Ipswich Whaling Station? No, ... Halifax Mill!

Until May 2011, we were led to believe that this historic building behind Wherstead Road was a Whaling Station, but the latest UPDATES at the foot of this page confirm an alternative solution. This page really documents the compilers' bafflement regarding names of locations around the Wet Dock and West Bank, which have changed over history; there is very little in te contemporary landscape to indicate the formerly significant sites such as Nova Scotia and Halifax shipyards.

Whaling Ipswich 1-Whaling Ipswich 2-Whaling Ipswich 3

Extraordinary as it may seem to the present day inhabitant of Ipswich, the town once had a whaling idustry. Around 2008, while visiting the Wherstead Road area below the Live and Let Live public house (now demolished and the site of flats), we had some time to kill and wandered into Orwell Kitchens. Around the back of the works we discovered an ancient looking industrial chimney, banded with iron. The proprietor informed us of the original purpose of the buildings – a whaling station – and mentioned that the kitchen business was soon to move down the road. The photographs above were taken after that move, hence the lack of close access to the chimney. The second picture was taken down the alleyway between two of the terraced houses in Wherstead Road. The third was taken across the back gardens from inside the car dealership further down the road while the proprietor was dealing with customers. Robert Malster's fine 'A-Z of Ipswich local history' (see Reading List) detailed the brief story of whaling in Ipswich:

"The Ipswich Journal of 26 August, 1786 carried an advertisement for subscriptions to a new venture: a whale fishery established by banker Emerson Cornwell and shipbuilder Captain Timothy Mangles. The company's vessels the Ipswich and the chartered Orwell with crews of between 40 and 50 men each embarked from the Thames in March 1787 and hunted whales in northern waters. The Orwell took seven whales yielding 150 butts of blubber and 4cwt of whalebone and it was lightered from lower down the Orwell river up to the area on the west bank known as Nova Scotia. The Ipswich took no whales that season, but brought back one and a half butts of blubber from killing 54 seals. The boilers for rendering down the blubber were housed in the buildings shown above. The newspaper suggests that there wasn't much smell from the process beyond 100 yards of the boilers, which is hard to believe. Despite a third vessel being sent out the next year the industry was soon abandoned and the vessels, lances and harpoons were put up for sale in 1793."

Although this subject doesn't have lettering on it (it's quite possible that it once did), we are including it on the Ipswich Historic Lettering website, because we feel that it deserves to be recorded. The danger now is that the whole site will be cleared and ubiquitous blocks of flats erected, losing a vital piece of local history. We have written to the Ipswich Society, the Ipswich Borough Buildings Conservation Officer and the Museum of East Anglian Life with regard to saving the chimney stack – which shouldn't be too difficult to dismantle and rebuild, one wouldn't have thought – but with no reply.


[UPDATE November, 2010: Woe, woe and thrice woe!... We just noticed, while driving up Wherstead Road, that the "Whaling Station" is no more. Torn down despite our best efforts to draw attention to this hidden - now lost - piece of the Ipswich story.]
Our thanks to Des Pawson MBE of Footrope Knots (Museum of Knots & Sailors Ropework), Wherstead Road, Ipswich (see Links). Des's knowledge about maritime Ipswich - particularly as this site is almost in his back yard - seems conclusive and very helpful.]

[UPDATE 18.5.11: I note from you rather fine and interesting site, your comments about the former Orwell Pine premises that have recently been demolished, may I suggest that the suggestion of it being the Ipswich Whaling Station by the then occupiers were more myth or stretching it rather a lot,  than reality? The Ipswich Whaling trade is covered in some depth in Hugh Moffat's Ships and Shipyards of Ipswich 1700-1970; Malthouse Press, 2002, pages 19-24. Also The Whaling trade of Ipswich 1786-1793 by A.E.G. .Jones; Mariner's Mirror, vol 40 #4, 1954, pages 297-303. From these sources  I believe that the whaling station was based at or near Nova Scotia Ship Yard that was further up river. Halifax Mill as I believe Orwell Pine's premises to have been, has been many things including I understand a sort of chemical works producing sheep dip, but I have not done in-depth research on the building, but suspect that it is later than the period whaling was carried out. However I would agree that the loss of an interesting building with a splendid chimney is to be regretted. -DES]

[UPDATE 29.5.11: "Des Pawson has already put you right about the whaling station, which was at Nova Scotia, up near the old railway bridge carrying the Griffin Wharf Branch over Wherstead Road. There were no surviving buildings, but there were still some brick quay walls until they were buried under the West Bank Terminal in the 1970s. Halifax Mill was built as a steam flour mill somewhere about 1850 by Joseph Fison, who also had the Eastern Union Mills by Stoke Bridge which you will probably remember as the yeast works. Later Halifax Mill became a chemical works operated by the Chemical Union Ltd." We're grateful to Bob Malster (see Reading List) for adding historical detail to this rather confusing use of the names 'Nova Scotia' and 'Halifax' in relation to this area of Ipswich.]

