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Days Gone By: The history of the town’s iconic Willis building

PUBLISHED: 08:38 30 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:26 10 September 2017

The Willis building (centre bottom) with its roof garden, from the air in 1991. Civic Drive runs from the bottom left to top right. Picture: OWEN HINES

The Willis building (centre bottom) with its roof garden, from the air in 1991. Civic Drive runs from the bottom left to top right. Picture: OWEN HINES

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In 1970 the company then known as Willis Faber and Dumas decided to move all its administrative departments from Southend and London to Ipswich on a site in Princes Street, designed by Norman Foster, later Sir Norman, writes David Kindred.

The Willis building now stands on this site in Princes Street. Alfred Clark's leather goods dealers were on the corner of Thursby's Lane. The then new St Francis Tower, part of the Greyfriars development, is in the background. Picture: DEREK EGGLETONThe Willis building now stands on this site in Princes Street. Alfred Clark's leather goods dealers were on the corner of Thursby's Lane. The then new St Francis Tower, part of the Greyfriars development, is in the background. Picture: DEREK EGGLETON

Several buildings were demolished to clear the site, including the building occupied for decades by wholesale druggists Grimwade Ridley and Company, two public houses, the British Lion and the Friars Head.

The structure has 890 sheets of toughened, half inch thick, darkly tinted glass, and a further 180 panes around the roof top restaurant.

Willis building became the youngest Grade I listed in Britain in 1991.

The listing meant that when the ground floor swimming pool was closed for office expansion in the 1990s the company had to retain the pool with a floor over the top.

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDPrior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

By day the glass appears almost black and reflects fragmented views of buildings around, at night it reveals the offices interior.

Do any of the photographs featured bring memories for you? Write to David Kindred, Days Gone By, Ipswich Star/EADT, Portman House, 120 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RS or send an e-mail.

The Willis site from the Greyfriars tower, cleared for building in March 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDThe Willis site from the Greyfriars tower, cleared for building in March 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Willis building during construction in May 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDThe Willis building during construction in May 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The British Lion public house, at 55 Princes Street, was due for demolition when this photograph was taken by Jack Keen in 1972. What was Edgar Street on the right was part of Franciscan Way when the area was redeveloped in the mid 1960s. The road from Princes Street to the Novotel junction is now all Greyfriars Road. The British Lion was demolished during the site clearance for the Willis building. Picture: JACK KEENThe British Lion public house, at 55 Princes Street, was due for demolition when this photograph was taken by Jack Keen in 1972. What was Edgar Street on the right was part of Franciscan Way when the area was redeveloped in the mid 1960s. The road from Princes Street to the Novotel junction is now all Greyfriars Road. The British Lion was demolished during the site clearance for the Willis building. Picture: JACK KEEN

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Staff lined each floor as Mrs Thatcher rode the escalators, meeting employees as she made her way to the roof garden. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDPrior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Staff lined each floor as Mrs Thatcher rode the escalators, meeting employees as she made her way to the roof garden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

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