The People's Hall
('Stoke Hall')
Stoke Street
Not to be confused with the lost 1744 Stoke Hall which once stood on the nearby site of Stoke Hall Road, off Belstead Road, this rather grand-looking hall has become known to passers-by as 'Stoke Hall' because of the lettering which appears twice. Many still refer to it as The People's Hall. One wonders if the change to 'Stoke Hall' occurred quite late (scroll down to the Eade & Johns visualisation for more on this). We recall visiting the building in the early 1980s when the sizeable hall was occupied by The Wolsey Theatre Costume Hire business.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall 62004 images
The People's Hall [Methodist Mission] was designed by local architect Edwin Thomas Johns in 1898 for an association of local Methodist Churches. To paraphrase Simon Knott (Simon's Suffolk churches, see Links): Cotton Methodist Church (on the edge of the Suffolk village of Bacton) is similar in style to the Methodist People's Hall with "walls banded with red and white brick and the windows are in the transitional plate tracery style of the late 13th century, when Early English was becoming Decorated".
appears above the two sets of double doors onto Stoke Street.
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Stoke Street rises from The Old Bell to the junction with Burrell Road, and appears to narrow in the middle because of the dominance of the massive brooding presence of the sombre, but well articulated and highly individual Tudor-Revival, People's Hall. This building was erected through the combined efforts of collective local Methodist congregations to provide several halls for religious worship and social ministration. There is a long frontage to the street with a massive mock-Tudor gable and a first floor open gallery balcony facing the street. This is flanked by the entrance doorways pictured above. The right hand entrance has a smaller half-timbered gable over and it was originally intended that an identical entrance treatment would also be built on the left. Further flanking wings were to extend on either side but only the right hand section was completed. The site for the left-hand wing has remained vacant. There is extensive use of polychromatic brick detailing and plain coloured stained glass. The traffic pollution, dark pointing and north facing orientation contribute to the slightly forbidding external appearance. The main part of the building is now converted to flats (although this has not significantly altered its street facade), while the small hall to the west end remains in religious use.
Note that the hall was built on the site of cottages built on a carnser. See our Carnsers page for a photograph.

The rebranding of The People's Hall
Below: the stone panels reading 'STOKE HALL' project out from the surrounding frames somewhat suggesting that they have been 'stuck over' the original signs reading 'The People's Hall'. Clearly the disappearance of Thomas Cartwright's 18th century mansion, Stoke Hall, occurred in 1915. The house stood on the other side of St Mary-at-Stoke Church with its steep carriage-drive starting close to the site of this fine Methodist Hall. The owners, presumably to move away from the building's religious origins, must have decided that it was worthwhile commissioning a stonemason to make the new panels, not a cheap job, to cover the old.
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Close to ground level, among the Suffolk white bricks and towards the west side of the building are a range of foundation stones in varying states of erosion.
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JUNE 15TH. 1898.
The characters on the tablet to the far right have eroded away.

Disambiguation (in the terminology of Wikipedia)
1. 'Stoke Park', while being the name of the parkland, is also the name of the Burrell mansion here we call it 'Stoke Park Mansion' to make it clear. It has been demolished.
2. 'Stoke Hall', built on the rise of Stoke Hill and next to St Mary-At-Stoke Church, was built by Thomas Cartwright in 1744/45 ans was once the home of  Robert James Ransome (1830-1891).
It has been demolished.
3. 'The People's Hall' in Stoke Street, close to The Old Bell Inn, has confusingly had the name 'Stoke Hall' added to its fabric. It still stands.

The People's Hall in 1978
Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall 1978   Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall 1978Image courtesy Lawrence Mayes
[UPDATE 24.4.2023: ‘Hello Borin, I have a colour photo (taken by me in 1978) of The People's Hall showing its original name. One thing that surprises me is that it is not a listed building; I wonder why. Regards, Lawrence Mayes.' Many thanks to Lawrence for this pre-renovation view of an edifice bearing all the grime of the industrial revolution and coal fires. However, the original name plaque is certainly readable: 'THE PEOPLES HALL'.]

