Ipswich Historic Churches Trust: a personal view
In May this year I spent a pleasant day visiting the five medieval churches now or at one time cared for by the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust. All of them have interpretative displays, and there is a great deal of historic interest. My focus, however, is on their current use, and I will say little about the architecture, and will only glancingly describe a selection of the fittings.
What follows are my personal views.
IPSWICH NOW HAS TWELVE MEDIEVAL CHURCHES, one of which was closed after being bombed during the war. In the 1970s, a tough period if you were a Suffolk church, it became clear that another four of these churches were to be closed for regular worship – to be made redundant, as we used to say. They were all in the town centre where there had been drastic depopulation.
In response to local concerns about what would happen to these buildings – and, it is has been suggested, in the expectationthat profitable uses would easily be found – Ipswich Borough Council bought these four churches from the Church Commissioners for the sum of one pound sterling each (Fig. 1). To look after the buildings, the Council set up the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust (IHCT), and in 1981 they were passed to
the Trust on a 99-year fully repairing lease (though the Borough pays the insurance premiums, and on occasions assists with major or urgent repairs). Another church closed and was passed to the Trust in 1985. All of these buildings are listed Grade II*.
Fig. 1: The interior of St Lawrence, Ipswich, looking west, a church cared for by the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust.The photograph is taken from the mezzanine office inserted where the organ used to stand.
The aims of the Trust for these building are their ‘preservation and maintenance for the public benefit’, but it was never intended mthat the buildings should remain unused – rather that they should remain preserved through occupation by long-term tenants, preferably for cultural, educational or community purposes. Given the care taken today to check the viability of proposed new uses for closed Church of England churches, it is astonishing to learn that there was no firm use in mind for any of these buildings when they were acquired by the town.
The IHCT has an interesting structure. Up to twelve Trustees may be appointed by Ipswich Borough Council and up to six are elected by people who are members of the Trust (of whom there are something under one hundred). Among the Trustees are a number who bring extensive professional expertise relating to historic buildings and their management, and this is provided to the Trust pro bono.
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