Ipswich Icons - Do you remember when the car park at the rear of Marks & Spencer housed William Pretty Corset Factory?

Fitzroy Street

Fitzroy Street - Credit: Archant

By the middle of the 19th Century Cobbold’s were making and selling so much beer they were getting embarrassingly rich on the proceeds, writes John Norman of The Ipswich Society.

Steam Brewery Tap

Steam Brewery Tap - Credit: Archant

Literally hundreds of men would, at the sound of the bull (a loud steam powered horn), down tools and dash out of the engineering works to down a couple of pints in the nearest pub. There was no shortage of pubs, particularly outside Ransome’s Orwell Works, Ransome and Rapier’s Waterside Works and EF & R Turner’s St Peter’s foundry. Every lunchtime and at the end of their shift the workers would rush from the factory into the pub where the landlord had already poured a dozen or more pints and lined them up on the bar.

John Chevallier Cobbold was investing the earnings into other projects, transport using the railway and the dock (both Cobbold funded projects) and banking. Cobbold was part owner of the Blue Bank, blue for obvious political reasons and to differentiate it from the Alexander’s Yellow Bank.

This ‘new money’ drew the attention of the Tollemache brothers of Helmingham Hall (who were, as they say, ‘old money’). They wanted a slice of the action. In 1888 they purchased Charles Cunningham’s Steam Brewery which was located behind the Coach & Horses in Upper Brook Street. The entrance to this brewery is still there, a building with an arched entrance wide enough for a horse and small cart and a passage through to the rear. The building, when owned by Cunningham’s was the Steam Brewery Tap but became simply the Brewery Inn after Tollemache took it over.

In 1957 Tollemache amalgamated with Cobbold’s to become Tolly Cobbold and by 1961 all brewing had been transferred to the Cliff Quay brewery. The steam brewery was demolished and the site used as a temporary car park (Tacket Street car park). It is still looks like a temporary car park today

There used to be rows of terraced housing where Crown House now stands, Fitzroy Street in the west then Chenery, Peel and William Street in the east. Beck Street and Charles Street connected all four across the top. Unfortunately for the residents time moved on and in the 1960s the homes were declared unfit for habitation and demolished (1966). The site was used as a surface car park until 1975 when a concrete multi-storey was built. This in turn was demolished in 2010 and is to be replaced with a £5million prefabricated structural steel monstrosity.

Living in the town centre is once again becoming popular, unfortunately not on this site.

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The car park at the back of M&S was the site of the William Pretty Corset Factory, a firm that had been established in the early 19th century. The factory was built in 1881 when demand for an hour-glass figure was increasing rapidly. After 100 years it closed and in 1987 the site was cleared to create a car park.

Ipswich Borough Council occupied numerous building across the town centre in the 1960s but decided to build a single multi-storey office block (Civic Centre) which opened in 1971. They occupied the building until 2006 moving to Grafton House and the tower block was demolished. The site was intended to become a shopping centre but there were no takers for the anchor store (the same story applies to the Steam Brewery above) and ‘Westgate’ was resold to become a car park. Together with the existing spiral there will almost 600 spaces on the site.

Close to the town centre more car parks have recently opened, Cobden Place, Smart Street and just coming on stream, South Street. The moral of the story, there is more money to be made renting vacant sites as town centre car parks than selling them for development, and with this phenomenal increase in Ipswich town centre parking spaces park and ride doesn’t stand a chance.

See more from The Ipswich Society here

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