Water in Ipswich
Rivers, springs (a spa town?), sewers, bathing places, floods, riverside sculptures

Scientists aver that water on our planet probably came from one or more 'dirty snowball' comets colliding with the cooling sphere (more accurately, an oblate spheroid), creating the potential for life on Earth. Furthermore, today there is not a drop more and not a drop less of water than there was initially trapped by our atmosphere.

The streets of old Ipswich were paved not with gold but, very often, with water. The dish-shaped terrain of Ipswich centres on the familiar natural dock with its clearly defined, sharp left-hand turn in the River Orwell (at Neptune Quay) as it narrows and flows to meet the non-tidal Gipping. So, at once we have a wide, tidal estuary stretching up to a large, open pool – sheltered from coastal storms – then westwards to the River Gipping which continues into the heart of the county. This natural feature is the main reason for the establishment of the nucleus of the Anglo-Saxon town at this point; more specifically it is the narrowing and shallowing of the waterway around the end of today's Great Whip Street which made the river fordable. A crossing point on a water highway, allied to a natural dock is an excellent place to establish the nucleus of a town. So it was with the Anglo-Saxons and Gippeswyk, their first town.

Another natural feature is the presence of so many springs in the surrounding hills of the 'dish'. The water percolates to the surface through green sand and gravel layers, purifying it. The clean spring water cannot penetrate the clay present in areas of Ipswich, so it flows downhill on the surface. This is particularly so of the springs around Cauldwell ('cold well/cold stream') Hall and those found in and around Christchurch and Holywells (hence the name) Parks.


Ipswich Historic Lettering: Rivers map 1856pre-1842 map
Above, the natural dock  at lower right and the narrower river to the west of Ipswich which splits into two between Stoke Bridge and Handford Bridge at upper left. Rober Malster (see Reading List Ipswich A-Z) tells us that "the one that flows along the edge of the valley towards Handford Mill is usually marked as the Gipping, while the main channel flowing down the middle of the valley is often delineated 'The salt water'. The more northerly channel is clearly artificial, but it is of great antiquity: it already existed in AD 970. Archaeologists have found a Roman settlement beside it, and the channel may have been excavated during the Roman occupation of Britain [c.AD285 - 480]... There is some evidence that until the 18th century the whole river from Rattlesden [near Stowmarket] to the sea was known as the Orwell, and the stream flowing into Stowmarket from the northward was considered a tributary; there is an Orwell Meadow in Rattlesden." Today we consider that northward tributary to be a continuation of the River Gipping, with its source near the village of  Gipping; we call the tributary from Rattlesden to the Gipping the River Rat or the Rattlesden River.

Within Ipswich, the split in the river is sometimes labelled 'River Gipping' to the north and 'River Orwell' to the south; interestingly this practice is continued on modern computerised maps available in the internet. The Gipping navigation met demands for narrow boats to carry materials and goods between Stowmarket, Ipswich and the sea. The River Gipping was officially closed as a navigation in 1932.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: River Orwell1896 map
The 1896 map shows the post-Industrial Revolution river system (marked in blue). Above the legend 'Halifax' and on the west bank we see the Griffin Wharf branch railway crossing Wherstead Road to reach the river. North of that is the enclosed Stoke Bathing Place. The Wet Dock, opened in January 1842, shows two locks, one off New Cut and the one we know today at the south. The lock half-way up New Cut was never popular with mariners: the sharp turn required to move a vessel in line with this lock – particularly when approaching from the north-west – led to some collisions. The south lock was built between 1869 and 1871 to remedy this problem. The Promenade with its avenue of lime trees was the place to be seen on a Sunday afternoon stroll down to the 'Umbrella' shelter with views over the river to Hog Highland (south of the Cobbold brewery), it existed between the old and new locks. In 1904 Timber Quay was built over the inner end of the old lock making it unusable. There were originally no quays between the Wet Dock and New Cut, the majority was taken up by a 'mill pond' (clearly shown on the above map) which apparently provided a head of water used to operate George Tovell's roman cement works. The pond, later used for storage of timber, became a branch dock, but was filled in during works on the Island in 1923-5. Tovell's Wharf was constructed on the north side of the Island.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lt Gipping St2016 images
The legend 'Wier' [sic] north of Handford Bridge on the 1896 map is the Horseshoe Weir. It is
  generally agreed that at the Horseshoe Weir, or just below it, the freshwater River Gipping meets the brackish water of the River Orwell. That is the point where the name of the river changes. Above the legend 'Lock' is the arm of the Alderman Canal. In the past a further section of the Gipping existed, sometimes known as the “Little” or “Upper” Gipping, thought to be a manmade cut which flowed east from the Gipping in Ipswich parallel to Handford Road, before dropping south-east, parallel to what is now Civic Drive, Franciscan Way and Greyfriars Road to rejoin the River Orwell at Stoke Bridge. Only a section of this river now remains, known as Alderman Canal reaching east to Alderman Road, with a return ditch flowing below Alderman Canal, under Bibb Way, through a reedbed to Sir Alf Ramsey Way where it is piped underground to the River Orwell exiting in the vicinity of Constantine Weir. The return ditch was presumably dug when the section south-east from Alderman Road was stopped–up in Victorian times. Handford Mill was a water-powered mill standing at the east end of this stretch of water, close to Handford Road. It is believed to have been fed by a stream running down from the Anglesea Road area; a mill is recorded here as early as the 13th century. In the 19th century the mill was used to crush seed to extract oil; it has been demolished. A valve prevents flow between the River Gipping and Alderman Canal. The Alderman Canal now only receives surface run-off from its immediate surrounds (principally properties along Handford Road). The River Orwell and Gipping were formerly navigable by means of locks and as recently as the 1970s boats could be hired from Wrights Boatyard, Cullingham Road (on the River Gipping, just north of Alderman Canal). In addition to boat hire, the Yard offered boat manufacture and repair/maintenance. See also Friars Bridge Road for more on the Little Gipping.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Gt Gipping St 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Gt Gipping St 2
'LITTLE GIPPING STREET'  
'GREAT GIPPING STREET' are located in a small housing estate to the west of Civic Drive and delineated by Portman Road, Civic Drive and the large car park block of the Axa offices. Presumably the Alderman Canal would once have continued in a loop round to join the main river just west of Stoke Bridge. This watercourse still exists as the Little Gipping River which runs underground and in culverts underneath these roads, under Friars Bridge Road and south eastwards under a 'bump' in Wolsey Street, then between the Jewson block and the Cardinal Park gym and restaurants (you can see the cover over the culvert where wheelie bins are stored on the photographs below) to an outfall into the Orwell. A similar outfall exists for the Ipswich Brook which is the underground version of the waters which flowed for centuries down Northgate Street, Upper and Lower Brook Streets; it flows under Star Lane to reach the Orwell and eventually the sea. The Ipswich Brook existed as a watercourse carrying the copious spring water and surface drainage water which flowed down the sides of the 'dish' of Ipswich to reach the main river two thousand years ago. (N.B. Great Gipping Street is also home to the bicycle symbol pressed into the railings.)
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Little Gipping 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Little Gipping 2Photos courtesy Bob Markham

Additional notes on the 1896 map. The branch line from the Great Eastern Railway can be seen on the map running across a level crossing on Ranelagh Road and over the river
by a small bridge, then round to sidings and the tramway which ran all around the Wet Dock and beyond. Parts of these trackbeds can still be found, but many rails have been lifted. Another point of interest is the area at the southern end of Sidegate Lane (upper right of the map) labelled 'Australia'. This would be around Hutland Road and Meadowvale Close (the site of St Helens Barracks). But why 'Australia'? Probably a similar 'frontier' feature to California. Interestingly at this time Belvedere Road with its bridge over the Felixstowe branch line is shown as a dotted line.

