Woodbridge 4


Back in 2013, I spent most of my Christmas holiday from work visiting most of the churches in Colchester, then others in the surrounding areas, then those in Norwich, Woodbridge and in January 2014 in Ipswich too. Now on my full time retirement in late December 2016, to keep myself fit, I was going to retrace my routes again, but six days before I retired I went to Woodbridge and I include this as the start of my journey. Most of the photos and materials used were of my own work, but this has been supplemented by additional material from the internet, which I now want to pay thanks, for all other information used. Many new churches have been added now.


Prior to going to the Western Homes Community Stadium in Colchester to see the U’s play and beat Notts County 2-1 in a League match in Division 2, I spent the morning in Woodbridge and then walked the mile to Melton to see the church there.


Brian - Webmaster




St Mary the Virgin, Market Hill, Woodbridge

They are a parish church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, in the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Their worship reflects the broad mainstream tradition of the Church of England, and, whilst emphasising the importance of liturgy within the catholic tradition. They aim to be inclusive in their understanding and approach to spirituality, theology and pastoral care. Their Church is the heart of their worshipping and working life as Christian people. Here they come to concentrate on deepening our relationship with God, to break bread together, and to try their best to love all others. Here is the springboard for their mission, articulated in the following statement: "We are here for the glory of God; to be the body of Christ, broken and restored to reflect the Gospel in our lives." The Domesday Book records in 1086 that in "Wodebryge" there was "A church with 19 acres valued at 2 shillings".

The indications are that this was a Saxon church, built probably at the close of the tenth century, so that there has been a church on this site for nearly a thousand years. The present building dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century. A leaflet and a full guide are available in the church, and visitors are encouraged to discover the beauties and memories and inspiration for the future contained in its living history.

Externally, this is one of the great English churches. Its setting is superb, wholly urban, and yet conscious of its presence in an ancient space. It has a narrow churchyard which climbs away from it, surrounded on two sides by 18th and 19th century houses. To the north is the Market Square, and a stairway leads down from it to the great porch. The whole thing is just about perfect; the relationship between town and church expressed exactly.

The tower is one of Suffolk's biggest, bold and dramatic in the landscape, particularly when seen from the quayside. Close up, it is even moreso, because it rises from below the level of the graveyard, sheer up for more than a hundred feet, a stark, clinical job of the late 15th Century. St Mary has much in common with Southwold St Edmund, being only slightly smaller, and built all in one go over a similar period and timescale.

Through the great doors is a fine, grand Victorian interior, the work of Richard Phipson. It is reminiscent of his rebuilding of Ipswich St Mary le Tower, although the nave here is not encumbered by that church's unfortunate heavy glass. Here, you find yourself in a wide, light space, a seemly setting for a number of fascinating medieval survivals. The greatest of these is St Mary's Seven Sacrament font, one of thirteen survivals in Suffolk. The panels show the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and are a reminder that our Medieval churches were not built for congregational Anglican worship. The panels are a little bit battered, but are all recognisable. Despite Cautley's doubts about the rayed backgrounds, it seems likely that it was a product of the same workshop as the fonts at Denston and Great Glemham. The butterfly head dresses of the women date it to the 1480s, making it contemporary with the other two.

The panels are, in clockwise order from the north, Ordination, Matrimony (the two sacraments of service), Baptism, Confirmation (the two sacraments of commission), Reconciliation, Mass, the Last Rites (along with Reconciliation, one of the two sacraments of healing) and, in the final eighth panel, the Crucifixion. This last panel, anathema to the Protestants of the 1540s, has been particularly vandalised. The survival of so much Catholic imagery, when we know that the 17th century puritans were particularly active in this area, may seem surprising. But, ironically enough, it is a result of the destruction of a century earlier.

During the early Reformation of the 1540s, Woodbridge was wholeheartedly Anglican, and the wrecking crew went to work with a vengeance. The destruction here probably took place in the Autumn of 1547, during the first months of Edward VI's reign, when there was a bit of a free-for-all in places like Suffolk. The easiest way to deal with the font was to knock off the more prominent relief, and plaster the whole thing over. When Dowsing and his Biblical fundamentalists arrived at this church almost a century later on the 27th January 1644, they found very little to do.

