Ipswich church needs £100k to complete restoration

Fr. John Thackray. St Mary at Stoke church is getting a renovation Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Fr. John Thackray outside St Mary at Stoke. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

A project to restore one of the finest churches in Ipswich has reached the halfway stage as it celebrates its "rebirth" as an independent parish.

St Mary at Stoke was part of a three-church team ministry for 25 years alongside other churches on Chantry and Stoke Park - but became an independent parish again about six months ago.

That move came in the middle of a £200,000 appeal to repair its roof and the plaster on its walls - and to improve access for those with disabilities. So far it has raised half of that from church members and legacies - but now it needs to push on to raise the rest.

St Mary at Stoke roof

The roof at St Mary at Stoke needs repairs. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

The efforts are not helped by the fact it does not have its own rector at present. The church is being overseen by Father John Thackray from St Mary at the Elms - but he said the congregation was pushing ahead and hoped to be able to make a bid for lottery cash as well.

He said: "This is the only Grade One Listed church in Ipswich. There are several Grade Two churches, but this is the only one to get that top grade."

It was built in the 14th or 15th century, but doubled in size during the Victorian period with an extension designed by William Butterfield - one of the greatest Victorian church architects.

St Mary at Stoke church

St Mary at Stoke dates from the Middle Ages but the extension, nearest the camera, was built during the Victorian era. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

The main area needing attention is the roof - but the damage can be most clearly seen on the walls where plaster is flaking off. The damage is so bad that a memorial on one of the oldest walls in the church recently fell down.

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Fr Thackray said: "You can see what is needed. The memorial came down and is now waiting for the walls to be restored so it can go back.

Damaged wall at St Mary at Stoke

The damage has become so bad that a memorial fell from the wall. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

"We are hoping to be able to be in a position to start to plan some work in the near future to at least get things under way by the time there is a new permanent incumbent for the church.

"As well as the roof and walls, we also want to improve the access. There is quite a big step which is a problem for some of our congregation in wheelchairs. And we want to create a toilet with disabled facilities in some space we have at the back."