Springs, conduits and a fresh water supply to the town

A crucial aspect of human (
particularly urban) habitation is the availability of fresh water to the inhabitants. Given the advantages of the clean springwater  in the hills around the town, it was not too difficult to arrange pipework into the town centre. However, the surplus water found its own courses down towards the town centre and eventually into the River Orwell. Radial streets from the town centre provided ideal water courses and one of the longest journeys for spring water came from around the Cauldwell Hall estate (marked today by Cauldwell Hall Road and Cauldwell Avenue) on the east of the town which became the Cauldwell Brook.

The Cauldwell Brook & The Wash
Spring Road did not really exist in the mid-18th century; it was known as 'the old hollow way into Ipswich' and was gated at the foot of the steep hill near today's St Johns Road junction, becoming no more than a footpath uphill through meadows. The upper section of today's Spring Road (roughly from the Cauldwell Hall Road crossroads eastwards to Lattice Barn) was 'the Old Road'. The water flowed down
'the old hollow way into Ipswich' and pooled as it became St Helens Street, called variously 'St Helens Wash' and 'Great Wash Lane' in the past, such was the volume of water during rainy periods. This undrained area at the site of today's Grove Lane junction was impassable by wheeled vehicles at this time. All traffic used 'The Way to Woodbridge' (later Woodbridge Road) to leave the town and that way would have taken them along today's Rushmere Road, the section to Lattice Barn was yet to be built by the Turnpike Trust. [See our Barclays/tollhouse page for more on this.] Our H.W. Turner page shows a flooded St Helens Street in 1911 with shop staff armed with brooms to try to sweep the waters away from their thresholds. Near to today's Argyle Street was Wells Street (commemorated by the 20th century Wells Court flats development), again an indication of the dominance of water to the inhabitants. For centuries in Ipswich there was little paving and no tarmacadam road surfaces, so the water carved its way into the roadways and created mud and pools of clay and liquid horse manure which cannot have aided passage by said horse and cart (which also churned up the roads, no doubt).

The Spring Road waters continued past the present-day Argyle Street/Grimwade Street crossroads (Borough Road, later Grimwade Street,
originally only ran as far north as Rope Walk – the prison yard was beyond), past the Ipswich Gaol (behind County Hall), to Major's Corner. A sharp turn left into The Upper Wash and Lower Wash (Upper and Lower Orwell Streets) and over the Spread Eagle/Orwell Place crossroads where stepping-stones (stepples) were installed to enable the poor pedestrians to cross without getting their feet too wet or muddy; indeed Orwell Place was called 'Stepples Street' at this time. See Street name derivations for more on these street names. The 'Common Wash' around Lower Orwell Street was an area where people washed their clothes. Eventually all this water pooled in the marshes above the northern quays of the dock, eventually seeping into the Orwell. It seems that this would have been the worst place to build a medieval church so the central one of the three dockland churches, St Mary-At-Quay, was duly constructed there and has suffered the structural consquences ever since; in 2016 the building has been saved as a well-being centre and the walls and stone columns repaired and cut off from the destructive rising damp.

Of course, at a time of little sanitation and open sewers in the medieval streets of Ipswich, the inhabitants used the flowing water to carry away horse and human filth and other waste. The spring water, once so clean and clear, was anything but by the time it reached the river. Even after much of the spring water flow was piped underground in the 20th century, it continues to trickle from hillsides, f
or example in Grange Road and Alexandra Road (see images below), and the lower-lying streets of Ipswich experience flash flooding in extreme weather conditions. Inhabitants of Spring Road have had their cellars flooded and they really know that there is a deluge when the heavy cast iron drain covers in the roadway are lifted up by the force of the water from the overwhelmed underground pipes.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Water Alexandra Rd spring 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Water Alexandra Rd spring 22016 images
Above: spring water flows in Alexandra Road, close to the junction with Warwick Road in summer 2016. The main flow to the left partly trickles down the gutter drain, the rest moving over the road and some distance down the gutter of Warwick Road. The cracks in the road surface yield more water; all the wet areas are turning the road surface green.

