From The Ipswich Society Review 1981
‘The first decade of the second half of the twentieth century included the years when everyone determined that the effects of the War would finally have been shaken off. Rationing came to an end and a “New Elizabethan Age” dawned.
The Festival of Britain in 1951demonstrated to all that new shapes and fresh colours could transform our man-made surroundings (in those days we had yet to talk about the “built environment”). The urge to discard the old in favour of the new became the accepted order, and “re-construction” was an honourable term. So were words like “planning” and “development” - they represented the right approach in most people's view. There were, of course, conflicting under-currents of thought: we could not turn our backs on the greatness of our past. We were out of India but there was the Suez Campaign, and we had not yet been told that a “wind of change” was blowing.
In Ipswich our pace as we moved into this new age was slower than in many towns, and this turned out to be no bad thing. There were, however, some events which alerted me to the significance of change in the fabric of the town. An exhibition held at Christchurch Mansion, as I remember it, brought together plans, drawings and documents which revealed the fascinating details of the history of the town, and particularly the richness of the buildings it once had. Some years later a competition was held for architects: it was to re-design the Cornhill ready for the day when the Town Hall was demolished! By the end of the decade we had several places in the main streets where interesting old buildings had been replaced and the new ones set back from the original line, in the anticipation of road widening, so that the frontages presented a disagreeable discontinuity. There were increasing areas of “temporary” car parks as the programme of pre-war slum clearance was taken up again. Not all of the demolished buildings were sub-standard Victorian workers' houses, though. Towards the north end of Foundation Street a terrace including Felaw's House [see photograph from the Society's Image Archive], turned out to be a timber-framed structure of some interest which disappeared without adequate investigation. At the southern end of the same street a splendid timber-framed building with rich carving inside and out, the disused Half Moon with its famous fox and geese corner post, disappeared and was replaced by a windowless brick shed.
In other historic towns the moves to re-build the central areas advanced rapidly, and alarm at the destruction began to be expressed in the press, particularly aptly by Ian Nairn. He was the choice of a group of people, mainly architects practising in the town, who wanted a speaker for an inaugural meeting to found the Ipswich Society. The Co-operative Hall was full for that public meeting in 1960, and at the end there were queues of people waiting to pay their half-crowns to join. The meeting was chaired by the Mayor, Councillor Dick Lewis, who subsequently was elected Chairman by the executive Committee of the Ipswich Society. I became Honorary Secretary in 1962 and about a couple of years later, after the death of Dick Lewis, I became Chairman. Quite soon it was clear to me that many people regarded the Society as having a political bias, because Dick Lewis was thought of as a politician who was decidedly to the left of the local Labour Party. Such alarm was totally unfounded, and from the beginning there had been Conservative Councillors on the Executive Committee, to demonstrate balance between party interests! Nevertheless, some influential people in the town obviously felt doubtful, and I made it an early task to dispel any such ideas that we were other than non-political, as our constitution stated. This had to be achieved by being quite impartial in all that was said and done on behalf of the Society, but above all by some persistent work behind the scenes.
An impetus to the first activities of the Society was the 1961 visit of the Queen to Ipswich. Our first “high rise” building other than those of the dock-side had appeared on the slum cleared land south of the Rope Walk, and H.M. was coming to open it [Civic College]. She would have to travel along some rather sad looking streets to get there and, since the Norwich Society had demonstrated possibilities in their Magdalen Street, it was felt that at least as good a face-lift could be given in Ipswich to Fore Street and Upper Orwell Street. Cleaned walls, fresh paint and the removal of the clutter of signs demonstrated the value of the variety of old buildings in our streets. It took many years for sufficient numbers of people to realise this, however, and the idea that ‘new' was automatically ‘good', and even if it wasn't ‘you can't stop progress', was a widespread belief. Gradually, it has also become more accepted that new buildings and roads can be made to fit the older fabric of the town, provided they are designed with both care and skill.
During the early years of the Ipswich Society there was much suspicion about its intentions among some members of the Corporation. Some of both the senior elected members and officers felt uncertain of the value of having, or even the need for, such a body in the town. “Busybodies” was undoubtedly how some viewed us. The Executive Committee very soon came to the conclusion that there would be no advantage in antagonising the Corporation as we set about persuading them to move from some of their established paths and channels of thought. Challenge was there, but it had to be handled with care. I spent a lot of time cementing relationships and, as members of the Executive Committee set themselves high standards in knowledge and competence, we gradually gained the confidence of those in authority in Ipswich. At one time, part of this pattern of building mutual understanding consisted of my meeting two senior officers in the discreetly empty back room of a local pub whenever plans of proposed developments or coming projects needed to be discussed. Now-a-days things are able to be spoken of much more openly and some of the Council's staff are actually members of the Society!
This is not meant to be a history of the Ipswich Society: merely some recollections of its infancy provoked by its having reached majority years. What a suitable birthday it would be if we each presented one new member…'
Peter Underwood, 1981