Ipswich Icons: Lives lived in the shadow of our town hall
A short stroll from the Cornhill can be packed with history, change and stories.
If we leave the Cornhill by way of Lion Street (down the passageway at the side of the Golden Lion) we pass the disused Vaults (The Lion Hotel Vaults), more recently a JD Wetherspoon’s public house.
It was cast aside by Wetherspoon’s, together with 35 others, when they rationalised the number of pubs across the country.
Three in Ipswich was obviously too many for their customer base; the Robert Ransome was sold at more or less the same time.
The Golden Lion Hotel, a former posting house, was originally the White Lion and was first opened in the early 1570s. Given its prominent position, it had probably been an inn before this date.
The Coade stone lion on the roof was originally gilded but has deteriorated to a mixed hue of dull greys. Note the Doric doorway with fluted columns and pilasters. This is the entrance to Mizu, a noodle bar which operates in the foyer of the former hotel.
The narrow passage has become a bit of a dumping ground for wheelie-bins, old pallets and other detritus, making the route less than welcoming (and this is just off the most important square in Ipswich).
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In the corner of the Corn Exchange was a public convenience, a facility that had replaced an open urinal in the narrow passage between the town hall and Kings Head Yard (the Kings Head stood behind the town hall but was demolished to make way for the Corn Exchange in the 1880s).
As Lion Street opens out to a vehicle width the hotel yard is on our right. It is typical of a hotel car park from the late 1920s/early ’30s.
Most of the visitors to the hotel arrived by means other than the private car but those that did were treated especially well and their cars were kept undercover.
Later, the first floor of this parking lot became an occasional night club. Across Lion Street today is Aqua 8, a bistro and bar operating in the former business premises of H Warner & Sons (1845) and JR Brown & Co (bore hole drillers): guys who frequently worked together to install a water supply to rural Suffolk properties.
These premises were known as the Corn Exchange Iron Works: they produced pipe fittings and other small cast-iron trinkets.
Arcade Street starts with an elliptical arch on unfluted Ionic columns built in the middle of the nineteenth century.
However, it is an extended arch, not an arcade! This was the site of a house once known as Don Read’s Mansion, which faced across to King Street.
The mansion was bought by the East of England Bank in 1836, who installed William Ingelow as banker. It was an extensive six-bedroomed property with a 20-foot-square banking hall and a similar-sized dining room. His family lived there and an Ipswich Society blue plaque commemorates daughter Jean, a poetess.
In 1845 the East of England Bank failed and in 1848 the house was extensively remodelled, with an arch being cut through into a new street.
This ran to the corner where the new museum was being constructed and then up to Westgate Street.
The lower portion of Museum Street wasn’t built until 1850, which explains the awkward kink on the junction with Arcade Street (the name given to the new street under the arch).
Arcade Street and Museum Street are full of sizeable Victorian houses.
As the professional businesses which have occupied these premises for 50 years move out, the buildings are set to return to residential use, an important boost to the town centre and its developing leisure and cultural offer.
Back into Elm Street; on the corner of King Street is the former office of Gerald Benjamin, estate agent and valuer, who was predominate throughout the first half of the 20th century.
From 1936 Gerald lived in Archway House, Playford, which is worthy of an article in its own right.
On the right, adjacent to the blue plaque, is Quill Court, formerly the shared offices of a number of Ipswich solicitors, which has recently been converted to residential use, further evidence of an increasing town centre population who walk to work, to the theatre, and have an extensive choice of restaurants within a few hundred yards of their front door.
Next week we visit Elliston House, otherwise known as Elm Street Clinic and possibly the least favourite building for hundreds of Ipswich schoolchildren.
It’s named after William Alfred Elliston, probably the most prominent Ipswich physician of the 19th century.