Church of St Mary-At-Stoke
The Railway Church
At last we add the Church of St Mary-at-Stoke to this website. Its absence was due to the fact that we couldn't find much lettering on the exterior of the church. On visiting during Heritage Open Days in 2014 we met John Barbrook, who was acting as guide and historian and he contributes to this page. Our thanks to John.

'A lifetime – but long departed – member of our congregation at St Mary’s was a man called Arnold Stiff...
[who] lived in a Waterworks house in Park Road next to the water tower/reservoir where he was Chief Maintenance Engineer and Pumping Superintendent. Amongst his many attributes were superb engineering skills. As a member of the Ipswich Model Engineering Society, one of his masterpieces was a working scale model of a locomotive which was exhibited in several of their exhibitions held in St Matthews Baths Hall. He named the loco Olive after his wife. Interestingly, he also presented to St Mary’s a superb copy of the GER armorial, now fixed to the north wall of the old aisle.... [it is] believed to be a plaster cast from the original (wherever that might now be) but he painted it in its original colours.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: GER armorialPhotograph courtesy John Barbrook
'St Mary’s was – as you are probably aware – always known as The Railway Church. That is why we have got [the armorial].  I have a programme of a sort of Industrial Sunday service which was held annually until the 1970s – with all sorts of engineered items loaned for display, including model walking dragline, milling equipment, mini tractor, plough, and even a load of items I borrowed from Cranes. The programme had a steam loco picture on the front cover. John Barbrook.'
The armorial is encircled by the Order of the Garter with a George Cross at the centre.
[UPDATE 17.4.2018: 'I refer to the Great Eastern Railway crest on your website. Where you say that it has the George Cross at its centre, you are not strictly correct. It’s actually the lesser coat of arms of London and surrounding it are some of the places that the Great Eastern Railway served (or in one case would have liked to have served). You should be able to identify the Ipswich coat of arms. Then going clockwise, the arms are of:
Norwich (the castle should be painted silver, not gold);
Northampton (I believe Great Eastern Railway trains never ran as far as here and that passengers would always have had to change onto the London and North Western Railway at Peterborough East);
And back around to Ipswich.
Yours faithfully, Peter Fletcher.' Many thanks to Peter for this enlightening dissection of the armorial.]

'The parish church of St Mary occupies a site on a dramatic bluff overlooking the river, across which it faces St Peter, a couple of hundred metres away. St Mary-at Stoke-is the only one of the twelve medieval town centre churches to stand south of the River Orwell. As recently as 1801, the population of the parish was just 385. The impact of [the railways] coming upon a town like Ipswich, which was already a burgeoning industrial port, should not be underestimated. By 1871, the population of the parish had grown to more than 3,000, a ten-fold increase in less than a lifetime, unmatched almost anywhere else in East Anglia. This development needs to be borne in mind when exploring St Mary at Stoke parish church. From the south, you see a large, blockish Victorian building with flushwork on the porch and transept, a little characterless otherwise. The focus is all to the south, the graveyard dropping away quickly on the other three sides, as if reminding us of the long tradition here of independence from Ipswich over the water. However, walking around to east or west you discover that behind it there is another church, medieval this time and rural in feel. The tower is at the west end of the older church, and the two are joined as if non-identical Siamese twins. When you go in, there is again the impression of two churches joined together, the near one Victorian and wide, the far one narrower and older.' [Selected notes from Simon's Suffolk Churches; see Links.]

See also our pages about Stoke Hall and its tunnels, including the Hall's relationship to the church, and the Eastern Union Railway (EUR) about the arrival of the railway in Over Stoke and the first station there.

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