Friars Bridge Road / Greyfriars Priory
the hidden river
An example of a most historic and significant place in the story of
Ipswich, which is today a forgotten, tiny dog-leg of road... a dead end.
The map of 1902 shows that it once was much longer. Friars
Bridge Road (the map legend elides the first two words) can be seen
running east-west at the upper left of the map detail with 'Cattle
Pens' to its north and 'New Cattle Market' to its south, before it
meets Portman Road.
The modern sketch map of the area (below) shows the triangular
buildings to the west of the Princes Street/Civic
junction (formerly the Greyfriars roundabout) with a remnant of Friars
Bridge Road curling round it. Part of the approach road
into the car park off Portman Road follows the line of the old Friars
Bridge Road. The 'New Cattle Market' south of that road
line is also today a car park.
See our Civic Drive page for a
fuller view of the 1902 road layout with modern streets overlaid.
National Farmers Union Mutual
The NFU had offices at 2 Friars Bridge Road, but to the left of
Observation Court, 84 Princes St one can see a stone relief panel at
the end of the (now gated) courtyard of Legal and General Building,
just visible from the street. The Public Sculptures in Norfolk &
(see Links): 'Two farmers stand on a
foreshortened field. One is older and bearded wearing a waistcoat and
his younger companion wears a short sleeve-shirt. They hold a stone
sign in front of a sheaf of corn decorated with a cow in profile, a
foreshortened tractor, pig and four sacks of grain. The wheatsheaf is
the symbol of NFU Mutual, the farmers' insurance company, this grander
and more complex design must have been commissioned when the Ipswich
branch first moved into this building, perhaps in the 1950s. The
building was renovated for NFU Mutual around 1993, before they moved to
Lower Brook Street when it was taken
over by Legal and General.' This work in stone is
unattributed and is now almost hidden to the public.
Close-up photograph courtesy Tim
The street nameplates are of interest in that there are two,
where one might have imagined that one would do. Also that one of the
signs (below right) is set back on the sharp corner: an area used as a
"smokers' ghetto" for workers from the surrounding office blocks.
See also Coytes Gardens, further
up Princes Street towards the Cornhill.
Above: the ruins of Greyfriars, a line-and-wash illustration from G.R.
Clarke's History, 1830 (see Reading list).
The Greyfriars Priory lay to the west of Greyfriars Road. Surviving
arches were moved to Christchurch Park,
but when Greyfriars precinct was
built in the 1960s these arches, with other remains from Friars Road,
were re-erected in the precinct. See our Monasteries
page for photographs of the arches. It is unlikely that such treatment
would be given to archeological remains today, one hopes. A 1902 map
detail of the area showing the site of the remains at that time can be
seen on our JBO lost signs page under
the 'Before Willis' section. (See also our Monasteries
It does not appear to be so in today's townscape, but Greyfriars
Priory was seen as built on a riverside site.
The Little Gipping, Friars
Bridge and The Horsewade
The street name indicates that it marked the western
of the Franciscan Friary (Greyfriars) which extended south from Friars
Street. The Friars Bridge, one
of the western approaches to Ipswich,
led to the Priory. It sounds contemporary with the religious
establishment, but there is likely to have been an older bridge leading
to the 'Oldenholme' (possibly the root of 'Alderman') marshes, where
the town portmen had pasturage for their horses. The earthen rampart,
probably with a pallisade on top, and ditch below it was redug (1203)
defend (and, more importantly, proclaim the status of) the old town in
the years after
King John granted Ipswich its Charter in 1200 (our Water
in Ipswich page covers the ramparts in more detail). The marshland
outside the medieval defences which follow the outer line of the Anglo-Saxon settlement and the
rampart appears to have
reached down to a causeway, built above the marsh, from Greyfriars
which bridged the Little
Gipping River (much of which runs underground in
the 21st century) at Friars Bridge. This most
probably coincides with the ancient place where horses could ford the
river: The Horswade. As Muriel
Clegg (Streets and street names in
Ipswich see Reading list)
writes: "An earlier arm of the [Gipping] river, now underground,
approached the town from a more northerly direction and gave a curious
impression (reflected in the three maps [John
Speed's map of 1610, John Ogilby's map
of 1674, Joseph Pennington's map of 1778])
of completing its defensive
encirclement just where the medieval rampart ended." On Speed's map
this smaller river is labelled 'Orwell Flu.'. A wide
area of marshland and a harbour/riverside were as much a defence
against attack as a ditch and
rampart. Of course, if the rampart was more of a
signifier of the boundary of the medieval town, the same would apply.
