St Mary Le Tower and Church House, Tower Church Yard, Hatton Court

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.
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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.
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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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2019 images
St Mary Le Tower Church House is (Listed Grade II):

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."
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Mary Le Tower 5aPainting by Hugh Bothwell
Above: a fine painting by Hugh Bothwell of a seldom-seen view from the Tower churchyard. 'Just thought a few of my old photos around Ipswich in the late 70s and some of the paintings on my website might interest you... especially the rear of 9 Northgate Street as depicted in one painting. Fascinating website which I find hard (like a good book) to "put down" once I peruse it!' Thanks to Hugh for the contribution.

'There is said to have been a church on, or near this site since at least the Doomsday Book and it was presumably built near a tower on the town walls. Although the present church has medieval origins, it is largely the result of a rebuild between 1850 and 1870 by Richard Makilwaine Phipson (circa 1827-84), at a time when Ipswich was experiencing a period of considerable prosperity' (historical note from Historic England). The church itself, for some time 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]
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Above: Statue of St John the Evangelist (left) and St Mary of Magdala (right), both by sculptor Richard Pfeiffer, in gothic niches.
Moving along Tower Church Yard pathway, it continues between the rather ugly sides and rears of buildings on the left – noticed in Oak Lane – and the attractive, conserved buildings and churchyard of St Mary Le Tower. After the right-hand turn, the next feature id the former Church's restaurant on the corner of Hatton Court ('White House'). See our Street name derivations page for the important derivation of this name: although this 18th century White House is about 150 years too late for Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I.
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The Listing (Grade II) text reads: 'WHITE HOUSE: Formerly shown as House occupied by Suffolk River Catchment Board. A C18 timber-framed and plastered house with a painted brick ground storey with brick quoins and a plinth. 3 storeys. 4 window range, double-hung sashes with single vertical glazing bars, in flush cased frames. The 2nd storey has casements. A 6-panel door has a stucco "Gibbs" doorcase. A wing extends to the east at the east end. 2 storeys. 2 window range (one window with glazing bars). Roof C2O interlocking tiles, with a moulded wood eaves cornice. A wing to the south, now No. 3 Hatton Court [is early 19th century]. The White House forms a group with Nos 2 and 3 Hatton Court and the Church of St Mary-Le-Tower, Tower Street.'

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tower Church Yard
Moving up, almost to Tower Street, we find another street nameplate for Tower Church Yard. The White House can be clearly seen at the upper left.

The north wall
Turning right at the 'Tower Church Yard' street nameplate, on sees a lesser-known part of St Mary-Le-Tower, the north wall. Here is an unexpected series of gargoyles, the rainwater-spouts from their gaping mouths emptying into bowl-shaped rain-hoppers each with an overflow pipe (presumably to alleviate any blockage in the rectangular-section down-pipes).
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The casting on the down-pipe:
No. 2
5x4
on lozenge: monogram
‘HF[?]’
The pipe shown here is tucked in beside the buttress.
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The Victorians loved their carved heads and this church is no exception. The first example seems to have an anchor tied around his neck (not to be recommended).
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The tower and weathercock
When lit up on alternate faces at night the spire resembles a Gothic sky rocket (a similar motif once used on an album cover painting by Roger Dean in the 1960s).
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Below: photographed in January 2022 from three different positions, we see the splendid condition of the metalwork with its golden stormcock.
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For the man who made the St Mary-Le-Tower weathercock see our Albert Clarke, Art Smith page. We can assume that the gleaming gold weathercock with its cardinal points (N,E,S,W) has been restored more than once since since its original installation around the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Mary-Le-Tower weather cock
Phipson's work qualifies for Grade II* Listing; the text reads: 'The most impressive feature is the tower, with its recessed spire, which rises to a height of 53.5 metres, chequered flushwork and paired lancet windows to the upper stage, ornamental openwork parapets, pinnacles and angled buttresses.'
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See our page on Public clocks in Ipswich for a 2018 view of the tower and its clock(s).
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The north door is rather fine with carvings of vine leaves, grapes and bords in the stone frame (above). The timber doors bear finely carved gothic lettering, although weathering has removed some parts.

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'Enter into His gates with thanksgiving ... And into His courts with praise'
The full version from Psalm 100:4 is: 'Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name'. The detail below shows the quality of the characters, along with an amusing fish.
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Above right: the triple trefoil window with striking flushwork and two carved heads.
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The gargoyle of a grimacing beast on a south wall of the church appears to be urinating the rain water into its hopper.
Below: this buttress base near to the south-west corner illustrates the 'old and new' nature of the church's construction. The original stonework, aged by the elements, rises to about five feet, then the Victorian rebuild takes over. We still refer to St Mary-Le-Tower as one of the twelve town-centre medieval churches, but most of the structure is quite recent. However, note this passage from Simon's Suffolk Churches website (see Links): 'There was a church here in 1200, when the Borough of Ipswich was declared in the churchyard by the granting of a charter. When the Diocese of Norwich restored it 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.'
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Below: the north wall with its sequence of buttresses and gargoyles.
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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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