Both my wife and I were born just 'a stones throw' from St Mary’s, Stoke and have attended the church all our lives (I have been a member of the choir there for 75 years – but that is another story, perhaps worth writing about later). So the life and history of this notable Ipswich landmark has always been of interest to me. When I retired in 2001, with a bit of time to call my own, I resolved to do some serious research about the building and to write it down, perhaps to publish a visitors’ guide book.
After several months, having produced something which I thought might be both informative and appropriate, I circulated a rough draft to a few parishioners (and the incumbent) to seek some opinions. A few days later, our team Rector, the late Archdeacon of Suffolk the Revd Ian Morgan, gave me a telephone number which he suggested I might like to ring. I discovered that it was an office of the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport who had somehow also seen a copy of my effort. They asked if I could make myself available to meet one of their inspectors who wished to visit the church (16th April, 2004).
Following the visit, which comprised a long and thorough inspection of the building with many photographs being taken, plus an examination of all the sources of information which I had used during my research, a brief report was sent back to the incumbent and to me saying that as a result of the visit, the church had been re-classified as a Grade I listed building.
At the time of the visit, I discussed with the inspector my wish to publish a visitor guide and she was very enthusiastic and encouraging. Finally, after a lot more work, in early 2006 I took my draft to a local printer and, at my own expense, ordered 200 copies. I arranged to put them on sale in the church. Twelve months later, they had all been sold, with all the proceeds, less the printing cost, being given to the church.
One of the principal reasons for the re-classification was the major contribution of international architect William Butterfield who designed the major rebuild and extension of the building in 1872. Encouraged by the popularity of my first visitor guide, I also devoted many hours in producing a booklet in 2008 describing and celebrating the life of Butterfield.
Since then I have had reprinted the Guide in 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2017; together with Butterfield booklet, they have raised in excess of £1,000 which I have gift-aided to the church as a small contribution towards the cost of its desperately needed building maintenance.
As one of the more popular venues which has taken part in the Heritage Open Days week each September since it began, that source of visitors (and sales) was prevented last year, with the prospects for this year not looking very encouraging. Sadly, of course, the church has been closed for months due to the Covid lockdown.
Copies of both publications are still available for sale:
A Visitor's Guide to the Church on Stoke Hill, £3.00
In celebration of William Butterfield 1814 – 1900, £2.00
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