At the sign of the Barking lion...

Holy Trinity, Ipswich

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Ipswich Holy Trinity: like a seagull about to take off

prepare to be boarded

clock   This little docklands church sits on a pretty, tree-covered mound, in a wedge between Fore Hamlet and Back Hamlet in the Ipswich docklands. For the last couple of years, it has also found itself on the edge of one of the largest building sites in eastern England, as the massive Waterfront regeneration gets underway. This development can do nothing but good for Holy Trinity, for it has been rebranded as one of the Waterfront group of churches, and the acres of derelict factories are being replaced by acres of mid-rise apartment blocks. These parishes which were almost empty ten years ago will soon be home to thousands of people. The derelict Grimwade Memorial Hall beside the church has been converted into luxury studio apartments, and given a new name, the GMH Building. The abandoned electricity substation opposite is now Loch Fyne at Mortimers, a classy fish restaurant. A startlingly post-modern seven storey University building has gone up on the opposite corner of Duke Street. You could not have believed any of this if you had been here in 1990.

One of the down-sides to all this is that the elegant pencil tower of Holy Trinity no longer dominates one corner of the Wet Dock, as it had done since the demolition of the ECF grain silo back in the 1980s. Now, it is just another tower among many, as the east of England gets its own Salford Quays-style development. The other side of the church will also soon be built up, as the main campus of University College Suffolk gets underway.

At first glance, you might wonder if this little church will hold its own amongst the brave new buildings of east-central Ipswich. After all, the dirty yellow Woolpit-brick facade does not seem particularly inviting to the historian. But this church is worth a second look, because in 1836 this was the first Anglican parish church to be built in Ipswich since the Reformation. It is therefore one of Suffolk's very few Georgian churches.

Holy Trinity was built as a result of an Act of Parliament that tried to respond to the needs of the new industrial areas. However, the act didn't provide much money for building, so the style is what was popularly known as Carpenters' Gothic, with a local architect (Harvey) and craftsmen keeping within a tight budget.

The big mystery about Holy Trinity is why it was built here at all. Cautley says it was a chapel of ease to St Clement, in which parish it was built. But I do not think this can be right, since St Clement is only 100m away up Fore Street. The two churches would have been less isolated from each other by traffic in those days than they are today, and St Clement would have been at the heart of the more densely populated area. Perhaps, pre-restoration St Clement was unusable? At a time of tight budgeting after the Napoleonic war, it might have been easier to attract funding for a new church in an industrial area than for restoring the old one. Or perhaps it only became a chapel of ease later. In any case, St Clement closed in the 1970s, and the other church in the parish, St Michael, in the 1990s.

The church squats like a dirty seagull about to take off. The workaday nave has been joined by a chancel, added in the 1890s to bring the church up to speed with liturgical developments in the Church of England.

The interior of this church is one of Ipswich's best kept secrets; it is fabulous, and of outstanding interest, because there is simply nothing else like it anywhere in East Anglia. Pevsner calls the style of the chancel Georgian Baroque, and it is a quite remarkable feature. A sumptuous interior creates a focus for the more functional nave, with its prayer-book gallery and simple wooden benches. It is a juxtaposition which is at once harmonious and startling - you can see images below. perhaps the best known feature of the church is the east window, a memorial to the dead of World War I, which was produced by a relation of the Vicar - again, it is remarkable, with echoes of Powell & Sons, but an idiosyncracy of its own. There's nothing else quite like it. Given the current emptiness of the parish, the fact that it commemorates the lost boys is especially moving.

Back in 1999, when I first wrote about this church, I asked the question: what will happen to Holy Trinity? At the time, St Luke on Cliff Lane was closer to almost all the housing in the parish. The benefice now also includes St Helen, at the heart of another populous area, albeit the centre of Ipswich's large Bengali population. Holy Trinity has neither the glamour of its medieval neighbours or the practicalities of Ipswich's modern churches, but it may well be that the new population of the waterfront will see Holy Trinity as its spiritual heart. Or, perhaps it has a future ministering to the new University. We shall see.

When I first visited Holy Trinity in 1996, the newsletter carried a poignant prayer for 'The Lord to send us more people to be in our congregation'. It rather appears as if those prayers have been answered.

  William Henry Hamilton Williamson

Simon Knott 2006, revised and updated 2008

looking west looking east chancel looking east
harpists side chapel WWI memorial window Christ in Majesty
the river of life harpists the river of life
seal of Holy Trinity priory William Henry Hamilton Williamson seal of Holy Trinity priory
killed in action chancel roof a consistent Christian life


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