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Fears raised that Bury St Edmunds could lose its borough status and mayoral title

PUBLISHED: 15:39 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:39 13 March 2018

Dr Francis Young

Dr Francis Young

Contributed

Fears have been raised that Bury St Edmunds could lose its borough status along with its mayoral title with the planned merger of two local authorities.

It comes following the latest developments for the link up between St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council who have been backed by the Government to replace them with a new West Suffolk Council. It would also result in new council wards being created and a reduction in its councillors from 72 to 64.

But it’s resulted in a swathe of opposition from residents in the town with historian and freelance author Dr Francis Young saying it would be a “symbolic blow” to the town that was once a county town and, in the Middle Ages, held a status little different from a sovereign principality.

But senior councillors from St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath have said they understand the importance of each other’s historic status and the importance of civic leadership and that it would apply for borough status for the new council from the Privy Council.

Dr Young said: “It is indeed the case that the merger will probably have little or no impact on services or people’s day-to-day lives. However, difficulties are thrown up by the fact that the present St Edmundsbury Borough Council is the legal successor to the Corporation of Bury St Edmunds first established by Royal Charter in 1606. If St Edmundsbury Borough Council ceases to exist the question arises whether Bury St Edmunds will cease to be a borough.

“The idea that the position and title of Mayor of St Edmundsbury might be abolished as the result of the creation of a West Suffolk Council is disturbing, as is the possibility that the borough will lose its Royal Charter.

“The right of Bury St Edmunds to a mayor and a charter are ancient and were not won easily; indeed, blood was spilled to gain these rights.”

Councillor Carol Bull, St Edmundsbury Borough and councillor Ruth Bowman, Forest Heath District, chair and vice-chair of the of the Future Governance Steering Group, in a joint statement said: “Our councillors have already agreed that this matter of borough status and civic leadership will be looked at this year by the shadow authority when it is formed.

“Borough status has to be awarded to a council – it cannot simply be transferred from one to another and legally cannot be given to the new council before it or its councillors exist. For that reason both councils specifically made sure that Government agreed that the new West Suffolk Council has the power to apply for borough status which can only be granted by the Privy Council.”

BURY ST EDMUNDS’ HISTORY

In the Middle Ages Bury had no borough status and the town was, in effect, a personal possession of the Abbey’s Sacrist to do with much as he pleased.

The conflicts between the townsfolk and the abbot are legendary, and were some of the bitterest in medieval England.

After the dissolution in 1539, the Candlemas Guild initially stepped into the breach and governed the town but it was dissolved in turn in 1548, leaving the Guildhall Feoffees and the governors of the Grammar School to run the town between them.

However, since control of the Liberty of St Edmund (West Suffolk) had fallen to its hereditary stewards, the Bacon family of Redgrave, there was some doubt about who had ultimate authority over the town.

The townsfolk repeatedly sued the Bacons and petitioned the Crown until James I eventually granted the charter in 1606.

By making Bury a borough, the charter also made it a parliamentary seat, meaning that Bury gained parliamentary representation for the first time since 1539; the charter also stipulated the extent of the franchise (who was allowed to vote).

the charter of 1684 gave the Crown the right to directly appoint a mayor and aldermen, who were the only people allowed to vote in the borough and in 1688 a revolt by the Corporation forced James II to rescind the 1684 charter and reinstate an earlier document of 1661.

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