'Ipswich - the Industrial Capital of East Anglia' - the Royal Show souvenir brochure in July 1934 strikes the keynote: Ipswich is the leading manufacturing centre of Eastern England. Hand in hand with this forward-looking policy was the belief that where necessary the environment of the past should be swept away in the name of progress. By the 1960s the construction of Civic Drive marked the high point of this vision: an urban motorway would cut a traffic swathe across the historic centre. But by then the tide was turning. It was increasingly recognised that the character and quality of life in Ipswich was also determined by historical roots. Economic prosperity could go hand in hand with conservation.
A positive consensus developed between conservation enthusiasts, Council members and officers, and the business community. Since 1978, all these groups have been represented on the committee of the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust. We monitor buildings at risk. We support the officers of the Borough in working to secure historic buildings. We are ready to play our part when buildings become available for restoration.
Today evidence of the recent recession is inescapable: empty shops and half-completed developments blight the townscape. Factories which provided employment and prosperity for hundreds of years are demolished and almost forgotten.
In this turbulent environment it is vital that a new generation of volunteers step forward to give their energies to the conservation movement, and to the work of the Trust. The following notes indicate some of the properties the Trust has been monitoring. What uses and solutions might Ipswich Society members suggest?
Buildings at risk - County Hall, St Helen's Street
Top of the list of neglected buildings must be County Hall. Once the headquarters of the County Council, County Hall is the victim of a sorry saga of missed opportunity. Once it became empty it was vandalised and pillaged - lead from the roof and internal copper plumbing were stolen, rain poured in, and fittings including stained glass and the clock were destroyed. A wider remit of sale might have ensured that redevelopment on other parts of the site could have secured its future. The Officers of the Borough have been active in encouraging the owner to find a viable alternative and some temporary repairs have slowed the rate of decay. The Trust is on hand to bring together any parties who might with imagination and vision secure the restoration of this important historic building.
Buildings at Risk - St Michael's Church
Just around the corner is Upper Orwell Street: one of the saddest streets in Ipswich. St Michael's church fell victim to an arsonist just as it was being considered for an ecumenical community use. Full restoration now would probably be prohibitively expensive. It is a great loss - it had a beautiful late Victorian interior with fine brickwork, carving, and stained glass. The shops lining the road once included a good mix of small independent shops but the whole area appears blighted. The loss of the Co-operative retail outlets along Carr Street compounds the problem. We understand that the owners have recently appointed a project manager who has a clear phased plan for repairs both to the church and the adjacent church hall.
Buildings at risk - 1-5 College Street
Next door to Wolsey's gateway the old Burtons offices stand empty. Long-term scaffolding obscures the faÃ§ade and obstructs the pavement. During the building boom it was to be part of a comprehensive redevelopment but recent vandalism and storms have made the scaffolding unsafe and damaged the roof. Council Officers have encouraged the owners to undertake remedial work but even now vandals and arsonists would probably find access easy. The Trust would strongly support the Borough in issuing an Urgent Works Notice if this were necessary, and as a last resort to use their powers of compulsory purchase.
Buildings at risk - The Old Bell
This crumbling timber-framed pub across Stoke Bridge is blighted by traffic. The Trust has been monitoring its fortunes, and especially since it was purchased at auction a year or so ago. It is just the kind of building which the Trust came into being to save. The roof in particular requires urgent attention, and we again strongly support the Borough in carrying out its statutory duty to ensure the necessary repairs. We very much hope the new owners will soon be able to breathe new life into these buildings
Buildings at risk - The Orangery, Holywells Park
Not long ago this building was in a terrible state. Having fallen prey to vandalism it was protected by yards of corrugated iron. But here is a success story: application has been made for grant aid through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery and it is scheduled to be restored as part of the facilities of Holywells Park. The Trust became involved in discussions regarding its future two years ago, and our Chairman has given substantial advice and support to the community group spearheading the project. It is a good example of the way the Trust can influence regeneration without actually taking on full project management.
Thank you for reading this article. We would very much appreciate your support in our joint endeavour to keep Ipswich as an attractive place in which to live and work. You might like to consider joining the Trust as an individual or corporate member. If you have time and energy to become more closely involved please let us know. You will find a warm welcome from the Executive Committee.
Contact the Trust's Membership Secretary at 82 Hatfield Road, Ipswich IP3 9AG or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.