Track your house through time

Have you ever wanted to discover the history of your home?

James Marston

Have you ever wanted to discover the history of your home? Well thanks to records collated by one woman over 20 years, amateur historians will now have the chance to find out more about the buildings in which we live. JAMES MARSTON reports.

IT is a collection that was always intended to be loaned to Suffolk Record Office.

And for Margaret Hancock the historic records of the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society have been a passion that has lasted two decades.

She said: “We started 20 years ago when the Ipswich Building Society decided to employ an archivist. The archives were found then in a couple of tin trunks in the society's head office in Dogs Head Street. No one knew what to do with them but someone realised they should be kept.”

The archives, now indexed and catalogued by Margaret are to go on permanent loan to the Suffolk Record Office in Gatacre Lane, Ipswich.

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Margaret said: “I've spent the last 20 years working on cataloguing most of the collection. It is an important archive to the local area.

“It contains a mass of documents, plans that chart the history of Ipswich, Felixstowe and Lowestoft and the role the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Society played.”

The society was set up in the 1840s after a change in the law introduced the 40 shilling franchise.

Margaret said: “The franchise meant that if you owned property valued at 40 shillings or more you could have the vote. People were encouraged to own their own property in order to be able to exercise the franchise.

“The society bought up large estates and tracts of land and divided it into plots that were big enough to qualify for the franchise and the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold land Society was one of the most successful in country.”

Estates built by the society include many roads and areas of which many still exist in Ipswich and other towns today.

They include:


Bramford Road - 1877-1881

Broom Hill Road - 1905 -1910

Cemetery Road - 1875

Christchurch Street - 1875

Derby Road - 1878-1879

Felixstowe Road estates - 1880

Nacton Road - 1920-1924

Palmerston Road - 1880

Roundwood estate - 1924

Sidegate Lane - 1872

Stoke Hall Road - 1915-1927

Westbourne estate - 1880

Other towns

Felixstowe Bath Road - 1889

Felixstowe Gainsborough Road - 1884

Framlingham Cottage Hill Estate - 1873

Hadleigh - 1854/1860

Lowestoft - Beccles Road - 1867

Melton - The Hackneys - 1865

Stowmarket - 1856/1879

Walton - Feathers Field - 1869

Woodbridge - Mill Hill - 1867

The society carried on allocating plots of land to members right up until the 1930s with the Shafto Road area of Ipswich being one of the last developed in 1933.

Margaret said the huge popularity of the schemes led to oversubscription and a ballot system was introduced.

She said: “In some ballots there were 40 plots with as many as 1,000 people in the ballot. Once you had got a plot you had the right to buy the house and the money was advanced by the Ipswich and Suffolk Permanent Benefit Building Society in much the same way as a mortgage today.”

The records now loaned to the Suffolk Record Office also include the ballots, minutes of the official business of the society, mortgage documents, a number of pass books, marketing and publicity material including posters, advertising material, photographs and papers relating to official histories, the deeds of the land and estates bought by the society- some of which date back to the 1600s - architectural plans for houses, more than 300 bundles of title deeds, 300 sets of plans of the roads and plots.

Margaret said: “The majority of the archive is coming to the Record Office but there are some things that have to be catalogued so my work isn't finished yet.”

The collection now on loan is due to be made available to the public later this year. It will be stored in the Suffolk Record Office's temperature and humidity controlled strong rooms.

Margaret said: “It is hugely exciting to see the collection being made available to the public for the first time. For me it's like watching your child go off to university.”

Suffolk Record Office public service archivist Louise Clarke said: “This is an invaluable collection. It charts the development of a number of Suffolk towns and provides a fascinating insight into social and economic history.

“The collection will be an important resource for people who are researching the history of their homes and it contains a wealth of information that we simply haven't had available previously.”

Have you found out about your house? Did your family buy a home with the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society? What do you think of the Suffolk Record Office? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to

Ipswich Building Society started as the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society founded in December 1849, and registered as Ipswich and Suffolk Permanent Benefit Building Society in 1886.

In 1968 it changed its name to Ipswich & Suffolk Building Society, before merging in 1975 with Ipswich & District Building Society to become Ipswich Building Society.

The Freehold Land Society was responsible for the development of a number of areas in Ipswich, Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Stowmarket and Framlingham.

They enabled local people to save to buy plots of land which were then allocated by ballot.

Ipswich Building Society is the only society in the UK to employ an archivist. At Suffolk Record Office some documents date back to the 12th century.

If you are interested in finding out about the history of a building, Suffolk Record Office is offering a two-hour education session entitled Your Old House Part 1 on Thursday, April 30 at 2pm. The session will include information on sources that can take you back into the early 1800s.

Places are �10 and for more information call 01473 584541.

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