Tucked behind the main buildings of Christchurch Mansion there is a small tranquil garden, the Wolsey Garden, and despite its formal structure it has beds planted in a loose, informal style. The main walkway is bordered with a hedge of clipped yew whilst the smaller beds of the garden are edged with lavender that spills over the paths softening the hard edges.
The garden is planted with a mixture of herbaceous perennials with evergreen domes of yew in the middle of the beds to provide yearlong interest and structure.
At this time of the year it is the floriferous lilac asters that bring colour to the design and complement a delicate silvery sculpture that makes an elegant focal point for this small space.
The sculpture, ‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds, was donated to the garden by local businessman and prominent member of The Ipswich Society, Tom Gondris, in memory of his parents Eugen and Else. Tom’s family were a Czechoslovakian Jewish family living in Sudetenland in 1938. When his parents recognised the imminent threat from Hitler they were able to arrange for their only child, Tom, to board the last Kindertransport to leave Czechoslovakia. Nine year old Tom left his home and, sadly never saw his parents again. More about his fascinating life story can be read here.
When I visited the garden earlier this week it wasn’t only the asters still in flower, but a few semi-double white roses added both colour and a light scent to this quiet and peaceful space.
Before I wrap up this post I must draw your attention to the magnificent, mature cedar that stands on the western boundary of the Wolsey Garden.
Its striking evergreen form will become more and more prominent when its deciduous neighbours drop their leaves as the autumnal changes gather pace.
It’s late August and across the local park it is looking more like late September. This situation is all down to the drought of course. The grass can be dried to a crispy brown and it will still regrow with the first serious rainfall, however not so for the trees. Some of the big ol’ mature trees in Christchurch Park have decided to cut their losses for this year and drop their leaves early.
I think you can see from the photographs that some varieties are coping better than others. It is mostly the horse chestnuts, possibly weakened by disease, that are taking the biggest hit and are already standing amongst a carpet of dead leaves. I hope they are strong enough to make a full return next year.
Somethings that won’t be in the park next year are the decorated model owls of Ipswich’s art trail for summer 2022, ‘The Big Hoot‘. This owl might have been named ‘Skool’s Owt’, but with its questioning expression and smart uniform it now stands before an empty playground littered with fallen leaves, and instead appears to be heralding the arrival of autumn and the return to school.
Last week I had to ring an information telephone number and when my call was connected I was informed the current waiting time was 60 minutes. Interestingly the voice didn’t say one hour, but 60 minutes. Maybe, they think you’ll mishear and be hoping it was only going to be a 16 minute wait. Eventually after 57 minutes of holding on, I spoke to a human who endeavoured to help, but when they attempted to put me through to another department the advisor inadvertently cut me off.
Momentarily I was stunned. Disbelief was rapidly followed by R A G E. My blood pressure must have rocketed into the stratosphere. I felt I needed to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere soothing and peaceful.
I strolled over to Christchurch Mansion which is near to where I live and at 10.15 on an August weekday morning it was open and thankfully still quiet. Of course, I have visited the Mansion on a number of occasions since I moved to Ipswich, but as yet had never investigated the Toy Room. To my surprise, along with the usual faded dolls and well-cuddled teddy bears, there was this fascinating gem. It is a Victorian Glass Dome display called the Doll’s Toy Bazaar.
It’s difficult to understand the scale of this piece from photographs even when estimated measurements are given so I thought I’d include a sequence of photographs with ‘normal sized’ reference points.
The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is packed with miniature versions of familiar homeware. It’s relatively easy to spot candlesticks, glasses, porcelain ornaments and a few crocheted doilies.
But something I didn’t notice until I looked at my photographs was this grouping of three very tiny houses. I think you can tell how small they are by the brush behind which has a head of bristles the size of a modern toothbrush head.
Looking at the entirety of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar made me consider the nature of the person who had collected and selected and arranged this display. Her name was Henrietta Clarke and she died in 1869. I’ve not been able to find out anything else about this Victorian woman at all. There’s no indication of her marital status or age at the time of making the display nor even if she grew to adulthood.
Mind you examining her creation we might presume that she had had steady hands and a patient temperament although lurking beneath the Victorian etiquette of feminine passivity there might have been an inner core of turmoil and vexation.
