Days Gone By: Why does one river have two names?

The East Coast floods of 1953 saw the areas of Ipswich close to the rivers Gipping and Orwell under

The East Coast floods of 1953 saw the areas of Ipswich close to the rivers Gipping and Orwell under water. This was what is now the Suffolk Retail Park off London Road, Ipswich, which includes stores, Brantano, Dunelm, The Range, Argos, Halfords and Next. The houses in the background are in Surrey Road. Do you know any of the boys in the picture?

Which is it? The River Gipping, the Orwell or both?

I featured photographs of the River Gipping in a recent Days Gone By. The pictures included water mills and locks from a period when the river was used as a trade route between Ipswich and Stowmarket. This week I feature a letter from Spencer Greystrong of the River Gipping Trust, who explains how one river has two names, Gipping and Orwell. Spencer has maps showing the river identified as the Orwell as far as Rattlesden. He explains when the river between Stowmarket and Ipswich became known as the Gipping.

Spencer Greystrong, by email.

Some very interesting pictures of the River Gipping featured in a recent Days Gone By. They were of particular interest to me because of my role as one of the trustees of the River Gipping Trust. The trust was created about eight years ago with the object of trying to preserve the historic structures of the Stowmarket Navigation, promote the recreational opportunities of the river and look after the natural environment. We would particularly like to see the long-distance footpath next to the river made into a proper disabled- friendly, traffic free route, between Ipswich and Stowmarket and the river used for boating again. I say again, because it wasn’t that many years ago that you could hire a rowing boat for a quiet trip up or down the river. Perhaps we could take some tips from the River Stour where they have boat trips and the river is used extensively by rowing boats, canoes and kayaks.

Readers might be interested in some brief snippets from the history of the river. I suppose the first thing to say is that it isn’t really the River Gipping at all - it’s actually the River Orwell all the way from Felixstowe to Rattlesden.

All early maps (before about 1720) show it as Orwell fluvius with the River Gipping only shown above Stowmarket. Even earlier, Hollinshed’s Chronicles dated 1577 say it was originally called the ‘Ure’, but locals found a very deep pit or well in the river near Ipswich and joined the two words making ‘Urewell’.

When the good people of Stowmarket presented a petition to Parliament in 1719 supporting the idea of a navigation they too called it the River Orwell. They didn’t get Parliamentary approval in 1719 - they had to wait until 1793 to open the navigation which ran for 16 miles from Stowmarket to Handford Sea Lock, dropping 90 feet and going through 15 locks. Incidentally, it was called a navigation not a canal. Canals were wholly artificial waterways dug from scratch whereas navigations were always based on existing rivers.

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In 1842 the Eastern Union Railway opened the line from Ipswich to Stowmarket, but the navigation struggled on until 1932 when it was formally closed.

This might be a good place to dispel the notion that Ipswich (or Gypswick) got it’s name from the River Gipping. As mentioned above, it was still called the Orwell until the early 18th Century. Most local historians suggest that the first part of the name came from ‘Gyppes’, a local Saxon chieftain.

If any readers would like to know more, have a look at our website ( and even better, become a member of the trust and help us in our efforts to promote and develop the river.

You can download a form from the website, send us an email ( or call us on 03303 308531.

If there is a subject you would like featured in Days Gone By write to David Kindred, Days Gone By, Ipswich Star/EADT, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email