Ipswich Icons - How big is Christchurch Park in Ipswich?

Arboretum, Brett Fountain, Lodge and School

Arboretum, Brett Fountain, Lodge and School - Credit: Archant

How big is Christchurch Park? Before we answer the question we need to define the boundaries, and establish in what year the question is set, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

What is to be included, the Bridle Way, the Arboretum, Ipswich School cricket field? As we shall see, the park extended a lot further north and west in previous years.

After the Norman Conquest, William commanded that there be a survey of all of England (The Doomsday Survey of 1089) and it is recorded that the Church at Holy Trinity held 26 acres. When Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the Augustine Friars at Holy Trinity had adjacent lands totally 643 acres. It is therefore no surprise that the King was keen to get his hands on this incredibly extensive asset. Henry, of course didn’t want ownership of the land, he wanted to sell it and pocket the cash.

The private buyer of what had been the Holy Trinity land (in 1545) was Paul Withypoll, a London merchant. It quickly passed to his son, Edmund, who rebuilt the old priory as an Elizabethan house (and named it Withypoll House), later to become Christchurch Mansion.

The 600 acres of open forest north of Ipswich provided rich hunting ground. It also provided fresh, clean drinking water, not only for the house but also for the town. At least one conduit ran from the water-head (spring) into Tavern Street. The water also filled the Wilderness and the Round Ponds, ideal habitat for breeding fish, carp, roach and perhaps tench, all for the table.

Ownership of the mansion and land was passed down through a complex route of marriage, children and childless couples to Elizabeth, who was married to Price Devereux, the 10th Viscount of Hereford. Elizabeth died without issue in 1735 and the estate was sold to Charles Fonnereau for £11,500.

Again the estate passed through successive generations until 1840 and the Rev William Charles Fonnereau. William was married to a certain Kate Cobbold, daughter of John Wilkinson Cobbold and sister of John Chevallier Cobbold MP. DL. JP. brewer, banker and entrepreneur (contributions to the Wet Dock and the railway).

Most Read

On William’s death the estate passed to their son, Thomas Neale Fonnereau and in turn to his son, William Neale Fonnereau (1862 – 1904). William with his wife Mary were the last people to ‘live’ in the mansion. They went on to have three children but had sold the house by the time the first arrived.

Thus for the previous 350 years the estate had been owned by just three families since the dissolution, the Withypolls (1545 – 1645), the Devereux family (1645 – 1735) and the Fonnereaus (1735 – 1892).

Although we are not clear as to the boundaries of the estate during the millennium of known ownership we do know that the boundary extended north towards Westerfield, bounded on the north east by the Red House Park, and extended west to Broomhill (the Brookes Hall estate).

In 1848 William Fonnereau was persuaded by the council and the community to develop a parcel of land alongside Henley Road as an arboretum. The loudest voice among those campaigning was James Allen Ransome, director of RS&J who had realised that his employees required space for rest and relaxation, space to wander and take in the fresh air.

On the other side of Henley Road (which for a time was known as Arboretum Road) was a seven-acre playing field with a cricket pitch. In 1852 an acre in the south east corner of this field was developed as the new site for Ipswich School.

In 1892 William Neale Fonnereau was considering moving out of the Mansion and offered the estate to the town for £50,000. Ipswich Corporation debated its purchase as a public park and asked the public by way of referendum for their opinion, they declined the opportunity.

Certain members of the community had been allowed access to the private park since 1724 but the people of Ipswich, when given the opportunity to purchase, showed their usual reticence and decided against. The price was reduced by William Fonnereau (to £42,000) but the people had decided so the Corporation again failed to take up the offer.

In the mid 1890s the park was purchased by a private group of developers, calling themselves ‘Christchurch Park Limited’ with the intention of building houses. They sold off some valuable corners, alongside Bolton Lane, and across the top (Park Road) and when they suggested demolishing the Mansion Felix Thornley Cobbold stepped in and bought it on condition that the Corporation purchase the park. This they did, 51 acres for £16,500 and the Mansion was presented to the town by the man who was probably the town’s greatest benefactor, Felix Thornley Cobbold.

• Use of the term ‘park’ in this article frequently refers to a private estate laid out as grazing land interspaced with individual trees rather than a public facility.

• Felix Thornley Cobbold was the son of John Chevallier Cobbold.

See more from John Norman here