||It is a historical curiosity that this
little town maintains two Anglican parish churches - in
fact three, if you include Melton St Andrew.
Woodbridge St John is
a substantial boxy early Victorian church set at the top
of its wide churchyard in the 19th century part of the
town centre, about 300 yards from the medieval parish
church of St Mary, and around
the corner from the Catholic church of St Thomas of
Spireless St John from the south. Note the
gallery stairs in the window.
||When I first visited, I
thought its tower a curious one, and quite out of
proportion (and out of shape) against the bold
south wall of the nave. This was explained by the
fact that it once had an octagonal spire, which
became unsafe, and was taken down in
1981.However, we will return to this spire in a
The architect was
John Clark, most famous for the grand Italianate
Ipswich Custom House, which he had designed 20
years earlier. The cost was £3000, about
£600,000 in today's money.
As it was
before 1981, from the north-east. (Photo lent by Parish website).
1840s St John is an exercise in
Early English; if not over-exciting, it is
confident and articulate. It is in Woolpit brick,
like its near-contemporary namesake at Bury St
The west end is a modern
addition, containing offices, toilets and the
like. It is all done rather well.
One might think that there would be
little use for such a large Victorian church in such a
small town, particularly when nearby St Mary is so vast.
Nothing could be further from the
truth. St John has reinvented itself in a tremendously
exciting way, the interior completely refurbished for
modern evangelical worship.
|The old pews have been
removed, and replaced with modern chairs. All the
Victorian clutter of the apse-like sanctuary has been cleared, and the superb lancet
glasses of saints look down on a bright, open
The entire nave and sanctuary have been carpetted, and the walls and
roof painted in an exciting manner.
This is all terribly good, and
one has a sense of a lively, modern worshipping
None of this has destroyed the
essential character of the building; rather, a
transition to a space serving new liturgical
needs has been managed in a creative, thoughtful
and interesting manner.
Looking around the porch, I was
struck by how much goes on here, with activities
as diverse as Alpha, counselling, house groups, a
link-up group for women, a revival youth
congregation, and something called Freefall, a
cafe subculture with a video screen, bar, and DJ
for teenagers. This church takes its evangelising
looking west, towards the gallery.
east, into the apse-like sanctuary. Note the
concealed loudspeakers at rood loft height.
development was that the tower has since been
rebuilt. This might seem unlikely, especially
given the clear evangelical outreach priorities
of the parish, but the money was offered as a
legacy and would not have been available for
the old days, looking west, and left: In the old
days, looking east.
left: more recent days, before removal of the
pews and organ. These photos were lent by the
excellent Parish website.
The donor concerned felt, quite
rightly, that an essential part of the Woodbridge
townscape was lost when the original spire came
The replacement tower is a bit
different to the original one, because the
building clearly isn't capable of supporting a
stone or brick spire. Instead, a wooden and lead
spire like that at Hadleigh or Wickham
Market was felt more
appropriate. You can see images of what the
church looks like now by clicking on the
St John is testimony to what a
determined parish can achieve, and they are to be
further congratulated for the fact that this
church is open for prayer everyday.
future. Architects's drawing of the planned
replacement spire, as it would appear from the
Woodbridge, is in the centre of this pretty town,
on the A12 east of Ipswich. it is open daily from
9.30am to 4pm.
also visit the St John website, which is
excellent, giving a good picture of the busy life
of this parish.