Withypoll memorials, Holy Trinity Priory and its church

This feature of Christchurch history had escaped our attention, until Mike Taylor, Senior Conservation Officer of Ipswich Borough Council, drew our attention to it. The location of this large stone slab is at the back of a stretch of lawn to the right of the front elevation of Christchurch Mansion. Because it is set back and, until recently (July 2019), overgrown by vegetation, many people, we suspect, missed by many. Mike arraged for the old, overhanging yews and ivy to be removed (with replanting to follow). Does the  slab hold the key to the story of Holy Trinity Priory and Church?
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 22019 images
The following photographs scan down the length of the slab. It is clear that some indentations are still discernible and others have weathered. 'Laboratory-condition' photography in half-light with raking light would reveal more.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 3
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Richard Edgar-Wilson, Chair of the Friends of Ipswich Museums, and Carrie Willis, Duty Officer for Colchester & Ipswich Museums, are to be credited with providing the following information. Our thanks to them, particularly for bringing to light the 1977 research paper on the memorial.

Richard writes:
'This is an interesting slab, and yes, the whole history of Holy Trinity seems peculiarly opaque. I have attached a document I have in my files called Notes on Holy Trinity (collected from various sources and not verified) which might possibly have some information you do not already know.
The go-to person re: the slab would have been the much missed John Blatchly. But luckily, John wasn’t the sort of person to leave a stone unturned! Thanks to Carrie Willis, Duty Officer at the Mansion, who in January [2019] raised the possibility of somehow restoring or at the very least saving it from the elements, we have this information which John and Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote in a piece called 'An Ipswich Conundrum: The Withypoll memorials’ in the Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society. I have taken the liberty of forwarding Carrie’s précis here. Incidentally,
I wonder whether the William Dandy mentioned is actually a Daundy, of Wolsey family fame? I would like to see the slab taken inside. If not into the Mansion, then perhaps one of our magnificent churches (or indeed ex-churches).'

An Ipswich Conundrum: The Withypoll memorials
It is a remarkable 14th century brass indent.

The Tournai marble*** slab measures 1.6 metres x 3.16 metres and although considerably worn and damaged, it retains the indents of two figures under a double canopy, all inside a marginal fillet. The figures appear to be a woman wearing a cowl head-dress on the dexter side and a civilian wearing a coif on the sinister.

A strange feature of the slab is the presence of two indents of keys beside the heads of the figures, presumably either a badge of office or some sort of heraldic or punning device.  Prominent also on the slab are the indents of various backing strips which would be soldered and riveted to the large areas of brass plate to join them together; apart from these, only 35 dowel holes are now visible.

The figure of the civilian also retains a deeper indent of praying hands to be inlaid in white marble or alabaster, and there are traces, now indicated only by the greater depth of the surface of the stone from the plane, of similar indents for the hands of the lady and for the faces of the two figures. (See the tracing below)

The use of inlay of this sort and of Tournai marble, besides the general use of the slab, indicates that this is not English work. there is little doubt that it was made in Flanders, either at Tournai itself or at Ghent or Bruges; its date is c.1320-30. Such slabs are almost unknown in England, but in Scotland they are a good deal more common.  It is in Scotland that one finds exact parallels for the Ipswich indent. These come respectively from Dundrennan Abbey in Galloway and St John's Burgh Kirk, Perth, and the details of the design particularly the canopy in both cases is such as to leave little doubt that they are from the same workshop as the Ipswich slab.

Nothing is definitely known of this slab until 1888, when the local antiquary Hamlet Watling wrote an article for the East Anglian Daily Times. He described the slab as then 'serving the purpose of a doorstop outside the Conservatory' at Christchurch; this was confirmed 5 years later when local architect and historian, J.S. Corder, produced Christchurch or Withepole House: a brief memorial (1893) in which he mentioned the slab 'without the north door of the present mansion doing duty for a step' and so illustrated it on his plan. (See the Mansion plan below.)

It is unlikely that the slab can have been in such a position much before 1888, otherwise the degree of deterioration would be greater, it is equally unlikely that it had been a recent arrival at Christchurch, or else the Victorian commentators would surely have known of its introduction. Presumably it had been found face down somewhere in or near Christchurch.

