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The History of the Church of The Holy Family and St. Michael


St. Mary's parish also serves the people of Kesgrave with the Church of the Holy Family and St. Michael.

The church was built in 1931 in memory of Squadron Leader Michael Rope and the 47 others, including the Secretary of State of Air, who died with him in the wreck of HM Airship R101 at Allonne near Beauvais on 5th October 1930. Michael Rope was born in Shrewsbury in 1888. He graduated in engineering from Birmingham, in 1915-18 he joined the Royal Naval Air Service working as an engineer and later transferred to the RAF on its formation. During this time he obtained his pilot’s licence at Martlesham. He returned to airship work in 1924, he was Assistant Chief Designer of the R101, built at Cardington near Bedford.

The original church was designed by Messrs. Brown and Burgess, architects of Ipswich and the builders were Messrs. William W.C. Reade of Aldeburgh. Work started in June 1931 and was completed by the beginning of December. On 7th December Canon Peacock of St. Pancras, Ipswich, blessed the church. On the following day it was officially opened as a “semi-public oratory” at a Mass celebrated by Father H. E. G. Rope (Michael Rope’s brother). At this Mass Canon Moriarty, who was appointed Bishop Shrewsbury in 1934, preached the sermon. At the time when the church was built the population of Kesgrave was about 600 and the church was built to seat about 60 comfortably.

Kesgrave continued to grow in size and in the early 1950’s the population had reached around 3000. The size of the church became inadequate so a small extension was built immediately to the east of the original altar and raised the seating capacity to about 100 when the extension was completed in 1955. This extension was designed by H. Munro Cautley, architect to the Diocese of St, Edmundsbury and Ipswich. The building work was undertaken by a Kesgrave firm, S. Knights.

In 1991, when Kesgrave was expanding fast again a decision was taken to make a more substantial addition to the church. Work on the major extension was started in August 1992 and the bulk of the work was completed in May 1993, with the first Mass being celebrated on Pentecost Sunday, 30th May. During these 9 months, a temporary church was provided on the car park. The extension was designed by Mr. Terry Norton of Wearing, Hastings and Norton of Norwich and the building work carried out by Carlford Construction Ltd. assisted by a number of local sub-contractors. The extension was essentially finalised on 28th September and was blessed by Bishop Alan Clark, Bishop of East Anglia at a Mass on 5th October, the 63rd anniversary of the wreck of the R101.

The general style of the original church is that of the 13th century. The extension has tried whenever possible to “mirror” the original and the stone and brick piers either side of the new main Altar. A particular feature of the new church is the “Galilee” separated from the main body of the church by a glass screen, thus catering particularly for families with very young children.

The artistic work in the church is centred round five main themes

  • Precursors of Christ – David and Isaiah, together with St. John the Baptist.
  • Saints of the 12th century.
  • The Holy Family, and also St. Michael, to whom the Church is dedicated.
  • The English martyrs.
  • Saints of the Carmelite Order.

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