Ipswich as a spa town
?
With the pure spring water, plentiful throughout the history of Ipswich, it has puzzled us that the town did not develop as a spa, as did Felixstowe (the 'Spa Pavillion'). It has been suggested that Ipswich was just too industrial to attract the country gentry (in the same way that the wealthy and Middling Classes gravitated towards Bath at the time Jane Austen was writing her novels). In a maritime port town associated with shipbuilding, rope-making, brick and tile-making, tanning, phosphate manure manufacture, staymaking (whalebone corsets), heavy engineering, malting and brewing and so on, perhaps it was just too trade for the toffs. Here are some of the aqueous candidates...

A. St Georges Street.
In the second half of the 17th century, a spring was discovered on St Georges Street. This would have been one of the many springs which still surround the town; perhaps the location close to the town centre and to the (now lost) Church of St George made it of some importance. However, Ipswich already had a spa: the ‘Ipswich Spaw Waters’ in St Margarets Green (see B). The idea of opening another spa was rejected. [This text is repeated on our page on The Unicorn, as it relates to 'taking the waters' and the development of a bottled mineral water business, Talbot's.]
The medicinal but foul-tasting water of the spring found in St. Georges Street in the late 1600s was never developed into anything, as it could never have competed with the existing Ipswich Spa, a sulphurated spring on St. Margarets Green.

B. St Margarets Green
A puff for 'Ipswich Spaw Waters' appeared in the Ipswich Journal for May 20-27, 1721; as the address was St Margarets Green, the source was probably one of the Christchurch springs:-
‘IPSWICH SPAW WATERS
Experimentally found to be good in the gravel of the kidneys, obstructions in the liver, spleen &c.  Hectic fevers, the scurvy, violent vomiting, lost appetite, the jaundice, King’s-Evil, salt and hot humours in blood, pains in stomach, frequent spitting of blood, or bleeding at the nose, diarrhoea or blood fluxes.  Sold at two pence per flask or quart, or each time of drinking what you will in the morning.  By me, JONATHAN ELMER, living on St Margaret’s Green, Ipswich.’

Waters possibly from near this spring were advertised May 16-23 1724 in the Ipswich Journal ‘The Ipswich Spaw Waters is now opened by Mrs Martha Coward, and Attendance will be given every Morning at the Bath on St Margaret’s Green, from 6 to 9 at One Penny per Morning, and Two Pence for each Falk [presumably ‘Folk’] carried off.’

At the height of the Regency Spa craze, around 1814, letters appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times:
1) M.D. of Bury St Edmunds compares Ipswich springs to German Spa waters and says they are better than German Spa or Tunbridge Wells if drank at source (Georgians generally couldn’t bottle water as it went off after 3-4 days from bacteria.)
2) H. Seekamp writes that Issac Brook, a cooper, discovered a sunken, brick arched spring in St Georges Lane that he supposed was mineral water as it had such a foul taste. Three Doctors (including famous Dr Coyte) had the water analysed and found it to be equal to the waters of Bath – Medcalfe Russell of The Chantry had been recommended by his London doctor to go to Bath to take the waters took this water instead and was cured. Given the description of 'foul-tasting' waters of St Georges Street, perhaps this second letter can be ascribed to exaggeration by the yellow press.

C. Holywells
The reputed mineral springs with healing properties which poured down Holywells Park was a myth created by the Cobbold brewing family. The Cobbolds used to provide part of the town water supplies and used the same Holywells water from their estate as they used to brew their beer; however, it appears that this water was plain, clean, crystal-clear, shallow spring water. Spa waters seem to require quantities of iron (termed Chalybeate) and/or sulphur to confer some tonic effect. It is not clear how the resultant Cobbold beer would taste if it had been brewed from such mineral-rich water.
Holywells was not, as many believe, named after the 'Holy Well' of Holywells Park which was frequented by pilgrims but after a 'Hollow well'.  (However, across the river, close to the Stoke area of Ipswich, there certainly was a 'holy well', recorded as 'Haligwille' in a boundary charter of AD 970; this spring was on a hillside at the former Fir Tree Farm and may have been close to where the renowned hoard of golden Iron Age torcs were discovered in 1968: Holcombe Crescent, Belstead Brook.)

