The oldest things in Suffolk - from schools and bridges to shops and trees

Father John Thackray in front of the door of St Mary at the Elms in Ipswich, which is known to be th

Father John Thackray in front of the door of St Mary at the Elms in Ipswich, which is the third oldest door in the UK, and the oldest in Suffolk - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

We unearth the history of some of the county's most ancient landmarks.

Suffolk's oldest door 

Recently uncovered in Ipswich is the county’s oldest door – and in fact the third oldest in the entire country.   

The door, which can be found on the St Mary at the Elms Church, has been in use for 1,000 years – but it wasn’t until British Pilgrimage Trust founder William Parsons shared the news on Twitter back in March that its historic origins were discovered.  

The door is thought to have been used for nearly 1,000 years

The door is thought to have been used for nearly 1,000 years - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

In his original tweet, William said: “We get used to hearing this sort of number in the UK, but 1,000 years of the same stone, wood and iron allowing and barring access is deeply special, even for old England.” 


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St Mary at the Elms Church’s parish priest Father John Thackary had no idea the extent of the door’s history, as he said: “The news came as a bit of a shock, a pleasant surprise, to me over the weekend. 

“I worked for many years as a school chaplain at King's School in Canterbury which is the oldest in the country — possibly the world — which was founded in 597AD, and then King's School Rochester which is the second oldest founded in 604AD. It's nice to find out about the door as that makes it three — and of course the building behind our church, the cottage, is the oldest inhabited building in Ipswich.” 

River Waveney and Valley

Homersfield Bridge - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Suffolk's oldest bridge

Not only is Homersfield Bridge Suffolk’s oldest surviving concrete bridge, it also lay claims to being the oldest surviving concrete bridge in Britain.  

Spanning the River Waveney and teetering on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, this 50 metre construction stretches from Homersfield in Suffolk (hence the namesake), over to Alburgh and Wortwell in Norfolk. 

Constructed in 1870, the Grade II-listed bridge was the result of an early experiment that combined iron with concrete, and was built to replace an earlier bridge that stood in the same location.  

Over the years, the bridge had fallen into disrepair due to its age, but underwent a full restoration in 1995 thanks to the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust. 

The historic church bells pictured in 2009 during the church's restoration

The historic church bells pictured in 2009 during the church's restoration - Credit: Simon Parker

Suffolk's oldest church bells

St Lawrence Church in Ipswich proudly houses the oldest circle of church bells, not just in Suffolk, but in the entire world.  

The five bells - known collectively as ‘Wolsey’s Bells' - all date back to between 1450 and 1480, and rang for hundreds of years until falling silent in 1985 due to the tower becoming too unstable to support their use.

However, in 2009 the bells were moved further down the tower, mounted on a new steel frame and rang again for all to hear. 

Ipswich School

Ipswich School - Credit: Warren Page/Ipswich School

Suffolk's oldest school

Suffolk’s oldest education institution still in operation to this day is Ipswich School, dating all the way back to the 14th century. The earliest recorded mention of the school can be traced back to 1399, in an apparent legal dispute regarding unpaid fees, and the first mention of it being a grammar school goes back to 1416.  

It is believed Ipswich School was set up by the Merchant Guild of Ipswich (which later became Guild of Corpus Christi), and it's been based in a number of buildings since its inception. These include a house given by former pupil Richard Felaw in 1483, a now-demolished college building, Blackfriars refectory and its current location, the school’s purpose-built Henley Road premises, where it has based been since the mid-19th century.

Some of the school’s most famous former pupils include Cardinal Thomas Wolsey,  founder of entomology William Kirby and chess grandmaster Nicholas Pert.

Boxford Stores has been trading in some form or another for 600 years

Boxford Stores has been trading in some form or another for 600 years - Credit: Archant Archives

Suffolk's oldest shop

Head to south Suffolk and there you will find Britain’s oldest shop - proudly dating all the way back to the 15th century.  

Boxford Stores has a trading history that can be traced back to 1420 - and a lime-washed timber exterior which hasn’t changed much over the years.   

Throughout the centuries, this Grade II-listed building has been home to a variety of different shops, including a hardware shop, a butcher, a grocer, a draper and an ironmonger. Currently, it houses a village shop and post office. 

The Tea Party Oak in Ickworth

The Tea Party Oak in Ickworth - Credit: National Trust Images

Suffolk's oldest tree

While it’s hard to ascertain the exact date some of Suffolk’s trees were planted, many can agree that perhaps the oldest tree in the county is the Tree Party Oak. Situated in Ickworth Park near Bury St Edmunds, this natural wonder is thought to be over 700 years old, and has a diameter of over nine metres.  

Prior to the mid-20th century however, the accolade of ‘oldest tree’ would have gone to Gospel Oak. A veteran tree in the village of Polstead, the historic oak was believed to have been stood there for well over a millennium before it collapsed in 1953.

Reportedly, Anglo-Saxon missionary St Cedd would preach under the tree in around 653AD – and through the process of dendrochronology, experts uncovered that the tree had over 1,400 growth rings within, meaning it would have been at least 100 years old during the reign of King Anna of East Anglia. 

Leiston Film Theatre, back when it was The Picture House, prior to being remodelled in the 1970s

Leiston Film Theatre, back when it was The Picture House, prior to being remodelled in the 1970s - Credit: Archant Archives

Suffolk's oldest cinema

Opened in 1914, Leiston Picture House is Suffolk’s oldest surviving cinema – and one of the country’s earliest purpose-built film theatres.  

The popular local film venue, which was originally called Leiston Picture House, was saved from closure in 1976 following a decline in cinema attendance in the 1970s. 

Coming in at second place is Aldeburgh Cinema, which opened just five years later in 1919. 

Are there any other historic Suffolk monuments that didn’t make the list? Get in touch with danielle.lett@archant.co.uk to share your favourite time-honoured landmarks from across the county. 

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