A Winter Illustrated Talk by Dr James Bettley
Thursday 23 October 2015 saw a good-sized audience at the Methodist Church in Black Horse Lane for what proved to be one of the Society's best ever talks. James Bettley began his presentation with memories of meeting up in about 2007 with the late Dr John Blatchly for an initial walk around the Ipswich town centre to briefly view many of the historic buildings. One of James' photographs of that day showed John on hands and knees inspecting the font of St Nicholas Church. When, having ‘done' most of the county years later, the author returned to Ipswich, but he couldn't find the font until he discovered it with a chipboard counter built around and over it.
It is a tribute to our speaker that he didn't just deliver his ‘standard Suffolk Pevsner talk', entertaining though that would have been. We were treated to behind-the-scenes photographs, cuttings and documents from Nikolaus Pevsner's archive, built up when working on the original 1961 Suffolk volume in his Buildings of England series. It was clear that Pevsner had toured the whole county in only four weeks, relying once back 'in the office' on replies he had received from architects and research by others for fuller information. Several letters back and forth between him and architect Birkin Haward were shown; it became clear that, if the author trusted his informant, he wasn't beyond including a building in the book which was not yet completed. The bi-monthly Ipswich information periodical published by Ipswich Corporation was another source of information.
And so to the buildings. In his introduction to the Ipswich section of the Suffolk: East volume, James remarks upon the decline in the economic fortunes in the 17th and 18th centuries, a decline which may have saved many important buildings. There are a relatively large number of medieval buildings in Ipswich and relatively few Georgian buildings (Lower Brook Street is an exception); in other towns the medieval buildings would have been replaced or refronted, but not in our town. A short tour of religious buildings, old and modern, finally led to the castellated, blighted County Hall in St Helens Street, which languishes without a use in our modern society.
From Crown Pools, via Broomhill Lido and Endeavour House we arrived at Constantine House, the original power station for the tram and street lighting in Ipswich (now offices). It pleased our speaker that the over-ornate tram depot next door, with its long inspection pits, is still used to service Ipswich buses. Examples were chosen from many eras and locations to illustrate the work of local architects (“Ipswich is just far enough from London to make it worthwhile for talented designers and architects to stay and work here, rather than seek their fortunes in the capital”). Our speaker reflected on the inclusions and omissions in Pevsner's original Suffolk book as they evoke an anecdote or gem of information.