Henry Tooley and (the site of) the Half Moon Inn, IP4 1BN

All towns need to move forward, to rid themselves of the old and develop afresh, to expand (which means pushing boundaries) and grow (which could mean building higher).  But in doing so we should not lose sight of our heritage; important examples of significant buildings should be kept providing that a suitable use can be found. 

This suitable use needs to be self-sustaining; that is, the building needs to generate an income sufficient to cover the cost of servicing users and maintaining the fabric.  Someone needs to clean the loos, pay the water bill and repaint the woodwork every seven years.  For the majority of older buildings that no longer fulfil their original purpose finding an alternative use can be difficult, and time consuming.

But if a (Tudor) building has stood for 500 years then a decade or two lying empty is hardly significant.  Half of Ipswich’s Medieval Churches lost their congregations in the 1970s and stood empty for twenty five years but, by en-large, have found new uses.  However bringing them back into community use doesn’t always work as was the case with Suffolk Mind at St Mary at the Quay Church, although the restored 'Quay Place' has since resorted to its original purpose. The River Church is a new group of Waterfront Christians who are using the building for prayer and social activities.

Ipswich has always been a town of trade, and for a millennium merchants were the essential conduit for the import and export of goods and commodities.  You will not be surprised to learn that some became rich on this trade, built substantial businesses (and the warehouses to go with it), and a comfortable house for their family.

Isaac Lord's and The Neptune Inn in Fore Street are examples (although the Neptune has lost its waterside warehousing to more recent developments).  Thomas Eldred’s property at 99 Fore Street and Henry Tooley’s on the corner of Lower Brook Street and Foundation Street weren’t so lucky: both demolished to make way for new development.  Although I’m not sure that the replacement development added anything of architectural merit to the street scene.

The site of Eldred’s property eventually became a petrol filling station, which in turn has been replaced with Minevera Court residential accommodation.  Henry Tooley, who died in 1551 (we can assume the house predates his death) was probably one of the richest merchants in Ipswich at that time. He left a legacy, sufficient to provide almshouses for ten disabled soldiers and their wives. 

Tooley’s Foundation was established the following year with five lodges, each for two poor people.  Residents were required to attend St Mary at the Quay twice each day and say a prayer thanking Tooley for his bequest.  In 1599 William Smart added to the endowment; Tooley’s and Smart's Almshouses are still providing residential accommodation for elderly people in Foundation Street, Ipswich.  

Some time between Tooley’s death and 16891 the property became a public house, the Half Moon Inn, well-placed to serve the passing traffic on Foundation Street – at the time a major route between the town and the river.  Foundation Street was known, before 1745 as St Edmund Pountenay Lane (various spellings) named after the chapel in Rosemary Lane. The most prominent buildings in the street were those associated with Blackfriars, which had been established in 1263.

What was so special about Tooley’s house such that it should have been saved?  Doctor John Ellor Taylor (Curator of Ipswich Museum from 1872 to 1893) in his book In and About Ancient Ipswich (1888) suggests 'The lower part of the house does not contain much of artistic interest but the chief room upstairs is well worth a visit.  It is oak panelled throughout, and possesses an elaborately carved mantel piece. Unfortunately the whole has been disfigured by whitewash'.  (This explains why there are two similar, but different sketches of the fire surround).

Tooley’s property with its exceptionally fine interior continued in use as a public house until purchased by Big John Cobbold2 who moved the valuable fixtures and fittings to his own property, Holywells House which stood in open ground above his brewery at the Cliff.  This is likely to have been c.1814-1817 when he had the house built on land he had purchased in 1811.  Cobbold frequently purchased residential property for conversion into public houses but would first remove (and sell) the valuable fixtures and fittings.  This certainly happened at The Neptune – its panelled ceiling is currently in the Burrell Museum in Glasgow.

The Half Moon Inn closed in 1913 and the building was demolished in the early 1960s.  The corner post (with fox and geese carving) was saved and is now in the Ipswich Museum's collection.

The contents of Holywells House were sold at auction on 9 and 10 April 1930. Lot 1 was ‘oak panelling (linen fold and a huge Jacobean Mantle with fluted pilasters and ionic caps)'.  Who is to say whether this was from Tooley’s house or elsewhere?  Perhaps the auction catalogue has further information3.

The surrounding grounds were sold to Arthur Churchman (Lord Woodbridge) in 1931 and became Holywells Park in 1936.  The house became a community facility but suffered from extensive dry rot and was demolished in 1962.

1 1689: the earliest known register of licensed property in Ipswich.

2  The term Big John when applied to John Cobbold (1745 – 1835) distinguishes him from the other descendants (also named John) of Thomas Cobbold, the founder of the brewery that carried the family name.

3  Messrs Knight Frank and Rutley. Selected contents of the house were originally offered for sale by private treaty but, presumably, not sold so were included in their April 1930 auction (offered as 685 and 695 square feet respectively of carved oak panelling together with associated fittings and decoration).

Link: Ipswich Society Image Archive