Ipswich Icons: Would we risk losing town’s listed buildings in favour of larger retail units?
12:58 01 June 2015
Avid readers will have seen a proposal to demolish the row of Upper Brook Street shops opposite Wilkinson’s in central Ipswich and replace them with a larger, single-shop unit.
The town centre is in need of change − change of focus, change of uses and perhaps changes to the public realm − but it would be unfortunate to lose listed buildings in the process, writes John Norman, of the Ipswich Society.
English Heritage has listed the older buildings on the east side of Upper Brook Street at Grade II; that is, they are of special historical interest. It would be even more unfortunate to lose these buildings to a major store that has difficulty finding and keeping a tenant. Most readers will know of the disaster that was the Greyfriars development, built in the mid 1960s. The shopping centre had great difficultly in finding an anchor store, although a Pricerite supermarket traded for a couple of years and Ipswich Market died a death in the early 1970s before being reborn on Tower Ramparts.
There has been a string of department stores in the Buttermarket centre, each struggling to find customers before eventually closing. Owen Owen, C&A, Allders, TJ Hughes... only TK Maxx has managed to survive for more than a couple of years. So what will be lost if the shops in Upper Brook Street are demolished?
On the corner with Tacket Street, the 1934 parade was built for GW Hales (Chemists). For a while it was occupied by Avis Cook, a well known Ipswich radio and television dealer, but more recently has been a charity shop.
Just into Upper Brook Street is Stop Press, the newsagent, and next door what was previously The Fox pub, which closed in May 1970 − a former Tolly Cobbold house.
The building has seen a number of tenants since, most recently as a bookmakers − all too prevalent hereabouts. The Fox enjoyed mixed fortunes as a drinking establishment and past copies of the EADT reveal adverts of potatoes for sale (direct from Cumbria), fine wines from London at discount prices and the landlord before the magistrates for selling beer after hours. Next door is a much earlier building. Number 41-43 was the former Coach and Horses Inn, a coaching house that was the staging post for Old Blue, a stagecoach service from Gracechurch Street in London, running through to Saxmundham and Beccles. The Coach & Horses was probably built as a merchant’s house in the 17th century. By 1787 it was an inn and over the centuries a staging post (with excellent stabling), a commercial hotel and, when the railway killed the coach trade, a family hotel.
The building is currently used as two charity shops. In the foyer of the one used by the Salvation Army is a flight of stairs, together with other historical features from the inn (unfortunately not in their original location). Call in and take a look. The building was listed Grade II in 1951 and ceased trading as a public house in the late 1970s.
In the late eighteenth century George Frost, a well-regarded local artist, worked in the hotel as clerk to the coaching company and painted pictures of local street scenes, including the stable yard. A century later the hostelry was a favourite starting place for the local cycling club, hence the winged wheel plaque on the front elevation.
The passageway through to the car park was originally an entrance to the Steam Brewery, built for Charles Cunningham of Colchester in 1856, a facility that was purchased by the Tollemache brothers in 1888. Number 39 Upper Brook Street was the Steam Brewery Inn, known as the Brewery Tap, with the brewery offices upstairs. Unfortunately, this old and historic building has not had a user for some 30 years.
Next door the three-storey building (number 37), with an amusement arcade on the ground floor, was built in the early nineteenth century and is also listed. The other shops from this point north are newer and are not listed.
Nicholas Pevsner, in his otherwise excellent The Buildings of Suffolk, suggests that in Upper Brook Street “nothing calls for further notice…” The book has recently been updated by James Bettley, who at least notices the listed buildings.