At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Thomas, Ipswich

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Thomas

    Here we are in Bramford Lane in west Ipswich, just beside the railway bridge, and this little church is tucked away behind its car park as if it were a school or a municipal office. The undistinguished brick and flint exterior conceals a famous architect, and an outstanding, devotional interior. Cachemaille Day's only major work in Suffolk maintains an Anglo-catholic presence in the largely non-conformist west side of town. Around it, the Victorian terraces and 1930s semis are anonymously urban; but St Thomas has a curious Scandanavian edge to its otherwise Suffolk perpendicular shape. One often finds this hint in the late 1930s. The Second World War seems to have brought it to an end.
The interior is a surprise. It is of great character and beauty. The white vaulted ceiling, the narrow lancet lights above the long altar, the wide aisles with their Stations of the Cross, all conspire to create a sense of being part of a larger building, perhaps in the crypt of a great cathedral. The week after my first visit I was at Sacré-Cœur in Paris, and instantly recognised that this church would be quite at home as one of the underground chapels there.

St Thomas is, of course, quite different in style to its almost exact contemporary across town, All Hallows. There, Cautley used Art Deco to fit a similarly inspired version of Suffolk Perpendicular. Like All Hallows, St Thomas contains one medieval survival; this is the bell from the disused church at Knettishall, up on the Norfolk border.

But perhaps Art Deco was already old, and this was the coming thing. Think of the contemporary Norwich City Hall, in a quite unashamedly Scandinavian style. St Thomas' clean lines and open spaces speak of this, and perhaps a teensiest hint of the Romanesque was also on Cachemaille Day's agenda. All in all the parish should be extremely proud of this gorgeous little jewel.

Simon Knott, September 2015

looking east sanctuary looking west
north arcade sanctuary south aisle altar for many years churchwarden and Sunday School superintendent

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