Willis Building (Grade I)
The Ipswich Society has installed a number of blue plaques in the town
-- our version of the English Heritage Blue Plaques seen elsewhere in Britain.
What started at the turn of the century continues to be an
important and relevant tribute to some of the most distinguished
people who were born in the town or subsequently lived here.
Our hope is that the plaques will make the streetscape and our
history more interesting. Most of our plaques are in and around
the town centre. We now have three which are a greater distance
away from the centre. However, those focused on the town centre
are where most passers-by might see them; they form a "trail"
which could easily reveal to visitors some secrets or gems of
There are further plaques around the town, erected by other
organisations; these are also listed in the leaflet.
Current Blue Plaques are as follows:
- Jean Ingelow
- V S Pritchett
- Richard Dykes Alexander
- Thomas Gainsborough
- John Harbottle
- Nathaniel Bacon
- William King
- John Glyde
- Robert Ransome
- Leonard Squirrell
- Leslie Barefoot G.C.
- Charles Dickens
- Arthur Frederick Saunders VC JP
- Sir Charles Scott Sherrington OM GBE PRS
- Felix Thornley Cobbold
- Edith Maud Cook
The Master's House, Lower Brook Street
NATHANIEL BACON (1593-1660)
Manor House, St Margaret's Green
Nathaniel Bacon, described as a "pious, prudent learned man", was a member of
the Bacon family which achieved great prominence nationally under
Nathaniel was a key figure in Ipswich political life in the mid-17th century.
He became its leading lawyer – the Recorder; its MP from 1646 to 1660;
and its historian, being the compiler, in 1654, of the Annalls of Ipswiche,
The Lawes Customes and Government of the Same.
During the Civil War he was Chairman of the Eastern Association Committee and a
strong supporter of the Puritan cause. This made him very important regionally
and nationally as an administrator and organiser during the War and the period
of Commonwealth government, although he was opposed to the execution of
Charles I and to the proclamation of the Commonwealth.
THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH (1727-1788)
32 Foundation Street
The great Suffolk artist Gainsborough was born and educated in Sudbury, where
he has long been properly honoured with a statue on the Market Hill. It is less
well known that he spent seven formative years in Ipswich, 1752-1759.
few years of apprenticeship in London, he had returned to Sudbury in 1748 but
he moved to Ipswich in 1752 because commissions for portraits were more easily
He rented 34 Foundation Street, a house similar to No 32 where the plaque
is mounted. No 34 was shamefully demolished in the early 1960s.
As well as painting portraits and landscapes in Ipswich, Gainsborough was an
enthusiastic member of the Ipswich Music Club. He played several keyboard and
He moved to Bath in 1759; the fashionable spa gave him more opportunities for
meeting and painting rich patrons. But it is appropriate that Christchurch
Mansion in Ipswich houses one of the best collections of Gainsborough's
paintings outside London, and that it includes one of his finest works, the
portrait of William Wollaston, MP for Ipswich, playing the flute.
JOHN GLYDE (1823-1905)
9 Eagle Street
John Glyde is recognised as the foremost 19th century historian of Ipswich and
Suffolk, the author of books which are still standard reference works on the
social and economic aspects of the town and county. A radical thinker, he was
involved in many organisations working for the social and cultural
improvements of Ipswich, including the founding of a Free Library for the
His bequest of books and manuscripts to the Ipswich Corporation in 1905 is now
in the Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich. During his working life he was a
bookseller, an agent for domestic servants and a registrar of marriages.
JEAN INGELOW (1820-1897)
2 Elm Street
One of the most celebrated authors in Victorian times, Jean Ingelow's fame
declined to almost nothing during the 20th century, although there is still a
Jean Ingelow Society in America. However, she was one of the best selling
authors from 1850 until her death and was highly regarded by such eminent
authors as Tennyson and Ruskin.
Her work included poetry (the best known of which was A High Tide on the
Coast of Lincolnshire, still widely anthologised in the mid-20th century),
children's stories and novels, such as Off the Skelligs (most of which
is still very readable).
Born in Lincolnshire, she moved to Ipswich, aged 14, when her father became
manager of the Ipswich and Suffolk Banking Company in Elm Street. Living here
for ten years in the spacious first floor rooms over the bank she began her
first experiments as a writer. After the bank failed and the family moved out,
the arch was created and Arcade Street was built on the site of the Ingelows'
WILLIAM KING (1786-1865)
19 Lower Brook Street
King was born at 19/21 Lower Brook Street where his father, The Rev John King,
was Master of Ipswich (Grammar) School in that building. William King became a
physician, working in Brighton, but he is celebrated as a founder of
He created a Co-operative Benefit Fund and a Co-operative Trading Association.
He also founded and wrote the periodical The Co-operator (1828-1830)
which helped to inspire the "Rochdale pioneers" of the Co-operative Movement
later in 1844. It seems fitting that in Ipswich, where Co-operative retailing
has held its own remarkably well, we should acknowledge this pioneer of the
social and philosophical principles of Co-operation, even though this work was
done after he left Ipswich.
