Morpeth House
now with added Blue plaque

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House 3
Lacey Street curves away from the town end of Woodbridge Road (opposite St Helens School and the Mary's sign), then runs more or less parallel to Woodbridge Road with a variety of house periods and styles which culminates in the rather extraordinary Morpeth House. In 1887 when it was built the house was surrounded by fields and woodland and Lacey Street only had three houses on it but now there are nearly 50. Charles Whitfield King built the house at number 99 and the striking art deco-style building opposite which were to become the hub of a worldwide philatelic business.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House 4
Whitfield King was a very successful businessman and sold millions of stamps from Ipswich. He employed 17 people in the building including sorters of stamps, addressers, cleaners and an engineer to keep the building in tip top condition. He was also a keen horticulturalist and cultivated the two acres of garden, including 1,500 varieties of orchid. The house frontage shown at the top is impressive enough with its named gateposts, central front door and two bay windows. However, step back and there appears to be a second, if not a third house rising behind it:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House 2 Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House 1
The building to the left which hides behind the garden wall is, we think, the octagonal former Billiard Room, which boasted a roof lantern to let in the light. However, it proved not to be weatherproof at a later date and had to be replaced with a slate roof.
The Stamp Room within Morpeth House was created by Charles Whitfield King: a former library that was wallpapered in 1892 with 44,068 stamps (total face value 699 16s 9d) by a decorator engaged exclusively for 3 months working eleven hours a day. The original owner of the house had a bookcase removed in 1894 and the extra space was used for another 5,474 stamps. The stamps were arranged in mosaics and interesting shapes over the walls. Sad to relate, this eccentric gem was not treasured by later owners and all that survives now is over the mantelpiece: a decorative '1892' with a mosaic pattern surround.

From an article in the Philatelic Journal of Great Britain Mar 1, 1892:
"Mr. King's business premises (the white building facing Morpeth House) are a model of order and neatness. The chief office, occupying nearly the whole of the ground floor, has a ground space of 36 feet by 15 feet, and is in all respects a fine room. Along one side runs a mahogany desk 30 feet in length, and facing this are numerous tiers of drawers, chock full of stamps. In the middle are two large tables, whereon the heavy orders are filled... The upper floor of Mr. King's business building is sacred to counting and sorting. When a parcel arrives from abroad it is turned out here, and its contents counted and sorted by the deft hands provided for the work. All round this room are ranged shelves groaning 'neath the weight of parcels of albums and boxes crammed full of stamps in the shape of made-up packets and sets.

Mr. King can claim that he lives in a house which was erected under his own supervision, and from his own plans. In early life he had foresight enough to provide himself with a builder for a father, and has since been able to turn this foresight to account... Morpeth House is a spacious, not to say palatial, dwelling, and in every sense a fitting abode for a Stamp King. Every room is well fitted and tastefully furnished. Mr. King has a good eye for a picture, and his walls are covered with interesting paintings. Curios, too, are not out of his line, his latest acquisition in this way being the bed upon which the Empress of Germany slept during her stay at Felixstowe. Our Special Commissioner sampled this bed during his stay at Ipswich, and he came away deeply impressed with the Empress good taste in the matter of beds."

Ownership of the house:
1887, Charles Whitfield King (b. 1855)
1930, Charles Whitfield King (b. 1887)
1945, James Whitfield King (b. 1921)
1959-1977, Ms Goddard Dance School (octagonal billiard room used as dance hall and Stamp Room as dressing room)
1977-2004, home of the Capey Family (8 children)
2004-now, home of the Gwinnutt Family (Martin, Emma, James and Becky)

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House 5

There was a plan in 2008 for 11 dwellings to be built on the three-quarters of an acre garden of Morpeth House; needless to say local residents - particularly those whose gardens overlooked this rural oasis with its mature trees were not too keen. Perhaps now the pressure to develop in such a dense way has lessened and this quirky house and garden can be left alone in its semi-seclusion. This little by-way of Ipswich's economic history shows that the Whitfield King stamp business at its height was known - and indeed traded - the world over.

The Borough's local list tells us:
"99 Lacey Street. Morpeth House. Detached late 19th century villa, 2 storey frontage to Lacey Street, 3 storey addition to the rear under a double pitched roof. Lower extension on east side. Grey gault brick main elevation, with stone dressings over windows and entrance door. Slate roof. The side elevations and rear extension are red brick with yellow stock brick and stone dressings and string course. Symmetrical street frontage; a recessed central doorway with stone pediment is set between large brick bays with stone cornices. On the first floor, sash windows either side of a small round headed window. Attached to the west side of the main frontage, the octagonal plan of a former billiard room is retained as a roofless red brick walled garden feature with a slate roofed apsidal extension on its west side. The property belonged to Charles Whitfield King, who operated a stamp business out of no. 102 Lacey Street (opposite) and displayed part of his collection in the house."

Blue plaque
30 June 2014
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 181920
Above: image from the exhibition showing The Whitfield Kings in their magnificent roadster outside Morpeth House in 1920 (from left: uniformed driver, Charles Whitfield King, Joan Moyle, Ethel King, Leah King, Nellie King).
On Saturday 30 June 2014 Morpeth House looks much as usual, but for the pale blue strip to the left of the front door. Suddenly, the street party nearby is abandoned and a crowd clusters round to witness the unveiling of an Ipswich Society blue plaque:
'Charles
Whitfield King

1855-1930
The stamp "King" of East
Anglia lived here.' 

