THE BIRTH OF THE ABBEY GARDENS
After the dissolution, the Abbey site was purchased by local wealthy magnates such as Sir Thomas Wingfield, John Eyre and Thomas Badby until passing into the ownership of the Davers family in 1727. The 4th Earl of Bristol married his son into this family. A nephew of the Davers acquired the Abbey site a year after the matriarchal Mary Davers passed away in 1805. Oddly by the terms of her will she had to be buried twelve feet down as she was terrified of grave robbers!
A former member of the War Office, Nathaniel Shirley Harness Hodson who had retired to Bury St Edmunds founded small botanical gardens in 1820 to the south-east of the Great Churchyard. This greatly impressed Frederick Hervey the 5th Earl later to become the Earl Jermyn, 1st Marquess of Bristol, his town house the nearby Manor House. When offered the former Great Court of The Abbey to turn into something far more appealing Hodson leapt at the chance. Creator and initially curator Hodson lived at what we know today as Alwyne House.
Utilising the concentric circular flower beds of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Brussels as his template, the Abbey Grounds as they were then known opened to the general public in 1831. However an entrance fee or subscription of two guineas for adults and 6d each child per annum would be a deterrent for many. As time progressed the ascension to the throne in May 1910 of George V would see a concerted effort by the corporation to abolish these charges. After a great deal of discussion following his majesty’s coronation on 22nd June, 1911, it was agreed that this would happen.
In 1912 the Bury St Edmunds Borough Corporation took out a lease of the Abbey Gardens from the fourth Marquis of Bristol for £90 a year. Despite a torrential downpour a grand opening by Lady Evelyn Guinness took place on December 28th the great and the good of Bury attending. Now called the Abbey Gardens most of ‘old school’ Bury though can remember going to the ‘Park.’ The council would not own the freehold until 1953 when the purchase concluded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, a fitting tribute. The gardens still a wonderful amenity for visitors and residents alike.
With many thanks to Martyn Taylor whose new book can be found in all leading local bookshops.