St Mary le Tower, 17 Tower Street IP1 3BE

The great Victorian spire of St Mary­ le ­Tower rises above the town centre and may be the nearest thing Ipswich will ever have to a cathedral. The current church is the fourth to occupy the site, the first was recorded in the Domesday Book, commissioned in 1085.

The church was a focal point for the town In 1200. The town had recently been granted a Royal Charter by King John allowing the town to run its own affairs. As a result, the good people of Ipswich gathered in the churchyard of St Mary le Tower to elect two bailiffs and four coroners for the first time.

On the same day, it was decided by common council of the town, that they should elect a council of twelve sworn men, known as Portmen, to govern and maintain the borough. The church was almost totally rebuilt between 1850 and 70, only the south chancel and nave arcades were retained, while a larger church was built around them.

The rebuilt church has a unity of style in that of the Tractarians. There is a great deal of very high-quality woodcarving and good stained glass, a highly decorated 15th Century font, the earliest known panorama of Ipswich on a memorial to William Smarte (d.1599), a 17th Century pulpit, wrought iron stands for the swords and maces of the borough, and some significant memorials to members of the Cobbold family.

Across the road, you will find Tower House a Grade II Listed building steeped in history and heritage. Additions between the 16th and 20th century simply add to its charm. Tower House has one of the finest examples of a 17th century Parqueted vaulted ceiling, magnificent Georgian Marble Fireplaces and an incredible feat of engineering in the Victorian Stone Cantilevered Staircase.

Tower House is a live heritage project and home to several charities providing programs and support to the community. The vision is to provide a space valued and used daily by the wider community.

[Source: St Mary le Tower and The Ipswich Book of Days by Rachel Field]

Links: St Mary le Tower website; Historic England Listing