V S PRITCHETT (1900-1997)
41 St Nicholas Street
The plaque simply calls V S Pritchett a "writer" because he excelled in so
many genres of writing that there wasn't room to specify! He is regarded as
arguably the finest English short story writer of his time. He also published
novels, travel books, literary criticism, reviews and an absorbing
autobiography, A Cab at the Door, in which he explained how his father,
a London businessman in financial difficulties, lodged with his wife over a
toyshop at 41 St Nicholas Street. Here baby Victor was born a century ago on
16 December 1900.
The family returned to Ipswich in 1910, living for a year in the Cauldwell Hall
Road area. Pritchett was knighted in 1975 and was made Companion of Honour in
1993. He died in 1997.
The plaque records him as "V S Pritchett", rather than "Sir Victor Pritchett,
CH", because that is how he signed himself as a writer and is known to all his
ROBERT RANSOME (1753-1830)
Old Foundry Road
For the best part of two centuries, Ransome's was probably the most famous
Ipswich name around the world — certainly as far as manufacturing was
concerned. Robert Ransome came to Ipswich from Norwich in 1789 to set up an
iron foundry, first briefly near St Mary at Quay and then soon after in that
year at St Margaret's Ditches, now Old Foundry Road, where the street name
still commemmorates the site. The works, in time, stretched from Great Colman
Street to Carr Street.
Still under family control after Robert's death, the foundry closed on this
site in 1849, moving to the dockside, and the firm eventually became Ransomes
Sims and Jefferies, making agricultural machinery, lawnmowers, etc.
Later another company, Ransomes and Rapier, was created making heavy
engineering products such as dragline cranes, railway equipment and large
sluice gates for dams.
Robert Ransome was one of a group of highly influential Quakers in the town.
He set up a fund for employees unable to work through sickness or injury. He
was also instrumental in bringing gas lighting to Ipswich, installing a
gasmaking plant in part of his foundry.
LESLIE BAREFOOT G.C. (1887-1958)
H.J. Leslie Barefoot G.C. was the architect of the
small central pedestrian shopping streets in the
centre of Ipswich known as Thoroughfare and The
Walk, the latter of which is the site of his plaque.
Born in Dulwich he married in 1913 and served in
The Great War with distinction. In 1920 he moved
to Ipswich with his family and during the inter-war
period designed buildings throughout East Anglia,
becoming president of the Suffolk Association of
Architects. Re-joining the army in 1939 in the
Royal Engineers he volunteered to form a new unit
to deal with unexploded bombs. The George Cross
database indicates: "During the early days of the
blitz Major Barefoot, who was a pioneer in bomb
disposal dealt with some of the first unexploded
bombs which fell on Britain. He was able to put
invaluable information at the disposal of the
His citation in 1941 for the George Cross states:
"for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out
hazardous work in a very brave manner." He was the
first Army officer to receive the GC. He is also
commemorated by a plaque in Westminster Abbey
together with the other recipients of the GC.
EDITH MAUD COOK (1878-1910)
90 Fore Street
Edith Maud Cook was born at 90 Fore Street on 1st
September. She was a balloonist, a
parachutist and is stated, on the RAF
Museum website to have been the first woman pilot in
the United Kingdom.
Edith made around three hundred balloon ascents
and demonstrated the use of parachutes over a
period of ten years. After she learned to fly in
early 1910 she made several solo flights but did not
obtain a pilot's licence before July of that year.
On 11th July 1910 as reported in The Times: "Miss
Viola Spencer (a pseudonym) in a parachute descent
at Coventry on Saturday, alighted on a factory roof.
The parachute turned over and Miss Spencer fell
onto the roadway injuring herself severely."
She died on 14th July as a result of her injuries. In
her book Before Amelia Eileen Lebow tells the
remarkable story of the world's women pioneer
aviators who braved the skies during the early days
of flight. At a time when the mere sight of ladies
wearing trousers caused a sensation Edith Maud
Cook was one she praises as an adventurer and a
very courageous woman.
The family of Geoffrey Chaucer
21 Tavern Street (plaque is low on the right side wall in Tower St)
The Malyn family of Ipswich and London, vintners,
took the name of Chaucer, derived from the trade of
leather working, with which they were also
associated. The Chaucer/Malyns including Geoffrey
Chaucer's grandfather, owned and occupied premises
on this site in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Thomas Eldred (died 1622)
97 Fore Street (plaque on the side wall facing east)
Eldred was an Ipswich merchant and mariner who
sailed with Thomas Cavendish (also of Suffolk) on
the second English circumnavigation of the globe
1586-88 - Drake's voyage 1577-80 having been the
first. Eldred's house has been demolished but the
houses standing across the street today remind us
of the period and perhaps the style.
Admiral Benjamin Page (1765-1845)
13 Tower Street
The plaque on this building commemorates the
Ipswich-born admiral who lived here on his
retirement after a distinguished naval career. He
was made an honorary freeman of the borough in
1835. His portrait and paintings of six naval
actions in which he took part, which he gave to the
town, hang in the library room of the Town Hall.
Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530)
47 Nicholas Street
Wolsey, Cardinal of the Church, Archbishop of York
and for 14 years Lord Chancellor of England for
Henry VIII, was, next to King Henry himself the
most powerful man in the realm. The plaque,
mounted on Curson Lodge, a building of appropriate
age, reminds us that Wolsey's birthplace stood on a
site on the opposite side of the street.
Cor Visser (1903-1982)
44 Fore Street
Born in Holland, the artist settled in Ipswich after
the Second World War, during which he was the
official war artist to the Dutch government in exile.
He lived for some years on a boat in Ipswich dock,
finding inspiration particularly in dockside scenes,
before making his studio and home in Fore Street in
1962. Ipswich Museum collections contain some of