Ipswich Icons: The fascinating stories behind the doors of Fore Street

The old Cafe Neptune in Fore Street.Picture:VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY

The old Cafe Neptune in Fore Street.Picture:VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Many of you will remember the café in Fore Street, on the corner of the passageway alongside Mellonie & Goulder’s Coal Yard. Number 92 Fore Street was for a while known as Fore Snax.

A tram in Norwich Road in the early years of the 20th Century. Picture:VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY

A tram in Norwich Road in the early years of the 20th Century. Picture:VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

We will start, however, in the middle of the 19th Century in the village of Bedfield in Suffolk (just a little way north of Earl Soham).

Charles Gyford was the village blacksmith who, because of his capabilities with metal, was persuaded to work in Ransomes Foundry in Ipswich.

He married Maria Stevens and they lived in a small terraced house in Wykes Bishop Street, where they had 23 children.

The youngest of these children was Criss Barrington Gyford, who married Bessie Florence Potter on February 13, 1899, at St Matthew’s Church, just west of Ipswich town centre.

A tram in Fore Street in about 1903. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY

A tram in Fore Street in about 1903. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Criss was a soldier in the Suffolk Regiment, based in Bury St Edmunds, and in 1899 he was sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.

After just a few months in Africa he was wounded and returned home, discharged from the army as unfit for further service.

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His wife Bessie came from a family of market gardeners with a smallholding in Felixstowe Road and a corner shop in Pottery Street (St Clement’s).

After they married they lived at number 90 Fore Street and whilst Criss was in South Africa Bessie converted the front room into a greengrocers shop.

On his return, and whilst recuperating, Criss helped Bessie build the fruit and veg business.

After two or three years they purchased the shop next door, number 92, and doubled the shop area, the back room of the new premises becoming a large store.

Additionally, an interconnecting door was cut through at first floor level and the front bedroom of 92 became the ‘parlour’.

Both shops were lit with oil lamps, including an elaborate three-lamp chandelier above the table in the parlour.

Their eldest child, also Criss Barrington Gyford, was born in December 1901 and as he grew up he witnessed, from the bay window of the parlour, the arrival in Fore Street of rail lines, overhead wires and electric trams.

The first of these vehicles were open-top, double-deck and double-ended. That is, they could be driven from either end, such that they didn’t need turning around at the end of the route.

Criss also witnessed the arrival of Ipswich’s first motor cars sometime after 1905.

His biggest thrill from that window was, however, watching the animals walking along Fore Street on cattle market days.

The primary mode of transport before the First World War was the bicycle and literally hundreds would fly down Bishops Hill to the sound of “The Bulls”, the whistle summoning people to work at Ransomes.

Both 90 and 92 Fore Street were probably built about 1490. Number 88, next door, was very small, operated as a butcher’s shop by an elderly couple, Mr & Mrs Haggar. Number 86 is the Neptune Inn (still an inn at this time). It was restored by George Bradley Scott in 1950, who incorporated the small shop next door into his dream home.

All are timber-framed buildings with lath and plaster both inside and outside the stud walls.

They were built originally with tiled roofs, the tiles having been made locally, probably across the road at the Trinity Brick and Tile Works.

The Gyfords’ greengrocery business was successful. They expanded by opening two other outlets: one in Brook Street and one in St Matthew’s Street.

The real expansion came by acting as chandler to the ships visiting Ipswich Docks. Back then, most tied up reasonably close to his back door.

These ships were in and out of the dock as quickly as they could unload and reload. They needed their replenishment provisions almost instantly and Gyford could provide both vegetables and meat from his store rooms.

There is an Ipswich Society blue plaque to Edith Maud Cook attached to number 90 Fore Street.

Edith, the first female pilot in the UK, was born here in 1878.

Next week we will look at the 20th century uses of this pair of shops, a variety of different cafes and restaurants.