A sub-group of your Executive Committee came up with the idea (the seed planted by the Chair) of producing a special publication, based loosely on the regular Newsletter format, to promote Ipswich in a positive, civic society sort of way. The intention was to counteract the media coverage of Ipswich, much of it negative. As ideas were thrown around and contributors approached, we aimed for published copies to be given out to attendees of the 2019 Annual General Meeting.
The background to this decision goes back to a project in 2017 to rewrite a new edition of the 1982 Ipswich maritime trail, followed the next year by A guide to the Church of St Clement (with encouragement from the Cobbold Family History Trust, Ipswich Arts Centre and the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust). Before this, your Executive erred on the side of ‘we aren’t publishers’. The question to be addressed in the new book: ‘What is it like living in Suffolk’s county town and what is it’s historical, cultural and economic significance?’ A tall order in so few pages.
We kicked off in fine style with Foundations by Caroline Markham of GeoSuffolk. The topography of the location meant that the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th century couldn’t really have found a better location for their first town. The Gipping/Orwell River is at the heart of the town’s story, providing a highway to and from the sea. The geology of Ipswich is surprising and beneficial: plentiful, clear spring-water flowing from the surrounding hills to the river, clay beds which played such a key part in early industry with the making of ‘Ipswich ware’; meanwhile, many people are still taken aback to find that Ipswich is built on chalk.
The article on Ipswich history by your Editor once again faced the challenge of distilling such a rich story into a few paragraphs. The colonisation of post-Roman scattered inhabitants by the Anglo-Saxons led to the forming of the nucleus of England’s oldest, continuously-settled town around the ford across the river. A roller-coaster of boom and near-bust over the centuries threw up remarkable characters including the rich merchants, who often went on to political roles. The person from perhaps the humblest of Ipswich origins who rose to the highest position in the state was, of course, the son of a dodgy butcher, Thomas Wolsey. In June 2020 we celebrate 500 years since the legendary Field of the Cloth of Gold, a summit meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France in a grand tournament near Calais (then part of England) masterminded by the Cardinal which nearly bankrupted both countries.
Ipswich and immigration by Dr Chris Wiltshire lifted the lid on a knotty subject: the cosmopolitan nature of our town. Migration and immigration has characterised this port town since invaders and settlers came. A constant flow of foreign seamen and travellers, some of whom settled here, was joined by the many dispossessed rural workers during the Industrial Revolution. Ipswich is a place of change – as much as any town – and it continues to morph and adapt to new communities. The strength and variety which this adds to our culture cannot be underestimated, albeit that such transitions aren’t always easy.
Tony Marsden’s Waterfront walk 2015 captures a snapshot of the Wet Dock and environs following the massive changes which started with the building of the Bellway Homes apartments on Neptune Quay in 1999 and culminating in the establishment of the university in its new home in 2008 and the sudden curtailment of development shortly after with the global financial crash. Things are now moving again and we hope for new projects and completion of existing buildings, particularly at the St Peters Dock end. Two charcoal drawings by Valerie Irwin show that dock before the Waterfront Regeneration and the nearby St Mary-At-Quay Church during the changes.
Two related articles follow: The Ipswich Society: planning and the built environment by Mike Cook and The hidden architecture of Ipswich by John Norman. The Society engages with the existing, the proposed and the new developments via the Ipswich Borough Council planning process and by being part of the Ipswich Conservation & Design Panel. We also recognise and celebrate the rich legacy of the architectural past and its care and use today and in the future. with over 700 listed buildings in the town, we have a valuable, useful resource.
Anthony Palmer and John Norman each contribute an article on the way in which Ipswich has survived major shifts in administration and trade over the decades and celebrate the town’s major contribution as a commercial centre. In these troubled times, the writers remind us of all that people contribute to the town and vice versa.
Neil Salmon, a very long-serving Editor of this Newsletter, revives and revises a 2004 article about the town as a cultural centre which is a revelation to those who say the ‘nothing ever happens in Ipswich’. Another great supporter of The Ipswich Society, Bob Allen, rounds off the textual content of the book with a personal recollection of the organisation from his earliest recruitment by Peter Underwood, a fellow teacher at Northgate High School. This article in particular is gold dust for this Editor and the reader alike. If only we could get them youngsters out there to access it on their mobile telephones, I’m sure that they’d enjoy it.
Finally, there is a fine selection of photographs used throughout the book with the luxury of full colour on the inside and outside covers on quality stock. Your Editor is blessed with excellent contributors (not to mention the many other writers who send articles and letters in to the quarterly Newsletter), so this publication has proved to be very popular. Chairman John Norman did much of the ‘by hand’ distribution on his bicycle; he also manfully stored spare boxes of the book in his garage. Despite, or because of, his recent move of address, the remaining boxes have recently come to light. So, if you would like a free copy of Ipswich: a town to be proud of for yourself, a relative or friend, do get in touch with the Hon. Secretary (details on page 23) before they finally disappear.
A footnote for the pedants (sorry, grammarians and linguists): let’s own up, it really should be Ipswich: a town of which to be proud as pointed out more than once by our Vice Chairman – well, he does have an English degree and a career as a teacher… But we decided to stick with the vernacular title in English as wot it’s spoke.
This article would probably never have been written if it wasn’t for the good idea of publishing an extra issue of the Newsletter to keep members in touch and, we hope, cheered up during the stringencies of the coronavirus crisis. Chin up, everyone.