D.  Dykes Alexander's estate
G.R. Clarke in his 1830 history of Ipswich (see Reading List) mentions another spring that never froze in the grounds of a cottage next to The Shears Pub on land belonging to Dykes-Alexander fairly near to the other spring.  Richard Dykes Alexander’s house was at the former Bank on Barrack Corner, now converted into flats (see our Blue Plaques page). The water from this well was sent to London for analysis by Mr Barry who stated that it contained iron sulphate, iron carbonate, sulphurated hydrogen (from degrading pyrites) and he saw no reason why this water and Ipswich spring waters with different properties could not be rendered serviceable and bought into general use.
(The above is based mainly on research by Adrian Howlett.)
As we now know these enterprises did not thrive and it is, perhaps, a tribute to Ipswich that such quackery and snake-oil seller's scams failed in the town, where they were so profitable (but, no doubt, ineffective) elsewhere. Cheers!

The eastern conduit
'[In 1615] the new pipeline was to be supplied from springs near Cauldwell Hall, not far from the source of the Cauldwell Brook. Topography and the street pattern ensured that the route of the pipeline could hardly have been simpler. From the Cauldwell springs, about 60ft above the level of the town centre, the pipe was laid almost in a straight line, following the course of the Cauldwell Brook down Spring Road and St Helen's Street (GreatWash Lane) to the junction with Upper Orwell Street (The Wash) at Major's Corner, then along Carr Street and Tavern Street to the Cornhill, a distanceof a little over a mile.' (David Allen, see citation at the foot of this web page.) The cistern in which the water was collected was housed in a lean-to structure adjacent to the Old Town Hall (formerly St Mildred's Church) on Cornhill with intermediate cisterns along the one mile length. An interesting feat of water engineering. By 1848 nearly 1,500 homes were taking this water from  a couple of mains in Carr Street.


The following excellent text by John Norman, Chair of the Ipswich Society, formed the Ipswich Icons column in the Ipswich Star newspaper (16.6.2016) and it ranges from the influence of the monastic houses on water supply to Thomas Cobbold's move to Ipswich in pursuit of its sweet waters to brew his beer and on to the Ipswich Water Works in, logically, today's Waterworks Street:-

"Monasteries and geology brought a fresh water first
"Ipswich was one of the first towns in the country to enjoy a piped supply of clean fresh drinking water, initially to conduits (taps) in the street but later directly into their homes.  There were two reasons why Ipswich was in at the beginning, firstly the monasteries had both the demand for and the wherewithal to construct supply pipes and secondly Ipswich is blessed with a natural water filtration system.

"The Augustinian Priory of St Peter and St Paul, founded in the late 12th century, was situated close to St Peter's church in what is now College Street.  Residential accommodation for dozens of monks required a regular supply of drinking water.  Traditionally the monks would have carried it from a spring, a well or from a local stream but here there was a natural supply oozing from Stoke Hill on the other side of the river.  A supply pipe was required.  This lead pipe started in the hillside below St Mary’s Stoke, crossed the river in the shallows upstream of Stoke Bridge and into the Priory.  Evidence suggests it was in place by the late fourteenth century.   This supply later became a source of water for the Stoke Waterworks Company (supplying St Peter’s parish).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Water pipe Stoke Hall
[Above: Isaac Johnson's sketch map of the main water pipe, shown in red, from the water-house on land (Waterhouse Meadow) belonging to Stoke Hall, c. 1795 – taken from Blatchly: Isaac Johnson, see Reading list. See our Stoke Hall page for another, more finished map of the Stoke Hall area by Johnson.]
"The Monks at Blackfriars almost certainly had a piped water supply discharging into a fountain in the Garth, the garden on the middle of the Cloisters.  Evidence suggests the supply was from the Cauldwell (Cold Well) estate on the hillside further east.  Although frowned upon by the monks it was the habit of parishioners to tap into this pipe and insert quills (smaller pipes for their own individual supply).

