St Helens Street
'Tram Way Place'
Tramways, Constantine Power Station, Quadling Street
Just across the road from the H.W.
stands No. 129, a newsagent's shop. Amongst the clutter of bracket,
it is easy to miss the name plaque for these properties:
Sign-makers seem to go out of
their way to provoke the pedant in all (most) of us: why the gap
between 'Tram and 'way'?
The buildings were erected at a time of pride in the
recent tramway which
ran from the town centre, via Spring Road and St Johns Road and
at Derby Road railway station. A period map show tramlines running into
a depot beside The Railway Hotel on the corner of Foxhall Road
Cauldwell Hall Road. Horse drawn trams were initially used and stabling
was presumably provided at the Railway Hotel. These remnants of times
past (used later as workshops) have in
recent years been demolished to make way for a bookmakers
building. In 2012 The
Railway Hotel itself is threatened with demolition to be replaced by
housing. Electrification of the tramway eventually led to the use of
and then the internal combustion engine omnibus. Some of the cast iron
which used to carry overhead power cables for public transport still
in Ipswich. They have since been used for BT
lines. See below for a short history of tramways in Ipswich.
Above: St Helens Street looking westwards. The tramline track between
Major's Corner and the Church of St Helen, to the right of this 1907
postcard, was not made double until after the First World War. If two
tramcars had to pass each other, they could only do so on the double
loop of rail at this point. The projecting signboard just beyond the
church railings advertises the wares of Goffin the grocer. Immediately
behind the cast iron post in the left foreground is the junction with
Regent Street with a H.M. Stanley, Provision Merchant on the corner
with 'BOVRIL' and 'OXO' signs and what looks like 'ALES & STOUT.
Tolly COBBOLD'S' lettering on the gable.
St Helens Street in the mid-1930s. The Church entrance is to the left,
'Tram Way Place' is by the cast iron tram power-line pole – still there
in October 2014 (but due to be removed – see Update 29.10.14, below),
the entrance to Jefferies Road to the far right.
On the juction of St Helens Street and Jefferies Road is an odd little
junction box. At first we thought that it might be connected to the
tramway power. See our Street furniture
page for British Relay TV.
Below: with the Zoar Baptist Church in the
background, we see the former tramway post on the corner of Palmerston
Road (number 4 on the table below). Carrying telephone lines and a
street lamp and with a pointed
finial on top, the post is cluttered with trunking and electrical
gubbins. They carry lettering, probably the manufacturer names, which
have become rusted and encrusted to create a sort of art installation.
On the rectangular box is the relief lettering:
From the Palmerston Road corner looking up St Helens Street towards the
Grove Lane junction we see three further rusty posts with a variety of
finial tops. There are further surviving posts close to 'Tram Way
Place' and The Regent at the town end of
Here's a photographic survey of 14.8.2014 of all the tramway posts
which stand in St Helens Street from close to 'Tram Way Place' up
to the Grove Lane/Warwick Road junction. The subsidiary close-ups show
the finials atop the poles. There is talk of the removal
of these strange survivors of a past transport age, perhaps to go to
one of the transport museums, so we document them here.
1. near 131 St Helens Street; 2. near eastern corner
with Jefferies Road; 3. by St Helen's Lodge
entrance; 4. western corner with Palmerston Road; 5. eastern corner
with Palmerston Road; 6. by McNamara Court; 7.
by 163 St Helens Street; 8. by 196 St Helens Street.
[UPDATE 29.10.2014: All the
tramway posts shown above have had modern street lamp standards erected
near them and have been marked with the prominent hand-painted sign:
The decorative shop front of 198 St Helens Street was renovated by a
hire business, then it was a Halal store. Its original use is
the dated plaque above:
It predates the adjoining
property by two years, as we see below.
The gentle curve of the top line is pleasing.
'1906' Grove Lane corner
Let's look next door as the building turns
degrees, high up on the gable end.
The roundel, which matches the detailing of the windows
of 200 St Helens
Street, contains the large, ornate (presumaby terra cotta) numerals
The building on the corner of Grove Lane and St Helens Street was
The Singing Chef French Restaurant (now Masha Indian Restaurant). Quite
why it was important enough to warrant this ornate and expensive dating
is unknown. See here for a clutch
of roundels on buildings. Incidentally, yet another tramway pole
bearing a street lamp can been seen to the right in the above
More St Helens Street lettering can be found on the
page for County Hall, H.W.
