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Ipswich Icons: Talk, again, will be of pennies and ambitions

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:54 04 June 2017

The old Parr's Bank building in Princes Street. Note the rust appearing from the cast iron gutter. The gutters and downpipes on the original Parr's Bank resemble the moulded stonework and simply are not noticeable. Parr's is on the left; the Corn Exchange on the right. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

The old Parr's Bank building in Princes Street. Note the rust appearing from the cast iron gutter. The gutters and downpipes on the original Parr's Bank resemble the moulded stonework and simply are not noticeable. Parr's is on the left; the Corn Exchange on the right. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

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There was great excitement in the borough council when the Ipswich Building Society announced it was moving into the former Chelsea Building Society offices in Princes Street, writes John Norman of The Ipswich Society.

A reminder of the past. The building was originally built for Parr’s Bank and designed in 1902 by Thomas W Cotman. Picture: JOHN NORMAN A reminder of the past. The building was originally built for Parr’s Bank and designed in 1902 by Thomas W Cotman. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

The anticipation mounted when the scaffolding went up; clearly urgent repairs were about to happen.

Life is not that simple, however, and even with the good intention of the new owner, the complexities of repair and refurbishment may prove prohibitively expensive.

Firstly, we need to appreciate that there are two separate buildings: the former Parr’s Bank on the corner of King Street (Grade II listed) and the more recent addition, number 2 Princes Street.

We also need to understand that the repair work is split into three separate contracts: the external redecoration, the refurbishment of the banking hall and the formation of apartments on the upper floors. RG Carter are on-site, carrying out maintenance and painting the exterior, and it will not come as a surprise that there is more to do than was immediately apparent.

A weather vane that doesn’t spin, finials at the base of the spire that are rotten to the core (but held in place by their copper skin) and a long-abandoned lift shaft full of builders’ rubble to list but three.

The second phase: the remodelling and renovation of the interior of the banking hall, with the particular difficulties of it being within a listed building. The current layout is typical 1970s – 1980s, with false ceilings and featureless walls; the decorative plasterwork hidden behind chipboard, plasterboard and fibre ceiling tiles.

Phase three is the conversion of the upper floor into town centre apartments. And here the true identity of the original building is revealed, because this was primarily a very fine town house.

It was built as a five-bedroom residence for the bank manager, with nothing more than a very small banking hall in the north east corner.

In fact, it is likely that numerous financial business deals were concluded whilst sitting at the manager’s personal dining table just off the public banking hall.

The building was originally built for Parr’s Bank and designed in 1902 by Thomas W Cotman, nephew of the famous watercolourist John Sell Cotman. Thomas also designed the new front of the Crown and Anchor in Westgate Street, in a similar 16th century French gothic style. Four storeys with two-storey oriels (bay windows on the first and second floors). The corner terminates with a copper dome, an oak cupola and a spire which is surrounded by highly decorative finials.

The detail is fascinating but somewhat lost being some 60 feet above the street.

The building is faced in Portland stone with a parapet, pierced with quatrefoils and topped with pinnacles, not all of which are still in place.

Parr’s Bank was created in Winwick Street, Warrington, in 1778 by two of the town’s sugar refiners, Joseph Parr and Thomas Lyon. The bank was also known as the Warrington Bank, a name the founders didn’t object to as it implied endorsement of the whole community.

They expanded by amalgamation and by 1900 they had 136 branches. By 1918 there were 329 branches; they joined forces with the London, County and Westminster Bank, a name shortened to the Westminster Bank in 1923.

The Westminster name has survived through further changes until today it is National Westminster or Nat West, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Chelsea Building Society was taken over by the Yorkshire, who also own the Norwich & Peterborough. Rationalisation has led to the closure of the Princes Street branch; thus the building became available.

The Ipswich Building Society are moving their town centre branch from Sailmakers later this year into what was, originally, Parr’s Bank.

Ipswich Building Society was founded as the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society in October 1849. By saving with the society, it was possible for the thrifty to become the owner of a freehold property. It still is.

The Ipswich Society is interested in almost anything that affects the well-being of our town. We are not a single-issue organisation but pride ourselves on being multi-faceted and versatile. We do, of course, value our older buildings but equally accept that change is necessary, and is essential to the well-being of a healthy community.

The Ipswich Society was formed in 1960, when wholesale demolitions were allowed, making space for modern ‘improvements’ in architecture and the free- moving traffic routes. The appearance and interest of our streets remains fundamental to our desire for an attractive and well-balanced place to live.

This is expressed in the way we look at planning applications and make our response known to Ipswich Borough Council and other relevant authorities. The society is represented on the conservation and design panel which feeds thoughtful yet firm comments to the planning and development committee.

The Ipswich Society participates with other Ipswich organisations through the Ipswich Heritage Forum. Information is shared between professional and volunteer bodies that provide the backbone of the culture and heritage that Ipswich does so well.

The Ipswich Society shares its thoughts and ambitions with the Ipswich Maritime Trust, Historic Churches Trust, Ipswich Transport Museum and the Building Preservation Trust. We follow closely developments at the Record Office, the museum and the mansion, ensuring as best we can that changes are for the benefit of the town and its population.

The Ipswich Society works constructively with the local authorities, particularly their planning departments. On those fairly rare occasions when a major point of difference crops up, we try to see the issues in the round but make sure our objections are clearly known.

This central position helps us to avoid being a carping society. Our stance is not one of being anti-everything new or being against every change; rather, we come from a standpoint whereby we understand that change is fundamental to the health of the town. We want the town, its businesses and its inhabitants to prosper, but realise that cannot be achieved by drawing up idealistic wish-lists.

If you share these principles and values, please consider joining the Ipswich Society.

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