Ipswich Icons - Rushmere Heath was home to the town’s very first golf club

An aerial view of the golf course on Rushmere Heath

An aerial view of the golf course on Rushmere Heath - Credit: Archant

John Norman, of the Ipswich Society, looks at land with intriguing stories to tell, and wonders if Rushmere Heath ever had a school.

The location of a former cycle speedway track on Rushmere Heath?

The location of a former cycle speedway track on Rushmere Heath? - Credit: Archant

Rushmere Heath is 168 acres of common land just beyond the eastern boundary of Ipswich. Commoners’ rights (a very complex branch of the law) have existed here since the Middle Ages, vested in the inhabitants of Rushmere St Andrew who, although they no longer graze sheep on the heath, are still very protective of their right to roam, he writes.

During the Napoleonic Wars at the end of the 18th Century parts of the heath were commandeered by the military and used as an army camp. At various times soldiers were billeted anywhere from Lattice Barn to Bixley Farm, with their parade ground (a cleared space for drill practice) just behind the neighbourhood police station in Heath Road. This was before the 1930s by-pass cut across the heath and the land to the west of Heath Road became the hospital.

In 1804 Sir James Craig had 11,000 men billeted on the heath: a show of strength, mainly to reassure those present that they were not alone. The War Office paid the commoners £227 annually for the use of the common by the military ? an amount that was reduced year on year as the military presence decreased until there was so little per person to distribute to the commoners that the payments stopped.

In 1826 the heath was amongst the various parcels of land given to the lord of the manor, the first Marquis of Bristol, Frederick Hervey, when this title was created. The marquis tried to enforce his ownership in 1851 and again in 1861, but this was disputed by the commoners, who were able to retain their rights over the land.

The Rushmere Golf Club clubhouse

The Rushmere Golf Club clubhouse - Credit: Archant

It wasn’t until 1958 that the commoners were able to purchase the land (for £500) and enjoy the heath without fear of prosecution.

In the final decade of the 19th Century (1895) a group of lads, including lawn-mower giant James Edward Ransome (1839-1905), who lived in Holme Wood in Woodbridge Road; Arthur Pearce (1850-1915) and Alexander Gibb (1840-1925) were instrumental in getting a golf club off the ground, securing the lease on 40 acres of the heath (at £30 per annum) and creating Ipswich’s first golf course.

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The course was designed by James Braid, a golf architect of international renown. By using the natural undulations, a small 18-hole course was created and Ipswich Golf Club came into being.

Golfers, however, like a challenge and Rushmere Heath ? despite the bunkers and the pond ? lacked variety. Land at Purdis Farm became available and a new course was created, again by James Braid, and in 1927 Ipswich Golf Club moved to a new home.

The official opening of the new course took place on Saturday, June 16, 1928, with an exhibition match between Braid himself, fellow founder member of the PGA JH Taylor, professional golfer Abe Mitchell and the talented young golfer Henry Cotton ? who went on to win three Open Championships.

The Rushmere course was not abandoned, however. Some members decided to stay and form a new club on the old course ? not surprising, given the excellent clubhouse and facilities. In 1953, Rushmere Golf Club purchased an additional 17-acre field, on which three new holes were built, and the layout of the course was improved and extended.

That’s not quite the full story, however. There remains a mystery to be solved. The records of Rushmere Golf Club suggest the clubhouse was originally an old school. The Ordnance Survey map of 1884 is devoid of any buildings hereabouts: neither school nor houses to provide the children. (The Australia Estate wasn’t built until after the First World War.)

Twenty years later the 1904 OS map shows a golf clubhouse clearly marked and the course spreading out across the heath. I can find nothing in the educational or village records to suggest there was ever a school on the heath. Rushmere village school was in Humber Doucy Lane and Broke Hall School wasn’t built until the 1970s.

So was the clubhouse ever a school? Perhaps it was built as one and never used: maybe to serve the Australia Estate. and the construction of these houses was delayed. If you have any evidence, please let me know.