The Great White Horse Hotel, 45 Tavern Street, Ipswich IP1 3AH
Proudly standing on the corner of Tavern Street and Northgate Street this Grade II listed building has become somewhat overlooked in recent times but has played a significant part in the history of Ipswich.
A hotel has stood on this site since 1518 and back to medieval times a building known as The Tavern occupied the plot. A notice in the Ipswich Journal 1778 describes the hotel in some detail :-
'Charles Harris of the Great White Horse, Ipswich, was still advertising his Inn for sale, consisting of 8 parlours, a good kitchen, bar room, 14 bed chambers, which will contain 24 beds, good wine vaults and cellar, stabling for 46 horses with proper hay and corn chambers over the same, good coach houses and coach-yard...'
Between 1815-1818 widening of Tavern Street saw the hotel loose its timber frontage to its present impressive structure using Suffolk white bricks possibly to match the ill-fated Assembly Rooms in Northgate Street. At the same time, the inner courtyard was glazed over, and the original rampaging white horse was erected over the entrance. This horse was later removed and sent to the White Horse Tattingstone and replaced by a more sedate version.
Notable patrons were George II, LouisXV111 and Admiral Lord Nelson when Lady Nelson was a resident of Ipswich. At the height of top line artists appearing at the nearby Gaumont many famous artists stayed at the hotel including the Beatles.
Probably the most celebrated guest is Charles Dickens. Dickens was a regular patron often reporting on political meetings and debating groups such as the curiously named Rump Ups. Inspiration from the Great White Horse saw Dickens pen his debut novel Pickwick Papers in 1836.
An extract from Pickwick Papers describes the hotel as follows:
The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig – for its enormous size. Never were such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, but beneath any one roof as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.
An Ipswich Society blue plaque celebrating visist by Dickens (and Samuel Pickwick) can be seen on the facade (see the Ipwich Society link below).
Such was the notoriety of the hotel that in1893 it received international fame representing Britain at the World Fair. A replica was erected in Chicago, although apparently not an accurate one.
In 1967 the then owners, Trust House Forte, decided to close the hotel and demolish it as there was a fashion to build out-of-town hotels at the time. However, following a public enquiry the building was saved until 2008 when the doors finally closed. In both 1967 and 2008 the building was saved as an historic asset to the town. Actions in which The Ipswich Society played a prominent part.
Retail units have occupied the lower floors at various times. The impressive inner courtyard and first floor ballroom's ornate ceiling remain intact. With the current change to town centres a sympathetic use of the proud building has still to be decided.
[Sources: Kevin Smith; Ipswich History website; Tony Green.]