The Church of St Lawrence the Martyr
A real gem in the heart of the town saved from almost certain oblivion by Ipswich Borough Council (et al.)
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence Church Ogilby mapCourtesy Stephen Govier, Suffolk historian
The engraving above is from John Ogilby's map of Ipswich, 1674.
Above: St Lawrence Church engraving from John Ogilby's map of Ipswich, 1674.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence Church print    
Above: during the 'Our Town' exhibition held in Christchurch Mansion during the first Ip-art festival in July 2003, we noticed a wonderful picture of St Lawrence Church in Dial Lane painted in a gorgeous diffuse sunlight by Howard Gaye in 1882, presumably from the basket of a hot air balloon! This prompted us to seek out the 'lettering of St Lawrence tower.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence Church 2023
Sept. 2023 image
This really is a rock 'n' roll church tower, thanks to the lavish budgets of the Victorians. seen here from the lower part of Dial Lane.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence tower 2023
'S' ... 'L'
is seen in decorative flushwork (a combination of knapped flint, masonry and mortar), the initials standing, of course, for St Lawrence. The characters an halo-like surrounds are situated either side of the bell-chamber vent on the south face of the lofty tower. They could not be repeated on the north face of the tower because of the spiral staircase feature on the north-east corner. Incidentally, it is well worth reminding Ipswichians and others that St Lawrence is of international importance. St Lawrence Church is a Grade II* listed. The 15th-century church has the oldest ring of five church bells in the world. When we hear the bells rung on high days and holidays today, we are listening to the same sound that the young Thomas Wolsey, born c.1471, heard. The five bell ring at St Bartholomew, Smithfield is fifty years its junior. For more detail on the bells, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Sympathetic cleaning and restoration, as shown above, has removed industrial revolution grime to reveal thes splendid colours and decorative features.
The close-up photograph by the late Brian Jepson shows some of the fine detail here:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence tower 4Date not known, added here 2015
Then we noticed some even more obscure characters in the weather vein on the very top. Walking up Dial Lane past the church and into the lower part of Tower Street the date became visible. Cut out of the metal is the date of '1799'. Ironic, too, that this weather vein spins atop a tower which was built nearly 100 years later. There are other dated weather vanes in Ipswich.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence tower 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence weather vane2004 images
Having visited St Lawrence in 1990 for a Youngblood exhibition, we can recall the amazing blue light through the surviving windows and the truly marvellous – albeit dirty – polychrome stone, terra cotta, flint and tile decoration and carvings in its lofty tower. On the ground it was not a pretty sight: dirty, worn stonework, an abused area surrounding the church – barely a churchyard – thank goodness that the Great Gippeswyckian Carl Giles celebrated the church towers in some of his cartoons...
Giles, 1971. St Mary Le Tower with St Lawrence in background.

The Church of St Lawrence was originally one of the churches of the Priory of the Holy Trinity, the friary which once stood on the site of Christchurch Mansion.
St Lawrence church - period view
Above is 'Ipswich and the Church of St Lawrence' (the view from Tavern Street down Dial Lane) a steel engraving from Dugdale's England and Wales Delineated: Curiosities of Great Britain published from 1835 to about 1848.
Above the close-built shops rises a fine 15th century tower, its windows outlined in brick, curious little 18th century urns topping the corners of what is otherwise a typical Suffolk church tower. So the amazing, decorative top was not always there. See our Scarborow page for an illustration of Dial Lane in 1830.

In 1882, the London firm of Barnes and Gaye were comissioned to rebuild the upper part of the tower of St Lawrence church. They produced one of the most extraordinary confections to grace any Suffolk church, more noticeably so because of the rarity of Victorian towers in Ipswich in particular and Suffolk in general. Angels, flowers and mystical symbols interleave amongst geometric flintwork designs.

Since the tower was cleaned in 1996, the variety of materials used has become apparent, from brilliant whites and soft pinks to the yellow of the stonework and iron grey of the flint. Each side of the tower is different; each view and each perspective has something new to offer. Our thanks to Simon's Suffolk Churches site (See Links) for additional information.

After many years of closure and neglect, this disused church was invested in by Ipswich Borough and Suffolk County Councils as well as central government in 2008 (every penny from public funds). It is now fully refurbished and open as a restaurant. The interior is as impressive as the exterior (scroll down for images).

The view from St Lawrence Street: roundels monograms and inscriptions

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 102013 image
However, the story - from this website's point of view  (insofar as a website can have a point of view) - does not end there. The October 2009 issue of the Ipswich Society (see Links) Newsletter  carried an article by that tireless documenter of local history, Dr John Blatchly.  He has managed to untangle the flushwork (stone and knapped flint) lettering below the window at the east end of the exterior of St Lawrence.

