Ipswich: "I take this town to be one of the most agreeable places in England." Daniel Defoe. 1724. Main cover image: St Mary-Le-Tower Church
If we were a marriage, this would be diamond. Sixty years of The Ipswich Society makes the relative newcomer like myself think of the people who were there in the early years. 1960 was a time of volcanic changes in Ipswich: social, economic, architectural amongst others. And it was as a direct result of the threat to some of our oldest buildings by a new ring-road that those like-minded pioneers considered it time to form a civic society for Suffolk’s county town.
Early Newsletters were just that: typed and duplicated documents stapled together to pass on news of meetings well (and less-well) attended, of people working out how to establish a society to treasure our history, protect and enhance what is valuable and monitor new developments and proposals. Oddly, little has changed in today’s Ipswich Society. Those original tenets hold true: the past, the present and the future of our town.
The issues seem to be just as challenging as in 1960. Bridges over the docks, by-passes to relieve traffic congestion, large housing developments are all planned or proposed. Industry has gone through convulsive changes, particularly in the 1980s when malting, milling, heavy engineering, corset-making and many other trades were coming to an end. The Wet Dock is a good barometer of the economic revolution. Trading vessels disappeared almost completely, and for some years clear water could be seen across the dock with, perhaps, a red lightship moored on the island for the Sea Scouts. The goods trains around the tramway – once reaching round the northern and eastern quays to meet the ones running across the Island at Cliff Quay and right down to the coal-fired power station near the site of today’s Orwell Bridge – vanished and sidings in the Lower Goods Yard became a DIY store and later a skate park.
Ipswich County Borough lost a lot of its functions and funding to the newly-formed Suffolk County Council. Buildings came and went, roads and bridges were changed, parks and public spaces were sometimes neglected, then protected and gained investment. In the still centre of all this, the medieval street layout of the town survived largely unchanged. Archaeology revealed for the first time our Anglo-Saxon origins after the Romans had departed. The oldest, continuously-settled town in the country continued to go through good and bad times, but the people of the town – essentially the town itself – stayed strong.
For sixty years the wholly voluntary Ipswich Society has remained active and gained members who appreciate that so much is done with neither sponsorship nor commercial advertising. The Ipswich Society celebrates its independence and offers excellent value for money, not least this very quarterly Newsletter, to subscribers.