Archaeology and development in Ipswich
This piece outlines some of the considerations for archaeology and development in Ipswich. The town has origins as a significant Anglo-Saxon and Viking-Age settlement - Gippeswic - which was one of four recognised apparent trading gateways for emerging kingdoms in the seventh century. These were Gippeswic (East Anglia), Hamwic (Southampton; Wessex), Lundenwic (London; Mercia) and Eoforwic (York; Northumbria).
Corresponding ‘wic' sites existed around the North Sea, and together they yield evidence for cultural, social and trading connections, contributing to the international story of Early Medieval society. The heritage of Ipswich into the eleventh century rivals that of places such as York and Dublin, which capitalise on their stories in the Jorvik Viking Centre and Dublinia attractions.
On the one hand, the importance derives from the corpus of material from sites investigated over the years. On the other, it comes from the potential of undisturbed remains. A significant consideration for future developments is, therefore, the impacts of proposals on remnants of the past. Many areas are highly sensitive, and several are statutorily protected as nationally Scheduled Monuments. So what lies beneath, and what issues might there be for redevelopment? Inference as to what may be present can be drawn from previous excavations: burnt buildings; waterfronts; personal items; kilns; cemeteries; Rhenish wine barrels; churches; friaries; roads; bread; ship rivets; animal bones; craft; local and imported goods; leather; wood, plant remains… Future development sites have the potential to hold further evidence relating to the evolution of the settlement. Any sites near St Peter's, for example, may preserve more about earliest origins. College Street lies along the former strand line of the Orwell and the waterfront has developed since the 7th century through revetments built out successively deeper: sites between Bridge Street and The Mill, where timber structures have been recorded, may lie over surviving early stretches. Eastwards of St Peter's lie the monastic cemetery, foundations of Wolsey's College, and the Friends burial ground. Between Key Street, Star Lane and Fore Street, evaluation hints at the lost church of ‘Ostirbolt'. Cox Lane car park, a large Scheduled area, is probably the early ‘industrial' zone. Generally, the complexity and significance of urban archaeology is a consideration for development. The National Planning Policy Framework requires developers to present evidence on the significance of sites so that the impacts of development can be assessed in planning decisions. Evaluation also identifies the condition and vulnerability of remains - they are usually part of a long sequence and may have been affected by later foundations, cellars, basements and services.
Discussion between Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, Historic England and developers on the principle and form of proposals is essential. To protect nationally important remains, management options may include preservation through set-aside, or, where feasible, through foundation design - although this presents logistical challenges if it is to be successful and avoid damage. If intrusive development impacts on a site are considered acceptable, high-quality excavation work and assessment is a means of ‘preserving by record', with enhancement of public understanding. Costs for this, which are the responsibility of the developer, can be high.
Across historic towns, archaeological management is one of the multiple considerations in the viability of new schemes. However, into the future the archaeological record is a unique and irreplaceable record of undocumented history for all periods of Ipswich's past, for which we have a collective responsibility to curate and promote.
Abby Antrobus, Senior Archaeological Officer, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service
Find out more:
Ipswich Urban Archaeological Database: https://heritage.suffolk.gov.uk/ipswich-uad
Suffolk Historic Environment Record: https://heritage.suffolk.gov.uk/home
Ipswich Excavation Archive 1974-1990: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/ipswich_parent_2015/
Ipswich Archaeological Trust: http://www.ipswichat.org.uk/
Historic England National Heritage List: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/
firstname.lastname@example.org, Senior Archaeological Officer, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service