St Mary Le Tower Church House

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Mary-Le-Tower Ogilby mapCourtesy Stephen Govier, Suffolk historian
The engraving above is from John Ogilby's map of Ipswich, 1674.

Oak Lane runs down the side of Oak House in Northgate Street. Further down, just before the lane dog-legs around the churchyard is 'a nice timber-framed and plastered house, the exterior Georgianized with sash windows and on the churchyard side an oriel window' (Bettley- Suffolk: East Pevsner, see Reading List). The entrance on Oak Lane is lettered:
'Prior Memorial
St Mary leTower Church House'
in gothic red and black characters painted above the door.
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Holy Trinity Priory was founded in about 1177 and for 360 years its black-habited Augustinian secular canons served the Tower church and parish. There was a church in this situation in 1200, when the Borough of Ipswich was declared in the churchyard by the granting of a charter by King John. When the Diocese of Norwich restored the church in the mid-nineteenth century, they decided on a complete rebuild in stone on the same site. The Diocesan Architect R.M. Phipson was chosen for the job, and the old church was effectively demolished in the 1860s, and a new one built in its place. The old foundations were used, with an extension towards Northgate Street, which is why the northern part of the churchyard is so severely cut off – you can see the end wall in the image above. The churchyard was the traditional place for the townspeople to meet and where Portmen and Aldermen were elected. The church is the burial place of merchant and philanthropist William Smart.

St Mary Le Tower Church House is (Listed Grade II):
"An L shaped timber-framed and plastered building, probably of C16 or C17 origin, with mainly C18 features. 2 storeys and attics. 3 window range on Oak Lane and 4 window range on Tower Church yard, double-hung sashes
with glazing bars, in flush cased frames. The centre part breaks forward slightly and rises above the eaves line with a pedimented dormer with side scrolls and a 3-light window. A central doorway with a 6-panel door with the upper panels glazed has an open pediment on enriched console brackets and an architrave ornamented with egg and dart moulding. The Churchyard frontage has a 3-light oriel bay window on the first storey, above a C2O doorway. Roof tiled, with a modillion eaves cornice on both fronts.
St Mary Le Tower Church House forms a group with the Church, No 7 (Pykenham) and the garden wall to no 9 Northgate Street."

See also Oak House at the other end of Oak Lane. A solitary, moved boundary marker exists in the churchyard. Click for more about Boundary markers.

Move up to the end of Oak Lane, where it turns ninety degrees to the left around the churchyard and a wrought iron gate to the right enables a look at the rear of Church House:
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The Northgate Street
neighbour (the timbered back of number 9) mentioned in our Northgate page, visible over the red brick wall and rather overpowered by the next building, the red-painted Ipswich & Suffolk Club is of interest.
The Grade II Listing text reads: "A late mediaeval timber-framed house, probably C15-C16, with a C18 red brick front block. The interior was restored in the early C20. 3 storeys and cellars. 3 window range, double-hung sashes with glazing bars, in plain reveals, with gauged brick flat arches. A stucco band runs at the 1st storey window sill level. There is a stone plinth. A 6-panel door with a segmental fanlight with glazing bars has stuccoed reveals with panelled pilasters and double console brackets. Roof tiled, with a modillion eaves cornice. A late mediaeval timber-framed wing extends at the rear with exposed framing, with brick nogging on the ground storey and with a jettied upper storey on exposed joists. The interior has exposed joists and the ceiling joists in one room have a series of carpenters marks. There are 2 original windows with ogee moulded mullions, and tracery.
All the buildings in Northgate Street except Garden Wall to No 9 form a group with No 43 (Great White Horse Hotel) Tavern Street, No 2 Great Colman Street and part of Nos 2 to 12 (even) St Margaret's Plain."

The church itself, so far missing from this page, features a wall of square-cut flint blocks (flushwork) and, beside the east window, a remarkable statue in a large gothic niche. One might be tempted to think that this fine statue is placed as an eye-catcher from Oak Lane. However, it is positioned to the left of the dog-leg in the lane and cannot be seen from there. Another figure in another niche is round the corner. "Away to the east, Richard Pfeiffer produced St John the Evangelist and St Mary of Magdala on the end of the chancel". This is the new extension towards Northgate which was built by Diocesan Architect R.M. Phipson in the 1860s as part of his virtual rebuild from scratch of St Mary-Le-Tower (apart from the original foundations) to create a quintessential Victorian church. The only parts of the medieval church retained were a doorway, the nave arcades, and a few fixtures and fittings. [Information from Simon's Suffolk Churches, see Links]
Unfortunately, we're unaware of any more lettering on the exterior of the Church of St Mary-Le-Tower.

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See our page on Public clocks in Ipswich for a 2018 view of the tower and its clock(s).

Interior of St Mary Le Tower

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Above: Two carved features by Henry Ringham (see Ringham Road), one at each end of the Corporation (front) pews of the church. They contribute two of the three elements of the Town Coat of Arms: the lion holding the ship and Neptune's horse. The  third element is to be found nearby (below) on the complicated wrought ironwork holder for the Civic Sword – on the other side of the church is a second complex struvcture to hold the Civic Mace. The crest is the central feature of the Coat of Arms: the lion rampant and the three ship's prows. Put all three elements together and this surely is the Civic Church of Ipswich. The carved wooden screen (probably by Henry Ringham) which gives access to the very decorative chapel on the south-east of the church shows the 'ihs' ('IHC', the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus IHCOYC) seen at the Church of St Peter with the date '1906' below.
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See the 1778 map of the area on our Bethesda page.

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