Black Horse Lane

Black Horse Lane is described as an intramural lane in that it is within the ancient defences, its northern end entering Westgate Street inside the Old Bar Gate, otherwise the West Gate (see also Lady Lane). In the 18th century it was known as Gaol Lane, relating to the gaol built into the West Gate and a later gaol erected around the site of the New Wolsey Theatre. The narrow alleyway, today called Black Horse Walk, drops southwards and widens into Black Horse Lane to end at a wide junction with Elm Street to the west (and what would once have been Mount Street to the east). Having noted that Black Horse Lane (and its continuation, Curriers Lane) was on the inside of the medieval ramparts, a similar trajectory was once found in Lady Lane which dropped down to The Mount and continued as Tanners Lane, both lying on the outside of the rampart. Some of the rows of cottages and courts at the lower end of Lady Lane were raised two or three feet above the lane on the strip of land called a Carnser between it and Black Horse Lane; this was the remains of the medieval earthen rampart. Looking at maps of Ipswich up to the present day, you can trace some of these double streets either side of the line of the rampart most noticeably from Major's Corner westwards (Old Foundry Road and Tower Ramparts on the inside, St Margarets Street/Crown Street on the outside). The demolitions and dual carriageway of Civic Drive and construction of the Civic Centre in the 1960s obliteratd most of Lady Lane and all of Tanners Lane.

Detailed maps from 1902 of this area can be found on our Civic Drive page.

Wolsey's birthplace?
So The Black Horse is within the line of the original rampart of the town. Not only that, but some commentators claim that The Black Horse building could stand on the site of the birthplace of Thomas Wolsey (c.1473-1530).
Ipswich Historic lettering: Black Horse 5Photo courtesy The Ipswich Society Image Archive
Above: The Black Horse public house, 23 Blackhorse Lane, Ipswich in October 1984. Front/side view, with name lettering on the gable.
The Black Horse is Listed Grade II: 'A C16 timber-framed and plastered building with a cross wing at the north end and a wing extending east at the rear. It was altered in tile C18 and later. The first storey was jettied originally but was later built out in brick, probably in the C16, now painted.' The Suffolk CAMRA website (see Links) tells us that it was originally a merchant's house, it did not become a public house until after 1689; a Tudor doorway survives within the remaining building with Jacobean workmanship. This suggests that there was an earlier building here which could date back to the time of Wolsey's family. CAMRA continues – Black Horse: 'Although the building has been a pub "only" since about 1689, it was standing for some time before that; historians believe that Thomas Wolsey was possibly born here in approximately 1473.’
The Black Horse, or its predecessor merchant's house, would have had spacious grounds, surrounded by open fields and meadowland and with an uninterrupted view of the River Gipping from its raised location. Difficult to believe today. So, the big question remains: was Thomas Wolsey born here, or across the road from Curson Lodge – the plaque is shown on our Plaques page.

The Black Bell?

One source (we can't now track it down) gave an alternative birthplace for Wolsey as the Black Bell pub at 34 Museum Street and later in Elm Street.  Museum Street wasn’t constructed until 1847. Looking at Joseph Pennington's 1778 map of Ipswich with the 1902 map overlaid (shown on our
Museum Street page) you can see The Black Bell just to the left of the pointed bit of Elm Street – it is just to the west of where Museum Street would be cut through. The invaluable Suffolk CAMRA website only traces it back as far as 1769, however, if you’ve found that it’s much earlier, so be it. David Kindred’s Ipswich: lost inns, tavern and public houses (see Reading list) has it mentioned in The Ipswich Journal in 1750. A postcard shown on the CAMRA website is a photograph of the Black Bell (surely a Victorian building?) with St Mary-at-Elms Church in the background. So it stood on the corner of Elm Street and Museum Street (now an Art Deco building).

Wolsey's origins
Let's look at four of the many references to Wolsey's origins:-

Bob Malster goes on to mention the legal scrapes of Robert Wolsey (e.g. selling bad meat at the market) – documents which can be found in the Borough archives, now housed at Suffolk Record Office. Was Thomas's father a slightly dodgy but successful businessman. It would seem most likely that the family of Thomas's mother, Joan Wolsey (ne Daundy), is crucial. Edmund Daundy, Thomas’s uncle gave the Market Cross to the town and the Daundys (or Dandys) were one of the wealthiest and influential families in the town. It may well be that Edmund Daundy took the child prodigy Thomas under his wing and ensured his place at Oxford.

We wonder if the notion of The Black Horse Inn being the birthplace of Wolsey is something we rather want to believe. Black Horse Lane had at least two previous names (see Street name derivations) and the inn itself was built (probably) in the mid-16th century. ‘Like many inns, it was once the house of a wealthy merchant and became a public house in the 18th century’. So, unless the (probably Tudor) merchant’s house was built on the site of an inn, are we saying that Thomas was born in a merchant’s house? This doesn’t fit with the apparent ‘humble beginnings’ of the Cardinal; however, accounts of his origins are varied and often questionable.

In 1917 local historian, Vincent Redstone, published a paper Wulcy of Suffolk for the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History (see Links); this analyses the source documents relating to the origins of Wolsey and challenges some of the oft-propagated stories about him.

We are grateful to an enquiry in November 2020 from Philip Roberts about Wolsey's birthplace, which has caused this first attempt to answer the question.

Carol Twinch in Ipswich Street by street
(see Reading list) reminds us that there is also a connection between the Black Horse Inn and Margaret Catchpole, because her brother Charles enlisted in the 33rd Regiment of Foot here.

St Mary-at-Elms Cottage
Ipswich Historic lettering: Black Horse 12015 images
This photograph from the yard of The Black Horse shows the relationship with the 15th century cottage behind St Mary-at-Elms Church (see that page for the Listing text), in fact it is conjoined with one of the pub's out-buildings.
Ipswich Historic lettering: Black Horse 2   Ipswich Historic lettering: Black Horse 3
The view of the rear from the car park/beer garden area shows the crossway (which sits at right-angles to Black Horse Lane) and the sections which have been added over time to extend the pub to an 'L'-shape.
Ipswich Historic lettering: Black Horse 4  

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