Ipswich Historic Churches Trust
About the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust
Ipswich Historic Churches Trust was established in 1979 following wide concern by the Borough Council and local people that four of the finest medieval churches in the town centre were about to become redundant as places of worship.
The Trust's primary object was the preservation and maintenance of redundant churches of all denominations which are of historical or architectural value, for public benefit.
In 1981, the churches of St Lawrence, St Peter, St Clement and St Stephen were passed to the Borough Council by the Church Commissioners for a nominal sum and then offered to the Churches Trust on long leases. The intention was that the Trust would undertake repairs and find appropriate new uses. St Nicholas became redundant in 1985 and was also passed to the Trust via the Borough Council.
All five churches are Listed Grade 2* for their special architectural and historic interest and are considered of outstanding importance not just in their own right but also for their contribution to the street scene.
In 1986 the Trust undertook a major survey of nineteenth century churches and chapels. This resulted in recommendations that the best examples should be protected. Eleven buildings nominated were confirmed by the Government.
The Trust has undertaken phased programmes of major repairs to all of its churches with financial assistance from the Borough Council, matched initially by grants from the Department of the Environment, after 1984 from English Heritage.
Some works, like the repair of St Clement's tower in 1981, have followed unexpected structural problems, others to make good vandalism such as major roofing repairs at the same church in 1995 after an arson attack. Many, however, are cyclical repairs of the kind required only several generations apart. The tower of St Lawrence was strengthened and stabilised in 1993-4, for example, because no significant repairs had been carried out since 1882 when the architect Frederick Barnes had built this decorative casing around the plain crumbling fifteenth century original.
Historic churches in Ipswich
St Stephen's is in use as the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre and has proved a very popular and successful conversion used by several hundred thousand visitors per year.
St Nicholas was transferred back to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in 2001 for conversion to uses associated with the administration of the Diocese located in the adjacent Churchgates House. These works together with improvements to the churchyard were completed in May 2005.
St Lawrence's was converted during 2007/8 into a new cafe and community venue offering an excellent, convenient central location and appropriate reuse for this narrow and tall church situated between the principal shopping streets.
St Peter's achieved funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund under the title 'Music for Health' which enabled the church to be adapted for local concert, rehearsal and educational uses. This renovation received financial backing of over £100K from the Borough Council.
St Peter's is famous for among other things, its important 12th Century Tournai Marble font. This is one of the finest and largest English examples and the Trust's 1983 report about it about it can be downloaded below:
The prospects for the remaining Trust church, St Clement will be enhanced now that the regeneration of Ipswich Waterfront is well under way. This church offers an exciting large space for potential public use in conjunction with the development of the adjacent sites. It is likely to be used as part of University Campus Suffolk's plans.
Although the medieval St Mary-at-Quay Church (Grade 2* listed) is also redundant it has been in the care of the London-based Churches Conservation Trust for many years. Its tower has recently been extensively repaired.
St Michael, a large Victorian church (Grade 2 listed) by the Ipswich architect E Fernley Bisshopp is redundant. The new owner is seeking an appropriate use which will come forward in due course.
Involving the community
The Council worked jointly with English Heritage and four local primary schools in a pioneering project as a cross-curricular approach to citizenship. The pupils were challenged to think about ways that the churches could be re-used in the future, while still protecting the buildings.
A teacher from each school took part in a two-day placement, sponsored by the Suffolk Education Business Partnership, to prepare for the project. They spent time with the Council's Conservation Officer learning about the churches and looking at resources such as maps and plans. They then wrote their own schemes of work linked to existing History, Geography or RE studies.
Pupils visited St Stephen's (the Tourist Information Centre) to look at how a church could be converted while retaining the surviving features. Then they looked at one of the then empty churches (St Lawrence and St Peter), investigated its location and collected information about the its shape and size, remaining features, materials and decoration, to help with their own designs. Back at school pupils brainstormed ideas for new uses and then presented their ideas as models, plans, pictures and written work, culminating in an exhibition of pupils' work in a shopping centre in Ipswich. This enabled pupils to share their ideas with a wider audience and to raise awareness of the redundant churches.
The report explaining the work of this national exemplar project can be downloaded from the English Heritage website:
Becoming a member
If you would like to support the work of the Trust by becoming a member please download the application form below:
Last Updated: Tuesday 26th March 2013