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 for £17,552 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 erection 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.
[UPDATE 24.9.2017: "Hallo Borin. I lived in Ipswich for 35 years, then retired and moved to Diss. I come to Ipswich every couple of weeks to meet friends for coffee or lunch and, interestingly, I now see Ipswich with a visitor's eyes and I walk around a lot exploring the architecture etc. Recently I started coming on the train (a great pleasure!) and was walking back to the station from Westgate Street. I meandered past Portman Road and past the incredible Constantine House, which I had never seen before. Searching for it on the internet I came across your website and got all I wanted – and much more. It's incredible and wonderful! So, many thanks for a cornucopia of leads to be following up in my visits. Yippee . . . All the best, Trevor Ault. Many thanks to Trevor for the encouragement.]
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 map 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.
The Reavell 'Ranelagh Works' are over the river with its railway line bridge 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:-
This photograph shows the timber-built horse-tram depot in Quadling Street (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.
The 'Tramway Depot' is shown in purple – west of the 'Grey Friars Works (Iron)' of E.R.&F. Turner – with tracks running into Quadling Street and west into Princes Street. The tramway tracks within the Turner foundry are divorced from those running up Commercial Road (now Grafton Way) from Bridge Street which run into the 'Coal Yard'. Perhaps they once continued along the curving lane/passageway still evident on the map to serve the foundry.
Some of the cast iron poles which carried power
lines for the trams were
still in place in the town until 2017 (see St Helens Street Tramway posts, above), a number
being reused to carry street
lighting and BT telephone cables. These posts are often seen in old
photographs of Ipswich with their horizontal bars carrying
insulator-protected power cables, sometimes in complex networks at
trmini and junctions. 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 internal combustion motor buses.
The last trolley bus
entered the depot at Constantine Road in 1963. In the circular way of
things, anyone visiting the East Anglia Transport Museum in Carlton
Colville near Lowestoft in the north of the county will be struck by
the 'nearly silent' operation of the trolley bus used for visitor rides
in a world where we are all to used to the roar and chug of the diesel
engine universally used in 21st century heavy vehicles. Yet we are
delighted and amazed the first time we travel silently in an electric
car... Nothing changes.
[Much of the above information came from 'Tramways of East Anglia' by R.C. Anderson; see Reading List.]