Ipswich museum founder to be honoured with church project

Hitcham parishoners celebrate the £100,000 grant award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund Pictu

Hitcham parishoners celebrate the £100,000 grant award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund Picture: FRIENDS OF ALL SAINTS CHURCH - Credit: Archant

The clergyman who was one of the founders of Ipswich Museum and mentored Charles Darwin is to be honoured with a permanent exhibition at a Suffolk church.


John Stevens Henslow Picture: COLCHESTER AND IPSWICH MUSEUMS - Credit: (c) Colchester and Ipswich Museu

The work of Reverend Professor John Stevens Henslow, who studied at the University of Cambridge, is of regional, national and international importance, but his legacy is little known.

A professor of botany at Cambridge, he founded the university's botanical garden in 1831 and was a lifelong friend to Darwin, who once said of Henslow: "I fully believe a better man never walked this earth".

The botanist and geologist was also one of the founders of Ipswich Museum in 1847, and was elected as its second president in 1850.

Now, following a £100,000 grant, his work is finally to be recorded along with a bell restoration project at All Saints Church in Hitcham, near Stowmarket, where he served as rector from 1837 to 1861.

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The 'Restoring Henslow's Bells' project at the church, which includes the exhibition, aims to ring Hitcham's bells for the first time in 100 years.

Nicola Currie, secretary of The Friends of All Saints Church Hitcham, said: "Hitcham Church has a very rare but unusable 16th-century bell frame, which is unique in East Anglia, if not England, so needs to be preserved.

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"This turned a £50,000 bell restoration plan into a major project costing over £200,000.

"A new bell frame has to be inserted under the existing one in the existing ringing floor, so a new ringing floor also has to be built.

"We decided to extend the project to include a permanent exhibition on Henslow, our most influential rector so that visitors to the church get to share in this important man's achievements."

Henslow commissioned two of Hitcham's bells to mark Queen Victoria's coronation and is buried in the church yard.

Ms Currie added: "It has been 100 years since Hitcham's bells were last rung full peal, and there have been several attempts to raise the money in the past but other more urgent repair work always took precedence.

"We finally raised half the money, but Hitcham is a small village and without the help of The National Lottery Heritage Fund we could not have achieved our goal.

"We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who plays the National Lottery and has helped to make this work possible."

The church has also teamed up with the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, who will stage a year-long Henslow exhibition in 2020.

Jenny Cousins, director of the Museum of East Anglian Life, said: "We're delighted to be working with the Hitcham team to help share the inspirational legacy of Henslow at the museum."

Anne Jenkins, National Lottery Heritage Fund director for the Midlands and East, said: 'We have been delighted to support Hitcham Church, who will now be able carry out a long overdue restoration around their unique 16th-century bell frame.

"It is great news that thanks to National Lottery players, a whole new audience will be able to learn about the influential, yet little-known work of John Stevens Henslow all year round."

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