Ipswich Icons - Remembering a time when churches were full and more needed to be built

Holy Trinity from the south churchyard

Holy Trinity from the south churchyard - Credit: Archant

We must have been a God-fearing lot back in the middle of the 19th Century; the churches were full, people queued outside and there was standing room only, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

Harp players in the east window

Harp players in the east window - Credit: Archant

Churches held three or four services on a Sunday to cater for the numbers. There was an obvious need for more accommodation in the majority of Ipswich’s parish churches. The problem was solved by building chapels of ease; new churches elsewhere in the parish.

St Michael’s, Upper Orwell Street, was built as a chapel of ease for St Margaret’s; All Saints (1887) for St Matthew’s and The Church of Ascension for St Mary’s, Whitton. The first of these to be built was Holy Trinity (1835-1836, architect Frederick Harvey) as a chapel of ease for St Clement’s. It was built before the Wet Dock was enclosed (1842), before Ransome moved from St Margaret’s Ditches (1837-1849) and before the railway came to Croft Street (1846). In fact it was the first church to be built in Ipswich since the Reformation 300 years previously. Today the Woolpit Whites are grey and dirty, the domed cupola atop the tower long gone, replaced by a tattered flag of St George but the interior is as bright and cheery as any town centre church.

There were two reasons that the population of St Clement’s was growing, clay working was developing rapidly (bricks, roof tiles, terracotta chimney pots), an industry that was, back then, labour intensive. Secondly the very same bricks were being used to build street after street of cheap terraced housing, notably in the area that become known as the Potteries (in St Clement’s Parish). The site was later occupied by the Civic College.

Another local industry was rope making, carried out on a stretch of ground known as a rope walk. The rope was an essential requirement of the sailing ships and the port was at its busiest. There were three or four Rope Walks hereabouts and it was on the site of the Rope Works in Back Hamlet that Holy Trinity was built.

The population of St Clement’s at the 1831 census was 2,300 souls living in 575 houses. By the time the parish split to become two in 1838, (St Clement’s and Holy Trinity) the population had more than doubled to 4,800. Another surprising figure from the records is the number of parishioners that could be accommodated in St Clement’s, the parish register suggests 900. Today a more reasonable maximum is closer to 450 seated. A similar exaggeration was written about Holy Trinity, said to accommodate 750 souls but by 1873 this had been reduced to 600 and was reduced again in 1895.

Holy Trinity was unusual in that it was a gift from the Rev John Thomas Nottidge, MA, patron and rector of St Helen’s as well as St Clement’s. He erected the new church at his own expense, at the not inconsiderable sum (for 1835) of £2,400. The church was dedicated to Holy Trinity; a previous ‘church’ with this dedication was Holy Trinity Priory which stood in close proximity to Christchurch Mansion. The Priory Church was originally Saxon (7th Century) rebuilt by the Normans around 1100 and dissolved and demolished in the early 1500s.

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Holy Trinity was consecrated in 1837 by the Bishop of Sodor and Man acting for the Bishop of Norwich. So where is Sodor? I don’t mean the Thomas Tank Engine version although there is some truth in the location suggested in the Rev Awdry’s stories.

In the church Sodor means southerly islands, (whereas the northerly islands are Orkney and Shetland). Thus the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the islands of the Clyde (Arran) are Sodor and Man is the Isle of Man.

Holy Trinity was extended by the local architect E F Bisshopp, firstly with a separate school room immediately south of the church (1891) and then by adding a chancel (1895). The nave and chancel are interconnected by three arches creating what Pevsner describes as Georgian Baroque. The tower was extended to become the same height as was originally achieved with the cupola and once again stands head and shoulders above the buildings on the Waterfront, the parish it now serves.

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