Cornhill 1

The Cornhill, at the heart of the old town, is named to commemorate the enormous wealth conferred on the town's merchants by grain trading and exports. In the post-medieval period the sheep was the dominant economic force in East Anglia. The huge 'wool churches' such as that at Lavenham are testament to this dominance. (In Ipswich we have the triumvirate of St Clement, St Mary-At-Quay and St Peter dockland churches to mark the importance of this asset to the town.) However, the lighter soils and sparse rainfall (if it wasn't for the rivers, rural Suffolk could be classified as a desert by one climatic yardstick) are more suited to arable crops than husbandry. Hence 'Cornhill'.

The Post Office
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 6   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office long shot2012 image
One of the finest buildings in Ipswich (above) was commissioned by the Post Office and opened in 1881 on the footprint of the demolished 1850 Corn Exchange. This was itself erected on the site of the old Shambles on Cornhill, where once all surrounding streets had been untilised for market trading. Many strange things have happened on Cornhill, from the 16th century burning of religious martyrs to the bating of bulls (it was believed that this sport would tenderise the meat before slaughter in the nearby Shambles). Another strange thing happens when a purpose-built structure, complete with its name chiselled into the stonework, changes its role. So, Ipswich is the proud owner of a grand central Post Office with Doric portico, fine statuary and its name chiselled into the lintel. Except that in the 21st century the real post offices are now tucked away in small shops in Tower Ramparts and Carr Street – and Fore Street – and other organisations now occupy this great classical palace. The architect was J. Johnson and the building is Listed Grade II.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 12013 images
The depth and sharpness of the chiselled characters: 'POST OFFICE' are clear from this close-up image.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 1a
Curiously, it was only in 2012 that we discovered very small lettering above the structure (how was anyone supposed to read it?) at either side of the magnificent Woodington figures and Royal coat of arms:
'GENIUS  ...  SCIENCE'
Seated on a round pediment above the crest the female figures represent Genius to the left, holding a tablet and Science to the right, holding an urn. As you can see in 2013, the frontage could do with a good weed. The figure of Genius is said to be a tribute to Sir Rowland Hill and the introduction of the penny post. Science is a tribute to Professor H. Wheatstone, who in 1840 had patented the Printing Telegraph, the forerunner of the modern teleprinter.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 3
The royal crest reflects the original occupant, Royal Mail and bears the usual lettering on scrolls:
'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'
'DIEU ET MON DROIT'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 4
The sculptures on the Post Office building are by William Frederick Woodington RA (1806-1893). The plinths of each one bears the 'themed' name (although the third is hardly readable):
'INDUSTRY'   'ELECTRICITY'   'STEAM'   'COMMERCE'
Quite why one of these noble ladies is called 'Steam' doesn't bear thinking about. These figure are intended to illustrate the Post Office's use of modern technology to help industry and commerce across the major continents.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office front 5  
Industry sits on a beehive, the emblem of hard work. Electricity's emblem is broken/missing. Steam rests her hand n a small boiler. Commerce holds a wreath and caduceus (made of copper, hence the green oxide), the attribute of Mercury the Roman messenger-god and patron of business. Additional information about the sculptures comes from Cocke, R: 'Public sculpture in Norfolk and Suffolk' (see Reading List).
Ipswich Post Office
This postcard of the Post Office dates from about 1909. The carefully posed postal force are clearly very proud of their motorised mail van; such vehicles didn't fully replace horse or hand-drawn carts until 1926.
Down the Princes Street elevation of the Post Office building is a palladian triangle with the Ipswich coat of arms at its centre. This is quite difficult to appreciate from the pavement level. More images can be seen on our page on the Ipswich coat of arms.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office crest 12013 images Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office heads1
This side wall of the Post Office building boast rich decoration on the windows and a fine array of anonymous – but individual – classical heads on the keystones. The Norfolk & Suffolk public sculpture database (see Links): 'At the corner of Princes Street is a bearded keystone based on Roman representations of Neptune, often shown on commercial buildings in the period, followed by female headstones beginning (at corner with Cornhill) with Cybele (Rome) Asia (or Egypt), Africa, America, Europe, although the identifications are open to question'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office heads 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Post Office heads 32016 image  
The quality of the stone decoration beneath and around the windows is also worthy of note.