MacCulloch and Blatchly allude to the slab being intentionally used by Edmund Withypoll as his grave stone in St Margaret's. In his Will of 1568 Edmund instructs 'to bee buried in the chauncell of St Margarets parishe in Ipswich where I dwell under the northe windowe there with the greate stone'. Clearly this is a different monument to the one in the Church as the present slab was placed by Withypoll six years later and not in the North window but in the centre of the church (now moved).

Sometime in 1563-5 William Dandy, of Ipswich, bought a law suit against Withypoll in which he stated that Withypoll had seized land belonging to his family in Clay Street, now Crown Street.  When William Dandy had gone overseas to persue business he left the land in the hands of his widowed mother Joan.  Edmund Withypoll entered the premises, pulled down the boundary fence and expelled Joan and the complainant.  Withypoll took away a tenter leased to some cloth workers 'and also taken awaye one great black grave stone of the value of xxs thear standing by the said grange and caryed awaye the same to his owne howse in Yippiswiche'.   Is this the slab noted in Edmund's Will? If so, its rather dubious origins might explain why in 1574 Withypoll decided to replace the tomb of which it formed a part with an entirely new monument and slab.

If this is the slab we can deduce that the stone came from the Dandy family. The Dandy family were engaged with Maritime trade with Northern Europe. Ipswich had long been a centre for trade of mill stones, monumental slabs, sculptured stones. At Ipswich the dues from imports of stones had come to be reserved for the benefit of the wardens of the important borough guild of Corpus Christi. Its important to note that William Dandy was elected Guildholder in 1555 with Matthew Butler and William Barker and would thus have been drawing these profits for themselves.  It is probable therefore to suggest that Dandy acquired the slab from one of these Northern European or Scottish ports.”
[Based on the article by
John M. Blatchly and Diarmaid N.J. MacCulloch. Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society, 12, pt.3 (1977), pp.240-7. Accompanying drawing below.]
(***scroll down for a geological opinion on the mineral involved.)
Notes (second papragraph): in heraldry, 'dexter' is to the right, 'sinister' is to the left; 'coif': a woman's close-fitting cap.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 7

Notes on Holy Trinity Priory

Note that the oldest examples of lettering on this website are the painted glass 'Seals of Holy Trinity' which survived the demolition of the Priory Church which can today be seen in the vanished church's Victorian namesake: the Church of Holy Trinity in Back Hamlet.

Christchurch/Holy Trinity timeline to 1895 (compiled for the Friends of  Christchurch Park).

Plan drawing of Christchurch Mansion, 1893
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 8 Plan 1
Detail of the plan of the Mansion (built after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536), drawn by John Shewell Corder (with some hand additions) showing the position of the 'Old Brass Stone' to the north:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 8 Plan 2Detail of the 1893 plan

The mineral used for the 'Old Brass Stone'
Caroline Markham of GeoSuffolk: 'Bob and I visited the medieval slab behind the Mansion this afternoon and it tested (very) positive for CaCO3.  So it is definitely a limestone, which means that Tournai Marble (which is a limestone) is not precluded. However, the slab is grey (quite pale grey really) and so does not present as classic Tournai Marble which, as we all know, is black*. Because it is grey, it is probably a Carboniferous Limestone rather than the creamy Caen Stone or Northamptonshire Limestones more common in old Suffolk buildings. The nearest sources of Carboniferous Limestone are Derbyshire and Belgium. Belgium could well have been easier for transport at that time, so the Belgian origins in the document you sent me have some justification.'
[*The most notable local example of masonic Tournai marble is the 14th century font at the Church of St Peter, which is dark grey/black in colour (below).]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Withypoll memorials 9 St Peter font

The archaeology beneath and around the Mansion could reveal much of the story and position of the original Holy Trinity Priory and its Church. Is it possible that the Mansion stands on the site of Holy Trinity Church itself? The east-west alignments of the Mansion and St Margaret is striking.
The above link shows the record held on the Suffolk County Council database for this site and the limited work which has been done so far.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Christchurch Bowling Green map 17801780 map detail
The Hodskinson & Jefferies map of Ipswich, 1780 shows the position of the Mansion (here marked 'Chrifts Church'), south of the Round Pond, also the Church of St Margaret (built c.1300 as a Chapel-of-Ease to the nearby Holy Trinity Priory Church when the congregation became unmanageable in the original church – now demolished) with the 'Bowling Green' between them. See note 2 of the 'Notes on Holy Trinity Priory' above regarding the archaeological discovery c.1870 beneath the Bowling Green, soon destroyed by gunpowder.

