e-mail: simon@suffolkchurches.co.uk

St Bartholomew, Ipswich


Heaven among the vegetable plots, Ipswich.

  St Bartholomew's church is unusual for several reasons, which are all, to varying degrees, apparent to the casual observer. Firstly, its setting. It stands with Victorian terraced houses all around. Apart from a small methodist church a block away, there are no other significant buildings. It is a very domestic setting that lends the church a high degree of grandeur.

This is Rose Hill, a Victorian railway suburb. In fact, Derby Road railway station lies just 100m away up Rose Hill Road.

The church is slightly later in date than many of the houses, consecrated in 1895 and completed in 1907. The architect was Charles Spooner, who seems to have had an Italian hilltop village in mind, rather than anything from this side of the Alps.

The great east window of this fine building overlooks vegetable plots and garden sheds, just as he intended it should.

The red-brick exterior was planned to be offset by a tower, but this was never built. You can see where it would have been, to the north west. A lawn is there now.

  We enter through the west door and porch, much less claustrophobic since the heavy padded doors were removed in 1996, and we step into an interior which is now quite unlike any other Suffolk church.

For St Bart's, as it is universally known, is a great centre of the Anglo-catholic movement, a purpose for which it was built and a tradition it has rigorously maintained.

This great space is alive with colour and light. Altars and shrines are all around, but there is no sense of clutter, partly because of the apparent squareness of the nave, but mainly because one's eyes are drawn eastward to the sanctuary and rose window.

The hanging behind the altar, by Morris and co., lifts ones eyes into the gloom of the roof space, which is then shot through with light from the rose. The simplicity of the rows of chairs, and the austere beauty of the high arcades, contribute to an experience unique in Suffolk.

In response to the changes of the Second Vatican Council (a phrase rarely used of any Suffolk Anglican church!) a new altar sits in the nave, but still the great high altar with its six silver candlesticks remains, a triumphant symbol of the heady days of the Catholic revival.

A cool little chapel, designed by Munro Cautley, sits beside the sanctuary. It is probably his most successful work, although the new glass doors to the west of it flatter it greatly. And all around, everything is devotional and striking. In the 1920s, many Anglican churches were like this, especially in urban areas, but that is all now finished with. St Bart's now sits high and dry.


Lively, devotional, inspirational. Spooner's interior.


The confessional at St Bartholomew. To the left, the peoples' side... and to the right, the priest's. A notice says that plans are afoot to replace it with something more appropriate.

It was hurt by the decision of the Anglican Church to distance itself from the wider Catholic Church in 1992, and some of its parishoners left to be received into the Catholic Church. But, along with St Mary at the Elms, St Bart's survives to maintain an Anglo-catholic presence in the town. Not surprisingly, it is a Forward in Faith church.

St Bart's is but a quarter of a mile from my home, and I often drop in here. On a recent visit, I was pleased to bump into the parish priest, Father John Burrows.

The new altar, with the high altar beyond.

Not surprisingly, he is a little defensive of St Bart's position, and at first misinterpreted my enquiry about changes at St Bart's since the events of the early 1990s. It had struck me that the word 'Mass' wasn't used quite so defiantly outside the church to name services - certainly not as defiantly as it is at Lakenheath and Mendlesham, for instance.

But Father John said that this was not so. He still attracts congregations of about a hundred, and points out that many of them are locals; in the church magazine, he says "people do not come to St Bart's because they are Anglo-catholic; they are Anglo-catholic because they come to St Bart's".


Another view of the high altar, and the William Morris hanging; this time, from the Lady chapel.

St Bartholomew's church, Newton Road, Ipswich
, is usually open during the day. The parish priest (presbytery beside the church) is always happy to open up. Bus number 5 from the town centre stops in nearby Foxhall Road.


St Bartholomew stands, with his flencing knife, above the west doors.