Stoke Hall Road – not
The People's Hall! (and the tunnels)
let's come clean. Apart from the street signs,
there is little lettering here, not that we know of. However, this was
intriguing a story to let it get away.
photograph was taken from the jaws of Rectory
Road at the junction where Stoke Street to the right becomes Belstead
Road. Just in
passing, it is worth noting the sixties-style italic sans-serif caps
(justified to the left) of the
modernist building opposite:
'ST. MARY AT STOKE
Incidentally, it is just round the corner on the right
of the above photograph that one can find some houses provided by the
William Paul Tenement Trust (see More
Stoke Hall Road
of St Mary-At-Stoke church can be seen behind
it and this is an historic Ipswich (or rather Over Stoke) church which
deserves its own page on this website. The site of the church hall and
the car park were once occupied by St Mary Stoke School and, further
down, Stoke Parish Poor House. Once the Ipswich Union
with its large garden and vegetable plots was built in Great Whip
Street, this workhouse building became part of the school. They were
later used by scouts and guides. Both buildings were demolished in
Rather wonderfully, the person in the white motorcycle helmet wheeling
a moped out
of the gate in the wall in the pre-1964 image (below) is using the same
gate shown above beside the traffic light. It is this wall which is of
The high, decorative brick wall continues up Belstead Road as far as Kirby Cottage;
on the corner with Stoke
Hall Road there is a brick pillar topped with a white ball finial. It
suggests that the wall seems a bit tall and substantial for modest
terraced houses. It seems clear that parts of this wall are a
reconstruction made during the building of the houses in the early 20th
century. Kirby Cottage, a listed building, stands at right-angles to
Belstead Road and above the Stoke Hall site; it could well be that it
provided quarters for servants of Stoke Hall.
Road was the site of, guess what?: Stoke
Hall. Not to be confused with the so-called "Stoke
('The People's Hall') near The Old Bell
pub. Between 1898, when The People's Hall was built, and
1915, until the Stoke Hall behind St Mary-at-Stoke church was
demolished, there were two 'Stoke Halls' within a few hundred yards of
one another. The only thing left
of the old hall is the stable block, but it
contains a secret...
Stoke Hall was a large mansion house built by the wine merchant Thomas
Cartwright in 1744/45 (see the illustrations towards the bottom of this
web page). Cartwright also
excavated beneath Stoke hill a large series of wine cellars, 18 in all,
and a total of 180 feet in
The Stoke Hall tunnels
official listing describes the tunnels: "Vaulted
wine cellars. Later C18, with some C19 and C20 modifications. red
brick, with some flared headers, in English, Flemish mixed bonds. On 3
levels all underground, the upper level projecting further south
towards the garden boundary of Landsdale Cottage and Belstead Road, the
lower level extending further north towards Burrell Road, and formerly
the river. Circa 180 feet in length. The lowest level comprises a
single range of vaults, the middle level of both parallel and single
ranges, the upper level a shorter parallel range. Part partitions
between bays, those to lowest level with semicircular headed brick
archways. Shallow brick vaulted roofs. Later brick side shelving at
intervals. The second level was rendered during World War II for use as
air raid shelter. Brick floors, except to lowest level which descends
to natural rock and sand. Brick spiral stair unites middle and lower
levels. Blocked lower level circular hole in floor. Access to vaults
now through superstructure. Evidence of further openings obscured by
render. Said to have a capacity of 157, 500 gallons of wine. It is
possible that these vaults were those built for Thomas Cartwright,
winemerchant builder of Stoke Hall, now demolished, in 1747. The above
ground warehouses, formerly stables etc to Stoke Hall, are not of
special architectural or historic interest."
The access to the tunnels is via an external staircase to the left of
the large red door. To the right, you can
see the sloping housing over a conveyor used to transport cases of
wine; this was removed during wartime and a staircase installed for use
as an air raid shelter. A conveyor is in
situ today. One source states that up to 200 people
could use the shelter during bombing raids, however, David Jones
mentions 'more than 500 people' (see below). All this poses the
question: what did the 18th century excavators find
amongst the (presumably) fossil-rich soils of Stoke hill? We know that
the Eastern Union Railway company's Peter Bruff
the tunnel through the hill (later called 'Stoke Bone Beds'),
archaeologists, notably Nina Frances Layard (1853 – 1935),
found fossilised evidence of
exotic prehistoric animals, some of which can be seen today in Ipswich Museum. It is possible that the railway
tunnel was cut through at a considerably lower level, which would be
much earlier in geological time. In 2013 the main part of the old
stables is occupied by Suffolk Marquees (see Links)
with a motorcycle mechanic business next door. We are grateful to Ian
Suffolk Marquees for showing us round and sharing information about
this intriguing site.
