Ipswich: Let’s celebrate our unrivalled history

PUBLISHED: 15:22 22 March 2013 | UPDATED: 15:22 22 March 2013

Oldest English Town Sign

Oldest English Town Sign


OUR county town has a unique role in the history of England – yet its role in the formation and development of our country is all too often overlooked.

Sign of the times?

ONE way that Ipswich could emphasise its role in the English story is by telling road users its unique story on their approach to the town.

We are calling for signs proclaiming Ipswich as the oldest English town to be placed at all 14 roads into the borough.

At present a mixture of descriptions – from “University Town” to “You are now entering a designated open space” welcome road users.

Responsibility for the signs will be transferred from the borough to the county council next month, but both authorities back the proposal.

Borough council leader David Ellesmere said: “I would back this wholeheartedly – the heritage of the town is very important and it is vital that people know about it. I shall certainly talk to the county to see what can be done.”

Bryony Rudkin is responsible for culture and heritage on the borough’s executive. She said:

“The history of the town is very important to it today and looking ahead to the future.

“We are trying to improve historic areas of the town like the Saints (St Peters Street and St Nicholas Street) and Fore Street, and signs like this would emphasise what the town has to offer to visitors.”

Guy McGregor is responsible for transport on the county council cabinet and said he felt it was vital to promote the county town.

On putting up signs he said: “It is certainly something that we would be happy to look at – the town’s past is very important when it looks at selling itself in the future.”

He said the county was already helping the town develop with the Travel Ipswich programme – but accepted that more could be done to shout about its heritage.

And Ipswich MP Ben Gummer also backed the move.

“The entrances to the town need to be improved, and signs like this would really give a lift to people coming into Ipswich,” he said.

The first settlement of Gipeswic is believed to have been built around the year 700 – and within 100 years it was a flourishing town.

That makes it the oldest English town (founded by the Anglo-Saxons rather than the Romans) and the oldest continuously occupied town in the country.

It is a town that has a continuous thread through history – from its foundation by subjects of King Raedwald to its development before and after the Norman invasion, and its receiving a Royal Charter from King John in the year 1200.

Since then the town has had strong associations with some of the greatest names in English history – from Geoffrey Chaucer through to Cardinal Wolsey, and to great painters like Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable.

The town inspired some of Charles Dickens’s early writing, and it is also the ancestral home of Charlie Chaplin – his grandparents were from Ipswich before the family moved to London during the middle of the 19th century.

However the town has failed to capitalise on this great heritage.

The absence of a cathedral or castle in the town has led to it being overlooked – but there are important historic buildings, and the street layout of the town centre remains that set up by the Anglo Saxon settlers back in the Dark Ages.

Today we are calling on the town to recognise its wonderful heritage, and to use this as a springboard to a revival in the future.

There is no reason why the town should not be as much of a heritage destination as Salisbury or Chester – Ipswich is at the very heart of the history of England.

The streets the young Thomas Wolsey knew are still here in the town centre. Some of the buildings he knew in St Nicholas Street are still standing.

And yet the town fails to capitalise on this history.

Town MP Ben Gummer, who is an expert in Medieval history, said it was vital that the town capitalised on its past.

“People like to visit centres that have real heritage behind them, they visit the shops and the cafes and the restaurants – and Ipswich really needs to make the most of that.

“Look at the Waterfront where there has been a real merger of the old and the modern to create a wonderfully attractive area.”

And he called for the historic street pattern to be recreated in any redevelopment of the Cox Lane/Tacket Street area.

“What people like is the human scale of historic towns and there is a real opportunity for Ipswich here,” he said.

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