13 fascinating features within Ipswich’s Christchurch Park
- Credit: Archant
With a legacy spanning hundreds of years, Ipswich’s Christchurch Park is an incredibly interesting place to visit. Not only is it beautiful and tranquil, but many of its features are steeped in history.
The park’s focal point, Christchurch Mansion, was built in 1548 - but it wasn’t until 1895 that Christchurch Park opened to the public, making it Ipswich’s first public park over 125 years ago.
However, the land on which the park sits on has been in use since the 11th century, and is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book.
“Christchurch Park lies beyond the town’s medieval boundary,” explains David Miller, author of Ipswich Arboretum: A History and Celebration.
“William the Conqueror’s survey records an Anglo-Saxon church of the Holy Trinity in possession of 26 acres of land, and this is believed to have become the site of the Priory of Augustinian (Black) canons in the mid-twelfth century.”
In the years since, this vast, rolling green space has since become home to a number of iconic monuments and landmarks.
Here to explain more is Peter Gray. Chair of the Friends of Christchurch Park, he knows everything there is to know about this historic, Grade II-listed green space.
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“The Friends of Christchurch Park is a not-for-profit organisation that supports the park in variety of ways,” he explains.
Established in 1998, the group has helped secure funding for a number of projects within the park, as well as buy bat boxes, outdoor gym equipment and wildflower seeds.
In addition, the group is also keen on preserving and sharing the park’s history.
With that in mind, here are just 13 interesting features located within the park that you might’ve missed during your last stroll.
The Round Pond
Located next to the Mansion, The Round Pond is one of the oldest features in the park.
“It almost certainly pre-dates Christchurch Mansion, and was probably a fishpond supplying the Priory of the Holy Trinity which occupied the site for centuries before the mansion with fish,” explains Peter.
“Fish was an important part of the medieval diet, and especially at religious institutions such as the priory where meat was only eaten on special occasions, or by those who were ill. The Priory of the Holy Trinity was built in the 12thcentury and was dissolved by Thomas Cromwell in 1536, ultimately making way for the current mansion. In the 18th century, the Round Pond became known as ‘The Bason’ – a term which has not lasted!”
The Cabman’s Shelter
The Cabman’s Shelter is one of the park’s many Grade II-listed structures, and this fascinating wooden shelter was built in 1892 to provide a dry, warm space for drivers of horse-drawn cabs in the centre of Ipswich.
“By law, in those days, once parked up, cabmen could not leave without a fare. This was somewhat challenging if the weather was poor and that is why the shelter was built for them,” explains Peter.
“It was moved from its original position on the Cornhill to the park in 1895 - the year the park opened to the public. It was towed by a steam roller to the park and placed near to the Bolton Lane entrance.”
The shelter was unfortunately extensively damaged by fire in 1995 – but it was restored in 2006, and the following year was moved to the Westerfield Road entrance in a procession appropriately led by a steam-powered traction engine.
The Ice House
One of the more hidden features within the park, The Ice House is in fact a Grade II-listed building that goes all the way back to the 18th century.
“Many grand houses in early times had ice houses, and the one for Christchurch Mansion was built around 1735 and would have been an important part of the Mansion’s domestic arrangements.”
It’s likely The Ice House was built for prominent merchant and former Bank of England director Claude Fonnereau, who acquired the estate that year after purchasing it from Price Devereux, 10th Viscount Hereford for £11,500.
“Winter ice was collected from the Round Pond and stored in this underground ‘house’, and provided the means to chill food well into the summer months. Behind the door, and through a tunnel, lies a deep brick-lined chamber with a crowned brick dome overhead.”
The Ice House can be found in a dip, a short walk up the steep hill from the Martyrs’ Memorial.
The Wilderness Pond
The second-oldest water feature within the park, this pond is believed to have been created by the first owner of Christchurch Mansion, Edmund Withypoll in 1567 and at one time was known as the ‘Dovehouse Pond’.
Fed by natural springs, it is a haven for wildlife – especially birds.
“Mandarin ducks, mallards, moorhens, cormorants and Canada geese are regulars, but occasionally – usually in winter – you might spot a kingfisher. The common merganser, though rare in these parts, has also been a recent visitor, attracting birdwatchers from far and wide,” Peter explains.
Other wildlife that inhabits the Wilderness Pond include various species of fish, butterflies, and bats.
Mabel’s statue and tree
If you’ve walked through Christchurch Park, you’ll no doubt have caught a glimpse of a curious looking wooden owl statue.
That statue, which was unveiled in 2017, commemorates the park’s most famous feathered resident – Mabel the Owl.
Ipswich's famous tawny owl was first 'discovered' back in September 2008. For many years, she was to be seen perching at a large hole at the top of an oak tree, not far from the Westerfield Road gate in the early mornings and at dusk.
“She became quite an attraction, and even made it into the national press,” explains Peter.
“After a disappearance for a few years, she re-emerged, and there has been much debate as to whether the ‘new’ owl is indeed Mabel or perhaps one of her offspring - or indeed a totally different owl. The new owl has been given the name Matilda, and a small wooden statue of Mabel is situated by the path next to her now-famous perch.”
The Mabel statue is carved from oak, and was created by tree surgeon David Good.
