At the sign of the Barking lion...

United Reformed Church, Stowmarket

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Stowmarket URC: click to enlarge

Stowmarket is a good town, a proper market town with rather more to it than its size might suggest, not least because of its relative remoteness. People elsewhere in Suffolk joke about NFS, meaning Normal for Stowmarket, but this is very unfair. It is most fortunate that Stowmarket is different to other places.

The town became a footnote in history on the afternoon of the 11th of August 1871, when a great explosion in a gun-cotton factory killed dozens of people and caused considerable damage. But it was another explosion, some seventy years later, which led to the construction of one of East Anglia's most striking 20th century churches. At about noon on the 31st of January 1941, a German bomber dumped its load along the length of Ipswich Street, and destroyed the 19th century Congregational chapel. Remarkably, given the damage, only one person was killed. You can see photographs of the former church, and some of the damage, on the Stowmarket History site.

War reparations money was put to good use. In 1955, the architect AD Cooke completed this imposing, lively replacement, with its bold assymetric tower and jolly Festival of Britain decorations. It is a great adornment to the town, which has three interesting churches along its relatively short main street. They make the town worth a visit on their own. Come on a Saturday morning, when Ipswich Street is busy with market traders, and all rural mid-Suffolk comes for a day out, for here still survives something of the Last of England.

Stowmarket URC Stowmarket URC Stowmarket URC Stowmarket URC

Postscript, July 2009: I am horrified to learn that this excellent building has been scheduled for demolition via a compulsory purchase order. It appears that the local council are embarrassed by Stowmarket's main shopping street not being the identikit equivalent of every other High Street in the land, and so they want to replace the west side of Ipswich Street with a new shopping centre, which would be home to all the usual shady suspects. And for this, Stowmarket United Reformed Church must go. The community have been offered 'another building elsewhere in the town'.

Have we really learned nothing in the last fifty years? Must our country towns still continue to fall prey to the hooligans and vandals of multi-national retail companies, and their political cronies and toadies on our District and County Councils? We should be ashamed of all of them.

Simon Knott, 2008, updated 2009

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