The Unicorn, Stepples Street, Catchpole's brewery, Talbot's mineral water

The Unicorn Inn
, 2-4 Orwell Place
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Stepples Street
Above: 'Some of the Old Stepples were found when repairing the Street in 1886' from G.R. Clarke's History (see Reading list).
The attractive frontage of The Unicorn at the corner of Orwell Place (formerly Stepples Street to commemorate the stepping stones, used by walkers to avoid flood waters from The Wash, or Upper Orwell Street) and Foundation Street obviously deserved a proclamation of its importance. These huge upper case slab serif letters (complete with square full stop) stand in relief and have been preserved long past the existence of the Unicorn itself. The carpet shop which used to occupy the ground floor has been succeeded by a number of businesses. The Unicorn was a hotel which was part of the sizeable brewery behind it dating to 1886.
However, a brewer possibly on this site is listed as early as 1839 with Nathaniel Catchpole & Co. listed as owners in 1865. The whole group of impressive Unicorn buildings (which included a small theatre, we're told) embody an important part of Ipswich history: brewing.  We have already discovered that brewing took place behind the Rose & Crown, not to mention the historic Tolly Cobbold brewery on Cliff Quay - no longer brewing beer and the with that building looking for a new purpose in 2013. There was also a Steam Brewery built and run by Charles Cullingham in 1856 and bought by the Tollemache brothers in 1888 which was opposite the Unicorn, on the site of the car park behind the former Woolworth store. There were many other small breweries throughout the town over the decades.

The Unicorn brewery and public house were owned by Nathaniel Catchpole and Co. Ltd until it was bought in 1923, along with several other hostelries in the Ipswich area (including the Coach & Horses), by Tollemache jointly with Cobbold's – long before they became Tolly Cobbold in 1957 – and the brewery was closed in the 1960s when production was moved to Cliff Quay brewery. There is a suggestion that the Unicorn Brewery ceased brewing in 1923 and became a mineral water works
(see below). The Unicorn Inn at 2-4 Orwell Place pulled its last pint in 1977.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn 12012 images
Above: a view in 2012 from Cox Lane down Foundation Street of the Orwell Place 'UNICORN.' frontage and brewery rising behind it.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn 2
Below: we see the Unicorn, with lettering proudly in place, in 1897, the flags flying for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. All the buildings to the left have gone and the very narrow Stepples Street opened up. The junction to the left (below the awnings) which is opposite the mouth of Foundation Street is Cox Lane, when it led to dense housing of the poorest quality: Permit Office Street, Barclay Street and Union Street . The Unicorn brewery closed in 1923, but 'The Unicorn' on Orwell Place remained as a public house until 1977. The Suffolk CAMRA site (see Links, also on that page see our Reading List - James, T.: 'Ipswich inns, taverns and pubs') provides a list of many of the landlords of the inn.

This photograph shows the Foundation Street face of the Unicorn corner featuring a typical cast iron street nameplate. See our Street nameplates page for further examples.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Foundation St sign

The Unicorn Brewery, Foundation Street
Below: updating the story to the late snows of March, 2005 (you can see the falling flakes on the images). This block with its rooftop lantern was used as offices/studios in the 1980s/1990s, then left largely empty for years. The building has been cleaned and extended during major refurbishment as flats; this 'olde worlde' sign was added high above and facing the Foundation Street car park:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery 1a2005 images
From a graphic design point of view, the centring of each word within its discrete black section is justifiable (no pun intended) but makes the definite article on the left feel disconnected with the rest of the name. The postmodern twist that the building – now so proudly named in condensed, serif, gold capitals on a black ground – ceased to be brewery many years ago may have escaped the developers. Eminent brewery architect William Bradford designed both Tolly Cobbold's Cliff Quay and Catchpole’s Unicorn breweries.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery 2a