Ipswich has twelve medieval churches and St Margaret’s is a glorious, though slightly unusual, example of one of these fine, historical buildings. From the outside it appears like many medieval parish churches you find in an English town or village, but inside it has a superbly carved, fifteenth-century double-hammer beam roof embellished with, and this is the surprise, a programme of late seventeenth-century paintings.
Originally part of the Holy Trinity priory, St Margaret’s was built during the course of the fourteenth century for the growing lay community that flourished around the Augustinian priory.
Ipswich during the medieval period was a successful, wealthy town with the East Anglian wool traders exporting to the Continent from the Port of Ipswich. Successful merchants and townsfolk, like any good Christians of the time, provided funds for the church and towards the end of the fifteenth century a double hammerbeam roof was added to the building in order to raise the roof and add a clerestory.
Several merchant families are recorded as major benefactors of the church who provided the funds for raising the roof. John (died 1503) and Katherine Hall (died 1506) and their son, William, were woad dyers and woad merchants, and their initials and merchant marks have been noted carved in the timbers of the roof. Other initials and marks belonging to the brickmakers, Henry and Isabel Tylmaker who left legacies in their wills of 1445 and 1460, can be seen together with the mark for a thatcher, John Byrd the Elder.
Looking up at the roof you can see amongst the ornate, decorative embellishments, carved saints, both male and female, unfortunately most are difficult to make out and even harder to identify in the gloom (binoculars and a very sunny day are needed).
Altogether there are over 120 carvings embellishing the roof structure including on the south side symbols of the Passion. The ladder, spear, nails, crown of thorns and scourging pillar have been recorded, but without binoculars I couldn’t see them let alone manage to photograph them in the ambient light despite it being a very sunny day. A camera with more oomph than mine was needed.
Since 1700 there has been a decorative scheme of shields used to hide the damage caused by William Dowsing and his iconoclasts who visited during 1644.
Margarett’s, Jan. 30. There was 12 Apostles in stone taken down; and between 20 and 30 superstitious pictures to be taken down, which a godly man, a churchwarden promised to do.
‘The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford, parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches.’ Journal commenced 1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.
This particular display of heraldry is explained in depth here if you’re interested. It reminded me of how far most of us have come from some of the pedantic and somewhat trivial aspects of the British class system.
Moving on from that aside, and returning to the roof and its programme of late seventeenth-century paintings, we see an elaborate tribute to William and Mary. There are 50 panels that were painted and installed in late 1694 and early 1695. Along the centre at the highest point of the ceiling run a series of ten sky panels with clouds and gilt stars. Then to either side of those run panels of heraldic arms. In this sequence above the north aisle two panels show the arms of England and Scotland and on the other side above the south aisle of France and Ireland.
The third series of panels (those immediately above the clerestory) feature texts such as ‘Feare God’ and ‘Honour the king’. Not all the panels contain words, many simply show trompe l’oeil cartouche imagery popular in the Baroque period. The painting is thought to be by local artists, with perhaps the more accomplished depictions by either William Carpenter alias Cheeseman (a painter and glazier) or Thomas Steward (a painter and engraver). Both men are in the local record as having being paid for creative work during the 1690s in the Ipswich area.
St Margaret’s painted ceiling is unusual and part of Ipswich’s history, but it is still heavy-looking, dark and gloomy despite undergoing a programme of conservation and cleaning in 1994/5. Perhaps regional tastes at the time of William and Mary were for dark and heavy and not elegant interiors, but somehow I think that this was the best that could be afforded. Ipswich, at the end of the seventeenth century was no longer a wealthy town exporting wool to Europe.
I don’t know about you, but I seemed to have been waiting and waiting for the appearance of flowers this year. Maybe it’s because there’s been so much bad news around that the need for garden beauty has been more pressing. Finally, fat, colourful buds appeared.
As my own backyard isn’t particularly sunny I resorted to walking over to the local park. However, the most stunning display wasn’t in the park, but this delightful wisteria and front garden planting at 16, Fonnereau Road, Ipswich. The bold, mid-nineteenth century architecture of this Grade II listed building is complimented and softened by the delicate palette of the flowers and foliage.
In my own back garden the clematis montana ‘Rubens’ has grown to the top of the fence at last and by early May the first flowers bloomed.
However, again the most stunning wall/fence treatment was not at my place nor even in the park, but this gorgeous ceanothus arboreus ‘Trewithin Blue’ topping the fence on a back garden running along High Street, Ipswich.
