Curson Lodge on the corner of St Nicholas Street and Silent Street was a very popular building during the Heritage Open days. So it was not surprising that a large audience came to hear more about it on 12 December. The Society is very grateful to our three speakers who between them covered all aspects of the work done to restore this valuable part of the town's heritage.
Charles Tracey dealt with the history of the whole building including the part which is now the College Bookshop on the Silent Street side. Begun in about 1500, it was probably a large guest house/inn, "semi-grand" as Charles said. Over the years many structural changes have been made. It is hard to imagine but evidence shows there was a great projecting timber porch in the present bookshop frontage. Visitors would have entered a screens passage and then turned left into a smallish but grand hall. The Silent Street frontage was jettied all along.
IBC's Head of Conservation and Design, Bob Kindred, spoke about how the building was saved by its early listing in 1951 -- part Listed II* and part Grade II. He explained how a major structural problem with a great central chimney would have been a deterrent to any future commercial buyer. Grant aid from English Heritage was sought but the criteria had changed so that only buildings "at risk" qualified. And this wasn't "at risk" -- IBC conservation service has been at considerable pains to see that historical buildings in Ipswich are sound. But getting English Heritage to upgrade the whole complex to II* meant that £45,000 was finally awarded towards the cost of full restoration so that the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust could proceed.
The Trust was able to appoint conservation architect, Hilary Brightman, our third speaker. She described how high scaffolding and a temporary roof allowed the whole structure to be seen for the first time in recent years, some of the valleys and jetties being otherwise inaccessible. The problem chimney stack gets wider as it goes up and sits on a brick vaulted cellar which needed to be strengthened with a steel joist. Decorative details of wall paintings and 18th century wall paper have been retained and a 17th century ceiling with roses has been carefully preserved by a specialist. Ironically but properly, "you can't see what the money has been spent on", she said. But two spacious flats have been created upstairs.
As all good Ipswich Society members know, this was not Thomas Wolsey's birthplace (that was just across the street) but it was a building Wolsey would have seen. We hope Ipswich Building Preservation Trust will be able to sell it successfully soon.