Waterfront: Latest museum window display celebrates the river Orwell

Ipswich Maritime Trust new museum window display at Ipswich Waterfront, Navigation on the Orwell Ipswich Maritime Trust new museum window display at Ipswich Waterfront, Navigation on the Orwell

Thursday, May 1, 2014
4:41 PM

When Lord Nelson was the High Sheriff of Ipswich

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The navigation of the Orwell, and its role in the development of the port of Ipswich over the centuries, is the latest theme for the Ipswich Maritime Trust’s window museum display on the Waterfront.

It is a fascinating story which tells of the role of the river in the economic success of the town and the county.

The Navigation on the Orwell display is packed full of information and interest.

It is the 10th display put together by the trust members.

Eventually the plan is to have a court of five window museums alongside each other in a court at the Waterfront.

It is an ambitious plan but the trust is growing in support and membership, and I am sure it will eventually get there.

This display focuses on the development of the river and the ships that used it.

Early in 1801, when Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson was High Sheriff of Ipswich and busily organising the ‘Sea Fencibles’ (a kind of local Naval Home Guard defending us from invasion at the time) in his frigate ‘Medusa’, he was impatient to set sail from Orwell Haven in an easterly wind. Undaunted by advice not to, he set sail, determined to prove the existence of a channel from Harwich across to the Naze, offering a new and faster route south for London-bound ships.

To this day, the Medusa buoy marks this well-used channel, says Stuart Grimwade of the Ipswich Maritime Trust.

Many of the buoys along the Orwell have names of historical significance, such as Pepys, Cardinal, College and Cathouse.

Ipswich had to wait until the construction of the present Wet Dock, in 1843, for channel widening and deepening of the Orwell to allow larger ships to discharge at all states of the tide directly on to the quays, such as Albion Quay where the window museum is today.

Ipswich owes its existence to the River Orwell and to the seafarers who have navigated its tides and channels for the past one thousand four hundred years or so.

This lastest display celebrates their skills and some of the navigation equipment they used - and still use today - to give safe passage.

At the time of Samuel Pepys’ Harwich Approaches chart of 1686, reproduced in the display, the largest ships (100 tons) could come up the Orwell only as far as Downham Bridge, a Roman causeway across the river, built of septaria, roughly on the line of the present Orwell Bridge.

Among the images in the exhibition is a photograph of the old Ipswich Dock Commission dredger the Samuel Armstrong from the 1960s, whose skipper Dave Mullett still lives locally.

Also featured is a photo of Dave’s grandfather’s hopper dredger Downham.

The IMT volunteers, known as the Window Wizards, have been busy completing the display.

This display is there for six months, and can be seen seven days a week.

1 comment

  • Interesting history. I wonder if IBC would like to explain the historical waterfront connection, not too long ago, they were talking about 'Ipswich Village' near the football ground, something which both councils have significant offices there. The area, which Grafton House is within, is called Ipswich Village because, had it not been obvious, this was the area where people first settled... not the waterfront! Which in turns asks the question "Why spend so much money swapping the axis of the town centre, linking the traditional town to the 'historic' waterfront area, when the area of early settlement despite within the BID area, is NOT being represented?"

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