Many years ago my father advised me never to volunteer. Two years ago, I ignored him and asked The Ipswich Society if I could help. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but I was invited to a meeting where our esteemed Chairman, John Norman, introduced me to Heritage Open Days.

Having helped to organise the 2017 weekend, I was hooked. I now have two years under my belt and have learnt so much about the history and development of our town.

Above: Cornhill, 1997

2018 was as successful as ever, attracting hundreds of visitors to explore the town’s rich history or just to look inside someone else’s place! It was fantastic to see so many people clutching one of our HOD books or, on at least two occasions, to see them gathered around a copy trying to decide where to go next.

As the proud editor of their guide, I engaged some of these explorers in conversation. They were all very enthusiastic about their discoveries and plans. One very excited young man told me that some of the buildings in Silent Street were over five hundred years old! Who knew?

At Gippeswyke Hall I met an elderly gentleman who told me he had left home, in York, around 4am that morning (Saturday) and travelled to Ipswich especially to visit the Hall. He was immensely knowledgeable about its history and was, it turned out, a direct descendant of John Knapp who built the Hall around 1600.

Above: Packhorse Inn, Soane Street and the entrance to Christchurch Park, 2006.

I was especially pleased to see the success of our new participants in 2018. The Old Bell in Stoke Street, now a funeral directors, was only open for one day and had well over 500 visitors. Mr Gwinnell, the owner, told me it was a joy to welcome so many ‘animated’ visitors. A little funeral director’s humour there, I think.

Another new entry was the Oddfellows Hall in High Street just along from the museum. I dropped in on the Sunday to find thirty or so visitors of all ages either examining old Oddfellows documents or desperately trying to keep their colouring-in between the lines. All, staff and visitors, were having fun. And I was advised there had been a steady flow of people all weekend.       

Heritage Open Days is an important high in the town’s calendar. The event attracts visitors from all corners of the country and even from the far side of the world. An old friend and Ipswich lad who now lives in Sydney, Australia, took the opportunity to show off his home town to his new ‘Sheila’.  Although to be honest her name is Sandra.

As well as much enjoyment, Heritage Open Days provide our local economy with a welcome boost. The Ipswich Society is, as ever, pleased and proud to contribute to the growing success of the town and to help make so many people smile. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those whose hard work helped make the event so successful. Thank you to all the participants, building owners and volunteers whose enthusiasm and time make it all possible; also to the input and help of the Ipswich Borough Council, especially Su Heath who so professionally ensures the content I send her fits the HOD book. And a big thank you to my colleagues in The Ipswich Society for all their advice and help.

Well done, everyone, I hope you enjoyed HOD 2018 and are looking forward to 2019.

Neil Thompson

Line illustrations by Heather Ling.