Ipswich Icons: Past, present and future are walking in step
PUBLISHED: 19:00 13 November 2017
John Norman looks at the land earmarked for a new record office and finds it has a fascinating history.
The application by Suffolk County Council for the new record office gives the opportunity to explore previous uses of the site.
The planning application states it is to be built between Fore Street and New Street. New Street is the exit from the university car park south of the trees in Grimwade Street. Thus the proposal for “The Hold” is for a substantial building behind the Captains’ Houses which, according to the date on the bressumer beam, were built in 1620.
Ipswich was booming: a centre for shipbuilding, and as one of the key ports for the exportation of woollen cloth (and the import of woad, wine and manufactured goods from the Rhine).
The southern end of Grimwade Street, at the time known as Church Lane, was the prosperous area of the district, the fine houses in Grimwade Street and New Street having extensive gardens.
The working classes – the shipwrights, caulkers, sail makers, rope walkers, block carvers, mast turners, ship builders and fishermen – lived closer to the town in Fore Street, Orwell Street and Cox Lane.
The merchants and ship owners built extensive complexes of warehouses, retail outlets and their own residences between Fore Street and the quayside. Isaac Lord’s is typical. The Captains’ Houses in Grimwade Street, the large properties in New Street and the merchants’ premises in Fore Street were probably the last expression of wealth close to the river.
At the beginning of the 19th century dock side industry began to change. The gas works opened in 1821 and in 1837 Ransome began to move his engineering works to Orwell Quay.
In the same year ER &F Turner started manufacturing in Foundry Lane, and the dock commissioners proposed enclosing the Wet Dock. The bigger houses in New Street began to take in lodgers; their gardens converted into courts (tightly packed terraces of one- or two-bedroom hovels surrounding a single tap or well). Associated industry grew, the large gardens of the Captains’ Houses became a malt house and small terraced houses lined a dozen small streets: Long Lane (today Long Street but then running from Back Hamlet through to Rope Walk), Dorking Street (parallel with New Street) and Pottery Street (which linked to Dove Street in St Helen’s Parish), amongst many others. This densely-populated area was interspaced with cottage industry, including blacksmith and seamstresses.
As the 18th century slipped away and the threat of invasion by Napoleon dominated the news, Ipswich’s trade and industry was beginning a revival, helped by the large number of military personnel billeted in the town. Agricultural production was up, and grain was being exported, as was malt and other cereals.
The population needed feeding, and the consumption of (weak) beer rose, frequently easier to obtain than drinking water.
One of the houses in New Street was converted into a pub, the Chequers, and on the corner of Dorking Street the Safe Harbour was home to a number of clubs and societies for the working man, including Ipswich Bicycle Club.
Schools were built: boys in Dorking Street, between David Street and Hamilton Street, with the girls 100 yards away in Woodhouse Street. There was a shop on (almost) every corner, mostly providing the everyday needs of tonight’s meal: bakers, butchers, grocers and pie shops.
By 1810 most of the New Street gardens had gone: new buildings squeezed in – malt houses, warehouses, a brewery and two granaries. As the gardens went, so did the merchants and gentlemen residents. The new entrepreneurs had houses built on the crest of the surrounding hills: at the top of Bishops Hill, Woodbridge Road and in Constitution Hill.
The Rope Walk area was known as the potteries, its clay ideal for earthenware, and for bricks and tiles. There were brickworks from Argyle Street to Fore Hamlet, including Trinity Works in Back Hamlet. The last of the clay was extracted, and the boom in (red brick) house-building finished with the start of the First World War. When it was over, houses were built from bricks made elsewhere, frequently by the London Brick Company in Stewartby or Peterborough.
Much property was demolished in the slum clearance of the 1930s and, after the second war, Civic College made use of the site, later moving into the north east corner in 2010 to allow space for the university, which is sharing the new building with the record office.