At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Rushmere St Andrew

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Rushmere St Andrew

Pace's church south doorway Rushmere St Andrew

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Rushmere St Andrew is the name of the parish, perhaps to differentiate it from Suffolk's other Rushmere near Lowestoft, but that is miles away. Here we are right on the edge of Ipswich's urban sprawl, though this church has a village setting, pleasingly rural and even genteel, the large houses set back from the street and even a duck pond, quite unlike neighbouring busy Kesgrave across the fields to the south. But this is an illusion, for in fact this parish is home to more than ten thousand people, most of them living in the housing estates of north-east Ipswich. Even so, despite its setting this church is fully equipped to serve them all, as we will see inside for this is a remarkable building.

From a distance the late medieval flint and flushwork tower is reassuringly familiar from hundreds of East Anglian country churches, but the surprise on reaching the south side of churchyard is quite the most splendid Norman doorway in the Ipswich area. To the east, tall lancets punctuate the otherwise blank nave walls, the crispness of which reveal that there was a dull but necessary rebuilding here in 1861. Only the tower and south doorway are old. Local architect Edward Hakewill's rebuilding of the nave and chancel was something of an emergency, a result of the strain placed on the walls by the perpendicular windows put in at the time the tower was built. Hakewill's work can be dark and gloomy, not least because he had an enthusiasm for low north aisles. But Rushmere St Andrew was Hakewill's home parish, so perhaps he pulled a few more of the stops out here.

In any case, things have happened since Hakewill's day. Looking further east, the small church he rebuilt now dissolves into a cluster of intriguing yet discreet 20th Century structures that widen to south and north, giving little indication of what we will find inside.

You step through the south doorway into the 1861 church. This is dim even on a bright day, but the north aisle and south nave walls glow with Lavers, Barraud & Westlake's glass, mainly of Old Testament scenes. The glass was installed through the 1860s up to 1872, the last being a memorial window to Edward Hakewill himself. There is an almost lapidary feel to them in the darkness, and they lead the eye through the gloom to the surprise beyond the east end. In Hakewill's day there was a stone screen here before a small chancel which must have been terribly claustrophobic, but this was all done away with in 1968 when the east end was opened up, and now beyond what has become a central altar is a magnificent extension by George Pace, the architect of Llandaff Cathedral.

looking east into George Pace's church, 1968 altar (George Pace, 1968) north chancel aisle (George Pace, 1968)
chancel from south-east (George Pace, 1968) looking west into Hakewill's church looking east through Hakewill's church into Pace's church
Pace's sanctuary, Hakewill's sedilia George Pace's Rushmere St Andrew, Ipswich west end of south chancel aisle (George Pace, 1968)

Perhaps it is wrong to call it an extension, because the new space is twice the size of Hakewill's surviving nave. The church opens out into a wide, light square space, with chairs turned to face the altar from the east and north. The windows are high, narrowly panelled with pine in the Scandinavian manner, with rugged concrete beams and undressed brickwork. The space opens upwards as well, echoing the 19th Century crossbeam roof of the former nave. It is all thrillingly modern, even at a distance of half a century.

The potentially awkward space at the east end of the north aisle is successfully managed with a brick half-arch, and a piano sits beyond it, as though on holiday from Kettles Yard or Snape Maltings. The archway allows borrowed light to enter the otherwise dim north aisle. The windows on this side echo the high east window, narrowly panelled in pine. On the south side, a doorway leads into the 1990s parish hall. Large tiles pave the extension and central sanctuary. The use of concrete, brick and wood is reminiscent of Basil Spence's work at Sussex University. All that is missing is the ripple of reflected water.

The alarming, bulky faux-Norman font at the west end of the nave must have been deliberately commissioned by Hakewill to match the grand south entrance, and although this Romanesque theme is briskly cut off as you turn east, the font is not unsympathetic to what happens beyond. The furnishings of the nave are Hakewill's, a contrast with the modern chairs in Pace's extension. Pace was an architect, but he was also a designer. Many of his simple wrought-iron furnishings include flower stands, candlesticks, and an elegant black metal hymn board. it is all thrilling, each part of the church accentuated by the other, the juxtaposition of light and dark, of confident Victorian sentiment and airy Modernist rationalism. A joyful space worth seeing.


Simon Knott, February 2021

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Hakewill's font looking east through Hakewill's church into Pace's church the Calling of St Andrew/the Crucifixion of St Andrew
after a short but severe affliction resign'd himself into the hands of his creator a Prebend of the Episcopal Church of Raffoe Ascension of Christ Saint Andrews M U Rushmere
Abraham and Isaac King Solomon Noah and Mrs Noah an angel for Edward Hakewill
1861 - 1968 drowned while swimming at Gris, Mauritius
Christ crucified Last Supper

Rushmere St Andrew


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