Tunnel exploration 2013
As one descends to the
tunnels via the narrow external staircase, it becomes obvious how
difficult it is to determine the age of any particular feature. The
tunnels were used as air-raid shelters during World War II, when
Ipswich docks and engineering works in particular were targets for the
Luftwaffe. It seems clear that many of the features were probably built
during the war. Small doorways and separation walls would be a nuisance
when the tunnels were being used to store wine, but they would have
been useful to protect those sheltering from bomb blasts. The rendering
of the brickwork and girder lintels probably date from this time.
A chamber cement-rendered during World War II and now painted white,
opens onto a furhter room. Who knows about this wrought iron cell door
at the end? Was it original? It covers the
entrance to what has been called 'The Champagne Store', which contains
connected ceramic pipes which would have made a rather effective method
storing the bottles on their sides. They are in a sorry state.
Standing in front of a spiral staircase leading
lower level are a couple of shaped timber frames which would have
supported the wine bottles.
The close-ups below indicate age in the
timber, the impressed lettering:
standing presumably for 'Moet & Chandon', one of
the world's largest champagne producers. Moët et Chandon was
establishedin France in 1743. Thomas Cartwright, who had Stoke Hall and
its tunnels built in the 1740s would, if we make the obvious
assumption, have imported the wine in bottles by ship, landing at a
nearby wharf, probably Stoke Bridge Wharf (see our Wet Dock map) and being brought up to the
Hall by cart. Storing in the cool, dark conditions would be followed by
distribution via a local company such as Barwell & Jones, who ran
off licences in the area – in the 1980s we used to visit one on the
corner of Rushmere Road and Schreiber Road. Incidentally, in 2013
Barwell & Jones is the independent wine agency business of the Coe
Group. Ironically, Hayman, Barwell & Jones were rumoured to have a
tunnel beneath their premises in Fore Street which linked to the Stoke
Hall tunnels (see our paragraph on tunnel
The tunnels as World War II air-raid shelter
Looking at the tunnel photograph (below left), to the right of
the doorway can be seen a notice dating back to the wartime (a
remarkable survival) , or perhaps more correctly, the impression of a
notice left on the damp rendered wall:
The text reads:-
at Public Air Raid Shelters.
[In an] emergency the following doctors have agreed
[to respond] to requests for assistance from Public
[Air] Raid Shelters in the vicinity of their house.
Dr. HERMIONE BOURTON[?],
Fairway, Bucklesham, Road.
Phone No. 7295.
Dr. LOUISE HYDER (Mrs.),
343, Colchester Road.
Phone No. 7177.
Dr. R.J. REA,
236A Felixstowe Road.
Phone No. 2469.
Dr. C.S. STADDON,
174, Norwich Road.
Phone No. 78807.
Dr. E. [W?] STADDON,
South Bank, Spring Road.
Phone No. 78807.
Dr. A.R. WALTERS,
40 Berners Street.
Phone No. 3259.
Dr. L.M. HAMP,
7 Dalton Road.
Phone No. 2469.
[Final passage unreadable.]
A metal flue would have provided ventilation and the
patina of rust demonstrates the
effects of the extreme dampness of the atmosphere in the tunnels.
The introduction of hundreds of individuals during Air-Raid alerts
would have greatly increased the humidity in the tunnels.
The photograph below is a peach. The arrow and lettering:
must surely date back to the air
raids, but look undegraded by time and dampness. No doubt the rickety,
rusty ladder is a later addition, but climbing up it gives a view of
the original brickwork vaulting (shown below).
Tunneled into the stony, sandy Stoke Hill, then lined out as a
weight-bearing barrel-vault in Suffolk red brick: quite a feat in the
difficult conditions and lack of access. The image to the right is
looking vertically at the apex of a barrel-vault with a ventilation
flue in the centre.
