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Thomas Wolsey: Ipswich's greatest son

History is full of “what ifs”, says Borough Labour Leader, David Ellesmere. What if Kennedy had survived his shooting? What if Ronald Reagan hadn’t?

Just a few millimetres difference in the flight of a bullet could have changed history completely.

For Ipswich, the biggest “what if” must be: what if Cardinal Wolsey had survived long enough – possibly even just a few months more – for his Cardinal College to become established?


Imagine – an educational institution set up to rival Oxford and Cambridge five hundred years before we finally got the University of Suffolk. Ipswich would now be a very different place indeed.

This story is brought to life in a fantastic new exhibition that has just opened – fittingly – in the Wolsey Gallery at Christchurch mansion.

The centre pieces of the show are undoubtedly the four angels Wolsey commissioned for his own tomb.

Wolsey’s tomb, like his college, was never completed and the angels were eventually sold to help pay for the Civil War in the mid-1600’s.

They were not heard of again until two turned up at auction in 1994.

The other two were found in 2008 atop gateposts on a golf course in Northamptonshire. They had been assumed to be cheap Victorian tat rather than priceless historical objects!

It is a real feather in our cap that we have got them on loan from the V&A.

Around the angels, our museums team has put together an amazing exhibition.

Portraits of Wolsey, some from our own collection and one on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, are on display.

We also have the charter establishing Cardinal College and the statutes, or rules, of the college with Wolsey’s signature clearly visible. This is the first time these two documents have been together in the same room for 500 years.

To illustrate what Tudor life was like in Ipswich there are seven carved wooden faces rescued from Ipswich’s market cross before it was demolished.

This would be a fantastic exhibition anywhere, but to have it in Ipswich, Wolsey’s birthplace, in a gallery named after him makes it extra special.

“Thomas Wolsey: Ipswich’s Greatest Son” is on for three months. I’d urge you to go and see it.

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