Old Custom House, Key Street IP4 1BZ

The current Custom House building, often called 'The Old Custom House', was designed by young local architect John Medland Clark. It was opened on 24th July 1845, having cost £4,250.

It replaced a medieval timber framed building and reflected the increase in trade Ipswich was enjoying with the creation of its new Wet Dock, completed in 1836 and, at 33 acres, the largest in the country at the time.

The classical style of this building is particularly impressive from the dockside. The four-column portico has a projecting pediment featuring the Borough Coat Of Arms of rampant lion and the stern portions of three ships supported by sea-horses, thus showing the town's connection with sea trade.

The innovative use of moulded bricks in contrasting Suffolk reds and whites was a technique copied by several builders in the Victorian years.

Under the outside stairs leading to the first-floor entrance, is a beautifully curved and well-proportioned, domed recess leading to the former bonded warehouse. This entrance has unusual acoustic properties that project and amplify the voice and may well have been used when taking on casual dock labour. The symmetry of the Key Street (roadside) frontage is broken by the bold clock tower. At one time there was an entrance from Key Street to what was a police station and inside it is still possible to view evidence of the police cells.

The Grade II listed building is now the Headquarters of Associated British Ports (ABP) Ipswich and the ground-floor a conference and exhibition centre.

[Source: Des Pawson MBE, Vice Chairman Ipswich Maritime Trust]

LinksIpswich Maritime TrustHistoric England Listing; Ipswich Society Image Archive.