Former Ipswich Museum curator, David Jones’ fine book Ipswich in the Second World War
(see Reading List) tells us more:-
“The largest public shelters were the pre-existing cellars in Stoke
Hall Road, the only shelter [in Ipswich] to hold more than 500 people.
The records suggest a shelter de luxe. Like other public shelters, it
had illuminated signs which were switched on in line with the blackout
and off at 10.30 or during an alert. It was heated by a Cara stove. It
had its own stirrup-pump, two buckets and fire extinguishers. In
addition to a first aid box, [part] was set aside for a casualty
holding section provided with extra lights. The emergency exit was
purposely widened to take stretchers. A small canteen was set up at
which tea and biscuits could be bought. (There were others at Smiths
Suitall, Smyth Brothers, Central Cinema, Smiths Albion House, Co-op
Furnishing Department and the Lads Club cellars.) As the intensity of
raids diminished so, too, did the numbers using the shelters regularly.
The Emergency Committee found, on 3 April 1944, '21 familes, 46 persons
use the shelter habitually. Nine had no domestic shelters, two
Andersons with bunks, six Andersons no bunks and four Morrisons. The
shelter families allowed to continue to use Stoke Hall but felt that
the Morrisons would be reallocated if needed.'
By 1 March 1945 only 14 people were still using the shelter so part of
it could be closed."
Rubber tyre storage
Not too long ago, the tunnels were used by a
company to store their wares. There are a great deal of chalked (and
sometimes painted) stock numbers and descriptions on the wall. The
chalk seems to blossom out from the damp cement surface. As you can see
by the right-hand images below, some tyres still lie around in one part
of the catacombs.
St Mary-at-Stoke Church
The relationship between the 1744/5 Hall and the
St Mary-at-Stoke Church is illustrated by the photographs below. This
substantial wall, about 7 feet high, divides the churchyard from the
present gardens of the houses on the west side of Stoke Hall Road. As
mentioned above, the Hall had its own entrance to the churchyard,
although we haven't been able to locate it. The fascade of the Hall
would have stood about a third of the way into the present Stoke Hall
Road, with fairly narrow gardens leading up to the drive just the other
side of this wall Apparently, long before Stoke Street and Burrell
Road (see Street name derivations)
existed, a sloping drive was cut into the rather precipitous hill on
which the church stands, but outside the wall line which still exists.
It followed the curve of the churchyard wall and eventually led to the
Hall, ending in a circle by the front door. A staircase apparently
still exists at the Burrell Road end of
the Stoke Hall stables site and runs down what we can only describes as
'the cliff' which overlooks the small gardens at the back of the
Burrell Road houses. The stairs lead to yet another entrance to the
tunnels. There was a summer house/gazebo in the gardens at the top
have overlooked the Gipping as it became the Orwell in the much wider,
pre-canalised river at or near the foot of the cliff (see the
Stoke Hall suffered perhaps from the location
which made it desirable in the first place. It was probably one of
several residences built up Belstead Road in what would have been quite
remote, private spots. As time moved on and road, then rail, and
housing development in Over Stoke grew, the sizeable house would be
seen to be on a restricted piece of land, less desirable for wealthy
owners perhaps because of the proximity of heavy industry, smoke, noise
and so on, not to mention the working classes. Perhaps the number of
owners and the decay and eventual demolition in 1915 is not such a
surprise, when The Ipswich & Suffolk Freehold
Land Society, who
bought the site, had been
at the forefront of building affordable housing (notably in
– discussed in our Rosehill case study
page) for large numbers of inhabitants of the Victorian town.
Colleen McDonald 13.7.2015
John Bleaden of Stoke
Hello, I'm on the ancestor hunt and came across your website. I'm
hoping you can fill in some gaps for me. I am wondering what the
connection the Bleaden family is to Stoke Hall and to Ipswich. Do you
have any idea what Stoke Hall was in 1819?
