St Peter’s Church  (today ‘St Peter’s by the Waterfront’), College St, Ipswich IP4 1BF

The very origins of Ipswich are almost certainly hereabouts, on the north bank of the Orwell adjacent to the lowest crossing point (Stoke Bridge). So, St Peter’s claim to be on the site of the first church in Ipswich is probably true. Archaeological evidence suggests that Ipswich has been a working town since the seventh century and the Anglo-Saxon town initially grew around the church.  

In the 12th century the church was surrounded by the buildings of the Augustine Priory of St Peter and St Paul, founded by Henry I in 1130 and shut down during the Dissolution (1528).  The site was adopted by Thomas Wolsey as the proposed Cardinal College of St Mary.  St Peter’s became the college chapel and the congregation moved to St Mary’s at the Quay.

The Tournai marble font (AD 1150) is probably the church’s most important artefact, just one of a handful imported into England by river and sea from the banks of the River Scheldt in Flanders. All that remains of the college today is the Water Gate, commonly known as Wolsey’s Gate, the main route into the complex for those arriving by boat.

The building to day is predominately 14th Century but over the centuries there has been much rebuilding and re-ordering, notably by George Gilbert Scott FSA the son of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Although not as prolific an architect as his father Scott Jnr designed some fine churches including the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich.

In 1881 Scott oversaw the rebuilding of the upper part of the tower, carefully reproducing the original, the north chapel and the north aisle extended. The chancel was re-floored using Minton tiles. These have since been moved and re-laid in the vestry.

The population moved away, the congregation dwindled and the church became redundant in 1973. In 1979 the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust came into being and has taken St Peter’s into its care. In 2008 the church reopened as a Heritage and concert venue following a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund by the Hospital Band and today is open regularly for visitors.

There is much to see both inside and around the churchyard; we recommend the Ipswich Charter Hangings, the Millennium embroidery with eight panels, each representing one of the eight centuries since the granting of the Royal Charter in 1200, designed by Isabel Clover and created by her past students, every image incorporated is an artefact, building or pattern from the town.

[Source: John Norman]

Links: Historic England Listing; St Peter's by the Waterfront; Ipswich Historic Churches Trust; Ipswich Historic Lettering website