The Church of St Helen and its lost Rectory
A late addition to our pages of churches, this addition resulted from
researches into vicarages and rectories. It sprung initially from the
slightly mysterious 'Vicarage'
lettering in Woodbridge Road, thence to the Churches of St
Michael and to St Helen with its Rectory. The last of these appears
on a 1902 map on our Palmerston
The Rectory of St Helen
In fact, the Rectory of St Helen comes as something of a
surprise to many Ipswich residents. They know the church location
(well, some of them) and the entrance to St Helen's Primary School on
Woodbridge Road, across the road from the jaws of the Lacey Street
junction (see the 2020 photograph below). They may also know the
narrow, sloping St Helens Church Lane
, the entrance indicated by the metal barriers. The
large St Helen's Nursery & Primary School sits down the hill from
the main gates with its three rooftop features in copper, with its
A large Georgian (or Georgian-style) Rectory once stood a short
distance back from the pavement of Woodbridge Road beside the entrance
to the lane, initially having a long, sloping rear garden possibly
the perimeter of the graveyard of the Church of St Helen. In
all the books of old photographs of Ipswich and various websites, we
don't recall ever having seen a picture of the Rectory.
However (and praise be the World Wide Web, people), in March 2020,
Christine Southgate discovered this website – as other discerning
people have before – and sent this:
'Hello, I was looking at your page today, wondering if there
might be any maps which contain my old home. My father was rector
of St. Helen’s Church, Ipswich, on St Helen’s Street, and we lived in
the rectory at the other end of St Helen’s Church Lane; 118 Woodbridge
Road. We moved out in 1973, and the house, which was in pretty
poor repair, was left empty. Eventually it was demolished and St
Helen’s School, which had been built between the church and the
rectory, acquired the land and turned it into their main entrance on
I hope this information is of some interest to you...
Thank you so much for your speedy reply and the link to the Palmerston
Road page. There have been times when I have wondered if St
Helen’s Rectory was a figment of my imagination, since several searches
of the internet have revealed NOTHING, so it’s quite exciting to see it
on a map. The house itself was an ugly, grey-brick Georgian
affair with both ground-floor front windows bricked up. It had a
strange annex which almost looked like an old, rendered cottage
stitched onto the side. We thought it must have been the
servants’ quarters and my father believed it was older than the rest of
the house, but surely the Georgian part couldn’t have been added
later? It was always quite a mystery. I have some old
photos which my father took when he first visited the parish with a
view to becoming incumbent, and if I ever should find them, I’ll send
you a copy. In the meantime, I have found the following photo of
my father’s pride-and-joy, his Bond three-wheeler, parked in front of
the rectory. There isn’t much to see really, but at the moment, it’s
the best I can do. Regards, Christine Southgate.'
courtesy Christine Southgate
Many thanks to Christine for the original enquiry and the
photograph – redolent of a period when three-wheelers were relatively
common on our roads. Bond Minicar was a series of
economical three-wheeled microcars derived from a prototype built by
Lawrence 'Lawrie' Bond, an engineer from Preston, which were
manufactured between 1949 and 1966 by the
British car manufacturer Sharp's Commercials Ltd (the company was
renamed Bond Cars Limited in 1964) in Preston, Lancashire. They
were based on motorcycle units, and often sounded like it, so were
inexpensive to run, tax and insure.
However, from the little that we can see of it the building in the
above photograph, it reminds us of old views of Borley Rectory in Essex
('The Most Haunted House in England’), which was built in 1862.
[UPDATE: 2.4.2010: Christine Southgate continues –
'The building had certainly been demolished by 1984. My father, Charles
James Holdway, was incumbent from March 1964 to March/April 1973.
