Ipswich Icons: How the boundaries of Ipswich have shifted and how control’s been exerted

A map of Ipswich in 1610. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

A map of Ipswich in 1610. Picture: JOHN NORMAN - Credit: Archant

It will come as no surprise that the population of Ipswich has grown consistently but irregularly since the Saxons arrived in the 7th Century.

What is perhaps more of a surprise is that the original town boundary didn’t change for many centuries and has hiccupped rather than expanded ever since.

That original boundary became a defensive ditch and rampart following the granting of a charter in 1200.

The line of the rampart is still traceable and in places visible. On the map and on the ground the double line of streets can be followed.

Primarily there is one street just inside and another just outside the line of the rampart.

The town wall wasn’t a defensive structure; it was more of a demarcation line between those residing inside the line, enjoying the benefits and safety of a town centre home, and those living outside who paid less tax.

It was also the demarcation line for traders. Ipswich was in the centre of a largely agricultural hinterland; goods needed to access markets in the town centre or a warehouse close to the dock for transhipment to London.

Most Read

Cart-loads of goods would arrive and were either allowed in (through the gates) or refused entry. If merchants were turned away from one gate they would trundle around the outside of the walls to the next gate and try again.

Hence the formation of a roadway immediately outside the rampart. Orwell Street, St Margaret’s, Crown Street and Lady Lane, amongst others, are on this line. Similarly, a street developed just inside the boundary: St Margaret’s Ditches (Old Foundry Road) and Tower Ramparts. (The southern boundary was the river.)

This is not to say that communities didn’t develop just outside the boundary. The parish of St Clement’s grew where they were building ships and the merchants establishing their businesses.

There were similar shipyards “over Stoke” and a community along the approach to Stoke Bridge. North-east of Ipswich, communities grew around St Margaret’s Church (on the site of the St Augustine’s Priory) and St Helen’s, close to the Leper Hospital.

We know that from some time before the King John Charter (1200), the town was governed by a group of about 12 guys who by virtue of their status, wealth and controlling interests in mercantile activity had selected each other to be the controlling authority.

They were at various stages, and with varying degrees of importance, burgesses, bailiffs and portmen.

The charter of 1200 and a number of subsequent charters confirmed their status, the last being that granted by Charles II in 1665.

It wasn’t until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 that ordinary townsfolk got to vote for a candidate of their choice. Not that they had much choice, nor could many vote – democracy extending only to male householders with property worth in excess of £10 or who received 40 shillings per year by way of rent.

Under the Act the controlling authority for Ipswich became the corporation, and amongst the things they were entitled to set up, in municipal ownership, were farms, sewers and pumping stations, waterworks and The Dock Commissioners. They could cart away rubbish, pave and light the streets and later generate electricity (by burning rubbish).

Under the Local Government Act of 1888 the town was declared a county borough and in 1934 the boundaries were extended to include parts of Belstead, Alnesbourne Priory, Purdis Farm and Rushmere St Andrew. Rushmere was split such that what was to become the Selkirk Road estate came within the borough; the church and The Street remaining in the village. A total of 635 acres was added to Ipswich.

In 1952 the boundary was again altered to include Bramford, Whitton, Westerfield and part of Nacton (1,212 acres added). Westerfield-in-Ipswich was granted independent status in 1894 but in 1902 was incorporated into Ipswich.

After much debate, the Boundary Commission recommended the changes needed to bring unification, leading to the first elections to the new Westerfield Parish Council in 1986.

With that exception Ipswich is today still constrained by its Victorian boundaries.

The retail centres of Warren Heath, Martlesham and Copdock, employment land at Farthing Road, and the residential communities of Kesgrave, Pinewood and Bixley Farm are all just outside the boundary.