The Anglicans had also destroyed the roodscreen; in 1631, 13 years before the visit of William Dowsing, the antiquarian Weever lamented the fact that how glorious it was when it was all standing can be discerned by what remaineth, showing that its destruction had occurred before the Puritans were ever on the scene, despite decrees of the time that this should not happen. What survives is two ranges of ten panels, about a third of the original number, which have been placed in recent years on the west and south walls by the font. They are splendid, although their protective glass makes photographing them rather awkward. Part of the donor's description survives, but nothing above the dado rail.

The modern screen has been recently curtailed, and the surviving panels were in the aisles. They are actually pretty good, including attempted replicas of some of the medieval panels, the figures a bit like the same artist's work in the sanctuary at St Mary le Tower. Otherwise, there's a grand memorial of the 1620’s to Geoffrey Pitman in the south aisle, climbing to heaven in tiers that seem rather extravagant for a town weaver and tanner, but a weaver in Suffolk might be the equivalent of a factory owner elsewhere. two hundred years previously, another Woodbridge weaver had donated the screen.

St John’s, St John’s Hill, Woodbridge


It seems that in the 1830’s there was something of a revival in Woodbridge; the population of the country was increasing rapidly and Woodbridge was a significant town with a military barracks and a population of about 5,000. St Mary’s church, which dates from the 15th century was drawing large congregations and in 1839, the church was overflowing with people coming to hear the preaching of the Rev Henry Hardinge. 


A project was launched to build a new church in the town and when sufficient money had been raised, the Building Committee advertised for designs for a ‘plain and moderately sized’ building, to be a daughter church for St Mary’s.


42 designs were submitted ! One of them, from the chief builder in Woodbridge at the time, Alfred Lockwood, who had as its motto, the Bible verse, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that built it”.


This design was then selected and tenders for construction obtained, again won by Mr Lockwood. However it was said that he made a serious final loss on the project.


The foundation stone was laid in 1842, unfortunately as part of a grand Masonic ceremony in the town, but they have no such links now. The building then took some years to erect but eventually the white brick building, complete with magnificent spire rising to 138 feet was complete and ready for its consecration on 27th August 1846.


The building was built to seat the surprising number of 800 people, with a gallery extending from the arrear along the north and south walls. An organ was situated at the back of the gallery, and the central focus of the apse was a three-decker pulpit. Truly a building for proclaiming the word of God !


At first the parish was not defined as a separate entity and there was no vicarage for the incumbent, but in 1853 the Parsonage House was built (now known to us as the old Vicarage), and in 1854 the ecclesiastical parish of St John was formed. From the first the ministries have been definitely evangelical, the benefice being in the patronage of the Church Patronage Society.


A religious revival in Woodbridge in 1876 is said to have been largely due to the running efforts of the then vicar Rev. Thomas Hyne Edwards. During subsequent years many physical alterations were made to the church building. In 1888 the three-decker pulpit was removed and replaced with a stone pulpit on the north side of the apse and other alterations were made in that area.


In 1896 the North and South wings of the gallery were removed, a new organ was installed in the South-East corner of the nave, and the choir moved from the gallery to the chancel facing the new organ. Seating was added in the gallery in space under the tower formally occupied by the organ.


Up until this time the flooring of the nave had been rough and primitive, and the seating comprised ugly benches and seats nailed together. In 1901-2 the flooring was redone, new teak pews were installed and new leaded windows fitted.  Gas was laid on to replace the oil lamps and the interior repainted.  Electric light was installed in 1925.


Problems with crumbling of the brick and stonework of the pinnacles of the tower became evident and the Diocesan Architect advised that they be lowered to half their original height. In the 1970’s serious problems evident due to the corrosion and expansion of the iron reinforcement of the stonework supporting the spire and, regrettably, the structure was declared unsafe and the spire had to be removed. For some time worship had to be undertaken in the church hall. In the 1970’s they had a striking colour scheme, the east wall of the chancel area was dark brown and the apse featured an orange ceiling. When redecoration became necessary in the early 1980’s a lighter look was chosen; the brown and orange disappeared but the interior furnishings remained a while longer. Then in 1987-88 major changes were made at the front and the rear of the building. The pulpit and the choir stalls were removed to make way for a raised dais surrounded on three sides by a removable wooden communion rail. A lobby and vestry were added at the main entrance to the building.


Then in 1997 the most recent phase of internal change was completed with the objective of increasing the flexibility of the building for use in a growing variety of ways, both in worship and appropriate social events. The pipe organ was removed and replaced with a very convincing electric organ. The pews were removed, the floor levelled and carpeted and stackable upholstered chairs introduced. The dais was extended to gain extra space for leading worship. A small servery was constructed under the balcony at one side and a small vestry under the other. The previous ‘new vestry’ added in 1988, became an additional toilet equipped for wheelchair access. They praised God for the resources that have enabled these changes to be made, and the building which serves them so well. The church is of course the people and not the building, but we pray that the building known as ‘St John’s Church Woodbridge’ will in itself speak to the community of the presence and accessibility of God.


Methodist, Grundisburgh Road, Woodbridge

WMC is a Church with a mission: to serve Christ by meeting the needs, both spiritual and physical, of our local community and the wider world. Whilst a traditional Methodist Church in many senses, our worship seeks to encompass both traditional and contemporary styles. Children attend our services from time to time; they have well qualified and enthusiastic staff, who encourage young people to develop their faith, study the Bible and discuss challenging questions in their world from a Christian perspective. There is also provision for a creche. They'd love to have you worship with them !!  Everyone is invited to share light refreshments and a time of fellowship after the service. They are a Fair Trade Church. To support this cause, many Fair Trade items are available for sale each Sunday. At the heart of our congregation is the driving force of Christian living and worship in which faith is deepened, and where there are new exciting opportunities for experiencing a church life which offers a welcome to people of all ages and all backgrounds. We look forward to sharing this life and vision with you!


Travel advice - By train from Colchester, cross the road and cut up any road into the Thoroughfare. All three churches are situated in the area behind it. St Mary’s to the far left St John’s slightly right of middle and the Methodist to the far right. St Mary’s is usually always open St John’s rarely and the Methodist normally on a Saturday between 10 and 12am where there are toilets. Other toilets were situated just the station side of the Thoroughfare near the car park.

St Andrew’s, Melton


Melton is a village in Suffolk, England, located approximately one mile north east of Woodbridge. The 2001 census recorded a population of 3,718. The village is served by Melton railway station on the Ipswich-Lowestoft East Suffolk Line.


Melton was covered in the Domesday Book. In 1774 a local Act established the Loes and the Wilford Hundred Incorporation at Melton. The House of Industry (workhouse) operated until 1826. From 1826 the building became the Suffolk County Asylum for Pauper Lunatics. Much altered during the 19th and early 20th centuries, in 1916 the asylum became known as St Audry's Hospital, which was closed in approximately 1993. The buildings have now been converted into some residential accommodation. Melton was originally settled around the old church in the north east of Melton, later moving to Yarmouth Road, which is the old road between Great Yarmouth and London. The best selling Victorian novelist Henry Seton Merriman died at Melton in 1903.

Travel advice - By train from Colchester, go out of the station and turn left, cross the road and you will see the church on the road up to the right. The church is normally always open but there are no toilets there or at the station. However at the station at the front, there is a butcher’s shop which sell meat obviously drinks and numerous other food items.



All Saints, Wakes Colne


The surviving church dates from the 12th century and remained a rectory following the descent of the manor from 1349 or earlier until 1719. This was retained by the Grimston family, later earls of Verulam. In 1938 it then passed to the Diocesan Board


Travel advice – From Colchester, by train change at Marks Tey and take the train to Sudbury and get off at Wakes Colne and Chapel. Go out of the station and go around to the right where you will see Station Road, turn left and go to the bottom and cross the road which is the A1124 and go straight across into The Street.


A short way down, having crossed the river, around to the right, you will see the church. By bus, it is an 88 bus from the Colchester Bus station, get off as soon as soon as you pass under the Chappel Viaduct and turn left at the crossroads into the Street (instructions then as above). There was a toilet at the rail station but not noticed at the church, which is unlikely to be open.   





St Cedd’s Church, Iceni Way, Shrub End Colchester


The dual purpose church was built in 1955 and at a later date it was planned to do a church rebuild, but this never took place. There were very detailed drawings made of a major working around about the time when CCCP was set up, but these were well scaled down. However many years before this a house was built in the area of Eldred Avenue/Iceni Way for the curate to live in, but in recent years this has now been rented out. Richard Cooper (who sadly died on 25th December 2015) recalled that to the left of the door at St Cedd’s Church, as you enter the building from the car park, that the brickwork was left in a way, as that was where the building was to be extended around across the grass for the church to be built on, but that never actually happened.


Now looking more to the modern times, one of the continuing problems around the roads in Colchester are the amount of potholes and the drive into St Cedd’s is the same, but thanks was given in the church magazine in late 2012 to Dave, John, Terry, Robin and Adrian who filled in the potholes. Also cleared away were the soak away drains. Inside the buildings there are various pictures and other wall hangings, one features “The Light of the World” this was donated by Win Johnson in memory of her husband and a “Last Supper” in the Committee Room/Chapel which was given by the Youth Group many years ago, after being bought by Colin King and his father Don.


We have already heard that St Cedd’s was built in 1955, and Barbara Stephens believed that the nearby Roman Catholic Church of St John’s was built around about the same time and we have shared numerous Good Friday Stations of the Cross services with them, either in their church or at St Cedd’s and in recent years at both. This she felt began in the mid 1970’s whilst the curate, the Reverend Chris Boulton was here who was part of the instigator.





Colchester New Church, Maldon Road, Colchester


Colchester New Church at 175 Maldon Road was built in 1924. In 1967 the church building was expanded. The sanctuary was extended two metres in length, a new school room, and a new entrance porch were also added. The designer of the new additions was architect Geoff P. Dawson.



Christchurch Parish, Ireton Road, Colchester


Christchurch URC, Ireton Road, Colchester


A church is usually considered to be a group of Christians meeting together and drawn from a local community. In the early church, these meetings often took place in houses. The Christian group at Christchurch has a beautiful modern church building in which we can gather for larger meetings and a number of local homes that can be used for house groups and prayer meetings. In 1978 the Anglican parish church of St Mary-at-the-Walls got together with the URC congregation in the Colchester area and built the new Christ Church building in Ireton Road. They now share the management and the use of this building with their URC friends, who meet for worship after their service each week.


   Maldon Road Chapel, Colchester


The chapel is probably by Gilbert, Brown & Roberts for the New Church Society.


Police Station, Southway/Butt Road, Colchester


Excavations in the 1980s for a new police station near the Maldon Road roundabout unearthed 371 Roman graves and a long narrow building. The building was built between AD 320 and 340. Oriented east to west, an apse was added to the east end in a later phase. The building was divided by a wooden screen and two rows of posts ran down the eastern half forming aisles. The building has been interpreted on strong circumstantial evidence as an early Christian church. If this is correct, it is probably the earliest known Christian church in Britain. The remains have been preserved and are visible from the public footpath.


Salvation Army, Butt Road, Colchester


The Essex area has 37 churches and the Salvation Army is a worldwide Christian church and registered charity. They are always extending a helping hand to those who are homeless, friendless and in need. We passionately believe that no one is beyond hope, however great their problems. That disadvantaged people are given respect and access to the practical, social and spiritual support they need to realise their God-given potential and recover their personal dignity.



St Peter’s, North Hill, Colchester


Also still a church with a surviving bell tower, St Peter's is on North Hill and appears Georgian due to a major remodeling in 1758, but the building retains mediaeval fabric and underwent a further remodeling in 1895–96. The bells are rung every Thursday. The church is usually open through the day and details of its history are available there.