Town Hall
If we compare the top of the Post Office with the crest on the nearby 1868 Town Hall, splendid though it is, sadly there is no lettering to be seen and the foundation stone has been lost or obliterated.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall 12012 image  
Four allegorical figures are set upon the upper balustrade and are comparable with the four figures on the Post Office. From left: Commerce has a cornucopia, Justice carries a sword and is blindfolded (and probably once carried scales), Learning has a scroll and book and Agriculture has a scythe and flowers.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall 4   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall 52013 images
The roundels below show, from left:  relief heads of King Richard I, Cardinal Wolsey (taken from a Holbein portrait) and King John. Likenesses of Richard and John were taken from engravings. Compare these with the heads in roundels of William Hogarth and Isaac Newton and on the Ipswich Museum frontage. Negotiations for a charter for Ipswich started during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199) and was awarded in the second year of the reign of King John on 25 May 1200. The sculptor used for the Town Hall was Barnabas Barrett, the architects: Bellamy & Hardy. The building was opened in 1868 and is currently Listed Grade II.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall 7
The town's coat of arms is sited centrally on the dome below the clock.
More images can be seen on our page on the Ipswich coat of arms.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall 6   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Town Hall crestPhoto courtesy John Norman

Manning's
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Mannings 20012001 image 
The attractive public house next to the Golden Lion proclaims its name twice - the older block caps set in relief on the upper wall above echo The Halberd Inn and have the possessive inverted comma. MANNING'S is somewhat overshadowed by the Golden Lion Hotel (to the left of this picture), but remains a fine old inn which has been threatened with closure on more than one occasion. The 1926 picture shows Ipswich mounted police on duty outside Mannings during the general strike.
[Update 5.1.10: Information from CAMRA's Suffolk Real Ale Guide (see Links):
A narrow fronted 16th century town pub known as the Victoria in 1874 (Manning & Co. are listed as publicans in Kelly's Directory of that year), Manning's Victoria Inn in 1952 and 1956 (EL Bishopp listed as publican both years). Upstairs the building still contains some fine Jacobean panelling and other historic features, some of which are listed.]
[Update 30.10.10: "My grandfather Berie Cooper was the proprietor of Mannings from 1908-1914 living upstairs. After the WW1 in 1918 he returned  to run the restaurant but the family had grown and they moved to 5 Lower Brook Street (next door to the Suffolk Victoria Nursing Institute). He left/sold Mannings in 1924 we think as a result of dwindling business due to the Depression." Our thanks to Barrie Weaver for this information.]

Grimwade's
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Manning's is the familiar redbrick palace of drapery, Grimwade's former store, founded as J. H. Grimwade & Son Ltd in 1930. It was only while looking through some 1997 photographs by Brian Jepson in 2014, that we realised we had missed the date above the door next to the public house. Closing in on the foliate decoration (which we have used on the masthead for this very website's Homepage) we see the interlinked '1904' in the centre. There are always new things to find in Ipswich...
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwades 4   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwades 32014 images  
Above: the scene on a busy market day; even with the clutter attached to the walls and on the pavement, the building has its appeal. We think that this is officially St Mildred's Chambers (named after the ancient church which once stood on the site of the present Town Hall) at 6 to 6a Cornhill, although there is a longer shop frontage onto Westgate Street. Many will remember the large company name lettering which once adorned the Cornhill elevation; around the 1950 one could see above it similar lettering advertising (perhaps bizarrely) 'FINA - Petroleum Products Ltd' which suggests that the proprietors never missed a chance of income from sponsorship.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwades 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwades 1b
Grimwade's survived as a clothier and school uniform supplier until the late 1990s when the family owners decided to call it a day;
it never really recovered from the absorption of its rival across Westgate Street Footman Pretty into the Debenhams. There was a much-loved café/restaurant on the top floor. It has been a Clinton's Cards shop and has had a temporary tenant or too. "Like many urban capitalist families in both Ipswich and elsewhere, the Grimwades were non-conformists. The attic rooms of their department store were given over to the offices of the National Protestant League, which consequently had a sign facing onto the Cornhill." [Simon Knott] That must refer to this particular door. The Grimwade name can be found on the Grimwade Memorial Hall, Hope House and, of course, Grimwade Street. The Grimwade family were one of the most prominent families in Ipswich in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and John Henry Grimwade was the most significant member. He was the founder and owner of Grimwade's department store, one of the biggest stores in Ipswich. The Grimwades lived at Richmond House on Handford Road before having Bacton House on Fonnereau Road built.

