When bankers were good guys

Fore Street Baths, Ipswich

Fore Street Baths, Ipswich

After a guided walk of Ipswich, Lynne ponders the times when bankers were benefactors and carved their names with pride.

And until I stopped outside Fore Street swimming baths, I don’t think I had ever noticed the inscribed brass plate to the left of the entrance.

It says: “These baths were erected by the Corporation of Ipswich. The site and £1,200 towards the cost being the gift of Felix T Cobbold Esquire... March 1st 1894.”

The immeasurable value is, of course, the number of lives that may have been saved by his act of generosity.

As a schoolgirl I was a reluctant attendee at the baths. In summer we swam in the outdoor pool and in winter we were bussed to Fore Street. The changing cubicles abutted the pool. We would step out on to the well-soaked duck boards which probably abounded in verruca and athlete’s foot spores before getting into the water. It was so much warmer in than out and considerably warmer in winter than the Britannia Road outdoor pool was in summer.

The fine design of Fore Street was such that today, the baths are England’s second oldest still in use. Which are the oldest? I’m not sure but wherever they are, I shan’t be swimming there. These days, it takes a lot to get this Ipswich girl kitted out in a bathing suit and ready for 25 metres of breaststroke.

We were on a blue plaque tour of the town centre and Ken, our guide, told us that Felix Cobbold’s blue plaque is on the Reg Driver centre in Christchurch Park which is appropriate because we have the Victorian banker to thank much of our wonderful parkland.

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Born at Holywells Mansion, he bequeathed Gippeswyck Park to the town. But perhaps most impressively, in 1894, he bought Christchurch Mansion from a syndicate which wanted to demolish it and develop the site.

He then presented the mansion to the Borough of Ipswich on condition the borough coughed up for the park. Happily it did, phew.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are having fun at the fair and watching the “grand ring” entertainment at the Co-op fete. The annual event, held I think on the first Saturday of July, brought in thousands of Ipswich people who would queue for the tea tent (a greaseproof bag of goodies yielded a sandwich, a bridge roll with meat paste and a bun). We would all stay to watch the firework display, the finale of which was a display of roman candles that spelled out “Safe journey home” across the night sky. Then we would make our way back to the bus stop, through the dark of the woodland.

There was the annual flower show, held in a sweaty tent that smelt of stalks.

The best fun was feeding the ducks.

Today, the Co-op fete and the flower show are gone but we have Music Day, outdoor concerts, IpArt performances and Mabel the owl and, in spring, an avenue of daffodils.

Thanks, Mr Cobbold.