St Stephen’s Church, St Stephen’s Lane IP1 1DP

St Stephen’s is the smallest of the remaining medieval churches in Ipswich. It was made redundant in 1978 and remained out of use for several years. In 1994 it was restored and became the new home for the Tourist Information Centre which closed in March 2020.

A church of St Stephen is mentioned in Domesday, but the current building appears to date from the 14th and 15th centuries. Archaeological work done in the 1980s suggested that the former church did not sit in the same place as the current building, the work suggested that the south porch now sits where the early tower did.

A new chancel was ordered in the will of William Wimbill in 1485, he held borough office from 1478 to 1487 and was MP for Ipswich in the parliament of 1485. His widow, Anne Rever/Rivers went on to marry Thomas Alvard who was twice MP for Ipswich and who also left a bequest to the church. After being widowed again Anne married Thomas Rush who also represented the borough in Westminster. Thomas Rush was responsible for work to the south aisle and the creation of the Rush Alvard chapel. The Rush family home was on the east side of the churchyard, the current site of Sainsburys. A Bressemer beam from their home is mounted on the external wall of the Wilko building (originaly the C&A store) facing towards the church.

If you look at the south side of the church, you will see an unusual feature on the third buttress from the east. This was once the private entrance to the Rush chapel. The stonework above the doorway is much eroded, but you may be able to make out the letter T. In 1810 D E Davey described the stonework as showing the Rush coat of arms – ‘on a fesse between 3 courses currant, 3 roundels. He noted ‘two angels as supporters’ and ‘crest a horse’s head’.

Thomas Rush was described as the King's Servant and was made Serjeant-at-Arms in 1508; in 1513 he served Henry VIII in France. He was made Knight of the Sword at Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533. He became a JP at some point between 1520-1524. Despite his great contribution to the current church of St Stephen there is no lasting memorial to him in the church.

The church suffered during the English civil war and a visitor in 1657 noted that the brass had been taken from all the old monuments during the ‘late unhappy warres’.

Whilst many of the buildings surrounding the churchyard are modern the lane between the churchyard and Upper Brook Street existed before 1610 as it appears on Speed’s map of that date.

[Source: Ipswich Historic Churches Trust; Guidebook to St Stephen's Church by John Blatchly]

Links: Simon's Suffolk ChurchesIpswich Society Image ArchiveHistoric England Listing; Ipswich Historic Churches Trust