The People's Hall in 2018
Taken on the Heritage Open Days Saturday, these photographs show an interesting contrast to the 2004 images above.
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On the central main, east door the rebranding to 'Stoke Hall' is indicated by the metal plate: STOKE HALL OFFICE' and stuck to the letter-box: 'Roberts Holdings ... Equity Group'
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At the east corner of the site, as Stoke Street turns left and uphill, there is a hand-panited water hydrant 'H 9' sign on the brickwork indicating the location nine feet away. A familiar modern, yellow-and-black hydrant plate is fixed below it. The decorative stone feature in the foreground speaks of E.T. Johns' attention to detail in his building design. The double window further down towards Stoke Bridge illustrates the colour contrast of red and white which characterises the architecture. We also see the chequer-board tinted glass in the lower par of the windows.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall 7
Above: the main gable of The People's Hall features mock-Tudor timbering at the apex (beneath a terracotta fleur-de-lys finial) with fine stone detailing around the upper window; the recessed balcony is probably the most striking element with its cylindrical redbrick columns and stone arches and balustrade.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall 8

E.E. White's map of 1867 (see the Stoke Hall page) shows the area with Stoke Bridge at top right running southward to the pinch of Bell Lane. Stoke Street comes off the crossroads to curve left past the future site of the People's Hall, uphill and round to the right to become Belstead Road. The People's Hall appears to fairly accurately occupy the footprint of housing at this time. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the hall was converted into housing in the late twentieth century.
[UPDATE 6.4.2018: the late Brian Jepson saved this visualisation of The People's Hall. The Local List compiled by The Ipswich Society in1984/5 to encompass unlisted but interesting buildings dates this hall to 1898. The drawing below would have been created to show to the clients of the architect practice Eade & Johns prior to building, so it can be dated to, say, 1897/8. The builder was Edgar Catchpole and the drawing is captioned: 'William Eade F.R.I.B.A. and E. Thos. Johns Architects. Ipswich'. Brian worked under Birkin Haward when the practice had evolved into Johns Slater Haward, so presumably he saved the drawing from the amongst the papers of the old firm during a clearout. He also saved the visual of The Social Settlement by the same firm date 1902. Two important historical Ipswich documents rescued for posterity, now in a private collection.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall Eade & Johns 11897/8 image
The detail below highlights the fine penmanship and the humanisation of the building with delightful figures such as the female wheeling her bicycle at the centre. The lettering 'THE PEOPLE'S HALL' can be seen above the door to the left. The door to the right does not appear as clearly lettered in the drawing, but both doors are described as bearing the lettering 'The Peoples' Hall' on carved stone panels in the 1985 Local list. This suggests that the 'STOKE HALL' lettering shown at the top of this page was added after 1985. The white panels do appear to be modern.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: People's Hall Eade & Johns 2
The 1985 Local list entry:
"2 storey 'Tudor' style. Red brick, Red clay tile roof wit finials. 3 octagonal chimneys.
Stone door and window surrounds & mullions. Rectangular leaded light stained glass windows. 3 overhanging gables face street, with scroll bracket supports and exposed studwork. Main gable has FF recessed balcony with 4 brick pillars supporting stone pointed arches. Stone balustrade. Large pointed arched window to SF. C.I. [cast iron] feature hopper heads at sides of balcony. Remains of air vent in roof. 'The People's Hall' in carved stone panels over entrance doors either side of main gable. Suffolk white brick string courses. 4 window range RHS, 1 in gable. Lead covered air vent in roof with dome cap and finial.
17 memorial stones, main one laid by Alfred Jermyn J.P., June 15th, 1898 – others by Minister and local rural Methodist Societies.
Interior- Main Hall (800).
4 bays. Simple c.i.
[cast iron] semicircular trusses with floral  desgn brackets to clerestory. C.i. bow trusses on stone corbels to side aisles. Stage at S end in apse. Modern baustrade. Small gellery at N end on 2 c.i. columns with timber and c.i. balustrade. Stained glass to all windows. Timber dado.
Small Hall (250)
Painted plaster with timber dado. Glazed internal lobby with gallery over. Small Hall now used as Chapel. Painted timber altarpiece.
Originally Methodist Chapel and Assembly Rooms, now Chapel and Storage."
At this time the 'storage' would have been the costume store/hire belonging to the Wolsey Theatre; the theatre's props store was in the Church of St Clement which was the victim of arson in September 1995.

