132-4 Fore Street: '1620'& The Steam Packet Inn

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620a   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620c2013 images
Offord's Newsagents stands at 132-4 Fore Street: an old building seemingly being swallowed up by the new UCS building behind it. The sign above the shop reads: 'OFFORD'S OFF LICENCE, news, tobacco, confectionery'. The buildings at 132-38  Fore Street are Listed Grade II. We half-noticed in passing the date on the bressumer above this shop in the past, but it was not until April 2013 that it was included on this website.

The date:

'1620'
is picked out rather crudely in white paint on the black-painted carving (just below the dreaded 'The Sun' logo).

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620e
Suspicions about the very crisp '1620' carved date on a similar beam in Old Cattle Market are not duplicated here. The close-ups shown below of the decoration, not to mention the decayed end-grain, indicate a very old piece of timber.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620d
The official Listing: 'A C17 timber-framed and plastered building with it jettied upper storey on the whole front with exposed timber-framing and a carved bressumer bearing the date 1620. 2 storeys and attics. 8 window range, casements. The ground storey has small C20 shops. Roofs tiled, with 3 gabled dormers with heavy moulded pediments, There is a heavy carved projecting eaves board with the same motifs as the bressumer. The building is weatherboarded at the west end.'

A look at the back of the building shows that, despite modernisations, the gable and rooflines bear the mark of age.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620f
The comparitive photographs below show (a) the buildings photographed in the late 19th century (see it on the 1881 map at the foot of this page), (b) the buildings in the 1960s [?] showing exposed beams (which don't look very old) and four individual shops with Offords newsagent's trading at this time, the entrance behind the bicycle; also (c and d) the view in 2013 from a similar position to (a). These cottages have been referred to as "Ropemakers' Cottages"; Des Pawson of the Museum of Knots & Sailors Ropework (see Links) notes that, if true, the ropemakers living there would probably have worked on the ropewalk at the bottom of Back Hamlet or further round towards what is now the Tolly Cobbold brewery – both shown as ropeyards on Olgiby’s 1674 map of Ipswich – rather than in the area we know today as 'Rope Walk', roughly parallel with St Helens Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Steam Packet period 1late 19th C.  Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore St 1620 1960s1960s
The period view (a) shows, in the foreground, the original line of the street before the demolition of ancient encroachments.; the houses were originally occupied by rope-workers. The woman with the white apron would be standing approximately in the doorway to Offords newsagent's. This remarkable photograph was found in Grace, F.: Rags and bones (see Reading list), as was the image of The Steam Packet Tap. The windows, doors and chimneys of The Steam Packet have altered over the years, but it's reasonably certain that this is the only structure standing in the period photograph (although the small newsagent's shop between the Loch Fynne restaurant and the Travelodge, called at one time 'Bargain Booze' – nice – could be original).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620i2013 image
The second contemporary photograph (below) shows a slightly different angle with more depth showing in Duke Street. The Dutch gable end brickwork to the left of the 1620 building has clearly been reshaped and the chimney stack shortened (just behind it there is a glipse of the edge of the modern 'Neptune Marina' building with its projecting roof). This matches the roof-edge showing on the period photograph.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620jSee it on the 1881 map below.
Here is a period photograph, perhaps 1950s, showing the '1620' cottages to the left and their position relative to the Social Settlement across the road. This fine building was demolished as part of the clear-up of the Fore Street prior to the Queen's visit to Ipswich (to open the Civic College) in July 1961. The advertising hoardings in the right foreground indicate that demolition of the cottages on this site had already taken place. The absence of traffic in Fore Street is notable. The gap left by the demolition of the Settlement can be seen in 2015 because it forms part of the University Campus Suffolk car park opposite the Waterfront Building.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore St period

The Steam Packet Tap
At the end of Coprolite Street, opposite the Packard Manure Factory, once stood The Steam Packet Tap described as "a small insalubrious beerhouse usually frequented by seamen, dock porters and carters":
'STEAM PACKET TAP
COBBOLD'S ALES'
was painted in rather grand drop-shadow capitals on the brickwork just below the eaves.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Steam Packet period 2See it on the 1881 map below.
The Steam Packet Tap would have stood approximately where the south-western corner of the 21st century University Campus Suffolk building on Neptune Quay now stands. How times change.

2-4 Duke Street: The Steam Packet Inn
It is worth peeping round the corner from Offords newsagent's at the former Steam Packet Hotel at 2-4 Duke Street. There is a 'typical' corner public house entrance with decorative fanlights and columns; these decorations are repeated on the front entrance. The smaller white brick building across the lane looks contemporary and to be part of the Steam Packet Inn, but this is unconfirmed. The immediate neighbour on Duke Street (left) is the modern-build Countrylife wood burner and stove shop; this bears a tablet: 'This building was designed and built by Mr & Mrs Read, completed in 1998'. In the background, the University College Suffolk block to the right and the Neptune Marina apartments to the left.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620b   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Steam Packet periodSee it on the 1881 map below.
The period photograph above right (perhaps early 20th century?) of the well-signed The Steam Packet Inn shows very little change from today's view (one chimney stack removed, a couple of windows yet to be cut into the gable end) with 'COBBOLD' on the canopy supported by the columns on Duke Street and 'ALES ... COBBOLD ... STOUT in the lane at the side. The terrace of houses further down Duke Street includes a small shop (newsagent/tobacconist, perhaps), but it is long gone.

This pub closed on September 18th 1960 and the last owner was Cobbold's brewery. The sign-board between the first and second storeys which interestingly has not been removed, is currently painted black. A similar blank sign can be found at the rear of the building (see below). It is now used for student accommodation. The building dates from the early 19th century, though there has been an inn on the site since at least 1765. The pub is shown on a 1778 map as "The Compass"; some time in the early 19th century it had become "the Compasses"; it is marked as such on plans understood to date from about the time the Wet Dock was opened in 1842. This may have earlier been known as the Carpenter's Arms; the rate list for 1754-1755 lists 'Danl Christmas' at the Carpenter's Arms and the same man in 1755-1756 at the Steam Packet. Either the inn was renamed or the landlord moved. (Information from the Suffolk CAMRA website, see Links.)
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620g
Above: the back; below: the side of The Steam Packet.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620h
In the background: Grimwade Hall.

The 1881 map of the area below shows an almost unrecognisable mass of courts, yards, dense housing, large industrial buildings (notably the 'Manure Manufactory' with its section overhanging the dock and tramway to meet the wharf), maltings etc. The '1620 building' (marked in red) which is in 2013 at the head of Fore Street was once in the first narrow part of Fore Hamlet because of the elongated row of buildings which extended westwards from the 'Congregational Chapel' (presumably now called Grimwade Hall which stands at the present-day junction of Back Hamlet, Fore Hamlet and Fore Street). Across the lane from the '1620 building' is The Steam Packet Inn and, at the Wet Dock end of Coprolite Street, is The Steam Packet Tap.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fore Street 1620 map
Ransome's Orwell Works occupied a huge site to the south and east of this map detail.


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