A Momentous Century
By Martyn Taylor
The Abbey experienced two cataclysmic disasters when in 1430 the great western Tower fell and in 1465 when negligent plumbers left their brazier alight on the roof. The plumbers went off to lunch not realising the wind had got up and their ill-placed brazier’s fanned flames would cause a fiery conflagration that engulfed much of the western end of the Abbey Church. Whether it ever recovered to its former glory is a matter of debate.
The 15thC would see great prosperity for the town as the cloth industry was buoyant with its associated power brokers such as John Baret and Jankyn Smyth. The latter would go toe to toe with the Abbey through the town’s Candlemas Guild. Jankyn, Alderman on seven occasions would from his own purse buy the Cope Silver (cape), a traditional gift for an incoming abbot of the abbey which saw the town obliged to purchase. Baret, would ensure that St Marys would have one of the most magnificent Angel roofs in the country, Jankyn the aisles.
Mid-century, the population of the town around 4,500, had recovered from the terrible visitation and after effects of the Black Death a century earlier though it would return at different times. People were still involved in the day-to-day provisioning of the Abbey but with the feudal system diminishing, caused by the plague, they could seek independent employment; a fair days pay for a fair days work.
The craftsmen of the town were called upon in 1433 to refurbish the Abbot’s palace by Abbot Curteys when he heard the good news (or not) that the young King Henry VI aged just twelve would visit St Edmundsbury Abbey for Christmas. The king, his regents and entourage were met on Newmarket Heath by 500 burgesses of Bury all dressed in scarlet. Henry & Co would stay in luxury until Easter, 1434 nearly bankrupting the Abbey in the process!
For details of the events to celebrate the Abbey’s 1000th anniversary visit www.abbeyofstedmund1000.co.uk which will be updated throughout the year!