9 amazing Ipswich buildings set to take part in Heritage Open Days

The roof garden of the Willis building. Picture: PAUL GEATER

The roof garden of the Willis building. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

More than 30 unique buildings in Ipswich are taking part in Heritage Open Days 2018, from September 8-9 and 15-16 Here are nine places you can visit.

Ipswich Institute and Admiral’s House, Tavern Street and Tower Street

Have you ever seen the door marked “Ipswich Institute Reading Room and Library” in Tavern Street, and wondered what it is? This was originally the town’s Mechanics Institution, founded in 1824 to make education available to the town’s “artisans.”

The organisation bought its Tavern Street building in 1834, for the then large sum of £1,000. It includes a lending library and cafe or “conversation room”.

The institute also owns a second, listed building in Tower Street, The Admiral’s House - which is named after Admiral Benjamin Page, who once lived there and received a visit from the Duke of Wellington. Admiral’s House includes a restaurant and coffee lounge, and many courses are held there. People from Ipswich and the surrounding area can pay an annual subscription to join the institute.

Open: Tavern Street building only, September 8, 10am-4pm; both buildings, September 15-16, 10am-4pm

The Ipswich Institute and Reading Rooms in Tavern Street. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The Ipswich Institute and Reading Rooms in Tavern Street. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Old Custom House, Key Street

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It’s surprising to realise that this Grade I listed building was originally the “New” Custom House, built in the mid-19th century to replace the original Old Custom House.

The building has a striking entrance, with four Tuscan pillars giving it a classical style, and two stairways at the front complete with stone balustrades. It is also decorated with carvings of the borough arms, including seahorses, which inspired a mini-sculpture trail over the summer holidays. The Old Custom House is now used as the offices of Ipswich Port Authority.

Open: September 8-9, 10am-4pm; September 15-16, 10am-4pm.

READ MORE: 7 Suffolk venues to explore for free during Heritage Open Days 2018

The Old Custom House that will be open as part of Ipswich Heritage Open Days. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The Old Custom House that will be open as part of Ipswich Heritage Open Days. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Ipswich Art Gallery and Museum, High Street

Ipswich Art Gallery, which is joining the Ipswich Heritage Open Days line-up this year, originally shared premises with the neighbouring Ipswich Museum. The art gallery features internationally important exhibitions and the Victorian building is also fascinating for its history as the home of Ipswich Art School.

Musician Brian Eno and artist Maggi Hambling, creator of the Aldeburgh beach sculpture The Scallop, are among former students, while sculptor Bernard Reynolds and painters Leonard Squirrell, Colin Moss and Lawrence Self were all members of staff there. The art collection also includes paintings by artists from the Benton End Group founded by Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett Haines.

The neighbouring Museum has a range of galleries featuring famous exhibits like the woolly mammoth, rhino and whale skull, as well as fossils, minerals, rocks and many other exhibits.

Open: Art Gallery: September 15, 10am-5pm; September 16, 11am-5pm. Museum: September 8, 10am-5pm; September 9, 11am-5pm; September 15, 10am-5pm, tour 12 noon; September 16, 11am-5pm, tour 2pm.

Ipswich Art Gallery will be open for Heritage Open Days. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ipswich Art Gallery will be open for Heritage Open Days. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Willis Building, Friars Street

One of the most famous and striking buildings in Ipswich with its black-glass walls, this was one of the first buildings to be designed by Lord Norman Foster. It was built between 1970 and 75, and received Grade I listed status in 1991, making it the newest building in the country to be listed at that time.

The Architectural Review described it as “like some Spielbergian spaceship” and it has also been nicknamed “the piano”. Its construction was the last word in high-tech in the 1970s, with solar-tinted glazing panels contributing to an energy-efficient design which has won many awards. The building covers 21,255 square metres. Although its smoked-glass walls look dark by day, at night when it is lit up you can see inside.

One of its most famous features is its rooftop garden, with a large lawn and benches, where refreshments will be available. Originally, the building also contained a swimming pool for employees to use - sadly this is no longer in use but it hasn’t been filled in because of the building’s listed status. It was originally known as the Willis Faber building, but the insurance company based there has changed its name over the years and is now global risk management solutions company Willis Tower Watson, a major employer locally.

