St. Peter’s is mentioned in the Domesday Survey in 1086, suggesting that there was a church on this site then. The current building dates from the 15th Century and was taken over by Cardinal Wolsey to become his College chapel and the parishioners had to either go to the neighbouring St. Nicholas’ or St. Mary Quay. Wolsey ordered several improvements to St. Peter’s but when he fell from grace the parishioners got their church back in 1537.
In 1801 the church experienced an Evangelical Revival under the talented preacher, the Rev Edward Griffin, who packed the church to hear him preach and he established one of the first Anglican Sunday Schools in this parish.
In the latter half of the 19th century the church had a lot of restoration work done on it. The south porch was rebuilt having previously served as a coal cellar. In 1877 an ugly gallery which ran the entire length of the south aisle was removed and a new chancel arch was built. The north aisle was extended by two bays eastwards to be level with the east wall.
A new pulpit was installed. The lath and plaster ceiling was removed in the chancel, exposing the old roof which was found to be in excellent condition. In 1879 the church was closed for 9 months. The old box pews were removed, an organ chamber was built in the south side, and the arcade piers were rebuilt and underpinned with brick which was unearthed when the church interior was renovated in 2006.
The reredos was added in 1887 and in 1901 the clock was installed in the tower.
Many of these features can now be viewed in the church today which serves a dual purpose of a Heritage Centre and a Concert/rehearsal venue.
In the church today you can still see the Victorian pulpit, the reredos, the stone coffin that was unearthed when the vestry was added in 1904, the magnificent tournai marble font, the restored stained glass windows, numerous ledger stones, the Trotman hatchment and the Knapp brass.
A more comprehensive history is available in a booklet (cost of £1.00) which was produced for the reopening in 2008.
The Heritage Centre
As the church received a Heritage Lottery Grant for the project, part of the remit was to open the church as a Heritage Centre.
St. Peter’s is one of the oldest buildings in Ipswich. The present structure was built in 1460 on the site of a church that dates back over a 1000 years. The Tournai Marble font in the church is older than the current structure. This is one of the treasures of the church. The East window and pulpit date from the 19th century when the church was extensively renovated and extended. There are some magnificent stained glass windows on view, the medieval nave roof is quite unique and a surviving brass is on display. There is a lot of information about the history of the church and the parish on 8 display boards including the time when Cardinal Wolsey took over the church in the 15th century as part of his adjacent school. The surviving gateway still stands right next to the church on the south side in College Street.
Why do we have a stone coffin on display? The 19th century pulpit is on view as are two remaining choir stalls along with the reredos dating from 1887 which has been imaginatively used to create our green room and fill a hole in the wall where the organ manual used to sit. There is also lots to see on the outside of the church including to well preserved corbel heads in the south porch.