Now, really I should not complain as by mid May I had plenty of flowering going on in the yard, but it was nearly all white. Self-seeded white honesty was in every bed. I had noticed it had seeded prolifically, but couldn’t bring my self to remove any.
There was a charming, fairytale quality with all the shimmering white for about a week, before the flowers began to fade. Fortunately, by then tulips in pots were coming into full bloom and
then my favourites for this time of year, the aquilegias, now too mostly self-seeded, opened into all their intriguing colour combinations.
Towards the end of the month a small clump of alliums showed off their globes of tiny star-like flowers despite my earlier stupidity of leaving a heavy pot on top of their foliage.
And, that’s it we’ve reached June and May 2022 is now history. But before I go, I think I’d like to award first prize for the most over-the-top May display to clematis ‘Nelly Moser’. Not the most subtle of the Group 2 clematis, but it’s hanging on in there despite slugs, snails, unreliable watering and all the various fungi that thrive in the still, damp air of a less than sunny backyard.
But there have been early morning opportunities to walk my sister’s dog, Bertie, in the Old Cemetery.
It was surprising to see some dandelions already turned to fluffy seedheads
As Bertie is a fairly large dog he needs two good walks a day. So, of course, that’s another opportunity to be in the Old Cemetery during the golden hour, but this time in the early evening with more wonderful light.
This April the Easter weather has been surprisingly good in Suffolk and not what had been forecast at the beginning of last week. All in all it has been truly pleasurable to have a well-behaved and patient dog in the house.
Earlier this week it was MOT day. Not a day overflowing with excitement, but instead a day suffused with trepidation. Last year was a spectacular fail (fault with the anti-lock braking system!?) leaving me without a car for two weeks and an eye-watering bill in excess of £600. This year it was a bright and clear morning when I left the car at the garage with my fingers crossed. I took the opportunity to spend the ‘waiting’ hour with my camera in the nearby local park to photograph any attractive flowers or birds, and record this flamboyant graffiti.
Holywells Park is my favourite park in Ipswich and I was hoping to capture some spring flowers, but despite the recent, unseasonable warm weather there was only a few clumps of cheerful daffodils and the big old magnolia in bloom.
However, there were plenty of ducks. There was a rather handsome mandarin duck diving for breakfast.
And, quite a number of mallard ducks. The males being easy to spot with their glistening green heads. (Do you not think this sumptuous shade of green with its satin-like quality is surely so luxurious it might even feature in any future Lulu Lytle revamp of Downing Street? )
Leaving the political sideswipes behind and moving on, I spotted and even managed a couple of shots of the little egret that is now visiting the park’s ponds.
I was just about to leave, when I noticed the perennial wallflower, erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, was coming into flower providing timely pollen and nectar for those early-emerging bees. It’s such a cheerful, strong pink for this time of year. And, as it turned out when I left the garage I, too, was cheerful as the old car had passed its MOT.
Ipswich, like many towns, is an eclectic, sprawling muddle of buildings. Down on the Waterfront there has been a 21st-century attempt to achieve a coherent redevelopment of the old commercial warehouses and grain silos. Nowadays most of the warehouses have been replaced with a variety of residential blocks of flats and single storey boat-building workshops. The area is functional and pleasant enough, but there’s no outstanding contemporary architecture and it all looks markedly more interesting on a misty morning at dawn . . .
Or, when there’s a dramatic, fiery sunset.
However, also like many towns, there are little gems hidden away. Last November, I was walking through a quieter residential area and turned up St John’s Road
and came upon this Tudor-bethan style beauty.
‘Gothic House’, 5, St John’s Road was built by Henry Ringham possibly to the design of architect J Phipson between 1851 and 1857. It is a timber-framed house and was constructed reusing old materials with details copied from original Tudor buildings in Ipswich such as the Ancient House in the Buttermarket.
I think the flint cobble ground floor works particularly well with the timber and stucco panels above. It is just such a pity that at some point in the intervening 170 years or so somebody sold off part of the grounds and allowed a disagreeable house to be built so close next door it blights the scene. Of course, if the Gothic House was swathed in mist it would lessen the presence of the ugliness next door. And, as we all know early morning mist does so much to enhance the most mundane of views.
