UK Genealogy Archives logo
DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.

Ipswich, Suffolk

Historical Description

Ipswich, the capital of East Suffolk, chief port and largest market-town in the county. It stands on the river Gipping or Orwell, at the point where the river exchanges the former name for the latter, and on the G.E.R., 17 miles NE from Colchester, 25 SE by E from Bury St Edmunds, and 68 NE from London. Three lines of railway go from it toward respectively Colchester, Yarmouth, Bury St Edmunds, and Norwich, and a branch line to the rising watering-place of Felixstowe; seventeen roads radiate from it toward all the points of the compass; the river Gipping gives it a considerable reach of inland navigation, and the Orwell, which extends hence to the sea at Harwich, and has throughout an estuarial character, gives it seaward outlet to all parts of the world.

History.-Ipswich was a town in the time of the Saxons, possessed a Royal Mint, and belonged chiefly to Edith the wife of the Confessor, was pillaged by the Danes in 991, 993, and 1010, and figured in Domesday as Gep-es-wiz. That name, according to Professor Skeat, signifies Gip's creek, and it came in course of time to be written first Gipes-wic, afterwards Yipswich, then Ipswich. Fortifications, including rampart and ditch, are believed to have been round the town in the time of the Saxons, and to have been partially destroyed by the Danes. A castle is said to have been erected here by William the Conqueror, and to have been demolished by King Stephen. New fortifications, with four gates named from the cardinal points, were constructed in the fifth year of John, and on several subsequent occasions these defensive works were cast up and repaired, and traces of the ramparts still exist. The town was made the seat of a temporary suffragan bishop by Henry VIII., and it was the scene of three martyrdoms in the time of Mary. It received many royal visits. Cardinal Wolsey, Bishops Brownrig and Laney, Butler the physician of James I.; Clara Reeve, author of the "Old English Baron;" Sarah Trimmer, a voluminous religious writer; Miss Jean Ingelow, the poetess, are among the famous natives of Ipswich. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; Green, the author of "Diary of a Lover of Literature;" Lofft, the friend of Kirke White; and Thomas Gainsborough, the painter, were residents. Bilney was apprehended in St George's Chapel, and the Rev. R. Canning, the editor of " Kirby's Suffolk Traveller," was forty years incumbent of St Lawrence. Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet, was educated here, and E. J. Poynter, R.A., was for a time at the Ipswich Grammar School.

Structure.-The town occupies a pleasant site on a gentle declivity, at the foot of a range of hills, along the river Gipping or Orwell, comprises a labyrinthine maze of streets aggregately in the form of a crescent, and occupies a very healthy situation as to the aspect and character of the heights in its neighbourhood. These heights, to the N and the E, shelter it from inclement winds, and emit from springs such a copious supply of water as exempted the town, in old times, from devastations of pestilence and fire which ravaged many other ancient towns. Ipswich not only escaped such devastations, but also escaped the calamities to which other places were subject during the civil wars, and it therefore 'retains a remarkably large amount of the architectural features or vestiges of former centuries. There were here three of the

IPSWICH mendicant order of friars: the Dominicans, whose house was on the site now occupied by Tooley and Smart's almshouses in Foundation Street; the Franciscans, whose house was opposite St Nicholas' Church; and the Carmelites, whose friary was situated between St Stephen's and the old gaol or Market Lane. The mansion of Christchnrch occupies much the same site as a priory of Black Canons of Augustine, dedicated to the Holy Trinity; and a second priory of Austin Canons was situated in the space between College Street and Turret and Rose Lanes, being dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. This last, at the suppression, was granted to Cardinal Wolsey, who erected upon the site a college of Secular Canons, to which was attached a school. The college was dedicated to the Virgin, and was seized and demolished ere it was scarce completed, upon the Cardinal's downfall. The entrance gateway to Dean Capon's residence still remains. The commissioners charged with the destruction of the college also removed to London for destruction a celebrated image of the Virgin, situated within an ancient chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Grace, which stood in Lady Lane in the parish of St Matthew. In the parish of St Helen were hospitals dedicated to St Mary Magdalen and St James, and in the parish of St Austin stood the hospital of St Leonard. Ipswich still shows many interesting specimens of Tudor buildings, retains, on many others, remains of curious carved comer posts, barge-boards, &c., and presents a large aggregate of old, narrow, winding streets. Yet it has undergone a great amount both of modern renovation and of recent extension; it possesses in a striking degree combinations or juxtapositions of old character and of new, and it contains, even in its old portions, many spacious and comfortable houses, with annexed gardens. The main street presents a lively appearance from its Tudor fronts, its gay shops, and its variously-coloured bricks, and some of the recently-formed streets are airy, well-edificed, and handsome. Sparrow's House, in the old butter market, was built in 1567, shows curious emblematic sculptures, and is said to have concealed Charles II. after the battle of Worcester. Here is located the Ipswich Public Library, with about 16, 000 volumes. A medical library, established in 1824, is also maintained in the same building. The Tankard Public House formed part of the mansion of Sir A. Wingfield, of the time of Henry VIII., and had a ceiling of groined work similar to that of Henry VII.'s chapel at Westminster, and a wainscotted room with curious bas-relief of the " Judgment of Paris." Pykenham's Gateway, the entrance to the former residence or palace of Archdeacon Pykenham, near St Mary-at-Tower, was built in 1471. A racecourse is about a mile from the town, and walks and drives, amid varied and pleasant scenery, are in the neighbourhood. The town is effectually drained by a main sewer 2½ miles in length, which discharges the sewage into a tidal river at a point about a mile an da half from the town, where there is a large volume of water. The water supply is derived from an artesian well and other sources, and the waterworks were greatly enlarged and improved in 1883, and again on their purchase by the corporation in 1892. Street tramways were introduced in 1880, and the streets are now traversed by some four miles of line of a uniform gauge of 3 feet 6 inches, the main terminus being conveniently situated at the railway station. The seats of Christchurch, the Red House, Holy Wells, and the Chauntry are in the borough, and on the banks of the river are the beautiful estates of Stoke Park, Wherstead Park, Woolver-½tone Park, and Orwell Park.

Public Buildings.-The old town-hall was formed out of St Mildred's Church, at one time parochial and impropriated to St Peter's Priory, and it included a record room of brick, said to have been erected in 1449. The new town-hall was built in 1866-67, and is a fine and imposing building in the Italian Renaissance style. It includes, along with numerous public offices, a chamber for the meeting of the town council, a quarter sessions court, magistrates' rooms, where the petty sessions are held, and in the basement storey the borough police station. The prison is a massive structure which was originally built about 1789 on Howard's plan, but which was greatly altered and enlarged about 1883. In front of it, facing St Helens' Street, is the Shire Hall, a castellated building in white brick, containing courts for assizes and county court, and the offices of the East Suffolk County Council. The Corn Exchange, opened in 1882, is a fine building also in the Italian Renaissance style. The Post Office, erected on the site of the old exchange in 1880-81, cost about £11, 000, and is in the Italian style. The Public Hall, built in 1868, is 126 feet long and 50 wide, and can seat about 2000 persons. The Ipswich Museum, the Schools of Art and Science, and the Victoria Free Library, occupy a handsome pile of red brick buildings, of the Queen Anne style of architecture, in the High Street. The museum contains among other treasures a singularly perfect series of the Suffolk Crag fossils, a capital collection of British birds, a fine Roman pavement, and numerous interesting relics of the past, including the Alriagers Seal, the ancient burgh mote horn, and the Corporation ducking stooL There are many valuable books in the library, and there is an Art Gallery belonging to the Ipswich Fine Arts Club. There is a Literary Institute in Tavern Street, and a new theatre has been recently erected in Carr Street. The Militia and Artillery barracks are situated north of the town, and occupy a site of 2½ acres on the crest of a hill. The Masonic Hall is in Soane Street, and is a plain building of red brick. The Custom House, on the quay, is a building of brick, with stone dressings, in the Italian style; it was erected by the Corporation in 1844. There is a public arboretum, which consists of two pleasure grounds, both well laid out, of which the upper is free, the lower being reserved for subscribers, and a recreation ground in the west end of the town, by the fresh-water river. There are open public bathing places both on the salt and fresh water rivers, whilst a public swimming and other baths have been erected by the corporation in St Clements.

Parishes, &c.-The town is divided into five wards, viz.:- St Clement, St Margaret, Middle, Bridge, and Westgate. The municipal and parliamentary limits of the borough are co-extensive, and have an area inclosing a circuit of about 19 miles, extending northward about 5 miles from King John's Ness to Westerfield, and eastward about 4½ miles from Spright's Lane to the milestone on Rnshmere Heath. It contains the following parishes:-St Clement (area, 1434 acres; population, 10, 063), St Helen (area, 223 acres; population, 4335), St Lawrence (area, 7 acres; population, 432), St Margaret (area, 1314 acres; population, 13, 596), St Mary-at-the-Elms (area, 11 acres; population, 938), St Mary-at-Key or at-the-Quay (area, 17 acres; population, 913), St Mary-at-the-Tower (area, 16 acres; population, 656), St Mary Stoke (area, 1464 acres; population, 4099), St Matthew (area, 657 acres; population, 12, 482), St Nicholas (area, 27 acres; population, 1862), St Peter (area, 167 acres; population, 5776), St Stephen (area, 19 acres; population, 594), Shire Hall Yard (area, 3 acres; population, 266), Warren House (area, 69 acres; population, 22), Cold Dunghills, and parts of the parishes of Rnshmere St Andrew's, Westerfield, and Whitton-with-Thurieston. These parishes, which are rural and have distinctive names, are noticed in their own alphabetical places. The town is in the diocese of Norwich, and it has the following parishes and; ecclesiastical districts:-St Clement, a rectory, net yearly income, £406 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society; St Helen, separated in 1873 from St Clement's, a rectory, net yearly value, £240 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society; St Lawrence, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £184 with residence, in the gift of the parishioners; St Margaret, a vicarage, net yearly value, £300 with residence, in the gift of Simeon's Trustees; St Mary-at-the-Elms, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £40 with residence, in the gift of the parishioners; St Mary-at-the-Tower, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £350 witli residence, in the gift of T. de la G. Grisselle, Esq.; St Mary-at-Stoke, a rectory, net yearly value, £498 with residence, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Ely; St Mary-at-the-Quay, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £156 with residence, in the gift of Simeon's Trustees (to this living there is usually annexed the chaplaincy of Tooley and Smart's almshouses, value, £25 a year); St Matthew's, a rectory, net yearly value, £209 with residence, in the gift of the Lord Chancellor; St Nicholas, a vicarage in the gift of the parishioners, gross value, £320; St Peter's, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £285 with residence, in the gift of Simeon's Trustees; St Stephen's, a rectory, net yearly value, £73 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society; West St Matthew's or All Saints, an ecclesiastical district formed in 1877 from the parish of St Matthew, is a vicarage in the gift of the Bishop of Norwich, gross yearly value, £140; Holy Trinity ecclesiastical parish, formed from the parish of St Clement in 1888, is a vicarage, net yearly valne, £280 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society; St John's parish was formed in 1879 from the parish of St Margaret, a vicarage, gross yearly value, £210 with residence, in the gift of Simeon's Trustees; St Michael's, formed in 1881 from the parishes of St Margaret and St Clement, only partially endowed, gross yearly value, £266, in the gift of Simeon's Trustees. A new ecclesiastical district, named St Bartholomew, Rose Hill, was constituted in 1894, and taken from the parishes of Holy Trinity and St Clement. Thirteen churches are recorded to have been in Ipswich at the time of the Domesday survey, two being in the adjacent suburb of Whitton-cum-Thurleston; two others, viz., St Michael and St Julian, were anciently demolished, probably by a storm in 1287. Twenty-one parish churches are said to have been within the town and its liberties at a later period, but some of these have also disappeared. There are now sixteen churches in Ipswich, of which the municipal church is St Mary-le-Tower, so called from its tower, to distinguish it from three other churches dedicated to St Mary. The present building, which was restored and in great part rebuilt in 1860-70, is a structure of flint and Caen stone in the Decorated and Transition to Perpendicular styles. It contains some ancient brasses, two of them dated 1500 and 1506. St Clement's Church is a large Perpendicular edifice with a lofty tower of flint. It contains several brasses and mural monuments, and the tomb of Thomas Eldred, who accompanied Cavendish in his voyage round the world in 1586-88. St Helen's Church is a small building of flint. Originally one of the oldest churches of the town, it has been restored and rebuilt until only a small portion of the ancient building is left. St Lawrence's Church is a lofty building of flint and brick in the Perpendicular style, dating from about 1431. It contains several brasses commemorating Ipswich people. St Margaret's is one of the most picturesque churches in the town. It is built of flint and stone, chiefly in the Decorated and Perpendicular style, and has an extensive graveyard with some fine elm trees. St Mary-at-Elms is a Perpendicular building of flint with a red brick Tudor tower, which stands on the site of a much older edifice, and contains several interesting monuments. St Mary-at-Stoke is a small building in the Perpendicular styles, consisting of nave, chancel, N aisle, and tower, picturesquely situated on a small hill on the south bank of the river. St Mary-at-the-Quay, built or rebuilt about 1448, is a fine Perpendicular building, had originally a very fine double hammer-beam roof, and contains some unusually interesting tombs and monuments. St Matthew's, which stands in a good position commanding a fine view of the Gipping, is a large church in the Perpendicular style. St Nicholas' Church is built on the site of St Michael's, mentioned in the Domesday survey. It is Decorated and partly Perpendicular, with a Perpendicular tower. It has some ancient brasses, and a stone which is said to have been originally placed by Cardinal Wolsey to the memory of his parents. St Peter's is principally Decorated and part Perpendicular, contains a fine square Norman font and a brass of 1604. St Stephen's Church is a Perpendicular building of flint with some very ancient and well-kept monuments. The other churches are modern, and do not call for special notice. Other churches and chapels not mentioned in Domesday, but which are known to have existed, though now demolished, are St Austin, St Mildred, St Edmund-a-Pountney, Our Lady of Grace, St John of Cauldwell, St Saviour, All Saints, and Osterbolt. There are also two Roman Catholic churches-one a plain building of brick erected in 1839, and the other a fine lofty building in the Gothic style, built in 1860-a Friends' meeting-house, five Baptist chapels, one Catholic. Apostolic church, five Congregational, one Presbyterian, two Primitive Methodist, one Swedenborgian, one Unitarian, one United Free Methodist, and two Wesleyan chapels. An ultra-mural cemetery was formed in 1853, and enlarged in 1893.

Schools and Institutions.-The Free Grammar School was founded before 1477, was long held in the refectory of the Black Dominican friary, is now held in a handsome edifice in the Tudor style, built in 1852; is endowed, and possesses a large number of valuable scholarships, exhibitions, and prizes. The first stone was laid by H.B.H. Prince Albert (Prince Consort) in 1851. It is now under the government of the Governors of the Ipswich Endowed Schools, as also th& Middle Class School for Boys, a neat building, after the Tudor period, in Bolton Lane. The Middle Class School for Girls is in Foundation Street. A High School for Girls ha— premises in Northgate Street; it is under the governance of the Girls' Public School Company, Limited. The Blue-coat and Eed-sleeve schools also are endowed. The industrial training school for penitent orphan females is conjoined with a probationary home, was founded in 1857, and is supported by voluntary contribution. There are also national schools' and denominational schools affording accommodation foe 4491 scholars. There is a school board with twelve schools-, accommodating 5035 scholars. The schools are all free, with the exception of the Higher Grade School, where a fee of Gd. per week is charged. In addition to the day schools there are ten centres for evening classes, and there is a centre for manual instruction.

The East Suffolk Hospital and Dispensary was founded in 1835, and has been since enlarged. It has beds for about 120 in-patients, and affords treatment to several thousands of out-door cases during each year. There is also a fever hospital, erected at a considerable distance from the town, wrth accommodation for about thirty patients. The Borough Lunatic Asylum, completed in 1870 at a cost of £26, 500, including 69¼ acres of land, will accommodate 276 patients. The charities are of an extensive character, including alms-houses, educational endowments, a training home for domestic servants, an orphanage, and several useful societies. The workhouse has accommodation for about 400 inmates, and there is a separate home for training pauper lads.

Trade.-Ipswich has a head post office, three banks and a savings bank, several large hotels, and publishes one daily and three weekly newspapers. There is a Chamber of Commerce and Shipping. Markets for corn and cattle are held on Tuesdays, and for provisions on Saturdays. St George's stock fair is held on the first Tuesday in May, and a fair for peddlery is held on that and the two following days. A fair for lambs is held 22 August and the two following days, and Handford fair on 17 May. The town was formerly famous for its manufacture of woollen cloth, and it is now celebrated for its extensive engineering and chemical works, flour and oil mills, paper works, and for its factories of corsets, clothes, and boots. The Orwell Works here rank among the largest agricultural implement works in the United Kingdom, and the Waterside Works, St Peter's Works, and Greyfriars' Works are also noteworthy centres of engineering operations. There are also extensive manufactories of chemical manures½ breweries, malting, tanneries, shipyards, ropeyards, and brickworks. Its commerce also is very considerable, the imports comprising all kinds of grain, seeds, oils, iron, stone, slate, salt, timber, coal, the raw materials required for the production of artificial manures, &c., the exports being chiefly agricultural implements, railway and mining plant, artificial manures, corn, malt, cattle, oil cake, bricks, &c. During recent years great attention has been paid by the Ipswich Dock Commissioners to the improvement of the river channel and the increase of dock and warehouse accommodation, and the work is still proceeding. At present the water area extends over 32 acres, and the lock entrance permits vessels of 2000 tons to enter the harbour. There are public avenues and promenades, and services of steamboats to Harwich, Felixstowe, and Clacton-on-Sea. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1894 was 130 (8000 tons). The entries and clearances average 3800 (280, 000 tons). Th& customs revenue in 1893 was £86, 920.

The Borough.-Ipswich was first chartered by King Johny got numerous charters from subsequent monarchs, and previous to the passing of the new Municipal Act was governed mainly by charters of Henry VIII. and Charles II. It ia now governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors, and it sends now, and has sent since the time of Edward I., two members to Parliament. It is a seat of spring assizes, quarter sessions, county courts, and weekly petty sessions, and it is the place of election, and, a polling-place for the south-eastern division of the county. Acreage, 8110; population, 57, 360. Irby, a township in Woodchurch and Thurstaston par-shes, Cheshire, 1 mile E of Thurstaston station on the Birkenhead railway, and 6 miles SW of Birkenhead. Acreage, 842; population, 174.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySuffolk 
Poor Law unionIpswich 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Ipswich from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Suffolk is available to browse.


Online maps of Ipswich are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Suffolk papers online:

Postal districtIP1
Post TownIpswich