"In 1569 the Corporation acquired the buildings at Blackfriars to establish a workhouse, a facility that became Christ’s Hospital, endorsed by Letters Patent from Elizabeth I in 1572.  Excavation at Blackfriars have revealed that there was a feature in the Garth and it sounds rather romantic to imagine this as a fountain, continuously issuing fresh cold water for drinking, cooking and washing.

"There is no documentary or archaeological evidence of where the Augustinian canons at Holy Trinity Priory (Christchurch Mansion) obtained their supply but there are multiple springs issuing from the slopes of Christchurch Park.  A conduit from one of these ran into the town centre and terminated in a faucet at Conduit House on the corner of Tavern and St Lawrence Street, (there is a plaque high up on the building to mark the spot). [See our Ipswich Coat of arms page for photographs of this.]

"The second reason Ipswich has an almost limitless supply of fresh drinking water is the geology.  In very simple terms Ipswich is founded on chalk, overlaid with clay (London Crag) which, above the sloping valley sides, is then overlaid with sand and gravel.  Rain water passes through the filtration level (the gravel) which naturally removes detritus leaving clean water to emerge from the spring someway down the slope.  Very early on in the life of the town the water was described as being “quite free from deposit, colourless, inodorous, and with agreeable taste.”  Thomas Cobbold had been taking shipfuls of Holywells water to his brewery in Harwich (founded 1723) until he realised that it would perhaps be more sensible to move the Cobbold Brewery to Ipswich (1746).

"Before the houses were built in Bolton Lane there was a Water House just inside the park, close to the Toll House controlling access to Westerfield and Tuddenham Turnpike Roads.  It consisted of a single room with large tank, constantly supplied with fresh water from an adjacent spring, the overflow from which ran down Bolton Lane and no doubt [ended up] as the stream flowing along Upper and Lower Orwell Street.  This stream was difficult to cross in Orwell Place so stepping stones were used and the area became the stepples or the Wash. 

"Cobbold, who had moved his brewery from Harwich to Ipswich to be adjacent to the wholesome water supply of Holywells sold the water to some 600 householders, expanded this side of the business and established an additional source of (ground) water north of St Clement's Church in what was then Back Street (Edward White's map 1867).  The street later became Waterworks Street and the business was purchased by the Corporation in 1892 to become the Ipswich Corporation Waterworks (ICWW).  There was debate as to whether they could also take control of the Stoke Waterworks Company, by then owned by the Eastern Counties Railway, which they did.  In 1973 ICWW became part of Anglian Water Authority, one of ten regional water management companies.  Anglian Water was privatised in 1989."

Waterworks
Ipswich Corporation Water Works played an important part in the public health of Ipswich. Its story is told on our Street furniture page in relation to cast iron 'ICWW' Hydrant covers set into the pavements. By the mid-19th century, privately-owned reservoirs charged inhabitants for their water supply including those owned by the Cobbolds' in Holywell, the Alexanders' – the Quaker bankers – in St Matthew's and the Waterworks Company in St Clement's. The town's 4,000
other households relied on public pumps or their own wells, most of which were contaminated. As wealthier people moved into homes on the higher ground of the Fonnereau's northern suburb ('the big houses round the park'), pressure increased for better supplies and money, as it so often does (many members of the Council had moved there themselves), talked and the Waterworks Company built a reservoir in Park Road, but it was soon too small. The Council bought the company in 1892 and hastened to review and improve water provision. Water hydrants were placed at strategic points; it was calculated that the consequent rise in rates would soon be recouped by householders by the lower fire insurance premiums. By 1900 virtually every one of the town's 14,000 households had running water.

