This triangle of land was formed
when New Cut was dug and a thin strip of land linked it with St Peter's
Quay (see our Wet Dock map if you're
confused). As we shall see there is a road/rail link across the lock
by a swing-bridge at the other end.
Above: the northern quays from Tovells Wharf, 1934. The gasworks
on the eastern quay showing 'Jumbo', the giant timber-bound gas-holder
which stood to the north of today's Patteson Road. This
waterless gas-holder was a prominent landmark until its demolition
The first historically lettered objects to be seen on the island
are in a group of marine buoys which have been mounted and restored to
welcome visitors to the island. We have included these on the Stoke
Bridge Trinity House buoy page.
The warehouse with a curving roof, clad in corrugated metal is
still in use, but by the look of the decaying timbers supporting
sliding doors at the side (above), it has seen better days.
The Public Warehouse still stands at an angle alongside Public
Warehouse Quay and was once clearly lettered (although the period image
above shows that the 'E's were fading). In the 1896
image, above, the house to the left is the Lock-keeper's House shown
and behind a fence in 2013, see New Cut East.
Also note the round gabled Harbour Master's Office, the modern
version of which is also shown on that page. The
original western lock
entrance of the Wet Dock is visible, so this view must be from New Cut.
The original lock
was replaced by the southern one we know today in 1881, but not
filled in (see our Wet Dock
courtesy Ipswich Maritime Trust
This fine period photograph above shows a vessel in the original
western lock approaching New Cut from the Wet Dock, with the clearly
Warehouse behind. It comes from the Ipswich Maritime Trust Occasional
Paper No. 1 linked from our Wet Dock map
page: "In 1882 an iron-framed public warehouse was built to the north
of the original entrance lock, giving its name to Public Warehouse
Quay, as seen in the photograph..., taken in the late 1880s.
Remarkably, it stills stands today." The original lock,
many would claim deliberately, required an awkward turn from New Cut to
enter the enclosed dock. It was even more problematic for vessels
wanting to enter from the Stowmarket direction. Eventually, the correct
decision was made to create a new, southern lock which could be
approached in a straighter line from the River Orwell.
courtesy The Ipswich Society
The third historic photograph from The Ipswich Society's Flickr
collection (see Links) may depict the Public
Warehouse in the 1960s/70s. A line of brightly coloured buoys line one
wall with three loading gantries suspended above. The 'PUBLIC
WAREHOUSE' lettering can still be read through the rusty discoloration
of the corrugated iron. The Public Warehouse was built in 1880-81,
designed by Thomas Miller. It has a 120 feet by 60 feet footprint.
(Information from Bettley: Pevsner, Suffolk East, see Reading List.)
For an aerial photograph of the Island with the 'Public
Warehouse' clearly visible, see our Lost
trade signs page.
tramway lines and interchanges; far more are preserved on the Island
than on the northern quays. For much more on 'a
rat's-eye view' (see the traps in photographs below) of historic
lettering and dockside furniture all round the Wet Dock see our Island at ground-level and northern quays pages.
As usual, the Ipswich Society website (see Links)
is an invaluable source of scholarship. We can do no better than
reproduce a slightly edited version of Ruth Serjeant's article from the
IS Newsletter July 2009
"...[this] building, situated on the Island site, adjacent to what we
now refer to as the old lock entrance in the New Cut. As some members
may not have known about this building, now almost 180 years old and
quite distinctive with its barrel shaped roof, I thought a few notes on
its history may be of interest.
The opening of the Wet Dock in the 1840s brought increasing trade and
shipping to Ipswich. Many businesses involved in the import and export
trade built their own warehouses around the dock area, and while the
Common Quay provided landing facilities for public use, there was
little warehousing facility for the same public use - temporary storage
for smaller amounts of goods in transit. This lack, and the
ever-growing need to re-position the lock entrance to accommodate the
larger ships that found difficulty in manoeuvring into the New Cut lock
entrance, was finally recognised by the passing in 1877 of the Ipswich
Dock Act. This gave the Ipswich Dock Commission the power to undertake
these two improvements to the port as well as other associated works.
In 1878 Thomas Miller, engineer to the Commission, presented' A Plan of
Ipswich Dock and Port, showing proposed new work'.
Included in this plan is the site of a proposed wharf and warehouse
where the Public Warehouse stands today.
A report to the General Committee of Management of the Commission was
presented in November 1879 by the Warehouse Committee. This stated that
though a temporary wooden shed had been originally proposed as a way of
measuring the use of a warehouse, "it would now be highly desirable if
a permanent iron building could be erected." This suggestion was
accepted by the Commissioners and by March 1880 plans had been prepared
by Thomas Miller for a substantial corrugated iron shed 120 x 60 ft
with necessary provision to receive a second floor. Early in April 1880
the General Management Committee minuted that William Whitford &
Co, Royal Ironworks, Commercial Road, London "had entered into contract
... at the cost of £1106". The contract was sealed by the Commission on
9 April 1880.
On the grand opening of the new lock on 27 July 1881 - the day that the
new Post Office on Cornhill and the new Museum in High Street were also
opened - the Ipswich Journal
reported that "the Commissioners have erected a public wharf and
warehouse for general trade, and approved plans for an extension .....
to be carried out as trade develops ... "
So began the working life of this new building. Some details of how it
operated can be drawn from the Commissioners' minute books. In
September 1881 an advertisement asked for tenders to be submitted for
the three year tenancy, rental payable yearly. If the tenant in that
period applied to increase the storage capacity by putting in the
second floor with any consequent alteration to the ground floor and
office accommodation, the Commissioners if agreeable would provide the
capital outlay and charge the tenant 7 per cent upon the sum required,
to be paid at the same time as the yearly rental. Three tenders were
received - the highest one of £ 121 p.a. from Charles Henry Cowell, was
accepted - it was stated that the other offers, both lower, had sought
to effect changes in the conditions relating to interest to be paid on
any capital outlay for extension works. The tenant, it must be assumed,
would have responsibility to allocate storage space, charging users on
the basis of a scale of rates laid down by the Commissioners. At the
turn of the century we find that R W Paul Ltd were tenants. In 1900, as
the only applicants to tender, they paid £175 p.a. rental, and in 1902,
again as the only applicants, offered £125 which was agreed to.
There is no doubt that more could be found out about the use of the
Public Warehouse from the sources I have looked at and perhaps from the
recollections of any members who had any working association with it. I
hope someone can add more to this short history.
• Ipswich Dock Commission Records
Ref EL1 Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich
• Ipswich Dock Commission (IDC)
Minute Book 1875-1893, EL1/1/3/6
• IDC General Committee of
Management Minute Book 1870-1881 EL1/1/4/5
• IDC Warehouse Committee Papers
• Plan of Ipswich Docks, Thomas
Miller, 1878 EL1/7/5/7
• Iron Warehouse Contract
Drawings, Thomas Miller, 1880 EL1/7/6/7 Ipswich Journal 30 January 1881"
The tramway lines here have been preserved with newer concrete
and tarmac infills. Clearly the lines could be switched right inside
the warehouse entrance in the past. This make sense as it means loading
and unloading as close to the source as possible. Compare with the
tracks still visible in the former Ransome
Orwell Works site on the other side of the Wet Dock. Close
to the Babcock cranes, the tracks suddenly disappear:
A tramway is a set of
rails laid in the surface of a road,
rather than being raised on sleepers and a clinker bed. Although
customarily used by tramcars in towns and cities in Victorian and
Edwardian times (trams having had something of a rebirth in the late
20th century), these tramway lines have also been used by horse-drawn,
steam and diesel vehicles particularly for the moving of freight wagons
– exactly as we see around the Wet Dock and beyond (see our Wet Dock map page for an explanation of the
growth of both rail and tramway access to the dockland area of Ipswich).
For more on lettered dockside furniture, see our Island at ground-level and northern quays pages.
Babcock & Wilcox cranes
Further down towards the lock we find this pair of modernist
cranes, well known to those who stroll down the western quays. There
used to be three, but one was removed in the late 20th century. One can
walk right underneath them. They are well-kept and well-painted with
the relief lettering:
picked out in white on the curved back section behind the
operator's cab. The American engineering firm of
Babcock & Wilcox opened its U.K. office in 1891. This pair of
industrial cranes seems to be quite modernist in design, suggesting
that they were built in the 1930s? It is hard to believe that this was
once a promenade for the fashionable citizens to take a Sunday stroll
between a double row of lime trees to 'The Umbrella' sheltered seats
with its views over Hog Highland and the River Orwell.
The same dazzling blue paint can be found on the swing bridge
and our photographs below show the bridge just beginning to move...
