People accuse me of living in thepast, ”laughs historian Martyn Taylor. “If they saw my record collection they would say that.”
He has long been a custodian of Bury St Edmunds’ heritage and as the new chairman of the Bury Society he is ensuring the beats of the town’s past ar evalued as they echo through to the present and shape our future.
The civic group has helped protect and weave the very fabric of Bury - influencing the design of new developments, investing in features that enhance the landscape and is the root of the town’s award winning floral success.
As its chairman, Martyn is championing the society’s work, wants to boost membership and challenge certain fusty misconceptions about the group.
Some would say that the society is only for an elite set who live in the historic core of the town and are of retirement age. Not true, says Martyn.
“It’s there for everybody. People from all walks of life can be a member of it,” he explains. “I’m chairman now and when you consider I was born in Abbot Road at the bottom of the Priors (estate), one of 11 children you can see I don’t exactly come from a silver spoon in the mouth job.
The award winning Bury in Bloom is a sub-committeeof the Bury Society
“The goal of the Bury Society is to care for the past today for the future but also look after good design in the town. If there is something we think is not going to look right we will comment on it and in some cases the borough (council) will accept our view points.
“We also care for the look of the town for instance where you have problems of litter and graffiti.”
One of the society’s greatest achievements lies in its origins 45 years ago when it helped to rescue St John’s Street - now a thriving hive of independent business - from ‘wholesale destruction’.
The then council wanted to tear down the street and redevelop it with a modern style or as Martyn puts it - ‘concrete monoliths’.
So in 1971, a group of concerned residents formed the Bury Society, which now has 550 members and is part of the national Civic Voice charity.
“St John’s Street was a major coup for the society and that really set us on the way for people thinking ‘yes they’e worth listening to’,” says Martyn.
The society’s influence can be felt in the many enhancements it has helped fund around the town - mainly thanks to an £86,000 bequest from Dr Alison Rae.
They include trees in the Cattle Market car park, a water fountain for the sensory gardens in the Abbey Gardens, a lift in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, seats in the Great Churchyard, improvements at the Quaker Meeting House and refurbishment of the Railway Mission Hall, in Fornham Road.
“A lot of that money - thanks to the stewardship of the Bury Society treasurers - is still in existence because it does receive some interest,” says Martyn.
The society has also supported the popular wolf trail as well as the current Larks and Linnet bollard trail, helped to bring a copy of the Magna Carta to Bury in 2014 and was involved in introducing a blue plaque trail.
Many people don’t realise that Bury in Bloom - responsible for the luminous award winning floral and green features around the town - is a sub-committee of the Bury Society.
Co-ordinated by Melanie Lesser, In Bloom is a fine example of the society’s ethos of community collaboration.
The unveiling of the Charles Dickens blue plaque atthe Angel Hotel in 2012
The society also hands out architectural accolades for good planning and design - from new builds to refurbishments. This year they recognised the former police houses, in Maynewater Lane, and an infill house, in Mill Road.
It has continued to have a say on developments across the town and with the advent of thousands of new homes in the next 15 years under the Vision 2031 blueprint for growth, the society is perhaps now more important than ever.
“We’re an historic town but we’re now moving into not only the 21st Century but we’re looking at changes which are going to have far reaching consequences for the town.
“It’s going to be difficult for people to turn around and think it’s going to stay the same as it always has been.
“You get a few situations where you do look at what’s basically run of the mill housing.
“We do comment on the fact that some housing estates can be a bit bland and we try to press that affordable housing is in most cases far more important than the 106 directive (a developer’s contribution to infrastructure costs resulting from their schemes).
“You don’t want to see rows and rows of the same terraced houses - there has to be a good variation of different types of houses.
“We are a very popular town for people to come and live - we’re among the top 10 places in the country to live.
“We want to make sure the housing - whatever type it is - is available for people who have got roots in the town as well.”
Bury born and bred, Martyn who is a former floor layer, is well known for his passion for the town’s history.
He has been involved in and published numerous books about Bury and can often be seen holding court around the town centre with groups of interested people in his role as a tour guide.
Martyn Taylor, in St John’s Street, which the Bury Society helped save from ‘wholesale destruction’
“I wasn’t taught about the history of Bury at school. It’s only when I started to acquire books on Bury that I found it was such a fascinating town,” Martyn says.
“I want to try to get my love of Bury St Edmunds across to people.”
He has been involved with the Bury Society for 12 years.
On why he joined it, he says: “I consider living in the town you should respect the town. I think if people respect their town, they respect the environment they live in.
“If you’ve got situations where the streets of the town are littered, if you’ve got graffiti everywhere then people lose respect for the town they live in so you’ve got to take care of it. We like to think we can be responsible for some of that care.”
Asked what his aims are as chairman, Martyn enthuses: “I would like to see a definite movement in the membership of the society to get more people in. We need younger members and we need more people to be involved in its activities.
“We’ve had a lot of good people involved with the Bury Society. This perception that it’s not inclusive is one of our biggest pitfalls at the moment - we need to have people be more involved.
“We’re involved at the moment at looking at the railway station and how that can be improved upon.
“If you care for the town you live in look after it and one way of looking after it is to support the Bury Society.”
It costs £20 for a couple to join or £15 for a single person.
The society runs a programme of events which includes talks, coffee mornings and excursions. For more details on joining contact Sue Savage on 01284 719243 or visit our Event page.
The Bury Society is pleased to offer substantially discounted tickets to see the Prometheus Orchestra at the Apex on Sunday 17th April at 4pm exclusively to Society members.
The Prometheus Orchestra brings together the best professional musicians in Suffolk and wider East Anglia to give really enjoyable concerts, playing the greatest classical music to a very high standard.
The attractive programme on 17 April features a Mozart piano concerto, with soloist John Paul Ekins, a talented young pianist destined for great things. The concert also includes Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebrides’ overture and Beethoven’s magnificent Seventh Symphony.
The Society has secured a limited allocation of top-priced tickets with a special discount of £5 a ticket and free programme offered exclusively to Bury Society members.
Tickets are available now from Marian Shaw (01284 763668,
Download Ticket Application Form
Bury Society members at the unveiling of the ‘Our Liberty’ Magna Carta sculpture, February 7th, 2016. Also shown is Professor David Carpenter who unveiled the sculpture and Mayor Patrick Chung.
Magna Carta is widely recognised as one of the most significant documents in the world. While 2015 will be celebrated nationally (and internationally) as the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, Bury St Edmunds had reason to celebrate in 2014.
The Bury Society enabled this trail to seven worthy recipients of Heritage Blue Plaque. Martin Taylor, local historian, researched this entirely.
Vision 2031 is a consultative process that the St Edmundsbury Borough Council has embarked upon to create a vision for the town’s development over the next 20 years. When the process is complete Vision 2031 will provide a plan for addressing the key issues that face the town. Read more about the Bury Society's response to the plans.
The Guildhall in Bury St Edmunds is a nationally important, grade 1 listed, historic building that has been at the heart of community life within the town for over eight centuries. It is England's oldest complete Civic Building.
The Magna Carta left Bury St Edmunds on Sunday, 31st May.
Bury society E-Newsletters PDF (click to view and download)
Bury society E-Newsletter - Issue 21
More coming soon.
We will use the web site to encourage members to notice more of the places that add to the character of Bury St Edmunds.
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