Charles Street and environs – a disappeared Victorian housing estate
William Pretty & Son corset factory

Dramatic changes on the maps
The 1902 map detail below shows Crown Street running east-west towards the bottom. The triangle formed by Fonnereau Road and High Street is the area of interest. A dense area of housing can be seen below Charles Street; in fact, the west side of Fitzroy Street is lined with tiny houses with just a small yard behind. Compare this with the large houses to the north along Fonnereau Road with their sizeable gardens reaching back to Charles Street. Incidentally, as mentioned in John Norman's piece about the old corstery factory (included on this page), William Pretty senior lived and died in 61 Fonnereau Road, one of those large houses.

As residential streets, the following have effectively disappeared:-
However, as seen from the modern sketch map below, some names have been preserved, albeit in reconfigured roads. It is notable that the pedestrian access (steps/lift) to the car park from Crown Street is still labelled as the southern part of Fitzroy Street (no nameplate) – nowhere near the original position, itelf now shown as an extension of Claude Street. Similarly, on the modern sketch map, this the southern part of the extended Claude Street – a path leading to Crown Street – is labelled (no nameplate).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude St map 19021902 map detail
One or two interesting features on the 1902 map:-
[*Charles Street Car Park was demolished in 2010 and replaced with a £5million prefabricated steel structure called Crown Car Park (as shown in the 2022 Fitzroy Street photographs below). It includes multi-level and outside parking area with electric vehicle charging points.]

Crown Street has seen many changes over the years. On Edward White's map of Ipswich 1867 we see it labelled Clay Road with only the short western stretch from the (unlabelled) Hyde Park Corner to High Street called Crown Street. This street curving over the north of the medieval town and outside the rampart became a convenient way of avoiding the congested, narrow streets in the centre. It also became a street of many stables, inn and houses; it lost its importance once the mail coaches were replaced by the railways (1830s to 1840s).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude St map 2021apresent day sketch map

Here are the street nameplates in the area in early 2022...

Peel Street – so short they named it thrice.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Peel Street 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Peel Street 2  
Above left: the car park which now occupies the site of William Pretty & Son corset factory, showing two nameplates mounted against the railings. Crown House is in the background. Above right: on the corner of Peel Street and Crown Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Peel Street 32022 images
The red arrows indicate the three street nameplates. The last of these, on the rear wall of Electric House, features the more recent style of shaped plate with the Borough crest at the top.

Claude Street– extended extraordinarily with three nameplates.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 1960s1960s imageIpswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 12018 image
The above atmospheric photograph shows the very short Victorian Claude Street on a wet day in the 1960s, the chimney pots shrouded by coal smoke and mist. The photographer is standing with his back to the High Street, indeed the wall with its air vent at the far right with its shallow roof still stands, as shown in the colour photograph. It is the side of the Brethren Meeting Hall (now residential), which fronts High Street. The vehicle visible occupies a lay-by which was constructed after the houses were demolished. The original Claude Street followed the line of Charles Street and is divided from it by the brick wall at the left of the monochrome photograph. At the far end, a narrow lane ran south into Fitzroy Street (shown below) from just before the gable end, as seen on the 1902 map.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 52022 images
The street nameplates to the north include one bearing an arrow pointing to the High Street (presumably indicating the present-day one-way nature of the original, short Claude Street); in the background is the faint sign of H.H. Near Ltd, coach builders, as shown on our Vestiges page. The second (shown also on our Ipswich Museum page) shows a nameplate invaded by the ivy which congests the house.
Meanwhile in the far corner of the site (shown below) is another nameplate attached to the railings by steps leading down to Crown Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 6
Below: the east-west extension of Claude Street seen from each end; it continues past the car park entrances. The view on the right shows a vehicle entrance in the right foreground which becomes a pedestrian passage to Crown Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 10
Below: the pathway from the Crown Street lay-by, which modern maps sometimes label 'Claude Street'– although no nameplate is here.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Claude Street 11

