'Hidden history' - tourist guides' concern over Dickens plaque on Ipswich hotel

The agent's sign is above the Dickens plaque on the Great White Horse in Ipswich

The agent's sign is above the Dickens plaque on the Great White Horse in Ipswich - Credit: Ipswich Tour Guides Association

Ipswich tourist guides have voiced their concern over an estate agent's sign placed over the Charles Dickens plaque on the Great White Horse Hotel.

The historic building on the corner of Tavern Street and Northgate Street famously features in Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers.

It closed as a hotel in 2008 and its ground floor was converted into retail units, but Starbucks moved out in 2018 and Cotswold closed in 2019. 

Roche Chartered Surveyors is now marketing the building, but its "All enquiries" sign has been placed over the Ipswich Society blue plaque.

This makes it hard to see the wording, which says: "Charles Dickens, 1812-1870. The novelist stayed here as did his 'Mr Pickwick'."

Mike Garland outside the Great White Horse in Ipswich during a Dickens walk in 2012

Mike Garland, chairman of Ipswich Tourist Guides Association, pictured here outside the Great White Horse during a Dickens walk in 2012 - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Tourist Guides Association tweeted: "Hidden history? We highlighted the daft placing of this sign, hiding a piece of significant Ipswich history, earlier this year, but to no avail."

Chairman Mike Garland said "I think it's incredible that they chose that one place to put the sign.

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"We just thought, when you have the whole length of the building, why put it there?"

Mr Garland said the town's guides regularly took groups past the hotel, which is one of the most historic buildings in Ipswich.

He has personally led a number of Dickens walks and is planning to give a talk on Dickens in the new year, following the guides' move to their new home at The Hold on the Waterfront.

An Ipswich tourist guide outside the Great White Horse Hotel

An Ipswich tourist guide outside the Great White Horse Hotel - Credit: Ipswich Tourist Guides Association

Another guide, David Stainer, said: "Some people complained to me and said it is a great shame. I lead guided walks and am very proud of the town's history."

Ipswich borough councillor Carole Jones said: "They could have put the sign anywhere on the building, so why did they put it in that spot?" 

She said she had contacted Roche about the plaque a few weeks ago, to ask if the sign could be moved.

The agent had told her it was contacting the landlord about relocating the board, but she had not heard any more.

Ms Jones said she had offered for the council to give the agent any support it could in reletting the building.

John Norman, chairman of the Ipswich Society, has recently expressed fears for the future of the building, together with that of other heritage buildings in the town.

Undated file picture of author Charles Dickens

Author Charles Dickens stayed at the Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich - Credit: PA/PA Wire

He said: "The Ipswich Society welcomes the indication that the owner of the Great White Horse is actively trying to sell.

"In consultation with the conservation officer who try to attach blue plaques to a prominent place on the building, unfortunately agents for the vendor chose the same space.

"We hope the building can be sold quickly and the sign removed but even more important is that the building is sold and the new owner has an idea for a new use, thus the building can once again stand proud in the high street.

"On a minor point we hope that the new use includes the upper floors."

Roche has been approached for comment.