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 Road page.

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 turquoise verdigris.

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 reaching to 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Rectory 22020 composite image
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 Woodbridge Road.
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
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Rectory 1Image 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 believe.
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.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Rectory 3
Images 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Rectory 3a
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.

Comparative maps
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church map 18671867 map
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church map 18841884 map

St Helen's Lodge
Below: the rather fine St Helen's Lodge still stands at the bottom of Jefferies Road (which at this time had yet to be built on the gardens).

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Lodge postcard 19071907 view
Nos 145 to 149 St Helens Street is Listed Grade II:-
‘An C18 brick fronted house faced in roughcast on the east side with a parapet on the front. 2 storeys. 1:3 window range of double-hung sashes with glazing bars, and stucco rusticated surrounds to the 1st storey windows of the main block. At the north end a small later gabled wing extends to the west. Roof tiled.’
This rather scant description doesn’t even recognise the name "St Helen's Lodge". The building as seen in the 21st century in a bird’s eye view and from the street, certainly seems to have been truncated at the south (see the footprint of the lodge show on the 1884 map, which runs down to St Helens Street). It is now divided into flats. The once large gardens to the north and west have been limited to the area on the corner of St Helens Street and Jefferies Road. The house has been boxed in by the Art Deco motor works at 151 St Helens Street, the first houses in Jefferies Road and the modern flats on the corner of Palmerston Road (Palmerston Court), which were built after the demolition of McNamara Motors in early 2000s (see photograph below)which gave way to McNamara Court, 2005).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Lodge aerial view   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Lodge street
Above left: the aerial view with St Helen's Lodge in the centre; Jefferies Road is to the left; Palmerston Road is to the right. Above right: the view from St Helens Street showing the Lodge to the left and the Art Deco motor works to the right. Interestingly, to the passer-by, St Helens Lodge retains its privacy behind its old, high brick wall (occasionally rebutlt in places) and trees and shrubs. The view of the lodge (below) is glimpsed from Jefferies Road.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen's Lodge Jefferies Road
2015 image   Ipswich Historic Lettering: McNamara Motors 1990sLate 1990s image
The monochrome photograph of McNamara Motors, another Art Deco frontage on the east corner of Palmerston Road and St Helens Street was taken in the late 1990s by Tom Gondris and can be found on the Image Archive of The Ipswich Society (see Links).

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 the 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church map 19691969 map

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 century.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 18441841 engraving
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 gallery which may have been intended to be an organ gallery.
[Information from the Historic England Grade II Listing text]

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 12020 images
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 medieval church, only the south porch and the south nave wall remain; the rest is Victorian or later.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 3
Above left: the octagonal upper tower and stumpy spire and south entrance 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
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 4
[JANVARY] 1677'
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 5   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 6
By the small door at the foot of the 'new' tower to the west of the church is a foundation stone commemorating its building:
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 School.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 7

The south porch
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 8
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 10
Below: the guardians on either side of the church entrance – two crowned lion-like mythical beasts.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Helen Church 10-11

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