Ipswich Icons: Rent-a-Radio... cafés... What life was here!

Views of the Neptune Cafe in Fore Street. Pictures: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Views of the Neptune Cafe in Fore Street. Pictures: IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

I promised to write more about the café/restaurant on the corner of Fore Street and Neptune Lane cutting down to the Quayside. You will probably recall it as the Neptune Café but it has traded under a variety of names.

Views of the Neptune Cafe in Fore Street. Pictures: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Views of the Neptune Cafe in Fore Street. Pictures: IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Researchers constantly praise the staff at Suffolk Record Office and I can endorse their compliments.

For my random selection of a building, numbers 90 and 92 Fore Street, they really did come up trumps!

At my bequest they found a file of papers that enabled me to trace the history of the café and the adjacent buildings, which at one stage were in the same ownership.

This extensive file of Wills, Indentures and Particulars of (Auction) Sales are dated as far back as the 17th Century.

The building in 2010. Picture: Phil Morley

The building in 2010. Picture: Phil Morley

The earliest dates probably indicate the first time the buildings had been sold since they were built in the 1490s.

The papers relate to two distinct groups of buildings: some fronting Fore Street, others the Quayside.

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The buildings fronting Fore Street were predominantly residential; those on the quayside commercial.

This melee of buildings included several grain stores, and a malthouse very small by today’s standards but similar in size and function to the malt kiln at Isaacs further along the quay.

Interestingly, the kiln was circular on the plan; not unusual for Suffolk but not common on the quayside, where land was at a premium.

Our interest, however, is with the residences to the front of the group (numbers 88, 90 & 92).

Over time, number 88 has been subsumed into the Neptune Inn (number 86), and numbers 90 and 92 knocked into a single entity which is the subject of this article.

Throughout the 20th Century 90 and 92 have been retail premises: initially a shop but since the Second World War an eatery.

Auction particulars of 1878 describe these buildings as three dwelling houses, number 92 having a stable, a chaise house and c. (etcetera).

None of this ancillary accommodation was particularly spacious. It appears there was no room in the stable for the horse to turn around and the cart lodge would accommodate only the smallest of chaises.

A chaise was a lightweight, two-wheel horse-drawn buggy (cart) with much the same purpose as a two-seater car today: ideal for nipping around town but offering no comfort for longer journeys.

It appears William Randall had owned all three residential properties (88, 90 & 92) since 1857 but was retaining number 88 as the others went to auction (it was listed as not included in the sale).

It is not obvious who purchased numbers 90 and 92 in 1878 but Edith Maud Cook was born at number 90 that year. (Did the Cooks buy or rent?).

We know that by 1899 the Gyfords were living at number 90. In 1900 Bessie Gyford converted the front room into a greengrocer’s shop and when her husband Criss returned from the Boer War they purchased number 92 to enlarge their retail business.

By 1938 the Gyfords had left and Peake’s Dairies were using the premises as a distribution centre as well as a retail outlet.

At the start of the Second World War Rent-a-Radio were in number 90 and Harold Taylor was running a general store at number 92.

After the war Jason Rutter was using both units for his cycle repair business but the premises were too large or his income too small, so he converted number 92 into a snack bar.

As the café business grew he expanded the seating area into number 90 and pushed his cycle repairs into the back room, previously the stable.

In 1960 the pair of shops was sold to Jason Reid, who ran the snack bar as a transport café.

Throughout the ’60s and early 1970s the café was successful: the majority of trade coming from the port and lorry drivers delivering to the dock-side businesses.

n Bob Shelley had been running Quick-Snax in Norwich Road and the Nippin in St Helen’s Street. These attracted a regular client base – surprisingly, for the Nippin, not students (despite the proximity of Civic College) who tended to use Peter’s Café in Grimwade Street. Bob built a business running cafés across town, expanding to include Jeff’s Café in the former Eagle pub, Wherstead Road; an ice cream business, Tonibell, off Grove Lane; a taxi business, and a bed & breakfast facility above Jack’s Café which is by Sainsbury’s, Hadleigh Road. Bob was a philanthropist, running charity events including popular boxing matches at the Copdock hotel and later becoming a pundit on local radio. Jack’s Café was an essential provider of breakfasts and lunch for Ipswich’s working men.

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