Building » Ipswich – St Pancras

Ipswich – St Pancras

Orwell Place, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1BD

A stately town centre church of 1860, designed by George Goldie in the polychromatic Gothic style being promoted at that time by G. E. Street and John Ruskin. The interior has good carved stonework by Thomas Earp and a number of other furnishings of note. Along with H. Munro Cautley’s large presbytery, the church makes a good contribution to the central Ipswich conservation area. 

The first Catholic church in Ipswich in modern times was St Mary’s, opened in 1827 and enlarged in 1838. However this was on the northeastern outskirts of the town, and it was soon recognised that there was a need for a more central place of worship. The site chosen was ‘on the premises lately occupied by Miss Stebbing’ (The Tablet, 1860), amidst a dense layout of slum dwellings (now cleared). The architect chosen was George Goldie of Hadfield & Goldie, who had shortly beforehand provided new school and convent buildings at St Mary’s and built the Benedictine convent chapel at East Bergholt. The foundation stone was laid by Dr Amherst, Bishop of Northampton in May 1860 and the church was opened by the Bishop on 12 June 1861, when Mgr Henry Edward (later Cardinal) Manning preached. The parish website that the design as built was only part of a much larger building, intended to serve as a possible future cathedral. The Suffolk Churches website suggests that the existing building would have served as the sanctuary only, with a tower and transepts and nave to the west. However, such an ambitious scheme would have necessitated the acquisition of the site of a Congregationalist church to the west (the predecessor of the present church), and as that website points out, ‘given the ecclesiastical politics of the late nineteenth century, one can’t imagine them giving up the site very lightly’. So we are left with the original and ‘incomplete’ design, which is by no means insubstantial. It was described in the following terms in The Tablet at the time of the laying of the foundation stone:

“It may interest some of our readers to have a brief description of the architectural character of the proposed edifice, which whilst materially differing in character from the ancient ecclesiastical buildings of Ipswich will not be unworthy to take its place amongst them. The limited nature of the site has obliged the architect to adapt the plan to its irregular form, and, consequently, the church will hardly have the proportions usually laid down in canons of architectural correctness; but, on the other hand, greater facilities for seeing and hearing the church services will be afforded, and any one at all acquainted with our old English churches will be aware how arbitrary were the rules on which they were built, especially on restricted town sites as in the present instance. Adopting the material of the county, red brick is to be mainly employed, with a moderate use of stone, and the introduction of black bricks where they may serve to define and accentuate architectural features. A porch will give access to a very spacious nave, flanked by aisles and terminated by an apsidal chancel, which will be marked interiorily by the different forms of its arches and piers, and externally by a lofty spirelet of wood and metal. A baptistry at the western end, and a spacious revestry, &c., at the east, form subsidiary portions of the plan. The style selected is a modification of that employed in this country at the close of the 13th century, the simple geometric character of the window tracery being its most marked and distinctive features. The church will, in its greatest internal length and breadth, measure 87 feet by 57 feet, its estimated cost being nearly 4,000l. It is to seat 600 persons, and will be capable of holding 1,000. The architects are Messrs. Hadfield and Goldie, of 44, Parliament-street, Westminster, and Sheffield— the latter of whom assisted at the ceremony on Tuesday; and Mr. Simpson, of Goodge-street, London, is the builder. The building is to be proceeded with immediately, and will, it is expected, be completed by next October.”

The ‘lofty spirelet of wood and metal’ does not survive; the parish website says it was removed after fifty years when it became unstable.

In 1899 under the Very Revd Canon Rogers the church was redecorated. The Tablet reported that 

“The prevailing tint of colour on the walls is light terra cotta, round the arches is beautiful light green, which tones down and harmoniously blends with the terra cotta colouring, and the buff pillars relieve and brighten the whole. The sanctuary is a deep Pompeian red, green, and terra cotta, so that the combined effect of these colours is very agreeable to the eye.”

St Pancras became a separate parish in 1919, and in 1924 the Lady Chapel was redecorated. The Tablet reported that:

“The chapel has been renovated, and beautifully decorated by Mr. Archie Jarvis, of Ipswich, whose skill as an ecclesiastical artist has already been seen at Wakefield, Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, Denaby Main, Abbotsford, and other places. The scheme of decoration at Ipswich includes a symbolical floral dado, of Madonna lilies, tulips, and violets, above which are shields or panels portraying scenes in Our Lady’s life. Over the altar is the Berners picture, worked up by the same artist in his earlier years.”

That colour scheme was later overpainted, as was much of the polychrome banding in the arches of the church (now reversed). The high altar was removed in a post-Vatican II reordering but the fine original reredos by Thomas Earp was retained. 

On Christmas Day 1985 the church was damaged by a fire at the west end, requiring the choir loft and organ to be largely rebuilt. More happily, the church has been enriched with some good modern stained glass, further described below.