My 4th Great Grandfather, John Bleaden's obit:
Memorial in St Mary Stoke Church
details of Mary Bleadon, 1803
Images courtesy Colleen McDonald
Having no idea as to their origin, people began making up tales about
these underground workings, that were used as air raid shelters in
World War Two. A tunnel was said to lead from there to the 'folly'
called Freston Tower, on the banks of the
Orwell. Probably built between 1550-1560 by Edmund Latymer, this red
bricked six-storey building was perhaps a 'standing' or look-out tower
of some kind. A second passage from Stoke Hall ran to Greyfriars
Priory, near where the ring road (here Franciscan Way) crosses Princes
Street. The priory was founded sometime before 1236, and only a segment
of flint walling now remains, incorporated into the Greyfriars
Concourse. On the north side of the river, the Woolpack pub in
Tuddenham Road is said to have had smuggler's tunnels running south to
the dock area. There are allegedly deep (and supposedly haunted)
cellars beneath the Fore Street site of the wine merchant Hayman,
Barwell & Jones, which are said to form part of a system of
are rumoured to link up with the Ancient
House in Buttermarket, the 19th century Custom
House in Key Street, Christchurch
Mansion to the north, and the site of Holywells manor to the
south-east. The Coach and Horses Inn used
to stand in Lower Brook Street. On the opposite side of the road were
the premises of Messrs. E. L. Hunt, that were on the site of a mansion
house owned by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and husband of Mary
Tudor. A tunnel was said to connect the two.
The Ancient House (or Sparrowe's House) stands in the Buttermarket, at
the corner of St. Stephen's Lane. In 1801 a workman falling thru
the roof came upon a hidden room, supposedly part of a pre-Reformation
chapel. It has long been believed that Charles II was secreted in that
room after the battle of Worcester in 1651, and thus has arisen the
tale of his escape by secret tunnel from the Ancient House to
Alnesbourne Priory in Nacton parish, about 3 miles away. Now Priory
Farm, the only part remaining of this Augustinian house, founded around
1200, is a part of the wall of a barn. Not too far away from the
Buttermarket is The Halberd (later Paddy
McGinty's) pub in Northgate Street, where a bricked-up entrance into
Ipswich's vast tunnel system is to be found in the cellar. The ghostly
monk that haunts the pub is said to have helped someone come from 'the
monastery' through the tunnels, and for his pains was murdered by being
drowned in the old well that can be seen in the lower bar.
Urban myth heaven: if we desire hard enoughsomething to be true, it may
just become true. Many such myths can be found on The Lost Expedition: in search of legends,
stories and tales from around Suffolk website (see Links).
As mentioned, Stoke Hall was a large mansion
house built by the wine merchant Thomas
Cartwright in 1744/45. Cartwright also
excavated beneath Stoke hill a
vast series of wine cellars. In 1892 the Hall
was up for sale following
the death of the owner Robert James Ransome (1830-1891) of Ransomes and
Rapier, railway engineers, whose factory was quite close by at the
Waterside Works on Griffin Wharf (see our Wet
Dock map). See our précis of the company at the bottom of this
page. The auctioneers
Mansion” boasting three reception rooms, billiard room, six
bedrooms on the first floor, seven more bedrooms on the second floor,
with kitchens, offices, greenhouse, stabling, pleasure and kitchen gardens, all standing in 1 acre
three roods of land
and adjacent to the church of St Mary-at-Stoke. Written in the margin
of the auctioneer’s notices of 1892 are details of (what
appear to be)
subsequent owners including Dr Elliston, Miss Battersly of Cauldwell
Hall, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who sold it to the Ipswich
Freehold Land Society in July 1914. During its
time in the ownership of the
Ecclesiastical Commissioners it was under consideration for use as the
residence of the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, being next to
the church and with the Hall having its own entrance to the churchyard.
The house in its decayed state was pulled down
in 1915 at a cost of £50, but the
cellars remained. Stoke Hall Road was created
with a row of F.L.S. houses which we see today.
The stables of the
Hall were not demolished and continued to be used – latterly
by a local
removals company then a motor repair shop. We must be careful to
distinguish between Stoke Hall and the mansion and grounds of Lord
Park, which was not far away (see our Bourne
Park page for an image and description), probably on, or near, the
site of the new
Asda supermarket on Stoke Park Drive.
These illustrations of Stoke Hall show a
substantial Georgian residence
overlooking the Gipping valley below.
Below: a photograph of Stoke Hall from c. 1905 plus description by the
Over Stoke Local History Group which gives further morsels of
information about the house and grounds.
On Pennington's map of 1778 we can see
St Mary Stoke Church at the
lower left corner of this map detail, with Stoke Hall, then the stable block to the south-west
it. The line of 'Stoke Lane' (now Stoke Street) comes up from The Old Bell corner curving steeply left, then
right as it does today, past the Workhouse south of the church and into
In the mid-19th Century, a carriage drive leading to Stoke Hall was
built around the curving northern
boundary of the churchyard as can clearly be seen on E. E. White's Map of c.1867 (below). The
this driveway can still be made out today as it rises among the trees
between the churchyard wall and the existing brick retaining wall to
the west of the junction of
Stoke Street/'Burrell Street' – as it is labelled here. If you delve
around among the grass and ivy on the corner, you can find the top of
one of the original gate posts at the entrance to this carriage drive.
On the map
Vernon Street has been cut through, causing demolition of part of The Old Bell public house near to Stoke
Retouched 1867 image
Hodkinson & Jefferys (Faden) map of 1780
– detail above – shows the layout of river, lanes and structures on the
Stoke side of the bridge. Bridge Street
runs from the town centre southwards past the Stoke tide mill, over the
river and across the Stoke Street/Dock Lane junction into the narrower
Bell Lane beside The Old Bell public house.
It meets Little Whip Street which runs eastwards to meet Great Whip Street (the north end of which
is the site of the original ford over the Orwell to reach the town
before a bridge was built. Stoke Hall, with the oval carriage drive in
front is shown with its long stable block and outbuildings (most still
standing today). The 'Work House' fronting Belstead Road is labelled;
this was later a school (see the monochrome image of the building at
the top of this web page).
Above: Isaac Johnson's sketch map and illustrations of
Stoke Hall – taken from Blatchly: Isaac
Johnson, see Reading list. The
cartouche contains the text:
in IPSWICH Suffolk
with the Buildings, Gardens, Yards
PLANTATIONS & MEADOWS
The Property of
. TURNER, ESQR
The detail below shows the hall
and church as pictograms, rather than accurate aerial views with stable
block and gardens. The sharp gradient down to the river is indicated by
hatching and beyond a slightly puzzling, short 'Canal', which must
surely be a rectangular man-made lake in 'Canal Meadow'. the land to
the left of this is Waterhouse Meadow: see our Water
in Ipswich page for another Johnson sketch map of this area showing
how a water pipe from the Stoke Hall estate provided a supply over the
river to the Priory of St Peter & St Paul and the northern quays.
The small hamlet of Stoke
developed from the medieval period. The name
is a contraction of 'stockade', as it was an easily defendable spot
above the river and marshes. The site of the present day river bridge
the most accessible crossing point from high ground to the south of the
River Gipping over the largely impassable Corporation Marshes to the
north, into the town centre of Ipswich. St Mary Stoke Church
(Listed Grade I) was built on the most favorable local site, a
promontory which rose steeply up from the river and which enabled the
church to be seen over a wide area. St Mary's dates from the 15th
Century (the date of its hammer beam roof) or earlier, but was
extensively enlarged and restored by London architect William
Butterfield in 1870- 71. Clearly this site would have been a favourable
place for Thomas Cartwright's 1744 mansion on the area behind the church.
[UPDATE 19.12.2013: "I have
just been reading your web site regarding Stoke Hall and would like to
add a few comments.
1. Barwells Wine Merchants were a subsidiary of Tollemaches
Breweries before the amalgamation with Cobbold & Co and there was a
further amalgamation with T. G. Jones of Oxford probably in the late
1950s, prior to this Cobbolds had their own wine division based in
Lower Brook St. which had outlets in Great Colman Street, Nacton Road
and Rushmere Road and probably others. Barwell and Jones was later
housed in the listed building [The Wheatsheaf], 24 Fore Street which
was originally the
residence of the Manager of the Bottling Dept of Tollemaches Breweries.
2. I was surprised that you were unable to establish the gateway
between the Hall and the churchyard as I can remember this old boarded
gate when a choirboy at St. Marys in the 1940s.
As a matter of interest my father, who was bought up at 26 Stoke
Street, used to play in the tunnels of the Hall as a boy.
