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Leon Paternoster

Head of digital and marketing at Suffolk Libraries

Esoteric Ipswich

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Ipswich is an old town, and I work in the oldest part, opposite Pykenhams Gate (1470). I often eat a Boots sandwich in the churchyard of St Mary-le-Tower, where the borough itself was chartered in 1200.

A green wooden gate under a stone arch

Pykenhams Gate

Lane leading to an old, tall church

St Mary-le-Tower

It rarely feels that old: despite its appearance the library is only a sprightly 93, while Northgate Street consists of an unremarkable series of concerns: vaping emporium, pawnbrokers, opticians, sandwich shop, recruitment agency, grotty pub. For some reason, the area has always seemed to attract lots of drunks and homeless folk.

Turn right out of the library and you head to another old part of town. First you’ll see the Bethesda chapel (1913; like Bruges, lots of modern Ipswich was built to look older than it is), an imposing, temple-like building complete with Ionic columns. Turn right from there and in 20 seconds you’ll find yourself outside the Soane Street Masonic lodge. The odd paunchy man in a tie will pass in or out.

A grand, square building on a busy road

Bethesda Chapel

It’s quite atmospheric around dusk in winter time, what with Christchurch park closed and looming behind, and you might like to imagine all sorts of obscure Lovecraftian rituals taking place in these buildings, one of the drunks hinting at Ipswich’s dark secrets.

You might. But then, they’re just a church and a place where men meet. The alcoholics don’t congregate in the same areas over centuries; they can rest in the warm library or drink and sleep in the churchyard. You might like the idea of a vast, esoteric, conspiratorial universe manifest in your town, because it’s all pretty dull and meaningless otherwise, a far more terrifying reality.