Suffolk churches 194: Ipswich – St Matthew’s, St Nicholas’s and St Margaret’s (July 2021)

St Matthew’s, Ipswich
Ipswich St MatthewWith the help of an unassuming little one-way street my satnav wasn’t aware of, a roundabout and some road works, one third of my journey time was consumed by the last hundred metres of travel. So I arrived at the church somewhat flustered, and was met by a suspicious man at the door wanting to know what I was doing there. I hadn’t been told to pick up a key at the church office – at least, I didn’t think I had – but clearly this person wasn’t expecting me, and was concerned about locking the church on his departure.

I offered to ring the office, and Tami, my contact, kindly came over with a key. But then a further problem arose: the man, who turned out to be the gardener, wanted to lock me inside the church. I wasn’t too thrilled by the prospect, even though I was now in possession of a key. It wasn’t that it made much practical difference: my objection – horror, even – was due to the motivation behind such a suggestion, rather than the reality of being locked in.

I didn’t make much vocal objection, but my hesitation in responding made my reluctance clear. Tami suggested instead that the door be just closed not locked, to which I agreed. I suppose the pop-up shop groceries laid out on tables were some excuse for needing to keep the church locked on this occasion, but I knew that wasn’t the primary reason. After she left, the gardener said, ‘Just so you know, that wouldn’t have been my choice – there are some very strange people about here.’

Ipswich St Matthew interior 2Ipswich St Matthew fontI nodded and said nothing, thinking, I hope I will never see the day when I feel the need to lock myself in a church.

After this disconcerting start to my visit, and feeling not greatly concerned by the gardener’s parting warning, I enjoyed having the building to myself to practise, particularly as I knew my other two church visits today would have some sort of audience. As I’d thought once before at Herringfleet, it might well be my last solo church visit.

I didn’t expect to find much to see in the church as I walked around afterwards, and perhaps the mismatched setting detracted from my appreciation of what I could tell was at the very least an unusual font in the north corner of the nave, although I couldn’t place it in time or style. According to Simon Knott, it is a unique 16th century font depicting a series of events in the life of the Virgin Mary.

Normally, such an experience might have left me with a less than glowing impression of a church and its community. But my prior contact with the welcoming vicar, Tami’s friendliness, and my ever-growing appreciation of playing alone in a church the closer I got to the end of my tour, were sufficient to give it a positive place in my heart and memory.

St Nicholas’s, Ipswich
Ipswich St NicholasI headed into the town centre for 2pm, where I was expected by the Inspiring Ipswich staff at the redundant St Nicholas’s. I didn’t exactly understand what Inspiring Ipswich was, but when I arrived at a glass extension joining the church to another building, the two ladies explained it to me: it was a Church of England project to get more people involved in Christian worship. This sounded evangelical to me, a phenomenon which I’m afraid always makes me wince. But they were friendly and welcoming – I couldn’t ask for more – and I did my best to overcome my intolerance. On the way through to the church I wondered what uses this glass extension might have, other than its current office use, which seemed a slight waste of a large and bright space. But the whole thing was apparently an interim set-up: they would soon be moving into St Mary at the Quay.

Ipswich St Nicholas 2

Ipswich St Nicholas interior Ipswich St Nicholas interior 2

Ipswich St Nicholas churchwardensAs at St Mary at the Quay, the nave pillars were leaning outwards. But in this instance, they were leaning equally on both sides, so I wasn’t convinced it could be due to subsidence – although apparently the river did pass close by at some point in its history. I was left to my own devices for a short while, during which I practised the Schubert quintet in preparation for my very last church concert at the beginning of September. When they both returned to get on with some work accompanied by music, I reverted to the more tuneful choices of Bach and Irish airs. Not, of course, that Schubert isn’t tuneful, but practising the second cello part of a quintet doesn’t convey much of its character – except to me, and perhaps any other cellist, who knows and loves it so well that even playing the second cello part alone transports me to a different world in which all the other parts are playing along in my head.

Ipswich St Nicholas stoneDespite Simon Knott’s generally complimentary description of the church, its interior possessed little appeal for me, and this was only made worse by the office-style carpet. It wasn’t until after I’d stopped playing that I found the church’s main treasures. Apart from its font, all were to be found on the walls: the 1703 plaque to the ‘churchwordens’, numerous brasses and two spectacular Norman engraved stones of a dragon (with Old English inscription) and boar, along with other stone fragments – some likely from the previous church building, others perhaps brought from elsewhere. The boar alone would have made my visit…

Ipswich St Nicholas boar Ipswich St Nicholas dragon
Ipswich St Nicholas brass Ipswich St Nicholas font Ipswich St Nicholas porch

St Margaret’s, Ipswich
Ipswich St Margaret

Ipswich St Margaret interior Ipswich St Margaret interior 2

Ipswich St Margaret roofAs soon as I stepped inside St Margaret’s, it was clear to me that this was my favourite of the larger Ipswich churches so far – St Mary at the Elms being my favourite small one – with only one left to go. It was the perfect size, not too big, with a beautiful 17th century painted roof and stone floor. David, the friendly and welcoming vicar who’d met me at the door, the smiling faces waiting inside and the delightful acoustic added more sparkles to my first impressions.

David was apologetic that he hadn’t managed to encourage a bigger audience, but it didn’t matter to me: I loved playing here, and my listeners were appreciative. Through the course of my visit, I began to think how much I would like to give a concert in this church – not, interestingly, a thought that occurs to me in Suffolk churches as often as it might. It must be something to do with the size and layout of the space, the acoustic and the atmosphere of the building. As well as the fact I had spotted not one but two grand pianos.

Ipswich St Margaret floorI lingered afterwards to chat, admire the roof and chuckle over the broken up memorial used to patch sections of the floor. It was drizzling again by the time I went outside to admire the impressive exterior and attempt to take photos. I was glad, from a rain and energy depletion point of view, that St Margaret’s was my last church of the day. But I couldn’t have chosen a better last visit if I’d tried: it was the perfect church to send me home feeling happy.

Ipswich St Margaret coffin lid Ipswich St Margaret font Ipswich St Margaret porch

Header photo: Ipswich St Margaret’s roof

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