... and completely open as the lock gates eventually swing back
to allow boats to leave the lock and pass out into the open river; the Tolly Cobbold Brewery on Cliff Quay is in
the distance and the piece of land once called Hog Highland to the
The southern lock used today officially opened on 27
July 1881, eventually replacing the original
lock on the west of the Wet Dock. Below: views from
inside the lock:
This swing-bridge was replaced in 1949 by a new bridge
the Ipswich-based company Ransomes and
Rapier. The new bridge, on which the metal tramway track can be
enabled freight traffic to reach Cliff
Quay and the Cliff Power Staton avoiding the long, cluttered journey
round the northern and eastern quays. (See Reading
list for the Malster and
Jones' book A Victorian vision.)
It must have been quite a journey, leaving the main trackbed near the
eastern end of the 'new' Ipswich station, down a curving incline, over
the crossing at Ranelagh Road (near to Reavells foundry), over a bridge
spanning the River Gipping, swinging round to run beneath Princes
Street road bridge, onwards parallel with Commercial Road (now
Grafton Way), past the
sidings – site of the present-day Skate Park. Then, with Stoke Bridge
traffic halted (possibly by men with red flags), over the level
crossing, beneath the shadows of the R.W. Paul and
Burtons towers, swinging right onto the Island, then all the way
round past the Public Warehouse and down to the lock, over the
swing-bridge, round onto Cliff Quay, past the brewery and way down to
the long-demolished coal-fired power station.
[Update 13.9.2014: we
are indebted to John Norman for this photograph of the plaque on the
swing-bridge, usually only visible from on board a vessel in the lock.]
courtesy John Norman
For more on Ransomes & Rapier lettering see our Bourne Park page.
Looking at the Island sit in 2019, it is difficult to picture this spit
of land between New Cut and the Wet Dock as a leafy area of public
relaxation and recreation. As shown on the 1867 map on our Ransomes site page there were three linked
parts to The Promenade at that time. Interestingly, the dockside we now
call Helena Road (see Street name derivations) is a treed area labelled
'Marine Promenade East'; while many people will know about the the
tree-lined walk on the Island, south of the first lock (still in
existence in 1867 located on the west side of the Wet Dock and opening
into New Cut) labelled on the map 'Marine Promenade West'. An avenue of
trees labelled 'Mile End Road' is shown linking the two 'Promenades'
across the site of the future south lock, opened in 1881, and extending
to 'Clifton Road' – the line of today's Ship Launch Road. Members of
the public were accustomed to promenading from just south of the
western lock down to the Umbrella shelter (show as a circle on the map)
and, if the map is to be believed, all the way round to the Gas Works,
if they so desired.
image courtesy Nick Wiggin
The above photograph shows the Umbrella with its
characteristic shape, probably towards the end of
its life judging by its condition, with a suited gent with
walking-stick and boater. Sailing barges are moored on the south bank
of the Island site with the River Orwell and Cobbold Brewery just
visible. We assume that the structure visible in the
left background is the cottage for 'the keeper of the
Promenade' (see text below).
postcard courtesy Ipswich Maritime Trust Image Archive
The Promenade was a popular haunt of Ipswich people, particularly at
weekends when they walked between the trees beside the New Cut and
viewed the ships in the Dock. Laid out in the 1840s as part of the Wet
Dock project, the Promenade stretched from the original entrance lock
to the lower dam, site of the new entrance constructed in 1879-81; at
the latter end were a cottage for 'the keeper of the Promenade', a
shelter (known to everyone as The Umbrella) and a large staue of a
winged horse. In 1912 the Dock Commission planned to end the public
right-of-way along the Promenade and, though war the in 1914 meant that
those plans were delayed, the Promenade eventually disappeared under
the tramway lines. Nobody seems to have protested when the Dock
Commission applied for the Act of Parliament which gave it the powers
to closethe Promenade, but its loss has remained a matter of public
regret ever since. [Information from Malster, R. Ipswich: an A-Z of local history,
see Reading list.]
A photograph of the last days of the Promenade on the Maritime Ipswich
Image Archive website shows ships, dockers, cargo and all the clutter
of import/export of goods beside two remaining rows of trees forming a
scant avenue for strollers. In the 21st century, some of the old
Promenade is under concrete and remains behind security gates as 'New
Cut East', although a regular stream of heavy lorries accessing this
area from Stoke Bridge via St Peters Dock no longer occurs.
See also our Lettered castings index page.
See also our page on the Island
The Question Mark
Burton Son & Sanders / Paul's
Ground-level dockside furniture
on: the northern quays
John Good and Sons
New Cut East
R&W Paul malting company
A chance to
Wet Dock 1970s with 2004
Wet Dock maps
illustration of the laying of the Wet Dock lock foundation stone,
the Wet Dock
Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.
throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission