Ipswich Icons - the Roman road which became Carr Street, Tavern Street and Westgate Street

Cox Lane was one of the earliest streets in Ipswich

Cox Lane was one of the earliest streets in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

It was one of the earliest streets in Ipswich but whatever happened to Cox Lane? asks John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

The mural above the footpath between the Co-operative buildings in Ipswich

The mural above the footpath between the Co-operative buildings in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

It is likely that there were hunters and gatherers wandering around the Gipping valley from time immemorial, they made simple tools (flint axes) but didn’t live in caves, at least not in Ipswich.

The Romans passed through; they built a road from Walton Castle (off the Dip at Felixstowe) to Combretovium, a fort close to the river at Baylham. In Ipswich the road has become Carr Street, Tavern Street and Westgate Street. They had a villa at Castle Hill but otherwise Ipswich was insignificant as an outpost of the Roman Empire.

However, the town really started with the Saxons, who settled here in the 7th Century. They used the deep water at the bend in the river to moor their boats and created a ford at the narrowest point (Stoke bridge). They were an enterprising group and started manufacturing pottery; taking advantage of the excellent clay and an abundant supply of fuel (Ipswich was surrounded by forest).

The first potteries were at the junction of Carr Street and Cox Lane, clay was excavated, literally from under their feet, and kilns were built to enable production to take place on a commercial scale. The pots have been found close to the ports around the North Sea (East Anglia, the Low Countries, Denmark and north Germany) indicating wide (for that time) distribution.

In 1958, following the demolition of the Georgian and Victorian property, archaeologists were excavating in Cox Lane and established that the pots were sufficiently different to other pottery to be named ‘Ipswich Ware’. Cox Lane therefore was one of the earliest streets in Ipswich, a route between the quayside and the pottery works. For 500 years pottery for export was transported along the street and it became an established route through the town.

A variety of diverse names were used for different parts of the street, mainly, but not exclusively, reflecting the use of nearby buildings. Today we know the lower part of the lane as Foundation Street but way back in 1315 it was ‘the lane from The Friars Preachers (Blackfriars) to Caristrete’.

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I should point out that until circa 1400 very little was written down, (with the exception of wills and leases). Street names were simply spoken and could easily slip from one pronunciation to another, or be given slang names which in time became more frequently used than the regular name.

By 1402 there was a reference to a thoroughfare from Carystrete to le Cay’ (the Quay) although on all of the known historical maps the lane doesn’t actually reach the quayside but terminates at the warehouses on the south side of Key Street. The length in front of St Mary Quay church was ‘Bank Street’ named after the Yellow Bank or Alexander’s Bank (Yellow to differentiate it from Cobbold’s Blue Bank).

In the Middle Ages the lane was variously referred to as Balmanny’s Lane (1480), Baldman’s Lane (1542), Baleman’s Lane (1552). Deeds of 1609 suggest ‘formerly Ballman’s Lane, now Cocke’s (Cox) Lane’. Foundation Street was for a time St Edmund Pountney Lane after the Church of St Edmund Pountney in Rosemary Lane, now only a footpath between Foundation Street and Lower Brook Street.

In Victorian times, following the Industrial Revolution, the population of Ipswich grew substantially and high density housing was packed into the space previously occupied by the Cox Lane potteries. Contemporary accounts suggest the area had a profusion of houses and hovels (sheds, usually for single men, in the back yards of the terraced houses), narrow streets and small shops, all of dubious quality.

Some of the streets still exist, perhaps only as a street name on the corner of a building, Union Street, Upper Barclay Street and Permit Office Street (named after the issuing office of import/export licences).

Following the slum clearance of the late 1950s the space was used as a temporary car park, similarly when Tollymache’s Steam Brewery was demolished following its amalgamation with Cobbold’s in 1957 the site (behind Woolworth’s) became Tacket Street car park.

Today Cox Lane is but a short vehicle entrance to the car park, and a footpath running between the Co-operative buildings. The bridge over the footpath has a mosaic, ‘Harvest’ unveiled in 1962 which has numerous Co-operative Society symbols. Does anybody know who the artist was?

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