The red herring of
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
further down 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
and Halifax shipyards.
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
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
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.
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.]
18.5.11: I note
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 was 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.
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 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 historian 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.]
Whaling and 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
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
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 Rattlesden conundrum and 'Whalebones'
[UPDATE 17.6.2019: 'I have
stumbled across your piece (and responses thereto) in my attempts to
locate information concerning the apparent links between the village of
Rattlesden and Whaling. The reason for my seemingly odd notion is
that there are two not insignificant properties called Whalebone
Cottage, one in Rattlesden virtually on the river “Rat” and, as I am
given to understand, very close to the lagoon that marked the end of
its navigable section, and where barges could be turned around.
It takes quite a leap of the imagination as the Rat today is little
more than a brook but it is known that materials for the Abbey at Bury
St Edmunds were delivered via this route. The second Whalebone
Cottage (in both cases the term cottage can be misleading) is a little
over a mile distant but there would have been little between the two
when they were built, indeed there is not a great deal even
now. Both once sported Whalebones.
At least one, and possibly both, of the houses concerned may well
pre-date whaling suggesting that they were perhaps re-named.
Extending the same speculation, it seems probable to me that either
individuals having an interest in whaling owned these properties at the
time they were given the name, and/or that some derivative of the
whaling industry (corset manufacture perhaps) may have existed in the
Rattlesden vicinity, served via the Rat to/from Ipswich. It could, of
course, be out-and-out coincidence. Any light that could be shed would
be greatly appreciated. David Cox.' (Many
thanks to David for these intriguing speculations. If anyone can add to
this matter, please get in touch using the link at the bottom of the
page. ‘Ipswich Whaling Station’: the gift that keeps on giving.)]
Today's attitudes to whaling are radically
different in most parts of the world. Rather than being seen as a
single, profitable, huge resource of meat, fat, blood, viscera, keratin
and bone, the
whale is viewed today as one of the most remarkable animals on the
planet, about which we have so much more to learn.
The brig Elizabeth Jane from Ipswich
A germaine contribution from Stephen
"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?"
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.
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.
Halifax Mill photo courtesy Howard
Nova Scotia House. Howard Brown Greaves has been researching his family ties
Nova Scotia House, which used to stand
upriver from Halifax Mill
and we're pleased to include some of his images and detail.
Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.
throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission