Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House… English Heritage Press Release

The restored Unitarian Meeting House, Friars St. Ipswich, Suffolk.View from north. Image copyright Patricia Payne/Historic England

Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House saved for future generations

  • Repair and restoration work to the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House is complete thanks to over £600,000 grant funding from Historic England, tireless fundraising by volunteers and the heritage skills of local craftspeople
  • The Grade I listed building is now protected for future generations and will be removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register
  • Local visitors can see the finished restoration work in covid-compliant open hours on Sunday 16 and Sunday 30 May .

Volunteers and the congregation at the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich are looking forward to welcoming the local community once again following repair and restoration work to save the historic Grade I listed building.

The year-long restoration project was made possible by grant funding of £602,152 from Historic England and tireless fundraising efforts by volunteers and community members who raised £144,800 in funding.

Extensive structural repairs to the building were needed, including the re-covering of the entire roof, an overhaul of all drainage, and works to remove unsuitable and corroding steel repairs and rectify structural movement in the timber frame. Cracked composite cement render covering the exterior was replaced with a historically accurate lime render.

The Unitarian Meeting House was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2018 after Trustees Property Manager Phil Chatfield completed a Structural Survey commissioned by the Trustees. Now it will be removed from the Register this year, following extensive restoration work designed by KLH Architects on the recommendations of the survey. 

Find out more and get involved

On Sunday 16 and Sunday 30 May (2-3pm) local visitors will be able to experience the newly restored building filled with music from its beautiful late 19th century organ. Covid-19 restrictions apply.

It is hoped that further easing of Covid-19 restrictions will enable services and events to resume in the Unitarian Meeting House. If you’d like to lend a hand in keeping this beautiful historic building alive for visitors to enjoy, a new Friends of the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House Group is welcoming new supporters. To get involved visit www.unitarianipswich.com or contact Tessa Forsdike (Secretary of Trustees) on 01473 728498 / 07980 641620.

Unitarian Meeting House, Friars St. Ipswich, Suffolk. Interior view from gallery. Image copyright Patricia Payne/Historic England

The Historic Unitarian Meeting House

The Unitarian Meeting House, situated on one of the oldest streets in Ipswich, is regarded as one of the finest surviving 18th century Dissenters’ meeting houses in the country.  It was opened for services in 1700 and has been used continuously for worship since then. 

English novelist Daniel Defoe waxed lyrical in 1722: “as large and as fine a building of that kind as most on this side of England, and the inside the best finished of any I have seen, London not excepted.”

The exterior is self-effacing, giving little clue to the classical grandeur of the historically complete interior.  The pulpit is an elaborately carved early 18th century construction with intricate and beautiful three-dimensional carving.

The congregation sit in original wooden box pews and there are special historic features such as wig pegs, a Dutch brass chandelier and a spy hole, used in times of persecution to check for any approaching persecutors. When the building was constructed, English Presbyterians were regarded with suspicion by most of the population and members had to ensure that they did nothing to unduly draw attention to the building or to themselves.

Unitarian Meeting House, Friars St. Ipswich, Suffolk.Interior view from south. Image copyright Patricia Payne/Historic England

NB: We are pleased to announce that the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust also gave grants towards the cost of the work at the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House.

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