We had moved there from a lovely Victorian vicarage in Penzance; so
exchanging it for a dour, ill appointed rectory amid all the strange
orange street lights and city noise was quite a culture shock for us
all. After we moved away, the house was left standing for several
years. My sister, who still lives in Suffolk, managed to get inside
despite the “Danger! Keep out!” signs, and have a look around in 1975
(she thinks), but the house can’t have lasted much longer. I can
remember my father having to lift some floor boards for some reason and
discovering that the brick foundations were bulging and in danger of
collapse in places. After consulting my sister, she has told me that
the incumbent who followed Dad was housed in the house on the corner of
Grove Lane and Oxford Road. The church is now part of a group ministry,
I have been searching through my old photos (which of course, has been
a major nostalgia-fest) and have come up with this one of the rear of
the house taken before we moved in. The man in the garden was one of
the two church wardens who undertook to re-decorate parts of the house
before we moved in. You can just make out the rendered “annex” with its
door which opened onto the terrace, on the extreme left of the photo,
and St Helen’s School is reflected in the glass of the French window on
the right. I once put my foot through the other window, trying to
unstick is so that I could get indoors.'
courtesy Christine Southgate
Below: a photograph taken on the same day by Rev. Holdway
showing most of the rear elevation of the Rectory, including the
'cottage annex' to the left which was linked to the main house.
The two Churchwardens stand on the terrace.
Christine adds: 'There were two doors from the main house into
the “annex”; one upstairs and one downstairs which opened into a
corridor floored with thick terracotta pavement tiles. This led
to the kitchen and our “Den” as we called it with it’s french door onto
the terrace beside the back door at the end of the corridor. I
have just remembered that, on the corridor wall there was a “hang” of
four or five service bells which, by then, were disconnected from the
white porcelain “bell handles” still in existence beside the fireplaces
in the sitting room and study. I can’t remember if there were any
upstairs in the main bedrooms.' Thanks again to Christine for being the
catalyst to establish this page for the Church of St Helen and its
slightly mysterious rectory.
The church and its Rectory are shown on Edward
White's 1867 map in blue (above). The garden behind the rectory has
a southern boundary which follows the line of the rear gardens (and
back lane) of St Helens Terrace. The
quadrilateral-shaped land between the garden and the churchyard could
have been a meadow, although it may once have been part of the
churchyard. One can imagine the Rector, having written his sermon,
walking out of the back door, down the sloping garden path, through the
meadow and gate into the graveyard and into the church vestry. However,
it is not clear from the 1867 map what the land ownership was – the
solid lines suggest firm boundaries at this date. The 1884 map (below)
suggests that there are extensive gardens and trees between the Rectory
and St Helen's Lodge on St Helens Street. The 1907 postcard
showing St Helen's Lodge from the gardens above it, looking towards Alexandra Park (land purchased from the
Byles family of Hill House in 1903 by the Ipswich Corporation to form a
public park, opened the following year). The boundaries seem less
demarcated on the later map, apart from the north-south division
between this open land and the gardens to the rear of the terraced
housing now built on the west side of Palmerston Road. The label 'Grave
Yard' suggests that it had always been limited to the area shown to the
north of the church.
Below: the rather fine St Helen's Lodge which still stands at
the bottom of Jefferies Road (which at this time had yet to be built on
By the 1969 map 'St Helen's Junior & Infants School'
(built by V.A. Marriott) in 1913)
occupies a large east-west footprint, almost reaching the back gardens
on the west side of Jefferies Road (see Street
name derivations). 'St Helen's Rectory' is labelled
to the north of the school, so presumably access to the church was via
St Helens Church Lane. The Victorian Wells Street (its name indicating
springs and wells of fresh water common in
Ipswich) was demolished in the 1950s and eventually the flats of Wells
Close were erected. The west wall St Helen Church forms
the boundary of St Helens Church Lane. The T-shaped
building across the playground from the school exists today making for
quite a crowded school campus.
The Church of St Helen
The Church of St Helen is probably late 11th or early 12th
century in origin, and was built outside the medieval Ipswich ramparts.
The medieval church comprised a short, unaisled nave with a chancel,
south porch and small west tower. Of this structure only the south
porch and south nave wall survive. The tower was built in the early
12th century and early engravings show it with an embattled parapet and
a small spike, the latter removed before the early 19th century. The
nave had large, perpendicular windows, and the chancel was apparently
brick, with square-headed windows; it was probably built in the 16th
The 1841 view of the church by Henry Davy (above) shows rather a
different Church of St Helen than that
seen today; a fairly typical parish church. Clearly, demand for further
accomodation of a growing
congregation resulted in the demolition of the original tower in 1874-5
to extend the nave westwards right up to St Helens Church Lane. The
south porch and transept are recognisable in the 21st century, however
the 17th century timber-framed building (117 St Helens Street) which
fits snuggly into the angle at the east end is not shown here (see
photograph below) – an example of artistic licence.
