This annual national event started in 1994. The Ipswich Society has continued to act as coordinator on behalf of the Civic Trust. Peter Odell got the project off the ground and I took over some four or five years ago. This year the weather was fine, numbers held up pretty well, except for the Sunday when Ipswich were playing at home, which must have cost us a number of visitors - including our Editor, I suspect!
Star of last year's event had been the Atfield family's Sun Inn, a miraculous restoration of a beautiful medieval building. This year the Atfields were able to fill in a number of areas which had not been completed in 2001. Doug Atfield provided visitors with an update of the year's work, from which I should like to quote:
"Two major hold-ups have delayed fresh progress ... The first in the form of a ten foot long by eight inch square wall plate in the north wall of the upstairs long room. Though inspected and thought to be sound, it proved to be unsound with both rot and worm in its one hidden part. This was a family 'all hands' call, with a lot of weight and awkward manoeuvring involved, unfortunately forcing us to re-do some previously finished work. The second hold-up was that I fell off a ladder and broke an ankle, wasting the best part of seven weeks. The team worked even harder and faster, removing the irreparable lath and plaster ceiling from the front shop exposing the timbers once again...
"The final 'big dig' under the long room (middle room ground floor) has just been completed. This was a dual-purpose dig, first to remove tons of earth from beneath the rotting floor to allow air circulation under the new floor, and secondly as an archaeological survey. Every trowel-full of soil was sifted and the resulting finds are on display. We are indebted to Keith Wade, Tom Loader and Sue Anderson of the County Archaeological Department who logged and plotted the finds and identified most of the shards of pottery which may eventually help to establish the history of the site. Also during the dig an early red brick foundation twenty inches wide was found, running northwards from the north wall of the long room.
"In digging down further, we discovered a complete skeleton of a 12th century male aged 30-34 years, and evidence of at least two other graves. These were identified as Christian burials, and so we can assume that the Sun Inn was built on part of the St Stephen's churchyard, which has shrunk considerably over the years. The skeleton was left in situ and the grave was re-filled with the minimum of disturbance. This has caused us to reappraise the age of 'Freda'who we now believe to be contemporary with these latest discoveries, and not Saxon as first thought. It would now appear that the Saxon graveyard is confined to the Buttermarket (west) side of St Stephen's Lane, whilst the eastern side is a separate Christian site.
"Further work during the year has been the re-opening of an early glassless mullion window (upstairs long room) which has brightened a dull comer .... In the room next to this, up a step,the lath and plaster ceiling has been saved by the laborious process of supporting it with about two hundred screws and large washers..."
Visitors will have been shocked to learn that some ten days before Heritage Open Days, Sheila's husband (Sheila of Atfield and Daughter days) Derek Jeffery, had died. This was of course a dreadful loss to Sheila and the whole family, who, 'like the troupers they are, rallied round and provided a full visitor service over both Saturday and Sunday. Not many of us would have managed that.
New to the 2002 programme was Admiral's House in Tower Street. For many years this has been Diocesan House and when it came on the market a year or two ago it was acquired by the Ipswich Institute who are converting it to provide additional space for lecture and meeting rooms as well as for a restaurant. It is quite amazing how much space has been provided behind the modest but attractive exterior. [Photo] Admiral's House is named after Admiral Page who lived in it in the 19th century. Another new entry was the Ipswich branch of the Suffolk Record Office, offering guided tours of the site including a fascinating explanation of what went on in the various departments.
We were very glad to be able to include again St Peter's Church where Society members Roger and Stella Wolfe, with the help of a team of volunteers including Jill Freestone and other members of the Over Stoke History Group, have been active for much of 2002 in opening on a regular basis this important redundant church in the hands of the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust. St Peter's was of course the chapel of Cardinal Wolsey's short-lived college.
Two of the premises which took part in 2001 dropped out. Ipswich School had their Open Day for potential parents so felt unable to accommodate members of the public. The Foyer dropped out for no obvious reason which is a shame as it is such an interesting project for the town. All the other buildings reported satisfactory numbers of visitors. If any member can provide access to other buildings of interest, do please let me know.