Ipswich Museum

Ipswich Museum is a cultural gem which stands just outside the town centre on High Street. At its heart is the original set of natural history glass cabinets dating back to the original Victorian and Edwardian collection which was moved to the new building when the original was outgrown. Pride of place goes to a full-size giraffe and the famous rhinocerous. Many other aspects of life and history are exhibited including geology, an easily-digested story of Ipswich dating back to pre-history (on the mezzanine floor), ethnography from Inuit hunter to Japanese warrior, Ancient Egypt, Roman and Anglo Saxon times (including the Sutton Hoo burial ship and early Ipswich), the struggle for slavery abolition and Ipswich during the 2nd World War. On our most recent visit in July 2012 the building exterior had been cleaned and looked splendid and visitors across a wide age-range wandered around the exhibits, exclaiming and discussing the interesting and sometimes strange contents. The curators and staff clearly work very hard on, presumably, scant funding to present excellent displays and information to the visitor and it is certainly true that the whole interior is looking better cared-for and welcoming than it did about twenty or even thirty years ago.  Click here for a look at some of the lettering examples in their collections.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum 1854
The town's municipal Museum started life in 1854 on the 'kink' in Museum Street; the original building designed by Christopher Fleury, empty for so long in recent years, is now Arlington's Restaurant. It was one of the first such museums in the country and clearly wanted to promote the twin Victorian achievements of art and science.








It later outgrew its building and had a purpose-built structure, sited on a plot which was being reserved by the Borough for a proposed church. The architecture is described as in the "Queen Anne-style" and was designed by Londoner Horace Cheston who won an architectural competition.

High Sreeet /
Bretheren Meeting Hall
Ipswich Historic Lettering: High St sign   Ipswich Historic Lettering: High St sign 2Courtesy Ipswich Society  
72 High Street is the interesting-looking building* on the corner of Claude Street and, above an arched window, it bears the cast iron street sign:
'HIGH ST.'
attached to the Suffolk whites by only three of the angled nails often supporting such heavy signs. [*Bettley: Suffolk East Pevsner (see Reading List) tells us that this was built as  The Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgian) in 1847. The monochrome photograph above was taken by Tom Godris in the 1990s, captioned 'Bretheren Meeting Hall', the religious hall had clearly been sold at the time; the door to the right has been blocked up and the building is now residential and heavily overgrown with vegetation. The photograph can be found on the Ipswich Society's Image Archive (see Links).]

Ipswich Museum
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum 482012 images
The terra cotta frontage of the 'new' Ipswich Museum built by J.B. and F. Bennett of Ipswich displays a feast of swags, dragons, floral and fossil mouldings, false pillars and framed sections packed with motifs of the scientist and artist. The Public sculpture of Norfolk & Suffolk database (see Links) tells us that the terra cotta reliefs are by Horace Cheston:-
"Architectural ornamentation on the main facade of Ipswich Museum under Dutch gable ends. The reliefs on the gables either side of the centre combine portraits of the scientist Isaac Newton and artist William Hogarth with organic decoration and lower horizontal panels showing chinese dragons. In the centre is the date 1880 above which are two panels showing flowering plants. To the left and right of the date panel are images of single fossils underneath which (either side of a first story window) are vertical panels showing still-life arrangements - the instruments of the arts to the north, sciences to the south. The panels are complimented by a row of terracotta festoons which stretch across the building at first storey floor level above the museum entrance. The fossil and plant images represent items in the collections and the natural world, while the portraits on the wings demonstrate the organisation of the museum into the Schools of Science and Art further represented in the still-life panels. The Chinese dragons reflect the orientalism underpinning 19th century collecting practices."
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Portraits of
William Hogarth (left) and Isaac Newton (right) peer oddly from dish-shaped roundels on the gables. (Compare with the three portrait heads on the Town Hall.) It is perhaps a little surprising that the architect didn't choose two people with more local links (but just as eminent in their fields, perhaps): John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough on the arts side and John Stevens Henslow (geologist, Darwin's mentor and second President of the Ipswich Museum) or Charles Darwin himself on the science side. Perhaps Darwin would have been considered too controversial... We recently heard an Amish man interviewed on television saying that it was more difficult evangelising the word of the Lord to the British, as opposed to Americans, as they had been "taught Darwin" for longer; Darwin, we were told was already burning in Hell.
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The sooty pollution and uneven weathering of old has been resolved by a good clean since we last photographed this building. The bright orange-red of the terra cotta in particular makes noticeable the date at the top of the facade:
'1880'
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The High Street Museum opened officially on the red letter (hah!) day of 27 July 1881, the day on which the new southern lock into the Wet Dock – close to the brewery – and the decorative Post Office on Cornhill were also opened. Perhaps they thought it unnecessary to actually name the building 'in stone' as every local would know that it was a temple of learning and artistic endeavour.

Incidentally,
for an intriguing historical footnote about Ipswich being put beyond the pale by Queen Victoria and its bearing on Prince Albert's attendance at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Ipswich Museum, see the text from the 'Kindred Spirits' website on our page dealing with the Suffolk Victoria Nursing Institute in Lower Brook Street. The book A rhino in the High Street (see Reading List) describes Prince Albert's visit to Ipswich.
"Always promoting the welfare of Ipswich Museum, Hon. Secretary Mr George Ransome [1811-1876, grandson of Robert Ransome. the founder of the famous firm] visited Buckingham Palace in February 1851. Soon afterwards His Royal Highness Prince Albert signified his pleasure by becoming a Patron [of the Museum]. The same year the Prince visited the Museum on Friday 4th July, during the Ipswich meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science ... Professor Henslow*, President of the Museum [and Darwin's mentor] read an address to the Prince...  Admission to the  proceedings was by ticket only, only one per member. This would have excluded spouses, but the ladies were determined; some became members themselves, whilst others persuaded husbands fathers and brothers to transfer their tickets to them. After inspecting the contents of the cases, the royal visitor had lunch in the Museum library. The Museum must have made a deep impression on Prince Albert, for Queen Victoria stated that for several days after his return he talked of scarcely anything else."

