Friars Bridge Road / Greyfriars Priory
and 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road map 021902 map detail
The modern map of the area (below) shows the triangular block of buildings to the west of the Princes Street/Civic Drive/Franciscan Way 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road map 20152015 map
See our Civic Drive page for a fuller view of the 1902 road layout with modern streets overlaid.

National Farmers Union Mutual relief
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.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road 5
Close-up photograph courtesy Tim Leggett

Street nameplates
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Friars Bridge Road 22015 images
See also Coytes Gardens, further up Princes Street towards the Cornhill.

Greyfriars Priory
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grayfriars ruins
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 page.)

The Little Gipping
The street name indicates that it marked the western boundary 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, more importantly, proclaim the status of) the old town in the years after King John granted Ipswich its Charter in 1200 (our Water in Ipswich page covers the ramparts in more detail). 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.'. A wide area of marshland and a harbour/riverside were as much a defence against attack as a ditch and rampart.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Rivers map 1856pre-1842 map
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 the way in which the Orwell meets the Gipping in these two arms..

Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.
Search Ipswich Historic Lettering
2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission