Bethesda Church, St Margaret's Street
Architectural features fronting public buildings often
provide spaces for
integral lettering. The most conventional is the Bethesda Baptist
sans serif capital letterform ideally suited to the temple-like,
portico, the pediment supported by four polished granite columns. The
dates from 1913 and was funded by Mr Arthur Page, a Bristol lawyer, as
a memorial to his mother who died in 1911 at the age of eighty-two and
the architect was F.G. Faunch.
Bethesda was originally the name of a pool in Jerusalem, on the path of
the Beth Zeta Valley, and is also known as the Sheep Pool. It is
associated with healing. The building stands opposite the Egerton and Halberd signs and Northgate Street.
Below: the view across the junction from outside
The Halberd shows a typical view of much
traffic around this handsome building.
Behind the pillars are two foudation stones:
STONE WAS LAID TO THE GLORY OF GOD
ELDEST SURVIVING SONE OF THE LATE
MRS. SUZANNAH PAGE
ON 3RD JULY 1912.
"MINE HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED AN HOUSE OF
ISAIAH C.56 V.7.
FREDK. G. FAUNCH
'THIS STONE WAS
LAID TO THE GLORY OF GOD
ON BEHALF OF THE DIACONATE
E. CHILVERS, E. LAST, J. MOTUM, B. OLIVER, H. REYNOLDS, J. SAYER, C.
"THIS IS THE LORD'S DOING: IT IS MARVELLOUS
IN OUR EYES."
PSALM 113 V.23
Above: the Betehsda Church in the background, across St Margarets
Plain, with the 'Halberd Inn'
lettering in the foreground on Northgate
Street; see our Egertons
page for more on this.
Ipswich County Library,
1 Northgate Street
A more intriguing letterface appears above the
Northgate Street entrance
to the County Library. This wonderfully eclectic Victorian frontage
its arches and stained glass boasts an imposing entrance. Beneath the
balcony is a circular moulded crest (see also Ipswich
Board School in Argyle Street - the close-up below surely shows sea
horses rampant supporting the town shield?) and below that the serif'd
in capitals which seems to blend medieval and art noveau influences.
Chaucer's presence in the stained glass and the traditions upon which
Morris's Arts & Crafts Movement were based, that's about right.
Henry Munro Cautley was the architect responsible for the
rather fine frontage.
Truly the entrance to a cathedral of knowledge,
learning and reading, the
gently curving lettering above the door says it all. The refurbishment
this fascia accompanied a major extension of the library buildings in
mid-nineties. The curved and decorative ceilings and fine stained glass
(principally in the Lecture Hall and Reference Library's Northgate
have been preserved.
For other buildings with the Ipswich coat of
arms click here.
The photographs below show details of the
stonework around the entrance. It wasn't until we noticed the '1924' image on a library web page run by Jonathan
Clift, that we though that we ought to pay a little more
attention. The dated motif is surrounded by stonemason's
paraphernalia (mallet, dividers, chisel, set square) with bookish
carvings opposite and the pages and quill pen surrounded by scrollwork
The Public Sculpture of Norfolk & Suffolk website (see Links) tells us:
"The main panel is set between the turrets framing the northern gabled
entrance to the Library and above the doorway. Ipswich's coat of arms
is held by two wyverns. The arch above the doorway is filled with
decoration. In the centre are books with a bookmark showing a crown.
Other niches include an owl (famed for its wisdom) a squirrel eating a
nut (storing information) and on the left a snake with an apple (the
temptation of knowledge); to the right they continue with two
water-rats and rabbit nibbling. The theme is continued in the carving
of the door frame with another set of books in the centre flanked by a
fish, frog, parrot, monkey and architect's set square with cartouche
dated on 1924 on one side and a bird and fish on the other. The brick
buttresses are decorated with bronze roundels with lion heads. The
Library, built at the modest cost of £32,000, aimed at a Collegiate
effect with its Gothic windows, oak bookcases and plaster ornaments.
The detailed decoration ranges from references to books and knowledge
to display of the wild life and the exotic which could be researched
This finely detailed building has grapevine rainwater
Much more on the story of the public library service in Ipswich and the
building of this Carnegie Library can be found on our Rosehill case study page.
