Bethesda Baptist Church, 9 St Margarets Plain, Ipswich, IP4 2BB
Bethesda is a Baptist Church, members who express a wish to follow Jesus’ command are baptised by total immersion, there is a pool under the dais at the front of the building. Before the current church was built members were baptised in the River Orwell.
There has been a group of ‘independents’ meeting on the corner of St Margarets Plain since 1782 (when Fonnereau Road was known as Dairy Lane and a stream ran down the middle of the road). By 1834 they had outgrown their building and moved to St Nicholas Street. They did however retain an interest in the site.
In the early years of the twentieth century, it was decided to build a new church on the site of the original meeting place; in 1906 the foundation stone for the new Sunday School was laid, which opened six months later. The total cost had been less than £1,000.
In July 1911, Mrs Susannah Page died aged 81, she had been a member of Bethesda for 67 years and had been Baptised in the river. Her son Arthur offered to pay for the new church building as a memorial to his mother. Numbers 1 to 9 St Margarets Plain were purchased to provide the space needed, the final service in the old Fonnereau Road building was held on 31 December 1911, which was then demolished, the resulting rubble being sold for £88.
The new Bethesda Church held its first service at 7am on Wednesday 2 July 1913, followed by further services later in the morning, in the afternoon and the evening. What London architect Fred Faunch had created was probably Ipswich’s finest façade of the twentieth century. A flight of steps leading to four Cornish granite columns visible the length of Northgate Street.
In 2000 the church extended its holding in St Margarets Plain by purchasing ‘The Running Buck’, a public house that had included a notorious nightclub. After church, members refurbished the building; it was reopened as The Key, a café and centre for community outreach activities.
Bethesda Listed Grade II; designed in Edwardian Classical Style.
Architect: Frederick G. Faunch FRIBA (1863 – 1945) of Ilford.
Builder: George Kenny of Ipswich, tender price: £7,072.
Ashlar Stone (including the four massive De Lank Cornish Granite Columns), United Stone Firms of Bristol, £3,100. De Lank Granite Quarries, St Breward, Bodmin, Cornwall.
Organ: Messers S. Rayon and Son, Ipswich, £350.
Minister's residence, 9 St Margarets Plain, purchased separately for £800 (1912).
Nos 1 – 9 St Margaret’s Plain (purchased 1911 - £1,890) included the shop on the corner of Fonnereau Road and the terrace to the east (see our image form the 1890s below). This gave the site a frontage visible from Northgate Street.
[Source: John Norman]