Turner, IBH, Hales Chemist, also the
Regent Theatre on the Bethesda page.
Horse trams running from Cornhill to the railway station started in
1880. 1881 brought the Ipswich Tramways Act to establish the Ipswich
Tramway Company, a private enterprise. The tramway was extended from Princes Street, along Portman Road and
the upper stretch (then called Mill Street, presumably because of the
site of windmills at the top of the hill) to Barrack Corner on St
Matthews Street. This stretch was abandoned after only a few years.
There were also extensions from Cornhill
along Westgate Street and from Cornhill to
Major's Corner, St Helen's Street (the
site of our 'Tramway Place 1884' plaque shown above), Spring Road, St
John's Road, Cauldwell Hall Road to
Derby Road railway station. The stretch of tramline track from Major's
Corner to St Helen's Church was not made double until after the First
World War. If two tramcars had to pass one another, they could only do
so on a double loop of rail in the St helens Street at the junctions
with Grove Lane and with St Johns Road. The tracks at Derby
Road station were extended down into the
station yard to serve special rail excursions to Felixstowe. As
mentioned above, stabling for tram horses seems to have been provided
beside the Railway public house in Foxhall Road. Cross-town links meant
a total route mileage of 4.4 miles. Interestingly, the initial stock,
which consisted of three single-deck and six double deck cars, were
believed to have been built by the Starbuck
Car and Wagon Company of Birkenhead. Many of us might have imagined
that this very American-sounding trade name was an invention of a
certain modern coffee shop chain. Motive power was provided by a stud
of 27 horses: one for a single-deck and two for a double-deck car.
In 1900 Ipswich Town Council took over the company
with the aim of introducing electric trams and electric lighting to the
borough. By 1902 work had started on the site of a tramway depot and
power station at Seven Acre Field (now Alderman Road/Constantine Road).
Due to very swampy conditions in this area of the borough close to the
River Gipping, a bed of concrete 40 feet square and 40 feet deep was
necessary to support the stack. This astonishing fact reminds us that,
like the massive Wet Dock
before it, the very large hole would have had to have been dug out by
hand, using pick and shovel.
When we look at today's Constantine House
- the home of the original power station (later Eastern Electricity and
now housing Customer Service Direct offices which have provided Suffolk
County Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council with I.T. and other
services) and the next-door Ipswich bus depot, it's sobering to
remember that they are built on an enormous sugar cube of concrete. The
photographs above show some of the decoration on the building which is,
perhaps surprisingly, unlettered. The 21st century development of SCC's
Endeavour House, Grafton House: the Ipswich Borough Council
Offices (both in Russell Road) and Constantine House has led to the
of an unsightly car park block very visible from West End Road. What
appears to be a small, attractive tram shed can still be seen from Sir
Alf Ramsey Way – formerly Portmans Walk – adjacent to Alderman Road
Recreation Ground and Bibb Way.
The attractive power station fascade (sadly lacking any lettering), now
Constantine House, was designed by London architect C. Stanley Peach.
The powered trams began work in 1903. £11,000 had been spent on
tramways and £43,000 on street widening which changed the face of
Ipswich in certain locations (presumably the area opposite The Great
White Horse in Tavern
Street and at the top of Upper Brook Street
were opened up as part of this process. A narrow tramway guage (and,
logically, narrow tram car fleet) was chosen because of difficulties in
accomodating other traffic (pricipally horse-drawn carts and perhaps a
very early motor vehicle) either side of the tracks on the narrow roads
of old Ipswich.
See our Lloyds Avene page for more
on the Electric House showrooms.
This aerial view of the Constantine Road Tram Depot and Power
Station, Ipswich, 1933 is from the excellent Britain from above resource (see Links):
This dramatic view shows a circular lagoon on the River
Orwell/Gipping (marked 'Bathing place' on a 1930
of Ipswich) surrounded by an 'S' shaped meander; nearby
is the peninsula which is now home to the Voyage tower block.
See our Ipswich in 1912 PDF for a
photograph of this bathing place on page 33; see also our Water in Ipswich page for
more on bathing places.
