The Abbott’s Bridge
By Martyn Taylor
Circa 1211, the land on the east side of the River Lark came to be used as The Vinefields, winemaking in monasteries important for rituals, rites and services conducted as they were in Bury by Benedictine monks. This site for growing grapes on a definite incline from Eastgate Street is northwest facing, the grapes must have been blest as normally vines face south to take advantage of a sunny disposition. Maybe the climate was warmer back in those times.
The Abbots Bridge, built around 1220 gave immediate access to these vinefields by the townspeople via planks through the bridge’s open buttresses. On the abbey side, the monks could cross uninhibited, an iron grating being lowered, if necessary, to prevent any unwanted visitors on the river.
Two 14thC tri-angular ‘breakwaters’ on the bridge, abbey side, slows the flow of the river, still very important when the river is in flood. Believe or not the River Linnet once joined the River Lark near this bridge as the Linnet was diverted to create a mill pond for the Abbot’s water mill. The Eastgate, one of the town’s five gates and the only town gate controlled by the abbot was also nearby, handy in times of trouble. After all, the waterways were the highways of England back then!
An open chimney flue, Mustow Street side, is all that remains of the Eastgate pulled down in the 1760’s. With its prison-type bars the ‘cell’ near here may well have been the gate-keepers lodge. Mid 19thC the Rev Sir Thomas Gery Cullum tried to reinstate the Lark Navigation from Prickwillow to Bury St Edmunds in effect recreating the very process which brought the Barnack Stone to the Abbey. Unfortunately for him the Borough Corporation prevented him from doing so, stopping the coal laden barges at St Saviours wharf.
For details of the events to celebrate the Abbey’s 1000th anniversary visit www.abbeyofstedmund1000.co.uk which will be updated throughout the year!