Where is the best place to live in the UK? National newspapers and building societies all consistently put Bury St Edmunds in the Top Ten.
It is based, apparently, on our high ranking on various measurements. Crime – low. Environment – green and excellent air purity. Health – high longevity. Council tax – kept relatively low.
Maybe those are the specific reasons you decided to stay in Bury or why you moved here. But I’m not convinced.
The real reason is to do with the things that can’t be measured: beauty, tranquillity, homeliness, civilised and polite inhabitants, the absence of urban sprawl. In a word: ‘atmosphere’. Difficult to define, but you know it when you feel it. But what accounts for it, where does it come from?
My own pet theory is that the attraction of Suffolk’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ and the reason we become (in a good way) ‘Suffolkated’, is due to the town’s tradition and its past. Even if you are not up on your history, it’s my contention you’re still aware of it even if you don’t consciously realise it. The town’s past contributes to an aura and why we feel it is special.
I first thought about this when I shook President Obama’s hand on being introduced by The Speaker of the Commons a couple of years ago. The President had just delivered an historic speech to Parliament, the opening lines of which referred to England’s Magna Carta being the start of global democracy. It was bloody-minded, independently-minded Englishmen who did it. And, where did they first do it? Not Runnymede in 1215, but in November 1214 at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds.
Here, 25 barons and the Archbishop of Canterbury first swore an oath to compel a tyrannical King to put his seal to the Great Charter. That Charter for the first time guaranteed rights of the people against abuse of power by an over-mighty government. Things have not been the same since.
We have an opportunity to connect with this event of world historical significance in a special exhibition in the Treasury vault at St Edmundsbury Cathedral throughout this May. Here, one of only four 1215 copies of Magna Carta will be on display. Thanks to the hard work of our Cathedral, the borough council and the local Magna Carta 800 Committee, the cash has been raised to pay for the hire of this special historic artefact.
Don’t think I’m boring on about the past. On the contrary, my philosophy is to believe that East Anglia’s best years are ahead of it, not behind it. But we can only be more optimistic and positive about our place in the world if we remember our region’s world-beating achievements of the past. These prove we have it in us to succeed and prosper in the future.
Not only did we help invent democracy here. Down the A14 is an East Anglian town where Newton discovered gravity, the atom was split, and DNA (the building block of life itself) was discovered.
And now East Anglia has the Golden Economic Triangle of Ipswich-Norwich-Cambridge: a world-class technology base second only to California’s Silicon Valley. We in Bury are part of that and must embrace it, in a spirit that is positive and optimistic.
A thousand years ago East Anglia was mostly marshy Fenland. Let’s remember what this part of the world has achieved since then – and what great opportunities await us in this new century. Call me arrogant, but we’re special in East Anglia – let’s not ever forget it.