As I write this the jury is still out on whether the Omicron variant is making people more or less sick. However, there’s already been confirmation that this new variant is more transmissible than our old enemy Delta, sigh. With all the gloom I thought it was time for a glass-half-full blog post.
Okay, it’s winter, there’s already been a couple of nasty storms and the days are short, but, oh my, when the sky is not overcast the winter light is gorgeous as the sun rises and sets.
Add a few clouds, and there’s mystery and drama. Who can resist a slightly eerie stroll through the Old Cemetery as the sun sets whilst absolutely making sure you reach the grand, iron gates to exit before lock up.
And, when was the last time you walked down a bog-standard, terraced street transformed by a pink, mackerel sky into the dramatic backdrop for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.
Of course, not all winter weather is stormy. There are those surprisingly still days and, with the sunsetting as early as 3.45 in the afternoon, there’s plenty of opportunities to capture some inspirational sunset photos.
It may only have lasted for a mere five minutes or so, but the rich, fiery orange of the setting sun reflected off the low clouds was most dramatic and in a way uplifting too.
The Suffolk county town of Ipswich was granted a Royal Charter by King John in the year 1200. Back at the end of the last century to mark and celebrate this 800 year anniversary a discussion at the Ipswich Arts Association suggested some kind of tapestry in the tradition of the Bayeux Tapestry might be created.
The project was a community endeavour under the direction of Isabel Clover, a lecturer and tutor at Suffolk College at the time. She is known nationally for her ecclesiastical designs and embroidery and it was she who researched and designed the eight panels that make up the finished Ipswich Charter Hangings.
This commemorative work was an extensive collaborative project that took three years to complete and involved embroiderers, local historians, sponsors and finally a craftsman to make the presentation frames.
The team of volunteer embroiderers (at the time past and present City & Guild students at Suffolk College) worked at creating the eight panels that each represented 100 years of Ipswich history.
It is over 20 years since the Charter Hangings were commissioned and created and during the intervening time they have been displayed not only in Suffolk, but also in Arras, France (twinned with Ipswich) and Ipswich, Massachusetts, USA.
Now they are back in Ipswich on display at St Peter’s by the Waterfront and just before the Covid pandemic closed public sites, I went to take a look at the eight panels.
At this point I must just apologise for the quality of the whole panel photographs. When I visited the full sequence of the eight panels they were lined up in a single row opposite the south-facing church windows and each panel was individually spotlit.
Unfortunately, as the hangings were behind glass for their conservation, this arrangement and lighting resulted in photographs with unwanted reflections and additional points of bright light reflecting off the protective glass.
Of course protecting these textile hangings behind glass is important, but the introduction of a hard although transparent layer over the textiles and stitching also alters the visual experience and you can see less of the surface quality of the fabrics and embroidery.
And, just to make capturing the quality of the work doubly awkward there was also a table, chairs and a grand piano directly in front of the display restricting any direct front-facing shots and entirely eliminating any chance of a photograph showing the entire work in sequence.
For those interested there’s further information in this newspaper article and below is a short sequence of close-up photographs showing stitching, fabrics and a variety of braided, woven and gimp trims.
Sometimes the mixing of old and new can work well and the result can be quite beautiful, both enhancing the past and showcasing the new. One example of this is the south porch of St Peter’s Church in Ipswich. It has a 21st-century metal grille door set within a 15th-century stone and flint arch complete with Tudor roses.
The gates of gilded steel were made in 2008 by Paul Richardson (1967-). The work was commissioned by the Ipswich Hospital Band, when the church was deconsecrated and became a concert venue. If you look carefully you can see the two musical angels are partially constructed using metalwork from musical instruments. They also wear gowns patterned with the Tudor rose motif. I particular liked the golden fish weaving through the scrollwork waves, referencing St Peter as a fisherman and also the proximity to the nearby Ipswich Waterfront.
Sadly though not all the local medieval treasures of Ipswich have fared so well where redevelopment of the harbour waterside has seen a mushrooming of tall residential tower blocks. The new blocks have replaced drab, utilitarian warehouses, but the trouble with these new blocks is that they are much taller buildings and they dwarf the Old Customs House and the medieval churches nearby.
However, although the site of Quay Place from the north is no doubt nothing like the look and feel of its original 15th-century setting, the view from the east, as it lines up with St Peter’s is very pleasing. And, despite the fact that Key Street is now part of a busy one-way system, this is is one of my favourite views in Ipswich. (Sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.)