See also our page on Ipswich Museum contents for a photograph of 'Ipswich Bon Marché' at number 3 Cornhill.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Cornhill 1934   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Cornhill Footmans store  
Above left: the north-west corner of Cornhill in 1830 with the American Stores (later
the Grimwade store site) and a very narrow Westgate Street. This was formerly the Bell Tavern, so it was known as 'Bell Corner' and was the scene of the laying of the first stone of a new pavement in the year 1793, under an Act of Parliament which had been passed for "paving, lighting, cleansing, and otherwise improving the town of Ipswich". See our Crown & Anchor page for an 1959 photograph of this view. But wait, ... The East Anglian Daily Times in their Souvenir of the Royal Show published in 1934 show the above left line drawing and caption 'Cornhill 1830'. Surely, the Crown & Anchor fascade was built in 1849 and it features in this drawing? The northern side of Cornhill at this time was a continous run of shops. Lloyds Avenue was not cut through until 1920 and Mumford's Passage (named after William Mumford, 19th century surgeon who owned property in the vicinity), an alleyway beside Old Waterloo House – fore-runner of Footman Pretty and later Debenhams store – was the only access to the rear (see below). Above right: 'Footmans – The Store of East Anglia', with 'Waterloo House' prominently lettered, in a 1934 advertisement. "Over 80 Departments complete with Restaurant and Restroom where you may meet your friends. ... MUSIC".
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Footmans store bag
A rare survivor (care of Joyce Salmon, to whom our thanks) is the above paper bag from Footman's, found at the back of a drawer in 2015.

Lloyds Bank and Lloyds Avenue Arch
The area between Post Office and pub was blockpaved in a reddish colour in modern times and became known as 'Red Square' for a while - perhaps because of the predominantly Labour nature of Ipswich Borough Council (until 2004) and the town returning (with two exceptions in recent history) a Labour MP to parliament. The scandalous neglect of a once flourishing open market over thirty-five years finally resulted in its move from the now-demolished Civic Centre car park to the Cornhill and demand for more space for stalls from potential stallholders. Apparently, before the upper portion of Princes Street (dealt with in the Cornhill 2 page) could be used to accomodate more market stalls, an Act of Parliament had to be passed. This was achieved in 2004.

Facing the old Post Office is the Loyds Avenue arch bearing, on the horizontal lintel, the chiselled capitals:
'LLOYD'S AVENUE'
 Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lloyds Avenue 1  Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lloyds Bank2013 image
Once blocked off from the lane behind, which was widened to create Lloyds Avenue, the only access was via an alleyway through the original buildings, was replaced in 1890 by the Italianate Venetian-inspired frontage created by Thomas William Cotman, architect of the Crown and Anchor Hotel, further up Westgate Street. To the right of the main arch, once a busy thoroughfare thick with cabs and traffic until pedestrianisation, is the doorway to the main banking area. A fine porch is flanked by Corinthean-style columns, resplendant with three grotesque masks and the clean lettering 'BANK' incised in a decorative curved cartouche. Compare with the Barclays 'Bank' sign in Princes Street opposite and examples in Beccles, Lowestoft and Felixstowe. The roundels in the spandrels on either side of the doorway feature St George slaying the dragon with the motto: 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE' and, on the right, Queen Victoria with the inscription: 'DEI GLORIA'. These roundels, fittingly for a bank, were based on the two sides of the sovereign coin.