Open: September 15, 10am-3pm, September 16, 11am-4pm

The Willis Building, with a reflection of St Francis Tower. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Willis Building, with a reflection of St Francis Tower. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Old Bell Inn, Stoke Street

Before it closed in 2007, this was believed to be the oldest pub in Ipswich, with CAMRA saying that part of it might date back to the early 16th century.

The pub’s name is believed to refer to a bell foundry, which used to be based in the area before the inn was built. The building includes a 19th- century carved corner post featuring a bell, together with a cat-like creature.

The timber-framed building was restored by funeral directors R Gwinnell and Sons and re-opened as their latest office and funeral home in 2017. It is one of the latest additions to the line-up for the annual Heritage Open Days in the town.

Open: September 15, 10am-4pm

The Old Bell Inn. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

The Old Bell Inn. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Mutual House, Princes Street

Ipswich town centre has several impressive bank buildings, including the former Parr’s Bank, which is Grade II listed and was built in 1901. Ipswich Building Society moved in earlier this year, making this their new flagship branch.

Visitors were able to see restoration work on the building last year and can now see the results. The building was originally two separate units, the bank and a neighbouring ironmongers, Alfred Stearn and Sons.

Many original features have been uncovered and are now on display, including a Parr’s Bank decal outside the building and an original ceiling.

Open: September 15, 9am-5pm; September 16, 10am-3pm

Mutual House in Ipswich will be open during the Heritage Open Days. Picture: WARREN PAGE

Mutual House in Ipswich will be open during the Heritage Open Days. Picture: WARREN PAGE - Credit: Warren Page

Unitarian Meeting House, Friars Street

Just next to the Willis building and reflected in its dark glass is another of the most iconic buildings in Ipswich. The meeting house held its first service in 1700, after the land was bought for £150. Under the original contract, carpenter Joseph Clark and his workmen needed to be provided with “four Barrells of good small bere.”

Originally, it had a congregation of Presbyterians and Independents, which in the 18th century moved to Unitarianism. Artist Thomas Gainsborough was one of the early worshippers.

The building underwent a major restoration in 1900, but still has many of its original features, including old leaded glass. It has timber-framed stud walls and its roof is supported by four wooden columns, which are traditionally said to be ships’ columns.

The meeting house still has its original 17th-century box pews to sit in. Another amazing feature is the hexagonal pulpit, which is created in the style of legendary wood-carver Grinling Gibbons.

Open: September 15, 10am-5pm; September 16, 11am-4pm

The Unitarian Meeting House. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Unitarian Meeting House. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Pykenham’s Gatehouse, Northgate Street

If you’re visiting Ipswich County Library, you may well walk past one of the most ancient buildings in the town without even noticing it! Dating from the 15th century,

The gatehouse is called after Archdeacon William Pykenham, who improved his Ipswich house and built the gatehouse before moving to Hadleigh.

This ancient gateway has been restored by the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust, which also uses it as its headquarters, leasing the building from the Ipswich and Suffolk Club. It’s a steep climb to visit the room over the entrance, where there is a display about the building’s history.

Open: September 15-16, 10am-4pm.

Pykenham's Gatehouse in Northgate Street. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Pykenham's Gatehouse in Northgate Street. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Broomhill Lido, Sherrington Road

A consortium is working to reopen Broomhill pool and it is hoped the restored lido, including a health club and all-year-round community facilities, will be able to welcome swimmers again in two years’ time.

But, in the meantime, it is fascinating to look around the lido, learning about its heritage and seeing how much work will need to be done to bring it back into use. This year is the 80th annivesary of the pool’s opening in 1938, at a cost of £17,000 and was five metres deep at the deep end, with diving boards and a spectators’ grandstand.

Since it closed in 2002, the Broomhill Pool Trust has worked tirelessly to reopen it, and, despite a recent announcement of a funding gap due to rising costs, developer Fusion Lifestyle is confident work can start next year.

Open: September 15-16, 10am-4pm.

Broomhill Swimming Pool in Ipswich. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Broomhill Swimming Pool in Ipswich. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

For full details and opening times of all the buildings in Ipswich which are taking part in the 2018 Heritage Open Days, visit the Ipswich Society website.

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