Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 6 : Bury St Edmunds and the River Lark

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Bury St Edmunds on the River Lark, a pivotal location in the creation of Magna Carta. As we walk beside the stream, we live its’ history in the beautiful Abbey gardens and reflect on the surrounding nature.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at


The Abbey at Bury St Edmunds is situated where the rivers Lark and Linnet converge. It once housed the relics of beheaded martyr King Edmund, and in 1214 the barons met at its high altar to swear an oath to compel King John to sign the Magna Carta. Fittingly, the borough’s motto is

Shrine of the King, and cradle of the law

Motto of Bury St Edmunds
Two songbirds meet 
At the shrine of a king
'Freedom for all'
Is the song that they sing
Their message has spread
To the world : rich and poor
Where lies Edmund's head
Long lives natural law


Next stop on our Magna Carta tour was Bury St Edmunds, which played a leading role in the history of the Great Charter as it was at St Edmund’s Abbey in 1214 that a group of barons swore an oath on the high altar to make King John sign the limitation on his power that became Magna Carta. The altar is now a pile of stones, but it is marked by two plaques – one with a poem explaining its’ significance, and the other with the names of all twenty five barons involved.

The sky was a mottled grey as we drove over the flat plains of East Anglia and into the town itself. Confusingly, although it has a cathedral, Bury St Edmunds doesn’t have city status as it is presided over by the Bishop of Ipswich which means both are designated towns rather than cities.

The borough is very proud of its’ pivotal role in Magna Carta, and we parked near the aptly named Charter Court, a new shopping development, walking from there down to the Abbey Gardens, where the Lark is situated. As we neared the imposing Abbey Gate on Angel Hill, the architecture gradually got older and more picturesque.

Although the Abbey was largely destroyed by townspeople during uprisings in the fourteenth century, the gate, and nearby Norman Tower remain intact, and ruins mark the outline of what was once a powerful political force. As we passed through the entrance, the gardens were bursting with beautiful flowers of all sorts of colours, which looked like nature was at work. Ruins of the original abbey remain throughout the Gardens, making you aware of the history all around.

Under a battered bridge at the edge of the Abbey Gardens runs the River Lark,  a tributary of the Great River Ouse. It was a rather murky colour, almost like a milky cup of builder’s tea, surrounded by deep green and red foliage. Walking beside it, the striking Cathedral tower, only completed in 2005, was visible as it rose above the trees. Nettles, weeds and flowers were growing together in perfect harmony, busy with butterflies and bees.

Making our way back along the river into the Abbey Gardens, we visited the Grade 1 listed Abbots Bridge – another lasting reminder of the history that surrounds this city. In the gardens, everyone was enjoying the unexpected sunshine and the freedoms that were enshrined in law so long ago in Magna Carta.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Lark at Bury St Edmunds

Fun fact – our own songbird Sue Casson was born and brought up in Bury.

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

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