Our Unitarian Meeting House is regarded as one of the finest surviving 18th century Dissenters’ meeting houses in the country. It was opened for services in 1700 and has been used continuously for worship since then. Daniel Defoe waxed lyrical in 1722: ‘as large and as fine a building of that kind as most on this side of England, and the inside the best finished of any I have seen, London not excepted.’ The elegant simplicity of the exterior gives little clue to the classical grandeur of the historically complete interior.  The pulpit is an elaborately carved early 18th century construction with intricate and beautiful three-dimensional carving. The congregation sit in original wooden box pews and there are special historic features such as wig pegs, a Dutch brass chandelier and a spy hole, used in times of persecution to check for any approaching persecutors. 

This Grade I Listed building was placed on the Heritage At-Risk Register in 2018 following a structural survey commissioned by the Trustees. Extensive structural repairs were needed, including the re-covering of the entire roof, an overhaul of all drainage, and works to remove unsuitable and corroding steel repairs and rectify structural movement in the timber frame. Cracked composite cement render covering the exterior was replaced with a historically accurate lime render. The year-long restoration project, starting in February 2020, was made possible by grant funding from Historic England and fundraising efforts by volunteers and community members. The Meeting House will be removed from the Register this year, following the extensive restoration work designed by KLH Architects on the recommendations of the survey. 

If you’d like to lend a hand in keeping this beautiful historic building alive for visitors to enjoy, a new Friends of the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House Group is welcoming new supporters. To get involved visit www.unitarianipswich.com or contact Ann Baeppler on annbaeppler@gmail.com

Photograph shows the main door. Look no step! The surface of the parking area in front of the Unitarian Meeting House has been lowered so that there is no step down into the building now.

Caroline Markham (information from the Historic England press release)

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