The commissioners of the 19th century development were two companies: Cobbold & Co., also Bacon, Bacon, Cobbold & Co. The two elements of Cotman's building were, to the right, the premises of Cobbold & Co's Bank (which later merged with Lloyd's TSB) and, to the left, the offices of Bacon, Bacon, Cobbold & Co. This is the part which was adapted (some would say 'butchered') in 1930 to create Lloyd's passage linking Cornhill with Crown Street. Such a radical cutting-away of the supporting ground floor of a major building clearly posed serious civil engineering problems and periodic surveys and restrengthening seem to have followed the change.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lloyds Bank door 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lloyds Bank door 2
Roundels in the spandrels above the doorway.
St George Slaying the Dragon with, on on the buckled cicular strap: 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'; Queen Victoria: 'VICTORIA DEI GLORIA'. Below: one of the grotesque 'green men' which grace the frontage.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lloyds Bank door 32014 images

Commemorative plaques on the Cornhill
(Thanks to Mike O'Donovan for these images)
The first two are in Lloyds Avenue and the third is set into the block paving near the Town Hall entrance.
1.Ipswich Historical Lettering: Cornhill plaque 1 2.Ipswich Historical Lettering: Cornhill plaque 2
1. 'LLOYDS AVENUE
ARCHWAY
1931
RESTORED
AND
PAVED FOR PEDESTRIAN USE
SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
 BOROUGH OF
IPSWICH
1982
Sir Frederick Snow & Partners  Consulting Engineers
Sadlers & Sons (Ipswich) Ltd  General Contractors'

2. 'Ipswich
The Ancient County Town of Suffolk
Dedicated to world peace as a Sri Chinmoy Peace Town
Ipswich joins hundreds of communities throughout the world which have dedicated
themselves to the cause of peace and international friendship as peace blossoms.
"Man seeks peace because his earthly existence desperately needs it. Man
welcomes peace because he feels that in peace alone is his life of acheivement
and fulfillment." -Sri Chinmoy
"There shall come a time when this world will be flooded with peace. Who
is going to bring about this radical change? It will be you - you and your
brothers and sisters. You and your oneness-heart will spread peace
throughout the length and breadth of the world." -Sri Chinmoy
This dedication was signed by Councillor Hamil Clarke MBE, Mayor of Ipswich(1998-99), on 31st of March 1999,
on the ocassion of the visit of the Oneness-Home Peace Run to Ipswich during its global journey,
and inaugurated by Councillor Don Edwards, Mayor of Ipswich (2000-01)'
3.Ipswich Historical Lettering: Cornhill plaque 3
3. 'THIS PLAQUE WAS LAID BY
THE MAYOR OF IPSWICH
COUNCILLOR W.A. QUINTON
ON THE 15th NOVEMBER 1988
TO MARK THE COMPLETION OF
THE TOWN CENTRE PAVING SCHEME'
This plaque, set into the paving in front of the Town Hall steps, also bears the Ipswich coat of arms at the upper right.
 
The Cornhill in history
John Speed’s map of Ipswich, 1610, is the earliest known plan of the town with any degree of accuracy. It shows, to the north-west of the geographical town centre, an open rectangular area with the thoroughfare we know today as Westgate Street and Tavern Streets. This east-west highway is known to be of Roman origin. The rectangular area features the Market Cross (originally probably a preaching cross) which was paid for by Wolsey’s uncle, Edmund Daundy (1468-1515). The Cross was a feature of the Cornhill for 300 years. Also depicted: a building where today’s ‘Post Office’ stands which must be the original Shambles, and finally a church – presumably St Mildred – which is thought to have existed in Anglo-Saxon times. The map’s key labels this number 8: ‘Corne hill’.
At the time of the map’s publication Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors, had been dead for seven years and James I (of England), the first of the Stuarts, was on the throne.
Ipswich Historical Lettering: Cornhill 1790
Above: a watercolour of the Cornhill before 1790 showing the Shambles building to the right centre and Tavern Street at the left. The prominent Market Cross is topped by ‘Justice’. The building on the extreme right is the Three Tuns Inn which later became the Corn Exchange Tavern. The tower of St Lawrence Church is in the background.

This area is much older than the map, of course. This is the place where corn brought in from the countryside was laid out for sale; thus the Cornhill is intrinsically tied to a market in Ipswich. Markets (as well as fairs) were historically of great cultural, legal and economic significance throughout the land. To some extent, they continue to be so. Medieval towns often grew up around crossroads and river crossings – particularly if a church was nearby – where people brought their wares to sell on a specific day of the week. Taverns, craft workshops and eventually housing were often found at or near the same spot.

