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 and 2019 John Barbrook was acting as guide and historian – and he contributes to this page. Our thanks to John.

The interior

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'Two churches'
Above: the images are displayed according to the geographical layout of the church, one comes in (off to the far right) via the south door and enters the larger nave by the noted Victorian architect William Butterfield (above right) with its east window and altar. The arches to the left of this view introduce us to the original nave shown in the upper left photograph, which resembles more a small village church. The single hammerbeam roof dates back to c.1400; however, in the 1863 restoration, all the heads of the angels had to be recarved and attached because of the puritianical fervour of William Dowsing in 1643, who caused any 'idolatrous' artefacts to be defaced.

The east window in the old chancel was part of an 1863 restoration, prior to the 1871/2 addition of the Butterfield nave.
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Among the colourful vine leaf and grapes glass panels we see four roundels with characters.
‘IHS’ monogram.  'These are both examples of the so-called 'sacred monogram', the letters 'IHC', the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus IHCOYC. The bar across the top shows that it is an abbreviation (and, incidentally, forms a cross). It is more usually found in its Latin form IHS, although the Greek form was popular among 19th century church restorers because Greek was considered less 'popish' than Latin'. (Simon Knott, see also the Church of St Peter page.)
The Chi Rho is one of the earliest forms of christogram, formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters: chi and rho (ΧΡ) of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) in such a way that the vertical stroke of the rho intersects the center of the chi.
Alpha and Omega
Omega (capital: Ω) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and a title of Christ and God in the Book of Revelation. This pair of letters are used as Christian symbols, and are often combined with the Cross, Chi-rho, or other Christian symbols. 
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Below: an example of fine floor tiling. Surrounding the repeated 'IHS' monogram
On the corner banners:

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The Latin of the Roman Rite reads:
'Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt cli et terra gloria tua.'
Which translates as:
'Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Full are heaven and earth of thy glory.
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Above: the wall to the left of the altar in the original chancel showed a rough-hewn scar on the whitewashed wall in summer 2019. The dismantled memorial which was in danger of falling from its fixings lay nearby.
A notice witten by John Barbrook, beside the dismantled memorial, read: ‘The Hon. Merrick Lindsey Peter BURRELL Bart.  Born 15 June 1786, died of influenza 1 January 1848 at his Stoke Park seat. He was the son of Sir Peter BURRELL the first Lord Gwydyr – and Priscilla Barbara Elizabeth, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, the sister of Peregrine, fourth Duke of Ancaster, Great Chamberlain of England. Sir Peter – born 27 April 1810, died 3 April 1909 (24 days short of his 100th birthday). Formerly secretary of legation of the court of Dresden, Merrik Lindsey Burrell married Frances, daughter of James DANIELL with whom they had four sons and seven daughters, She dies on 25 August 1846.’ John continues:
'I put forward my guess at the time, that the scar shown where it was once fixed possibly reveals some of the original 1300s rubble-built wall of the north aisle – never seen in our lifetime, as in the repairs of 1863, the whole of the interior was rendered and plastered over. Also, this memorial was once on the same north wall where the north transept was cut through. You can see it in its original position in the 1854 Davy painting on page 38 [of John's guide-book,
see Reading list]. Burrell was thus ‘promoted’ to the sanctuary, together with the Bourchier memorial.'
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Below: two examples of wall tombs in the church. Captain Jonathan Bourchier tragically lost his four year-old son, George, and his wife. Mary, within a year and-a-half of each other.
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Below: a well-polished
brass plate:
'To the Glory of God and in loving memory of
Reginald Thompson,
Hon:Canon of Ely Cathedral & Rector of this Parish 1898-1907.
Rural Dean of Ipswich,
Born March 5th 1845. Fell asleep Decr. 22nd 1907.
“Then are they glad, because they are at rest.” '
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Railway armorial
'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.]

***For many more versions of the Ipswich Borough coat of arms see that page.

The exterior
'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.]
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The whole church complex is skewed somewhat from the cardianl points of the compass (presumably dictated by the terrain) however, we can still refer to the main door as the south porch. In 1863 it replaced a Tudor redbrick double-height porch which apparently resembled Wolsey's Gate in College Street. The rather fine chequerboard flushwork, circular window, Gothic porch and heavy butresses all conspire to impress visitors. The main pathway is sunk at a lower level to the graveyard and memorials because of the huge number of burials (over 3,600 are recorded) which were accommodated
until it closed for burials with the opening of Ipswich Cemetery to the east of the town. Everything the visitor sees from the path apart from the tower is relatively modern, designed by William Butterfield in 1871-2. This, perhaps, unusual method of increasing the capacity of what had been a small village church – hence the fifty foot-high tower, now looking rather dwarfed by its surroundings – basically added a second, larger nave and chancel to the originals. The hamlet of Stoke, as with the other four hamlets of ancient Ipswich (Wykes Bishop, Wykes Ufford and Brookes) grew exponentially with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, particularly the railway: it trebled in 30 years in Over Stoke up to 1871.

