From medieval times this name was used for a place where the slaughtering and butchering of animals took place. The name most probably derives from the Saxon word “Fleshammels” meaning flesh-shelves, where the butchered meat was put on display.
A famous picture painted soon after Cupola House was built in 1693 shows a The Shambles as a very different area from what it looks today; a large open space! Most of what we know as The Traverse today was known as Skinner Row. Only a small piece near The Cook Row (todays Abbeygate Street) was The Traverse. At the rear we still have Skinner Street, as near to a medieval street as you can get in Bury. The actual Butchers Shambles stood near to where the Corn Exchange was erected in 1861.
To make way for this building nearly 30 shops, stalls and yards were demolished! However the seven shambles now at the back of the Corn Exchange were retained. They were given to the town in 1761 by the third Earl of Bristol, Augustus John Hervey. The Bristol coat of arms is still above the shambles, on the rear of the Corn Exchange. One vestige of the Shambles still evident today are pillars and in between these are pierced ornate wrought iron grills which used to let the stench of offal and guts out of the shops.
After they were no longer required, thanks to more hygienic and humane ways in processing meat, the Shambles became shops. Glasswells Furniture had a small showroom here for many years as did Specsavers.
For a copy of Martyn Taylor’s book Lost Bury St Edmunds please ask at Waterstone’s or The Cathedral Bookshop, Bury St Edmunds