Bob Malster tells us: ‘It is possible that in the early Anglo-Saxon times the Wuffinga kings of East Anglia had a royal residence on the Cornhill alongside St Mildred’s Church, which later became the town hall.’ After centuries of corn trading on the hill a Corn Exchange was built, initially in 1812 on the site of today’s ‘Post Office’ and replaced in 1882 by the building we know today, for decades a busy place of trade. Over time it has become an entertainment centre: the Grand Hall, cinemas, bar and – until recently – art gallery which sits south of our Town Hall, fronting King Street.

The long-standing, timber-built Shambles once stood on the south-east corner of the Cornhill. Arched and open to the air at street level, it was home to the butchers’ market. The area in front of the Shambles (around the location of the two trees which grow in front of the ‘Post Office’ today) was the focus of two activities: bull-baiting and martyr-burning. The former was based on the belief that terrorising cattle with dogs prior to slaughter tenderised the resultant meat. The latter occurred around 1515-1558 during a period of religious and political tumult when London vied with Rome in the publication of new heresies, crimes which could be punishable by burning at the stake.

Two thousand or more people were recorded as attending these grisly executions. They usually occurred from 7 to 10 o’clock in the morning with the heretic tied to a sixpenny stake surrounded by brushwood and faggots. Officials sat in the gallery of the Shambles and a clergyman would deliver an appropriate sermon. The condemned man or woman would then have the chance to speak, sometimes at length enough to annoy the gentlemen onlookers. Sir Robert Curson, occupant of Curson House in St Peters Street, was once so overwrought by a burning that he came down from the gallery, cut a branch with his sword from a nearby tree and added it to the flames.

The Cornhill of 1800 must at times have been impossibly congested. Corn trading still took place around the Market Cross, as well as all sorts of livestock (horses, cattle, pigs and sheep) being bought and sold, not to mention local traffic and the hourly stage coach. The timber-framed Shambles of yore had been replaced by the short-lived, odiferous Rotunda, but this and the Market Cross (repaired and changed over time), were swept away in 1812 to be replaced by a Regency Corn Exchange. By about 1880 this in turn gave way to the grand Post Office building. The sculpted figure of Justice from the top of the Market Cross, exchanged her sword and scales for a sickle and sheaf of wheat/horn of plenty to sit atop the interim Corn Exchange. She currently lives, a little weather-beaten, at the foot of the main staircase in the Town Hall.

When major alterations to the Cornhill were discussed in October 2013, the late Dr John Blatchly was a strong advocate for retaining the gentle slope and reinstating the Market Cross. Its removal in 1812 seems to have been unpopular and the noted historian G.R. Clarke (1830) tells us that it was only pulled down ‘with considerable difficulty, as the timber, and every part of it, were in excellent preservation… As a relic of antiquity, we cannot but regret its loss.’ The town lost the focal point of the space, octangonal in plan with an area suitable for seating covered by an attractive ogee-shaped, lead-covered roof, topped by the aforementioned figure of Justice. It was 27 feet in diameter and about fifty feet from the ground to the top of the figure. Apparently parts of the Market Cross are stored at the Ipswich Museum.

The grand Venetian-style Town Hall we see today arrived in 1868; it was designed by Lincoln architect Pearson Bellamy, replacing a Palladian Town Hall which was built on the site of the Church of St Mildred around 1812. This saw the final removal of any remnants of the church which had stood on the Cornhill for a thousand years. Meanwhile, for a hundred years the new Town Hall was the seat of local government in the town, until the Borough moved its offices to the Civic Centre in the 1960s. Sitting on a raised platform and accessed by impressive stone steps (as does the ‘Post Office’ building), in 2016 the Town Hall is crying out for a new role in our town. Having apparently wandered away from the original idea of a fine suite of galleries for exhibitions and workshops, the ‘Town Galleries’ seem now to be mainly a café and gift shop. Only the Suffolk Craft Society room maintained the original intention, until 2017. The large Council Chamber room upstairs still provides a good venue for music, poetry and other events.


See our Cornhill 2 page for more on this area.



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