Directly opposite the Public Library stands Archdeacon Pykenham's
Gatehouse which is illustrated on our plaques
'Lectures' (false) entrance to
Ipswich Library, Old Foundry Road
Meanwhile, hiding round the corner in Old Foundry
(opposite Ewers Grey-Green Coaches)
the 'Reading' and 'Lectures' entrances to the Library's Reading Rooms
Lecture Hall with attractive typefaces used on the lintels of these
false doorways - the entrance since refurbishment is just visible to
left of the photograph below. So, why has one got screwed-on characters
and the other carved characters (repleat with full stop: always an
in old signs)? Old Foundry Road runs from Northgate
Street to Carr Street and was once called St Margaret's Ditches as
it formed part of the old town's defensive ramparts. Robert Ransome acquired premises in this
street for his foundry, which operated here until the move to the
Orwell Works completed in 1849. The Old Foundry gave a new name to the
street. Until the 1930s there were still houses here built on the top
of the earthen rampart and approached by steps from the road. See our Blue plaques page for detail relating to
The crisp, elegant serif'd capitals are
particular satisfying here with the depth of the relief carving
particularly noticeable on the full stop unnecessarily, but rather
joyfully, appended to the name.
The Regent Theatre, St Helens Street
Hiding in the shadows of the roof overhang on the front
of the largest live
venue in East Anglia, we find 'THE
St Helens Street. Partially
restored in the eighties (and more fully later), it's certainly a
cleaner fascade now, the
more readable. For many years this was called The Gaumont Cinema (plus
small dancehall), live music and drama being slotted between the film
All those years with hardly anyone noticing the lettering of the
name, reverted to since restoration, high above the entrance.
The detail in the lower part of this image shows:
by the setting sun in March 2004. The clean clear capitals have a
typically Art Deco
but shouldn't that 'G' have more of a middle bar? It reads more like
'Recent'. The tapering, anti-clockwise design of the 'G' is intriguing.
It looks as if one vertical support, to the left of the first 'T', and
the marks left by three others were still in place in 2004 – they would
have supported a covering board for different lettering.
Above: a picture from the 1950s or 1960s when a
'GAUMONT' sign covered the lettering. There seems to have been a lamp
to illuminate the Gaumont sign attached to the 'keystone' of the
central window; a metal plate is still visible here in the 2014
The Regent is an important Art Deco building, designed in 1929 by
classic theatre architect William Edward Trent for Provincial
Cinematograph Theatres as a 'cine-variety
hall' and was among the first UK theatres to play films with sound. So, a large venue designed as a cinema, with
the capacity to stage theatrical performances. It
was extremely luxurious, with a restaurant, 14 boxes, a resident
Wurlitzer organ and organist and an 18-piece orchestra. A huge Regent
Cinema, built by the same company, was opened in 1921 in Brighton which
was demolished in 1974.
1980s photograph courtesy Ipswich Society
Above: the Regent with 'ODEON' lettering on the upper panel and on each
side of the entrance canopy in the familiar font; The photograph is
the Ipswich Society Image Archive (see Links).
During World War II the theatre was used to stage concerts and civic
events, as well as ballet and opera. In the 1950s the name changed to
the Gaumont and it hosted many top acts including Buddy Holly and the
Crickets, the Beatles. Gene Pitney, the Hollies, the Small Faces, Roy
Orbison, the Walker Brothers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In the
1970s and 1980s it hosted many punk and new wave acts including Ian
Dury and the Blockheads, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, the
Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Boomtown Rats. The
building then took on the name Odeon in its last years as a cinema.
Following its closure, Ipswich Borough Council took the theatre on
following controversy over its future, reopening it as The Regent
Theatre on 21 September 1991. It was Listed Grade II in 2000. In 2009
The Regent Theatre celebrated its 80th birthday with a gala concert
featuring Lesley Garrett and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. At the
time of this photograph, the billboard advertises Phase One of
'East Anglia's Premier Entertainment Venue' with a Five Screen Cinema.
The faux-deco Odeon cinema complex was built near the tip of Majors
Corner but struggled to attract patrons and was put out of business by
the competition from the Virgin multiplex in Cardinal Park (off
Commercial Road – now Grafton Way). In 2018 it appears that it might
become a venue for the Hope Church.
Odeon is the name for several
ancient Greek and Roman buildings built for music: singing exercises,
musical shows or poetry competitions. The word comes from the Ancient
Greek Ōideion, literally ‘singing place’, or ‘building for musical
competitions’; from the verb aeidō, ‘I sing’.
The Gaumont-British Picture
Corporation was a company founded in 1898 as the British
subsidiary of the French Gaumont Film Company; it produced and
distributed films and operated a cinema chain in Britain. The latter
was founded by the engineer-turned-inventor Léon Gaumont (1864-1946),
in 1895; it is the first and oldest film company in the world.
Regent is a role in the British
monarchy, notably of the Prince Regent, later George IV, giving rise to
many terms such as ‘Regency era’ and ‘Regency architecture’. Although
neither apply to the Ipswich building, it is likely that the name
‘Regent’ was chosen to give the ring of quality to the theatre –
similar to the use of ‘Regal Cinema’ in other examples.
