In the heart of the town centre, The Unitarian Meeting House is a key part of the heritage of Ipswich. It is a Grade 1 listed building, built in 1699 as a place of worship for dissenters of the established Church of England. It still has many original features, including boxed pews and a huge Dutch brass chandelier.
The cost of the building, was £ 256.72, excluding fixtures and fittings, the equivalent of £ 40,000 in today’s money, which in those days could get you 47 horses or 61 cows, the equivalent of 2855 days’ wages for a skilled tradesman
Worship in the Meeting House in the early days followed a Puritan pattern. Musical instruments were forbidden and the only singing was of metrical settings of the Psalms. The congregation covered their heads when “the Word was read or preached”, that they stood for prayer and that it was deemed inappropriate “to talk, or laugh, or indulge in sleep, or give liberty to wandering eyes, thoughts or affection”. It is also likely that the sexes were segregated – men downstairs, women upstairs.
There has always been a spy hole looking out towards St Nicholas St, offering a reminder that religious toleration was not widespread when the Meeting House was built, and worshippers had good cause to be fearful. They were constantly looking out for arsonists vandals, and anyone else trying to stop them from worshipping.
A building of great historical and architectural interest, the Meeting House is still today a living space – the spiritual home of a liberal Unitarian community who value an open mind, free conscience and a loving spirit.
“As a local Ipswich ‘boy’ who has been aware of the Meeting House building for years, it has been a real pleasure to work locally and to put something back into the town. I get a real buzz from seeing the two Grade 1 listed buildings next to one another, so different and yet both so important. It has felt important to put the Meeting House back to what it was originally, to remove the steel work, to replace that with oak timber and to put the original lime wash back.”
(Mark Frankis – Site Foreman)
Working in The Meeting House was not only a privilege to be part of the renovation of a 300 year old building, but the historical content of the meeting room is both moving and interesting.
“The renovation work has been sympathetic to its history while ensuring it is brought in line with the health and safety requirements of the present day.”
(Mr James Rash Electrical Engineer for BH Electrical Ltd, Colchester)