[UPDATE 12.4.12: 'Hello, I came across a reference to your website and saw that you are interested in the history of the whaling trade which was undertaken at the Nova Scotia Yard, Ipswich. During the course of my research on the merchant group Camden, Calvert & King of Wapping London, some of which features in a book I jointly authored with the East London Historian, Derek Morris, (title: Wapping 1600-1800: A Social History of an Early Modern London Maritime Suburb) I was able to identify a connection with the Wapping Mangles family and the Nova Scotia Yard. I think that the attached article from the Mariner's Mirror will also assist you quite a bit!  Regards, Ken Cozens M.A., Greenwich Maritime Institute Associate.

Ken has been kind enough to send a learned document: 'The Whaling Trade Of Ipswich 1786-1793' (from The Mariner's Mirror Vol. 40, 1954, No. 4, pp. 297-303) which gives us an insight onto this trade. Daniel Defoe visited Ipswich in 1724, at the time when the South Sea Company was attempting to revive the whale fishery from London:

"... on which Account I may freely advance this without any Compliment to the Town of Ipswich, no Place in Britain is equally qualified like Ipswich: whether we respect the cheapness of building and fitting out their Ships and Shalloups; also furnishing, Victualling and providing them with all kind of Stores; Convenience for laying up the Ships after Voyage; room for erecting their Magazines, Warehouses, Roap-walks, Cooperage, &c. on the easiest Terms; and especially for the noisesome Cookery, which attends the boiling their Blubber, which may be on this River, (as it ought to be) remote from any Places of Resort; Then their nearness to the Market for the Oil when 'tis made, and, which, above all, ought to be the chief thing considered in that trade, the easiness of their putting out to Sea when they begin their Voyage, in which the same Wind that carries them from the Mouth of the Haven, is fair to the very Seas of Greenland.... Ipswich must have the preference of all the Port Towns of Britain, for being the best Center for the Greenland Trade, if that Trade fall into management of such People as perfectly understand...."

Although Great Yarmouth in Norfolk sporadically pursued the trade it was not until 1786 that a notice appeared in the Ipswich Journal stating that: 'several gentlemen in the town, interested in the whale fishery, and convinced that Ipswich was most commodiously situated, had opened a book at the newly established Ipswich Town & Country Bank of Messrs Crickitt, Truelove and Kerridge. It invited subscriptions of 100 and over.' They took over the buildings and wharves called Nova Scotia on the west bank of the Orwell, just over a mile from the town centre. Existing warehouses and new buildings were used in preparation for the rendering of the whale oil. Two ships, the Ipswich (crew: 41) and the Orwell (crew: about 50) were used in the hunt for whales. The apparent success of the venture led to a further investment. This seems to have been less successful, reflecting a general decline in whaling.]


The brig Elizabeth Jane from Ipswich
A germaine contribution from Stephen Gavin:
"I've not fully explored [your] site, but I though that you might like to see a rare example (I presume) of 19th C. Ipswich lettering. I found it and the name board of a two masted brig in our cottage at Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire. Would you mind if I made a link your Ipswich whaling page?"
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich boat 1
Brig Elizabeth Jane's Port of Registration Board from Ipswich, UK. Found as a floor joist at Robin Hood's Bay, July 2003 launched Nova Scotia 1817 - Lost July 1854 off the coast of Yorkshire.
Below: Timbers from Elizabeth Jane as floor joists at Robin Hood's Bay. The holes once contain 'Treenails' (pronounced 'trunnels') which are used to lock a ships timbers together. Some of these beams appear to be sawn but others, like the one in the foreground, have cup-shaped cuts made by an adze.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Ipswich boat 2Images courtesy Stephen Gavin
Please see: http://lostbrig.net/image_gallery.html for more details. Thanks to Stephen.
Just goes to show how objects spread a long way (geographically) in history and wind up in the oddest of places, so as not to waste a decent bit of seasoned timber. If only we took the same care of our resources now.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Halifax MillHalifax Mill photo courtesy Howard Brown-Greaves

Nova Scotia House. Howard Brown Greaves has been researching his family ties with Nova Scotia House, which used to stand upriver from Halifax Mill and we're pleased to include some of his images and detail.




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