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 2
The plaque was unveiled by the "Stamp King's" descendents, Charles Whitfield King and his daughter Leanne (30.6.14). The current owners kindly opened the doors of Morpeth house to visitors shortly after this and the remarkable house and grounds could be seen.
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The Stamp Room
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Here is the chimney breast of the drawing room bearing what remains of the stamp decoration, bearing the central date '1892'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 201956
Above: an image from the exhibition showing the stamp room decoration intact and visually stunning in 1956. Ken Wilson from the Ipswich Society recalls, at a later date, collecting his daughter from the house when it was a dancing school; the girls, awaiting their lifts, used to stand there picking the stamps off the wall. This would explain the somewhat fatigued current state of the remaining fragment.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth Strand Mag1893
[UPDATE 26.1.2015: a picture (above) of the stamp room from an issue of The Strand Magazine in 1893 – only a year after the room was completed. Many thanks to Basil Abbott of Diss Museum for letting us know about this.]

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 9   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 10
Below: the image of an event in the Morpeth House garden in 1915 for returning World War I servicemen.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 191915
Walking along the coaching drive from the foot of the steps, one passes the coach-house and the drive rises past the end of the old billiard room (now, sadly, lacking its roof and more of a 'garden room') to reach Lacey Street. We had never noticed the date on the brickwork above a filled-in door, difficult to see from the road:
'AD 1893'
in terra cotta characters, interwoven with floral motifs. Compare with the Co-op store in Cauldwell Hall Road and examples in Aldeburgh and Sudbury.
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The close-up shows that the 'A' and 'D' of Anno Domini are bound together like an impossible object. The curving figure '1' is almost lost behind the '8', but its tail protrudes from a slot in that numeral. The figure '3' clings fast to the '9' as ig hanging on for dear life. The single fruit (an olive?) appearing off-centre in the top of the '9' like the glint in an eyeball finishes off a remarkable date in
relief. Clearly, the billiard room post-dates at least the decoration in the Stamp Room within the house by a year.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 11aPhotograph courtesy John Norman
These monogrammes find echoes on Cauldwell Hall Co-op (1896), a terra cotta house fascade on Aldeburgh's seafront (1898) and Sudbury's Masonic Hall (1886).
Incidentally, a house just across the road at 130 Lacey Street has a dated plaque '1869', so it stood for about sixteen years before Morpeth House was built (see the dated boundary wall below)  and about twenty-five before the billiard room.

120 Lacey Street: the lost offices
Below: the view from beside the dated doorway into Lacey Street with the art deco frontage of the offices of the Whitfield King stamp business opposite. It was not until we saw the exhibition of images and memorabilia that we realised that there were older, large, Victorian offices (at no. 120 Lacey Street) to the left and adjoining the surviving deco building. They were demolished and the area is now the access to the Harmony Square/Hanover Square sheltered housing. It was said to be the biggest continuous frontage devoted to stamp trading in the world.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 21Old and new offices, 1937
This 1902 map shows the house and grounds with the Victorian offices opposite – close to the top of the Harmony Square cottages, prior to the building of the art deco offices which stand today (now used as a pharmacy connected to the health centre in Woodbridge Road). The eastern part of the gardens were later sold off for four angled semi-detached houses (two buildings) at the top of Hayhill Road. The billiard room which adjoined the house (parallel with Lacey Street) and the elaborate conservatory shown in the World War I veteran gathering photograph can be clearly seen. Compare with the 1883 map and present-day bird's eye view on the Harmony Square page.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth map 19021902 map

On the coach drive and built into the brick wall dividing it from the garden next door is an incised white brick:
'C.W.K. 1885'
(Charles Whitfield King 1885) indicating that construction on the site proceeded in more than one phase.
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At the cutting of the Penny Black cake, an unexpected – but appropriate – pendant worn by a member of the family cutting the cake.
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Below: the view down Lacey Street from outside Morpeth House on the day of the street party: bunting, music, food, drink, pottery, history, culture and the odd shower of rain.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth plaque 222014 images
[UPDATE 14.8.2014 – From Charles Whitfield King (great grandson of the 'Stamp King' and co-unveiler of the blue plaque):
"Hello Borin, ... Glad that you enjoyed the day and the exhibition itself, which took a lot of organising and getting together, but I felt it was all very worthwhile on the day. Many people have commented how they like the Ipswich historic website with Morpeth house featured, I even noticed that my sister's Penny Black pendant was shown as well which she was pleased to see, this was a present from my great-grandfather to his wife Leah. Thank you again for the photographs. Charles Whitfield King." Many thanks to Charles for getting in touch.]


[UPDATE 4.5.2016: 'I have an old stamp album dated 1892 which is unfortunately empty of stamps but has a 28 page section in the back which features Whitfield King & Co. It shows their price list for stamps (list for 1894)  and has three lithographic prints showing the outside of the building in Lacey Street (attached), the general office and the retail department. It also has a short piece describing the “Room decorated in Stamps”. I was fascinated by the room of stamps and when I looked it up online, came across your site. There must be loads of these old albums about but I thought you may be interested in the attached photo in case you had not come across it before. Regards, Brian Geer.' Many thanks to Brian for sending this image.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Morpeth House stamp album1892 stamp album, courtesy Brian Geer

See our page about Harmony Square/Hanover Square for a pre-Morpeth House 1883 map and a present-day aerial view of this area.


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2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission