The Cornhill, at the heart of the old town, is named to
enormous wealth conferred on the town's merchants by grain trading and
In the post-medieval period the sheep was the dominant economic force
East Anglia. The huge 'wool churches' such as that at Lavenham are
to this dominance. (In Ipswich we have the triumvirate of St Clement,
St Mary-At-Quay and St Peter dockland churches to mark the
asset to the town.) However, the lighter soils and sparse rainfall (if
wasn't for the rivers, rural Suffolk could be classified as a desert by
one climatic yardstick) are more suited to arable crops than husbandry.
The Post Office
One of the finest buildings in Ipswich (above) was
commissioned by the Post Office and opened
in 1881 on the footprint of the demolished 1850 Corn Exchange. This was
itself erected on the site of the old Shambles on Cornhill, where once
streets had been untilised for market trading. Many strange things have
happened on Cornhill, from the 16th century burning of religious
bating of bulls (it was believed that this sport would tenderise the
before slaughter in the nearby Shambles). Another strange thing
happens when a purpose-built structure,
complete with its name chiselled into the stonework, changes its role.
the proud owner of a grand central Post Office with Doric portico, fine
statuary and its name chiselled into the lintel. Except that in the
21st century the real post
are now tucked away in small shops in Tower Ramparts and Carr Street
– and Fore Street – and other organisations now occupy this
great classical palace. The architect was J. Johnson and the building is Listed Grade II.
The depth and sharpness of the chiselled characters: 'POST
OFFICE' are clear from this close-up image.
Photographed in the Mayor's Parlour (in the Town Hall, home of
the Borough Seals, Mace and Sword) the visual of the selected design,
shown below, of the projected Post Office building by John Johnson,
architect which was published in The
Building News, dated 12 September 1897. If this is a precise
drawing, it is interesting that the plan drawings shown at upper right
and left indicate a tapering of the side walls from rear to front,
suggesting that the footprint of our Post Office is an isosceles
trapezium. This was presumably done to fit the building into an
existing street pattern.
Curiously, it was only in 2012 that we discovered very
small lettering above the structure (how was anyone supposed to read
it?) at either side of the
magnificent Woodington figures and Royal coat of arms:
'GENIUS ... SCIENCE'
Seated on a round pediment above the crest the female figures
represent Genius to the left,
holding a tablet and Science
to the right, holding an urn. As you can see in 2013, the frontage
could do with a good weed. The figure of Genius is said to be a tribute
to Sir Rowland Hill and the introduction of the penny post. Science is a tribute to Professor
H. Wheatstone, who in 1840 had patented the Printing Telegraph, the
forerunner of the modern teleprinter.
The royal crest reflects the original occupant, Royal Mail and
bears the usual lettering on scrolls:
'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'
'DIEU ET MON DROIT'
The sculptures on the Post Office building are by William
Frederick Woodington RA (1806-1893). The plinths of each one bears the
'themed' name (although the third is hardly readable):
'ELECTRICITY' 'STEAM' 'COMMERCE'
Quite why one of these noble
ladies is called 'Steam' doesn't bear thinking about. These figure are
intended to illustrate the Post Office's use of modern technology to
help industry and commerce across the major continents.
on a beehive, the emblem of hard work. Electricity's emblem is
broken/missing. Steam rests
her hand n a small boiler. Commerce
holds a wreath and caduceus (made of copper, hence the green oxide),
the attribute of Mercury the Roman messenger-god and patron of
business. Additional information about the sculptures comes from Cocke,
R: 'Public sculpture in Norfolk and Suffolk' (see Reading List).
This postcard of the Post Office dates from about 1909.
posed postal force are clearly very proud of their motorised mail van;
such vehicles didn't fully replace horse or hand-drawn carts until
Down the Princes Street elevation of the Post Office building is a
palladian triangle with the Ipswich coat of arms at its centre. This is
quite difficult to appreciate from the pavement level. More images can
be seen on our page on the Ipswich coat of arms.
