OK, not a very original title but, when it comes to its building stones, Ipswich really does rock. Our small ‘city’ has an amazing variety of natural stone in its built environment. Those we have chosen to describe here are examples with known origins – and all within a half-hour walk from the Town Hall steps (a good place to start). Ipswich has a large variety of local building stones, plus, due to the easy access of water transport, early examples of imported stone - which increased in variety with the arrival of the railway in the nineteenth century. This legacy, augmented by modern imports from around the world, enhances the street-scene of our town today.  

Our Medieval builders had an interesting array of local buildings stones for use. The mudstones (clay cemented with lime, sometimes called septaria) from the London Clay, which is exposed along our estuaries, are an attractive brown colour. The best place to see them is in the Blackfriars ruins where examples with polydora worm borings can be found, indicating their origins on the shores of the Orwell – presumably transported by horse and cart. Flint originates in our Chalk deposits which, although too deep underground to be accessible in Ipswich, comes to the surface further up the Gipping valley in the Claydon area. Knapped flints are used in most of Ipswich’s medieval churches – Quay Place has particularly fine examples. Sarsen stones originate in the sands between the London Clay and the Chalk – just below the surface here, but sometimes (rarely) dredged/dug up. They are a very hard quartzite sandstone and are often found in church towers, presumably for added strength. There is a sarsen stone in St Nicholas Church tower, and indeed, this is the best church to visit if you want to see all three of these local stones – it has the flint and septaria in abundance. Limestones were imported to add strength to the churches - Caen Stone shipped from France, for example, was used in the Quay Place load bearing columns. Occasionally small blocks of rock were imported for their aesthetic value, as in the dark grey Tournai Limestone of Carboniferous age from Belgium used in the font at St Peters and the Purbeck Stone, full of fossil gastropods, from Dorset, used in the threshold of the main entrance to Christchurch Mansion.

Above: Masons have enhanced this Bath Stone on the Town Hall with a honeycombed surface, copying the weathered burrowed surfaces occasionally seen in other limestones.

The arrival of the railway to Ipswich in the 1840s gave the Victorians much greater access to British rocks. The Museum Street Methodist Church and the Congregational Chapel in Tacket Street are both made from Kentish Ragstone, a Cretaceous calcareous sandstone from the Medway area.  Portland Stone, a white 

Above: Fine-grained Portland Stone can be carved in any direction and hold fine detailed work as here at the entrance to Waitrose in the Corn Exchange.

Jurassic limestone from Dorset was used extensively in the town centre – in the Corn Exchange, the old post office building and Town Hall. (See Newsletter Issue 209 for an article on Portland Stone by Gill Hackman.) Bath Stone, a creamy Cotswold limestone, is also used in the Town Hall along with Mansfield Stone, a Triassic red sandstone from Nottinghamshire, to good decorative effect. The Victorians chose an igneous rock for the internal (load bearing) pillars of the Town Hall – the red granite, with its deep pink feldspar crystals is both strong and beautiful; it was probably imported from Finland via Aberdeen. 

Many of our British rocks are valued in more modern buildings, for example the Ancaster Limestone from Lincolnshire used in the Library – and, under our feet, the York Stone paving slabs used in The Walk and the Wolsey Garden in Christchurch Park are a Carboniferous sandstone from West Yorkshire. We have also acquired a range of stones from further afield. In the Tower Street entrance of Sailmakers the creamy stone is Botticino Limestone from the Lombardy area of Italy and the green stone is Verde Issorie, a serpentine (metamorphic) rock from the Italian Alps.

Above: The white rock used in the Question is Estremoz Marble from Portugal. The attractive shades of colour and veining are the result of mineral impurities.

The Labradorite cladding of 42 Princes Street is an igneous rock with stunning iridescent feldspar crystals showing a blue schiller – it comes from the Oslo area of Norway. Lastly, the Question outside the University of Suffolk building is an impressive addition to our building stones tally. The white face is Estremoz Marble from the Alentego region of Portugal, and the black face is Nero Assoluta dolerite from Rosario in Uruguay – Ipswich’s furthest-travelled stone that we know of.

Caroline and Bob Markham


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