I would expect most Society members will be aware of which buildings in the town are of Listed status. However, in talking with visitors to St Mary at Stoke Church, few are aware that it is a Grade I Listed building - one of the only two Anglican churches in the town to have this distinction. It is not so Listed because of its rare beauty but because of its architectural and historical importance - what antiques collectors might call 'provenance'.
Up to the middle of the 19th century it was a small typically Suffolk village church with seating for a hundred or so congregation in box pews. A painting by F Davy in 1854 clearly demonstrates this. But in around 1844 the railway arrived in Ipswich - in Stoke - and the population of Stoke village rose ten-fold within two decades and the served population of the parish increased to over 3000.
In 1863 at the expense of the Gwydyr family of Stoke Park, Charles Foote Gower and the Rector, the Revd Stephen Croft, a major repair and alteration was carried out, with all the furniture and fittings being replaced and a north transept being added, providing a significant increase in capacity. But within only seven years, it was obvious that more had to be done and it was determined that the building was still not large enough given the local population growth. After a search for a suitable architect, William Butterfield was commissioned to design and build an extension which would push the seating capacity to over 500.
Butterfield - who trained in London and set up business there in 1840 - quickly attracted some important commissions, being awarded the Royal Institute Gold Medal in 1844. Despite a nonconformist upbringing, he favoured a rather High Church approach to his designs during the Gothic Revival period. Over the next 25 years or so, he designed and built all or part of several important colleges - two in Oxford - and scores of notable public buildings right across the country. He designed the Afghan Memorial Episcopal Church in Bombay (Mumbai), of cathedral proportions, commemorating the 16,000 British and Indian soldiers who died in what were described as the "three pointless and bloody Afghan Wars" fought there between 1835 and 1843. Additionally he later designed a number of magnificent churches in London, with two cathedrals in Scotland, two in Australia and one in Canada.
So it was that in 1870 Butterfield set to work to produce what we still have in Stoke today, the only church in Ipswich that appears to have benefited from his prolific output. However, he seemed to have been especially attracted to Suffolk and carried out at least nine other major church restoration works on buildings across the county, with a hundred or so others elsewhere in the UK.
In addition to many of his trade-mark fixtures and fittings, he obviously loved using Minton encaustic floor tiles. Those to be found at St Mary's are fairly ordinary and others of the same or similar design can be seen in his numerous Suffolk projects, with some fine examples in
Sudbury. But he also had consignments shipped across the world to India, Australia and Canada. Many of the more ornate picture designs produced by Henry Minton can command a high price in the collectors' market today.
For other local examples of the work of William Butterfield, pay a visit to the churches at Bacton, Ellough, Great Waldingfield, Lawshall, Ringsfield, Sudbury (two), Trimley St Mary and West Stow.