On Northgate Street stands a striking timber and brick gateway that is all that remains of a grand residence built for the Archdeacon of Suffolk. William Pykenham held the office from 1472 to 1497 (the date of his death) and he had the rather grand gatehouse built – hence the name we use today. The great convenience of this urban residence was that the Archdeaconry Court was held in the south aisle of the Tower Church (St Mary-Le-Tower) almost next door. There, wills were proved and cases where ecclesiastical law was involved were heard.
This is one of the very earliest secular buildings in Ipswich, standing as it does just inside the earthen rampart. The gatehouse dates back to the late 15th century when the street (‘Brocstrete’ – the derivation of today’s Brook Street) running past from the nearby North Gate into the Middle Saxon town was a dirt track with a brook down the centre. Fifteen generations of Ipswich people have walked through the gate. The North Gate was situated next to today’s Halberd public house and part of the foundation of the gate has been identified in the Halberd’s cellar.
The gatehouse stands at the north end of Northgate Street, directly opposite the Central Library. You can see the brickwork exterior of the gatehouse from the street with its crow-stepped gable. The Ipswich and Suffolk Club stands on the site of Archdeacon William Pykenham’s house and probably incorporates some timbers from it. A house existed at this location as early as the 13th century. Pykenham went on to build the impressive Deanery Towers in Hadleigh. The view from the I&S club is noticeably different, the rear elevation of the gatehouse having a timbered and plastered finish, jettied out from the entrance archway westwards, also the 'office' is jettied to the south. It is thought that the upper room might have housed Pykenham’s library and one can, perhaps, imagine him retiring here after dinner and the stresses of the day to read, contemplate and write letters. Today, a small door to the right enables access to the interior.
The Ipswich Building Preservation Trust (IBPT) carried out a major restoration project in 1982-3, preserving most of the original 15th century timbers. The original staircase (now blocked at the lower level) was discovered during this work. The project involved the connection of services to the building, installation of a toilet and kitchen on the ground floor and the construction of timber stairs to an office and up to a large meeting room. The last of these was a challenge given the steep ascent and the confined space created by the existing timbers of the building. This Grade I Listed building (listed on 19 December 1951) is now used by the IBPT as its headquarters, also by The Ipswich Society.
Pykenham's Gatehouse is featured in the Ipswich Tourist Guides virtual guided tour video of the town.
[Source: Ipswich Building Preservation Trust]