Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds Fifth most visited free attraction in England

VisitEngland’s Annual Visitor Attractions Survey for 2020 (published 19 August) lists Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens and Abbey Ruins as the fifth most visited free attraction.

Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds - Fifth Most Visited Free Attraction in England

Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds Tom Soper 965x540

The 14-acre town centre attraction welcomed some 1,021,048 visitors in 2020 and was the only attraction outside of London in the top five.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral also featured in the Top 10 free attractions in the East of England, while Ickworth House, Park and Gardens is listed as number five in the Top 10 paid attractions in the East of England.

The Abbey Gardens are home to the remains of the Abbey of St Edmund, which will be celebrating its 1000th anniversary throughout 2022. Founded by King Cnut, the Benedictine Abbey was one of the richest and most important monasteries in Medieval Europe attracting pilgrims from across the globe, including royalty.

Created in 1831 by Nathaniel Hodson, the Abbey Gardens was originally a botanic garden laid out in the same style as the Royal Botanic Gardens in Brussels. In 1936 the concentric circles were replaced by the sixty-four island beds which, together with illuminations, formed part of the Coronation celebrations for George VI in 1937.

Today visitors are also drawn by the outstanding floral displays as well as the aviary, family play area, garden café and riverside walk.

Abbey Gardens credit Shawn Pearce 965x540

Sue Warren, Brand and Marketing Manager, at the town’s official tourism brand Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, said: “We are absolutely thrilled that Bury St Edmunds’ top attraction is featured for the first time in the Visit England annual attractions survey, and is the fifth most visited free attraction in England and first in the East of England.

“Bury St Edmunds is becoming increasingly well-known thanks to the work by Bury St Edmunds Beyond, Our Bury St Edmunds, and our partners in the town and we are thrilled that this very special place, where the Shrine of St Edmund used to stand within the Great Abbey Church is recognised in this way.

“The Abbey Gardens team, Abbey Gardens Friends, Bury in Bloom, and West Suffolk Council should be congratulated on their fantastic work not only in a very challenging year but over the years in keeping the Abbey Gardens looking at its ‘jewel in the crown’ best for visitors and residents alike.”

Cllr Jo Rayner, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture at West Suffolk Council, said: “This is great news to be named in the top five visitor attractions. The gardens in their historic setting are very popular and in the past year or so we have opened new tennis courts to encourage sport and activity, as well as a wildflower labyrinth which attracts bees and butterflies and adds to the beauty and enjoyment of these wonderful surroundings. My congratulations to our team of rangers and volunteers who work tirelessly to keep the gardens looking so colourful and attractive and of course to the Friends of the Abbey Gardens for their continuing support.”


Did You Know?

Appleby Rose Garden Abbey Gardens 965x540

- The gardens are framed by the abbey wall that runs from the 13th century Abbot's Bridge via the imposing Abbey Gate to St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

- Approximately 20,000 plants are bedded out in the spring for the summer display plus 12,000 plants and 20,000 bulbs in the autumn for the spring display.

- The Appleby Rose Garden is named after John Appleby, an American serviceman who served with the 487th Bomb Group in Lavenham, who wrote a book called Suffolk Summer, which tells of his off-duty travels around the Suffolk countryside. A bench in the rose garden is made from the wing of an American 'Flying Fortress Bomber' and a memorial stone pays tribute to the many US servicemen and women stationed in Suffolk.

- The Garden of Reflection commemorates the murder of 57 Jews in Bury St Edmunds on Palm Sunday, 19 March 1190 and all victims of genocide. The centre piece of the Peace Garden is a 1.5 metre tall teardrop, it also includes 57 cobble stones - one for each of the victims of the 1190 massacre.

- The Abbey Gardens Sundial Fountain is now full of beautiful plants and shrubs - but did you know it was originally a Victorian drinking fountain, with sundial cube on the top, which was gifted to the people of Bury St Edmunds in 1871 by the 3rd Marquess of Bristol and was originally in The Traverse. The Abbey Gardens sundial is an extremely early example - quite possibly the earliest in the country - of a sundial that allowed the town clocks to be set to GMT rather than the local mean time.

- The ‘Our Liberty’ memorial, designed by Suffolk artist Nigel Kaines, in the Abbey Gardens includes the spears and banners of the barons who met in Bury St Edmunds in 1214, with bronze scrollwork displaying shields carrying the important commemorative events. The design is supported on original stone from the Abbey – stones which might have been witness to the arrival of the barons all those years ago.

- The world's first Internet bench - Is right here in Bury St Edmunds on the right as you pass through the Abbey Gate. Installed in 2001 by Microsoft, the computer giant chose the town for the pilot scheme from hundreds of applications made by local authorities around the UK.

- In the late 60s/early 70s, the Abbey gardens was home to two Rhesus macaque monkeys - they were presented by Wells Pet Shop in Short Brackland. The monkeys had until then lived in a cage by the shop doorway, but had become a nuisance to customers by reaching into pockets and bags.

- In around 1950 a pair of peacocks lived in the Abbey Gardens in a large freestanding aviary. This also contained golden pheasants and various pigeon breeds, but mainly the Nun variety. The peacocks were later left to wander the gardens, calling across the town from the top of the Abbey Wall.

The Abbey Gardens

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