A Suffolk treasure almost lost

IPSWICH folk are lucky to have Christchurch Park so close to the town centre. For those who live in parts of the Ipswich where they can walk across the park to their work and step into the heart of town it is a daily treat.

IPSWICH folk are lucky to have Christchurch Park so close to the town centre.

For those who live in parts of the Ipswich where they can walk across the park to their work and step into the heart of town it is a daily treat.

Others visit to walk their dog or take their children to a safe play area. Annual events like Music in the Park and the November firework display attract thousands.

It is a treasure, which it seems that a little over a century ago was almost lost to redevelopment. In 1892 owner William Fonnereau offered the estate to Ipswich Corporation for £50,000. A referendum was held and the rate payers voted against the purchase.

The land was sold to property developers who sold parts of the park for development. The houses in Park Road are on part of the land.

One of the syndicate, wealthy local businessman, Felix Thornley Cobbold, presented the mansion to the town on the agreement they would buy the rest of the park. This arrangement was completed in 1895.

Most Read

It seems amazing now that without the foresight of Mr Cobbold, more, or even all of the land, could have been built on.

The park is a grade II listed and the Mansion a grade I listed building. There are now fourteen grade II listed structures within the park: lodges, gates, walls, shelters, drinking fountains, Martyr's Memorial, Boer War Memorial, Memorial to the Great War and Second World War, and the Ice House.

At the moment a huge amount of work is going on to restore the park.

Trees are being cut back, pond cleaned and a Victorian shelter has been restored after vandals caused thousands of pounds worth of damage by setting it on fire. The work is part of a £4.4 million restoration programme, £3.3 is coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

There are elements of the park which have not changed for centuries, like some of the wonderful old oak trees, the springs, which feed the lakes and the hill which provides fun in the snow and a natural grandstand for all sorts of events.

Over the years many things have changed, once sheep kept the grass short. Statues have come and gone and shelters have moved or disappeared.

Now it seems that the tradition of feeding bread to the ducks, going back generations, is about to be banned once restoration to the ponds is complete. It seems in feeding the birds we are doing more for the rat population than the ducks. The Round Pond will be cleared out in the coming weeks. I don't envy the person who has to tell a child with a big bag of bread for the ducks that he or she cannot throw it to them!

There was an Augustinian Priory founded on the site about 1177. A series of ponds would have provided fish for the monks, including carp, tench, roach and gudgeon. They are not the ponds as we see them today, but fed by the same springs. I wonder if the monks fed the ducks!

• Important dates in the park's history.

1536. Land and buildings were seized by the crown as part of Henry V111 dissolution of the monasteries.

1548 The Priory had been demolished and work was started by Edmund Withypoll to building Christchurch Mansion, originally called Withypoll House.

C.1567 Edmund Withypoll created the pond now known as the Wilderness Pond; the springs had previously fed four separate ponds.

1579 Elizabeth I visited.

1662. Charles II visited. He played bowls in the park.

After 1734 Claude Fonnereau bought the Christchurch estate from the 10th Viscount Hereford, Devereaux.

The public had some right of access to the park by 1772.

1851. Mr W Fonnereau leased 13 acres out to the Ipswich Corporation to develop the Upper Arboretum.

1851. Prince Albert visited.

1869. The Suffolk Show was held on the park.

1895 Felix Cobbold gave Christchurch Mansion to the town on the condition that the Ipswich Corporation purchased the rest of the property and the mansion preserved.

1895 The park officially opened to the public in April.

1895. The Cabman's Shelter was moved into the park from the Cornhill in May, where it had stood since 1893.

1903. The Martyr's Memorial near the Bolton Lane gate was unveiled in December.

1924. The Ipswich War Memorial was unveiled in May displaying the names of Ipswich men who had died during World War One.

1924. The Suffolk Soldiers Memorial for the Boer War was moved from the Cornhill, where it had stood since 1906, to near the War Memorial. The memorial moved by about 50 men who pulled it on rollers up the hill from the Cornhill into the park.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter