S4).

Sources/Archives (4)

  • <S1> Unpublished document: RCHME. 1992. Building Recording Report, Houses in the West Front, Bury St Edmunds Abbey, BSE 281.
  • <S2> Unpublished document: McAleer, J. P.. 1994. The Western Structure of the Abbey Church.
  • <S3> Unpublished document: Badcock, N., and Albon, D. J.. 1993. Photographic Record of the North Wing of the West Front, Bury St Edmunds.
  • <S4> Unpublished document: Carr, R. D.. 2001. Archaeological Record of Fabric Repairs, West Front, St James Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Jul 26 2018 1:31PM

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