Ipswich Tomorrow,
what happened after 'Tomorrow'
, Greyfriars timeline

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich tomorrow comp.
This short leaflet, from the collection of Ipswich Society member Trevor Hart, was produced by the developer of what was then seen as the utopian Greyfriars complex (1964-66) until the Government abandoned the planned expansion of the whole area. Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing, but the language used and attitudes expressed in the document are very striking. They ring very hollow over the decades and evoke an early 1960s struggling to leave the grey austerity of post-War Britain and fling itself towards the white heat of technology proclaimed in 1963 by Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich tomorrow 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich tomorrow 2
Two photographs are juxtaposed captioned 'The Old Look...': a street of Victorian terraced housing with corner shop in the foreground - 'Players Please' above the door and newspaper headline boards below the shop window; '... and the New (note roof-top parking)': an architect's scale model of the Greyfriars development with tiny cars visible on the top deck. A major feature of the project, we are told, is greatly increased parking for cars which will attract pleasure-seekers, shoppers and diners to the town to spend money and appeal to "further organisations to join Shell and Fisons as major users of office space in the area, possibly as regional headquarters." Most ironic of all is the caption above an elevated view of terraces, two churches (probably St Nicholas and St Peter) and the distant dockside silos: 'The Ipswich of a bygone age will give way to "a lasting tribute to the architectural and building skills of the 1960s".'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich tomorrow 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich tomorrow 4
Some of the attractions planned for the complex (apart from the copious parking) are 'a large department store, a supermarket [Pricerite and their S&H pink stamps] and one other large shop, and about 30 smaller shops arranged on two levels, a covered market with 75 stalls and an agricultural showroom below, designed to attract visiting farmers to exhibitions of agricultural machinery etc. on market days... an auction room suite, exhibition hall, public house - and, on the top floor, a restaurant. Proposals are also made for a bank [there was a branch of Midland bank], a small "arts" cinema to seat 300 which can also be used for fashion shows and conferences... a coffee bar, a record shop [remember them?], self-service shop and travel agency and both ladies' and men's hairdressers.'

In reality, what ensued in the tortured history of the development will be well-remembered by many Ipswichians:
The site was eventually rescued and reborn largely via expansion – and some demolition – by the Willis insurance company.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Cromwell St 1960sPhotograph courtesy The Ipswich Society
Cromwell Street, north side, early 1970s. The dual carriageway comes to a juddering halt at the mid-right of this photograph, with the rather good row of 17th century shops on St Nicholas Street facing the driver. At the left, the demolition of houses prior to the building of the Willis building has begun; the gap with the low board barrier used to be the junction with Friars Road. These rather nice Victorian houses had looked out on a similar terrace on the opposite side of the road. Dualling of the road resulted in the demolition of the latter, so the view would have included St Nicholas Church. St Nicholas Church Lane also disappeared.

See also Lost Ipswich trade signs for a section on 'Before and after Willis' and an note about Thomas Seckford's 'Great Place' in Westgate Street, destroyed during the cutting-through of Museum Street in the 1840s.

This article from Ipswich Society Newsletter, April 2016, Issue 203 (see Links), gives an excellent overview of how the roads and streets in this part of Ipswich were under threat.

The Ring-Road that never was

Just imagine a government deciding that a town's population should double; the town preparing for such an influx of population by demolishing, reconstructing, providing new infrastructure and the means by which a large new population could be absorbed into the framework of a town.

Imagine the building of the new roads including Civic Drive; the construction of a new shopping centre, Greyfriars; the preparation for further expansion, all being undertaken with the vigour and the enthusiasm that the prospects of increased population can bring to a town – even a ring-road eventually to encircle the town centre as a dual carriageway.

Imagine the first phase, well underway: roads constructed, preparations for further stages including the demolition of buildings along planned routes for extensions of roads; the concerns and worries of local people and interested parties in the history and archaeology of that place swept aside by a great plan for the future success of the town. Imagine all this only to find that the government has changed its mind. The London overspill programme hadn’t been a roaring success. Evidence was to be found in Haverhill, Thetford and Great Cornard; so, a new town was developed, Milton Keynes. Ipswich was no longer to double its population. Ipswich was to get nobody at all.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road 4
Photographs from the Ipswich Society’s Image Archive (see Links).
The construction of the planned ring-road came to a halt. People were listened to, the worry about the destruction the road would cause to the town's ancient fabric was heard and, anyway, the pressure was off Ipswich. However, work had already started to clear the route for the next phase: Richard Felaw’s house in Foundation Street had been demolished and the remnants of Blackfriars monastery were threatened. Today we can see Peninsular House at 11-13 Lower Orwell Street, carefully chamfered to fit a roundabout and the nearby multi-story car park in Foundation Street proudly stands on the site of [Richard] Felaw’s house which had originally been cleared for the new road. Then there is today’s Cromwell Square: this car park is formed from the last section of the dual carriageway to be built which ended at St Nicholas Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road map 1960s 1
1958 map proposal
Above: detail of the 1958 map of the southern area of central Ipswich with the proposed ring-road shown in broken lines. The dual carriageway built down as far as the eastern end of Crowell Street would have pushed through St Nicholas Street buildings with a large roundabout covering most of Silent Street; it would then have moved eastwards over Turret Lane and Lower Brook Street towards Foundation Street and beside the site of today's multi-storey car park. Note the legend on the 1958 map above Rose Lane: 'Furniture Factory; Lord Curson's House (Site of)', which doesn't quite fit with the location shown on our Wolsey's College page.

