The story of Christ Church in Ireton Road
The church known as Christ Church in Ireton Road was first established back in 1904. The church was built by the parish of St. Mary’s at the Walls, due to the need to provide additional places at the Sunday service. Colchester was experiencing an expansion in house building along the Maldon Road, attracting more people to the area. The parish of St. Mary’s stretched along the Maldon Road and up into Layer Road as far as Boudica Way. The church of St. Mary’s was located at the opposite end of the parish, inside the town wall and people had to walk quite a distance to make services. St. Mary’s had a capacity to comfortably seat around 550 people, however the wardens were regularly seating over 600 at each Sunday service.
The rector of St. Mary’s, the Rev Brunwin Hales, proposed that a new church should be built, forming a committee to look into the various options which might be suitable. The estimate of building a stone church was £5000 with a brick church estimated at £3,500 both without furniture and fittings and both too expensive for the church to afford at that time. The other option was an iron church costing £950 including furniture and fittings but excluding an organ. This new church would have a seating capacity of around 400 people, which would have easily provided enough seating space. The Rev. Brunwin Hales urged the congregation to consider the proposal of this new Church especially as it would be the quicker of the three options to build. An area of land owned by James Round M.P was set aside and generously donated for the purpose. The whole cost of this church was paid for by the generosity of the congregation from St. Mary’s, many of whom would later worship at this new church.
Christ Church was opened for services by the Bishop of St. Albans on Thursday 22nd September 1904 at a special dedication service. This church became known as the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ because of the tin cladding on the outside. Several curates from St. Mary’s took the services in this church as well as other services at St. Mary’s. The interior of the church was lined with wooden panelling, with rows of wooden chairs instead of pews in the nave. The church had an organ and three stained glass windows on the east side behind the altar.
This church was only intended as a short-term solution until a more permanent church could be built. The parishioners had to wait until 1978, for that new church, which is the brick built building we see today. However, part of the reason that a new Christ Church was built was because St. Mary’s was scheduled to be made redundant, due to falling attendance numbers. The other reason was the urban modernisation of Balkerne Hill and the Southway, which effectively isolated St. Mary’s from the main residential areas of the parish. St. Mary’s was made redundant in February 1978, the week before the new church of Christ Church opened for services. Christ Church then became the main church serving the parish, because of its more central location and easier for the people to get to. A few years later, St. Mary’s took on a new role becoming Colchester’s Arts Centre.
Today Christ Church is a thriving, family friendly church serving a wide cross section of the community who attend regular worship and church events. Today we see a modern brick built church, the exterior of which masks a long history, one which began over eight hundred years ago around the year 1206!
This article is extracted from the book entitled: Centuries of Change by Alice Goss, which is the history of St. Mary’s at the Walls and Christ Church. The book is available from Red Lion Bookshop, Waterstones and online.
Hardback edition from Amazon