This large site is located between the Grade I listed medieval churches of St Mary at Quay and St Peter’s. On its south side is Wolsey’s Gate, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building, and the Grade II listed 1-5 College Street.
The site has been an eyesore for many years, having been cleared of buildings, prior to possible development. It fronts on to College Street which runs along the original bank of the River Orwell for virtually the whole length of what was the waterfront of the Anglo-Saxon town.
This alone makes it one of the most archaeologically important areas in the town but it is also the site of medieval and later structures of great significance to the town as revealed by documentary evidence and evaluations of the site by trenching in 2000 and 2004.
The evaluations showed that the site spans a dip in the underlying natural topography, marking the course of the brook which ran south from Christchurch Park to the Orwell and gave its name to Brook Street. Alongside this stream course there is a high potential for waterlogged deposits and the preservation of organic remains.
The historical development of the site can be summarised as follows:
Early Middle Saxon (AD 640-730)
This area was the focus for 7th/early 8th century occupation centred on a river crossing (later Stoke Bridge), with contemporary cemeteries excavated south of the Butter Market and at Stoke Quay.
Middle Saxon (AD 730-870)
The site spans almost the entire area immediately behind the Anglo-Saxon waterfront which may have been the location of associated structures such as houses and warehouses. Traces of timber buildings, a ditch and pits were found in the evaluation.
Danish/Late Saxon (AD 870-1000)
The evaluation revealed occupation at this period including two post-and-slot buildings with clay floors.
Early Medieval (AD 1000-1200)
Traces of occupation revealed in the evaluation included a cellared building and pits.
The western half of the site includes part of the Augustinian Priory of Saints Peter and Paul
(c.1130-1528). The evaluation revealed traces of the Priory’s septaria walls, a mortar floor with tile impressions and associated burials, including some in stone-lined graves (at least 600 burials may be anticipated).
Two major, 1 metre deep, robbed-out wall foundation trenches – running east-west and aligning with the chancel of St Peter’s Church – probably indicate the eastern end of what had been the priory church reused as part of Wolsey’s College.
Late Medieval Transitional (c.1500-1600)
A College (St Mary’s Cardinal College) was founded in the Priory precinct by Cardinal Wolsey in 1528 but was suppressed and demolished in 1530. Wolsey’s Gate, the water gate to the precinct, is the only surviving above ground remnant of the College.
The evaluation revealed substantial traces of the College, including north-south walls, 2m wide, running north from the east end of the priory church (Fig.1). This appears to authenticate the only possible illustration of the College (Fig.2).
The eastern part of the site includes the sites of two successive Quaker Meeting Houses, dating to 1734 and the 19th century and their associated burial grounds which contain many named Ipswich dignitaries. Successive historic maps show the development of buildings on the site, including St Peter’s Iron Works.
All these remains are extremely vulnerable to any development of the site.
Preservation in situ in the context of large-scale development is virtually impossible as there are no known construction techniques for large buildings which do not involve extensive ground disturbance. Even shallow disturbance of the site is problematic as the walls of the Priory and Wolsey’s Collage and many burials lie immediately below the existing concrete slabs on the site and the foundations of the 19th century meeting house are less than 30 centimetres below current ground level.
The cost of excavating deposits to compensate for the impact of development has been raised as a significant factor affecting the viability of implementing previously consented schemes. The last planning consent (for the ‘St Peter’s Port’ development) included a bond for £2m to cover the costs of archaeological work. >
While it is quite reasonable that ‘the polluter pays’, the current system of developer-funding being site specific does render the development of certain sites unviable, i.e. where development costs are high and potential returns from the investment do not compensate.
What then can be done with such sites? On the assumption that government continues with its policy of protecting heritage assets, three options are available:
1. finance the archaeological work from other sources leaving a site for development which is free from constraints;
2. wait for the economic conditions to improve to the point that the costs and returns are in balance;
3. leave the sites undeveloped (as public open space) preserving the archaeology in situ for future generations.
Set against the current trend of urban retail decline and unsustainable house prices, it probably requires central government to intervene with grant aid if such town centre sites are to be regenerated.
All the Anglo-Saxon remains are of international importance as they have the potential to answer major questions about urban origins in north-west Europe. The later remains are of significant local interest. They are valuable in their own right and for their potential to enhance heritage-based tourism to the town.
Keith Wade [former County Archaeologist]