Ipswich Historic Churches Trust

Tribute to Dr Blatchly

Dr. John Blatchly MBE

The sudden and sad death of Dr. John Blatchly in September last was a great loss to the Trust. He had been an outstanding chairman since 1994.
As we all know, he had many interests including music, writing and history – particularly the history of Ipswich. All this intense activity followed a long and distinguished career in education, which culminated as Headmaster of Ipswich School from 1972 to 1993.

During his period at Ipswich School, not only did he greatly inspire its academic focus and widen the opportunities available for generations of pupils, he also contributed significantly to its building stock. He provided the initial sketched design for the school’s new octagonal library, which was enhanced, at his insistence, by stained glass windows commissioned from John Piper. A sports hall and a laboratory block, later named the Blatchly Laboratories, followed, together with a major refurbishment of the Great School and the building of the new Little School. 

Among his many achievements in Ipswich was the erection of the statue of Cardinal Wolsey in Curson Plain; he was chairman of the patrons of the project. Here too, his love of education was illustrated by his proposal that the base of the statue should bear the Cardinal’s words – “Pleasure is to mingle with study, that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil.”

John was awarded an MBE for services to local history and his work with the Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England. As a further tribute to his contribution to history and education, he was elected as Honorary Wolsey Professor and Visiting Professor of History at the University Campus Suffolk and was delighted to welcome distinguished scholars and musicians to deliver the annual Wolsey Lecture.

He was committed to the future well-being of Ipswich’s redundant medieval churches and readily accepted the chairmanship of the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust in 1994, a role which he greatly enjoyed right up to his death. He managed to find time in his very busy life to commit his considerable energy to securing the ongoing maintenance, repair and use of these important historic buildings.

As well as fund-raising and lobbying for support, he worked hard to ensure that these important historic buildings found new uses that met the requirements laid down by the Church of England, as their former owner, and by the Borough Council, as the present owner. Any new uses are required both to respect the special ecclesiastical nature of these former religious buildings and also to allow a high degree of public access, so that the people of Ipswich may continue to enjoy them.

The conversion of St. Lawrence’s to a community restaurant, St. Peter’s to a centre for music and the arts, and the return of St. Nicholas’s to the Church of England for use as a conference and meetings venue, testify to the success of the Trust under John’s leadership. He was also deeply involved in the more recent discussions relating to the proposed use of St Clement’s as the Ipswich Arts Centre, a use which he was very keen to encourage. John was also an enthusiastic supporter and advocate for Ipswich’s very successful tourist information centre in St Stephen’s, where it remains.

Under his chairmanship, essential repair works were undertaken at all the churches. John was always a source of encouragement to those who organised what were sometimes substantial building projects, and he played a major role in finding the funds to pay for them. Repairs following a serious fire at St Clement’s, substantial restoration of the upper part of the tower at St. Lawrence’s, and highlevel work on the walls of St Peter’s were all achieved with the assistance of grants from Ipswich Borough Council and English Heritage (as it was). The most recent project, now underway on the south wall of St Lawrence’s, has been assisted by Viridor, the Elizabeth Walter Charity and the Borough.

One of his achievements, which gave him great satisfaction, was the restoration and rehanging of the bells at St. Lawrence’s. John loved to state that they were “the oldest ring of five bells in Christendom” and that “the young Wolsey would have heard them as a boy”, and it gave him great satisfaction to hear “Wolsey’s bells” ring out again over the town centre after many years of silence.

Among the many successes in John’s very active life, I know that his work as chairman of the Trust gave him considerable pleasure and a great sense of achievement. We will greatly miss his wise counsel, his enthusiastic energy and his mischievous sense of humour. At its last meeting, the trustees resolved to erect an appropriate plaque inside St. Clement’s Church, as a small token of the very significant contribution John made to the important work undertaken by the Trust.

John Field
Acting Chairman, The Ipswich Historic Churches Trust.