There has been a settlement on the site of Ipswich since at least Saxon times. A bank and a ditch once surrounded the old Saxon town, and was strengthened in Norman times.
The area of the Upper Arboretum is possibly the site of Ipswich Castle, which was besieged by King Stephen in 1153 and demolished in 1176, although documentary evidence also points to other, more likely sites.
Christchurch Park is just north of the medieval town walls. St Margaret's Church and the area called St Margaret's Green borders the south of the park. In 1332 a Thingstead (the Viking name for a public meeting place and originally used before the Norman Conquest of 1066) is described as being "nigh the town wall in St Margaret's Parish", i.e. St Margaret's Green. A fair had been held there from Henry II's reign before 1189.
Bolton Lane had been called Thingstead Way. During the 16th and 17th centuries a lane, called Dairy Lane, ran parallel to where the lower part of Fonnereau Road is today, inside the park boundary.
The Doomsday Book notes that the church of Holy Trinity was in possession of 26 acres of land. This was almost certainly the Anglo-Saxon church that later became the site of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity founded about 1177.
A wealthy priory, it owned 643 acres (260 hectares) of farmland, fishponds and further land parishes around Ipswich, and held patronage over churches across Ipswich, Suffolk and Norfolk.
No buildings remain following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries; the last remains, the tower of the Priory's church, Trinity Chapel, were blown up with gunpowder late in the 17th Century.
Trinity Chapel was probably on the site that Christchurch Mansion now occupies with its tower being recorded as standing to the east of the mansion in formal gardens.
A series of ponds, fed by the same springs that feed today's ponds, provided fish for the monks - carp, tench, roach and gudgeon. The horseshoe pool, stone/brick lined was probably a medieval conduit head and the springs in the park supplied water to the town at least from medieval times. These were the source of town streams and the medieval water system.
A Chronological History
- February 1536
Land and buildings were seized by the Crown as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
- March 10th 1544
A survey of the trees by the Crown states there were "300 oks and elmes of lxxx & c yeres growth" [300 oaks and elms of 80 to 100 years growth]. 30 were reserved for timber to repair houses, fences and hedges. The tenants near woodland around Ipswich also had the right to gather firewood and use timber to repair agricultural equipment. This was on all the lands belonging to the Priory, not just the park, but tells us about the importance of native trees.
The Priory had been demolished by 1548 and work was started by Edmund Withypoll on building Christchurch Mansion, originally called Withypoll House and also known as Christchurch Withypoll. Originally, there would almost certainly been formal gardens in front of the E-shaped Mansion. By the 17th Century, maps show large formal gardens over the whole southern part of the park where the large chestnut trees now stand. These gardens may also have been redesigned in the 18th Century.
The Star Chamber Proceedings: An on-going dispute between the corporation and Edmund Withypoll throughout the 1560's involving changes Withypoll made to the Soane Street (main) entrance, the demolition of at least one house and moving the churchyard wall. There were public disturbances after he tried to prevent access to the annual fair and disputes over boundaries and flooding of Borough land and the Queen's highway.
About 1567 Edmund Withypoll created the pond, which today is called the Wilderness Pond. The springs had previously fed four separate ponds below a terrace of formal gardens and orchard to the west of the Mansion.
The present churchyard walls were built after 1568.
Elizabeth I visited Christchurch.
A second house is referred to in a 1646 deed. Possibly this is one called Little Christchurch shown in a George Frost painting and named as a property belonging to the Fonnereau family. It stood where Neale Street is today and was demolished after 1848.
Devereaux inherits the title of 6th Viscount Hereford. He begins a series of improvements to the park and house.
Charles II visited in 1662 and there seems to have been a formal park established by this time. The King played bowls in Christchurch Park.
Ogilby's map of Ipswich from 1675 shows four ponds at the bottom of Dairy Lane.
After 1734 (when Claude Fonnereau bought the Christchurch estate from the 10th Viscount Hereford, Devereaux), the grounds are described in deeds as "yards gardens and twenty one acres of meadow, eighty acres of pasture, ground paled in for a park and thirteen acres of wood." This adds up to more than 114 acres of land, today the park covers about 82 acres, or 33 hectares.
John Kirby published a book called "Suffolk Traveller". He says of Trinity Chapel tower "the strong foundation of this steeple was within these few years undermined and blown up with gunpowder." Kirby also produced an estate map of Christchurch. On this map the Wilderness Pond is called Dovehouse Pond.
Before 1737 there had been a "fine bowling green" alongside the Mansion.
The public had some right of access to the park by 1772, but Thomas Fonnereau tried to introduce keys for those who would sign an agreement with conditions of entry so he could restrict public access.
On 20th January a public meeting organised by Councillor A. Ransome took place to find "an eligible spot for the formation of a park or a place of helpful outdoor recreation for all classes."
W.C. Fonnereau leased 13 acres out to the Ipswich Corporation to develop the Upper Arboretum. Prince Albert visited in 1851.
The Suffolk Show was held in Christchurch Park.
23rd February: Felix Cobbold gave Christchurch Mansion to the town on the condition that the Ipswich Corporation purchased the rest of the property and that the house be preserved. He bought the Mansion from the Fonnereau family; they had already sold some land and it seems they would have sold off more of Christchurch Park for development had it remained in their hands.
April: The Corporation purchased the central part of the Park, Clarke's Arboretum, along the lower part of Fonnereau Road and the area by Westerfield Road. The park officially opened to the public on 11th April. During the years immediately after the Ipswich Corporation brought Christchurch Park shelters were built and monuments erected or moved into the park.
May: The Burton Drinking Fountain was gifted to the town by Sir Bunnell Burton and placed by the Ancient Avenue. The Cabman's Shelter was moved into the park from the Cornhill, where it had stood since 1893.
December: The Martyr'' Memorial was unveiled. It stands at the bottom of the Ancient Avenue, not far from the Bolton Lane entrance.
The Lower Arboretum was held in private hands and allowed access only to those who paid subscriptions but this ceased when it was bought by the Borough in 1922 and redesigned to include tennis courts and a croquet lawn.
The Ipswich War Memorial was unveiled displaying the names of Ipswich men who had died during the Great War. The Suffolk Soldiers Memorial for the South Africa Conflict (or the Boer War) was moved from the Cornhill where it had stood since 1906 to be placed close to the Ipswich War Memorial. The memorial was moved by about 50 men who pulled it on rollers up the hill from the Cornhill into the park. A Tudor merchant house under threat of demolition was moved from Major's Corner to the north of Christchurch Mansion.
The Corporation acquires the Upper Arboretum.
The Peace Garden was opened.
The Cherry Avenue was planted in Upper Arboretum by Ipswich Horticultural Society to launch the Christchurch Tree Trail.
The play area was refurbished and reopened.
The Park is officially 'reopened' following the £4.2million Heritage Lottery Fund restoration project.