Starbucks extension, town centre flats and a business centre planned for Great White Horse Hotel
PUBLISHED: 09:09 13 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:26 13 December 2016
One of the most historic buildings in Ipswich town centre could have a new lease of life as a business centre.
The Great White Horse Hotel on the corner of Tavern Street and Northgate Street welcomed its last guests in 2008 – after nearly five centuries as a pub and hotel. It is the hostelry after which Tavern Street is named.
However the Grade II* listed building was unable to cope with the demands of 21st century hotel guests who all need en suite facilities and modern comforts.
The ground floor has been converted into a shop unit and a Starbucks coffee shop.
The Cotswold store is unaffected by the planning proposal, however Starbucks could have a substantial expansion in size if it is approved.
The Trafalgar Room is immediately above Starbucks – and this would be renovated and linked to the existing coffee shop with a new staircase.
The owner of the building, Citigate Investments, wants to turn most of the upper floors of the hotel into a business centre providing serviced space for small and start-up companies.
The application also proposes the creation of three new two-bedroomed flats on a relatively modern extension behind the Northgate Street courtyard.
The application says: “The Great White Horse Hotel ceased trading as a hotel in 2008 when it became unprofitable. Since that time the current owners have considered various options to retain the hotel use in the upper parts but these have proved unviable due to the historic configuration of the rooms and the cost of upgrading to modern standards.
“Various hotel operators have considered the building over the years, including Easy Hotel, but each has considered it unsuitable for their needs due to the cost and layout. Easy Hotel will be opening next door in Northgate Street in 2017.”
The Ipswich Society fought a long battle with the hotel’s then owners, Trust House Forte, to prevent the Great White Horse being demolished when the new Post House Hotel (now Holiday Inn) opened at Copdock in the early 1970s.
However current Ipswich Society chairman John Norman welcomed the proposed new use for the building: “We have accepted for some time that it would never reopen as a hotel – it is not up to current modern standards.
“Therefore we were hoping someone would come up with a new use, and this looks very promising,” he said.
And Ipswich Central also welcomed the new application. Its chairman Terry Baxter said: “We have said for some time that the nature of the town centre has to change, it isn’t just about retail and historic hotels.
“This looks like a great proposal and will help bring very welcome new jobs into the heart of the town.”
The earliest record of the Ipswich White Horse Tavern can be found in 1518 – and it is the establishment after which the town’s principal shopping street is named.
It was a major coaching inn with large stables and was ideally placed on the route between London and the east coast ports of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.
The building’s current look dates from the Georgian era, although many of its rooms date from much earlier times.
It was really put on the map by Charles Dickens who wrote about it in The Pickwick Papers after visiting it while covering a notoriously corrupt by-election in Sudbury in the 1830s.
The hotel made much of Dickens’ stay – but he was actually very rude about the place and used it as the basis of misunderstanding that led to Mr Pickwick getting lost and ending up in a woman guest’s bedroom.
Dickens also wrote: “The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig, for its enormous size.
“Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.”
These words didn’t stop the owners of the hotel turning one of its restaurants into “The Pickwick Room” – and the Great White Horse was THE hotel to stay in Ipswich for the great and the good.
Stars appearing at The Gaumont, including The Beatles, stayed there – as did many others who visited the town.
But when the then owners Trust House Forte built a new hotel on the edge of town in the late 1960s they decided they would have no need for the historic building.
They planned to demolish it and redevelop the site.
That was enough to persuade the Ipswich Society to take up arms and fight the proposal – a fight they won.
But the hotel company sold the building, and its use as a hotel declined over the years. In the latter years of the 20th century its ground floor was converted into shops, de-converted, and then converted again.
With its small rooms and narrow corridors it could not compete with modern hotels – and while the ground floor units have remained busy, the hotel rooms have been closed now for nearly nine years.