From merchant's house to Waterfront bar: The history of Isaacs on the Quay

An empty Isaacs on the Quay during the coronavirus lockdown in Ipswich

An empty Isaacs on the Quay during the coronavirus lockdown in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

One of the most popular bars in Ipswich, Isaacs on the Quay has been serving drinkers on the Waterfront for more than a decade – but the popular watering hole hides a historical secret. 

Made up of a collection of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, including some from the medieval and Tudor periods, the oldest section of the building has been dated back to between AD 1418 and AD 1449 using dendrochronology. 

English Heritage's listed building register records the oldest elements of the bar, which are Grade I listed, originally formed a row of medieval timber-framed houses, which extended along the south side of Fore Street.

These were later incorporated into warehouses, although some of the elements were almost as old as these houses – having been constructed in the 15th century when Ipswich was one of the most prosperous ports in England. 

The merchant's house in Fore Street in Ipswich, behind Isaacs pub

The merchant's house in Fore Street in Ipswich, behind Isaacs pub - Credit: Archant

Attached to the back of these is a substantial merchant house. We know that this was built in 1636 as one of the structural supporting beams on the front of the building has the date emblazoned on.

According to research conducted by Isaacs, the house was occupied by a wool merchant, who would have used the Waterfront-facing section as a warehousing and distribution centre for their business. 

Star GrantAidan Coughlan, Owner of the Isaac Lord Quarter in IpswichPic Lucy Taylor

The carefully restored corn dressing machinery in the attics at Isaacs dates from when it was used as a maltings in the 18th century - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Many original features throughout the buildings have been preserved, including many pieces of equipment used during the building's long industrial past. 

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A good example of such machinery is a carefully-restored corn dressing machine, a rare survival from the 18th century hand-malting concern.

This likely dates from when the complex was owned by the Cobbold brewing family of Ipswich. During this period the buildings were used as a maltings, while the Wherry Inn operated on the shoreline. 

The chainging faces of Ipswich Waterfront over 50 years.This photograph of Wherry Quay is from 196

This photograph of Wherry Quay is from 1965. The Isaac Lord building, and part of what is now the Salthouse Harbour Hotel, can easily be identified - Credit: David Kindred

At the beginning of the 20th century, the property was bought from its then-owners by Isaac Lord, from whom the site gets its current name. He used it as a centre for his business trading bulk goods, specifically coal and corn. 

In an oral history recorded by the Ipswich Society, a man named Ted King remembered people coming to Isaac Lord's in order to buy ingredients for beer making. 

He said: "He supplied bushels of malt and pounds of hops and yeast that the country people used to come for – I've been there myself – to make their beer."

This business continued to run up until 1980 – although Mr Lord passed in 1942 – after the owner joined forces with Reg Cooper who expanded the firm's coal and corn interests. 

Interestingly, Isaac Lord's daughter lived in the merchant's house facing Fore Street until 1976.

Eventually, after the Cooper family had attempted to raise money to restore the site, it was taken over by Aiden Coughlan, who restored the buildings into the lively bar we know today.