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Ipswich Icons: How the Great White Horse and Crown & Anchor pubs in Ipswich have changed over the years

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 May 2017

The way we were. The Great White Horse in its time as a hotel, in the days when vehicles could routinely drive down Tavern Street. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

The way we were. The Great White Horse in its time as a hotel, in the days when vehicles could routinely drive down Tavern Street. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

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The two great hotels in Ipswich during the first 75 years of the 20th Century were the Great White Horse and the Crown and Anchor, both Trust House Forte hotels, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

The former Great White Horse hotel, from Carr Street. Picture: JOHN NORMAN The former Great White Horse hotel, from Carr Street. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

Each has a history going back long before Charles Forte took an interest: the Great White Horse had been accommodating guests since 1518 and the Crown & Anchor since 1850.

The Great White Horse started life as the Tavern, hence Tavern Street: a coaching inn with, in the late 1700s, stabling for some 60 horses. Back then, Tavern Street was only 12 feet wide and turning carriages into the courtyard was nigh impossible.

In 1817 the hotel was re-fronted: the new front being seven feet further into the hotel than previously. The new front was built in the very prestigious Woolpit White Bricks, in a very typical Georgian style (sliding sash windows, rusticated render on the ground floor). The East Front was also rebuilt, widening Northgate Street by three feet and using the same finishes as on the south.

Interestingly, Tavern Street was further widened in 1931 when Croydon’s and the adjacent buildings on the south side of the street were re-fronted.

The old Crown & Anchor building in Westgate Stree,t showing the façade with the retained entrance doors to the tiled foyer. The former smoking room is on the first floor and used by WH Smith as a store room. Picture: JOHN NORMAN The old Crown & Anchor building in Westgate Stree,t showing the façade with the retained entrance doors to the tiled foyer. The former smoking room is on the first floor and used by WH Smith as a store room. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

The Italian Charles Forte had started his business interests with a milk bar in Regent Street, London, in 1935. In 1951 he won the contract to provide the catering at the Festival of Britain and in 1954 he purchased The Café Royal, probably the most prestigious restaurant in Regent Street. Forte merged his company with Trust Houses in 1966: the newly-formed conglomerate Trust House Forte the largest hotel group in the UK at that time.

In 1967 THF applied for planning permission to demolish both Ipswich hotels. In the case of the Great White Horse, THF had aspirations for shops and offices; on the site of the Crown and Anchor it envisaged more retail outlets.

The planners, in opposing the scheme, cited the architectural quality and the literary connections of the Great White Horse (Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers) and the facade and some of the internal spaces in the Crown and Anchor. In both cases, planning permission to demolish was refused.

THF appealed to the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the grounds that the layout of the building was unsuitable for a modern hotel. A public enquiry was held in June, 1967. The Ipswich Society attended, citing the contribution that the Great White Horse made to the street scene and to the ancient centre of Ipswich.

The society also drew the inspector’s attention to historical features in the Crown and Anchor, features that were retained when the building was eventually converted into shops in 1994. The inspector agreed with both the town’s planners and the society: the appeal was refused.

THF had already planned a new hotel on the London Road: one of their new Post Houses which were springing up on the approach to towns and cities across the country. The Post House was to replace both the Great White Horse (57 bedrooms but only seven ensuite) and the Crown and Anchor, which had 47 rooms. Together, these two hotels in 1967 provided more than half the hotel accommodation in the town.

The Post House, London Road, opened in 1968 but during that same year THF celebrated the 450th anniversary of the opening of the Great White Horse (which they were still running). Charles Forte is reputed to have paid a visit, recommended major improvements including increasing the number of private bathrooms, and as a result the hotel was sold as a going concern in 1976.

Shops were inserted into the ground floor in 1989, which involved major works destroying important historical features, but this gave the building some value and it was sold by auction in 1991 − not as a hotel but simply, other than the ground floor, as an empty shell.

Unfortunately that’s the way it has stayed. My visit recently was depressing in more ways than one. The building is watertight but there have been problems with damp penetrating the fabric.

There has been occasional use as a film set and Starbucks have planning permission to expand into the room above their current outlet. Cotswold use a ground floor unit for their retail operations and have a tent showroom in the former ballroom (nightclub) on the first floor, overlooking Northgate Street, but the rest of the building will never be a hotel again.

The lady in her yellow curling papers (Pickwick Papers) can sleep soundly in her bed.

The Crown and Anchor was eventually converted into three shops in 1993/94 but planning permission insisted that the entrance foyer (including the tiled floor), the staircase and the panelled smoking room all be retained. All are still in place within the current WH Smith store.

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