For Ipswich during the 1960s there was no question that some improvements were needed. A traditional but booming market town where the livestock market was still operational, farmers and rural Suffolk people came into town regularly. There were great local shops: Ridley’s, Footman’s, Cowell’s Department Store in the Butter Market and Sneezum's as well as many successful manufactories.

But there was a demand for new roads as the numbers of commuters and traffic coming into town grew. A wave of prosperity was flowing over Britain and over the town, people wanted better, newer things, so this was reflected in the aspirations of central government and local government too. If we look at a current street map of Ipswich it is possible to see the sweep of Civic Drive from St Matthews Street down to Saint Nicholas Church. This is the remains of the ring-road plan and the vestiges of the last stretch heads eastwards through Cromwell Square car park.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road 6Photographs by Tony MarsdenIpswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road 5
Had the plans come to fruition the ring-road would have destroyed the jettied, timber-framed, 17th century buildings around 25-29 St Nicholas Street, putting a large roundabout over Silent Street, striding through Turret Lane, Lower Brook Street, Foundation Street, and Upper Orwell Street (see the map detail below). Just imagine a government deciding that a town's population should double; the town preparing for such an influx of population by demolishing, reconstructing, providing new infrastructure and the means by which a large new population could be absorbed into the framework of a town.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ring-road map 1960s 21958 map proposal
The ring-road then looped northwards to flatten and broaden a dualled Bond Street, meeting St Helen’s Street at a large roundabout just outside the Regent Theatre, always supposing the theatre had been spared. Our back page detail of the 1958 map From here traffic would head westwards to the Robert Ransome. Old Foundry Lane and St Margaret's Street would now surround an island on which all the buildings in the middle would remain. A dual carriageway would sweep across the bus station to a roundabout at the top of Lloyds Avenue, in front of Crown Pools. At this point the traffic would continue straight along Crown Street, St Matthews Street (sections of which are still dualled today) and so complete the circuit at the top of Civic Drive.

Members of the Executive Committee were reminded of this last autumn when a map was handed over to us. It was dated 24th April 1958, produced on behalf of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor John B. Storey; it graphically outlined the plans for the town to be radically changed. It had been produced in response to government plans and measures to create an ‘Ipswich New Town’ scheduled to get a mass of London overspill in the 1960/70s which would double the population of the town.

When we examined the map there was no big surprise because much of what the it indicated had been known in the intervening years and we were aware of the narrow escape that the town had experienced; the striking thing was the detail and scale of what had been planned in such simple graphic form. Moreover, at the behest of the central government of the time there seemed to be a complacent ease with which the lines were drawn paying little attention to the potential destruction of parts of our historic town. But some of us were reminded of another occasion, when there was not an escape but an opportunity missed – the effect being that of shock.

In December 2007 the planned Unitary Authority for Ipswich was deemed by the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, to be unaffordable: "Politicians in Ipswich today reacted with shock and dismay after proposals for home rule were controversially shelved amid claims it would prove too expensive" said the local press. One councillor at Ipswich Borough, Lib Dem leader Andrew Cann, said he found the decision to abandon unitary status for Ipswich “inexplicable”.

It was a move that rendered hundreds of hours of officer time and thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money wasted: central government announced that Ipswich's unitary bid would not get the green light. The then Department for Communities and Local Government told the town that Ipswich had not met “the affordability criteria”.

There seems, on occasion, to be an apparent arbitrary nature to governance witnessed by people who are unaware of the full story, or who have the full picture obscured from them. The question often asked is: ‘Who makes judgments and who decides?’. In the cases here mentioned the central government of the time takes responsibility and we at the local level can only react and respond accordingly. The map is interesting and provocative especially at a time when devolution for Suffolk, Norfolk & Cambridge seems to be imminent and Suffolk Coastal & Waveney are looking to merge. On this occasion the government has distanced itself from the decisions – it is a local matter, the responsibility will not rest with Whitehall. I wonder whether in fifty-odd years time there will be a map to contemplate which our successors will find reflects an escape or a shock – and who then will be there to take responsibility?
Tony Marsden (including contributions from John Norman and Mike Cook)


[UPDATE 14.3.2017: 'Reminds me of the song, Tore Down Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot. A lot of history gone.  Thank goodness they stopped before it was all gone. Regards, Carolyn Saxon']

Greyfriars timeline
1958: dated map of the proposed new Ring-road, samples of which are shown above.
1963: Vision for new centre revealed, planning permission obtained.
1964: Demolition of small streets begins ready for construction work.
1965-68: Construction work on site, includes creation of Civic Drive/Princes Street roundabout with restaurant/nightclub in the centre.
1967: farmland in Bucks is designated an official new town, resulting in Milton Keynes.
1969/70: Centre fitted out and first occupants move in, including the market and Pricerite supermarket.
Early 1970s: Market moves out after people fail to use it.

Mid 1970s: Restaurant/nightclub changes hands several times, but eventually closes.
Late 70s: The centres shops are largely unoccupied (including Pricerite), although the offices at St Clare House and the flats at Franciscan Tower (Now Ipswich Central tower) occupied.
1982: Willis takes over the site, and plans to turn multi-storey into staff car park and demolish old shops and central area.
1984: shops and plaza demolished, replaced by grass area.
Late 80s: St Clare House reclad to make it more attractive.
1990s: Franciscan Tower reclad and renamed.
2012/13: Civic Drive/Princes Street roundabout removed and replaced by traffic lights.

See also our Lost trade signs page for a feature on Before & after Willis.


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2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering website: Borin Van Loon
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