Thurleston Lane pumping station
Ipswich Historic Lettering: ICWW pumping stationCourtesy Ipswich Society
The central panel above the door reads:
'ICWW
1913'
The above 1990s photograph by Tom Gondris can be found on the Ipswich Society's Image Archive (see Links). The pumping station lies in a dip in the surrounding land to the north of the Whitton housing estate and close to Akenham Church – on of the most remote churches in the county.
'Whitton Water Pumping Station, Thurleston Lane, 1913. Formerly Ipswich Corporation Waterworks. Single storey building. Red brick with Suffolk white brick features. Clay tile roof. Clerestory roof light. Brick dentilled eaves. 7 window range, multi-light iron framed windows with brick arch and keystone heads. Windows set in red brick panels with white brick piers. Circular windows in gable ends. Panelled double central door with arched brick head and fanlight. Stone capping to gable ends, corbelled at eaves.
' (Ipswich Borough Council's Local list SPD – see Links)

Sewage
Concomitant to the improvement in water supplies was the crying need for adequate sewage provision. It is worth recalling the uncomfortable fact that, in the past, many households stored their human ordure in tanks and sold it to the Night Soil Man to be sold on to farmers for manuring their fields. Imagine one of the tightly-built courts or yards and the fact that an average human might produce five hundredweight of solid waste in a year; no wonder Ipswich town was odiferous. Worse still, building sewers not only increased the rates, but resulted in loss of income. Not just to individuals, but to importers of London's sewage which arrived in boats at Ipswich docks for distribution around Suffolk for improving crop growth. Perhaps when Suffolk people run down Ipswich there is a folk memory of a time when it was an inlet for Londoners' faeces.

The town's shallow and inadequate sewers once discharged into the River Orwell at Common Quay. This was moved south of the gasworks on the east bank when the Wet Dock was built in 1842. Peter Schuyler Bruff, the famous railway engineer responsible for the EUR railway tunnel through Stoke Hill, was asked to design an improved sewage system in 1857. It was not until 1881-2 that, with modifications, this system was built because of the authorities baulking at the cost. Bruff's low-level sewage system through the heart of the town eventually reached outlet tanks and a treatment plant a mile downstream at Hog Highland (now part of Cliff Quay) on the Greenwich Farmland. Ironically this had been a favoured picnicking spot, visible to those taking a Sunday stroll on the leafy Promenade on the Island. The final cost was 60,000.

Further reading – David Allen: The public water supply of Ipswich before the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 2014.

Bathing places
The construction of the Wet Dock in the late 1830s also caused the closure of the town's bathing establishments: that in St Clement's run by John Barnard, a second (which was only a few years old and featured hot salt water, vapour and shower baths0 next to St Mary-At-The Quay and the third in Over Stoke, off Wherstead Road. All three were replaced by another Stoke Bathing Place run by the Corporation. Some will recall – and many will have heard of – this Stoke Bathing Place which was 100 yards long and was situated close to the bottom of New Cut, today the site of a sophisticated anti-flood barrier. It was defined by straight barriers dividing it from the wide river basin and was refreshed by tidal waters. Swimming here was spartan or invigorating depending on your viewpoint. Here is an aerial view of
Stoke Bathing Place in 1930 from the remarkable Britain From Above collection (see 'Special subject areas' in Links). Note that the Griffin Wharf branch line curves in from bottom centre. The Stoke Bathing Place was removed in.. during the building of the West Bank container terminal.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Stoke Bathing Place aerial1930
See our St Helens Street page for a similar aerial view of West End Bathing Place on the Gipping at the end of Constantine Road. It closed in 1936 due to pollution from the river.
Piper’s Vale Pools were on the east bank of the River Orwell, they opened in 1937 close to where the Orwell Bridge is now. It was demolished in 1979.
Fore Street Baths , one of the earliest such public swimming pools in the country, continues to provide bathing facilities in Ipswich, particularly for clubs and schools.
St Matthew’s Baths closed after Crown Pools opened in 1984. This roofed site was open for swimming in the summer and the bath was boarded over and used as an events venue in the winter months, playing host to many groups including a young Led Zeppelin.
Broomhill Pool was built in 1938 at a cost of 17,000 and has been closed since 2003. A campaign has been running since then to reopen the site.
See our Ipswich in 1912 PDF for photographs of bathing places on pages 31-33.