Charles Street
Given the parallel position of  the extreme western end of Charles Street and Claude Street (now designated as one-way streets in each direction), there aren't any nameplates at this end of Charles Street in 2022, but in 1985, see photograph from the Ipswich Society Image Archive below right, there was one screwed beneath the H.H. Near Ltd building window near the corner (the free-standing 'Claude Street' sign with no arrow can be seen at the extreme right). The Nears building is now used as the Ipswich Museum store.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 19851985 image
Above left: the view looking towards High Street; the white building at the end is The Arboretum public house – rechristened 'The Arbor' in about 2019. This photograph also shows the service road branching off to the left which is kept gated. At the extreme left is the upper level of the Crown Car Park which opened in 2018, replacing the 1970s Charles Street Car Park block which suffered from 'concrete cancer' and had to be demolished around 2010.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 32022 images
Above: the east end of Charles Street is very different with a Victorian garden wall and street nameplate; the junction is with Neale Street with (here) Fonnereau Road and Christchurch Park in the background. Below: the free-standing sign near the southern corner.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 4
See also the lettered Charles Street gate.
The 1960s photographs below from the Ipswich Society Image Archive (see Links) show how closely-built Charles Street was in the 1960s.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 1960s   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Charles Street 1960s1960s images courtesy Ipswich Society
Above left: the rear yards of houses on Charles Street sited downhill on the south side; they can be seen on the 1902 map just below the 'CHAR' part of the street label. These houses had fronted onto Beck Street (see below). Now all demolished.
Above right: the eastern end of Charles Street with Park House (Neale Street elevation) at the end. The terraced houses on the right (south) side have gone to make way for William Street car park. The junction with William Street can be seen at lower right.


William Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: William Street 1960sComparison images
How it has changed. Above left: William Street with houses and a shop (its window boarded up) on the upper west side, 1960s; in the background the large building in Charles Street. The junction at lower left is Beck Street. By 2022, the large building's concrete garages (lettered 'NO PARKING') are long gone; Crown Pools now stands to the left of this view. The free-standing 'William Street' street sign can be seen in the colour photograph.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: William Street 2a   Ipswich Historic Lettering: William Street 12022 images
   Ipswich Historic Lettering: William Street 2
Above: the free-standing street signs at the western and eastern jaws of William Street (respectively). Again, the heavily built up street is transformed in the modern world and is now an access to a car park and a footpath/steps from Crown Street between the pools and The Cricketers pub; Crown Pools can be seen in the background of the first two photographs.

Beck Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Beck Street 1960s1960s image
The above film noir-ish photograph is probably of Beck Street which ran east-west below and parallel with Charles Street. The road at the end would therefore have been Fitzroy Street (today relabelled as an extended Claude Street). This street running north/south is parallel and next to the High Street. See Street name derivations for the source of the name.

Fitzroy Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 19651965 image
Well, here’s fine mid-sixties view in glorious colour looking down the slope of Fitzroy Street (from the junction with Beck Street) – to prove it there is a chunky cast iron street nameplate: ‘FITZROY ST.’ with characteristic superior ’T’ (examples of these can still be seen in situ around the town centre – see Street nameplates). The shop at left, a ‘proper shop’ which advertises ‘GROCERY, OFF-LICENCE, PROVISIONS’, has two hanging signs. Tolly Cobbold had a bit of a stranglehold on liquor outlets in Ipswich at this time including corner shops; the other signs reads ‘Golden Virginia’ tobacco. Further down is ‘[?] GENERAL STORE’ which seems also to be a post office. The dwelling between the shops has no ground floor window, but a first storey loading door and windows; it appears to be storage for the general store. A third shop is next down the hill, with three bicycles propped on their pedals against the kerb. Perhaps a little surprising is the row of parked cars on the right-hand side. The background is filled with Footman’s corset factory (initially built in 1881 – eventualy demolished 100 years later) across Crown Street. It appears that the factory had extended westwards since the 1902 map was drawn up – possibly after World War I.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 1960s1960s image
Above: an enigmatic photograph taken from Charles Street in the 1960s. Just visible on the end wall to the right is a street nameplate: 'CLAUDE STREET'. This street dropped down from the level of Charles Street, hence the steps in the foreground. The road directly ahead is FItzroy Street with the silhouette of the corset factory at the end. See Street name derivations for the source of this name. The name Fitzroy Street has been preserved with the building of the multi-storey car park, but in a different place. The nameplates appear on the access road from Charles Street to reach the new version of Claude Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 1a2022 images 
Above: the top of today's Fitzroy Street near the junction with Charles Street. Below: the south-eastern corner of Crown Car Park with a nameplate fixed low next to a pedestrian entrance. This is opposite the Claude Street plate fixed to the railings (see above).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Fitzroy Street 3

