Friars Bridge Road / Greyfriars Priory
the hidden river
An example of a most historic and significant place in the story of
Ipswich, which is today a forgotten, tiny dog-leg of road... a dead end.
The map of 1902 shows that it once was much longer. Friars
Bridge Road (the map legend elides the first two words) can be seen
running east-west at the upper left of the map detail with 'Cattle
Pens' to its north and 'New Cattle Market' to its south, before it
meets Portman Road.
The modern map of the area (below) shows the triangular block of
buildings to the west of the Princes Street/Civic
junction (formerly the Greyfriars roundabout) with a remnant of Friars
Bridge Road curling round it. It appears that part of the approach road
into the car park off Portman Road follows the line of the old Friars
Bridge Road. The 'New Cattle Market' south of that road
line is also today a car park.
See our Civic Drive page for a
fuller view of the 1902 road layout with modern streets overlaid.
National Farmers Union Mutual
The NFU had offices at 2 Friars Bridge Road, but to the left of
Observation Court, 84 Princes St one can see a stone relief panel at
the end of the (now gated) courtyard of Legal and General Building,
visible from the street. The Public Sculptures in Norfolk & Suffolk
(see Links): 'Two farmers stand on a
foreshortened field. One is older and bearded wearing a waistcoat and
his younger companion wears a short sleeve-shirt. They hold a stone
sign in front of a sheaf of corn decorated with a cow in profile, a
foreshortened tractor, pig and four sacks of grain. The wheatsheaf is
the symbol of NFU Mutual, the farmers' insurance company, this grander
and more complex design must have been commissioned when the Ipswich
branch first moved into this building, perhaps in the 1950s. The
building was renovated for NFU Mutual around 1993, before they moved to
Lower Brook Street when it was taken
over by Legal and General.'
Close-up photograph courtesy Tim
The street nameplates are of interest in that there are two,
where one might have imagined that one would do. Also that one of the
signs (below right) is set back on the sharp corner: an area used as a
"smokers' ghetto" for workers from the surrounding office blocks.
See also Coytes Gardens, further
up Princes Street towards the Cornhill.
Above: the ruins of Greyfriars, a line-and-wash illustration from G.R.
Clarke's History, 1830 (see Reading list).
The Greyfriars Priory lay to the west of Greyfriars Road. Surviving
arches were moved to Christchurch Park,
but when Greyfriars precinct was
built in the 1960s these arches, with other remains from Friars Road,
were re-erected in the precinct. It is unlikely that such treatment
would be given to archeological remains today, one hopes. A 1902 map
detail of the area showing the site of the remains at that time can be
seen on our JBO lost signs page under
the 'Before Willis' section. (See also our Monasteries
The Little Gipping
The street name indicates that it marked the western
of the Franciscan Friary (Greyfriars) which extended south from Friars
Street. The Friars Bridge, one of the western approaches to Ipswich,
led to the Priory. It sounds contemporary with the religious
establishment, but there is likely to have been an older bridge leading
to the 'Oldenholme' (possibly the root of 'Alderman') marshes, where
the town portmen had pasturage for their horses. The earthen rampart,
probably with a pallisade on top, and ditch below it was put up to
defend (and proclaim the status of) the old town in the years after
King John granted Ipswich its Charter in 1200. The marshland lay
outside the medieval defences which follow the outer line of the Anglo-Saxon settlement and the
rampart appears to have
reached down to a causeway, built above the marsh, from Greyfriars
which bridged the Little
Gipping River (much of which runs underground in
the 21st century) at Friars Bridge. As Muriel
Clegg (Streets and street names in
Ipswich see Reading list)
writes: "An earlier arm of the [Gipping] river, now underground,
approached the town from a more northerly direction and gave a curious
impression (reflected in the three maps [John
Speed's map of 1610, John Ogilby's map
of 1674, Joseph Pennington's map of 1778])
of completing its defensive
encirclement just where the medieval rampart ended." On Speed's map
this smaller river is labelled 'Orwell Flu.'. Presumably a wide
area of marshland was as much a defence against attack as a ditch and
The above map shows the curious split in the Ipswich rivers west
of Stoke Bridge.
Note that this is pre-Wet Dock (opened in 1842). On Pennington's map of 1778 the loop running to
the north from Stoke tide mill is labelled 'The River Gipping', the
suggestion on the map that the southern part of the river is The River
Orwell. (On E. E. White's Map of c.1867 it
is labelled 'River Gipping/Orwell'.) Note the apparent spelling error
of 'Halford Bridge' at upper left, for
Handford Bridge. The whole area to the south and west of Ipswich around
the rivers is depicted as extensive marshland: a natural defence to
attackers from the west.
See our Water in Ipswich page for much
more on this subject.
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throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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