Smart Street School / Pleasant Row, Lower Orwell Street

Next to Thomas Rush and Henry Tooley, William Smart is one of the best known merchants of early Tudor Ipswich. He is better known for being the founder of the library in Ipswich. However, he has also made great contributions to the Tooley Almshouses by expanding the structure. So, there is also an inscription dedicated to Smart with following text: “Let gentle Smart sleep on in pious trust - Behold his charity, respect his dust”. Smart Street also comemorates this powerful and charitable man.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 12013 images
Here's a corner of Ipswich, once a large school, then an Art School annexe of Suffolk College, later the scene of an exhibition as part of the 'Art Centre For Ipswich' campaign. Now the playground at the rear of the building has been redeveloped in a sympathetic style and the whole complex is residential. All the signs on this elevation are obliterated or covered with blue boards which once carried the Suffolk College lettering. Beneath, we believe, are the terra cotta signs of the original building: possibly 'IPSWICH BOARD SCHOOL' and 'SMART STREET SCHOOL' (see Bramford Road School for a likely template). We have so far failed to find early photographs of this school to confirm this. The blue board at the end is splitting and may eventually drop off enabling us to see what lies beneath.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 4
These street signs placed close together are relatively recent: the upper one, which is attached to the shuttering barrier around the old Gym & Trim site, showing the Borough coat of arms.

Shire Hall Yard
The location is quite historic, but the empty, concrete hulk of the former Gym & Trim business and its car park mark years of blight and neglect. Smart Street leads round to Shire Hall Yard, really a short street, which leads up behind the Tooley Almshouses end wall to Blackfriars Court. The Shire Hall, a large and nearly square brick building erected in 1699 by voluntary subscription, once stood on the G&T site. It acted as a courthouse with two distinct courtrooms and a room for the Grand Jury. Around the side of Smart Street School is Pleasant Row
which originally may have been one of several narrow lanes running from the old town towards the Wet Dock. By the 19th century it was a narrow passage running from the Shire Hall Yard 'by a little gate at the south-east corner' to Star Lane (opened up in the 1980s and destroying many old lanes and buildings) where it is thought the old Drapers' Hall once stood.
Shire Hall period Image of Shire Hall
A map of this area from the 1880s can be found on our page about Courts and Yards.
An even older map,
Pennington's map of 1778, shown on the Courts and Yards page clearly shows the Shire Hall with Foundation Street sloping to its left and, parallel to it, 'The Lower Wash', now known as Lower Brook Street.

Pleasant Row
The ironically named 'Pleasant Row' runs down the side of the old school. The 'Wine Rack' skeletal structure, an abandoned segment of the Waterfront Regeneration since the financial crash of 2008, in the distance.  Since the building of the 'Eastern Gyratory' traffic system, a brick wall blocks the old street.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 2 
Walking down Pleasant Row, the first school entrance with a board covering the lettering (perhaps 'Staff'?) is almost as it was when the place was noisy with children's voices and bustle. It is as if they have just left after a normal schoolday.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 5
A little further down, we discover one architechtural piece of school lettering which has not been covered by a blue board: 'INFANTS' in terra cotta serif caps against a geometric design, with the school door intact below it. In the background is the sympathetic new residential development.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 6   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 7
The Borough's local list tells us:
"10-18 Smart Street, former Smart Street School. (1881-82) Architect: Brightwen Binyon. Board school. L-plan storey group at the corner of Smart Street and Pleasant Row. Red brick, Ancaster stone dressings, terracotta panels, slate roof. Varied street elevations with projecting gabled bays, the north west entrance bay with a straight parapet and ornamental stone machicolation course. Segmental arched window openings at ground floor level, recessed arched doorways with stone hood moulds. Above, a double stone string course framing stone fascias (now partly covered by timber panels). At first floor level, tall paired gothic windows with hood moulds, the north west group with stone plate tracery. Ornamental terracotta panels. The recessed bays have smaller gables containing blank arches with brick and stone chequerboard patterns in the spandrels. Traceried roundels to gables facing both Smart Street and Pleasant Row."

It's worth strolling down to the end of Pleasant Row to look at the patched-together construction of the works wall opposite the school. Could those blocks of stone have come from the old Shire Hall building; could they in turn have come from the original Blackfriars monastic buildings nearby? Selling or robbing out and reuse of building materials – particularly those stone blocks not native to the area – was a well known practice.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 9
Peeking through the broken pane at the northern end tells you what goes on inside...
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 10

Back in Smart Street, we find quite grand entrances once admitting the segregated boys and girls, away from the infants round the corner. Looking carefully at the right hand side entrance, you can just make out the 'medieval'-style lettering as used on the Public Library entrance in Northgate Street, which has been in-filled with mortar: 'BOYS'. The close-up shows it a little better. A fainter 'GIRLS' tablet is still present above the left hand side entrance further down Smart Street. Often the dampness in the air can affect the readability of such 'hidden lettering'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 11   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 122004 image
The detailing in the terra cotta panels is worthy of note, with the dust and grime in the sunflower design enhancing the detail:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 132017 images
The square tower at the far right of the school contains the obscured 'BOYS' tablet as well as some fine stylised flowers and leaves growing out of an urn.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 14   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 15

Lower Orwell Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St signStreet nameplate at the top of the slope
While we're in this area, stroll through the bit of Smart Street – which is really a pokey pathway south of the overgrown Gym & Trim site – into Lower Orwell Street. Here is a similar, rather neglected, former industrial street similar to Pleasant Row; it was once the site of some of the poorest and sometimes the most lawless housing in the town. It is home to a St Clement parish boundary marker which we couldn't find, but luckily Paul Horne did and he's recorded it for us. Also there is vestigial lettering painted on the red brick wall.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St 12013 image
'7000GAL' sits just below a blocked up window with, directly beneath it a large 'W S...' with possibly the rest of a name to the right, now washed away. What can it all mean?
[UPDATE 28.7.2014: "I’ve just stumbled upon your fascinating site. Under Smart Street / Pleasant Row you query 7000GAL and “WS” painted on a wall. I believe that I can explain.
During World War II the cellars of derelict and bombed buildings were flooded to provide water for use by the fire service in the event of water mains being damaged by bombing. These premises were labelled “EWS” (Emergency Water Supply) in large white letters to assist identification. I guess that your example has dropped the “E” at some stage. I trust that this helps. Kind regards, Colin Norfolk" Many thanks to Colin for this rather unexpected solution to the lettering conundrum of Lower Orwell Street.]
[UPDATE July 2015: As well as conventional rigid water tanks. "these EWS reservoirs could also be collapsible efforts like modern low-tech swimming/paddling pools; the sides were waterproofed canvas with wooden frames to keep them rigid. As such there wouldn't be anything left to see. The basements of bombed/derelict buildings were also used as EWS, probably after some minimum repairs to improve the water-holding ability." Quotation from the web. There is another 'EWS' example in Appleby-in-Westmorland.
One of the major hazards during World War II was the threat of incendiary bombs. Such was the risk many business's employed staff to carry out Fire Watch duties which involved long periods on rooftops usualy at night. There was a healthy spin-off in Fire Watch Ladders being erected to allow thorough inspection of roofspaces. "It was acknowledged early on in the war that fire could do more damage than even the heaviest of bombing raids by the Luftwaffe.  As water mains were early casualties after a raid local authorities set up additional means of water supply by means of large street borne cisterns in various locations around the city. The water would have been fed to the fire hoses by manualy operated or steam driven pumps.  Their location was marked in large letters on buildings at street level with arrows and distance markers.  Many of them remained for a number of years after the war and were responsible for number of drownings involving children."
Quotation from the web.]

Compare with other schools' lettering:

Ragged Schools
More schools
(Argyle Street, Clifford Road, Bramford Road, Ranelagh Road, Spring Road, Springfield Junior, Grey Coat Boys)

and Ipswich High School.

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