Recalling the boom in churches

I AM sure, like me, you have spent many frustrating moments sitting in the never ending nose-to-tail traffic in Chevallier Street, Ipswich. A reminder to when the pace of life in the street was very different is the red brick Victorian All Saints Church.

I AM sure, like me, you have spent many frustrating moments sitting in the never ending nose-to-tail traffic in Chevallier Street, Ipswich.

A reminder to when the pace of life in the street was very different is the red brick Victorian All Saints Church.

When the church was built the road was no more than a link between Bramford Road and Norwich Road. Yarmouth and Valley Road were built in the 1930s as part of the town's by-pass. We have lost several of our Victorian Churches since the 1960s. St Michaels in Upper Orwell Street now stands closed and forlorn. Crown Street Congregation Church was at the corner of High Street and Crown Street. An office block now stands on the site. Turret Green church is now the site of flats.

Tony Wilcox, who retired recently as the vicar at All Saints, told me something of the history of this example of one of the churches which was built as the town rapidly expanded in the Victorian period.

Tony said: “All Saints' Church dates from the last quarter of the 1800s. With the arrival of the railway, the building of the Wet Dock and work on the river to improve navigation, the town expanded rapidly, doubling its population between 1851 and 1901. On the western side, a number of detached houses were built along Norwich Road, while rows of terraced houses were built along the roads to Bramford, and on streets running across them.

“The idea of a second church in the parish of St Matthew was suggested, according to their records, as early as 1850, and in 1870 it was resolved to put up a temporary church building. However, it was decided two years later to drop that idea, and start raising funds for a permanent church. A committee reported that “a site has definitely and most kindly been given by John Chevallier Cobbold in Chevallier Street, immediately opposite the Waterloo Road”. Mr Cobbold was the town's MP and leading railway promoter.

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“A large meeting was held in the Town Hall, and a committee was formed, of course! Two churches were proposed; St Michael's in the parish of St Margaret, and All Saints' in the parish of St Matthew. For the latter, the Ipswich Freehold Land Society, responsible for a number of houses on Bramford Road, offered cheaply a piece of land next to that given by Mr Cobbold.

“In May, the builders, J.B. and F. Bennett, of St Clements's moved on to the site, and in about three months the Mission Room, now our church hall, was complete. It was designed to accommodate two hundred people. People, or chairs, must have been smaller then! Five years later, having become overcrowded within two years of opening, it was enlarged by the addition of what is now the area occupied by the stage, kitchen, and the lobby. It was then reckoned to accommodate 320 people.

“In the April, the Bishop had appointed the Revd Richard Cautley as curate-in-charge, and services were held in the Westbourne Mill and in a corn chandler's warehouse, which is now part of the Westgate Ward Social Club in Prospect Street, while the Mission Room was being built. The first services in the new Mission Room were held on August 17th. The collection that day was £1.16s.91/2d.

“The Church Extension Committee had meanwhile decided to build St Michael's first. They did this, and ran out of money. However, with no capital, and collections of only about £2 per week, All Saints' local committee undertook to continue to pay the minister and raise funds to build the church. This was to cost around £2700, but, five years later, the chancel and about two-thirds of the nave were built, consecrated and in use.

“For its design, a competition was held, with a £50 prize for the winner. About ninety designs were entered anonymously. They were exhibited at the Town Hall for a fortnight, and then sent to London to be judged.

“The building is known by some as the “Bricklayers' Cathedral” because of the craftsmanship on display. The bricks were made in the parish, presumably at the Dales Road Brickfields. Many specially moulded bricks around the windows and doorways, the window tracery and quatrefoil pillars are thought to have been supplied by Guntons of Costessey.

“The foundation stone was laid in June 1886, and the chancel and the greater part of the nave, with a temporary west wall, were consecrated by the Bishop of Norwich twelve months later. More fund-raising followed, and the remainder of the nave, plus the porches and the tower, were built.”

“The foundation stone of the tower was laid in August 1892, and the completed church was consecrated by the Bishop of Norwich on All Saints' Day, November 1, 1893. The total cost of the structure was £6,000.

“The district assigned to All Saints was extended, and made a parish in its own right, the process being completed by John Sheldon Jones reading himself in as vicar on the February 12, 1888. The parish took in part of St Matthew's. You can still see the milestone by the double roundabout at the Norwich Road junction, which declares “St Matthew's Parish” with areas from Bramford and Sproughton. It had included what is now St Thomas', plus a small part of Whitton.

“A wonderful description of the first 'beating the bounds' in May 1888, when the vicar, the churchwardens, a number of other gentlemen and most of the choir boys walked the parish boundary explains it involved walking along the centre of the Ipswich-Norwich railway line from the river crossing by the Boss Hall estate to where the A14 bridge is now, and then following the present line roughly of Highview Road, Ulster Avenue and Waterford Road to Norwich Road. The parish then took in Castle Hill Farm, crossing the East Suffolk railway line to take in the brickfields, skirting the grounds of Brooks Hall and Westwood. The description is all in terms of meadows, hedges, posts and large trees, would take some finding now.

“In 1877 all but a very few houses in the parish lay on the town side of Chevallier Street. In the nine years between the building of the hall and the foundation of the church, the parish population more than doubled and soon doubled again. In that period, most of the houses between Norwich Road, the river and the railway line were built, leaving the builders of the inter-war period to fill in gaps and to climb the slopes of Broom Hill. Since then, new housing has replaced some of the earliest stock, as well as using 'brownfield' and floodplain sites.

“In 1903, the whole interior of the church building was renovated, and the boundary wall on the Chevallier Street and Waterloo Road sides was built. The Blenheim Road section was built in 1936.”

• Do you have a story to tell about special services and events at All Saints?

OTHER than timber, very little cargo seems to arrive in the wet dock (now called The Waterfront) at Ipswich.

The timber yard is close to the lock gates and the rest is now mainly occupied by pleasure craft. Huge sailing ships once came through the lock many of them transporting grain. Now the only sails are on expensive yachts and barges carrying parties down the River Orwell. What a magnificent site it must have been when massive sailing ships came through the lock. The last of which, I understand came in the 1930s.

I have negatives in my archive taken in April 1900 as the ship Arthur Fitcher passed through the lock. The ship was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast as the British Merchant and was almost two hundred and sixty three feet long with a displacement of one thousand and seven hundred and forty two tons. She was built of iron to carry general cargo and launched in 1880. The ship looks quite light as it came into the dock. Most of her cargo had probably been taken off onto barges at Butterman's Bay near Pin Mill so the ship could get into the dock.

Do you have a memory of the busy trading days at Ipswich Dock?

• The British Merchant was one of the fastest sailing ships ever built in Britain. Her owners sold the British Merchant to D. Cordes of Bremen in 1896 who renamed her Arthur Fitger. She sailed under the German flag until 1908 when she caught fire in Seattle. After another accident in 1909 the ship was a total loss.

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