Ipswich Icons: The marshes before they were Sir Alf’s

The Sir Alf Ramsey statue outside Ipswich Town Football Ground in Portman Road. Picture: SIMON PARKE

The Sir Alf Ramsey statue outside Ipswich Town Football Ground in Portman Road. Picture: SIMON PARKER - Credit: Archant

Marcus Evans is just a tenant? Who knew? John Norman explains the story behind Portman’s Marshes.

Stoke bridge and Portman's marshes. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

Stoke bridge and Portman's marshes. Picture: JOHN NORMAN - Credit: Archant

The County Borough of Ipswich, the Corporation had ownership, following the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act, of Portman’s Marshes, a vast tract of land upstream from Stoke Bridge between the River Orwell and Gipping (which were, at least as they crossed the marshes, separate rivers).

The Orwell is easy to trace for it follows much the same line today - the south western edge of the marsh. Following the 1953 floods, the river was canalised, sheet piles driven into both banks to stop the town flooding.

There is a footpath alongside the river from Stoke Bridge, under Princes Street Bridge, the Bobby Robson Bridge and as far as the weir close to West End Road.

This is the limit of ordinary tides, although spring tides sometimes reach Yarmouth Road and the site of the Horseshoe Weir.

A map of Ipswich town. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

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

The other river is the Gipping which rises in mid Suffolk and flows south east into Ipswich, past the former Sugar Beet factory and Boss Hall industrial estate.

As it approaches Yarmouth Road it splits, the route straight ahead becomes the tidal Orwell but the fresh water diverts left under Yarmouth Road, under Handford Road bridge and across Alderman Road recreation ground to the site of Handford Mill (at the top of Alderman Road).

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From there, it is underground, contained in a culvert (Little Gipping Street marks the line).

It crosses the site of the former Portman Road cattle market, under Friars Bridge (clearly shown on Edward White’s map of 1867) where it provides evidence of its presence behind the Greyfriars car park with an elongated hump in the ground, which crosses Wolsey Street, close to the back gate of Jewson’s.

The Gipping discharges into the Orwell just above Stoke Bridge appearing under the Skate Park.

When the Gipping was made navigable in 1793, a lock was cut between the two rivers near West End Road (Handford Lock).

The lock gates have gone and a flow control gate has been installed, holding the waters of the Gipping at a constant level up to Sproughton. The waters of the Gipping cascade, waterfall style, into the Orwell.

The vast area between the two rivers was Portman’s Marshes, which flooded into the channels and gullies at high tide. This collected water was used to drive the Tide Mill alongside Stoke Bridge. The salt marshes were ideal for grazing cattle.

For the 600 years between the granting of a Charter (1200 AD) and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, the town was run by Bailiffs, Burgesses’, and Portman. Amongst their many privileges and benefits was the right to graze cattle on the marshes.

When the Act became law, the marshes passed to Ipswich Corporation and municipal buildings have been built thereupon ever since.

The cattle market moved from the top of Silent Street in 1856 and occupied a substantial area of land, either side of Princes Street, and operated here until January 1985.

Constantine Road power station, the town’s first electricity generating station was opened in 1904. It was built to provide power for the trams, (the tram shed was next door and is still the home of Ipswich Buses).

Incidentally the power station burnt the town’s rubbish; it was an incinerator as well as an electricity generator.

The most well known structure on the marshes is Portman Road football ground, from 1855 the home of East Suffolk Cricket. The Football Club have been leasing the ground from the Borough since 1936. Marcus Evans is simply a tenant.

The home for Ipswich’s Volunteer Reserves, the Drill Hall was on the junction of Friars Bridge Road and Portman Road diagonally opposite Ipswich Town’s shop.

Throughout the last century, Friars Bridge Road extended from Princes Street to Portman Road, across what is now the car park and continued as Portman’s Walk, (now Sir Alf Ramsey Way) to Handford Lock.

Cardinal Park was built on the former Ipswich Corporations depot site between Commercial Road and Grey Friars Road.

Commercial Road was the first street to be constructed in the 1850s, providing access to the Railway Goods Yard.

Quadling Street was the depot for horse drawn trams between the Cornhill and the Railway Station. The rails stayed in place until early into the 21st century.

I haven’t mentioned R&W Paul’s Princes Street maltings but that story can wait until next week.

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