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Ipswich Icons: What exactly were they thinking?

PUBLISHED: 14:58 24 October 2017

The Corn Exchange before conversion. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

The Corn Exchange before conversion. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Archant

Like any town in the UK Ipswich has a history of misadventures, and like any town, it has for the most part learnt from its mistakes, writes John Norman.

The former Odeon cinema in Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANT The former Odeon cinema in Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANT

Let’s start with the Cab Men’s Shelter and the philanthropic endeavours of the Mayor of Ipswich, Daniel Ford Goddard to provide shelter from inclement weather for the operators of Ipswich’s Hansom Cabs.

What had seemed like a good idea simply wasn’t used as intended. Cab men waiting for a fare would stay with their cab, making it obvious it was ready for hire rather than shelter in the hut where they couldn’t be seen.

Even on particularly wet days, of which there are very few in Ipswich, they would sit in the cab rather than the shelter.

The shelter was moved to Christchurch Park in 1895, after just two years on the Cornhill.

The move became an event in its own right; it was loaded onto a low trailer and towed behind the Borough’s steam roller for the short journey via Tavern and Northgate Street to the park.

There it languished just inside the Bolton Lane gate suffering vandalism and arson until 2006 when, after extensive restoration it was moved to the Westerfield Road entrance where today it proudly stands, offering shelter to park users.

The Opening of the Wet Dock in January 1842 was attended by the great and the good of the town, Councillors, Commissioners and representatives of the businesses that had contributed to the enclosure of the largest retained body of water behind lock gates in the country.

Things didn’t bode well when the weather turned overcast and gloomy.

Unfortunately no-one had made arrangements for a boat to pass through the new lock, an oversight that left the ceremony incomplete.

A grain ship outbound for Rochester, ‘The Director’ was persuaded to use the lock just to finish the ceremony and the lock and the Wet Dock were declared open.

The collier brig ‘Zephyr’ bringing coal from Newcastle had been expecting to anchor in the New Cut but realising, as The Director left, that the lock was empty, made a last-minute decision to sail in.

The captain of the Zephyr neglected to haul the anchor onboard and it was trapped between the ship and the lock wall causing damage to both.

In 1891 the Lyceum Theatre moved from Tacket Street (where David Garrick had first performed) to Carr Street.

However, its stay in the new location was short lived, the Hippodrome in St Nicholas Street opened shortly afterwards and took the trade away from Carr Street.

In 1991 a new cinema opened but a hundred yards from the site of the Lyceum. The Odeon in St Margaret’s Street was built in classic Odeon style but using modern materials. Again its contribution to the cultural offering was short lived as an eleven screen cinema on Cardinal Park opened a few years later.

The now-closed Odeon has the dubious honour of being an embarrassing eyesore for more years than it was a cinema!

In the second half of the twentieth century the provisions market, which had been sharing the Corn Exchange with the corn merchants (each operating on separate days) was moved to the exciting new Greyfriars Centre.

This allowed the Corn Exchange to be converted to an entertainment complex complete with a Grand Hall, an exhibition hall, a film theatre in the basement and a town centre restaurant and coffee bar.

Unfortunately, almost nobody else moved into the Greyfriars centre, there was a short-lived supermarket, a branch of a high street bank and acres of empty units.

Worst of all, there were almost no customers; the busy rush that had patronised the provisions market had evaporated, not prepared to walk the length of Princes Street for a bag of spuds, a pound of apples or a cabbage.

Eventually the Council admitted defeat and the market moved, firstly onto Tower Ramparts (the school had just been demolished), then across the road to the car park onto which Crown Pools would eventually be built.

It moved again to the Civic Centre car park and again, this time back into the town centre to the site of the original corn market, the cattle market and success.

We can only hope that similar mistakes are not repeated chasing dreams of better things to come.

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