The above map shows the curious split in the Ipswich rivers west
of Stoke Bridge.
Note that this is pre-Wet Dock (opened in 1842). On Pennington's map of 1778 the loop running to
the north from Stoke tide mill is labelled 'The River Gipping', the
suggestion on the map that the southern part of the river is The River
Orwell. It is likely that the northern loop of the river was dug
(possibly by the Romans) to feed the water-mill: Hegenford or Handford
Mil – which would
have been sited at the point where the river is closest to Handford
Road. (On E. E. White's Map of c.1867
is labelled 'River Gipping/Orwell'.) There is an apparent spelling
of 'Halford Bridge' at upper left, for
Handford Bridge. The whole area to the south and west of Ipswich around
the rivers is depicted as extensive marshland: a natural defence to
attackers from the west.
John Speed's map 1610
Apart from a few erroFrs in locations and labelling,
feature of the Speed map is the array of shapes resembling railway
tracks on the marshes to the east of Stoke Bridge. These are
representations of tenter (or 'tainter') frames for stretching wollen
cloths. They are testament to the importance of the wool industry and
trade to Ipswich at this time.
The wider River Orwell stretching westwards from Stoke Bridge is
labelled 'The Salt Water'; the much narrower channel (later called The
Little Gipping') to the north is labelled 'Orwell flu'.
'L' on the map indicates the Church of St Nicholas; 'T' is the
remnants of Greyfriars Priory 'M' is the Church of St Peter; 'F' is the
Church of St Mary Elms; 'Y' (mislabelled on Speed's map) is Handford
Ogilby's map, 1674
This section of Ogilby's 1674 map
shows how the Orwell to the east of Stoke
Bridge is labelled 'The River'. This wide lagoon, today called St
Peter's Dock, spans the site of the original Anglo-Saxon ford with the
northern end of Great Whip Street running into the water, its exit
being the site of today's Foundry Lane running up towards the Wolsey
Gate. On the west side of the bridge, the lower and wider water is
labelled 'Hanford Water' (and later 'Salt Water') with
'Fresh Water' in the narrow channel above. This channel was almost
certainly dug (perhaps by the Romans) to provide water power to up to
three water mills. The detail in a red frame shows the street 'Handford
Bridg way' (spelling is a bit varied on Ogilby's map) with the
infrastructure and water-wheel of Hagenford's (Handford) Mill.
'Common meadow and marsh
A large area of somewhat marshy ground west of the Gipping belonged to
the burgesses in common; the northern part in particular, being drier,
was used for pasturage. The common meadow included Portman Meadow,
dedicated in 1200 to pasturing the horses of the town councillors;
before 1200 and through the 14th century it was known as Odenholm
meadow, although by the 1440s it was being called Portman's Meadow. It
was accessed via a ford and later by Friars Bridge.
Speed does not reference this on his map, and the location of the mill
is not clearly indicated in any medieval record that I have read.
