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St Mary, Ipswich, Suffolk

(52°3′24″N, 1°9′2″E)
TM 161 445
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

St Mary's is on Elm Street in the business centre of Ipswich; its parish including the three law courts, the police station and the civic centre as well as offices and shops. Few people live in the parish now, and the church's mission is directed to the business people who work nearby. To that end it stays open during the day and celebrates a daily Eucharist. There was an earlier church near this site, dedicated to St Saviour, but St Mary at Elms is known to have existed by 1204 and may be older. It was rebuilt in the early 14thc. The 14thc church had a nave and chancel, together occupying the length of the present nave, with north and south transepts, and presumably a tower. The north aisle and the west tower, both of brick, were added in the 15thc. At some stage the south transept was removed, and in 1883 a new chancel was added to the east, and the old chancel incorporated into the nave. This work was done by E. F. Bisshopp, and included the lengthening of the north aisle and the provision of an organ chamber on the south of the new chancel. Brick vestries were added on the north side of the new chancel shortly afterwards. An engraving by Henry Davy shows the church in 1842, before all of this work. What we have today is a 14thc flint nave and north transept with 19thc windows in a 15thc. style. Davy's view shows 14thc windows in the nave. The nave has a 14thc. flint porch with niches for statues, protecting a 12thc. south doorway, said by Toll (following Tricker) to have come from the old church of St Saviour. Battlements of brick have been added to the nave. The north aisle now has an arcade of five bays; the two easternmost of 1883 and the rest 15thc. The chancel arch, chancel and its vestry and organ chamber are all 19thc. The brick west tower is tall at 54 feet (16.5 m) high but wide too, so that it does not seem lofty. It has octagonal clasping buttresses and a battlemented parapet. Several 19thc restorations are known. In 1848 the south porch was repaired and the 12thc doorway restored. There was a restoration by R. M. Phipson in 1860, and the major rebuilding of the chancel by E. F. Bisshopp in 1883. Romanesque sculpture is found on the south doorway.


In a charter of 1204, both St Mary at Elms and St Saviour's are named among the possessions of the Austin Priory of the Holy Trinity, Ipswich. St Mary at Elms is again named as a possession of Holy Trinity in 1291, and it remained so until the priory was dissolved in 1536.

Benefice of St Mary at the Elms, Ipswich.


Exterior Features



Toll dates the doorway to the 11thc, but this is unlikely. The picture is confused by the amount of restoration that has taken place, but the base profiles and presence of chevron point to a date in the rangec.1100-30. Cautley, Pevsner and Mortlock are content to label it Norman.

Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 103-05 (on Holy Trinity Priory).
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 279.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 135-36.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 293.
B. Toll, Saint Mary-at-The-Elms Church Elm Street, Ipswich: Guide to Past and Present. Ipswich 2001.