Long history of town's grand road

RAPID expansion took place in Ipswich in the 19th century as engineering companies like Ransomes Sims and Jefferies provided employment.

David Kindred

RAPID expansion took place in Ipswich in the 19th century as engineering companies like Ransomes Sims and Jefferies provided employment.

There was also work building ships, brewing beer, tanning leather and working in maltings and factories making clothes. People moved from working on the land around Suffolk, where families had lived and worked for generations.

Hundreds of tiny houses were built to accommodate the incoming workers, many of the houses were poorly built and crammed close together. In 1801 there were 11,277 people living mainly within the medieval town ditch.

By 1831 there were over 20,200 in the expanded town and by 1861 the figure reached 37,950. The 1901 census recorded a population of 66,630.

Former Ipswich man Rod Cross tells me how his family moved from north Suffolk to find work in the expanding town.

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He said: “I've always had a particular alliance with Princes Street. Not only does it have a rather grand sounding name that befits the longest street in the centre of Ipswich, but of equal significance for me, the little houses in and around it formed the neighbourhood community in which many of my forebears lived their entire lives.

“My grandfather's family were based in the Potteries, the area of Ipswich around where the college is now, my grandmother was born in Princes Street and this area of town was home to her extended family throughout the late 19th century.

“Unlike the Cross family, the Greens hadn't always been town folk. Their roots lay in the adjacent north Suffolk villages of Mellis and Yaxley.

“For generations, they had worked the land as poorly-paid agricultural labourers, raising huge families on next to nothing.

“My great-great-grandfather, George Green, was the pioneer. In 1862, he and his wife Emily took the brave decision to leave their familiar Suffolk countryside and move to the 'big town' 20 miles to the south. George found work as a stonemason helping to pave the streets of a rapidly-expanding Ipswich.

“George and Emily settled initially in Priory Street, but as their family grew, they moved to a bigger house in Princes Street. Emily's brother James, aware of George's new-found lifestyle and comparative affluence, then relocated from Eye to live next door to his sister.

“He too became a stonemason. George's brother William, who moved from Yaxley into Cecilia Street, was a millwright.

“As the Green family grew, so did their presence locally. George's eldest son Edwin married and moved to Chalon Street; his brother Ernest set up home in Wolsey Street. Another brother Percy settled in Quadling Street. All became stonemasons.

“For the Greens the area around Princes Street would have been an ideal place to live. Situated between the higher ground of the town centre and the river it had initially been marshland, but once drained provided flat ground, ideal for housing development and conveniently located for work places, the town centre and the railway.

“With a station at Mellis on the Norwich line, 'home' for George and Emily was relatively easy to reach.

“Their house, which had stood between Metz Street and Sedan Street, had been demolished when I first remember Princes Street while growing up in Ipswich in the late 1950s.

“Much of the densely-packed housing was still intact and though more and more was becoming uninhabited, the area still held an air of vibrancy.

“Although it began at Cornhill, Princes Street didn't really become interesting for me till it met Friars Street, Friars Road and Friars Bridge Road, where the Civic Drive roundabout now stands.

“These street names refer to the friary that once stood nearby. It was of the Franciscan order, established by the Greyfriars in 1284, one of three separate friaries to be established in Ipswich around that time.

“Initially, it covered quite an extensive area, but little is known of it today. Like its sister friaries, the Carmelite and Dominican, the Franciscan friary was suppressed in 1538 as part of Henry VIII's reformation. The name though, lives on.

“The Friar's Head stood on the corner of Friars Road, the first of an astonishing number of drinking places along this stretch of Princes Street. Within yards was the British Lion, a solid, white-painted, three-storey public house, noted for the imperious lion that stood atop the roof, observing all the comings and goings down below.

“Between Edgar Street and James Street was a little caf�, run for decades by James Thangamoney. There was also a hairdresser's and a greengrocery, with the Rising Sun public house on the next corner.

“Beyond James Street was Reeve's the newsagents and then came watchmaker Percy Crickmer, another long-established business. The Friars Inn stood on the corner of Portman Street.

“This led down to Priory Street, so-named because of the wealthy Augustinian priory established during Henry II's reign, but eventually dissolved in 1526.

“The tiny streets between Priory Street and Princes Street created an enclave where more than 100 families lived. That was until the properties were demolished in the mid 1960s to make way for the white elephant that was the Greyfriars development.

“The front doors of these little terraced houses opened straight on to the street and the sense of community and neighbourliness that must have existed is something sadly lacking today.

“It is not hard to imagine housewives scrubbing the front door steps or washing down the multi-paned front windows, while their children played outside in the street, unhindered by traffic!”

- I will continue with Rod Cross's memories of the Princes Street area of Ipswich next week. What memories of this part of Ipswich do you have? Write to Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk