How much do you know about these Ipswich ruins?
- Credit: John Norman
One of the country’s oldest settlements, Ipswich has a rich and fascinating history that goes back thousands of years – and lucky for us, some of its remains can still be seen to this day.
In the latter half of the 13th century, a handful of friaries were built across Ipswich. Their purpose was to house Dominican preachers, and research from the 19th century found that King Henry III established these friars in 1263.
Blackfriars was built in 1263, Whitefriars in 1278-79, and Greyfriars in 1298.
Centuries later, Whitefriars was found to be under what is today’s Buttermarket Centre, between Market Lane and St Stephen’s. Prior to the construction of the Buttermarket, the Suffolk Archaeological unit carried out an extensive dig, which uncovered the location of the ruins of the Friary Church, Cloisters, and Chapter House, alongside an extensive graveyard.
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“In the early 1960s, when Ipswich was scheduled for expansion to accommodate the London overspill, the Greyfriars development subsumed all traces of the Friary save for some stones which were incorporated into one of the new walls,” explains John Norman, chairman of The Ipswich Society. Established in 1960, The Ipswich Society was set up to help preserve the past and future of the town
“Greyfriars had been centred on St Nicholas Church, but the site extended east to the river and ‘Friars Bridge’ over the Gipping. The river today is carried in a culvert under the Portman Road Car Park but Friars Bridge Road still exists.”
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Blackfriars remains as the only visible friary ruins here in Ipswich.
Located on Foundation Street, it consists of four arches of the Sacristy, the positions of the foundations of St Mary's Church, and Chapter House - the latter of which was used as a teaching room for Ipswich School until 1842.
“St Mary’s Church was the largest church in Ipswich. It measured 177 feet long - and the position of the columns laid out on the grass adjacent to the Unicorn Brewery clearly indicate its enormity,” adds John.
“Blackfriars was notable in that the monks had established a piped water supply - presumably from a spring on the Cauldwell Estate to a fountain in the middle of their Garth, which was the garden in the centre of the cloisters.”
Withypoll Memorial Stone
If you’ve ever walked past Christchurch Mansion, you’ll have no doubt noticed the sizeable stone slab that sits in the town centre park.
At over 10 feet tall and five feet wide, this distinctive stone is etched with carvings - but what do they mean? Why is the slab there? And who put it there?
“Unfortunately, slabs of rock this size don’t come with title deeds. No story has been written about previous occupants, and it is unlikely that a world changing event took place while the stone looked on,” John explains.
But after working his way through much research, John has gotten to the bottom of it - and believes he has found the stone’s purpose.
“Thanks to research undertaken by others, I am able to piece together what we now believe to be the story behind Edmund Withypoll's memorial stone.”
But who was Edmund Withypoll?
Believed to be born in either 1510 or 1513, Withypoll was an English merchant, money-lender, landowner, sheriff and politician – and the man who built Christchurch Mansion.
The large slab in question features two figures carved into it, as well as numerous plaques and symbols. According to late Suffolk historian John Blatchly, he suggests the figures - which would have been finely detailed on brass inserts - were a man and a woman.
“Almost nothing was known of the slab until 1888 when local antiquarian Hamlet Watling, writing in the East Anglian Daily Times, described the then-purpose of the slab as a door step outside the Mansion.”
The slab was later mentioned by J.S Corder in his book, Christchurch or Withypoll's House, in which it was described as ‘doing duty as a step’.
“It clearly wasn't carved as a door step, nor was it shipped across without a more important role,” adds John.
After reading more of Blatchly’s works, he soon uncovered evidence that suggested the large slab was meant to be Withypoll’s gravestone.
“In his Will of 1568, Edmund instructs ‘to bee buried in the chancellor of St Margaret's parishes in Ipswich where I dwell under the northe windowe there with the great stone’. It wasn't unusual in Tudor times for the wealthy to make arrangements for their journey into the afterlife.
“Carved for a Tudor merchant, probably never used for its intended purpose, it then became a door step, lying forgotten against the back door of the mansion.”
Have you got a favourite ancient ruin in Ipswich or elsewhere in Suffolk? Get in touch with email@example.com to share yours.