St Pancras Church, Orwell Place, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1BD

The first Catholic Church in Ipswich was opened in 1827 on the outskirts of the town. It was soon recognised that there was a need for a central place of worship and the Church of St Pancras was built in 1861. 

Somewhat plain on the outside, the church interior is an outstanding example of Victorian gothic architecture. The arches of the nave and sanctuary have alternate courses of red and white brick, in what is known as the Venetian style. Behind the altar and above the reredos, five large statues depict Our Lord and the four Evangelists. The statue of the Blessed Virgin, in the small Lady Chapel, is over an ornamental marble altar. This has floral carving symbolic of the title of the Queen of Heaven: the rose, lily of the valley and the marguerite. 

The tabernacle is rotary and available for both the high altar and the chapel. The organ, which was built in 1891 and has two manuals, stands in the rebuilt choir gallery which, with the organ, was badly damaged by fire in 1985. Beneath the gallery is a Caen stone font, the round bowl of which is a sculptured band of water lilies and four bosses of crystal spar, and the parish war memorial of marble. 

The church also contains the Shrine of Our Lady of Poland, a souvenir of the stay in the town of the Polish Free Army during the second World War, which is cared for by the local Polish community. In the parish garden is a statue of Our Lady of Grace.

St Pancras has overcome riots, wars and fire during its rich history.

The church was solemnly opened by the Bishop of Northampton in 1861 with tickets ranging from one to five shillings (5p to 25p), according to an advertisement in the Suffolk Chronicle. The newspaper reported that 'The proceedings appeared to excite considerable interest' with 'large and highly respected congregations, composed, it was evident, for the most part of Protestants … A string of banners ran from the entrance gate to a house opposite.'

A reporter wrote: 'The church may be said in a literal sense to have been cradled among the meanest and most wretched dwellings of the poor. Even on the opening day with all the glamour and fascination of the ritual, dilapidated sheds were mortared to its wall and the beautiful rose windows fronted pig-styes or dirty patches of garden.'

Two years later, anti-Catholic riots in Ipswich led to the clergy being imprisoned in their homes for two days and a night. Whipped up into a frenzy by a firebrand Protestant preacher, a mob ran through the town, smashing and looting Catholic-owned businesses, and stoning Catholic houses. The curate barricaded himself in the presbytery for two days and nights until the mayor was able to enrol 200 special constables and restore order. 

The archives give various costs for the building of the church, ranging from £3,400 to £8,000. The completed building is apparently only part of that planned by its architect, George Goldie, who intended that St Pancras would become the cathedral of a future diocese of East Anglia. 

St Pancras originally had a spire, estimated to give church a height of 120 feet but this was removed after 50 years because of fears that it was becoming unstable and unsafe. During the Second World War the church was shaken by bombs aimed at the town’s docks and the roof was pierced by machine-gun bullets but no substantial damage was done.

Parts of the church were destroyed by a fire on Christmas Day in 1985. Nearly £20,000 was spent repairing the damage. Parishioners rallied round to ensure that the church was ready to celebrate its 125th anniversary in 1986.

A cross from the gable fell through church hall roof in the hurricane of October 16, 1987. 

[Source: St Pancras Catholic Church]

LinkSt Pancras Catholic Church Ipswich