This triangle of land was formed
when New Cut was dug and a thin strip of land linked it with St Peter's
Quay (see our Wet Dock map if you're
confused). As we shall see there is a road/rail link across the lock
by a swing-bridge at the other end.
The first historically lettered objects to be seen on the island
are in a group of marine buoys which have been mounted and restored to
welcome visitors to the island. We have included these on the Stoke
Bridge Trinity House buoy page.
The warehouse with a curving roof, clad in corrugated metal is
still in use, but by the look of the decaying timbers supporting
sliding doors at the side (above), it has seen better days.
The Public Warehouse still stands at an angle alongside Public
Warehouse Quay and was once clearly lettered (although the period image
above shows that the 'E's were fading). In the 1896
image the house to the left appears to be the house shown boarded up
and behind a fence in 2013, see New Cut East.
Also note the round gabled Harbour Master's Office, the modern
version of which is also shown on that page. We think
that they must be the same (reshaped) buildings with the original lock
entrance visible, so this view must be from New Cut. The original lock
was replaced by the one we know today in 1881, but not immediately
filled in (see our Wet Dock
courtesy Ipswich Maritime Trust
This fine period photograph above shows a vessel in the original
upper lock (coming off New Cut), with the clearly lettered Public
Warehouse behind. It comes from the Ipswich Maritime Trust Occasional
Paper No. 1 linked from our Wet Dock map
page: "In 1882 an iron-framed public warehouse was built to the north
of the original entrance lock, giving its name to Public Warehouse
Quay, as seen in the photograph..., taken in the late 1880s.
Remarkably, it stills stands today."
courtesy The Ipswich Society
The third historic photograph from The Ipswich Society's Flickr
collection (see Links) may depict the Public
Warehouse in the 1960s/70s. A line of brightly coloured buoys line one
wall with three loading gantries suspended above. The 'PUBLIC
WAREHOUSE' lettering can still be read through the rusty discoloration
of the corrugated iron. The Public Warehouse was built in 1880-81,
designed by Thomas Miller. It has a 120 feet by 60 feet footprint.
(Information from Bettley: Pevsner, Suffolk East, see Reading List.)
For an aerial photograph of the Island with the 'Public
Warehouse' clearly visible, see our Lost
trade signs page.
tramway lines and interchanges; far more are preserved on the Island
than on the northern quays. For much more on 'a
rat's-eye view' (see the traps in photographs below) of historic
lettering and dockside furniture all round the Wet Dock see our Island at ground-level and northern quays pages.
As usual, the Ipswich Society website (see Links)
is an invaluable source of scholarship. We can do no better than
reproduce a slightly edited version of Ruth Serjeant's article from the
IS Newsletter July 2009
"...[this] building, situated on the Island site, adjacent to what we
now refer to as the old lock entrance in the New Cut. As some members
may not have known about this building, now almost 180 years old and
quite distinctive with its barrel shaped roof, I thought a few notes on
its history may be of interest.
The opening of the Wet Dock in the 1840s brought increasing trade and
shipping to Ipswich. Many businesses involved in the import and export
trade built their own warehouses around the dock area, and while the
Common Quay provided landing facilities for public use, there was
little warehousing facility for the same public use - temporary storage
for smaller amounts of goods in transit. This lack, and the
ever-growing need to re-position the lock entrance to accommodate the
larger ships that found difficulty in manoeuvring into the New Cut lock
entrance, was finally recognised by the passing in 1877 of the Ipswich
Dock Act. This gave the Ipswich Dock Commission the power to undertake
these two improvements to the port as well as other associated works.
In 1878 Thomas Miller, engineer to the Commission, presented' A Plan of
Ipswich Dock and Port, showing proposed new work'.
Included in this plan is the site of a proposed wharf and warehouse
where the Public Warehouse stands today.
A report to the General Committee of Management of the Commission was
presented in November 1879 by the Warehouse Committee. This stated that
though a temporary wooden shed had been originally proposed as a way of
measuring the use of a warehouse, "it would now be highly desirable if
a permanent iron building could be erected." This suggestion was
accepted by the Commissioners and by March 1880 plans had been prepared
by Thomas Miller for a substantial corrugated iron shed 120 x 60 ft
with necessary provision to receive a second floor. Early in April 1880
the General Management Committee minuted that William Whitford &
Co, Royal Ironworks, Commercial Road, London "had entered into contract
... at the cost of £1106". The contract was sealed by the Commission on
9 April 1880.
On the grand opening of the new lock on 27 July 1881 - the day that the
new Post Office on Cornhill and the new Museum in High Street were also
opened - the Ipswich Journal
reported that "the Commissioners have erected a public wharf and
warehouse for general trade, and approved plans for an extension .....
