In a friendly manor

Lind­say Want checks out Christchurch Man­sion in Ip­swich

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

“OF what use is wealth, if I may not use it?” ques­tion the learned Latin words carved in cap­i­tals above the gar­den door of the fine gabled man­sion house. They’re dated 1550, so are most likely the mus­ings of young Ed­mund Withy­poll, mas­ter of the orig­i­nal Tu­dor hall built on the Holy Trin­ity Pri­ory site that’s al­most on top of me­dieval St Mar­garet’s.

Per­haps it’s more than just favour and good for­tune which have pre­served the in­scrip­tion, along­side the clas­si­cal col­umns, bom­bas­tic balustrade and 17th cen­tury swirls of the Christchurch Man­sion façade that we know to­day. Step up to the front porch, dare to look in­side. Christchurch Man­sion is home to a real wealth of lo­cal and na­tional trea­sures, beau­ti­fully dis­played, lov­ingly looked after, right on the county town’s cen­tral doorstep. Won­der­fully ac­ces­si­ble and it’s all for free!

Christchurch Park and Man­sion have been sig­nif­i­cant land­marks on the Ip­swich hori­zon in some shape or form for over 500 years, owned pri­mar­ily by just three fam­i­lies, the Withy­polls, the Dev­ereux and the Fon­nereaus. But records as early as 1724 re­veal a cer­tain spirit of shar­ing about the place, with lo­cals al­lowed to en­joy the pri­vate grounds and host county events – check out the man­sion’s 19th cen­tury John Du­val paint­ing of the Suf­folk Show held in the park.

But in 1892, Ip­swich ratepay­ers didn’t love the place quite enough to part with £50,000 when Wil­liam Neale Fon­nereau sought to sell up to the Ip­swich Cor­po­ra­tion. With some of the land al­ready be­ing lost to de­vel­op­ment, Felix Cob­bold of Ip­swich brew­ing fam­ily fame, stepped in, pre­sent­ing Christchurch Man­sion to the town, on con­di­tion that its main struc­ture ‘be pre­served in its in­tegrity’ and that the Ip­swich Cor­po­ra­tion pur­chase the re­main­ing park­land. In 1896, the man­sion opened its doors to the pub­lic as an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum, pic­ture gal­leries and class­room for the Schools of Science and Art. 1903 saw the house re­stored and dis­played as a mu­seum, with friendly Felix be­queath­ing a gen­er­ous trust fund for the pur­chase of

art­works. No won­der his por­trait takes pride of place in the Great Hall.

More than just part of the Ip­swich fur­ni­ture Christchurch Man­sion has been a mu­seum for over a cen­tury, wel­com­ing gen­er­a­tions of vis­i­tors. It’s full of re-in­ven­tion as well as stately splen­dour. Filled with fas­ci­nat­ing bits and bobs in 16th cen­tury oak, 17th cen­tury wal­nut and 18th cen­tury ma­hogany, you’ll find it brim­ful of Suf­folk and Ip­swich fur­ni­ture, from long case clocks to a col­lec­tion of Mendle­sham chairs, not to men­tion prac­ti­cally whole lo­cal house­fuls of pre­cious pan­elling ac­com­mo­dated in rooms es­pe­cially added in the 1920s and 30s. Don’t miss the Wing­field pan­els, one of the first ex­am­ples of Re­nais­sance art in Eng­land, or the grand painted ‘over-man­tle’ saved from the house of early Ip­swich glo­be­trot­ter, Thomas El­dred. Over the course of thirty-three – yes, that’s 33! – rooms, you can sim­ply roll back time in awe of lav­ish Ge­or­gian wall­pa­pers and Tu­dor oak cladding, or trace the roomy de­vel­op­ment of stor­age chests in all their carved and in­laid forms. Closet vis­i­tors can spend hours pour­ing


over Lady Drury’s out­landish de­vo­tional paint­ings on the 17th cen­tury Haw­stead Pan­els, or you may find your­self sim­ply stand­ing and scratch­ing your head in the li­brary at the bizarre bel­lows in­cor­po­rated into an ‘ex­er­cise’ chair, de­signed for age­ing eques­tri­ans to re­live their rid­ing days.

Discover Christchurch Man­sion with children and a walk in the park will truly never be the same again. Weave your way up the sweep­ing stair­case, past por­traits of the wise and wealthy who played their part in putting Ip­swich on the map, and the won­ders of bold Baroque vis­tas, Ro­coco draw­ing rooms and a bed­room fit for a king are soon brushed aside by the mes­mer­iz­ing de­tail of dolls houses, tin­plate toys, Vic­to­rian par­lour games and long-loved, benev­o­lent-look­ing bears. Mooch along the cor­ri­dor to graze on morsels by Matisse, Renoir and Pi­casso. Or stay closer to home and en­ter­tain a trip on board the ‘Felixs­towe to Ip­swich Coach’ 1939-style, cour­tesy of Rus­sell Sid­ney Reeve. Stand and

dream at Mun­nings’ ponies (‘Trav­ellers’ 1910). You may even spot a Leonard Squirrell.

But when it comes to los­ing your­self with the lo­cals, few ex­pe­ri­ences could be finer than finding your­self in Gold­ing Con­sta­ble’s Flower Gar­den or down in his nearby veg patch, whiling away a mo­ment by the well-known Mill Stream, or fish­ing around Holy­wells Park cour­tesy of Thomas Gainsborough. The Man­sion’s 1934 ground floor ex­ten­sion – the Wolsey Art Gallery – part-funded by a 400th an­niver­sary pageant for the em­i­nent Ip­swich Car­di­nal – is home to the largest col­lec­tion of Con­sta­bles and Gains­bor­oughs out­side Lon­don. Reached via a dis­play of Low­est­oft porce­lain, it’s also the place to come lit­er­ally face-to-face with John Con­sta­ble, thanks to his dis­tinctly creepy death mask. Visit this ex­hi­bi­tion space soon and you’ll be greeted by heav­enly faces with amaz­ing tales to tell and fas­ci­nat­ing lo­cal con­nec­tions. Don’t miss Wolsey’s An­gels – pop in on a spe­cial event day, you might even meet that ‘glo­ri­ous pea­cock’ of a car­di­nal him­self.

What makes Christchurch Man­sion, this fine home of stately bed-knobs and broom­sticks (did we men­tion the Tu­dor kitchen?!) so very spe­cial? Is it the build­ing? The lo­ca­tion? The lo­cal links or sheer scope of things to see?

“Yes, it’s all of those,” shares Denise Fi­ennes, vice-chair of the Friends of the Ip­swich Mu­se­ums (FoIM), which has played a sig­nif­i­cant un­sung role in sup­port­ing the bor­ough’s ac­qui­si­tions, con­ser­va­tion and exhibitions at the man­sion for over 80 years. “It’s a qual­ity build­ing and mu­seum with lots to of­fer from dec­o­ra­tive arts to pic­tures and cos­tumes, that’s very in­volved with lo­cal names and so­cial his­tory. The 70 acre park sets it off fan­tas­ti­cally well, of course too. But I love the en­trance to Christchurch Man­sion in par­tic­u­lar – it’s such a cross­roads.”

Ah, that che­quer-floored hall, tow­er­ing with awe­some ar­cades and al­coves; lead­ing off in all di­rec­tions, through many pe­ri­ods of his­tory; point­ing the way to all sorts of dis­cov­er­ies. Stray from fa­mil­iar park­land paths to ar­rive here and the stately thresh­old may still seem like a big step.

But if the Great Hall is in any way a cross­roads into un­ex­plored ter­ri­to­ries, then it is cer­tainly not a daunt­ing one. For the wel­come from the knowl­edge­able mu­seum as­sis­tants couldn’t be warmer. The free daily short tours led by Mu­seum Friends couldn’t be, well, friend­lier. And above all, you can feel that the place has a re­ally spe­cial his­tory – a his­tory of be­ing truly val­ued, shared and loved by lo­cals past and present.

Wolsey’s An­gels

Christchurch Man­sion

The li­brary is one of 33 rooms wait­ing to be ex­plored

The de­vo­tional paint­ings on the Haw­stead pan­els

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