Mutual House, Princes Street, Ipswich IP1 1QT

Mutual House (formerly Parr’s Bank) is the Ipswich Building Society's town centre branch which sits on Giles Circus, on the corner of Princes Street and King Street. The building is steeped in history. 

 

Outside Mutual House 

Mutual House was originally two separate buildings, and this can still be observed from outside. Of course, this building has not always been known as Mutual House and was renamed by Ipswich Building Society to reflect the pride in their member-owned business model.

On the corner of Princes Street and King Street, this part of the building is Grade II listed and was built in 1901 as the Ipswich branch of Parr’s Bank. It was designed by prominent local architect Thomas W. Cotman, well known for his work in Felixstowe. His other stone-faced buildings in Ipswich include The Crown & Anchor Hotel in Westgate Street and Lloyds Banking House on the Cornhill.

The building is described in The Buildings of England (Bettley/Pevsner) as ‘the style is a sort of 16th century French Gothic, similar to the Crown & Anchor, Westgate Street, faced in stone. Two-storey oriels (one on the corner, with copper dome and spirelet) and friezes of decorative panels. Parapet pierced with quatrefoils and broken by gabled dormers with pinnacles’.

The entryways to the original Parr’s Bank building have remained unchanged, with a corner door leading into the banking hall and an additional private entrance on Princes Street (at the centre of the two buildings) for the Bank Manager, leading to the private office and residence. The original Parr’s bank sign has been uncovered, believed to be made from Connemara marble, which had previously been obscured. 

The adjoining premises, further along Princes Street where the Society’s counter facility is located, is not a listed building. This was originally occupied by Alfred Stearn & Son, who appear to have been general builders and described variously as Plumbers, Builders & Decorators, and Ironmongers. This provides an alternative accessible entrance.

Visitors passing under the archway inside the building are moving from the Grade II listed Parr’s Bank to Alfred Stearn & Sons, a building also designed by Thomas Cotman (though in a slightly less grand style) and constructed in 1901, according to the Particulars of Sale, from when the building was auctioned in 1906. This end of the building did not have the same grand ceilings as the listed side, but some mosaic tiles were uncovered when the lift pit was dug out in order to provide step-free access to the building.

 

Lounge Area

This was the banking hall of Parr’s Bank. This private bank was established in Winwick Street, Warrington, in 1788 as Parr & Co by Joseph Parr, sugar boiler, Thomas Lyon, brewer and sugar boiler, and Walter Kerfoot, attorney; it was also known as Warrington Bank. 

The bank acquired many other institutions before, in 1918, it amalgamated with London County & Westminster Bank Ltd of London, to form London County Westminster & Parr’s Bank Ltd. At that date 235 branches and 94 sub-branches were operating. You may remember the building as the National Westminster.

During renovation of this area, an original ceiling was revealed, which had been hidden above a suspended ceiling for some years, now restored to its former glory. The restoration work and repainting were carried out by an Ipswich firm, W.G.Crotch Ltd, using specialist lime plastering techniques.

We have architect’s drawings and elevations for the 1901 building, showing that the manager was offered a 6-bedroom house (apartment) as a ‘perk of the job’, with generous living accommodation and servant’s quarters on the 3rd floor.

 

Pearce & Ridley Rooms

Two of our meeting rooms are a nod to influential figures from the Society’s history.

Pearce Place is named for the founding Secretary, Joseph Pearce, and his son Arthur, who succeeded him to the position of Secretary. Between the two men, this father and son duo held the position of Secretary for the first 65 years of the Society’s existence.

Joseph is recorded in an 1858 Directory as acting not only as Secretary of the Freehold Land Society (FLS), but also accountant to Ipswich Local Board of Health and agent for County Fire & Provident Life Offices. Joseph acted as FLS secretary from 1850 to 1876 and under his influence the Society grew strong. When he died on 8 April 1877 tributes poured in from far and wide. He was remembered as an able, upright, kindly gentleman to whom a great debt was owed, not only by the Society but by the whole town. When the Society developed the Orwell Road Estate in 1880 Pearce Road was chosen as one of the street names, in his honour.

It was fortunate that Joseph’s son, Arthur Pearce, was not only well acquainted with FLS business but had already been appointed as Assistant Secretary. On his father’s death he was immediately made Secretary in his place, a decision confirmed by members at the next meeting “with absolute unanimity and enthusiasm”. He eventually served the Society for 38 years, until his death in the summer of 1915 and in a tribute to his work it was recorded that ‘he had brought his considerable energies and shrewd judgement to bear and had preserved the traditions his father had created before him and added to them’.

The Ridley Room is dedicated to the solicitor Edward Perkins Ridley who was elected as Society Solicitor in 1891 and later also served as Ipswich’s Mayor from 1898-1899.

