Could Abbey Gardens tennis court move net St Edmund?

Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens with the former Eastgate Nursery site outlined in red and the existing tennis courts in yellow. 'Map: Google Earth

The hunt for St Edmund’s final resting place may be a step nearer thanks to a plan to replace some tennis courts.

The first project to come from the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership is the replacement of the existing Abbey Gardens tennis courts which are thought to have been laid over the abbey’s cemetery.

It has been said the cemetery was the most likely place for the monks to have put St Edmund’s remains at Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The bones were kept in the abbey.

Historic England has granted St Edmundsbury Borough Council, one of the organisations in the partnership, Scheduled Monument Consent to move the courts.

So the remnants of the former Eastgate plant nursery, on the opposite of the Lark, will be demolished for two new tennis courts. It is hoped work can begin soon after the completion of two consultancy studies on the abbey in the autumn. The studies are funded by Historic England and the council.

But nobody is yet confirming there will be a dig on the old courts’ site. Cllr Robert Everitt, St Edmundsbury‘s Cabinet member for families and communities, said: “Clearly, it would be wrong for us to pre-empt the results of these studies before making decisions about the rest of the area.

“These studies are about how we better understand and protect the Abbey of St Edmund for future generations to enjoy.”

Evidence from the studies is likely be used to apply for funding for projects.

Cllr Everitt added: “The old tennis courts drastically need replacing.

“Their relocation to the site of the former Eastgate Nurseries is the ideal location within the Abbey Gardens and will enhance the setting of the scheduled monument.”

Dr Will Fletcher, Historic England’s east of England inspector of ancient monuments, said: “Moving the tennis courts from their current location has been a long-term ambition and we are delighted to support this new scheme.”

Reverend Canon Matthew Vernon, chairman of the heritage partnership, said: “We want people to understand its spiritual, historical and archaeological significance. And we want people to join in and celebrate 1,000 years of the Abbey with us in two years’ time.”

The Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership is led by St Edmundsbury Cathedral in collaboration with St Edmundsbury Borough Council and 14 other local and regional public, private and voluntary organisations.

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