Society of Friends, Church Street, Colchester

The history of the Quaker movement in Colchester dates back into the middle of the seventeenth century.  This was a time of tremendous religious ferment and change in the aftermath of the Civil War. James Parnell, a young follower of George Fox (the founder of Quakers), preached in Colchester in July 1655. Some of his hearers in this strongly Puritan town were convinced by his words although there was much opposition. Later he spoke in Coggeshall but was arrested for allegedly having caused a disturbance and spoken blasphemy. At his trial he was found not guilty but ordered to pay a fine, which he refused to do. He was returned to jail in Colchester Castle where he was ill treated and eventually died in April 1656.

Around this time Friends suffered considerable persecution for their beliefs, being prosecuted, beaten and jailed. Friends' goods were seized for non-payment of fines.  A law called the Conventicals Act was passed to prevent premises being used to hold unlicensed acts of worship.  Premises could be forfeited for disobedience.  A member of the meeting set up a home and business in the meeting house to get around the law, as we could lawfully hold meetings in the "home" of a member.  This practice established the presence of resident Meeting House Wardens in Quaker Meeting Houses, which is still common today.

Encouraged by letters from Parnell in prison, Quakers gained many followers; Meetings for Worship were held in Thomas Shortland's house until, in 1663, they purchased premises on the north side of St Martin's Lane (now Quakers Alley) to convert into the Great Meeting House. Religious persecution eased after the passing of the "Toleration Act" in 1689.  Friends settled into a long, quiet period, worshipping in their own way and engaging in community work, education and the relief of poverty.  In keeping with the Puritan spirit of the age, Friends were strict in their rules and observance of dress codes.  It was not until 1871 that members could marry outside of the Quaker community without dismissal from membership.

The Great Meeting House was repaired, altered and partly rebuilt over the next two centuries until it burned down in 1871. Meanwhile St Helen's Chapel was also purchased in 1683 and used for smaller meetings. Adjacent land was used for burials until the Chapel was sold in 1800. Another Burial Ground was opened in Roman Road, which is still in use today. New premises were built in Rebow Chambers in Sir Issac's Walk in the town centre.  Around this time there was a great revival of interest in Quakerism, locally and nationally.  Local membership grew from a handful of family members to more than 100.  Quakers engaged in a wide variety of public activities, including organising much-needed adult schools.

The Rebow Chambers premises proved too expensive to maintain and in 1938 a new Quaker meeting house was built in Shewell Road and was opened with much celebration.  This building was in use until the early 1970s, but it proved inadequate and needed expensive repairs. 

With the planning of the Culver Square shopping complex, it was decided to allow the demolition of the Shewell Road building.  They acquired their present building in Church Street, St Mary's House (originally built for John Constable's lawyer in 1803) from the Post Office in a derelict state and carried out extensive renovation and alteration.  Friends set up meeting in Church Street in 1974 and have been here ever since.

St Mary at the Walls, Balkerne Hill, Colchester

On Church Street, to the east of Balkerne Hill is St Mary-at-the-Walls, built against the Roman walls and overlooking the western suburbs of the town. First recorded in 1206, the church has a notable history. It is the site where 23 Protestant martyrs were executed by burning in the reign of the Mary I.

In the English Civil War a Royalist army used the church tower which was as a gun emplacement, which resulted in its destruction by New Model Army siege batteries. The theory that the tower gave rise to the rhyme Humpty Dumpty is now probably disproved.

The lower part of the tower is Norman; the upper parts were rebuilt in 1729 and the top in 1911. The rest of the church was rebuilt in 1872 to designs by Arthur Blomfield. Philip Morant, the Essex historian, was Rector 1737–70.

There was a further major rebuild in 1872. In 1978 the parish was united with Christ Church in a new building in Ireton Road. The old church was made redundant; the bell was moved to St Leonard's in Lexden and the organ to Brentwood Cathedral. In 1980 the building was reopened as Colchester Arts Centre. ®
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