5 reasons why Christchurch Mansion is the jewel in Ipswich’s crown
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Thanks to one of Netflix’s biggest ever shows, the popularity of stately homes has gone through the roof.
Dubbed ‘the Bridgerton effect’ by many, the streaming service’s hit series has seen more people than ever before take an interest in period dramas.
And it’s not hard to see why.
The architecture, the art, the fashion – it's a nice bit of escapism from the drudgery of modern life, isn’t it?
Luckily for us here in Suffolk, a number of stately homes are open to the public, chock full of history and heritage galore.
Amongst them is Ipswich's Christchurch Mansion, an incredible manor that goes back hundreds of years and features some fascinating artefacts within.
Built in the mid-16th century by Edmund Withypoll, Christchurch Mansion is a Grade-I listed Tudor mansion house.
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Construction of the property took two years (between 1548 until 1550), and it was actually built on the site of the Holy Trinity Priory. The former Augustinian priory was founded in the 12th century but was suppressed by King Henry VIII during the dissolution of monasteries. It was later demolished by Edmund Withypoll so he could build the mansion in its place (originally called Withypoll House).
Withypoll, who was thought to have been born in 1510 or 1513, was a merchant, politician, landowner, sheriff, landowner and money-lender who divided his time between London and Suffolk.
Edmund, along with his father Paul, purchased the manor of Christchurch in 1545 – but Paul passed away just a couple of years later in 1547. As heir, it was up to Edmund to see out his father’s vision, and construction commenced the following year. And what resulted was the stunning mansion we see today.
“Stately homes have long been a focus of our collective imagination. They offer us a glimpse into a world of decadence and luxury that few of us will ever experience first-hand. These buildings also allow us to learn about the past gone by and understand how people lived, entertained, what they wore, and their social life,” explains Christchurch Mansion’s senior duty officer Saskia Stent.
The mansion has seen a few families come and go throughout its lifetime, including the Devereux family who moved into the property in 1645. The estate was passed onto Elizabeth Devereux, who was the daughter and heir of Sir William Withypoll, and wife of Leicester Devereux.
Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times in 2018, Christchurch Mansion staff member Carrie Willis said: “The Devereux family lived here for around about 150 years, and did lots of changes to the house. They added the Dutch cables to the top of the house and also the wood panelling inside and some of the floors inside as well.”
In 1649, Leicester Devereux inherited the title 6th Viscount Hereford, and was responsible for a number of alterations on the property – including those on the front of the house and its surrounding gardens.
And in 1735, wealthy London merchant and former Bank of England director Claude Fonnereau purchased the mansion, and over the following century, he and his family increased the estate to 95 acres of land.
However in 1892, William Neale Fonnereau put the estate up for sale and it was purchased by a property syndicate in 1894. And just one year later, the Christchurch Park opened to the public – making it Ipswich’s first public park.
Fast forward to just over a century later, and both the mansion and its surrounding gardens are now available for public viewing.
But what’s inside Christchurch Mansion?
“The mansion is a magnificent building that houses an amazing collection of art, furniture, and costume. Our superb artwork by notable artists is a must-see, as Christchurch Mansion houses one of the finest collections of Gainsborough and Constable paintings,” says Sakia.
At present, visitors can see a handful of paintings by John Constable on display, including 1800’s ‘The Interior of East Bergholt Church’, ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ (1815), ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ (1815), and ‘Willy Lott’s House’. A timber carving of a windmill done by a young Constable can also be found within the mansion. Taken from Constable’s East Bergholt mill, it dates back to 1792.
For any fans of Thomas Gainsborough, who moved to Ipswich in 1752, be sure to cast your eyes on the likes of ‘Holywells Park, Ipswich’, 1753’s ‘A Pool in the Wood’, and ‘A Country Cart crossing a Ford’. The mansion also has several drawings by the two artists in a special case.
Art aside, mansion visitors can step back in time, as a number of its rooms are preserved and accurately portray how people lived during various historical periods. From the Tudor kitchen, to the Georgian saloon, to the Victorian wing, it really is an eye-opening experience.
Rooms throughout the mansion feature a variety of artefacts on display, including Victorian games and toys (and an incredibly detailed dolls house that has to be seen to be believed), ceramics, clothes, instruments in the music room, and intricately-designed pieces of furniture.
Particularly interesting pieces of furniture worth checking out include the partner’s desk in the library (where Mr Fonnereau would once from work), a table made from assorted tiles (created by a member of the Fonnereau family who had collected them on their travels), and the Eldred overmantle.
The latter is a large wooden carved display that sits above one of the mansion’s fireplaces and celebrates English navigator Thomas Eldred. Eldred, who resided at 97 Fore Street in Ipswich, sailed with Thomas Cavendish on the Desire ship between 1586 and 1588. The overmantle features three panels - a portrait of Eldred, a ship, and a globe.
And let’s not forget the interiors. As you step inside the mansion for the first time, be sure to look down at the impressive black and white marble floors that stretch across the ornate entrance hall. And look all around, as you take in the marble busts and portraits that adorn the walls. Or admire the exposed brick down in the kitchen; or the rich, wood panelling in the servants’ hall.
But I could go on all day. Christchurch Mansion is filled with gems and wonders from year’s gone by, and certainly one of the county’s most interesting stately homes. Be sure to add it to your ‘to-do’ list this summer.
To find out more, visit ipswich.cimuseums.org.uk