When, in the early 1960s, Ipswich
was earmarked by central
government to act as a resettlement area for populations displaced from
the East End of London, it spurred a major shift in policy on civil
engineering and building. The fact that the government policy shifted
again after the building of the Greyfriars complex (1964-66) meant that
massive housing estates in south-west Ipswich were never built and the
influx of Eastenders never arrived – being diverted to Haverhill,
Sudbury and Thetford. In addition to the Ipswich
Borough Council attempt to shift the town's centre to a new,
car-orientated, modernist shopping and leisure centre at Greyfriars,
much else changed.
The 1902 map of this area shows a very different street layout to that
we see today, as can be seen by overlaying the modern streets in pink,
above. See also our page on Black Horse
The main changes in road routes from St Matthews Street down to Princes
Street, turning left into the new dual carriageway of Cromwell Street.
At this point, protesters halted the bulldozers which were about to
push this new road through ancient buildings in St Nicholas Street,
Silent Street, Lower Brook Street, Foundation Street and Fore Street.
The last of these was, of course, eventually cut through by the Star
Lane 'Eastern Gyratory' traffic system in the 1980s. Those protesters,
concerned at the wholesale demolition of the
architectural heritage of this ancient town, soon formed The Ipswich
Society (see Links) in 1960. Many
of the roads and buildings demolished were of poor, working class
dwellings, run-down beer houses and old industrial buildings. The hill
on which Civic Centre was built had been an area of the town called
'The Mount' and the lanes dropping south from St Matthews Street were
Church Lane and Lady Lane. Below Handford Road and Mount Street
(running east-west), Lady Lane led down to Tanners Lane which
eventually joined Friars Bridge Road and Princes Street. See our Friars Bridge Road page for a 1902 map
of the area. The new dual carriageway running from the southern end of
Berners Street down to the Greyfriars site more or less followed the
lines of Church Lane and Tanners Lane. It was called Civic Drive to
reflect its proximity to the group of buildings around the new Civic
Centre, law courts and police station block on Elm Street. The
reshaping of this part of Ipswich was radical.
See also Lost
Ipswich trade signs for
Thomas Seckford's 'Great Place' in Westgate Street, destroyed during
the cutting-through of Museum Street in the 1840s.
our 'Ipswich Tomorrow' page for
more about the Greyfriars and Willis developments, the Greyfriars timeline and a set of 1968
photographs of the newly built Civic Drive and Greyfriars area.
The little-noticed road signs on the brick central reservation
on the upper part of Civic Drive are remarkable survivors of those
early days. It is probable that their 'difficult' positioning and
relatively small size accounts for their survival into the 21st century
when so many other street nameplates have been replaced or updated.
To the left of the sans serif, upper and lower case street name
is the vestige of a coloured Ipswich coat of arms.
Below that is a small piece of text (which someone has tried to
obliterate with paint on the St Matthews end – now discolouring) which
is more readable at the end close to St Matthews School:
This takes us back to a time when the county was split
administratively into East and West Suffolk and Ipswich County Borough.
Reorganisation in 1974 amalgamated east and west and removed many of
the powers and responsibilities of the Borough, concentrating many
finances and powers in a new Suffolk County Council. Another
view of a similar Civic Drive street nameplate from 1968 showing the
coat of arms appears on our Ipswich
For more information and maps of the Willis Faber & Dumas
building at the bottom of Civic Drive and its effect of the Greyfriars
area, see the 'Before Willis' section of our Lost trade sign page.
Bernard Reynolds' Ship sculpture stands in the
middle of the Handford Road roundabout on Civic Drive.
Just off the northern stretch of Civic Drive, on the east side is
Chapman Lane. It runs behind the Wolsey Theatre buildings
and is mainly seen as a service road for deliveries to the rear of
shops fronting the eastern section of St Matthews Street and for car
parks to the north of the former Civic Centre site. However, it does
have an interesting street name derivation.
Interestingly, this part of the road is labelled Black Horse
Lane on a 1994 street map of the town, so this must be a more recent
Civic Drive (with central reservation) is in the background; this is a
riot of street furniture: bus
shelter, telephone kiosk, ramp handrails, street sign and, amongst the
trees, parts of the Church of St
The Wolsey Theatre
Above: the most recent incarnation of the New Wolsey Theatre. As part
of the 2020 building of the 'Golden Pavillion' and refurbishment, the
NWT sign was removed (see the comparison images below, courtesy of Tim
Legget, to whom our thanks).
The theatre building was designed by Roderick Ham for Ipswich &
Suffolk New Theatre Trust. Construction was carried out between 1977
and 1979 by Haymills Contractors Ltd with Carr And Angier theatre
consultants providing planning advice and design/installation of all
technical systems and equipment. From 1979 to 1999 the theatre was
operated by The Wolsey Theatre Company, a regional repertory company.
The theatre was known for showing performances of drama, comedy and
musical plays and was used almost exclusively as a producing house. Due
to financial problems dating back to the mid-1990s, the operating
company closed the theatre in 1999 and was dissolved.
images courtesy Tim Leggett
In 2001, the theatre reopened and is now owned and operated by the New
Wolsey Theatre Company which is a registered charity with a stated
mission of presenting high quality, diverse and accessible work, and
operated on a not-for-profit basis.
ghost sign, 2020
Above the staining on the brickwork left by the lettering 'WOLSEY
THEATRE' which was here from 1979 for over twenty years – and still
visible in 2020, as spotted by Tim.
By January 2021 the new lettering is in place. To the left in
the upper image is the newly completed 'Golden Pavilion' housing New
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Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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