This side wall of the Post Office building boast rich
decoration on the windows and a fine array of anonymous – but
individual – classical heads on the keystones. The Norfolk &
Suffolk public sculpture database (see Links): 'At the corner of
Princes Street is a bearded keystone based on Roman representations of
Neptune, often shown on commercial buildings in the period, followed by
female headstones beginning (at corner with Cornhill) with Cybele
(Rome) Asia (or Egypt), Africa, America, Europe, although the
identifications are open to question'.
The quality of the stone decoration beneath and around the windows is
also worthy of note.
If we compare the top of the Post Office with the crest on the nearby
1868 Town Hall, splendid though it is, sadly there is no lettering to
seen and the foundation stone has been lost or obliterated.
allegorical figures are set upon the upper balustrade and are
comparable with the four figures on the Post Office. From left: Commerce has a cornucopia, Justice carries a sword and is
blindfolded (and probably once carried scales), Learning has a scroll and book and Agriculture has a scythe and
The roundels below show, from left: relief
heads of King Richard I, Cardinal Wolsey (taken from a
Holbein portrait) and King John.
Likenesses of Richard and John were taken from engravings. Compare
with the heads in roundels of William Hogarth and Isaac
Newton and on the Ipswich Museum
frontage. Negotiations for a charter for Ipswich started during the
reign of Richard I (1189-1199) and was awarded in the second year of
the reign of King John on 25 May 1200. The sculptor used for the Town
Hall was Barnabas Barrett, the architects: Bellamy & Hardy. The
building was opened in 1868 and is currently Listed Grade II.
The town's coat of arms is sited centrally on the dome below the
More images can
be seen on our page on the Ipswich coat of arms.
courtesy John Norman
The attractive public house next to the Golden Lion
proclaims its name
twice - the older
block caps set in relief on the upper wall above echo The
Halberd Inn and have the possessive inverted comma. MANNING'S is
overshadowed by the Golden Lion Hotel (to the left of this picture),
remains a fine old inn which has been threatened with closure on more
one occasion. The 1926 picture shows Ipswich mounted police on duty
Mannings during the general strike.
[Update 5.1.10: Information
from CAMRA's Suffolk Real Ale Guide (see Links):
A narrow fronted 16th century town pub known as the Victoria in 1874
(Manning & Co. are listed as publicans in Kelly's Directory of that
year), Manning's Victoria Inn in 1952 and 1956 (EL Bishopp listed as
publican both years). Upstairs the building still contains some fine
Jacobean panelling and other historic features, some of which are
[Update 30.10.10: "My
grandfather Berie Cooper was the proprietor of Mannings from 1908-1914
living upstairs. After the WW1 in 1918 he returned to run the
restaurant but the family had grown and they moved to 5 Lower Brook
Street (next door to the Suffolk Victoria
Nursing Institute). He left/sold Mannings in 1924 we think as a
result of dwindling business due to the Depression." Our thanks to
Barrie Weaver for this information.]
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Manning's is the
familiar redbrick palace of drapery, Grimwade's former store, founded
as J. H. Grimwade & Son Ltd in 1930. It was
only while looking through some 1997 photographs by Brian Jepson in
2014, that we realised we had missed the date above the door next to
the public house. Closing in on the foliate decoration (which we have
used on the masthead for this very website's Homepage)
we see the
interlinked '1904' in the
centre. There are always new things to find in Ipswich...
Above: the scene on a busy market day; even with the clutter
attached to the walls and on the pavement, the building has its appeal.
We think that this is officially St Mildred's Chambers (named after the
ancient church which once stood on the site of the present Town Hall)
at 6 to 6a Cornhill, although there is a longer shop frontage onto
Westgate Street. Many will remember the large company name lettering
which once adorned the Cornhill elevation; around the 1950 one could
see above it similar lettering advertising (perhaps bizarrely) 'FINA -
Petroleum Products Ltd' which suggests that the proprietors never
missed a chance of income from sponsorship.
