Ipswich’s forgotten ring road - and how we could have had a dual carriageway running through the heart of the town centre
Nearly 60 years ago a plan was drawn up for Ipswich to cope with the rise of the motor car by creating a dual carriageway around the town centre.
In the late 1950s the car was growing in popularity and towns and cities across the country were looking at ways of making it easier for motorists to get into and around the urban area.
In Ipswich a proposal was drawn up for an inner ring road – a dual carriageway around the town centre to give easy access to shops and leisure facilities.
The plan was drawn up in 1958 and envisaged a dual carriageway starting from St Matthew’s Street down to Princes Street (Civic Drive). From there it would have continued across St Nicholas Street, Silent Street, Turret Lane, Lower Brook Street, Foundation Street, and the junction of Lower Orwell Street and Fore Street before linking into Bond Street.
A large roundabout would have been created at the junction with St Helen’s Street near Major’s Corner in front of what is now the Regent Theatre.
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In the end only about a third of the road was built – Civic Drive as far as St Nicholas Street. Eventually the last section of the road was closed to through traffic and became the Cromwell Square car park. So what happened?
The construction of Civic Drive and what is now Cromwell Square led to the destruction of hundreds of homes as bulldozers were sent in to clear traditional streets of back-to-back homes.
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Their occupants were moved to new council housing estates on Chantry, Whitton, Gainsborough and Priory Heath.
Most of the new homes were better than those that were cleared, and there were not the widespread objections there would be today.
However, by the time the road reached St Nicholas Street it became clear that the next section would cut a swathe through some of the most historic parts of the town centre. Some of the oldest buildings in the town were at risk.
The Ipswich Society took up the case and fought to prevent further damage to the historic town centre.
It was largely – if not totally – successful in this.
One of the great pities of this headlong dash for modernity is the fact that one of the town’s most historic buildings was flattened to make way for a road that was never built.
Richard Felaw’s House was built in 1482 and was the home of Ipswich School before and after the creation and then destruction of Wolsey’s College in the 1530s. It survived 481 years before being pulled down to make way for the new road.
After the road plan was abandoned, the site was redeveloped as NCP’s Foundation Street car park.
But the buildings in St Nicholas Street and Silent Street were saved – as were the ruins of the Blackfriars Friary.
Current Ipswich Society committee member Mike Cook was given a map of the proposed road recently – and recalled the important role the society had played in opposing the proposals.
He said: “I wasn’t involved in that at the time – but I know that Peter Underwood [a long-standing committee member who died four years ago] played a very important role.
“I think it was the first time the society took a really firm stance on something like this and ultimately the decisions were changed.”
Ipswich council – which was then responsible for roads – decided not to go ahead with the rest of the road in the 1960s.
In the 1980s Suffolk County Council, which had by then taken over the roads’ planning, developed new plans to complete the inner ring road.
This involved the creation of the Star Lane gyratory system, the rebuilding of the Bond Street/Waterworks Street area and the building of a second Stoke Bridge.
That, in itself, is controversial – the road network is blamed for cutting off the Waterfront from the town centre and it does make it difficult to appreciate Wolsey’s Gate.
But at least it enabled the preservation of fine Medieval and Tudor buildings that could otherwise have been lost if the traffic planners of the 1950s had had their way.