Reavell 'Ranelagh Works' are over the river with its railway line
crossing Ranelagh Road to join the main line near the top of the image
with Gippeswyk Park, gift to the town
from Felix Thornely Cobbold,
above that. The Constantine Road power station with its tall chimney
stands in the countryside with a meadow where today we find the Ipswich
Town practice ground, fields and gardens where SCC's Endeavour House
and IBC's Grafton House now stand, little sign of West End Road along
the riverside and the Alderman Road public park more-or-less as it is
today (inevitably smaller). Portman's Walk, as it used to be called
(now Alf Ramsey Way),
appears from the bottom of the frame and travels up, then curves
sharply round the site of the modern recycling centre ('dump').
The system consisted of about a mile of double track
through the town
centre (Barrack Corner to Major's Corner) and the remainder was single
track with passing loops. It was extended as follows:-
- - from Barrack Corner up Norwich Road, passing
under the 'Ferodo bridge' (with its
'Keep your head down' sign) to Whitton. There was an extension from
Major's Corner down Upper Orwell Street,
Fore Street, Fore Hamlet and up the
steepest gradient in the town, Bishop's Hill
(where it is understood cars needed assistance to ascend - perhaps
horse power?) to the Royal Oak public house on Felixstowe
Road (this was only a few hundred yards away from the Derby Road
station terminus, so that trams could have continued in a loop around
the east of the town in the way of some modern bus routes; however, had
it ever been suggested it was probably discounted because the trams and
trackbed would have been too heavy to cross the Derby Road
bridge over the railway);
- from the Princes Street/Queen Street junction
down St Peter's Street, Bridge Street,
crossing the Wet Dock
tramway (still partially in existence), over Stoke Bridge (the steel
structure, which replaced the old wooden bridge, must have been strong
enough to carry it), Vernon Street, under the tramway bridge which
crosses Wherstead Road close to Cowell Street - where the road had to
be lowered by two feet for clearance of cars and power lines - you can
still travel down the dip in the road today - and down to Bourne Bridge;
- from Stoke Bridge
round to Burrell Road and the
railway station, with an additional short spur from Wherstead Road down
Bath Street to Griffin Wharf on the west bank of the Orwell; apparently
these two were intended to convey passengers between the railway
station and the quay where Great Eastern Railway paddle steamers
embarked for trips down the River Orwell to Felixstowe;
- from the passing loop in Princes Street, just
south of the junction with Portman Road - the section between the
present fire station and the Royal Mail sorting office - a spur
extended to the corner of Cecilia Street and Quadling Street, which
doubled as it entered a car shed
there; these rails were visible in the yard behind locked gates
in Quadling Street long after all other traces of Ipswich tramway had
disappeared and were eventually swept away during the rather dubious
Cardinal Park development in the 1990s. The street was named after
Quadling & Company, a coachbuilding business producing rolling
stock for the Eastern Union Railway;
incidentally, this business was
linked to the dockside tramway by a curved
siding, the trackbed of which survived as a footpath until about 1980...
This photograph shows the timber-built horse-tram depot in Quadling
(on the corner of Cecilia Street) from the 1980s. Although closed down
in June 1903 and the nine tramcars sold off as chicken sheds etc.
and all 27 horses auctioned to new owners, the depot was used by a
building firm until shortly before its demolition. You can see the
tramcar rails entering the building. The remainder of the rails had to
be lifted and replaced as they were too light for the electric trams.
Some of the cast iron poles which carried power
lines for the trams are
still in place in the town, a number being reused to carry street
lighting and BT telephone cables. What happened to the tramway? The
system was difficult to
keep running during the shortages of the First and Second World Wars
and some tramcars had the ignominy of being painted grey, as the
traditional Ipswich Corporation Tramways livery couldn't be maintained.
The track and trackbed suffered damage from iron cart wheels and other
heavy vehicles and the whole system became uncomfortable (especially as
the upper deck was open to the elements), unreliable and unpopular. All
rails were lifted in the town except those outside the Police Station near Cornhill which were
covered over and remain intact today. Later, power lines were largely
kept in place to enable electric trolley buses to replace trams.
Ipswich was probably the last municipal authority in the country to
convert, in 1950, to the more popular motor buses. The last trolley bus
entered the depot at Constantine Road in 1963.
[Much of the above information came from 'Tramways of East Anglia' by
R.C. Anderson; see Reading List.]
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