New life for historic house

ONE of Ipswich's best-known historic buildings is today being prepared for an exciting new lease of life. PAUL GEATER and JERRY TURNER have been inside the scaffolding cocoon at Curzon Lodge, to get a glimpse of an Ipswich landmark.

By Paul Geater

ONE of Ipswich's best-known historic buildings is today being prepared for an exciting new lease of life. PAUL GEATER and JERRY TURNER have been inside the scaffolding cocoon at Curzon Lodge, to get a glimpse of an Ipswich landmark.

TO generations of Ipswich residents this house has always been know as Thomas Wolsey's birthplace.

In fact he was born over a butcher's shop on the opposite side of the road, which has long since disappeared. But the misconception doesn't take anything away from the importance of the building on the junction of St Nicholas' Street and Silent Street to the history of the town.

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After nearly two decades of standing empty, the former shop and café is now being prepared for a new lease of life under the new name of Curzon Lodge. By the end of the summer it should once again be a living building - with two shop units on the ground floor and two luxury flats above.

The building, which dates from Tudor times, is currently being restored by the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust (IBPT) in one of its most ambitious restoration projects.

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The exact cost of the work is not being revealed, but it is known to cost several hundred thousand pounds.

The building was previously owned by the borough council, and any thoughts of restoration had to be put off many times because a serious problem at the heart of the matter.

Tom Gondris from IBPT said: “The chimney at the heart of the building needed a great deal of work. It supports the ground and first floor, but it is built on top of a vaulted cellar. That had to be shored up and strengthened before the building could be fully restored.”

The work has been drawn up by conservation architect Hilary Brightman and undertaken by local building contractors RG Carter.

For several months it has been shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting as work on the chimney and the roof it supports was undertaken. The roof is now fully repaired and the chimney fully supported.

The scaffolding is already starting to come down, and should be largely removed by the end of the month.

However there is still much work to be completed inside.

Mr Gondris said: “The structure is coming along well but there is much to be done inside. Upstairs we are creating a two-bedroomed flat and a one-bedroomed flat. They will be sold on a long lease and we don't expect there will be any shortage of people who want to live in such a historic building.

“Downstairs there will be two shop units. Eventually the whole building will be sold as an investment opportunity through Savills and it could be sold as an investment before there are tenants lined up.

“That would give the new owners more flexibility over whether there was one large shop unit or two smaller ones.”

Ipswich Borough Council conservation officer Bob Kindred said at one stage part of the ground floor had been a café and planning permission still existed for this in one of the shop units.

However the lack of food preparation space made this an unsatisfactory use for the whole building and the unit on the corner could only be used as a shop.

He had recovered an old insurance sign dating back to the 18th century which would be returned to the side of the building once restoration was complete.

“This is a very fine restoration - and it is good to see another historic building coming back into use. Of the 40 buildings that were on the at risk register in Ipswich 20 years ago there are now only three still at risk and that is something the town should be really pleased about,” he said.

SET in a prominent position in St Nicholas Street, Curzon House is known by many people as Wolsey's birthplace.

The exact history of the building is not clear, although it seems likely that at some stage it was an inn.

During restoration there was evidence found of a gallery which would be used to access upstairs bedrooms.

It is next to the site of Curzon House, owned by Lord Curzon in the 18th century, and it is thought possible it could have been used to provide accommodation for family guests.

For that reason it has now been given the name Curzon Lodge. The junction of Silent Street, St Nicholas Street, St Peter's Street, Rose Lane and Cutler Street is now called Curzon Square.

During the 1920s and 1930s it was the Wolsey Pharmacy and for the last few years of its active life it was an antique's shop. The corner unit has been empty for about 15 years although the Cardinal Café next door continued in operation well into the 1990s.

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