The pair of photographs of the site (below) were taken in January 2011:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 3   pswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 8
These details are clearer and more recent. See the text below for explanations of the monograms.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 11   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 12a
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 13   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 142013 images
The flushwork panel to the right is: 'ihc', a fine, recently restored spiral/circle relief. This is known as the 'sacred monogram'; the letters 'IHC', the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus IHCOYC. See also this monogram on the Church of St Peter.

Then a crowned and rather indecipherable 'AMR'
crowned monogram in flushwork. Simon Knott (see Simon's Suffolk Churches in Links) tells us that: "it is AMR, the conventional monogram for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most people seem to think it stands for Ave Maria Regina, although there are other interpretations." Thanks to him for the demystification. We've found a similar monogram on St Margaret (in stone on a butress) and the flushwork one on St Mary in Woodbridge adds more information:
'This symbol appears in the flint flushwork around the base of the church tower and the south porch and is repeated on St. Mary's Church Flag. It is known as the Sacred Monogram of the Blessed Virgin, and consists of the stylised letters AMR conjoined - the initial letters of Ave Maria Regina (Hail Mary Queen) - denoting Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Queen of Heaven. The idea of Mary as Queen of Heaven comes from Revelation 12.1-5, and is emphasised [in the Woodbridge example] by the crown and overarching sky. In fact, all five letters of the name MARIA can be deciphered in this motif.'

'IB' actually 'JB' – and why the shears?
It is documented that according to a will of 1488 the chancel of the church (the bit where the altar stands) was built largely at the expense of John Baldwyn, a draper; at his death he was survived by his widow, Joan, but no children.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence east end wall lettering2024 composite image
The long inscription
Alongside the symbolic panels which included the shears of his trade an inscription was included in the east wall:
'Pray for the soules of John Baldwyn Draper and Jone hys wyf and alle xtn sowles am'
It is almost as if the letterers didn't quite plan out the available space and had to curtail words towards the end: "xtn" stands for "Christian"  - the same as in 'Xmas' (ouch) and "am" is short for "amen".
Alas, the Victorian restorers/rebuilders of St Lawrence inherited a building in poor repair, particularly in this area. In 1752 the dilapidated dedication had been covered with mortar and the 1858 restorers changed 'Jone' to 'Jane' (although this now seems to read 'Jone' once again) and the end of the inscription after the word "alle" to:
'Pray for the soules of John Baldwyn Draper and Jone hys wyf and for alle the good donors'

Only in 2009, now that the greasy soot and grime has been cleaned away by Simon Swann and his team from Wrentham, can this lettering be properly seen. We are pleased to include the above set of photographs of this "fascinating and touching piece of medieval history right in the middle of the town" as the Newsletter describes it. As ever, our thanks to these enthusiasts who keep an eye on such corners of Ipswich history and bring it to our attention. Note also in the image the presence to the upper right of the 'ihc' monogram which can also be found at St Peter's Church and is explained there. The medallions to the left are: a shield, a flushwork monogram 'JB' (the 'J' resembling a n 'I') for 'John Baldwyn' and the upside-down, half-open draper's shears on a shield.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence seat plaque2021 image courtesy Ed Broom
[UPDATE 22.1.2021: 'Walking in town today I came across this plaque on St Lawrence Street underneath the "pray for the soules" lettering. Good old McDonalds, eh? One of your photos shows the old curved seating but at present there is no seat: maybe temporarily removed given the current situation? Ed Broom.' Thanks to Ed for photographing the plaque – and yes, the plaque was there to the left of our long shot (above). We hear that the wood of the seat rotted and the whole thing was removed (see the 2024 photograph below.]

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence east end wall lettering2024 image of the whole east wall

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence St signThe corner of the street with Butter Market (2014)
St Lawrence Street
Muriel Clegg in Streets and street names in Ipswich (see Reading List): “The central market area retains its medieval pattern, but of its original names, only Cornhill remains.When a particular market was moved, the name deserted the site. Thus the removal in 1447 of the clothmarket from St Lawrence Street to premises’ above and below’ the Moot Hall on Cornhill, left that street nameless. Even before the departure of the clothmarket it was often referred to as ‘the lane from the Fishmarket to the Conduit’. The conduit stood at the western junction of Tavern Street with St Lawrence Street, its former presence still indicated by the Town Arms over the corner premises. Evidently the street became a market for fruit: Ogilby names it ‘Fruit Market’, and so it continued at least as late as 1823, but in the meantime the White Hart Inn, there at least as early as 1689, also gave its name to the street, from 1769 (and perhaps earlier) until the inn was demolished in 1866. With the removal of this landmark the neighbouring church, as so often happened, bestowed the name St Lawrence Street.”
For a similar commentary on Dial Lane see our Scarborow page;
on Butter Market see our Ancient House page.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 152014 images
At the Dial Lane entrance to the church, this somewhat outdated sign can still be seen to the right:

A few doors down Dial Lane, see 'Scarborow' the Art Nouveau shop front of Pickwick's Tea & Coffee shop.

The interior lettering
St Lawrence is notable (as is the closed St Clement church) for its extensive lettered frieze and scrolls.

Beatitudes (Psalm 1:1-6; Luke 6:20-23):
'Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 18   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 192014 images
The first half of the Beatitudes begins to the right of the west door. Getting into the café early means an almost unobsrtructed view of the frieze.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 20   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 21

A sculptural element at the base of one memorial may bestow some comfort....
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 22   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 23

Betwixt 'THE' and 'KINGDOM', a slight inexplicable lozenge reveals part of a triple-barred 'H' from the original lettering.
See Borin Van Loon's coloured pencil drawing Be comforted based on the above memorial.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 24
'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 17   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 16  
The text continues on the other side of the nave, finally ending to the left of the west door.
26   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 27
Once again, a slightly odd break in 'PERSE' ... 'CUTED' to reveal an original initial 'F' in red.

The scroll over the arch into the chancel (similar to that in St Clement, if memory serves):
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 28

[Psalm 132:9]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 29
Just one example of the several striking wall memorials:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Lawrence 25
To the Memory of
Late of Lackford
in this County,
who departed this Life
the 15th day of Auguft 1783,
in the 70th Year of her Age.
To the Memory of
who departed this Life
the 14th day of Auguft 1789,
in the 16th Year of his
In spite of the odd use of a single closing bracket at the end, this inscription tells us much of the frailty of human life in the 18th century

Simon Knott's Suffolk churches website (see Links) has much information about the remarkable survival and rebirth of St Lawrence, including a set of photographs of the very poor condition of the building from September 1999. This includes the original, somewhat worn Victorian lettering. One wonders if it might have been better to clean and stabilise the improving texts in their original form, rather than the overpainting which we (presumably) see today. However, closer study of these photographs suggests that the smaller Victorian characters had already been overpainted using larger letters.
If nothing else, St Lawrence is a cause for celebration in campanological circles as:
"On the ninth of September 2009, the bells of St Lawrence were returned to their tower for the first time in a quarter of a century. The bells rang out over the rooftops of Ipswich, and there were emotional scenes, because these five bells, all cast in the 1440s, are the oldest circle of five bells in the whole world."

Wolsey's superlative bells

"Only at St Lawrence Church, Ipswich, and at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in the City of London, are there rings of five bells surviving from before the Reformation, and ours are the senior.
The building of the tower at St Lawrence began about 1430 because John Bottold was described on his slab at the entrance as its 'first beginner'. In 1447 Thomas Prat's wife Alice left twenty shillings to 'repairing the bells', proof positive that the tower was already built and the first bells hung. The following year Alice Grenehood, widow, left the same amount 'to the making of a bell in the tower there' and in 1451 Christine Hall left more for the same purpose. The Ipswich bells therefore predate the Smithfield five (all cast in about 1510).
While Thomas Wolsey's parents Robert and Joan lived and probably worshipped in the neighbouring parish of St Nicholas, Joan's brother, the wealthy and influential Edmund Daundy, lived in the parish of St Lawrence and endowed a chantry of St Thomas of Canterbury in the church where priests would sing masses for the souls of the Daundys and Wolseys in perpetuity. The sound of bells at his uncle's church will have been familiar to the young Thomas Wolsey who was born in 1471.
In September 2009 the bells were lowered eight metres and rehung in a new frame in the sturdy part of the tower where they can be safely rung. Ringers will come from all over the country, indeed all over the world, to ring them and hear their uniquely medieval sound, a sound which Wolsey knew well and is unchanged today.
The five bells and their inscriptions
Two bells honour the Virgin Mary and there is one each for St Thomas of Canterbury, St Giles, patron saint of blacksmiths, and St Katherine. The Latin prayers are cast on them in raised letters as follows:-
Treble: 'Sancta Maria Ora Pro Nobis' [Holy Mary pray for us] Made 1490 by Reignold Chirche of Bury St Edmunds;
Second: 'Sancta Katerina Ora Pro Nobis' [Holy Katherine pray for us] Made about 1440 by William Chamberlain of London;
Third: 'Sonitus Egidii Ascendit Ad Culmina Celi' [The sound of Giles rises to the vaults of heaven] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer 1 of Norwich;
Fourth: 'Nos Thomas Meritis Mereamur Gaudia Lucis' [May we deserve the joys of light by the merits of Thomas ] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer;
Tenor: 'Sum Rosa Pulsata Mundi Maria Vocata' [I am, when rung, called Mary the Rose of the World] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer".
John Blatchly
(Edited article from The Ipswich Society Newsletter (see Links), January 2010.)

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