St Pancras Catholic Church celebrates 150th anniversary

Father Francis Leeder, St Pancras Church, Ipswich
Image caption Father Francis Leeder said the church did not really have a fixed congregation

A church in Ipswich has survived riots, fires and the 1987 hurricane to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

St Pancras, on Tackett Street, opened in 1861 and was the town's first purpose-built Catholic church.

"We keep the doors open as far as possible so people can come and go at any time," said Father Francis Leeder.

The church is marking its anniversary starting on the Feast Day of St Pancras (Thursday, 12 May) through until Sunday.

'Restore order'

Following the break from Rome in the 16th Century under Henry VIII, the middle of the 19th Century was a period when the Catholic church was re-establishing itself in England.

Two years after St Pancras was opened, anti-Catholic riots took place in Ipswich.

Stephen Donaghy, parish communications officer, said they seem to have been sparked by a firebrand Protestant preacher at the Town Hall.

"A mob went through the town smashing Catholic-owned businesses and headed for the church which led to the curate Father Patrick Rogers barricading himself in the presbytery for two days.

"The mayor of Ipswich enrolled 200 special constables to restore order and civic dignitaries made a big show of support for the church.

"In a perverse way, it helped establish the church in the town."

Image caption The interior had to be redecorated after the fire in 1985

The building, which is close to Ipswich docks, was hit by shrapnel from World War II bombing.

An arsonist set fire to the back of the building on Christmas Day 1985.

It spread to the choir loft and organ and meant the interior had to be redecorated.

Father Leeder, 72, said: "I'm sure it was someone with mental problems and the worst afternoon, if you're on your own, is probably Christmas Day, and you go and take it out on someone else."

The cross on the west end of the roof had to be replaced after it was blown off during the great storm of 1987.

St Pancras is the only town centre Catholic church in Ipswich and Father Leeder said 500 people were in the congregation every Sunday.

"We haven't got a really fixed congregation. People come from all over the place and they've often got their own church as well," said Father Leeder.

The church will be celebrating its anniversary with a St Pancras pie at Holy Mass at 6pm on Saturday, 14 May.

"It's a sort of sausagey, spicy pie - secret recipe of course."

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