Ipswich
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Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Bethesda Baptist Church
   

Newsletter, July 2011 (Issue 184)

Puzzling over the Mansion


I have recently begun a short course at the Suffolk Record Office about five Suffolk estates, taught by the excellent Dr Margaret Thomas. (As a complete ignoramus about this kind of stuff I apologise for any inaccuracies that might follow, which are all my own work.) The first session was about Christchurch, here in Ipswich, and Margaret showed us maps, engravings and photos detailing the development of the house, park and estate over the centuries.

This spurred us on to visit the Mansion for the first time in ages. En route we looked at the site of the extensive formal water gardens which used to run from (roughly) the War Memorial down to Bethesda Baptist Chapel and realised this may be why this area often seems so soggy. Margaret had explained the dates of the different windows on the front elevation, so we understood the motley look. So far, so good; but from then on, things got less explicable - especially why they didn't remove previous fittings when they made alterations as it ruins the effect they were trying to achieve?

For example, the strange window mullions on the first floor of the hall were on an outside wall before they built the corridor behind them, and the bottom half of a filled- in window opposite must date from when the ceiling was put in (the previous design being open to the rafters). And when they built the corridor, why didn't they line it up with the floors of the wings it connected so you don't have to go up and down steps?

But the weirdest thing was the grand staircase. Knowing it was a later insertion explained the odd angle of the archway leading to it from the hall, but it was built to give access to a suite of rooms above, which according to the fashion of the time had been built the full width of the wing with no corridor - a series of connecting doors in line with each other on the east side made a 'virtual corridor' if they were all open. Logically the staircase should end in a landing on the east with two of these doors leading off it, but they took the stairs to the other side and had to insert a whole new row of doors along the western length of the wing. And then they left the original doors in situ - two of which now opened on to thin air several feet above the turn of the stairs. Was the staircase a bargain that came from somewhere else? And I really don't understand the double doors in the panelling that open on either side above the stairs; was this to make the rooms look larger?

So then we started going round and noticing the oddities. The pretty door on to the gallery above the hall has an amazing number of bolts, given that it doesn't open on to the outside of the house. And if the bedrooms were in the west wing then they were directly above the kitchens and sculleries which must have been really noisy at 5.30 in the morning with all those buckets and clogs on the stone stairs.

A little courtyard on the east side has its knocker and letterbox on the courtyard side. And why should such a small(ish) house need three doors giving on to the entrance court? One of these has a pretty oval window above it let into a wall that appears to be more than a foot and a half thick in a house allegedly not made of stone. There were strangely curving walls in odd places and two rooms appeared to be adjoining - but the party wall would have to be more than two feet thick if they do.

I wanted to ask Margaret all about it but she pre-empted me by saying how puzzling it all was and what a pity it was that the Mansion had never been properly recorded. And that all the date plaques had been moved - one of the few things we had assumed we could rely on. Oh well.

I'm sure we'll be going back many more times, noticing more strange things on each visit. And I'm sure many members are groaning and tutting at my woeful ignorance and are eager to enlighten me - please do. I'd love to know.

Kay McElhinney

    Front cover of issue 184 Cover, issue 184

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