Ipswich Wet Dock: quays and wharves

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 6eWandering around the Ipswich docks over the years, as so many residents must do, we've often been puzzled about the names of the wharves and quays and quite where one begins and another ends. The map here is an initial attempt to insert the names used at various times and attach them to various parts of the dock and River Orwell. We hope it is of some interest and we welcome comments and additions, stories and anecdotes: see bottom of this page for a link. Talking of which...

"To find the old names you need the little maps that used to be issued by the Ipswich Dock Commission with their annual reports [see reproduction below]; they show many of the old names - of which Tovell's Wharf is not one. Tovell's Wharf was constructed in the 1920s when the old 'branch dock' was filled in - it had originally been a timber pond for the storage of imported timber. The new wharf was named after George Tovell, a member of the Ipswich Dock Commission in the early days; he had a cement works in the area on which the wharf was built. By the way, you have misplaced it on your map, putting it at South West Quay; Tovell's Wharf is where you have the word 'Quay', opposite the Custom House. There are also large-scale OS plans at 50 inches to a mile in the Suffolk Record Office; the first edition, 1882 or thereabouts, and the second of the early 1900s will give you all the names." We're grateful for the assistance in (May 2011) of Bob Malster, a proper local historian, and his interest in the website.

Stuart and Des of the Ipswich Maritime Trust have contributed two maps:
"You will see from Stuart's plan that St Peters Wharf is actually in the New Cut right by Stoke Bridge; at one time the water was wider there  But the area at the head of the dock was widened to take another railway line." We naively assumed that St Peter's Quay was the part of the Wet Dock which ends in the 'nip' at the west end, i.e. adjacent to St Peter's Church. We also note that 'Common Quay' shown on some maps as stretching along the northern section of the dock became a shorter quay around the Old Customs House, part of it replaced by 'Neptune Quay', perhaps.

Those in the know will spot that the adjacent map is a summary or compromise which attempts to show the names and positions used over time since the Ipswich Wet Dock lock gates were first opened on 17 January 1842. This date is taken from the invaluable book 'A Victorian vision: the building of Ipswich Wet Dock' by Bob Malster and Bob Jones (see Reading List).

An example of the way in which wharf and quay names change over time is provided in
Twinch, C.: 'Street by street Ipswich' (see Reading list).
"The Common Quay, formerly Key or Cay, was also known as the Old Quay and is one of the three small quays of medieval Ipswich – the Common Quay, Bigod's Quay and one owned by the Harney family. The wharves of Common Quay (part of which is now encompassed by Neptune Quay) were known as St Peter's and the Albion. Dr Taylor's description of this important part of the waterfront in 1888 cannot be bettered: 'A few years ago the site of the [Common] dock was the junction of the Gipping and the Orwell – before the 'new cut' was made, and the upper reach of the Orwell estuary imprisoned to form a dock. The river then came directly up to the warehouses. Some of the latter are very ancient, and are now being pulled down or modernised.'* "
(*Dr J.E. Taylor: In and about ancient Ipswich. 1888)

[UPDATE Sept. 2011:
The Ipswich Maritime Trust (partially as a result of an enquiry about wharf names from this website) has produced an excellent 'IMT Occasional Paper No. 1: Quays and wharves of Ipswich' which attempts a 'definitive' map of the names: very difficult as they changed and moved over time with custom and developments in the industrial activity around the Wet Dock. We have updated the map here from that document and thank the IMT for its research (also the excellent illustrations in the occasional paper). One controversial inclusion is the placing of 'Orwell Quay' on the east bank of New Cut, whereas people currently believe the stretch of quay which was 'Ransome's Wharf' at the time of their engineering works on the east side of the Wet Dock to be 'Orwell Quay'. Bob Malster's research has uncovered other names, too. It all highlights the rich history of maritime activity in Ipswich.]

1930 map
[UPDATE August 2012: Gordon Pugh has sent an image of an Ipswich map of c.1930 which gives another view of the evolving Wet Dock. The 'Branch Dock' mentioned by Bob Malster is clearly shown, also the 'Public Warehouse' which still stands, sans lettering, in the 21st century (see our Island page).]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map c.19301930 map of Orwell and Wet Dock
This map clearly shows the Stoke Bathing Place, a walled-off area for Ipswich Swimming Club on the West Bank, now part of the container depot. Further south is Nova Scotia House, home of the Nova Scotia shipyard (with the 'Nova Scotia Point' mudbank in the river). Further south again is 'Halifax Works Wharf' marking the site of the Halifax shipyard. Both these very un-Suffolk names were used to describe their surrounding areas (see also 'Greenwich', named after the farm
over the river to the west of both shipyards), somewhat to the mystification of the present-day inhabitant. For more on Halifax see our page on 'The Whaling Station'. One tiny feature, easily overlooked, is the 'Ferry' labelled on a dotted line across New Cut between the end of Bath Street and the Island; presumably one could walk down to Stoke Quay from Over Stoke, get the ferry onto the fromer Promenade where the Umbrella shelter once stood, across the small spit of land, over the swing bridge on the lock and onto Ship Launch Road, Cliff Road and Cliff Quay.
See our Ransome's site page for an 1867 map detail of the east bank of the Wet Dock.

