Your Editor, in characteristic skittish mood, suggested that I write something about our newly adopted neighbourhood. You see, last year we made the momentous decision to move back into Ipswich after a twenty-eight year country sojourn. Not only that, we decided to reside as centrally as possible to avoid all the problems inherent in suburban living. A particular house in Burlington Road took our fancy and we bought it. In choosing this area we have been regarded by some as rather courageous or even a little foolhardy. Our reply to that is, what was good enough for the redoubtable Dr John Marcus Blatchly, has to be acceptable to us! Indeed we now reside in reflected glory in his former home.
Our excitement at not having to drive a mile to the nearest shop has been immense and we have gradually explored the immediate area on foot. This brings me to Norwich Road. I thought I knew it well, having worked at Ipswich Hospital when it was on Anglesea Road and driven down it for forty odd years. How things have changed!
I have chosen to concentrate this short survey on the stretch starting at St Matthews Street roundabout and ending at the Bramford Road junction.
The crucial point is that this is a street in the old sense although with a very different demographic from that which existed forty years ago. Diversity and private entrepreneurial enthusiasm is the over-riding feeling here. How different from the relatively sterile experience of the town centre with its corporate ‘could be anywhere' businesses. I have compared the experience of eating and shopping here with that of parts of London.
There is street life of a kind normal for many of the new immigrant population. Meeting greeting and transacting is commonplace in a way that is rather strange to indigenous Ipswichians (whoever they may be). In consequence the street feels livelier even late into the evenings.
Dining here used to be rather limited to ‘Indian' (still there, the Maharani and Taj Mahal of blessed memory) or latterly Chinese (as well as a take-away). Now there are Turkish restaurants and takeaways (four) of some excellence and two rather wonderful Portuguese Cafés, much used by the Portuguese. They have a nice family feel, serve some of the best coffee in town and do an excellent lunch of whatever they happen to be cooking that day. A fish and chip shop caters to more conservative palates and three other cafes are scattered around.
At my last count there are four Halal grocers offering a bewildering array of exotic foods and good vegetables. In addition Eastern European tastes are catered for at Rasputin and elsewhere (two). Indeed, the range of services offered by some of these shops makes categorisation difficult!
Several very good barbers, including Italian, Afro and Turkish, cater for men and women. There are ten hair and nail salons! Tattoos can be had for those whose predilections tend in that direction.
Add to all these, a home brew shop, St Jude's beer outlet, a tanning studio, stomacare facility, two dry cleaners, a pharmacy, and two wedding shops, and you have a great range of independent outlets. Of Cleopatra's, with its unchanging ancient Egyptian themed window display, I have no certain knowledge. Some readers of this article may be better informed than I.
Chain shops include The Bath Store, Pizza Hut, Coral's and, inevitably, a Tesco Express.
The extraordinary ‘jewel in the crown' adorning the mid-point of this street is Coes. A remarkable institution, that rarity, a family run clothing shop of some longevity. It is something of an institution with generations of local people. The building has been extended in commendable style and the window displays are professional and inviting.
Other services include the Racial Equality offices, various employment agencies and a travel agent. BBC Suffolk lurks just off the street.
The quaintly entitled ‘Adult Shop', its windows often misted up, has closed. This strikes me as a little odd as a nationwide survey of attitudes to sex undertaken a few years ago suggested that Suffolk is above average in its espousal of sexual matters.
So there we have it. A little shabby it may be. Not much in the way of Farrow and Ball here; the shop fascias having something more of ‘abroad' about them. But this is a street to visit and treasure. Don't be frightened. Venture, however tentatively, in from the suburbs and hinterland and save yourself a foreign holiday or a trip to London. You'll find most of the experience here in these few hundred yards!