Dear Ipswich, I love you!
I moved to Ipswich in 1979 from Leiston. I had been at Lowestoft School of Art and when I mentioned to a born-and-bred-in Lowestoft person that I intended to move to the county town, he said: ‘What do you want to move there for? It’s the arse-end of the world.’
This inauspicious introduction to the town proved ill-informed. I needed a base for my self-employed illustrator business and my wife as a social worker. Ipswich provided a main line railway link to London and, at a pinch, a telephone line (at that time there was a three month wait for a GPO telephone – something to do with capacity at the local exchange – so I coughed up for a business line which was speedier. My first few years were pretty well used up with working on our Victorian semi, struggling to pay the mortgage, becoming foster parents and a whole lot more. We got on well with the people of Ipswich we met and settled in quickly.
Ipswich was well-known for being on the rock band circuit courtesy of the (then) Gaumont; Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, The Clash all within our first few weeks in the town. At that time, the Gaumont was also a cinema and dance hall; it reverted to its original name ‘The Regent’ and continued to provide entertainment for us, as well as the Ipswich Film Theatre in King Street and The Wolsey Theatre.
Always diverse, slightly curmudgeonly with a grit and determination, an entrepreneurial flare, remarkable artistic heritage and creative present and future, Ipswich is a great place to live.
When we wandered around the Wet Dock, viewing the still-working flour mill, maltsters and animal feed silos, as well as the winding-down engineering firms; the smells were often repellant and fascinating. Across the expanse of water in the dock, there was imported timber stored on the Island and very few craft coming or going. We really had no idea that there would be such dramatic changes from about the mid-eighties with widespread closures and a sort of ‘desertification’ to mirror the three locked-up dockland churches. From Neptune Square in the 1990s, the university, major growth in marina pontoons and development of some of the Island – some ‘improvements’ better than others – the area round the northern quays was rebranded as ‘Ipswich Waterfront’.
Other parts of town boomed and busted to some extent, but the history of Ipswich only gradually became apparent. I’d always had questions in my mind about the shape of the town centre and various architectural and other features and it took a number of years of reading and joining The Ipswich Society, listening to the late Bob Maltster, to Keith Wade and other key figures to discover for myself the unique history of my adopted town. By chance I had landed in one of the most historic places on the planet and one where its present day inhabitants were often not particularly bothered about it. First the Romans cam and went. Then the Anglo-Saxons tracked their way up the Orwell from the sea with small settlements onshore. Eventually the first point at which the highway river could be crossed – a ford from around Turret Lane/Foundry Lane across to Great Whip Street in Over Stoke. Around the year 600, settlements coalesced around the crossing, which was close to the later site of Stoke Bridge, and the nucleus of the first Anglo-Saxon town grew with trading (local and international), industry (Ipswich Ware pottery, woven woollen cloth) becoming, perhaps most important of all, the crucible of the Angle-ish language. From the language of Shakespeare to the dominant way of communicating across the globe, it can all be traced back to Ipswich.
Ipswich comes from industrial, working-class roots with a relatively small number of the wealthy and powerful. These roots give rise to the present life and condition of the county town. More limited disposable income than the populous of Norwich, for example, informs the success or otherwise of the commercial life of the town. Ipswich has been slow to acknowledge its own historical importance. The Dark Ages really were just that until archeological discoveries from the 1970s onwards revealed the Anglo-Saxon origins of Ipswich – we still walk on the ancient street pattern of the town centre which is virtually unchanged over hundreds of years.
Ipswich is a fascinating and wonderful town. Even its refusal – or lack of confidence in itself – to embrace the town’s huge historical importance is at once mildly admirable and frustrating. We are more than the sum of our parts. As a sea port, Ipswich was always more cosmopolitan than many towns right up to today. Always diverse, slightly curmudgeonly with a grit and determination, an entrepreneurial flare, remarkable artistic heritage and creative present and future, Ipswich is a great place to live.
Artist & Illustrator