The Wet Dock

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Albion Mills small

The very heart of the ancient town was the natural right-angle bend in the river and its sudden narrowing down towards the site of the present Stoke Bridge (the confluence of the fresh water River Gipping and the brackish River Orwell takes place, not here – contrary to popular belief – but further inland above Handford Bridge). The earliest crossing point of this broad and sweeping waterway, so central to the establishment and development of Ipswich as an international port, would originally have been a ford between the site of Great Whip Street and the present St Peters Dock at Foundry Lane. The fact that it could be forded at all, shows how marshy parts of early Ipswich were, the nineteenth century Wet Dock coming to a deep-channelled 'nip' near this point, bordered by the heavy industrial quaysides we know today.

The enormous structures in brick and concrete which largely replaced the timber-framed buildings erected by Tudor merchants were in turn demolished and tower blocks built (see
Waterfront Regeneration Scheme) – until the money ran out in 2007/8. However, there are some survivors: The Neptune Inn building fronting Fore Street once had a string of structures behind it reaching the quayside. The Isaac Lord merchant's house with a similar frontage nearby in Fore Street uniquely retains its saleroom, warehouse, maltings and stables, so that the corn exports and coal imports could be loaded and unloaded, processed and carted away under the eye of the owner. Here is the earliest house in Ipswich, c.1480 (although Pykenham's Gatehouse beats it by a few years and St Mary Elms has an ancient cottage (variously 1467 or 1487) behind it. Ironically, the pub sign from near Parade Field Terrace (shown at the right) depicts, not the windmills which used to stand on Albion Hill to the east of the town, but Cranfield's Flour Mill on the Wet Dock's Albion Wharf.

The signwriters have, over the years, worked to proclaim the company names on the frontages of the wharves overlooking the sweep of water formed by the magnificent Wet Dock which was opened in January, 1842 and at 33 acres was the largest area of water of its kind in England. Nowadays it's hard to see the water for leisure craft moorings.

The Big Query
art installation, University of Suffolk
Christies warehouse, Maritime Ipswich 1982 plaque
Bridge Street, nameplate
, (also the history of Burton Son & Sanders),  R.&W. Paul maltings (also a page about Paul's malting) – also one on Princes Street, The Bull Tavern
College Street and its two beknighted buildings at risk (both lettered)
Coprolite Street, the former electricity sub-station (now a restaurant, Duke Street) and the nearby Grimwade Memorial Hall
Cranfield's Flour Mill
recalled on a printed sack
Custom House: which people call 'The Old Custom House'
Trinity House buoy plus the Paul and Burtons structures on St Peter's Wharf (also a page about Paul's malting)
Edward Fison Ltd, Bolenda Engineering Ltd, 'London Underground', Stoke Bridge Maltings
Ground-level dockside furniture on:
   'The island',
   the northern quays and
   Ransome's Orwell Works
Ipswich Whaling Station? No, Halifax Mill
Isaac Lord
, The Old Neptune Inn (also a page on the  Neptune Inn clock, garden and interior) plus the frosted 'E. J. Owles Chemist'  door and a map of the original Salt Office
Isaac Lord 2, within the complex: the crossway, saleroom and yard pump
The Island, Public Warehouse, cranes and lock
John Good and Sons – the story of a building
Maritime Ipswich '82 commemorated in a series of images of the festival in and around the Wet Dock
Merchant seamen's memorial on Orwell Quay
The Mill
: the most recent addition to Ipswich's skyline
Nova Scotia House: home of Richard Hall Gower; outside the Wet Dock, but contains information about Ipswich shipyards
New Cut East, Harbour Master's Office and Lock-keeper's Cottage
Quay nameplates: in January 2021, a set of new blue namplates appeared, thanks to IMT and the Borough, to celebrate old dockside names
Ransomes: the surviving Electric Lorry Garage and even better lettered warehouse on Cliff Road
Steam Packet Hotel
in Duke Street and '1620' shop at 32 Fore Street
Stoke Bridge(s): one of the most important historical places in Ipswich (and the whole country)
Waterfront Regeneration Scheme 2005 to the financial collapse in 2007/8
Wolsey's Gate on College Street; the rise and rapid fall of Wolsey's College

A chance to compare
Wet Dock 1970s with 2004
A diagrammatic map of the Wet Dock
giving the wharves and quays; also maps from 1804 and 1930
Davy's illustration of the laying of the Wet Dock lock foundation stone, 1839
Outside the Wet Dock...
A period view of Willam Brown's timber wharf on the dock can be found on our JBO lost signs page.

Related pages:
Fore Street 1620 building; The Social Settlement.
House name plaque examples: Alston Road;
Bramford Road; Cauldwell Hall Road; Cavendish Street; Marlborough Road; Rosehill area;
Ipswich & Suffolk Freehold Land Society (F.L.S.); California;
Street index; Origins of street names in Ipswich; Streets named after slavery abolitionists;
Dated buildings list; Dated buildings examples;
Dated rainhoppers and weather vanes
Named buildings list; Named (& sometimes dated) buildings examples;
Street nameplate examples;
Boundary markers
Ipswich Tomorrow, Greyfriars 1960s

Rampart and Town gates

Historic maps of Ipswich
Timeline: historical eras, events and monarchs
Blue plaques
Ipswich coat of arms
Pubs & Off licences
Brickyards; Ropewalks in Ipswich
Water in Ipswich
Listed buildings in Ipswich
Windmills in the Borough of Ipswich

[Our background letter 'O' is taken from the John Good & Sons building – the sign now obliterated.]

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2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission