Although disappointed not to be able to hear the advertised lecture on The Ipswich Masterplan, the Society was very grateful to Dr Charles Tracy for speaking to us at such very short notice. He chose to talk about Old Inns of Ipswich - not the multitude of little boozing dens as some of us might have expected, but inns. The distinctions were wide and crucial. There were indeed lots of ale houses for the lower orders. There were also taverns which tended to specialise in wines and could provide substantial meals. But the inns were the big establishments catering for well heeled local people and travellers.
Inns were usually second only in size to the churches. The bigger ones could cater for 200-300 people and included stabling for visitors' horses. They hosted such events as feasts, concerts, balls, gambling clubs, trade association meetings and electioneering.
Charles pointed out that Ipswich was about the 5th wealthiest town in England during the late 15th and early 16th centuries with many important visitors and pilgrims to the shrine of Our Lady of Grace, so several inns must have provided suitable accommodation. It isn't always clear which they were. He chose to concentrate especially on the large and rambling timber framed building at the junction of St Nicholas Street and Silent Street - the building which used to be wrongly called Wolsey's birthplace, and which is now being surveyed by the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust with a view to completely refurbishing it.
The survey and Charles's own examination reveal the likelihood that this was one of the major inns of the town, with an even longer frontage on to St Nicholas Street and evidence of a two sided gallery at the back for access to guest rooms. Hearing this enthusiastic account of a wonderful building made us all the more eager for the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust to acquire the necessary financial help to restore it.