The Regent Theatre Ipswich opened in 1929 as a cine-variety hall. At
7.00pm on Monday November 4th, the entrance doors of the new Regent,
Ipswich opened and into its spacious foyer crowded nearly 2,000 Ipswich
people who had come to witness this momentous occasion.
Outside the theatre a large queue had formed, filing past Botwoods
Garage. As a Ransomes steam lorry tooted its whistle, the staff of the
Regent lined up for their first inspection by the manager, Albert E.
Crabb who checked their 'electric' torches.
On the stage, the Mayor of Ipswich, Dr Hossack, performed the opening
ceremony; musical numbers were played on the brand new Wurlitzer organ
by the resident organist Frank Newman F.R.C.O. that included the Merry
Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai. The film chosen to open the venue
then began - "The Last of Mrs Cheyney" starring Norma Shearer and Basil
Rathbone - an 'all-talking' picture with front circle seats costing 2s
The luxurious Regent restaurant enhanced a visit to the theatre and, if
desired, tea could be served in any of the fourteen boxes at the rear
of the stalls. The boxes and the Manager's cottage at the rear of the
theatre are unique features of the Regent.
Before World War II, the stage was not used to any great extent,
although up to the mid-1930's, the 18 piece Regent Orchestra, under the
direction of Louis Baxter frequently entertained the audiences. Most
theatre orchestras were disbanded in the late 1930's and the organ then
became the principal musical attraction.
During the war the Regent provided much needed escapism and helped
sustain public morale. After the war, The Regent flourished and enjoyed
an attendance boom. Also during this period, the stage was employed in
the presentation of Ipswich Civic Concerts. The stage was also used for
the presentation of Sadler's Wells Ballet, Carl Rosa Opera and
one-night band shows.
The popularity of cinema in the 1930's and 40's was so great that
another cinema in Ipswich, The Ritz, was opened in 1937. But the advent
of television in the 1950's proved a testing time for cinemas up and
down the country and even the highly successful Regent, by now known as
the Gaumont, did not survive intact. To allow the cinema to become more
profitable, the restaurant was closed down and replaced by the Victor
Sylvester Dance Studio.
In the late 1950's the 'pop' music phenomenon exploded. Buddy Holly and
the Crickets started off the craze at the Gaumont and since then
thousands of international artists have graced the theatre's stage
including the Beatles, Tina Turner, The Bay City Rollers, Tom Jones,
Chris Rea, Status Quo and many of today's top artistes.
From 1958, local musicians and dramatic societies were encouraged to
perform at East Anglia's largest theatre. These included the Ipswich
Operatic Society, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and later the Co-op
Juniors. The programme has since included a wide range of productions
including professional touring theatre, opera, ballet, comedy and
By 1965 the proprietors, The Rank Organisation, were sufficiently
confident of the future to spend £50,000 on a major modernisation and
redecoration programme. But by the 1970's, the large cinemas that had
been so successful in the 30's and 40's proved to be less economically
The Gaumont's dance studio was converted to a luxury 200-seat cinema,
which could be rented out for use by the local business community. Rank
also proposed to convert the main auditorium to a multi-screen complex.
However, after a great deal of persuasion, Rank's plans were abandoned
because the auditorium was established as the only local venue of
sufficient capacity to stage live shows and concerts despite its
limited performance facilities.
The theatre was re-launched in September 1991 after Ipswich Borough
Council successfully negotiated the ownership from the Rank
Organisation and NCP. Today, Ipswich Borough Council continues to fund
the theatre as part of its arts and entertainment portfolio which also
includes the Corn Exchange and Ipswich Film Theatre.
[Based on an article written by David
Lowe, Manager 1958-1989; taken from the Ipswich Regent website.]
1778 map of the area
This detail from Pennington's map of Ipswich
1778 shows, at the top of Northgate Street, the legend 'Gate'
indicating the site of the original Bar-gate into the medieval town.
Here is a run-down of the old and modern names of streets:-
St Margarets Street was called 'Rotten Row' (see Street name derivations),
Crown Street was called 'Clay Lane',
Tower Ramparts and Old Foundry Road were called 'Margarets Ditches',
Tower Street was called 'Tower Lane' in 1778,
Fonnereau Road was called 'Dairy Lane',
Dial Lane was 'Cook Row' and St Lawrence Street was 'Fruit Market'.
Great Colman Street did not exist, but the land ownership off Northgate
Street is indicated as 'P. Colman Esq' (see Street
For more lettering examples in
St Helens Street
try County Hall, IBH, H.W.
Turner, Tramway Place and Hales
See our Named buildings
page for more specific examples. See also our Dated buildings page for a
chronological list of dated buildings and structures on this website;
our Roundwood Road page has specific
examples of named/dated buildings.
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