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.

Latest grants awarded

The Grants Committee of Suffolk Historic Churches Trust has awarded grants totalling £32,000 this month.

The lucky churches are:

Kirton, St Mary and St Martin
Dalham, St Mary the Virgin
Newmarket, St Agnes
Market Weston, St Mary
Wattisfield, St Margaret

Brettenham, St Mary
Denham, St John the Baptist
Belstead, St Mary

St Mary’s, Belstead (with permission from Simon Knott. http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk)

Nayland, St James
Chevington, All Saints
Brent Eleigh, St Mary
Little Finborough, St Mary

Congratulations to all the churches and good luck with your building projects.

The next Grants committee will be held in July. For details of how to apply, go to the Grants section of this website.

Our oldest cyclist?

Norman Gregory and Norman Kelly

The oldest cyclist taking part in the annual Suffolk Churches Ride and Stride fundraising event is delighted to hear the total raised by the one-day event held in September 2020 was £175,000, the highest total for ten years.

“I have been taking part for thirteen or fourteen years,” explained 99-year-old Norman Gregory. “I cycle with my friend Norman Kelly, and we raised £4,500 this year, cycled 35 miles, and visited 12 churches. The sponsor money is for the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust and St Peters church in Cockfield, where I live. In total in 2020, I cycled 5,000 miles but this year it is only about 200 so far – but I have had a bit of bike trouble!”

The super-cyclist is one of hundreds of cyclists and walkers who choose their route around churches, on Ride and Stride Day on the second Saturday in September each year. Half the money raised goes to their chosen church or chapel, and half to the Trust which organises the event and distributes grants to help with church and chapel building repairs and improvements. 

“Having carefully considered the threat of Covid, we resolved to go ahead with Ride and Stride event last year, following government guidelines and strict social distancing,” said Patrick Grieve, the chairman of Suffolk Churches Ride and Stride.  “Most churches decided to open, although some were not manned. The response was amazing. Cycling and walking in the Suffolk countryside appealed to many and we raised the most amount for ten years. My thanks to all who opened churches, rode, walked and to those who generously sponsored them.“

The sister event, Pedal and Drive, for historic and vintage cars, raised £14,000 on the same day. 

“Well done the intrepid drivers, and a big thank you for their generosity too’’ said Geoffrey Probert SHCT Chairman and the organiser of Pedal & Drive. “All in all, a bumper year and one which will be welcomed by the churches who perforce have been closed for long periods with a resulting impact on their church plate. Of course, all the money raised will help us offset some of that by allowing the Trust to step up our grant aid for the upkeep of Suffolk’s wonderful legacy of churches and chapels.”

The next Suffolk Churches Ride and Stride, and Pedal & Drive events will be held on Saturday 11th September 2021. Details can be found on the Trust website http://www.shct.org.uk


Congratulations to eleven Suffolk Churches.

At its January 2021 meeting the Grants Committee made the following grants-

St Mary le Tower church in Ipswich (photo provided by Simon Knot, http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

1 Somersham, St Mary £3,000

2 Homersfield, St Mary £9,000

3 Haughley, St Mary £1,000

4 Onehouse, St John the Baptist £750

5 Oakley, St Nicholas £6,000

6 Sibton, St Peter £3,000

7 Nettlestead, St Mary £10,750

8 Ipswich, St Mary le Tower £1,000

9 Stradbroke, All Saints £500

10 Combs, St Mary £2,500

11 Snape, St John the Baptist £5,000

(Total £42,500)

Churches and Chapels in Suffolk are welcome to apply for grants. Details are on this website.

Abbey 1000 Celebrations in Bury St Edmunds Postponed until 2022

Thursday 21 January 2021

Abbey 1000 Celebrations in Bury St Edmunds Postponed until 2022

In light of the continuing uncertainty around the global pandemic, the Abbey 1000 Group has taken the decision to postpone all of the events planned for the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund until 2022.

Chairman Libby Ranzetta said the Abbey 1000 Group had taken the decision to postpone the celebratory events again so that the group could hopefully provide a full programme of events in 2022. 

She said: “At this time there is a lot of uncertainty around when the current national lockdown will end and what Government restrictions and guidance will be in place afterwards which made the planning of events, which were due to start in April, very difficult. It has become increasingly clear that we could not hold the full programme in 2021 and we want the year to have a celebratory feel which is just not possible at present.  

“There is good reason to be optimistic that 2022 will be much better with vaccines and treatments for Covid being rolled out and we are looking forward to putting on an even more exciting programme of events that everyone can enjoy.”

A new idea for our supporters

Churches and Chapels Chat….

The Trust Chairman, Geoffrey Probert, has proposed the idea of a fortnightly e-newsletter to give our members and supporters a spot of cheer and help us keep in touch, while we can’t meet up and hold events.  The Trustees are taking it in turn to create an email with links to their favourite church music, buildings, books etc which we hope you will enjoy.  Any Trust news will be included too. 

If you are a supporter of Suffolk Historic Churches Trust or have become a ‘Friend” please send us your email contact address, if we don’t have it, so you too can receive our ‘Churches and Chapels Chat’. 

More stories are coming in from Ride and Stride day….

This year the Suffolk Churches Ride and Stride event, organised by Suffolk Historic Churches Trust, welcomed many new participants, keen to put their enthusiasm for cycling and walking to a good cause, after many lockdown weeks. 

New to the event this year were also many runners who, having had their usual events cancelled, were keen to get involved. 

Bill Hill from Brockley, who works for a charity, usually runs with the Vegan Runners, a national group, and has competed in in ultra-marathons, marathons, half-marathons and 10km races.

“During lockdown I decided to plan my daily run via different churches, as they are so interesting. Most are a real heartbeat of their community. Some are located right in the middle of a village and others, like Lavenham, have a position high on a hill.” he explained. “My parents are members of St Andrews Church in Brockley and Itook part in the annual Ride and Stride as a child, but assumed that too would be cancelled because of Covid. When I heard it was to go ahead, I decided to see how many churches I could run to in the eight hours of the event.  I studied maps, planned my route, and managed to visit 41 churches, running 45 miles!”

Some of Bill’s sponsors made a donation while others paid per church, but he did warn them of his target of 45 churches, a target he only just missed. With his epic run, Bill raised £750, with half going to Suffolk Historic Churches Trust and half to St Andrews church, Brockley. He plans to take part in Ride and Stride again next year.

“I am going to plan my route carefully and really study the maps so I don’t have to double back at all, then I should be able to beat this year’s tally.” Perhaps I can run 50 miles and visit even more churches!”

Thank you very much Bill for your support. 

Perhaps other runners would like to see if they can equal, or even beat, Bill’s target in 2021….

Bill Hill on one of his usual runs!

Ride and Stride 2020 photography competition

Thank you very much for everyone who took the time to enter our first ever Ride and Stride photography comnpetition. There were some great entries and it is an idea that we will repeat next year. Several people have commented that it was great fun and added something to the day.

Our independent judge (a churchwarden/keen amateur photographer ) was impressed by the standard of many of the photos and it proved difficult to choose an overall winner. However, it is the Britten family who cycled around the Long Melford area who have been declared the winners for 2020. They were raising money for the Trust and for Haverhill Methodist Church. They visited 31 churches, cycled 35 miles and raised £238 (‘so far’!).

Our winners for the 2020 photography competition.

The prize is a £100 book token, kindly donated by a Trust supporter.

Let’s look at some more of our intrepid photographers!