However, it was a water-powered mill and is frequently referred to in
conjunction with the common meadow/marsh on the west bank of the
Gipping – in the 1340s, when the borough was leasing the mill to
private citizens, Odenholm meadow was jointly leased out with it; at
that time Horswade Mill was said to be in a ruinous state. A deed of
1388 is concerned with a plot of land lying between a (river?) bank
connecting Horswade Mill and Stoke Bridge and the road connecting the
Barre Gates and Friars Bridge; based on this, on a feature on Speed's
map showing otherwise isolated buildings at the end of a side-road
leading to the Gipping, and on the evidence from later maps (which show
one of those buildings extending to the river's edge), I am tentatively
hypothesising that this may represent the mill location, directly
across the river from the common meadow. Horswade served as the
official place where burgesses were supposed to have their grain
ground, judging from a borough lease in 1308 of the (tolls paid at) the
mill. It was distinct from the New Mill, another building that was
separately leased out by the borough; the leasing of both mills is
referred to as early as 1286.
The name suggests it may have been built contemporary with or shortly
after the establishment of the Franciscan friary (although it might
have had a different name earlier). The only evident purpose of the
bridge was to provide access to the community pasturage on the far side
of the Gipping.
The Greyfriars, or Friars Minor, were established in Ipswich early in
the reign of Edward I; in 1284 townsman Robert de Orford bequeathed
them a small sum of money. The founder was Sir Robert Tiptot (died
1298) of Nettlestead and wife. Not much is known of the friary,
although it covered a fairly large tract of land in what was otherwise
a relatively uninhabited section of the town (on land once marshy), and
left a memory in several topographic features in the post-medieval
period; for example, the street leading along the edge of the precinct
became known as Grey Friars Road, an easterly approach to the site is
still (at least the surviving part) known as Friars Street, while the
bridge leading across to the common marsh was known as Friars Bridge
(by at least 1419). The friary was suppressed in 1538.
(Stephen Alsford's notes – see 'History
of Medieval Ipswich' in Links – on the John
Speed map of 1610)
The meadow close to the former site of the friary is shown on
the 1674 map as 'Fryers Orchard'. Bob Malster points out that some of
the friary buildings are shown on this 1674 map. And isn't that a
friary chapel to the north of the site with butresses
around the silhouette in the near east-west position?
(1610) surely shows a chapel-like structure in that position.
The economic and social importance of the miller in the town
cannot be over-emphasised. It is now generally accepted that there were
three mills along the man-made freshwater channel which was later
called the Little Gipping. Handford
Mill in the north which was close to Handford Road, Horswade Mill about a third of the
way down and built after the foundation of Greyfriars Priory at, or
close to, Friars Bridge; the third merscmylne
('marsh mill' or 'mill on the fen') where the channel meets the salt
water of the Orwell upstream of Stoke Bridge. Horswade Mill disappeared
at some time in the mid-17th century, but it is notable that the
broadening of water above Friars Bridge shown on the 1674 suggests that
this is a mill pond – the site of this mill. Handford Mill, remarkably,
continued in use until the mid-19th century, when it was crushing seed
for oil production. This is testament to the excellent siting of the
ancient mill, with good road access and its plentiful supply of flowing
water (one source was a stream that started high up on Warrington Road).
There is also evidence of a
mill on the Stoke side of the Orwell and just above Stoke Bridge
(gone by the mid-16th century), also a
double mill with two water-wheels and two sets of machinery
which stood on the Ipswich side of Stoke Bridge. These were known as
the 'new mills' and appear to have been built in the mid-14th century.
Initially, it seems that new mills were powered form the channelled
water which had already been used by Handford and Horswade Mills.
However, they were later converted to tide mills, using the water from
the incoming tide trapped in a large mill pond. Once the tide had ebbed
the fall in the level of water was utilised as sluices rleased the
penned water to turn the wheels. Another tide mill is a well-known
landmark on the River Deben at Woodbridge (still standing and now a
working museum). A similar-looking building is shown on old paintings
and photographs by Stoke Bridge. That site gradually metamorphosed into
a large maltings and, later, a yeast fermentation factory.
See our Water in Ipswich page for much
more on the way in which the Orwell meets the Gipping in these two
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Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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