At the sign of the Barking lion...

St John, Woodbridge

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Woodbridge St John, the urban context

Woodbridge St John Woodbridge St John

west gallery   It is a historical curiosity that this little town maintains two Anglican parish churches - in fact three, if you include Melton St Andrew out on the western edge of the urban area. Woodbridge St John is a substantial boxy church of 1840, set at the top of its wide churchyard in the 19th century part of the town centre, about 300 yards from the medieval parish church of St Mary. The architect was John Clark, most famous for the grand Italianate Ipswich Custom House, which he had designed 20 years earlier.

The cost was 3000, about half a million in today's money, which seems good value. The new church gave the CofE extra capacity in the town, although its main purpose was probably intended as a mission church to the terraced streets to the east of the town.

One might think that today there would be little use for such a large Victorian church in such a small town, particularly when nearby St Mary is so vast. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church maintains its tradition as a busy evangelical counterpart to medieval St Mary's municipal High Church grandeur. Almost everything inside was renewed in the early 21st Century, but two notable earlier survivals include the splendid angled west gallery of the 1840s, and the late 19th/early 20th Century glass in the apse by ER Suffling. The figures depicted are Samuel, Dorcas, St Peter, St John, St James, St Andrew and Naaham's wife's maid. The first and last remember young children, the others various parishioners, including members of the Hyne Edwards family, who had provided the parish with its first vicar.

Samuel (ER Suffling, 1905) Dorcas (ER Suffling, 1905) St Peter (ER Suffling, 1905) St John (ER Suffling, 1905) St James (ER Suffling, 1905) St Andrew (ER Suffling, 1905) Naaman's wife's maid (ER Suffling, 1905)

St John was an exercise in pre-ecclesiological Early English, in Woolpit brick, like its near-contemporary namesake at Bury St Edmunds. The new church also gave the town centre the added benefit of a new burial ground in the days before the Cemetery Acts of the 1860s. The octagonal tower and spirelet were taken down as unsafe in 1981, but replaced in the early years of the 21st Century thanks to a donor who felt that the Woodbridge skyline lacked something without it.

You step inside beneath the tower, which has been fitted out with offices and a kitchen, through glass doors into the nave. The old pews have been removed, and replaced with modern chairs. All the Victorian clutter of the apse-like sanctuary has been cleared, and the lancet glasses of saints look down on a bright, open space. The nave and sanctuary have been carpeted, and the walls and roof painted in the cheerful gothick style of the decades before the church's construction. None of this has destroyed the essential character of the building. Rather, a transition to a space serving new liturgical needs has been managed in a creative, thoughtful and interesting manner.

St John is testimony to what a determined parish can achieve. What is more, the church is open every day.

  rising sun

Simon Knott, December 2017


looking east apse looking west

angel garlanding a cross relict of Israel Smyth, white smith of this town relict of the late Coleby Clarke, builder of this town urn on a square tombchest

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