Neale Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Neale Street
11(?) Neale Street bears the name 'NEALE ... HOUSE' inscribed on two Suffolk white bricks above the porch. Within a few yards we are at the junction with Navarre Street.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Neale Street 2
   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Navarre Street 1
Above: the view of what remains of Navarre Street with, at the right, Neale Street and 'Neale House' as shown above. By 2022 the building to the left, which looks more of a works/storage building is being held together with two bands around the upper storey. Planning permission has been granted to convert this into accommodation, but nothing appears to have been done yet. The road is blocked by a wooden fence and the opposite side of the road is fenced, so there are only two addresses in Navarre Street. There are about another ten houses beyond this on the 1902 map running up to the William Street junction. (See Street name derivations for the source of the name.)

It is perhaps ironic that, in the 21st century, Ipswich Borough Council are encouraging more people to live in the town centre, while in the 1960s a large residential area of town centre was demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park. Admittedly a proportion of the housing shown in the period photographs above was sub-standard, so there was a case to clear the area. As town centres all over the country similar to Ipswich are facing hard times for retail businesses and possible reinvention as leisure centres, Ipswich is fortunate in attracting smaller quality shops, specialist traders, restaurants, cafés and so on.

All 1960s photographs are from the Ipswich Society Image Archive (see Links).

William Pretty & Son corset factoryIpswich Historic Lettering: Footman's advert 1 by John Norman
The car park in Tower Ramparts (behind Marks & Spencer) was formerly the site of the factory of William Pretty, stay and corset maker. Why, you may ask, was Ipswich a major centre in the manufacture of corsets when we all know it was famous for engineering? In addition to William Pretty’s there were a number of other corset manufacturers in the town including The Atlas Corset Company of Lower Orwell Street and Atlas House in Woodbridge Road, also E. Brand & Sons of Tacket Street. Brand’s also ran a major department store, the building is still there although the first floor has since been used as a nightclub and is now residential accommodation.
 
Those with a greater knowledge of undergarments than I, have a better understanding of the difference between stays and corsets. They are, I understand, garments serving much the same purpose. The term ‘stay’ being the original terminology which was used during the 19th century and the term corset being used in the 20th century (during which time ‘stay’ was a bone insert (of whalebone and later metal) used to maintain shape (of the garment and the wearer). Ipswich has a place in the whaling industry which may well have an initial bearing on the supply of whalebone.
 
Corsets were one of the first mass produced garments. They had been individually made since the 1550s and perhaps earlier (how else did Henry VIII’s wives achieve such slim waists?). They became increasingly popular again in the 1830s and, by 1850, mass production was essential to meet demand. Although we use the term mass production, in the first half of the 19th century this was still carried out in individual homes, partially completed garments being moved from house to house. By the 1850s these processes were being transferred into new factories and by the 1870s it was a major industry in Ipswich.
 
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Footman's advert 2Throughout the 19th and during the first half of the 20th century, Ipswich was a major engineering town but this was an almost exclusively male occupation. The women usually stayed home, gainfully employed as home workers. Weaving had traditionally been carried out in the home but by the mid-1800s the same mothers, wives and daughters were sewing and by the 1880s they were using treadle sewing machines. It was logical therefore to industrialise this workforce and move them into factories where the process could be mechanised, productivity increased and quality controlled, which is where William Pretty comes into the story.
 
