From crisis to axis

WHAT a difference a couple of years make! This town centre site used to be a pond in the middle of wasteland, but today DAVID VINCENT visits stylish new apartments that look down on a restored church, and are just yards from shops, bars and restaurants.

WHAT a difference a couple of years make! This town centre site used to be a pond in the middle of wasteland, but today DAVID VINCENT visits stylish new apartments that look down on a restored church, and are just yards from shops, bars and restaurants.

IN Tudor times the commercial heart of Ipswich was its waterfront, with timber framed merchants houses and warehouses from the quayside leading up to the town centre.

The wealth of the trading port was reflected in the many new churches that were built. Today many of those medieval buildings remain, though not in worship, as their surroundings have changed around them.

Several old churches have new uses, one is the tourist information centre, another is a band headquarters and another for theatre and art exhibitions. St Nicolas Church, which was disused for many years, also has an historic past.

It was the church where Geoffrey Chaucer's family worshipped and Thomas Wolsey, later to become the most powerful man in England under King Henry VIII, was baptised there. Cardinal Wolsey's family were in trade. His father was a butcher, innkeeper and cattle dealer and they lived close by in St Nicholas Street.

The original church building is now the centre-piece of The St Nicholas Centre, a venue for conferences, concerts and a wide variety of community events. The church font is still there and three Anglo Saxon carvings are displayed on the walls. It is little changed, apart from their being no pews, from when I served as a chorister.

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Recently there has been a day-long conference examining the many archaeological investigations of old Ipswich. There is a vast amount of archaeology to discover in the town and this is its historic heart.

Ipswich, of course, has a long and chequered history and it has been a continuous settlement for longer than Colchester.

Cardinal Wolsey's fall from grace and subsequent death put paid to his college but, several hundred years later, at last there is a university in the town, which is centred on the nearby waterfront.

The Sanctuary coffee bar at St Nicholas is open daily and is the venue for poetry and for salsa nights while the church building has a variety of events including theatrical productions.

Breaking The Chains in November was a new play about the abolition of slavery.

The stunning new Ipaxis apartments, built by Essex-based Swift Developments, have a prime position overlooking the St Nicholas Church Centre, making it a location that is convenient for amenities such as bars, restaurants, theatres and the eleven screen cinema.

The waterfront area which is rapidly developing with homes, commerce and arts venues, is only a few minutes walk. From the balconies of the apartments you can see the roofscape, cranes above the waterfront sites, the Ipswich Town clock tower and the black glass Willis building, a modern architectural wonder.

Swift Developments is owned by Neil Moy and Mike Walsh, and previous schemes include West Point in Colchester and The Maltstore at Mistley.

The Ipaxis schemes in Franciscan Way provides 50 two-bedroom apartments in two, connected blocks, with the homes beginning at first floor level and secure parking, and bicycle racks and courtyard gardens below.

Agent Charles Wright of Fenn Wright said: “There is nothing in town like it; nothing with the passion they have put into it. Everything they have used is the highest specification, from heavy oak veneer front doors and door furniture to high quality kitchens and bathrooms.

“There are even soft-close toilet seats in the bathrooms. The tradesmen involved are really interested in it. Danny Kerry, the project manager, takes an absolute pride in the job and he passes that on to those who work for him.

“He demands high standards and everything is done in the right order. For example before the decorators start, each apartment is cleaned and Hoovered, so there will be no dust on the paintwork.”

And each apartment had a leather-bound handbook, a welcome pack if you like, containing all their essential information, product guides and appliance guarantees.

The Ipaxis development is a striking modern scheme clad in terracotta tiles and goose wing grey aluminium and with a Kalzip aluminium roof. Danny added: “It is a great location. Everything you need is around you here. I think it is one of the nicest new buildings in the town.

“I must pay tribute to the guys who own Swift Developments; they always aim for the highest quality and produce iconic developments. They choose sites that are sometimes too difficult for the national builders to take on and put something there that is noticed. We did the curved West Point building in Colchester, which many people will know. They have got the vision and the commitment that you only get from a smaller developer and not a PLC.”

Danny added: “It is about a lifestyle really. We are not selling the views, like they are beside the water.

“It is the quality of the product. What we are trying to do here is produce a fantastic product, so that everyone will want to live here. We have used the same high quality contractors, hand-picked, who come back to us from job to job.”

Below the building there is an allocated parking space for each apartment, with access controlled by private electronically controlled gates. That is a boon in a town centre where parking is at a premium.


The full version of this article first appeared in the December issue of Suffolk magazine.