The church was altered and enlarged in phases in the 19th century. The
chancel was rebuilt, again in brick, before 1828. North and south
transepts were added in 1837, when the medieval chancel arch was
removed. This work was all demolished in 1848-9, when the present
chancel, transepts and nave north wall were built, making the whole
church much wider. The medieval tower was repaired in 1856, and its top
stage and parapet were removed in 1871. In 1874-5, the tower was
demolished and the nave extended westwards to the line of its former
west wall. The present south-west tower was also built at this time.
The church was restored in 1926. It was reordered and subdivided
internally in the 1980s so that the altar and nave are turned through
90 degrees within the body of the church. There a few internal features
indicating its medieval origins, but there is a suprisingly large
may have been intended to be an organ gallery. [Information from the Historic England
Grade II Listing text]
Above: a view of the church from St Helens Street with St Helens
Church Lane at the left, its boundary delineated by the low churchyard
wall and the west wall; due to reshaping of the church here, there is
no west door, which would have been customary. Of the
only the south porch and the south nave wall remain; the rest is
Victorian or later.
Above left: the octagonal upper tower and stumpy spire and south
gate-posts (with fleur-de-lys finials and thin metal arch carrying an
electric light) and the south door. There is quite a large sundial
above the porch, also a lettered foundation stone and memorial tablet –
soon to be added here.
Above right: the east end of the church and south transept with another
gateway onto the street. The timber-framed cross-wing of the building
at 117 St Helens Street, whose jettied
gable fronts the street and its entrance porch faces the southern
churchyard, fits snugly into the
right-angle formed by the transept and chancel end of the church.
The gothic entrance door of the house suggests that this might have
been an original rectory for the church; in fact, we had assumed this
until the lost Rectory on Woodbridge Road was noted on the 1902 map (it
turns out that the arched front door of no. 117 is a modern addition).
Attached to numbers 117/119 are two other small C17 houses, numbers 121
and 123, all three are Listed Grade II and 17th century in origin.
Lettering on the exterior
'HERE LYETH THE
BODY OF LIDEA THE
DAVGHTER OF ROBERT
RICHMOND AND MAR
GERET HIS WIFE WHO
DECEASED THE 19 OF
This memorial tablet is
built into the medieval flushwork south wall with a red tile 'lintel'.
The spelling of the names 'Lidea' and 'Margeret' are intriguing; the
final line being almost unreadable – we think that the word 'January'
is deliberately abbreviated, presumably by the carver.
By the small door at the foot of the 'new' tower to the west of
the church is a foundation stone commemorating its building:
'THIS STONE WAS LAID BY
W. HORNE M.A. RECTOR
M.D. MAYOR OF IPSWICH
Dr Barrington Chevallier was
Mayor of Ipswich 1873-1875.
John Robert Jefferies (1840-1900)
who was an apprentice, son-in-law and later partner of the Ransomes in
the nearby huge Orwell Engineering Works on the east bank of the Wet
Dock: Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies. John Jefferies lived up the road
at St Helen's Lodge (see the 1907 postcard above) – today its garden is
bounded by Jefferies Road. It is possible that J. R. Jefferies was a
member of the St Helen congregation, although a wicked part of us would
place him more at St Mary-Le-Tower.
Next to the foundation stone is St Helens Church Lane and the
view up the lane (below) shows west walls of the tower and nave right
up agains the lane. One can also observe the rather 'pieced together'
nature of the 1874-5 rebuild. In the distance is part of St Helen's
The south porch
Here we can see definite traces of the medieval church, not
least by its weathering. The angels in the spandrels above the arch,
the flowers arranged around the arch and particularly in the degraded
niche above (as shown in the close-up) which once had something akin to
fan tracery in the upper part. At the apex of the porch a rather more
recent sundial, missing its gnomon (shadow-caster), has been mounted.
Interestingly, the Roman numerals inscribed around their circle
don't quite fit on this panel at the bottom.
Below: the guardians on either side of the church entrance – two
crowned lion-like mythical beasts.
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Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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