*Reverend Professor John Stevens Henslow is commemorated by 'Henslow Terrace, 1868' at the nearby number 1 Henley Road.

The distant views of the Museum (along with the weather-vane, previously unseen) over the Claude Street rooftops. The sun strikes the heads of Hogarth and Newton.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum Claude St

Ipswich Victoria Free Library
Between 1887 and 1924, the Borough of Ipswich Victoria Free Library ('Free' to indicate the borrowers' free access to the books, rather than having to request them at a counter) was situated in the museum in High Street. It moved to Central Library: the new Carnegie building in Northgate Street (now known as Ipswich County Library) in 1924.

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This left wing of the building was used from the museum's opening as the Victoria Free Library. See our Rosehill Library case study page for more on the history of the library service in Ipswich (and Suffolk). The relief portrait of Queen Victoria, also by Horace Cheston, on the lintel is unmistakable, if a little unflattering. After the public library moved, this part of the museum building was the cast hall, displaying plaster casts of classical statuary and architectural details which were maily intended as study subjects for art students – a smaller scale version of the Cast Hall in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. In those days an artist learnt draughtsmanship (remember that?) by drawing a model many times. The plaster casts did not move about, or require payment as a human model would. The statue of Mercury at the foot of the staircase in Christchurch Mansion is a plaster cast from this collection and another features in the High Street Art Gallery nearby.
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It was only in 2016 that we noticed two additional pieces of terra cotta lettering above the windows at either side of the front door of Ipswich Museum:
'ART    ...    SCIENCE'
each suitably decorated and part of a triptych.
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The accretion of dust on these deep reliefs tends to highlight the detail.
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'ART.' in a central cartouche replete with full stop (perhaps because it's a shorter word) appears to be supended from the floral cornucopias above. 'Art' takes it decorative motifs from the sea: dolphins above interlace their tails around a Neptune's trident – the tines of the trident breaking the upper frame; beneath, the supporters are mermen. 'SCIENCE' on the other hand is supported by seated, roaring lions and amongst the floral swirls above are, threaded on a line, circular discs similar to the jangly bells on a tambourine. The 'handle' at the left of the 'Science' cartouche seems to have been repaired in another colour.
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Scroll down for more 'Science & Art Schools' lettering.

The Museum extension
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum extension1
This is the view of the museum from St Georges Street showing an extension built in the year showing on the decorative gables:
'AD   1900'
The Salem Chapel can be seen to the right. Further down the street is The Globe public house.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum extension 2
In 2013, a project is proceeding to try to amalgamate the Ipswich Museum, High Street Gallery (now no longer a gallery for art, sadly), High Street Art School and Wolsey Stusio (Salem Chapel) into a 'Cutural Quarter' with connecting access for the public.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich Museum extension 3

Ipswich Schools of Art & Science
The right-hand wing, which stands well back from the High Street, bears this grand scrolled cartouche in the centre:
'SCIENCE & ART
SCHOOLS'
in an idiosyncratic florid script. Again, the weathering adds colour and interest. These three studio rooms were built in 1890 as an addition to the museum for the exploration of art and science utilising the resources next door. When Felix Thornley Cobbold (probably the only Liberal politician to emerge from that wealthy brewing family) gifted Christchurch Mansion to the Borough in 1895, the house – now emptied of its contents – was used as a School of Arts and Sciences, the forerunner of this building and eventually of Suffolk College, now renamed 'Suffolk New College' since the arrival of University College Suffolk on the Waterfront.
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From White's Directory of Ipswich 1874: "The IPSWICH SCHOOL OF ART is carried on by a local committee, of which the Rev. C.H. Gaye [see Street name derivations for Gaye Street] is the chairman;Mr. W.T. Griffiths is the master. The course of instruction includes geometrical and mechanical drawing, and young working men and the children of the artisan classes are taught on very liberal terms. A SCHOOL OF SCIENCE in connection with South Kensington is also carried on. Dr. Drummond, Mr. J.E. Taylor and Mr. W. Vick are the masters. The Schools of Science and Art are united with the Museum." Note that this was published when the museum was at the Fleury building in Museum Street, six years before the present High Street building was opened.

Reading the words 'Art' and 'Schools' brings up another long neglected building which adjoins this one. The former Ipswich School of Art and Design next door was opened in 1934 and provided space and well-lit studios for artists for many years. (The unfinished appearance of the outer walls is due to the fact that the planned doubling in size of the art school was prevented by the onset of the Second World War.) The Ipswich School of Art has some famous names associated with it: notably Colin Moss, Brian Eno and Maggi Hambling. The building became the Suffolk Institute of Technology in 2004 and in 2010 a Saatchi-sponsored art gallery. It continues as a gallery space.

The original Ipswich Art School
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The Ipswich civic coat of arms above the art deco doorway bears seahorses rampant with the familiar shield of lion and three ship prows. Beneath it, a deco scroll bearing the Latin legend:
'MUNIA ...   CIVIUM
CIVITATIS DECUS'
which translates, rather gnomically, as: 'The functions of citizenship are the glory of the citizens'.

See our page featuring some of the many lettering examples to be found in Ipswich Museum's rich collections.

Reading
The story of Ipswich Museum is well told, with many illustrations in the book: 'A Rhino in the High Street' by R.A.D. Markham (see Reading List). Bob Markham was
curator at the museum for many years; one of his responsibilities was the Ipswich geology collection which is of international importance.


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