In 1871 a school was established by Fr Job Wallace, on the site of the present hall and presbytery. The school relocated to Stratford Road in the 1950s. The original presbytery was a Georgian house which was demolished for a road widening scheme in the 1950s; it was replaced by the present large neo-Georgian presbytery, for which planning approval was given in 1955, with the condition that ‘the door surround from the presbytery to be demolished shall be incorporated in the new building’ (Ipswich Borough Council planning website). The architect was the well-known Suffolk architect and antiquary H. M. Cautley (who at about the same time was also extending Holy Family Kesgrave, qv). A parish hall was built in 1976, replacing the old school building which had latterly served as a hall. The architects for the new hall were Reynolds & Scott of Manchester and Nottingham, a prolific firm of Catholic church architects whose work does not otherwise feature in the diocese.


A red brick church in thirteenth century Gothic style by George Goldie, showing the influence of the buildings of G. E. Street and the writings of John Ruskin in its use of Italian Gothic structural polychromy. The architecture of the building is fully described in the list entry (below), but the entry is short on information about the furnishings. It also describes the interior as ‘largely white-washed’, but happily much of this has been removed and more of the original banded brick and stone polychromy restored since the time of the listing.

The following additional points can be made:

  • The north aisle is windowless, on account of housing originally built near to the church on this side.
  • The reredos is by Thomas Earp, and has five stone figures (Christ and the Four Evangelists) under marble-columned aedicules.
  • The sanctuary has a modern black and white tiled floor, granite forward altar, and a tabernacle on a marble drum plinth in front of the reredos. The (probably) nineteenth century iron and timber communion rails remain in situ.
  • On the north side of the chancel, a recess for holy oils retains its original architectural surround, its pitched roof (like that of the reredos) evoking a medieval reliquary.
  • The Lady Chapel to the north retains its original Caen stone and marble altar, with a diminutive modern wooden statue of Our Lady placed upon it. The elaborate paint scheme of 1924 has been lost or overpainted.
  • Beneath the choir loft, behind wrought iron gates is a Caen stone and marble font, a robust design with thick triple stump-like columns at the base and naturalistic carved foliage and inset marble balls around the bowl. Probably by Earp.
  • Behind the font is a marble First World War memorial plaque, made by
    H. Grimwood of Messrs L. J. Watts Ltd of Colchester, and dedicated in 1922. More information here.
  • Nearby is a painted copy of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, donated by Polish troops based in Ipswich during the Second World War. More information here.
  • Stained glass includes a window of c.1860 depicting the boy martyr St Pancras in the central opening in the apse (artist/maker not established). There is further late nineteenth century stained glass in the flanking windows.
  • The stained glass in the Lady Chapel (Marian monograms, coloured circles and quatrefoils) may date from the redecoration of the chapel in 1924.
  • In the south aisle are two three-light windows (St Martin of Porres and St Francis of Assisi) by J.N Lawson and F.W. Smith of Goddard & Gibbs, 1974, and a three-light window (Saints Thomas, Andre and John), unsigned, to Henry Joseph Gough, d.1903.
  • The stained glass in the plate tracery of the wheel window at the west end depicts the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and was installed to mark the Millennium, from designs by Danielle Hopkinson of Ipswich.
  • In the choir loft, the Norman & Beard organ (1891) was damaged in the fire of 1985 and restored by Bishop & Son c.2000. Its case partially obscures the stained glass in the west window.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1860. Designed by George Goldie. Red brick with blue brick and ashlar dressings. Slate roofs with ashlar coped gables and kneelers. Red and blue brick ventilated eaves, and ashlar chamfered plinth. Nave plus aisles and south porch, with polygonal chancel apse and ambulatory. West front has C20 addition at ground floor, of no special interest, with above a magnificent ashlar plate tracery wheel window, containing 8 outer quatrefoils, and a large central cinquefoil. Above a pair of lancets in ashlar surrounds, linked by a blue brick band, with a blue brick cross between. The western ends of the apses also have plate tracery wheel windows, though on a more modest scale. South elevation has a projecting porch with coped gable and kneelers plus an ashlar pointed outer archway, with red and blue brick voussoirs. To the right 3 pointed arched windows with buttresses between and 3 blue brick bands. Each window has bold ashlar plate tracery of 3 lancets and an upper cinquefoil. Above the clerestory has 4 pointed arched windows with blue brick impost and cill bands, plus red and blue brick voussoirs. Each window has ashlar plate tracery of 2 lancets and an alternating upper quatrefoil and cinquefoil. The apse has simpler upper windows each with a cusped lancet. INTERIOR: The once elaborate polychromatic interior has been largely white-washed, though not destroyed. 4 bay nave arcades with short circular piers and waterleaf capitals, supporting ashlar and red brick banded arches, the apse has similar though narrower arches. Fine sculpted reredos survives, and elaborate wooden roof. Original wooden pews.

Heritage Details

Architect: Hadfield & Goldie

Original Date: 1861

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II