The location of Holy Trinity Priory Church
[UPDATE 31.7.2019: Mike Taylor, Senior Conservation Officer at Ipswich Borough Council writes: 'Thankyou for this update, which adds the interesting information about the location of the church tower. Keith Wade [former County Archaeologist], the archaeologist on our Conservation Panel, also thought the church was next to Bolton Lane and was  not a large structure. The timeline mentions a rebuilding and a royal visit, so it may have acquired size following modest beginnings. It’s a shame they dynamited the site without recording the position of the tower – Norman churches often had central towers, and the choir /presbytery to the east would probably have benefitted from investment more than the nave to the west (hence perhaps the need for a completely new church at St Margarets). The evidence is, as you say, elusive, but I still think the odds are in favour of this stone being the one surviving fragment from the old church.' Many thanks to Mike for this and for sowing the seed for this web-page. This will clearly be a mosaic of small pieces of information, but we may eventually help in piecing together the story of the Priory Church and its location.]

It is to the foundation in the 12th century of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity that the original existence of the parkland can be attributed; the park includes a major portion of the precinct of this significant post-Conquest religious house. It is likely that all of the buildings within the monastic precinct lay in the south eastern part of the later parkland and is probable that the priory church lay at least partially under the mansion. One small archaeological intervention recorded a small amount of fabric within the mansion whilst tradition points to the priory church tower surviving well into the 17th century before being blown up with gunpowder. This tower may relate to a structure recorded east of the mansion on the earliest maps.
'Some of the landscaping and management of natural water supply still seen in the parkland lakes and terraces originated in this period. Early maps demonstrate a sequence of ponds in the western part of the park, fed by the natural springs that now feed the Round Pond and Wilderness Pond. Documents indicate that former medieval ponds supplied the monks with carp, tench, roach and gudgeon. There may also be substantial components of the priory's water supply system lying underground in the park. The main conduit is believed to lie between the water source formerly on Westerfield Road and the buildings of the priory around the later mansion site, whilst a main drain should lead downhill from this location. Allen's work on Ipswich's water supply and Breen's re-analysis of this suggest that a late medieval water conduit lay just below the ground surface along Dairy Lane, a former street now subsumed in the south western part of the park. Remains of Dairy Lane, the conduit, and any other associated structures may survive.

In 1536, during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, the priory was suppressed and its estates seized by the Crown. Paul Withypoll, a successful London merchant, bought the site in 1545 and in 1548 his son Edmund began to build a house on the ruins of the priory.
'The mid-16th century post-dissolution private house, now Christchurch ·Mansion, is a Grade I Listed Building, being an almost complete and comparatively unaltered example o f a brick-built house of the period.
'Throughout its long history, Christchurch Mansion belonged to only three families. In 1645, the estate passed to Elizabeth, wife of Leicester Devereux, who was the only daughter and heir of Sir William Withypoll. In 1735, the house was sold to Claude Fonnereau, a wealthy London merchant, of Huguenot decent. Either he or his son Thomas made alterations in the early 18th century. A new wing was built on to the north-east corner to contain a drawing room downstairs and a magnificent state bedroom upstairs. The bedroom contains some outstanding rococo plasterwork incorporating the coat of arms. In 1892 Christchurch Mansion was bought by Felix Thornley Cobbold who presented it to the people of Ipswich. It was opened as a museum in 1896.
'The position of the house in relation to the southern part of the park strongly suggests that the original 16th-century building would have possessed formal gardens arranged in front of it to the south. Some information on the plan of these gardens ought to be recoverable through archaeological means, including both geophysical survey and excavation. Historic maps indicate that there were large formal gardens in the 17th century spanning the whole southern part of the park. Again, remnants of these may survive.
'In addition the re-working of the monastic water supply to provide water for the house (and reputedly for a lead-lined conduit to the town), may well have resulted in the revision of the medieval works, traces of which will almost certainly lie beneath the ground here.
'The 18th-century rebuild may also have precipitated garden re-design.'

The above paragraphs are an extract from Christchurch Park, Ipswich: An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment and Archaeological Condition and Management Review
by Paul Spoerry (2003, Cambridgeshire County Council commissioned by Ipswich Borough Council). We are indebted to the Suffolk County Council Archeological Service for this information.

Christchurch Park, Ipswich: summary of main points
‘An understanding of this site based only on the map evidence is misleading. The documentary sources that have been examined for this report suggest that the northern part of the park beyond the immediate area of the house cannot be accurately described as a park until the middle of the 17th century. Before that date the area was pasture, part of the demesne land of the manor of Christchurch. The boundaries of the demesne as shown on John Kirby's map of 1735 include lands that had been part of the demesne of the former priory but the boundaries had been straightened and fenced by Edmund Withypoll after 1548.
‘In around 1567, Edmund Withypoll had created what is now known as the Wilderness Pond. Before that date, there were just four ponds all probably situated in the south-west corner of the park below a terrace of formal gardens to the west of the present mansion.
‘The entrance to the park from Soane Street was created or enlarged by Withypoll after he built his house. In order to widen this entrance various houses were demolished and the boundary of St Margaret's churchyard altered. The present churchyard walls were built after 1568 and are not the priory's walls. The main entrance to the priory may have been from Bolton Lane.
‘The conventual buildings were demolished by Withypoll but remnants of the church tower survived to the early 18th century. Below the building to the west was a terrace garden and orchards which backed on to the ponds. The priory buildings probably dated from the late 12th century with a few later additions.
‘The priory acquired amongst its early the Domesday Church of Holy Trinity and it is known that some of the priory's founders were buried within the conventual church. It is likely that the site of the church and the land to the south includes a burial ground for both the priory and possibly for the late Anglo-Saxon parishioners of Holy Trinity.
‘The importance of the southern area of the park which has been a meeting place "Thingstead" since at least the 11th century should be emphasised. A fair was held in this area from before 1189.
The park's springs have supplied the town with water from the medieval period, if not before. They were a source for some of the streams which formerly ran through the town and were later a source for part of the town's elaborate medieval water system.’
Anthony M. Breen, July 2003
(quoted in Paul Spoerry, September 2003, cited above)

John Shewell Corder's book
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Christchurch Corder book 1893“The seat of Christchurch derives its name from a Priory of Regular Cannons of S. Augustine, founded in the Church of The Holy Trinity, a little prior to A.D. 1177, just without the North gate and Ramparts of the town of Ipswich. On the authority of Tanner, Holy Trinity was a parish church, and Taylor says it was originally parochial. In the Domesday Book, Ipswich Half Hundred on land which Roger Bigot* had charge of in hand for the King, it is recorded that: “In the said Borough, Anulfus the priest has a church, Holy Trinity, to which belongs twenty-six acres in alms.” The church, a small building, abutted towards the East on Thingstede Way since called Bolton Lane, and the parochial limits were probably co-terminous with those of the present parish of S, Margaret.

“It was by no means uncommon for a Priory to be established in a parish church, the nave being left open for the parish altar. This was the case with the Austin Cannons at Thornton, Carlisle and Christchurch (Hants), and with the Secular Cannons at Hereford and Chichester.

“It may have been that this church was served by Secular Cannons from Saxon times.”
[Secular Cannons were much like ordinary priests. They may well have lived apart, rather than together under one roof – which would explain the smallness of the Priory; many were engaged in parochial duties.]

“The church, like most Saxon edifices, was not probably a very substantial structure, consisting as most of them did, largely of timber, for a few years after [c.1177] it was nearly demolished by fire, with the adjacent offices. It was rebuilt by John of Oxford, Bishop of Norwich, formerly Dean of Salisbury and Chaplain to Henry II, about 1190, who seems this year to have been at his Manor of Wykes Bishop, whereupon King Richard I. gave the patronage to him and his successors A.D. 1193-4.”

– Extract from Corder, John Shewell: Christchurch or Withepole House: a brief memorial. Cowell, 1893 (copies can be viewed at Suffolk Record Offices). As well being a noted architect and architectural illustrator, Corder was clearly an assiduous historian, too. The plan of the Mansion reproduced above was drawn by Corder.

[*Roger Bigod (died 1107) was a Norman knight who travelled to England in the Norman Conquest. He held great power in East Anglia, and five of his descendants were earls of Norfolk. He was also known as Roger Bigot, appearing as such as a witness to the Charter of Liberties of Henry I of England.]

See also the extensive Christchurch Park & Mansion pageChristchurch Park Cenotaph, the Ipswich Martyrs monument and the Christchurch timeline.

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