Mr Ridley succeeded the Society’s Solicitor Mr Woodruffe Daniel, who having held the office for over 40 years at the time of his death, the method of electing his successor was almost forgotten. It was eventually found that according to the rules of the Society, the election of a Solicitor must be by a show of hands at the Annual General Meeting.

It had obviously never occurred to the founders that members would someday number 4,000 to 5,000 including many women and children; these were all entitled to vote so a show of hands was impractical. In the event, an ingenious method was devised to solve the problem. To implement this, the Corn Exchange was hired, and a show of hands taken to establish which of the three candidates had the least support. To decide between the remaining two candidates, electors passed through separate turnstiles to count the votes.

Once all the voters had gone out, and the record had been taken, they were then allowed to re-enter the hall to hear the result. This unusual system attracted massive local interest; the East Anglian Daily Times called it ‘one of the largest and most representative gatherings ever to be held in the town’, with members coming from Stowmarket and Felixstowe to participate and special trains were put on to take them home. More well-to-do members from Ipswich came in cabs and private carriages; others, including whole families of members, walked into town to take part – the youngest elector was a 6-month-old baby.

 

Strong Room 

Whilst this looks very much like a bank vault it was not one used by Parr’s Bank – being in a separate, albeit adjoining, property. It is difficult to be sure why Alfred Stearn & Sons would have needed such an impressive and secure vault and it is certainly possible that this was added during a slightly later iteration of the building.

This is borne out by the fact that this part of the building was sold by auction at Great White Horse on 24 May 1906. A pencil note seems to suggest that there was no bidding at auction and the building was subsequently sold by private contract on 14 Aug 1906 to Lambs Thomas for the London Provincial Bank Ltd at £3,250 purchase to be completed 29 Sept 1906. If the building was then used as an office of the London Provincial Bank that could explain the need for a strong room.

 

Basement 

This is the original basement of Parr’s Bank and was, on construction, divided into two distinct halves – one half being the vault accessible from the bank and the other being the larder and coal cellar, belonging to the manager’s house.

Interestingly, within the coal cellar is the night safe, which would have connected to the street via a chute. It is unusual to see the night safe feed into the coal cellar, but it is not shown on the original drawings so is perhaps a later addition.

We have a total of four different safe manufacturers represented in the basement of Mutual House; these are Chubb (founded 1818 and still trading), Ratner (established in 18900), J&E Bates & Sons Ltd (founded c.1820), and Hobbs, Hart & Co. Ltd. (founded in 1852). All of these were well known British firms.

Also of interest in the basement is the very faded signage on the largest safe directing people to the nearest Air Raid Warden’s Post and Nearest Public Shelter.

 

About Ipswich Building Society 

Ipswich Building Society was established in 1849 as the Ipswich & Suffolk Freehold Land Society, as part of a national movement to create ‘forty-shilling freeholders’ – giving the ordinary man the chance to buy enough land to enable him to vote. 

Ipswich was fast developing, spreading westwards along Norwich Road and towards Bramford, and south of the river beyond Stoke Bridge. During the 1840s the Wet Dock was opened, the largest in Europe, and new railway lines linked Ipswich to Colchester, Bury St Edmunds, Hadleigh and Norwich.

The Society’s declared aim was to ‘improve the social position and promote the moral elevation of the unenfranchised population of this country’. People would be able to invest their savings with the Society, with that money being used to purchase areas of freehold land. This land would be divided into plots of sufficient size to confer its owner the right to vote.

At the first meeting on 4 December 1849 at the Ipswich Temperance Hall (demolished 1964), the Society enrolled 140 members with 150 shares taken. Within a week this had increased to 400 shares.

In 1850, the Society acquired its first piece of land – 98 acres at the Cauldwell Hall Estate.  Known as California and, although now close to town centre, at the time it was part of an outlying farm well outside the town.

By 1858 the first-come, first-served model was replaced by balloting. Members interested in a particular development would submit their ballot paper to the Secretary; should their corresponding numbered ball be drawn out, they could proceed to purchase outright - or through an affordable mortgage with the Ipswich & Suffolk Permanent Benefit Building Society.

In 1866 the Society built houses for the first time, having already allotted 1,000 plots of land across 22 estates. The Society laid out two new roads, Palmerston and Lancaster, with 28 houses built and sold by ballot for £145. The last houses were built in Shafto Road, Ipswich in 1933 by which time the Society had developed over 50 estates in Ipswich, and more across Suffolk including Felixstowe, Stowmarket, Lowestoft, Framlingham and Hadleigh.

Now, over 170 years on, the Ipswich Building Society remains a mutual organisation working in the best interests of its members, with 9 branches throughout Suffolk. The current mission statement still echoes its founding principles: ‘To support people in our community to buy a home and save for the future, providing carefully crafted products and attentive service’.

[Source: Ipswich Building Society]

Links: 360-degree tour of the modernised Mutual House; Ipswich Building Society; Historic England listing