Ipswich Icons: The vast estate this dynasty loved and lost
PUBLISHED: 19:00 26 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:32 27 November 2017
A ‘secret park’ and avenue of trees hide an intriguing story. John Norman on land swallowed by Ipswich.
Next to Cranfield Court in Valley Road (William Paul’s almshouses) is a small isolated park, nothing much more than a link between the 1930s bypass and Chelsworth Avenue.
This park is notable for its avenue of trees, mature limes either side of the connecting path. Additionally, alongside Tuddenham Road north of Borrowdale Road, are similar lines of trees on a wide verge: a disconnected continuation of the same avenue.
In the days before the bypass was built this avenue was the front drive to the Red House, one of Ipswich’s substantial country houses.
It was demolished in 1937 when the houses either side of the bypass were built. Red House was the home of the Edgars, whose family tree can be traced back to the 16th century and Great Glemham.
The Edgars purchased 67 acres of land in St Margaret’s Parish in 1641 and over the next two centuries added additional land as well as other substantial holdings in villages around Ipswich. Most of their estate was acquired through marriage, frequently to heiresses of the landed gentry. The Edgars became one of Ipswich’s most notable families in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The site of the Red House is today in the back garden of a house in Bromeswell Road. Red House Park extended from The Spinney at the bottom of the hill in Tuddenham Road (close to the junction with Gainsborough Road) north as far as Westerfield (which until the 1970s was part of Ipswich).
Red House was built on the newly acquired land sometime in the mid 1600s by Thomas Edgar, whose grandfather, Lionel, had been recorder for Ipswich and a reader at Gray’s Inn (readers are actually chaplains at Gray’s Inn, one of four Inns of Court).
Lionel’s grandfather was William Edgar of Great Glemham.
The four-storey central block was built first: five bays (windows) wide, with the middle three bays recessed to create interest. The main entrance was a pedimented doorway a few steps above the semi basement (the lowest of the four floors) housing domestic and farm offices. Two-storey wings were added either side of the main building in the mid 18th century and for the next 100 years the house enjoyed splendid isolation on the high ground north of the town centre.
There is a superb historical painting in the borough’s collection: The South West Prospect of Ipswich by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (1741), painted from on the hill adjacent to St Mary’s Church, Stoke, and encompassing most of the town and dock. Red House stands proud, high above the slope of Westerfield Road and Christchurch Park, enjoying a panorama across the river valley. I suspect some artistic licence was employed to put the front elevation in full view of the artist.
By the middle of the 19th century the Edgars were feeling the pinch. They were living in the much smaller Sparrow’s Nest in Henley Road, rather than in the “house with 13 fire grates” (as the description of 1674 suggested), as they could not afford the upkeep of the bigger house.
Their estate diminished, piece by piece – firstly to the new (as in old) cemetery, 1854, then to the Felixstowe Railway in 1877 and later to the Ipswich bypass, 1932. This breaking up of the Edgars’ estate was interspersed with the sale of land for housing.
In 1895 Red House and 20 acres of land were let to a tenant and there was income from the shooting rights over the remainder of the estate. It is likely that the tenant didn’t live in the house and in 1900 the furniture and effects were sold by Christie, Manson and Woods (today Christies). The house was then only intermittently occupied and by 1925 it had become uninhabitable. Eventually, in 1937, it was sold at auction and demolished. As the austerity of the Great War gave way to growth, particularly in motor traffic and investment in infrastructure – notably Ipswich’s ring road – Valley Road cut through Broomhill Park and across the Red House estate, cutting the avenue into two.
The last direct descendant, Captain Mileson Edgar, died in 1935 and the estate was sold: 35 acres south of the new bypass for housing; the eight acres surrounding the house becoming Chelsworth and Bromeswell roads. In 1936 the 200 acres surrounding Dairy Farm (Red House Park) were sold and this is destined to become Ipswich Garden Suburb, phase 3, including the proposed secondary school.