I'm prepared to accept
that Woodbridge is not the poshest town in
Suffolk, and that the citizens of Southwold, Framlingham and Aldeburgh are up in
arms at the very suggestion. But it certainly feels
like it. In Lost Continent, Bill Bryson
memorably describes the shop owners in a resort town in
the hills of Colorado watching him suspiciously as he
browsed in their shops, just in case he 'decided to do a
poo in the corner'. That's what Woodbridge is like, or so
it seems to me.
mouth. St Thomas of Canterbury makes its presence
town, you chat with the shopkeeper - in Saxmundham, they may even make you a cup of tea,
they're so pleased to see you - but here there's
a cold stare and pursed lips. Still, the houses
are beautiful, and the streets tree-lined, so you
pays yer money and you takes yer choice.
There is more than
one Woodbridge. There is the Woodbridge of the
mind, which I equate roughly with the shops of
the Thoroughfare. There is the picture postcard
Woodbridge of the Market Hill and St Mary, the glorious medieval parish church.
There are the
excellent pubs (some of Suffolk's best) and the
relatively democratic quayside area.
Woodbridge is the Victorian one, to the north
east of the town centre.
Here, as well as
the fascinating Victorian Anglican church of St John, we find Woodbridge's Catholic
presence, the neo-Classical St Thomas of
St John's Road is
a bold statement in domestic Classical, which is
itself unusual in East Anglia. The gentle rise
peaks with two-and-a-half-storey Georgian town
houses, St Thomas of Canterbury set among them,
and two storey equivalents lending scale on
It is all very
impressive. In urban terms, there is nothing like
this in Ipswich. Perhaps Bury has something
similar to offer.
However, like so much
neo-Classical architecture, this church is all mouth and
no trousers. Behind the immense, impressive frontage is a
tiny church, as wide as it is deep. Why?
Thomas of Canterbury is dated quite exactly 1850
on its pediment. This was the time of the
restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England,
of Cardinal Wiseman making his bold statement from
without the Flaminian Gate; it was important
for the Catholic Church to express its presence.
Ten years either
side, and it might have been quite different.
You step through
the doors into a vestibule, and beyond the inner
doors is a small, square space. The fine altar is
surmounted by a grand baldachino, the whole
decked out in wedding-cake-white and topped with
the Papal crest.
The simple benches
are in light pine, the statues in terracotta.
Everything is pleasingly harmonious. You just
can't help feeling a little disappointed that it
isn't all a bit, well, grander.
One point to
ponder: the font of this church appears to be
medieval, in a familiar East Anglian design.
Where did it come from?
Was it bought up
from a medieval church undergoing restoration in
the late 19th century? Was it more recently
acquired from a redundant Anglican church?
perhaps one in the parish? Debach? I shall endeavour to find out.
St Thomas of
Canterbury has a huge Parish, with an outstation
church of St Clare, Framlingham. Catholic priests in East Anglia must
get a fair few miles under their belts every
trousers. Note that font on the far left, though.
Thomas of Canterbury is in Woodbridge town centre, just
off the A12 to the east of Ipswich. I found it open.