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Moyse's Hall, a medeival building erected in the 12th century, is now home to a museum showcasing the history of Suffolk County, right in the middle of Bury St. Edmunds.

Moyse's Hall, a medeival building erected in the 12th century, is now home to a museum showcasing the history of Suffolk County, right in the middle of Bury St. Edmunds. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

Moyse's Hall, a medeival building erected in the 12th century, is now home to a museum showcasing the history of Suffolk County, right in the middle of Bury St. Edmunds.

Moyse's Hall, a medeival building erected in the 12th century, is now home to a museum showcasing the history of Suffolk County, right in the middle of Bury St. Edmunds. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

Cats like this one were buried alive in the 17th century in the hopes that they would ward off witches.

Cats like this one were buried alive in the 17th century in the hopes that they would ward off witches. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

BURY ST. EDMUNDS — Despite its irrepressible quaintness, England isn’t just a land of tea, biscuits and pleasant accents.

It has a brutal past that is obscured by its cobblestoned history. Witches were hunted, people were tortured and justice was meted out in methods unheard of in modern times.

A peek into Bury St. Edmunds’ dark past is offered at Moyse’s Hall, a museum in the town center.

The building, surrounded on all sides by modern-day shops, was erected in 1180 and offers a testament to the history of Suffolk county, warts and all.

It’s one of the oldest buildings open to the public in the whole East Anglia region, excluding castles or churches, according to Alex McWhiter, a museum assistant.

Among the museum’s excavated Roman housewares, coins and other pieces of history, the witch-hunt artifacts stand out for their resounding spookiness.

There are numerous excavated house cats that were buried alive in the 17th century in the hope that they would repel witches.

“Those turn up quite a bit in Suffolk,” McWhiter said.

There are also witch dolls, essentially the equivalent of the pin-cushion voodoo doll, McWhiter said.

“They’re fairly rare,” he said.

The witch-trial frenzy that gripped the Bury area in the 17th century served as protocol for the Salem witch trials in the States as well, McWhiter said. There were about 200 witch trials in the area in the mid-17th century.

“There’s a direct line between Salem and this place,” he said.

In addition to the ghoulish stuff, the museum also has a big exhibit on the Suffolk Regiment, the British army’s predecessor to the Royal Anglian Regiment now based in Bury.

In step with their rotating exhibits, the museum is now showcasing women’s fashion over the centuries plus a children’s area with all types of hands-on activities.

The museum also hosts children’s parties and conducts free tours every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Between all the witch memorabilia, the man traps (basically a bear trap used on humans), the old muskets and war artifacts, it makes one feel glad to be living in the 21st century, despite all our modern-day problems.

At least eccentric locals won’t be called witches in today’s Bury.

“There’s a big difference between life back then,” McWhiter said.

Getting thereWhat: A medieval building that showcases the history of Suffolk County from Roman times on. It features everything from Roman tombs to witch-hunting artifacts.

Hours: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Cost: Free for Bury St. Edmunds residents, as the local council funds the museum.

For more information, call 01284 706183, or log on to www.moyseshall.org.

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