Ipswich Icons: How Bourne bridge and Wherstead road in Ipswich have changed over the years
PUBLISHED: 19:00 02 July 2017
The main road into Ipswich from the south was, historically, across Bourne Bridge, along Wherstead Road, through the parish of Stoke and then crossing the Orwell by way of a ford between Great Whip Street and Foundry Road, writes John Norman of the Ipswich Society.
The ford was replaced by a bridge as early as the 15th Century, but heavy carts still used the original crossing – perhaps to avoid the toll; perhaps as not to overload the wooden structure.
Wherstead Road leads out of town to the village of Wherstead, a community split by the rising ground of Bourne Hill. At the top, Wherstead Park is surrounded by the estate village and the farm, and, tucked away down the lane, St Mary’s Church. At the bottom of the hill, close to the shallow waters of the creek, is a small community surrounding the Ostrich Inn.
The creek has always provided a safe haven for local boats, and this continues today with Fox’s Marina to one side and the Orwell Yacht Club on the other. A pub alongside a bridge is not unusual: there were four adjacent to Stoke Bridge, quenching the thirst of travellers and, in some cases, providing overnight accommodation.
The two hostelries close to Bourne Bridge were the White Hart, with a history going back to 1757, and the Oyster Reach, previously the Ostrich, which was built circa 1608. Historian John Blatchly speculated that there is sufficient evidence in the structure to suggest the original building was by the same carpenter, Joseph Clarke, who built the Friends Meeting House (1699) and Shire Hall (also 1699), both in Ipswich.
Why was the pub called the Ostrich? The answer is simple: it was the bird on the coat of arms of Sir Edward Coke, one-time owner of land at Bourne Hill (and Holkham Hall in Norfolk). The pub was converted into a Premier Inn and Steak House in 1995 and they adopted the name Oyster Reach despite there being no evidence of oyster beds in the river at this point.
Bourne Bridge marks the boundary between Ipswich and Wherstead, an ancient structure providing a means of crossing the Bourne (Belstead Brook) before it joins the Orwell.
I can find no reference to the date Bourne Bridge was built but it is mentioned in a 14th Century document listing key markers along the borough boundary.
A plaque on the bridge suggests it was widened in 1891 and the new concrete bridge was opened (the old bridge remained for pedestrians) in the early 1980s. The plaque on the bridge carries the arms of both Ipswich and Suffolk, the structure originally being the responsibility of both authorities.
Wherstead has become a multi-activity centre for the people of south east Suffolk. There is a tremendous variety on offer and the leisure provision is first class.
On the Ipswich side of Bourne Bridge is an interesting and long-established garden centre; on the banks of the Orwell a substantial marina with chandlery, and the pub and motel.
As we climb Bourne Hill, beyond the houses are open fields (some of which have been converted into a ski centre) and at the top the Blue Cross animal rescue centre.
Over the A14, which divides the village more aggressively than the hill, is Jimmy’s Farm, today a substantial visitor attraction. Wherstead Mansion is surrounded by cottages which date back to the 15th Century, although the house is more recent, having been rebuilt and extended on numerous occasions.
Today the mansion is the headquarters of the East of England Co-op, with the hall being used for weddings.
Despite the proximity of the Ipswich southern bypass it can be remarkably peaceful, particularly along the lane to St Mary’s Church. The lane continues down the hill to the Suffolk Food Hall, a gastronomic delight in the shadow of the Orwell Bridge.
There are frequently ornithologists looking for waders along the Strand or for warblers amongst the reeds by Belstead Brook. At one time there was a substantial population of swans but the mechanical handling of grain has reduced the amount falling into the river to almost zero and the swans find solace at Mistley.
If you choose to live here, the drive onto the Felixstowe, Shotley or Tendring peninsulas is relatively easy, unlike the commute into Ipswich.