Tramway and rail map of the Wet Dock
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map railwaysMap by the Over Stoke History Group
The above, undated, map shows the height of industrial rail transport around the Wet Dock. The Griffin Wharf branch leaves the main line (and sidings) at Halifax junction, south of the tunnel through Stoke Hill. It crosses Wherstead Road via 'the Black Bridge', as it was known to many locals (see our Felaw Street page for a 1959 photograph of a train on that bridge), running parallel with Cowell Street (not shown here) and curving northwards. Photographs of the tramway in 2014 at the end of Bath Road can be found on our Felaw Street page. However, far from stopping there, it is clear from the map that in 1847 the orange-brown coloured line went all the way along New Cut West to Paul's maltings and Ipswich Malting Company at the bottom of Dock Street, with sub-branches serving Cocksedge & Co. Ltd, Ransome & Rapier, Christopherson, Watkins and the GER (Great Eatern Railway) coal depot.
For remnants of the tramways around the Wet Dock see our Island and Dock ground level pages.

1973 map
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 1973
The above map captures the Wet Dock area when trade and industry were thriving in 1973. The West Bank Terminal has yet to be built (the Stoke Bathing Place can still be seen below Griffin Wharf) and ownership of business premises is labelled.

1994 diagram
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 19941994 diagram
The above annotated aerial photograph of the Wet Dock and New Cut has been taken from the book The Port of Ipswich published in 1994 by Ipswich Port Authority. At this date the Wet Dock is seen as a more-or-less post-industrial area with one or two of the giant concrete silos active, a ship moored at Three Cranes Wharf/Tovells Wharf and very few leisure craft. The modernisation of Vernon Street and Hawes Street (by-passing Wherstead Road) can be seen at lower left with the two new roundabouts in place and just above right, Felaw Street with the restored Felaw Maltings and The Steamboat Tavern nearby. Comparing this image with the dock map in the book, we find that south of the 'Orwell Quay' at No. 5 no mention is made of Gasworks Quay, Eagle Wharf or on the opposite side of the River Orwell, Griffin Wharf. It is good to find that The Harbour Master's Office is labelled, a building which has been abandoned for many years as far as we can see. Bob Jones (co-author of the book A Victorian Vision on the Wet Dock, see Reading List) has uploaded an photograph of the structure with a note that he was  the Personnel Officer working from the building (1979 - 2000).

Ipswich Dock Act 1805 map: PLAN of the Proposed Improvement of the RIVER ORWELL, from Ipswich to Freston Reach Sep. 20 1804.
[UPDATE 25.11.2013: Peter Turtill has sent this map covering the point of the Handford Road bridge at the left down to the Orwell to Downham Reach below Freston Tower (marked lower right), almost forty years before the Wet Dock was built.]
The river and town turned on its side is difficult to decipher, so we have reorientated the future Wet Dock area below. The navigable channel is delineated in the middle of the river with its named reaches (Pigeon Locker Shoal, Cliff Reach, Lime Kiln Reach, Hog Island – known to many as 'Hog Highland' – Reach etc.) in 1804 when the map was drawn. Proposed newly cut shipping channels are clearly marked. Bourne Bridge Creek is the vertical inlet in the lower centre with, to its left 'Halifax Ship Yard' and, further left, 'Nova Scotia' (Shipyard), both off Wherstead Road. Around the town end of the river are places labelled 'Embanked Marsh' and they give some sense of the problematic, low-lying land hereabouts from before Anglo Saxon times, which hindered develoment until drainage schemes helped to make the land passable later in the century. We have already seen the problems faced by builders in the Alderman Road area when the Tramway power station was built and St Mary-At-Quay church still suffers from the ooze upon which it was built. Reference has also been made to the 'Corporation Marshes' overlooked by Thomas Cartwright's Stoke Hall and the nearby church. It is perhaps significant that a large, low-lying section of what we now call 'Over Stoke' to the west of Wherstead Road is labelled as 'Embanked Marsh', which would explain why Stoke remained as a small village until the industrial revolution. It is not a surprise to the present day inhabitant of Ipswich that the road leading from The Ostrich down Freston foreshore is labelled: 'The Water frequently in the Spring Tides flows up to This Road'. Similarly the shoreline between Greenwich Farm and Downham Reach Farm is labelled: 'Gravelly Beach covered only in extraordinary Spring Tides'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 1805
Swivelling the Wet Dock detail of the map clockwise (below) is helpful as it places it in the customary orientation. It is notable that in 1804 the River Orwell was considered to flow from the west to Stoke Bridge (what we now call The Gipping) and 'The River Gipping' looped over from the north to join it near the 'Tide Mill Reservoir'. The principle so clearly demonstrated by Woodbridge Tide Mill, only a few miles away from Ipswich, relies on trapping the tidal waters in a large mill pool using sluices. The miller then had a reserve of power to drive the mill using gravity once the tide had receded. With drainage and river redirection and canalisation in more recent times we now consider that The Gipping (fresh water) meets The Orwell (brackish or salt water) at a point roughly west of Stoke Bridge. The characteristic Wet Dock right-angled shape is here seen in its open form with successive revetments built for unloading and loading ships raising and flattening out what had been marshy ground. In 1804 the south west of the dock is still labelled 'Mr Fulcher's Ooze'; this gives an indication that the area would have looked very different then. One wonders what benefit Mr Fulcher got from ownership of his ooze; perhaps he hung onto it until selling it for redevelopment
of New Cut and The Island site created in 1842.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 1805 detail

Ogilby’s dock map of 1674
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wet Dock map 16741674 map
This section of  Ogilby's
1674 map shows the 'natural' dock with revetments forming the northern and eastern quays and shipyards and with marshland over a large part of the south and west. Our Felaw Street page includes a close-up of the Great Whip Street crossing from this source.


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