Christ Church United Reformed/Baptist Church, Tacket Street

This beautiful church was formed by a group of Independents in 1686. Initially the congregation worshipped in Old Monastery House in Green Yard (located close to the junction of Rose and Turret Lanes).

By 1718, the congregation had increased in numbers to the extent that it was thought necessary to obtain new premises. A house in Tankard (Tacket) Street was purchased and on the associated plot of land, the first Meeting House was constructed. In 1720, the first service of Tacket Street Congregational Church took place.

The first Meeting House served the congregation until 1857, when it was considered to be ‘unhealthy, ill-ventilated and detrimental to health and comfort’. The building and the associated house were demolished and some of the churchyard tombs and headstones removed.

The new building was constructed in eight months and is the core of what exists today. It was designed by the local architect Frederick J. Barnes and built by John Wight. The walls are brick with a Kentish Rag facing. The decorative stonework is of Caen stone. The design of the new building was not popular with some of the congregation and indeed, some in the town. Charles Dickens, during his visit to the town in August 1859, considered the new building to be “a grand quasi-Gothic edifice, which would do credit to the most fanatical worshipper of medieval architecture. Such spires (now removed), and such entrances and all so new and clean; it is enough to put one’s eye out.”

In 1896, a project was set in motion to provide increased accommodation to meet the needs of the young people in the church and those of the various church organisations. An adjoining plot of land was purchased and a new Memorial Hall was constructed at the east end of the church. The foundation stones of the new extension, to be known as Langston Hall, in honour of the first minister, were laid on Friday, July 27 1900. These inscribed stones can still be viewed today at the north side of Langston Hall.

Ten years later the Schoolrooms, to the west of the church and erected in 1861, were considered to be no longer fit for purpose. The buildings were extended and improved and re-opened in 1912.

The churchyard served as the local ‘burial ground’ until Ipswich Cemetery was opened in 1855. Records indicate that there have been over 1000 burials. Amongst the many ‘notables’ is the still marked grave of the Rev. William Gordon DD, our fifth minister, who emigrated to America and became Private Secretary to George Washington. After the War of Independence, Gordon returned to Ipswich and the church.

In 1969, the congregation of Crown Street Congregational Church joined with Tacket Street. In 1978 the congregations of Tacket Street and Turret Green Baptist Church united to form Christ Church URC/Baptist Church, which still thrives today.

[Source: A History of the County of Suffolk, Vol. 2 (VCH, London 1975).]

Additional information received from Andrew Kleissner (Rev.), Cardiff.

The fabric of Christ Church URC in Tacket Street. 'I was browsing your website and came across the article Ipswich Rocks in the January newsletter. As a former Minister of Christ Church – the former Congregational Chapel – in Tacket Street (2005-2017) I was pleased to see the building mentioned. However investigations carried out some years ago prove that appearances can be deceptive! The main structure of the building is in fact made of brick, with Kentish ragstone cladding and poor quality infill between the two. If you walk down the passage to the side of the similar Museum Street Methodist church (also Frederick Barnes) you will see the naked brick – clearly an economy measure as this wall cannot be seen from the front (which, since reordering, is now the back!)

You will know that many of the decorative features such as the twin spires above the entrance and the decorative parapets have long since disappeared, though the latter can (or could in 2017) still be seen on the building of the International Elim church (Barnes again) on Norwich Road. Sadly repair work using the wrong kind of hard mortar was carried out on the Tacket Street building, probably in the 1950s/60s, and this has had a detrimental effect on the stonework. Much conservation work has been done over recent years, with the elegant Rose Window facing Tacket Street being substantially recrafted about 10 years ago. At the time of my departure repairs were still outstanding to the western façade. There is an interesting ‘artist’s impression’ of the Tacket Street building hanging in the church’s office; this is slightly different to the church as built and does not have the later additions at the east end; I suspect this may have been an architect’s drawing to ‘sell’ the project to the congregation.

Tacket Street Congregational Chapel was mentioned by Dickens in one of his works – he didn’t like it as he felt it was far too fancy for a Nonconformist chapel:-

“In Tacket Street stands a grand quasi-gothic edifice which would do credit to the most fanatical worshippers of medieval architecture. Such spires and such entrances, and all so new and clean: it is enough to put one’s eyes out, and as for the parish churches in the town, which are all more or less imposing in their aspect, they are reduced to utter insignificance by comparison with this gorgeous congregational chapel, for such indeed is the Tacket Street Temple.

“So was the erection of this chapel a cause of universal triumph? Nothing of the sort: it was a cause of schism! Dissenters of the old school lamented the shabby chapel that once occupied the same spot and retreated in numbers from a building that savoured of Popery, while Christians of a more genteel kind were mostly pleased with their new edifice. The local newspapers took up the subject with immense spirit, and an imaginary dialogue between the old and new chapel is still remembered as a masterpiece of sarcasm”.'

Links: Christ Church URC; Simon's Suffolk ChurchesHistoric England Listing