PUBLISHED: 19:00 17 September 2017
Inside Christchurch Mansion in days gone by; Queen Elizabeths Room'. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.
How the mansion got a new role, by Bob Markham, formerly the Keeper of Geology at Ipswich Museum.
The teaching of technical subjects was growing rapidly and by 1895 the High Street buildings were inadequate. Classes were held in the art gallery (in High Street) and in the town hall (on the Cornhill).
At about the same time, the corporation’s estate committee was considering the future of the house in Christchurch Park, a large, empty, 16th Century building that had been saved from demolition and then presented to the town by Felix T Cobbold.
In 1896 the museum committee became responsible for the building and decided it could be adapted for use as a technical college and picture gallery. Science and various other classes were removed from High Street to Christchurch Mansion (as the house became known).
The kitchens were fitted with a cooking range, gas ovens, charcoal stoves, brick bread and pastry ovens, cottage stove, sinks and dressers.
A large demonstrating table was installed, all of which enabled cookery classes to be taught (from Monday, September 28, 1896).
The education system of the borough was re-organised in 1903, with the schools of science, art and technical education transferred to the new education committee.
Classes were removed from the mansion and the empty building was then used to house artefacts from the museum. This relieved pressure on the available space at High Street.
When Felix Cobbold died in 1909 he left a bequest for the purchase of works of art to help stock the mansion. This enabled the house contents to be developed and themed with “period rooms”, helped by the re-erection of a small timber-framed house (which was under demolition at Major’s Corner) on the north side of the mansion in 1924.
This provided two extra rooms, used for the display of Tudor furniture and 16th century paintings.
The new Cardinal Wolsey Art Gallery, attached to the back of the mansion, was opened in 1932; pictures from galleries in the mansion were moved into the new art gallery, which set free further rooms for period displays.
During the Second World War, air raid duty at the mansion during night “alerts” was not for the nervous, with bombs breaking windows in the mansion. Gas masks were mandatory in the building in 1941, but temporary exhibitions of loaned pictures provided much interest to wartime visitors.
In June, 1943, the Polish flag flew over the mansion to honour paintings and drawings by Polish soldiers in exile, and on August 15, 1945 – a national holiday – our flag was raised again by attendant Charles Barham, who lashed a ladder to the flagpole to take the flag up.
Life returned to normal. “This was a favourite spot for me growing up. It’s still as beautiful as ever,” wrote a visitor from Delaware in 1952.
Museum staff still had to deal with bats that had established themselves in part of the attics – their disagreeable odour permeating the West Wing. In 1967 stiletto heels were banned from rooms with older wooden floors.
By 1973 it was difficult to recruit new staff, with night-watchmen paid 40½p per hour for working a 57-hour week.
The museums committee ceased to exist on local government re-organisation in 1974, but Ipswich Borough Council has continued, under various titles, to care for Christchurch, the people’s mansion, for us.
An overseas visitor wrote “A pleasant surprise in the park”, in the visitors’ book – and so it is.
Bob Markham will give the first Ipswich Society talk of the season: What have we done with the Mansion? With images of Christchurch Mansion and its rooms from the 1890s to mid-20th century. September 20 at 7.30pm, at Museum Street Methodist Church.