You might wonder why the Lord Nelson in Fore Street has a glazed brick elevation to the ground floor when it is clearly a timber framed building of some considerable age. The brick front was added in the twentieth century as a flood defensive measure, an acceptance that the Orwell would overflow again sometime in the future and Fore Street would be underwater. The glazed bricks are not for flood prevention, that would be much too big a task for a little pub like the ‘Nelson, but simply materials that are robust enough to withstand a short spell of immersion and are reasonably easy to clean immediately thereafter.
Not that a flood on the scale of those in 1939 or 1953 is likely, given the measures that have recently been instigated, and are still being installed (a new £20 million flood barrier in the New Cut as part of a £38 million scheme).
The Lord Nelson can trace its history back to 1672 during the reign of Charles II when the local Headboroughs ordered inn keeper William Stephens to repair his pavement. In those early years the hostelry was known as the Noah's Ark, the name was changed in recognition of Nelson becoming High Steward of Ipswich (1800 - 1805). The fact that the Noah's Ark was an Inn rather than just a tavern or alehouse is confirmed by an entry in the borough records of 1696 when a payment was made to the Landlord for billeting soldiers. The building, originally two fifteenth century timber framed cottages has been listed Grade II by the Department of the Environment.
The Lord Nelson is in St Clements Parish, which is not surprising given that St Clements Church is immediately behind the pub. The pub is located in Fore Street, the fore-most street in town, or at least it was when the quays across the road were at their busiest. The fortunes of the street have ebbed and declined with the fortunes of the dock. Until the Wet Dock was enclosed in 1842 the river was prone to silting up and access into Ipswich from the sea difficult. After the Wet Dock was opened a dredger cut a straight channel and the number of ships calling into Ipswich boomed.
In fact every available back yard space hereabouts had been given over to the construction of ‘hovels' or crudely built sheds in which single men could sleep. They had moved into Ipswich from the surrounding countryside to find employment in the rapidly developing engineering industries. Not necessarily better paid but year round employment as opposed to the seasonal nature of agricultural work.
The Lord Nelson was at the southern edge of an area known as the Potteries. There was a proliferation of clay digging (into the steep bank that is Back Hamlet) which was being turned into roof tiles, chimney pots and to a lesser extent, given the quality of the clay here, bricks. The clay was regarded as being of superior quality, too valuable for brick making, in the centre of town (Cox Lane) the clay was ideal for making pots.
Today the pub attracts an eclectic mix of customers, the sailors of old being replaced by the yachting types from the marina, office workers rather than ships officers and staff and students from the university. An unusual gravity dispense system is used in the Nelson which incorporates a row of old wooden casks to good effect and guarantees a temperature controlled ale.
The pub has recently been refurbished and is today as popular and busy as it was in the seventeenth century. [However, in summer 2016, the pub closed; we await developments...]
Article from ‘Ipswich Icons' (Ipswich Star 8 October 2015) by Society Chairman John Norman.