The Burton Drinking Fountain
Located next to the play area in the Ancient Avenue, this 19th century monument was built in 1896 and donated by wholesale provision merchant Sir Bunnell H. Burton.
Based in College Street, Burton was also organist of St. Mary-le-Tower Church, Mayor of Ipswich in 1905, and chairman of the Governors at Ipswich School for 38 years.
Knighted in 1934 for his political and public services in Ipswich, Burton passed away in 1943, and the drinking fountain was later restored in 2006.
The Martyrs’ Memorial
Adjacent to the Reg Driver Visitor Centre stands a monument dedicated to the nine Protestant martyrs from Ipswich - a group of people who were burned at the stake between 1538 and 1558 for their refusal to recant their Protestant belief and adopt Roman Catholicism. The majority of these executions took place in the centre of Ipswich on The Cornhill.
“Protestantism had growing popularity in and around Ipswich in the early and mid-16th century,” explains Peter.
“The monument itself however is relatively modern, and was unveiled by the Dean of Canterbury in December 1903.”
Inscribed on it are the nine names of said martyrs, as well as the following text: “This monument is erected to the memory of nine Ipswich martyrs who for their constancy to the Protestant faith suffered death by burning. Oh may thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor's crown of gold. Alleluia.”
The Brett Drinking Fountain
Situated on the Henley Road entrance to the Upper Arboretum is an historic drinking fountain that has been in the park since the 19th century.
The Brett Drinking Fountain was donated by Ipswich shoemaker John Brett, who wrote to the Mayor of Ipswich and the Corporation of the town in October 1862 after seeing children playing in the Arboretum and noticing that there was no water for them to drink while playing.
Created by Mr Farrow of Carr Street, it cost £64 and was unveiled to the public in May 1863. Neither the Mayor nor the Deputy Mayor, Mr Edward Grimwade, attended the opening ceremony, and said: “Cold water is a cold subject to make a speech upon.”
However, a friend of John Brett, Mr Thomas Shave Gowing, was inspired by his generosity and wrote a poem about the fountain, which he recited at the opening ceremony.
Grade II-listed, it was the first park feature to undergo restoration thanks to the Heritage Lottery, and further work on it was carried out in 2011.
The Arts and Crafts Shelter
Located in the Arboretum, the Arts and Crafts Shelter was built in 1878 at a cost of £150 to protect the public from rain, and was also sometimes used as a bandstand.
“Today it is the centrepiece for the hugely popular, free Brass on the Grass concerts, organised on summer Sunday afternoons by the Friends of Christchurch Park,” explains Peter.
The Armillary Sphere Sundial
One of the most eye-catching historical features of the park, the Armillary Sphere Sundial has a fascinating history.
According to the Ipswich Society, it has been speculated that it originally belonged to the Fonnereau family, and once resided in the rock gardens of the Lower Arboretum in the early 20th century.
But when the rock gardens were redesigned a few decades later, it was moved to the back of the mansion.
However, just under a century later and the Friends of Christchurch Park restored the sundial and put it in the Lower Arboretum. Unveiled in 2017, the sundial set within a celestial sphere was dedicated to former Ipswich School headmaster and local historian John Blatchly MBE.
The Boer War Memorial
There are two war memorials located within the park – with the first one commemorating the 150 Suffolk Regiment men who served during the Boer War.
“Originally the memorial was located on the Cornhill and unveiled by Sir John French in 1906, under whom the Suffolk Regiment served in the conflict. He later commanded British forces on the Western Front in the first year and a half of the First World War,” explains Peter.
Just a few years later however, the memorial was moved on rollers by around 50 men from the Cornhill to the park where it has been ever since. It features a bronze life-sized soldier in uniform, with his head bowed and gun reversed, and the names of all those who lost their lives during the conflict.
Ipswich War Memorial and Cenotaph
“This is probably the most striking structure in the park,” says Peter.
The Ipswich War Memorial and Cenotaph can be found near the Fonnereau Road entrance to the park.
Paid for by money raised by the people of Ipswich, the cenotaph was designed by Mancunian architect Edward Adams and unveiled in 1924 in a ceremony attended by Rear Admiral Sir R Webb KCMG, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Suffragan Bishop of Ipswich, and the Lieutenant-General SIR A Hunter Weston KCB DSO.
In 2004, those who lost their lives in the Second World War were later memorialised. Also commemorated are those who perished in conflicts that followed War World II, including the Korean War, Cyprus Emergency, the Northern Ireland Conflict, and the war in Afghanistan.
It is a pivotal part of Ipswich history, as every year, hundreds of people gather around it on Remembrance Sunday to pay their respects to the fallen.
Believed to be older than Christchurch Mansion, located near the park’s cenotaph is a six-hundred-year-old English yew tree that majestically towers over the grounds. It is thought the historic tree has been stood there since Henry V’s reign which began in the late 13th century.
Also within the park, in the arboretum, is The Shakespearean Memorial Tree – a blue atlas cedar that was planted in 1864 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birthday.
To find out more about the history of the park and the work the Friends of Christchurch Park do, visit friendsofchristchurchpark.co.uk
What is your favourite part of Christchurch Park? Get in touch with email@example.com to share your stories and photos.