The gateway to Stoke Hall
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Although it took two visits and two searches to find this, covered as it is by shrubbery, we had been told that there was an access between the original Stoke Hall built by wine merchant Thomas Cartwright in 1744/45 and the church – very handy for the richer worshippers to attend services via the nearby south porch. The other side of the gateway would, were it still accessible, open into the garden of no. 14 Stoke Hall Road. It must be an unusual talking-point for the residents' visitors when in the garden.

The north walls
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Passing the tower to the right, one moves into a narrower grassed area terminated by the boundary wall beyond which is the steep drop of Stoke Hill, once water meadows leading down to the River Orwell which is seen here canalised by steel plating, but once wider and marshier. The boundary wall delineates the carriage drive which would have been the main entrance to Stoke Hall from  a point in Stoke Street as it turned left towards Belstead Road. The terrain must have been less steep at that time to enable the horses to bring their passengers up to the big house. The journey downhill towards Stoke Bridge must have been a little exciting.

The east windows
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Moving further round one comes to the 'two chancels', old and new (the longer of which has a rather good Butterworth window).
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The wealth of St Mary-at-Stoke, or rather its previous patrons and benefactors, is shown by the quality of workmanship here.
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John Barbrook's St Mary at Stoke Church Ipswich: a visitor's guide to the church on Stoke Hill (see Reading list) has been drawn upon for information on this page. The publication is available at the church.

The trials and tribulations of looking after a Grade I Listed building
John Barbrook writes to the Churchwarden (and copies us in) in March 2020:

‘I have been watching – like a few other people over the past 70 or so years – the wear to the iron pin which attaches the door handle as it became as thin as a needle (assuming this is the bit which is now broken). I thought that sooner or later it would need to be replaced - but still might last longer than me!
In 1863, the very ornate red brick porch – very similar to Wolsey’s Gate – was demolished and replaced with a much simpler stone entrance built by Henry Luff. He was a very fine Ipswich builder and designer of buildings (Elim Church [on Barrack Corner, shown on our Clocks page] and the Freemason’s Hall [Soane Street]: just two Ipswich examples). I believe that the present wooden doors, together with all their iron furniture (hinges, locks etc.,) also come from that date, with the likelihood that they were made by Henry Ringham, a Suffolk woodcarver of some repute. He lived in St Johns Road and employed around 50 people. His work and woodcarving included some amazing pew ends and other wood carvings in churches around Suffolk including the roof of Woolpit church. He died in 1866 with Ringham Road named after him [see our Street name derivations]. The medieval doors which they replaced are believed to be those now in the west side of the tower – a bit of recycling.
In 1872, when our present nave was designed and built by William Butterfield, the 1863 porch was demolished and replaced by what we have now by Richard Phipson, but I think he retained the same doors with his new porch, as they were only about ten years old.
The doors – and the door handle – have survived 150 years. I am uncertain about the wire anti-bird gates. They may have been Phipson’s or added later. I think I showed you my rather inelegant repair to the top hinge of the r/h side around 45 years ago after we had an attempted break-in. It was supposed to have been a quick/temporary fix. This is why the bottom of the gate catches the tiles.
In the present renewal/repair exercise, I hope we will remember our heritage (and our Grade I listing) and not go to Wilko or Poundland. The door handle is the first thing that a visitor sees and touches as they enter – unlike the two replacement sign-boards screwed to the doors.'

John adds a footnote to us:
'On an ecclesiastical note, you may be interested to hear that the united benefice of the South West Ipswich Team Ministry, set up around fifty years ago – which brought together St Francis Chantry, St Peter Stoke Park and St Mary at Stoke, is to be broken up again into its three parts. Of the three, St Mary’s is of course a dying parish – a bit like St Peter’s on the Waterfront – where, at best, there are only now around 9,000 residents. I forecast 10 years ago that if this amalgam was separated again, St Mary’s would soon be downgraded to become yet another redundant Waterfront church by the CofE. But it is – thanks in part to me – one of the only two Grade I listed Anglican churches in town – the other being St Margaret’s. When compared to the likes of Norwich, Ipswich has demolished most of her fine buildings.'

Where is the Rectory serving St Mary-at-Stoke?

It's at the other end of Rectory Road, of course. Oh, hang on... there's a large railway cutting and a tunnel entrance in the way.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Mary-At-Stoke rectory map 18671867 map
Working from the top down, St Mary-at-Stoke Church, Rectory Road (which would once have reached the Rectory), Rectory Cottages and Stoke Rectory – all marked in blue. This is a detail of the Stoke brickworks map, 1867 shown on our Brickyards page.

[UPDATE 11.10.2021: 'When I was about eight I was a choir-boy at this church and left when I was eleven. I was born on Wherstead Road in 1949. In 1973 aged 23 I got married there. During all that time, this church was known as St Mary Stoke (or possibly St Mary’s Stoke) but never St Mary(‘s) AT Stoke. There was a low-ish brick wall on the east side of the church grounds. This was topped with broken bottles to deter trespassers, although they were so worn down us choir-boys could climb over them easily as a shortcut home. Steven Adlem.' Thanks to Steve for getting in touch – personal history of a building is always interesting. With regard to the name, there's often a difference between the vernacular name used by locals and the 'official' name. We take our page title from the title of John Barbrook's guide book.]

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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