First service held in Ickworth’s newly restored ‘at risk’ church

Lord Bristol, front centre, with the restoration team and, inset, how the church looked in 2008
Lord Bristol, front centre, with the restoration team and, inset, how the church looked in 2008
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After five years campaigning and a year of building work, St Mary’s Church, Ickworth, is back in service.

Last night the Bishop of St Edmundsbury the Rt Rev Nigel Stock led a service of blessing to mark the Ickworth estate’s church’s return from the brink of ruin.

The service, at which children from Ickworth Park Primary School sang, was the first held there since the mid-1980s.

Before the service John Ette, English Heritage’s principal of heritage at risk, explained just how close the church was to disaster.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any church as bad as this,” he said. “A building can get so it’s beyond rescue and this was very close to that.

“The water was pouring through, you could see daylight through the roof and the risk to the wall paintings was a real worry.”

The £1.2 million project was jointly funded by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Mr Ette said: “The quality of the restoration is outstanding, but it’s also quite subtle — the mark of the best restorations.”

Stuart Hobley, HLF’s east of England development manager agreed: “It looks like a church that’s been well cared for for years.”

Lord Bristol, who has 500 years of ancestors buried there said: “It’s not supposed to look brand new but to look as if there wasn’t a 35 year gap in its use.

“I’m very pleased with it. We had funders who were flexible. All the contractors did a really good job and we’ve come in under budget and on time, though we lost six weeks with the weather.”

As well as the building, its contents have had attention. Carpets on the pulpit steps and in the family balcony have been woven to the original patterns and colours.

The 1911 altar frontal has been conserved and the cross and candlesticks regilded.

The church’s harmonium is being restored so one was borrowed for concert organist Anne Page to play at the service,