Museum Street Methodist Church
(from corsets to chapel)

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Chapel 1a<2021   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Chapel 2
In the upper part of Museum Street opposite the original Ipswich Museum (today Arlington's Restaurant) and the Arcade Street junction stands the rather handsome stone frontage of the Methodist Church:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Chapel 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Chapel 4
This site in Museum Street was purchased for 1,300 in March 1860. The foundation stone, to be found at the foot of the square pillar to the right of the three central arches, was laid my Mr William Pretty on the date shown with a silver trowel which is still on display in the church. The building opened for worship on Wednesday 27 March 1861. The church organ, a gift from William Pretty came from St Lawrence Church in Dial Lane. William Pretty's name appears on other buildings in the town (including Alan Road Methodist Church, see below for more information). A Minister's House was erected at the rear of the church and is still in use as Church Circuit Office with a flat on the first floor. Many improvements have been made since the opening in 1861, notably the transformation in 1959 when the whole body of the church was reversed and a new stained glass window was installed. Chairs have since replaced pews. The main entrance is now in Black Horse Lane (home of the William Paul Tenement Trust lettering) and the space is also used for talks and other events.

The Listing (Grade II) text reads: "Designed by Frederick J. Barnes, in the Gothic Revival style. Kentish rag stone with ashlar dressings facade with brick rear. Slate roof with moulded coped gables and finials. Chamfered plinth. Street facade has gabled west end incorporating porch and side wings. Central triple pointed arch loggia, with moulded arches supported on quatrefoil pillars and matching responds. Corner clasping buttresses with gabled tops. Above a single 4-light, pointed arch window with elaborate geometrical tracery and a chamfered cill band. Above again a small circular window with trefoil tracery. Eitherside are single staircases rising outwards and with triple arched stepped arcades supported on small pillars. Beyond are slightly projecting gabled side wings with pointed arch doorways in moulded surrounds and 6 panel doors with trefoil fan-lights. Above small triple pointed arch arcades, then a chamfered band and a gable containing a blind trefoil, and surmounted by a cross finial."

William Pretty
In researching William Pretty, we came across a talk by Roger Kennell, the local history recorder at Hadleigh. We can do no better than add a paraphrased version of the text, with acknowledgement.

William Pretty built England’s first corset factory, which later became the largest, producing a great range of corsets in innovative styles which were exported all over the world. He started in a small way, being born in 1812, the son of a draper and tailor from Bacton. He left school at 13 to make his way in business, and obtained an apprenticeship with John Footman, a draper in Stowmarket. In 1815 Footman set up a draper’s in the Butter Market, Ipswich and in 1834 joined up with William Pretty and Alexander Nicholson to form the company Footman, Pretty and Nicholson at fine new premises in Westgate Street which they named “Waterloo House”. This prominently lettered building appears in old photographs and postcards of the Cornhill.

William Pretty was a philanthropist who donated several sums of money from his profits to good causes in and around Ipswich, including the building and re-furbishing of local churches. In 1842 he married and had a son, William Junior, who joined him in the family business. William Junior was a modern man of his time. He loved sports and it is said that he was the first man in Ipswich to play tennis or to go ice-skating. He was a forward thinker in business too, and he often argued with his father about the way things should be run. He started at the bottom in the firm, working on the shop counter, to learn the trade thoroughly.

Footman, Pretty and Nicholson was already a big name in huge premises, making their name as 'stay' manufacturers for girls and women of all ages. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras the hourglass figure was in fashion, and every woman wanted to keep up with the trend, which was only possible with the wearing of corsets. These were manufactured at the rear of Waterloo House in a large factory, using fabrics such as linen or cotton containing strips of shaped whalebone, horn or rustless Zairoid which would not bend or break, thus maintaining the desired hourglass figure of the wearer.

After visiting America on business and speaking to a German manufacturer in the same trade William Junior found a huge market for his product. He wrote to his wife that he could have sold orders worth over 10,000, but that the Ipswich factory did not have enough workers to produce this large number of corsets. He decided to ask his father to build a new factory at the rear of the existing one in Ipswich, and in 1881 they opened the new building, made with best white Suffolk bricks, in Crown Street. Many will remember the long building with its high chimney which stood on the site now occupied by the car park at the rear of Debenhams and Marks & Spencer. A bridge over that section of Tower Ramparts featured the compnay lettering and appears on our collage of lost lettering. Much to William’s disappointment, however, they could not find enough cheap labour in the form of young women to fill the entire factory. To solve this problem, William Junior began opening outpost factories close to railway stations all over Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. The Ipswich factories now employed men who cut out the fabric patterns, which were then put on the train and sent to the outpost factories to be sewn together to make the finished corsets. These were sent back to Ipswich for boxing and delivering. Corsets were always sold in decorative boxes, so to complete the process William Junior set up his own box-making and print works, thus making the whole production-line an in-house operation.

Sadly for the Prettys, the era of wearing corsets gradually came to an end. Factors like the women’s suffrage movement, the Dress Reform Society, the new roles of women in war work during the First World War and a paper written by the British Medical Association all discouraged women from strapping themselves up tightly for the sake of fashion.  Corset factories began to make rayon and silk underwear, Liberty bodices and roll-ons. In 1930 William Pretty and Sons went into liquidation. R. & W.H. Symingtons of Market Harborough bought the factory and started new brands such as Avro Corsetry and Liberty Foundations. They were bought up by Courtauld’s in 1968, but eventually the premises shut down in 1982 after 100 years.


For a note on other Ipswich stay-makers and corsetiers, see E. Brand & Sons.

Turner's of Ipswich columns
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Turners 12016 images
The galleries of the interior of the Methodist Church are supported on cast iron columns bearing the name of the foundry:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Museum Street Turners 2
This would be E.R. & F. Turner's engineering firm in Foundry Lane, which runs between St Peter's Wharf and College Street. They also operated the Greyfriars Works. One of the many engineering works in Ipswich and founded in 1837, Turner's eventually took over Bull Motors of Stowmarket and as engineering declined the electric motor business became dominant. Bull Motors moved to a site next to the Celestion loudspeaker factory, just off Foxhall Road, Ipswich and operated there until at least 2000.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: E.R & F. Turner adJanuary 1872 advertisement
For more information on E.R. & F. Turner,  Grace's Guide (see Links) have details and images.
See also the Turner cast iron columns in Christ Church URC/Baptist in Tacket Street which shares the same designer, by Frederick J. Barnes.

The Methodist Church stands opposite the original Ipswich Museum designed by Christopher Fleury; today it is Arington's Restaurant.

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