The Captains' Houses

The Captains' Houses
, Grimwade Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captain's Houses 1
The very long, decorative  beam which runs along the jettied upper story of this building bears some readable characters, but it has taken until April 2012 to discover these intials to the left of the main entrance:
'RS'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captain's Houses 2
[UPDATE April 2015: Dr James Bettley's excellent updated Pevsner for Suffolk: East (see Reading List) tells us that 'R.S.' stands for Captain Robert Sansom.]

This  beam is more clearly dated in the carved decoration: '1631'. The long beam runs from No. 79 to No. 83, with the date shield above the entrance to No. 81; it is curved with age and building movement over the centuries, but the sharpness of the carving is remarkable. It is reputed to be the longest known carved bressumer. Explanation: A breastsummer, summer beam is a load-bearing beam in a timber-framed building. The word summer derives from sumpter or French sommier, "a pack horse", meaning "bearing great burden or weight". Can also be spelt '
bressumer'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: 1631
The building bears an Maritime Ipswich 1982 plaque telling us that it was called ' "The Captains' Houses": reputed homes of 17th century sea captains'. It's also on our Plaques page.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captains Houses plaque
See our plaques page for the full set of ten Ipswich Society Maritime Ipswich 1982 plaques.

There's a nicely painted main porch with another section of beam beyond. These buildings have also been known as "The Sea Captains' Houses".
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captain's Houses 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captain's Houses 42013 images
We learn from John Blatchly that the grandest, most northerly of the ‘Captain’s Houses’ at no.77 Grimwade Street was destroyed by enemy action in World War II, and the others, severely damaged, were repaired on the advice of HM Office of Works.

The history of the street layout here is particularly interesting. The 'original' street came northwards from Fore Street and made a sharp right-angle to the west to enclose the St Clement Churchyard (the site of the present junction of Star Lane and Grimwade Street on the Eastern Gyratory traffic system (photo on our Street furniture page). It features on Speed's map of the town published in 1610. This is called variously 'Church Lane', 'St Clements Church Lane' 'Church Street' and 'St Clements Street' on various maps. Before Argyle Street was cut through, linking Woodbridge Road and St Helen's Street, a street called Borough Road ran southwards from that junction, across former prison grounds (the prison being on the site of County Hall) to Rope Walk. This was later extended southward past The Captains' Houses to join St Clements Street. It was known as Borough Road until the whole stretch from St Helen's Street to Fore Street was renamed Grimwade Street in the mid-twentieth century to commemorate Alderman Edward Grimwade who was Mayor of Ipswich in 1964-5. He was part of several generations of Grimwades who owned the clothiers store on the corner of Cornhill and Westgate Street and who played parts in the civic life of the town. An 1881 map of the majority of this area is shown on our Street furniture page dealing with the Ipswich Corporation Waterworks.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Captain's Houses 5
Above the door of 81 Grimwade Street is a relief of an assortment of military artefacts: banner, drum, quiver full of arrows, sword, tunic (the upper part looks oddly like a teddy bear with hunched shoulders, but we think its part of the costume), roll of matting/armour(?), blunderbuss(?), Spanish-style helmet with plumes,
flag, quarterstaff, pikestaff, lance(?); all rendered in a pleasantly naive style.

With successive road-building, house and factory building, road-widening and consequent demolition, the development of Suffolk College and many other changes it is remarkable that the Captains' Houses have survived. They remain important and historic links with the maritime past of the town.

There are other dated timbers in the town in Fore Street, Old Cattle Market and St Helen's Street, but this one seems to bear the patina of age. Around the corner in Fore Street can be found the dated bressumer on the Isaac Lord building.
The more modern, northern end of Grimwade Street features a tablet 'GVR 1934' on St Peter House, part of the County Hall complex.



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