At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Francis, Ipswich

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk




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like an Italian hill town


chancel windows

entry to the chapel of the Holy Cross: very 1950s

aumbry and sanctuary lamp

icons and candles

font: a period piece


Ipswich St Luke: interesting and useful

St Francis, built in 1957, is probably the most interesting of the post-war Anglican churches in Suffolk. Perhaps that isn't saying very much, and the architecture here is not in any sense modernist; but this is an interesting church for several reasons. Although built in brick and with plain glass, there is a conscious attempt to echo the language of late-medieval Suffolk Perpendicular, the eye being drawn up to the highest points by the lines. Perhaps because of this, the campanile fits it surprisingly well. The body of the church is reminiscent of the near-contemporary St Mary's Catholic church across town. Flint panels may have been intended to give a further hint of the vernacular, but they are also rather jolly in a Festival of Britain kind of way, retaining that confidence which you found in the New Towns before that experiment went awry.

The architect of St Francis was Basil Hatcher; more famous, unfortunately, for his dull essay in architectural conservatism a few miles away at Chelmondiston. At the time St Francis was built, many of the new buildings in Ipswich were going up under the guiding hand and eye of the Johns, Slater Howard practice, whose work has a jauntiness which contributes strongly to the modern feel of the Borough. Castle Hill United Reformed church, built the same year as St Francis, is a good example of their work. Similarly, Hatcher seems to have been infected by the spirit of the age, but his work is more restrained, and with more gravitas. And, fifty years on, St Francis still looks fine; it is in good condition, and is well suited to its modern usage. What more could you ask of any kind of building?

The bell in the campanile came from the ruined church of Stanton St John. A hall runs at right-angles to the nave, giving it an integrity with the front courtyard and the shopping centre across the road. It is almost as if we were in some Italian hill town with the church on a corner of the old forum, although the illusion is hard to maintain with Hawthorn Drive cutting across the middle.

looking east chapel of the Holy Cross looking west, including the South West Ipswich Team Ministry banner

Internally, the fixtures and fittings are all still entirely original, another good reason to visit. Just as Ipswich All Hallows is a perfect example of a 1930s church, here we step back into the 1950s, into one of the first fruits of the Festival of Britain.

The nave is light and airy, the sober green of the windowless east wall textured by the light from the arrays of flanking lancets. There is a quiet, devotional feel, a traditional High Church Anglicanism translated into modern idiom. The font in particular is a real period piece.

Off of the north side of the nave is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where the Blessed Sacrament isreserved among icons and candles; a blessing to find in the middle of this busy, challenging estate.

The dedication of the Parish is, more exactly, St Francis and St Clare. The church of St Clare was located down at the southern end of the parish in Belmont Road, but was abandoned after being destroyed by fire in the late 1990s. However, St Francis is an imposing church at the centre of its community; and rightly so, because in terms of population this is the biggest parish in Suffolk.

St Francis' Church, Hawthorn Drive, Ipswich is located on the Chantry estate in south-west Ipswich. A number 13 bus from the town centre stops outside. It is often open during the day.

St Clare and St Francis

Simon Knott, January 2007

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