Ipswich Icons: What’s next for our beloved Cornhill?

Ipswich council are discussing where to relocate Ipswich Market after changes to Cornhill. Shoppers

Ipswich council are discussing where to relocate Ipswich Market after changes to Cornhill. Shoppers enjoying the market. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The many faces of the Cornhill over the decades are this week’s subject for John Norman

cornhill with trees

cornhill with trees - Credit: Archant

Deliberations this week about Ipswich’s Cornhill prompt me to analyse the historical functions of the only public square in town.

With that in mind we can look back at what has, and what hasn’t worked. The Cornhill has always been a meeting place; farmers meeting corn merchants, friends meet before going shopping or vast numbers of the population turning out to greet their sporting heroes’ arriving on an open top bus home from the cup.

It has also been a trading place, the site of the cattle market before it moved to Friars Street, the site of bull baiting before the poor animal was slaughtered and hung in the butchers’ shops in the Shambles or Rotunda.

The ring was fixed to the ground, the bull tied to it using the ring in its nose and dogs set free to snap at the ankles of the traumatised beast.

cornhill plaque

cornhill plaque - Credit: Archant

It was believed that the trauma the animal suffered tenderised the beef before slaughter, not true but difficult to counter once the tradition had become established.

The Cornhill has also been the site of the market although the Borough Council (the market operator) has tried moving it elsewhere, usually without success.

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For the first 70 years of the 20th century the market operated inside the Corn Exchange but when this building became an entertainment venue the market moved to Greyfriars, an unmitigated disaster.

On realisation that the move to Greyfriars didn’t work, the market moved to the site of the recently demolished Tower Ramparts School.

Stallholders didn’t stay long, moved on by the building of the new shopping centre, they crossed Crown Street to the site of the demolished Mann Egerton garage.

Alas this was also a short stay; the building of Crown Pools sent the market to Civic Centre and then, in 2001 back to the Cornhill.

This has probably been its most successful location for the past 100 years but like markets across the country, it’s in decline.

Things that didn’t work on the Cornhill include the Cabman’s Shelter, opened for use in January 1893 but moved to Christchurch Park in May 1895.

The South African war memorial didn’t fare much better, it was erected on the Cornhill in 1906 and stood proud there until the early 1920s when it also went to Christchurch Park.

A similar fate was bestowed on the Martyrs Memorial, refused space on the Cornhill and instead erected in the Park in 1903.

The figure ‘Ceres’ from the roof of the Old Market Cross (1723 – 1812), is currently enjoying the warmth of the Town Hall foyer.

Ceres has faired better than the three angels erected on the Cornhill in 1997. Six months later they were relegated to underneath Lloyds Arch, then relegated again to IPCity Centre where they were stripped (of their TV screens) and now stand forlorn in a corner of the car park..

What the Cornhill lacks is support and purpose from the surrounding buildings.

How can the town’s main square work when the surrounding buildings don’t? The National Westminster Bank built in 1928 adds nothing to the ambience.

The old Post Office, more recently the TSB, is closed and therefore doesn’t attract visitors, inside or out.

The dream of turning it into an upmarket restaurant would require vehicle access for disabled and aged customers and even were it to happen they would be unlikely to add alfresco dining to their menu.

The Town Hall has a pavement café but it doesn’t work, perhaps the outside tables are too far from the counter whereas there is hope of something happening with the buildings on the western flank.

The Golden Lion is closed; Mannings has been a pub since the 16th century and between the two, Mizu a noodle bar. Mannings has outdoor tables which provide the only al fresco on the Cornhill and although a sandwich bar is promised for the former Grimwades, Pret-a-Manger is not considering external seating.

Most of these buildings are listed, thus changes to their internal layout won’t be easy although a contribution to the success of the Cornhill should outweigh these restrictions.

Finally the current plan is to chop down the two trees outside the Post Office and replace them with saplings in slightly different positions.

You can probably guess what the Ipswich Society think of that proposal!

Correction: I made a mistake in last week’s article on the history of the Town Hall. It was designed by Bellamy and Hardy of Lincoln and not as stated.

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