Grimwade's survived as a clothier and school uniform supplier until the
late 1990s when the family owners decided to call it a day; it never really recovered from the absorption of its rival
across Westgate Street Footman Pretty into the Debenhams. There was a
much-loved café/restaurant on the top floor. It has been a Clinton's
Cards shop and has had a temporary tenant or too. "Like many urban
capitalist families in both Ipswich and elsewhere, the Grimwades were
non-conformists. The attic rooms of their department store were given
over to the offices of the National Protestant League, which
consequently had a sign facing onto the Cornhill." [Simon Knott] That
must refer to this particular door. The Grimwade name can be found on
the Grimwade Memorial Hall, Hope House and, of course, Grimwade Street. The Grimwade family
were one of the most prominent families in Ipswich in the late 19th and
early 20th Centuries, and John Henry Grimwade was the most significant
member. He was the founder and owner of Grimwade's department store,
one of the biggest stores in Ipswich. The Grimwades lived at Richmond
House on Handford Road before having Bacton House on Fonnereau Road
See also our page on Ipswich Museum
contents for a photograph of 'Ipswich Bon Marché' at number 3
Above left: the north-west corner of Cornhill in 1830 with the American
Stores (later the Grimwade store site) and a
very narrow Westgate Street. This was formerly
the Bell Tavern, so it was known as 'Bell Corner' and was the scene of
the laying of the first stone of a new pavement in the year 1793, under
an Act of Parliament which had been passed for "paving, lighting,
cleansing, and otherwise improving the town of Ipswich". See
our Crown & Anchor page for an
1959 photograph of this view. But wait, ... The East Anglian Daily
Times in their Souvenir of
Show published in 1934 show the above left line drawing and
'Cornhill 1830'. Surely, the Crown & Anchor fascade was built in
1849 and it features in this drawing? The northern side of Cornhill at
this time was a continous run of shops. Lloyds Avenue was not cut
through until 1920 and Mumford's Passage (named after William Mumford,
19th century surgeon who owned property in the vicinity), an alleyway
beside Old Waterloo House – fore-runner of Footman Pretty and later
Debenhams store – was the only access to the rear (see below). Above
right: 'Footmans – The Store of East Anglia', with 'Waterloo House'
prominently lettered, in a 1934 advertisement. "Over 80 Departments
complete with Restaurant and Restroom where you may meet your friends.
A rare survivor (care of Joyce Salmon, to whom our thanks) is the above
paper bag from Footman's, found at the back of a drawer in 2015.
Lloyds Bank and Lloyds Avenue
The area between Post Office and pub was blockpaved in a reddish colour
in modern times and became known as 'Red Square' for a while - perhaps
of the predominantly Labour nature of Ipswich Borough Council (until
and the town returning (with two exceptions in recent history) a Labour
to parliament. The scandalous neglect of a once flourishing open market
over thirty-five years finally resulted in its move from the
now-demolished Civic Centre car park to the
and demand for more space for stalls from potential stallholders.
before the upper portion of Princes Street (dealt with in the Cornhill
2 page) could be used to accomodate more market stalls, an Act of
had to be passed. This was achieved in 2004.
Facing the old Post Office is the Loyds Avenue arch bearing, on the
horizontal lintel, the chiselled capitals:
Once blocked off from the lane behind, which was
widened to create
Avenue, the only access was via an alleyway through the original
buildings, was replaced in 1890 by the Italianate Venetian-inspired
frontage created by Thomas William Cotman, architect of
Crown and Anchor Hotel, further up
Street. To the right of the main arch, once a busy thoroughfare thick
cabs and traffic until pedestrianisation, is the doorway to the main
A fine porch is flanked by Corinthean-style columns, resplendant with
three grotesque masks and the clean lettering 'BANK' incised in a
curved cartouche. Compare with the Barclays 'Bank'
sign in Princes Street opposite and examples in Beccles,
Lowestoft and Felixstowe.
The roundels in the spandrels on either side of the doorway feature St
George slaying the dragon with the motto: 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'
and, on the right, Queen Victoria with the inscription: 'DEI GLORIA'.
These roundels, fittingly for a bank, were based on the two sides of
the sovereign coin.
The commissioners of the 19th century development were two companies:
Cobbold & Co., also Bacon, Bacon, Cobbold & Co. The two
elements of Cotman's building were, to the right, the premises of
Cobbold & Co's Bank (which later merged with Lloyd's TSB) and, to
the left, the offices of Bacon, Bacon, Cobbold & Co. This is the
part which was adapted (some would say 'butchered') in 1930 to create
Lloyd's passage linking Cornhill with Crown Street. Such a radical
cutting-away of the supporting ground floor of a major building clearly
posed serious civil engineering problems and periodic surveys and
restrengthening seem to have followed the change.
Roundels in the spandrels above the doorway. St George Slaying the Dragon with, on on the buckled cicular
strap: 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'; Queen Victoria: 'VICTORIA DEI GLORIA'.
Below: one of the grotesque 'green men' which grace the frontage.
Commemorative plaques on the Cornhill
(Thanks to Mike O'Donovan for these
The first two are in Lloyds Avenue and the third is set into the block
paving near the Town Hall entrance.
PAVED FOR PEDESTRIAN USE
SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
BOROUGH OF IPSWICH
Sir Frederick Snow & Partners Consulting Engineers
Sadlers & Sons (Ipswich) Ltd General Contractors'
The Ancient County Town of Suffolk
Dedicated to world peace as a Sri Chinmoy Peace Town
Ipswich joins hundreds of communities throughout the world which have
themselves to the cause of peace and international friendship as peace
"Man seeks peace because his earthly
existence desperately needs it. Man
welcomes peace because he feels that
in peace alone is his life of acheivement
and fulfillment." -Sri Chinmoy
"There shall come a time when this
world will be flooded with peace. Who
is going to bring about this radical
change? It will be you - you and your
brothers and sisters. You and your
oneness-heart will spread peace
throughout the length and breadth of
the world." -Sri Chinmoy
This dedication was signed by Councillor Hamil Clarke MBE, Mayor of
Ipswich(1998-99), on 31st of March 1999,
on the ocassion of the visit of the Oneness-Home Peace Run to Ipswich
during its global journey,
and inaugurated by Councillor Don Edwards, Mayor of Ipswich (2000-01)'
3. 'THIS PLAQUE WAS
THE MAYOR OF IPSWICH
COUNCILLOR W.A. QUINTON
ON THE 15th NOVEMBER 1988
TO MARK THE COMPLETION OF
THE TOWN CENTRE PAVING SCHEME'
This plaque, set into the paving
in front of the Town Hall steps, also bears the Ipswich
coat of arms at the upper right.
The Cornhill in history
John Speed’s map of Ipswich, 1610, is
the earliest known plan of the town with any degree of accuracy. It
shows, to the north-west of the geographical town centre, an open
rectangular area with the thoroughfare we know today as Westgate Street and Tavern Streets. This east-west highway is
known to be of Roman origin. The rectangular area features the Market
Cross (originally probably a preaching cross) which was paid for by
Wolsey’s uncle, Edmund Daundy (1468-1515). The Cross was a feature of
the Cornhill for 300 years. Also depicted: a building where today’s
‘Post Office’ stands which must be the original Shambles, and finally a
church – presumably St Mildred – which is thought to have existed in
Anglo-Saxon times. The map’s key labels this number 8: ‘Corne hill’.
At the time of the map’s publication Elizabeth I, the last of the
Tudors, had been dead for seven years and James I (of England), the
first of the Stuarts, was on the throne.
Above: a watercolour of the
Cornhill before 1790 showing the
Shambles building to the right centre and Tavern Street at the left.
The prominent Market Cross is topped by ‘Justice’. The building on the
extreme right is the Three Tuns Inn which later became the Corn
Exchange Tavern. The tower of St Lawrence Church is in the background.
This area is much older than the map, of course. This is
the place where corn brought in from the countryside was laid out for
sale; thus the Cornhill is intrinsically tied to a market in Ipswich.