The Brewery Yard, Foundation Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery 3  Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery12013 images
The original gates still hang by the cobbled entrance from Foundation Street, which is rather satisfying. The interesting architectural details, shown below, not seen from the road are worth a look. At the very top are plants visible above the plating of the original water tank (compare with the Tolly Cobbold brewery tank).  The octagonal brickwork is explained by the period photograph on our Martin & Newby page.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Unicorn Brewery 2a

The Unicorn and the Blackfriars Church site
The proximity of the rear of the Unicorn Brewery to the
remains of the church of the Blackfriars monastery to the south is significant. While some of the row of stone arches shown on our Foundation Street page are original and in situ, others are said to be 'restorations'. More traces of the monastery survive in the cellars of the former heating engineer's premises in the old Cathchpole's Unicorn Brewery. We would love to see some photographs of these remains. Ipswich Blackfriars was founded in 1263, following the gift to them by Henry III of a piece of land which he had purchased alongside the Town Defences on the east side of the town. In 1265 a further piece of land was granted to them by the Crown and construction of their Church began. Further land was acquired steadily until the mid-14th century, by which time their Precinct covered most of the area between Foundation Street, Orwell Place, Lower Orwell Street and Star Lane. It is no wonder that traces of the monastery exist below the much later brewery. Much of the church site was covered up over the centuries and only saw the light of day due to the labours of pioneering archaeologist, Nina Frances Layard, to whom an Ipswich Society blue plaque, fixed to the Unicorn wall overlooking the church site, was dedicated in 2016.

Talbot's mineral water
[UPDATE 15.6.204: "I happened to see your website about the old brewery and was amazed that you had so little information on it.
My father was Cyril Catchpole who had a sweet shop on St Margaret's Plain in Ipswich in the early 1920s. One day a traveler for a lemonade manufacturing company suggested to him that selling lemonade was to become a popular proposition and he ought to buy one. Being interested in anything new and after being let down by his last venture into producing the first "Potato Crisp" at a  factory in Lowestoft later taken over by Smiths, he purchased a machine. As promised this turned out to be an instant success. Lack of space at the back of the shop made him look out for larger premises and he turned his eye onto the Unicorn Brewery site vacated by his family.
With the financial backing of a few worthy rich citizens he founded Messers Talbot and Co. Ltd., Mineral Water Manufacturers, 3 Foundation Street, Ipswich. He also inherited the old brewery carts and Suffolk horses which were stabled in St Helens, about 100 yards on the left past Majors Corner. In 1932 I used to go there to see the horses and climb on the carts. He bought his mares from country pubs which all had stables at the back of their premises where they kept a mare that was serviced by the traveling stallion.
He had a store and office at Leiston and a wagon and pair would take the crates over there and that was a whole day's job. Getting to Felixtowe was a tricky journey because the road at the Bucklesham turn was very sandy and the carts got stuck. A pair of horses stood there to help get them over so they could get on their way again. The carts used to visit most of the pubs in the district to deliver the lemonade, ginger ale, tonic water, cider (under license) and of course Smith's Crisps in large tins.  They also had a wholesale business in tobacco and cigarettes and these would be delivered at the same time.
Eventually the horses gave way to small lorries and in about 1938 he purchased a 6-tonner in time for the Royal Agriculture Show when it was held on the London Road on the left opposite the Chantry Park.
During the war he managed to get the franchise from Pepsi Cola to provide drinks for all the American bases round about and this assured the continuance of the enterprise until the end of the war. I was not long after the war that Talbot & Co. Ltd. was taken over by Cottrill & Cantrill of Colchester who, despite promises to keep the factory going, very soon closed it down.  The rest is history.
I hope this information will be of some use or interest to you. If I can be of any further help, please get in touch.  Yours sincerely, Richard Catchpole." Many thanks to Richard for this "horse's mouth" information from a family member.]
[UPDATE 31.10.2016: We only recently came across Kim Jennings' site, Avatus Research, where the fuller story of the Talbot company is detailed. "Although Mr Catchpole claims that his father founded Talbot and Co., (which is not the case) it is quite possible that he took over the business and moved the company to the premises in Foundation Street." See more from this source below.]
St Mary-At-Quay opening 102016 image
The above photograph shows old  mineral water bottles taken from tomb backfill during the excavations st St Mary-At-Quay Church. The accompanying commentary displayed during the Grand Opening used material from the Avatus Research website mentioned above. We acknowledge Kim's excellent research here and present an edited version:-

