Days Gone By: The history of the town’s iconic Willis building

The Willis building (centre bottom) with its roof garden, from the air in 1991. Civic Drive runs fro

The Willis building (centre bottom) with its roof garden, from the air in 1991. Civic Drive runs from the bottom left to top right. Picture: OWEN HINES - Credit: Archant

In 1970 the company then known as Willis Faber and Dumas decided to move all its administrative departments from Southend and London to Ipswich on a site in Princes Street, designed by Norman Foster, later Sir Norman, writes David Kindred.

The Willis building now stands on this site in Princes Street. Alfred Clark's leather goods dealers

The Willis building now stands on this site in Princes Street. Alfred Clark's leather goods dealers were on the corner of Thursby's Lane. The then new St Francis Tower, part of the Greyfriars development, is in the background. Picture: DEREK EGGLETON - Credit: Dave Kindred

Several buildings were demolished to clear the site, including the building occupied for decades by wholesale druggists Grimwade Ridley and Company, two public houses, the British Lion and the Friars Head.

The structure has 890 sheets of toughened, half inch thick, darkly tinted glass, and a further 180 panes around the roof top restaurant.

Willis building became the youngest Grade I listed in Britain in 1991.

The listing meant that when the ground floor swimming pool was closed for office expansion in the 1990s the company had to retain the pool with a floor over the top.

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

By day the glass appears almost black and reflects fragmented views of buildings around, at night it reveals the offices interior.

Do any of the photographs featured bring memories for you? Write to David Kindred, Days Gone By, Ipswich Star/EADT, Portman House, 120 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RS or send an e-mail.

The Willis site from the Greyfriars tower, cleared for building in March 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Willis site from the Greyfriars tower, cleared for building in March 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The Willis building during construction in May 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Willis building during construction in May 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The British Lion public house, at 55 Princes Street, was due for demolition when this photograph was

The British Lion public house, at 55 Princes Street, was due for demolition when this photograph was taken by Jack Keen in 1972. What was Edgar Street on the right was part of Franciscan Way when the area was redeveloped in the mid 1960s. The road from Princes Street to the Novotel junction is now all Greyfriars Road. The British Lion was demolished during the site clearance for the Willis building. Picture: JACK KEEN - Credit: Dave Kindred

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis

Prior to the 1979 General Election, Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, visited the Willis building. Staff lined each floor as Mrs Thatcher rode the escalators, meeting employees as she made her way to the roof garden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

1973 OH

1973 OH - Credit: Archant

In June 1973 former Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, formally laid a foundation at the Willis site.

In June 1973 former Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, formally laid a foundation at the Willis site. Mr MacMillan returned to officially open the building in June 1975. Picture: OWEN HINES - Credit: Archant

The area now occupied by the Willis building is in the bottom left of this photograph taken from the

The area now occupied by the Willis building is in the bottom left of this photograph taken from the Greyfriars tower in 1965. The light coloured building (bottom centre) was the Friars Head public house at 33 Friars Road. It closed in 1972 ready for demolition. The large building in the centre was for decades the premises of Grimwade Ridley and Company, wholesale druggists. Princes Street runs across the picture from bottom left to top right. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Dave Kindred

Harold MacMillan was greeted by building workers on the Willis site in 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Harold MacMillan was greeted by building workers on the Willis site in 1973. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Dave Kindred

Reflections of buildings in Princes Street, Ipswich, in the dark glass panels of the Willis building

Reflections of buildings in Princes Street, Ipswich, in the dark glass panels of the Willis building. Picture: DAVID KINDRED - Credit: Dave Kindred

Demolition work on the Willis building site in June 1972. Friars Street then linked to the Princes S

Demolition work on the Willis building site in June 1972. Friars Street then linked to the Princes Street roundabout. The mid 1960s Greyfriars development is in the background. Picture: PAUL NIXON - Credit: Archant

Some of the glass panels being fixed to the building in March 1973. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

Some of the glass panels being fixed to the building in March 1973. Picture: DAVID KINDRED - Credit: Archant

The staff swimming pool at Willis Faber and Dumas in May 1975. The pool is now covered and the area

The staff swimming pool at Willis Faber and Dumas in May 1975. The pool is now covered and the area used as office space. Picture: DAVID KINDRED - Credit: Archant

Some of the glass panels being fixed to the building in March 1973. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

Some of the glass panels being fixed to the building in March 1973. Picture: DAVID KINDRED - Credit: Archant

There was not a computer screen in sight when this photograph was taken at Willis Faber and Dumas in

There was not a computer screen in sight when this photograph was taken at Willis Faber and Dumas in May 1975. Picture: DAVID KINDRED - Credit: Archant