At the sign of the Barking lion...

Shepherd Drive Baptist Church, Ipswich

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Shepherd Drive Baptist Church, Ipswich: functional yet handsome Farm Vernacular

Shepherd Drive church Shepherd Drive church 

    This functional yet handsome building sits at a busy junction out on the south-western edge of the Borough of Ipswich, actually just over the boundary in Babergh District. This wholly artificial settlement goes by the name of Pinewood, which sounds comfortably rustic, although almost everything here was built in the 1990s. The only older buildings are Belstead House, parts of which are late medieval, which sits at the bottom of the lane, and this church's neighbour, the architecturally influential Sprites Schools by Johns, Slater Haward of 1960, the only post-war school in Suffolk to make it into Pevsner's Buildings of England.

Such an honour is unlikely to befall Shepherd Drive Baptist Church, but it is a fitting and purposeful structure in a vaguely Farm Vernacular style, and thus an adornment to what might otherwise be dreary suburbia, apart from the schools. Like many of its neighbours, it was built in the mid-1990s, and is a good example of the trend over the last few decades for non-conformist church communities to dispense with lucrative inner-city sites and start afresh on cheaper land with an often larger building.

The community here seems to have undergone a metamorphosis during its short life. At first, they were a fairly militant lot, members of the hardline Grace Baptist movement. I am told that Ian Paisey, the fundamentalist firebrand from the north of Ireland who would go on to be First Minister of the Northern Irish Assembly, preached here, and it was said locally that the then-minister had vetoed the formation of a Churches Together in South-West Ipswich group because he refused to countenance the involvement of Catholics. Whether or not this is true I do not know, but things appear to have moved on. The church seems to have a much more welcoming profile in the local community, and I can't help noticing that they have dropped the word Baptist from their new sign. There's a story there, I'm sure.


Simon Knott, May 2008



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