[Richard Felaw’s house (site of), Foundation Street, Ipswich IP4 1BN

Richard Felaw (1420-1483) was an Ipswich merchant, bailiff and MP* (during the same period as the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1485). Like the majority of a small group of Ipswich merchants he used the quays and warehouses along the northern bank of the river. Quays that were to become incorporated into the Wet Dock four hundred years later (1842). [1]

One of the advantages Felaw (and the other merchants) enjoyed was the right to trade goods without paying tax. Ownership of a quay gave a right to import goods without the normal customs duties being imposed, strangers coming by water had to unload onto Common Quay, in front of the Customs House and pay their dues: the Tolls and Customs of the town and King, according to the table in the Kay House.[2]

A crane on Common Quay, close to the Custom House, assisted dock workers in the task of loading and unloading vessels. According to port records there was a series of cranes in this location: commissioned in 1477, 1618 and 1727, each in their time available for shared use. The base for one of these cranes can still be seen, close to the entrance to the floating restaurant. There was also, however a requirement to remove the unloaded goods from the quayside that same day, clearing the space for the next arrival. Merchants, with their own quay and adjacent warehouse were not under the same pressure.

So the merchants in the fifteenth century were comparatively wealthy – a couple extremely so – and to ensure a safe and smooth passage into the afterlife they would frequently endow churches, and or charities with bequests. Richard Felaw, for example, presented the Grammar School with a short terrace of houses in Foundation Street.

The school used the ground floor for teaching and were able to take in boarders who lived in the rooms upstairs. One of the scholars in the new premises was nine year old Thomas Wolsey; remarkably, by the age of eleven he had gained entry to Oxford and by the time he was 15 had been awarded Bachelor of Arts. It is likely that Wolsey was sponsored throughout his education by another Ipswich merchant, Edmund Daundy.

The importance of Ipswich at this time should not be under estimated.  Merchants and civic leaders were involved in maritime and naval affairs on behalf of the Crown. During the reign of Edward IV (1461-1483) four Ipswich men (Felaw amongst them) were commissioned to provide wheat, malt, mutton, fish and, amongst other things, salt for the king’s ships.

Later the same year, when war with France became imminent they had to provide six ships with 700 men-at-arms (a requirement which included archers, a skill which takes considerable time to master). One wonders how they were able to recruit such a large number of locals from what was then a small population.

The buildings in Foundation Street, presented by Felaw, subsequently had a chequered history; it wasn't long before the school moved out, across the road into one of the empty buildings that were vacated when the friary closed.

By the 1960s (500 hundred years after Felaw’s time) the buildings are still standing in Foundation Street but by now this country is changing, it has been twenty years since the War with Germany ended and Britain is getting back on its feet, new buildings, many high rise, increasing car ownership and those in work had cash to spare, according to Harold Macmillan 'we'd never had it so good'.

One other notable change at the time was that Ipswich was becoming increasingly congested (compared to ten years previously), the proposed solution to the problem was an inner ring road, a dual carriageway closely encircling the central shopping core. Building work started, both Civic Drive and St Matthew's Street were dualled, with pedestrian underpasses and roundabouts. Numerous properties were demolished to achieve the space required, for some this was a necessity, having been condemned as slums, for others perfectly good homes were taken, families displaced, the car is king attitude prevailed.

Cromwell Street became a dual carriageway, but the route ahead was the Tudor buildings on the east side of St Nicholas Street, the Ipswich Society campaigned vigorously to save the terrace, pointing out that these buildings were irreplaceable, and that increasing road space was a pointless exercise. Vehicle numbers would simply increase to fill the space available, and then some, creating a requirement for even more roads.

The southern arm of the inner ring road was planned to run from Cromwell Street (today Cromwell Square car park) across St Nicholas Street, Turret Lane, Lower Brook Street and Foundation Street. To create space for the road, buildings were to be demolished; these included, in Foundation Street, the terrace that Richard Felaw had donated for use by Ipswich School.

Elsewhere along the route demolition was delayed, people argued that, not only should the Tudor buildings be saved, but so should the Georgian fronted buildings in Lower Brook Street.  Eventually common sense prevailed, the road building was cancelled and the majority of those buildings remain to this day. Too late for Felaw's house however, this was by now a large shallow hole, archaeologists were scratching at the ground, investigating an even earlier history.

The  site stood empty and forlorn, awaiting a purpose. That arrived in the 1980s in the shape of NCP who proposed a multi-storey car park on the site. As multi-storey car parks go, it isn't awful – faced in red brick with featured elevations – it goes some way to blending into its setting. However, it is a sad substitute for what could have been: a Richard Felaw (and the other contemporary Ipswich Merchants) visitor attraction, a centre for the history of Tudor Ipswich, a reminder of just how important Ipswich was in previous times.

[Source: John Norman’s Ipswich Icons]



[1]Richard Felaw (born about 1420), son of John and Agnes Felaw of Ipswich was almost certainly educated at the school in the 1430s, which had given him sufficient knowledge and confidence to rise to the highest of positions locally and to become highly influential nationally.  Richard Felaw served as bailiff eight times and was one of two burgesses representing Ipswich in Parliament in 1449 and again in 1460 - 1462.

Felaw's ships brought salt and fish from Scandinavia, wine from Gascony and iron from Spain.  As collector of Customs from 1458 he was the senior officer of the crown in Ipswich, but his chief strength was in his close association with Sir John Howard, the 1st Duke of Norfolk.  Howard was Lord High Admiral in 1461 when he engaged Felaw and others to provision the Kings ships.

In 1480 the school still lacked a designated schoolhouse.  This issued was solved in Felaw's will, read in 1483 when his house facing the convent of Blackfriars was given to the school.  Felaw's house housed the school of over 100 boys for all but three of the next 150 years.   John Blatchly, A Famous Antient Seed-Plot of Learning, 2003

[2] An order was made in 1539 that 'all strangers coming by water to the Common Kay (quay) shall unload theire merchandise uppon the Common Kay, paying the Tolls and Customes of the Towne and King, according to the Table in ye Kay House.  And noe person shall unlaide at any other Kay unless the Toll and Custome shall first be payde'. (The Kay House was the Custom House, on Common Quay).   Historical Manuscripts Commission, 9th Report (1883).