Down the road from The People's Hall is The Old Bell public house, up the hill is Stoke Hall Road with its hidden tunnels.
Between 1898, when The People's Hall was built, and 1915, when the Stoke Hall behind St Mary at Stoke church was demolished, there were two 'Stoke Halls' within a few hundred yards of one another.

A note about the history of Methodist Mission Halls.
From the University of Manchester website (3 October 2012): 'A University of Manchester historian has discovered how the Methodist Church built some of Britain’s most important and successful community buildings in the early twentieth century - now mostly forgotten. Dr Angela Connelly says that 99 ‘Methodist Central Halls’ were built costing an equivalent of £90 million in today’s terms. Today, the Methodist Church owns only 18 of the original buildings, many of which have been substantially altered. Twenty seven have been completely demolished or bombed in the war. Nineteen are protected as listed buildings and all, she says, were large buildings designed not to look like a church.

Dr Connelly, who is based at Manchester Architecture Research Centre, said: “Nearly everyone in the UK will have seen a Methodist Central Hall: Pavarotti performed at Kingsway Hall and the UN Declaration was signed in Westminster Central Hall. But few of us know what they are, how they are used or what has happened to them. Because they do not look like churches or cathedrals, the public aren’t aware of those that remain at all – especially those which have been converted into other uses such as bars and pubs. But in their hey day they attracted big crowds: the Manchester and Salford mission headquarters once boasted 2000 volunteers.” The decline, she says in a Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester paper next month, is down to a long period of drops in Methodist congregations nationally, as well as even steeper losses through inner-city demographic and economic changes. Her Arts and Humanities Research Council funded study shows how the Missions promoted cultural activity to make their religion relevant to everyday lives and tempt people away from the lure of alcohol.

These included popular entertainment such as film shows, concerts and variety performances. Joseph Rank – of Rank Hovis – provided much of the capital to build the Central Halls. His son, J. Arthur Rank, the film producer, was also a prominent Methodist who became interested in the movie industry after seeing the pioneering use of religious films at the Methodist Missions in the 1920s.  The wife of the Methodist Times founder and reformer  Hugh Price Hughes, also established the nation’s first ever crèche for working girls at the West London mission in the 1880s. 
Dr Connelly said: “As numbers dropped and maintenance costs spiralled, rooms were let out to other organisations and the Halls were used for a wide variety of events. Through the twentieth century, more space was rented out to other organisations for theatres, libraries, social services and even school exams. Grimsby and Southampton are now theatres, Liverpool’s Central Hall on Renshaw Street now hosts a collection of independent traders. At Bristol and Bradford, the Central Halls are converted into flats.

“These halls were, and in several cases still are, the best venue in town. But it’s sad how many of these important buildings are no longer standing - quite moving when you read of the struggles the Methodists had to keep them going. But I would rather these buildings are used by the public - even as a bar  rather than lose them altogether as they are such an important part of Britain’s urban history.”
Cities where at least one Methodist Hall was built included (in alphabetical order): Ashington, Bargoed, Barking, Barrow-in-Furness, Birmingham, Bolton, Blackburn, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Carlisle, Chester, Coventry, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Glasgow, Great Yarmouth, Grimsby, Hartlepool, Hull, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Paisley, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Rochdale, Salford, Scarborough, Southampton, Sheffield, Slough, Stoke-on-Trent, Stockton-Upon-Tees, Swindon, Tonypandy, Walsall, Wigan, Wednesbury.' []

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