Markets (as well as fairs) were historically of great cultural, legal
and economic significance throughout the land. To some extent, they
continue to be so. Medieval towns often grew up around crossroads and
river crossings – particularly if a church was nearby – where people
brought their wares to sell on a specific day of the week. Taverns,
craft workshops and eventually housing were often found at or near the
Bob Malster tells us: ‘It is possible that in the early Anglo-Saxon
times the Wuffinga kings of East Anglia had a royal residence on the
Cornhill alongside St Mildred’s Church, which later became the town
hall.’ After centuries of corn trading on the hill a Corn Exchange was
built, initially in 1812 on the site of today’s ‘Post Office’ and
replaced in 1882 by the building we know today, for decades a busy
place of trade. Over time it has become an entertainment centre: the
Grand Hall, cinemas, bar and – until recently – art gallery which sits
south of our Town Hall, fronting King Street.
The long-standing, timber-built Shambles once stood on the south-east
corner of the Cornhill. Arched and open to the air at street level, it
was home to the butchers’ market. The area in front of the Shambles
(around the location of the two trees which grow in front of the ‘Post
Office’ today) was the focus of two activities: bull-baiting and martyr-burning. The former was based on the
belief that terrorising cattle with dogs prior to slaughter tenderised
the resultant meat. The latter occurred around 1515-1558 during a
period of religious and political tumult when London vied with Rome in
the publication of new heresies, crimes which could be punishable by
burning at the stake.
Two thousand or more people were recorded as attending these grisly
executions. They usually occurred from 7 to 10 o’clock in the morning
with the heretic tied to a sixpenny stake surrounded by brushwood and
faggots. Officials sat in the gallery of the Shambles and a clergyman
would deliver an appropriate sermon. The condemned man or woman would
then have the chance to speak, sometimes at length enough to annoy the
gentlemen onlookers. Sir Robert Curson, occupant of Curson House in St Peters Street, was once
so overwrought by a burning that he came down from the gallery, cut a
branch with his sword from a nearby tree and added it to the flames.
The Cornhill of 1800 must at times have been impossibly congested. Corn
trading still took place around the Market Cross, as well as all sorts
of livestock (horses, cattle, pigs and sheep) being bought and sold,
not to mention local traffic and the hourly stage coach. The
timber-framed Shambles of yore had been replaced by the short-lived,
odiferous Rotunda, but this and the Market Cross (repaired and changed
over time), were swept away in 1812 to be replaced by a Regency Corn
Exchange. By about 1880 this in turn gave way to the grand Post Office
building. The sculpted figure of Justice from the top of the Market
Cross, exchanged her sword and scales for a sickle and sheaf of
wheat/horn of plenty to sit atop the interim Corn Exchange. She
currently lives, a little weather-beaten, at the foot of the main
staircase in the Town Hall.
When major alterations to the Cornhill were discussed in October 2013,
the late Dr John Blatchly was a strong advocate for retaining the
gentle slope and reinstating the Market Cross. Its removal in 1812
seems to have been unpopular and the noted historian G.R. Clarke (1830)
tells us that it was only pulled down ‘with considerable difficulty, as
the timber, and every part of it, were in excellent preservation… As a
relic of antiquity, we cannot but regret its loss.’ The town lost the
focal point of the space, octangonal in plan with an area suitable for
seating covered by an attractive ogee-shaped, lead-covered roof, topped
by the aforementioned figure of Justice. It was 27 feet in diameter and
about fifty feet from the ground to the top of the figure. Apparently
parts of the Market Cross are stored at the Ipswich
The grand Venetian-style Town Hall we see today arrived in 1868; it was
designed by Lincoln architect Pearson Bellamy, replacing a Palladian
Town Hall which was built on the site of the Church of St Mildred
around 1812. This saw the final removal of any remnants of the church
which had stood on the Cornhill for a thousand years. Meanwhile, for a
hundred years the new Town Hall was the seat of local government in the
town, until the Borough moved its offices to the Civic Centre in the
1960s. Sitting on a raised platform and accessed by impressive stone
steps (as does the ‘Post Office’ building), in 2016 the Town Hall is
crying out for a new role in our town. Having apparently wandered away
from the original idea of a fine suite of galleries for exhibitions and
workshops, the ‘Town Galleries’ seem now to be mainly a café and gift
shop. Only the Suffolk Craft Society room maintained the original
intention, until 2017. The large Council Chamber room upstairs still
provides a good venue for music, poetry and other events.
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Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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