to be carried out as trade develops ... "
So began the working life of this new building. Some details of how it
operated can be drawn from the Commissioners' minute books. In
September 1881 an advertisement asked for tenders to be submitted for
the three year tenancy, rental payable yearly. If the tenant in that
period applied to increase the storage capacity by putting in the
second floor with any consequent alteration to the ground floor and
office accommodation, the Commissioners if agreeable would provide the
capital outlay and charge the tenant 7 per cent upon the sum required,
to be paid at the same time as the yearly rental. Three tenders were
received - the highest one of £ 121 p.a. from Charles Henry Cowell, was
accepted - it was stated that the other offers, both lower, had sought
to effect changes in the conditions relating to interest to be paid on
any capital outlay for extension works. The tenant, it must be assumed,
would have responsibility to allocate storage space, charging users on
the basis of a scale of rates laid down by the Commissioners. At the
turn of the century we find that R W Paul Ltd were tenants. In 1900, as
the only applicants to tender, they paid £175 p.a. rental, and in 1902,
again as the only applicants, offered £125 which was agreed to.
There is no doubt that more could be found out about the use of the
Public Warehouse from the sources I have looked at and perhaps from the
recollections of any members who had any working association with it. I
hope someone can add more to this short history.
• Ipswich Dock Commission Records
Ref EL1 Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich
• Ipswich Dock Commission (IDC)
Minute Book 1875-1893, EL1/1/3/6
• IDC General Committee of
Management Minute Book 1870-1881 EL1/1/4/5
• IDC Warehouse Committee Papers
• Plan of Ipswich Docks, Thomas
Miller, 1878 EL1/7/5/7
• Iron Warehouse Contract
Drawings, Thomas Miller, 1880 EL1/7/6/7 Ipswich Journal 30 January 1881"
The tramway lines here have been preserved with newer concrete
and tarmac infills. Clearly the lines could be switched right inside
the warehouse entrance in the past. This make sense as it means loading
and unloading as close to the source as possible. Compare with the
tracks still visible in the former Ransome
Orwell Works site on the other side of the Wet Dock. Close
to the Babcock cranes, the tracks suddenly disappear:
For a map of the different generations of railways and tramways
around the Wet Dock see our Wet
Dock map page
For more on lettered dockside furniture, see our Island at ground-level and northern quays pages.
Babcock & Wilcox cranes
Further down towards the lock we find this pair of modernist
cranes, well known to those who stroll down the western quays. One can
walk right underneath them. They are well-kept and well-painted with
the relief lettering:
picked out in white on the curved back section behind the
operator's cab. The American engineering firm of
Babcock & Wilcox opened its U.K. office in 1891. This pair of
industrial cranes seems to be quite modernist in design, suggesting
that they were built in the 1930s? It is hard to believe that this was
once a promenade for the fashionable citizens to take a Sunday stroll
between a double row of lime trees to 'The Umbrella' sheltered seats
with its views over Hog Highland and the River Orwell.
The same dazzling blue paint can be found on the swing bridge
and our photographs below show the bridge just beginning to move...
... and completely open as the lock gates eventually swing back
to allow boats to leave the lock and pass out into the open river; the Tolly Cobbold Brewery on Cliff Quay is in
the distance and the piece of land once called Hog Highland to the
This swing-bridge was replaced in 1949 by a new bridge
the Ipswich-based company Ransomes and
Rapier. The new bridge, on which metal track can be seen (above)
enabled main line rail traffic to reach Cliff
Quay. (See Reading list for the Malster and
Jones' book A Victorian vision.)
It must have been quite a journey, leaving the main trackbed near the
eastern end of the 'new' Ipswich station, down a curving incline, over
the crossing at Ranelagh Road (near to Reavells foundry), over a bridge
spanning the River Gipping, swinging round to run beneath Princes
Street road bridge, onwards parallel with Commercial Road, past the
sidings (site of the present-day Skate Park). Then, with Stoke Bridge
traffic halted (possibly by men with red flags), over the level
crossing, beneath the shadows of the R.W. Paul and
Burtons towers, swinging right onto the Island, then all the way
round past the Public Warehouse and down to the lock, over the
swing-bridge, round onto Cliff Quay, past the brewery and way down to
the long-demolished coal-fired power station.
[Update 13.9.2014: we
are indebted to John Norman for this photograph of the plaque on the
swing-bridge, usually only visible from on board a vessel in the lock.]
courtesy John Norman
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Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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