According to my copy of ‘The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches – No 2 Central Suffolk‘ by D P Mortlock, St Michael’s Church in Upper Orwell Street, Ipswich, might not have an impressive exterior, but a visitor should not be put off because “within is a beautifully spacious setting for worship in the C19 Evangelical tradition”.
As you can see from the photographs since the publication of the guide nearly 30 years ago St Michael’s has suffered extensive fire damage and no longer has any spacious interior. It is now derelict. In one of those twists of fate the irony is that in 1880 the first foundation stones of the church were laid on a site previously cleared of dilapidated, ‘slum’ cottages especially to make way for a brand new church. The architect of St Michael’s was Edward Fearnley Bisshopp and this was his only complete church. Within the remains there is still some original stained glass in two of the three lancets of the east window. It was made by Victorian glassmakers John Underwood & Sons. It shows St Paul, St John and St Luke oddly reversed as unexpectedly viewed from the exterior.
The three saints filling the other lancet are St Matthew, St Peter and St Andrew although it is hard to distinguish their attributes. Within the general body of Victorian stained glass this work is unremarkable and is of a plain workmanlike utility, but its mere survival amongst the ruins has endowed it with a special quality.
The overwhelming drama of the roofless church is the unexpected effect of seeing the exposed, jewel-like glass illuminated by bright, clear early evening light from the inside.
More photos of the interior of the church immediately after the 2011 suspected arson attack can be seen here.
10 thoughts on “A Derelict Delight – St Michael’s”
What’s the fate of this church likely to be? Its current situation seems precarious, to say the least.
Currently it is on our council’s at risk list with the following comment “The owners are seeking prospective partner organisations to
rebuild the fire damaged parts and convert the building to multi cultural social and educational uses.” Some projects are starting to move ahead, but more are on hold not least following the Brexit vote!
Some one tried to kill this church. That makes me sad. But I think it’s so much more beautiful and interesting now. There is something about ruins.
Yes, all over East Anglia there are churches in ruins, a favourite subject of 18th century Norwich School artist John Sell Cotman. He sketched many romantic, rural ruins. I am not sure he would have been too impressed with the workaday, urban St Michael’s in Ipswich. Actually the redundant building was due to be converted into a community centre. It may still happen.
We have many churches in Philadelphia in the same situation. This was (and still is) a very Catholic area and in its heyday seems there was a church on each block (not to mention all the other denominations). These days churches are being closed and consolidated and there is really no good use for most of them. So they sit. There is always one in the news that has fallen down and or is about to, or like this one caught on fire – and such a shame, because the older ones are really treasures.
I think some church buildings are worth saving, but perhaps some simply aren’t interesting or significant enough to warrant further investment. In the UK we have different organisations that attempt to guard our heritage and battle with the authorities if a prized local church is to be demolished, but on the whole, especially where land/space is at a premium, Victorian brick churches have to be very special to stay.
Yes, we have historical preservation laws too, but it seems only recently has anyone thought about things besides the colonial era as being worthy of being preserved, especially when it seems there is a fancy church or whatever on every corner. That was fine when they were in use but with population changing in the city and the churches not being used, now people are realizing what might be lost. Same thing here with land values, living in the city is popular again, along with decline of manufacturing, and the old can stand in the way of new homes and different uses for the land. Always a conflict.
How distressing for the group trying to get the community centre going. Since the article said it wasn’t insured they must have felt devastated.
It has all been a huge disappointment for the chap who has spent years trying to raise funds. However, there are so many immediate calls on cash for the communities in Ipswich at the moment as things have tightened for many people since the Brexit muddle got going.