Ipswich Icons: St Andrew’s Church in Rushmere St Andrew is a story of change

The tower and hall of St Andrew's, Rushmere St Andrew. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The tower and hall of St Andrew's, Rushmere St Andrew. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

There has been a church in The Street, Rushmere St Andrew, since Saxon time, writes John Norman, from the Ipswich Society.

A drawing that tells the story... Picture: CONTRIBUTED

A drawing that tells the story... Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

It was, back then, almost certainly a wooden structure, all traces of which have long gone – replaced in the 12th Century by a stone building. The arch over the south door is possibly the sole remaining feature from this time.

St Andrew’s was substantially rebuilt in the 16th Century (1538), and another rebuild became necessary again in the mid 19th Century (1861). It is difficult to date buildings that have been demolished, but there are clues in parish records, and in the wills, legacies and chantry of parishioners.

The tower was paid for from the legacy of William and Katherine Cadye and probably completed in 1520-1540. They had a simple request: “that the tower should be in the fashion of, and of similar bigness and quality of, workmanship to the tower at Tuddenham”.

In the mid 1800s architect Edward C Hakewill had moved from London with the intention of retiring but was asked to report on the condition of the church, which by then had become much-neglected and poorly maintained. The exception was the tower, which according to Hakewill’s report was in a very good state.

The west window at St Andrew's. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The west window at St Andrew's. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

With such a positive report, it would be good to suggest that the only change Hakewill made to the tower was the addition of pinnacles, but he decided to insert a window into its west wall.

This was a mistake. From the nave, the pipes for the new organ obliterated any opportunity to see the window, and the opening cut into the tower considerably weakened it. The tower split in three places!

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In 1980 the structural strength was restored with the addition of a reinforced concrete ring beam. This additionally supported a steel bell-frame carrying six bells. Three of the bells are pre-reformation (1456) by William Chamberlain of London, two were cast by John Darbie of Ipswich in 1675, and the heaviest, the tenor, cast in Whitechapel in 1885.

One hundred and fifty years have passed since the EC Hakewill rebuild and in this intervening period a number of architects have contributed to the complexity and functionality of the church. Wings have been added – providing vestry, kitchen, toilets and function rooms, as well as increasing the interior dimensions of the building. The least successful, architecturally, is the 1930s vestry: a rectangular box with a flat roof, converted into kitchen and toilets in the late 1960s.

By far the most interesting extension is the “new” nave, built in 1968: extending the church to the east and creating a layout (old nave – chancel – new nave) that sees the congregation in the new extension face west.

The new nave was designed by George Pace of York, unashamedly using modern materials, construction methods and contemporary architecture. This extension transformed the church, with light spilling in from the windows on the east and south elevations. What was previously a dark and dour church is now open and spacious. Step through the south door, into the gloom of Hakewill’s Early English rebuild, and the eye is immediately drawn to the east end: George Pace’s space-creating extension.

In 1987, following the sale of the old church hall in Humber Doucy Lane, a new hall was added to the south of the existing church. The new building was structurally separate but connected by a covered passage.

St Andrew’s Rushmere, for all its complexities, cannot fail to astonish, but the above is only half the story: the artefacts and history contained within make this church worthy of a visit.

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