A history of the Society is being prepared in book form, but it seems appropriate that this celebratory Newsletter should include a brief survey of some of the many things which the Society has been involved with. Peter Underwood, our Vice- President, with some assistance from me, wrote an account of our first forty years in the October Newsletter of 2000 (Issue 141). What follows here is a brief summary with necessary updating.
Why and how the Society began
After the Second World War a general feeling of needing a new start led to a willingness, even eagerness, to clear away the past to make room for the new. Historic towns and villages began to lose their character. Contrary concerns led to the creation of the Civic Trust in 1957. Then, seeing what civic amenity societies were achieving elsewhere and prompted by the 1959 Review of the Ipswich Town Plan, local people saw the value of creating our own civic society which officially came into being at its first AGM in July 1960.
Our involvement in three schemes
One of the projects which the Society backed and helped to advance was the refurbishment of Fore Street in the days before it was bisected by Star Lane. We set up and helped to advise the Fore Street Association. The resulting repairs and planned colour scheme, spurred on by the Queen's visit to open the Civic College (Suffolk College) were captured on film made by Gordon Hawker and devoted Society member, Don Chipperfield. The Society also took great interest in the proposed inner ring road which seemed a good way of reducing vehicles entering the town centre. But attitudes changed and the new road was stopped at Cromwell Street. The Society helped to draw attention to the value of historic buildings in St Nicholas Street and nearby which could have been lost to the road but were then seen as assets to the town. Thirdly, improvements were made to the riverside thanks largely to the Society's initiative and work on the ground by some of our members on Sunday mornings. These were areas alongside Ranelagh Road and later near Stoke Bridge where after clearances a striking feature using sarsen stones out of the river was designed by Bernard Reynolds. (photo p.13)
Town and country
During the 1960s Central Government appointed planners to greatly expand Ipswich under the New Towns Act. In the event the Government chose other towns for expansion but the possibilities sparked much internal debate in the Society. In the late 1980s the Society helped to oppose large housing developments at Westerfield, Chantry Yale and Belstead Brook which would have blurred the distinction between town and country. Today these issues are arising again but in a context where there is a greater demand for housing.
Keeping an eye on planning applications
The Society's volunteer monitors have studied and evaluated many thousands of planning proposals during these fifty years. Frequently our monitors have worked in teams under a co-ordinator but at other times one person has shouldered the responsibility, as Mike Cook does now. The number of applications has reduced recently after a few years of heavy demand but big complex schemes which are quite time consuming can still crop up. Our responses are made direct to the Borough Council which values contributions from us as independent non-political observers, even though they don't always agree with us! Much of this work is unspectacular but there have been some striking achievements, such as saving the Sailors' Rest in St Peter's Street (photo opposite) which was threatened with demolition in 1970.
We also gave valued support to the Borough Council in opposing the demolition of the Great White Horse in 1968 and the proposed change of use of Manning's on the Cornhill. Some members would probably be even more grateful that the Society helped to prevent Brazier's Wood from becoming a landfill site!
Our other major activities
Our Annual Awards scheme recognising notably good architectural or refurbishment achievements in the town has helped to raise awareness of the value of attractive street scenes. We have also organised and funded the Heritage Open Days in Ipswich; in most other towns this has been the responsibility of the Civic Trust. Our Blue Plaques scheme begun in 2000 has alerted the general public to distinguished people associated with Ipswich. We have also been represented on many sister organisations which also aim to improve the quality of our town. Our various hard working organisers over the years have arranged hundreds of visits to places of interest in England and many study visits (although unfortunately not recently) to towns and cities on the near-mainland of Europe. Finally, as you can see on the cover, this is Issue Number 179 of the Newsletter and I can't begin to calculate the number of articles, let alone words, that must represent!