Through 800 years of change The Oldest Continuously Used Civic Building In The Country
The Guildhall has been a hub for the community of Bury St Edmunds since the 1220s. It has played a crucial role in the town’s story, fighting for the rights of the common people and witnessing events that changed the course of British history.
The earliest written mention of the Guildhall is in 1279, when the Bury St Edmunds Chronicle recorded the arrival of two visiting Lords. Recent archaeological discoveries suggest the building is much older, possibly dating to the early 1100s or even earlier.
It was built to host the local Guildhall Merchant, a group who oversaw all the business of the town, which was then at the heart of the lucrative wool trade. As a centre of civic power, the Guildhall became a bitter rival of the powerful Abbey of St Edmund, and was a focal point for the town’s own peasants’ revolt in the 1300s – when a group of monks were held hostage within its secure walls.
The great and the good who ran the Guildhall used their wealth and influence to fight for the rights of the town’s ordinary citizens. They delivered justice in the Courtroom, turned the Tudor Kitchen into a soup kitchen in times of need, and offered the Banqueting Hall as a meeting space for the most important discussions of the day – including the fight to abolish the slave trade.
The Guildhall was also home to a group of remarkable, but unsung, local heroes, who helped change the course of the Second World War. The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) was a civil defence organisation which tracked aircraft movements above the skies of Britain. Their information was sent to RAF Fighter Command and helped to save thousands of lives. The Guildhall’s ROC Operations Room is the only surviving one of its kind in the world – a small space with an incredible story to tell.