William Pretty was born in 1812 in Bacton, Suffolk, the son of a draper; he left school at 13 and obtained an apprenticeship with John Footman, draper of Stowmarket. In 1815 (the year of the Battle of Waterloo) Footman opened a draper’s store in the Butter Market, Ipswich naming the shop ‘Waterloo House’ to commemorate the famous victory. In 1834 Footman was joined by Alexander Nicholson and William Pretty, opening a new Waterloo House in Westgate Street. William married in 1842 and his wife delivered a son, also William, who later joined the family business.
 
Corsets and stays were being made to order in the rear of the shop but they couldn’t keep up with demand so William junior persuaded his father to build a factory on Tower Ramparts, an initial factory having been built in 1858, although this was probably separate from what became the much larger Tower Ramparts series of factory buildings.  These were started in 1881 and comprised four storeys in Suffolk white brick, a massive project for its time. The initial building was extended, perhaps three or four times.
 
Wm Pretty & Son was the largest employer of women in Ipswich. In the late 1930s there were altogether more than 1,300 workers there. Women were essentially machinists; males being employed in the guillotining and material sections. However, the company could not attract sufficient females to fill the production lines. William’s solution was to open additional factories close to railway stations in other Suffolk towns, cut the fabric in Ipswich and have it machined into garments in the outposts.
 
These were then returned to Ipswich for boxing and dispatch, corsets always being sold as a high-quality garment. Unfortunately for the Pretty Company, the suffragettes with their ‘Dress Reform Society’ along with the First World War both changed the way women dressed and corsets were no longer popular. William Pretty & Sons went into liquidation in 1930; the business was purchased by R. & W.H. Symington, an established corset manufacturer from Market Harborough. The new owners kept the Wiliam Pretty brand name, built the business and extended the factory. In 1968 Symington’s also went into liquidation, the assets being taken over by the Courtaulds Group, the famous textile, clothing, artificial fibres, and chemicals firm (who also kept the Wm Pretty brand name).
 
The Ipswich factory closed in 1982, 100 years after it was originally built, and was demolished in 1987. Although there have been plans to build on the site, including an extension for Marks & Spencer, it has been a car park ever since.
 
Additional information
William Pretty senior lived and died at 61 Fonnereau Road. When he died, his widow sold the house to John Grimwade at the start of the 20th century. Their son, Colonel William Pretty, lived at Goldrood on Belstead Road (later to become part of St Joseph’s College); he owned the first motor car in Ipswich registered DX 1. Incidentally, in White’s Directory 1874, Frederick Footman (draper) is listed as living at 59 Fonnereau Road. So the business partners were next-door neighbours.
 
Footman Pretty became Footman’s and later Debenham Freebody & Co.; Debenham’s department store replaced the previous Art Deco building (presumably built in the 1930s) which was demolished and rebuilt in large sections in the late 1970s. Debenhams store finally closed down in 2021, a victim of changing shopping habits, the Covid pandemic and such landmark stores being bought and sold for very little.

Note: Days Gone By by David Kindred shows many photographs of the Art Deco store in its heyday. For advertising illustrations of the store from 1905 and 1934, see our Cornhill 1 page.

Related pages
Our Cornhill 1 page has information and images concerning Footman & Pretty's department store in Westgate Street, the forerunner of Debenhams.

Old shop signs and names
Lost Ipswich trade signs with sections on  'Before & after the Willis building' and Thomas Seckford's 'Great Place' in Westgate Street.
Collage of lost signs.

Brickyards,
Potteries , Ropewalks in Ipswich

Also:
Named buildings list; Named (and sometimes dated) buildings examples
Dated buildings list; Dated buildings examples; Dated rainhoppers and weather vanes
Origins of street names in Ipswich; Streets named after slavery abolitionists
Street index; Street nameplates; Examples of Street nameplates (Parliament Road etc.);
Boundary markers
Ipswich Tomorrow, Greyfriars 1960s

Rampart and Town gates
Historic maps of Ipswich
Timeline: historical eras, events and monarchs
Monasteries
Blue plaques
Freehold Land Society
Ipswich coat of arms
Pubs & Off licences
Wet Dock maps
Water in Ipswich
Listed buildings in Ipswich
Windmills in the Borough of Ipswich


Home
Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.
Search Ipswich Historic Lettering
©2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission