Get a sneak preview of Bury St Edmunds’ latest visitor attraction

There will be a chance to learn about Bury St Edmunds’ latest visitor attraction later this month, ahead of its official opening in the summer of next year.

There will be a chance to learn about Bury St Edmunds’ latest visitor attraction later this month, ahead of its official opening in the summer of next year.

The Guildhall in Bury St Edmunds is Britain’s oldest continually used civic building with a history that spans more than 800 years in the heart of the town and is home to the only surviving Royal Observer Corps WWII operations room in the country.

Next year it will open as a brand new heritage centre, hosting activities, events, workshops and exhibitions that tell the untold story of Bury St Edmunds.

It is envisaged that the centre will be used to host art exhibitions, music and theatre workshops, that it will be available as a wedding venue, a teaching resource particularly for the teaching of history, whilst the historic gardens are being re imagined as a sensory area where summer events and evening performances will also take place.

WWII Royal Observer Corps Operations Room 
Formerly the chamber where the Town Council met, the room was set up in 1938 for use during WW2 and became the Royal Observer Corps Centre, protecting Suffolk and relaying vital messages to RAF crews at local air bases. There are plans to present the WWII Royal Observer Corps (ROC) Teleprinter and Operations Room as it would have been during the war. It is the only surviving ROC centre in the country and resonates with the buzz and tension of that dramatic era.

The project team is working on a display dealing with ‘Bury St Edmunds in Conflict’ which would honour some of the local people and the part they played, it would record the story of the child evacuees who came to the town from London at the start of the Second World War, and would also pay tribute to our American allies who lived and fought alongside us. 

The Operations Room will be a wholly immersive environment that will take the visitor through a complete cycle of events, from spotting, to tracking, to reporting aircraft movements in our local skies. The project is lucky to have the support of the RAF Air Historical Branch who has provided a comprehensive report on the history, composition and activities of the room.

The Court Room 
This is where visitors can see first-hand how Bury St Edmunds was founded. The Fabric of the building will be interpreted and the story of The Guildhall will be told through the conflict between church and town. The Court Room will also be conserved for ‘Justice’ themes to allow visitors to research a number of trials that have taken place in the Guildhall over the centuries. Visitors will be given the opportunity to view objects and archives which were once used in the room.  Interactive devices will be used to allow visitors to take a virtual ‘tour’ of many of the other local collection items.

The Banqueting Hall
The Banquet Hall will be conserved in its present form as an elegant Regency hall where the existing paintings would be interpreted and related to the town’s history, there will be a static collection case for local material, and the facility to host other collections and exhibitions with moveable interpretation and display aids. The room will also be used for civic or private events such as conferences, dinners and receptions.

Tudor Kitchen
The Tudor Kitchen will tell the story of the different classes in Bury St Edmunds' history through the perspective of food service. This will also be used as a brand new facility, known as the Education Centre, where Further Education, Higher Education and adult education classes will be held. 

The Historic Gardens
The spacious outside areas would be opened up for most of the time with some interpretation material, and places to relax. It would be similar to a small ‘park’ in the medieval grid. We intend to stage planned outdoor events, such as theatricals or private functions. The enclosed space to the north of the site outside the Court room will be transformed into a sensory garden.

Sneak Preview

There is a chance to meet the team and see some of the works underway during the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre weekend when The Guildhall will open its doors to the public.

Following that, starting on 4 December, there will be an exhibition at The Apex Gallery of some of the paintings from The Guildhall while they are being stored or restored off-site.

James Mellish, project manager for the Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust which is running the project: “We are very excited about this new visitor attraction, so excited in fact that we want to open the doors early and show people some of what is coming.  So we are opening The Guildhall during the weekend of the Christmas Fayre (25 November-26 November 12-4pm each day) to offer a sneak preview ahead of the official opening next summer.”

The Guildhall project is supported by St Edmundsbury Borough Council which, in its current and previous guises, has managed The Guildhall since 1894. Next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting will be asked to approve an application to the Charity Commission to transfer that role to the Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust after its reopening.

Cllr Joanna Rayner said: “The Guildhall has a wonderful history as one of the oldest buildings in the town and I can’t wait to have a glimpse at the vision that is taking shape at there. Once finished this will be a building that the whole community can use, as well as complementing the fabulous mix of leisure and heritage activities that we have in the town.”

The Guildhall Project is supported by £669,000 of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Fundraising for the project is continuing and is currently £220,000 short of its £1.79 million target.