Mineral water originated from health spas around Europe. It was thought that these waters had beneficial properties and it became very fashionable to travel to one of the spa towns, such as Bath, to ‘take the waters’. Such trips are described in the novels of Jane Austen. Mineral water suppliers at The Great Exhibition in London in 1851 introduced their product in bottles; by the end of the 19th century mineral water was accessible to almost anyone.

Ipswich as a spa town
In the second half of the 17th century, a spring was discovered on St Georges Street. This would have been one of the many springs which still surround the town; perhaps the location close to the town centre and to the (now lost) Church of St George made it of some importance. However, Ipswich already had a spa: the ‘Ipswich Spa Waters’ in St Margarets Green (see Water in Ipswich for much more on this). The idea of opening another spa was rejected. Years later the Talbot family may have seen a trade opportunity just around the corner which was to be the making of them.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Talbot trade mark
In 1851, the Talbot family were living in Crown Street. John Talbot (aged 50), a Dyer, was born in Norwich; he was living there with his wife Mary and six children, the eldest of whom was his son John aged 21 who was also working as a Dyer. In 1855’s White's Directory, the two were actually advertising their services in three sections: Booksellers, Binders, Printers and Stationers; Dyers and Scourers; Ginger Beer and Soda Water Makers. An interesting mix of occupations.
By the time of the census in 1861, the family had moved into nearby 12 St Georges Street. John is listed as a Silk Dyer and his younger son William was a Soda Water Maker. John junior lived in Crown Street with his new wife and his two sisters Pauline and Levina. He is listed as a Book Seller and Soda Water Maker employing 6 men and 2 boys.

The drinks manufacturing was successful and the family concentrated on that. By 1881 John junior and Harriet were living comfortably and were able to hire a servant and John had doubled his workforce. By 1885 the business had expanded and another outlet had opened in Saxmundham. John moved from the town centre to the sizeable Plantation House in Burlington Road, for many years the home of noted historian, Dr John Blatchly. Moving here was a step up the social ladder for John Talbot and a clear indication of a successful businessman.

By 1922 Talbot's had opened up another branch in Colchester, there were now four branches serving two counties and perhaps beyond. Although the advertisements for Talbot & Co maintain that the company was established in 1840 (see the trade-mark), this is very unlikely.  John Talbot senior does not appear in White's Directory of 1844, also he states that his occupation in 1841 was a Dyer as it was in 1851. John junior was only 12 in 1841 so would not have been doing any business. So it appears that there may have been a little exaggeration when making the company trademark.

Well into their eighties, Harriet passed away on 1 April 1925 and John followed just a few weeks later on 19 May.  The couple never had any children and their estate worth over 25,000 (approximately 750,000 in today's money) went to probate. By 1933 Talbot Mineral Water were advertising as Talbot & Co Ltd, mineral water and cordial manufacturers; suppliers of A J Caley & Sons Ltd. Mineral waters; manufactory and office: Unicorn Works, Foundation Street, Ipswich and at Colchester and Saxmundham. They had moved their head office and works to Foundation Street which was also the site of the Unicorn brewery and inn and had ceased trading in Felixstowe and Stowmarket. A few years later they had expanded their services to include the wholesale selling of biscuits and tobacco. Talbot advertised their product on the back page of the souvenir programme for the Third Ipswich Ideal Homes and Trades Exhibition in February 1938. But the writing was on the wall for Talbot's...

See also our Pubs & Off-licences page; plus our page about Water in Ipswich.


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