The interior of the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich is classically grand with wooden box pews and a beautifully carved pulpit.

The interior of the 18th century Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich is largely historically complete.
The interior of the 18th century Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich is largely historically complete.

New Grant Will Save Exceptional Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich

Historic England has awarded a grant of £421,000 for the repair of Grade I listed Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich.  It is hoped that the Unitarian Meeting House will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register when repairs are successfully completed.

We're pleased to play our part in repairing this important building and protecting it for future generations to enjoy. It will be a wonderful achievement to see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director for Historic England in the East of England
Exterior of the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich with a white exterior and blue doors.
The self-effacing exterior of the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich. © Maggie Hodges

A historically significant building

The Unitarian Meeting House is Grade I listed and regarded as one of the finest surviving 18th century Dissenters' meeting houses in the country. It was opened for services in 1700 and has been used continuously for worship since then. 

The exterior is self-effacing, giving little clue to the classical grandeur of the historically complete interior. The pulpit is an elaborately carved early-18th century construction with intricate and beautiful three-dimensional carving.

As large and as fine a building of that kind as most on this side of England, and the inside the best finished of any I have seen, London not excepted.

Daniel Defoe, 1722
Beautifully carved pulpit
Beautifully carved pulpit in the meeting house

Special features tell a remarkable story

The congregation sit in original wooden box pews and there are special historic features such as wig pegs, a Dutch brass chandelier and a spy hole, used in times of persecution to check for any approaching mobs.

When the building was constructed, Presbyterians and Unitarians were regarded with suspicion by the majority of the population and members had to ensure they did nothing to unduly draw attention to the building or to themselves.

Serving the community for years to come

Historic England has been proactively involved throughout the development of this project, offering technical guidance and fundraising advice. In December 2018, Historic England awarded a £47,477 project development grant to the Trustees of the Unitarian Meeting House which enabled architects to confirm that the timber frame of the building, together with internal and external joinery, was deteriorating due to the effects of damp. The roof had also become increasingly difficult to maintain as the process of replacing missing tiles damaged far more tiles in the process and the amount of work quickly escalated.

The awarding of a £421,000 repair grant to the Unitarian Meeting House makes Historic England the major funder for this repair project, contributing up to 77% of total costs. The project includes essential repairs to the walls and roof coverings.

We have been overwhelmed by the dedicated support given to us by Historic England right from the very start of our approach to them for funding towards our major restoration project, without which the fabric of our unique Meeting House would have continued to deteriorate relentlessly. We are so grateful!

Ann Baeppler, Chair of the Trustees, Unitarian Meeting House
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