On the afternoon of 8 February, twenty members of the Society assembled in the entrance of the Town Hall, having been invited by the Mayor, Jane Chambers, to visit her Parlour and have a 'behind the scenes tour'. We were greeted by Andrew Beal, the Town Sergeant. He gave us a brief reminder of the various buildings which have stood on this site, starting with St Mildred's Chapel in Saxon times. The present Town Hall dates from 1868 and is built in the Venetian style. It is now in the care of Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service.
He showed us the old courtroom with its fine dome and decorative plasterwork, and remarked that the room is windowless - very useful in preventing prisoner escapes! We then ascended the main staircase, pausing to look at the marble plaque which commemorates Borough Council employees who died on active service during the First World War. Our next stop was the room previously used as the town library, where we admired the fine decoration. From there we walked along a corridor lined with photographs of every Mayor of Ipswich, except for Benjamin Brame in 1836, who was too early for photography and is represented by a watercolour.
We were received in the Mayoress's Parlour by the Mayor. She explained that she has been elected by the other councillors, her role is strictly non-political; she represents the Borough during her year of office. We were shown various paintings of the town, gifts presented by visitors, and the Visitors' Book itself, signed by a couple called Elizabeth and Philip! The walls of the next room are covered with memorabilia and official declarations of .Freedom of the Borough.. One was awarded to Sir 'Robert' Robson; he didn't like the name change apparently! The most recent award was to HMS Quorn.
In the Mayor's Parlour we viewed the Town Seals made in 1200, when the Charter was granted, and putting on white cotton gloves I was able to hold them..the highlight of my visit. We also saw the silver gilt mace presented to the town by Charles II, still used at council meetings today. Andrew showed us the Mayor's official robes and headwear, which have to be worn whatever the weather and are incredibly heavy.
We also heard the stories of Samuel Harvey and Arthur Frederick Saunders, both awarded the VC for bravery at the Battle of Loos in 1915. They returned to Ipswich, having been severely wounded. Samuel never fully recovered from a head wound; few people knew of the honour bestowed upon him and he spent the rest of his life struggling to cope. In contrast Arthur was appointed a salaried magistrate and became a respected figure in the town. [Editor: the Society installed a Blue Plaque on his former house in Cauldwell Hall Road last year]
The group returned to the Mayoress's Parlour for refreshments and a farewell from the Mayor. It was a very enjoyable visit which managed to be both relaxed and informative at the same time, thanks to Andrew's interesting guided tour and the warm reception we were given by the Mayor. Thanks are also due to Caroline Markham for organising this visit.