The river path
The Gipping Valley River Path includes the section starting from the
industrial dockland at Stoke Bridge through wooded areas, dual cariageway fly-overs to quiet backwaters. It features include old watermills and navigation locks. The 17 mile river path through the western evirons of Ipswich, through Sproughton, Bramford, Needham Market and Stowmarket. In 1793 200 men built 15 locks along the River Gipping. These improvements allowed barges to travel the 17 miles from Ipswich, and industries in Stowmarket developed rapidly. The Gipping Valley River Path follows the route of the old tow path once used for horses drawing the narrow boats. Today it is difficult to imagine some sections of the river as being navigable, not to mention some parts of the tow-path being suitable for a heavy horse as nature and flooding has reclaimed and reshaped some areas. But it's still a beautiful and varied walk.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Against the tide 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Against the tide 2
2016 images
Against the tide
by Laurence Edwards
(2004) is a public sculpture on the west side of Bridge Street, depicting a rower struggling against waves and currents. It is mounted on a tall pedestal which bears the words 'river path'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Sarsen stonesPhotograph courtesy The Ipswich Society
The Sarsen stones stand close to the Skatepark, west of Stoke Bridge and were arranged by local artist Bernard Reynolds. These stones originate from sedimentary rock laid down about 60 million years ago and were dug from the river in the 1970s when the flood defences were built. They are so hard they impeded the driving of steel piling. They are silica-cemented sandstone from the sands between the London Clay and the Chalk, and show a well-developed mammilated (curved bumps) surface. Unfortunately the stones are much abused by spray-paint and worse. Above: some of the stones in the 1980s in a view from the Ipswich Society Image Archive (see Links) with railway sidings and the Commercial Road – now Grafton Road – branch of B&Q store (now closed) in the background.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 12016 images
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 5
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 7
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 4   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navigator 8  
The Navigator (2003). John Atkin was commissioned to make this sculpture for Ipswich, alongside the River Orwell, by The Ipswich Society and The Ipswich River Action Group. Inspired by the town's maritime history and industrial past, influences were found amongst a variety of sources, from 19th century stern castings for ships, navigational instruments, to pattern templates, the 'wheels' of industry and human anatomy. It features a variety of cameo and intaglio lettering including the artist's name and date near the spike at the rear of the sculpture. This work was constructed in Cor-Ten steel, a material that is synonymous with the area's past industrial use; the layer of rust protects the structure from further corrosion. It stands 16 feet high alongside the river, adjacent to a cycle path.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Old Cattle YardHosing out the cattle trucks at the riverside rail head.
The Old Cattle Yard. The area around The Navigator sculpture was, perhaps surprisingly, a cattle yard from around 1880 until the 1950s. The yard handled livestock on the way to or from the Portman Road Cattle Market. Although overgrown, you can still see the remains of the brick flooring of the yard and cattle pens, fencing and gates. The spur line from the Great Eastern Railway main line, built in 1848, crossed Ranelagh Road and the river before a turn alongside the river and the cattle pens, presumably the cattle trains were halted here to load and unload livestock. There are stories of a herdsman who used to sleep in a disused railway carriage near the animal pens in case any animals arrived by a late train (apparently you can still see the remains of the railway carriage chassis near the Princes Street bridge). “As a junior school boy in the 1940s, just after World War Two, I walked to and from my home in Ranelagh Road, to St. Matthew's School, which was in the now disappeared St. Matthew's Church Lane. I was always rather apprehensive on Tuesdays, as that was the day when cattle were driven from a rail head near Princes Street bridge, along Princes Street, and into Portman Road." [From the Kindred Spirit website, see Links.]



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2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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