I joined the choir at St. Mary (at) Stoke in Sept 1947 and am still
I started work in 1951 at Tollemaches Breweries Ltd based in Upper
Brook Street (my office can still be seen from the street) and
continued working in the Surveyors Dept until the firm’s demise. Moving
to Pubmaster thereafter and still looking after the public houses in
the town and further afield. Hope this is of interest. Regards, Ken
Brock" Many thanks to
Ken for getting in touch and furnishing further details.]
Above – the Tollemache / Barwell & Jones chronology from The brewing industry: a guide to
historical records by Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton.
Manchester University Press, 1990.
Newcomers to Ipswich and, we suspect, many current residents don't know
the difference between Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies (manufacturers
of ploughs and tillage machinery, steam engines, grass-cutting
equipment, trolleybuses, threshers, tractors, combines, electric
Ransomes & Rapier Engineers and makers of machinery for railways and all kinds
of public works.
Waterside Works, Griffin Wharf, Ipswich, and 32 Victoria St, London.
Griffin Wharf was an appropriate site for the railway-supplier works.
The opening of the Eastern Union Railway in
1846 from Colchester to the first terminus
station at nearby Croft Street later became engine sheds and sidings
once Stoke Tunnel was built by Peter Bruff (who
lived at Handford Lodge); eventually the present
opened on Burrell Road in 1860.
1869 Formed as branch of Ransomes, Sims and Head to concentrate on the
railway side of the business and other heavy works. Four engineers, J.
A. Ransome, R. J. Ransome, R. C. Rapier and A. A. Bennett, left the
company by agreement to establish the new company on a site on the
River Orwell. The original partners were Allen Ransome, his son Robert
James Ransome [owner of Stoke Hall] and Richard Christopher Rapier. Chairs, points and rails
were made. They also built steam and breakdown cranes; portable and
1875 James Allen Ransome died.
1876 Three small locomotives made and exported to China.
1890 All-Round Titan Railway Crane. Illustrations and article in The Engineer.
1896 Became a public limited company. The company was registered on 17
April, to acquire the business of engineers of the firm of the same
1897 Two 30-ton travelling steam cranes for construction of Vera Cruz
1904 Installed 5 sets of the largest hydraulic buffer stops at Kings
Cross station, London, and another 5 sets at the Central Station,
1914 Engineers and ironfounders. Manufacturers of hand, steam, petrol
and electric cranes, traversers and turntables, capstans, tanks, water
cranes and pumps, bridges, hydraulic buffer stops, castings,
contractors' and railway plant, "Stoney" sluices, ice and refrigerating
plants, concrete mixers etc.
1937 Engineers and ironfounders.
1939 Aircraft industry suppliers specialising in launching catapults
for aeroplanes. Rapier catapults have been supplied to the British
Admiralty and to certain foreign navies, but were also useful on shore.
Ransomes and Rapier were the originators of mobile cranes, which have
been used for many years on British and foreign airports and elsewhere.
Being fitted with pneumatic tyres they are essential wherever
aeroplanes are in use.
1958 Newton, Chambers and Co. acquired Ransomes and Rapier; purchased
by exchange of shares.
1960 Advert for Walking Draglines for mining.
1961 Engineers and ironfounders, specialising in contractors' plant,
mobile cranes, excavators, walking draglines, railway plant and
equipment, sluice gates and water control machinery. 2,000 employees.
1963 Newton, Chambers and Co. sold 40% of Ransomes and Rapier to
Koerhing of Milwaukee in a share deal.
1965 Ceased making walking drag lines because of the rise of oil and
reduction in use of coal.
1972 Newton, Chambers and Co. planned to close Ransome and Rapiers and
move the business to Thorncliffe but the group was taken over by
industrial holding company Central and Sheerwood who kept Ipswich open.
1976 Ransomes returned to making walking drag lines in view of the
increased use of coal.
1988 Bucyrus-Erie acquired the dragline assets of Ransomes and Rapier
[The above information comes from Grace's Guide, see Links]
See our Ransomes page for a photograph of
a Ransomes & Rapier buffer housing from a railway in Kalka, India.
Please email any comments
and contributions by clicking here.
throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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