A recreation of M R James famous lecture On the Abbey Church at Bury is to be performed at The Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds, the very same venue in which the original lecture was given some 90 years ago in April 1932.
The handwritten notes of his lecture were found in Cambridge University Library by historian Dr Richard Hoggett in February 2018 while undertaking the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Assessment. He transcribed the notes and edited and published them in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History in 2020.
As part of the Abbey 1000 celebrations, Robert Lloyd Parry, a performance storyteller of M R James’ ghost stories, will recreate this historic lecture on Thursday 26 May, introduced by Richard Hoggett.
Although best known for his ghost stories, M R James work as a medieval scholar remains highly respected. Brought up near Bury St Edmunds, researching the Abbey of St Edmund was a lifelong passion. He became the leading expert on its medieval manuscripts and on the history and layout of its great abbey church. His 1895 two-part volume on the church and manuscripts was the single most important piece of research on the abbey since its dissolution.
During his research, James discovered reference in an abbey register in Douai to the burial place of several of the abbots. This led in 1902-3 to excavations in the chapter house, revealing the graves of six abbots, five of which can still be seen today.
He also became involved in a heated public debate about the authenticity of the ‘St Edmund relics’, the alleged remains of St Edmund held in Toulouse. He doubted their authenticity, and his view was confirmed by scientific research nearly a century later.
Four years before his death, on 21 April 1932, he gave his public lecture On the Abbey Church at Bury at The Athenaeum, summarising his lifetime’s research in an imaginary tour of the abbey church in its heyday.
The 90-minute reading of his lecture will take place at The Athenaeum, Bury St Edmunds, on Thursday 26 May at 7pm.
Tickets: Adults £10, Under 18s/Students £8.
Booking is essential, either online at www.whatsonwestsuffolk.co.uk/MRJames or from the Apex Box Office on 01284 758000.
This event is part of the Abbey 1000 celebrations, and is promoted by the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, with the generous support of The Bury Society.
Photo credits: Bury St Edmunds Past and Present Society, Shelagh Bidwell.
To find out more about M R James: James, M R., 2017. Compete Ghost Stories, Macmillan; Hoggett, R, 2020. ‘M R James on The Abbey Church at Bury’; the text of a lecture given at the Athenaeum, Bury St Edmunds, 21 April 1932’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History 44, 4, 637-57; Pfaff, R W, 2004. ‘James, Montague Rhodes (1862-1936)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Adrian Tindall, Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides