'Shire Hall School'
Smart Street, Pleasant Row, Lower Orwell Street

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 16b

Next to Thomas Rush and Henry Tooley, William Smart is one of the best known merchants of early Tudor Ipswich. He is better known for being the founder of the library in Ipswich. However, he has also made great contributions to the Tooley Almshouses by expanding the structure. So, there is also an inscription dedicated to Smart with following text: “Let gentle Smart sleep on in pious trust - Behold his charity, respect his dust”. Smart Street also comemorates this powerful and charitable man.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 12013 images
Here's a corner of Ipswich, once a large school built in 1883, then an Art School annexe of Suffolk College, later the scene of an exhibition as part of the 'Art Centre For Ipswich' campaign. Now the playground at the rear of the building has been redeveloped in a sympathetic style and the whole complex is residential. All the signs on this elevation are obliterated or covered with blue boards which once carried the Suffolk College lettering. Beneath, we believe, are the terra cotta signs of the original building: possibly 'IPSWICH BOARD SCHOOL' and 'SMART STREET SCHOOL' (see Bramford Road School for a likely template). We have so far failed to find early photographs of this school to confirm this. The blue board at the end is splitting and may eventually drop off enabling us to see what lies beneath.
[UPDATE 4.1.2021: 'Borin, you might find these useful. When you last put up pictures of Smart St School the words were covered with blue boards. Those have now gone revealing the texts beneath. Use the photos if you wish.  Owen Thurtle.' Many thanks to Owen for spotting and recording this, particularly because the removal reveals a surprise. See below.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 16, 20212021 images courtesy Owen Thurtle
Above: the corner of Smart Street and Pleasant Row after the boards had been removed.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 17, 2021
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 19, 2021

Et voila! We had no idea that the building we referred to for years as 'Smart Street School' or 'Smart Street Annexe' was originally called Shire Hall Schools – presumably because of the separated boys, girls and mixed infants. It is, as we can see on the 1902 map below, referred to only as 'School'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 18, 2021
The detail below shows the serif'd capitals standing out against a very busy 'faceted square' tessellated background. The nearest comparator in the town is Bramford Road School (shown on our More schools page) where there is a diamond-shaped tessellation. That school also has an 'Ipswich School
Board' sign. The close-up below shows the detail of the character 'S' and the way in which these three words are separated by the equivalent of a decimal point – a device seen on other signs. Between the 'L' and the decimal point, it looks as if there is a vertical join between panels of the sign.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 20, 2021

Below: the 'Shire Hall Schools' lettering without the intrusive street lamp. Also, on this wet January 2021 day, the obscured 'Boys' sign is readable above the doorway arch.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 19a, 20212021 images
These quite grand entrances once admitted the segregated boys and girls, away from the infants round the corner. Looking carefully at the right hand side entrance, you can just make out the 'medieval'-style lettering as used on the Public Library entrance in Northgate Street, which has been in-filled with mortar: 'BOYS'. The close-up shows it a little better. Often the dampness in the air can affect the readability of such 'hidden lettering'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 11   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 122004 image
The detailing in the terra cotta panels is worthy of note, with the dust and grime in the sunflower design enhancing the detail:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 132017 images
The square tower at the far right of the school contains the obscured 'BOYS' tablet as well as some fine stylised flowers and leaves growing out of an urn.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 14   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 15
Below: a more fugitive 'GIRLS' tablet may be present above the left hand side entrance further down Smart Street. The larger 'Girls' entrance in Pleasant Row had the covering boards removed at the same time as those shown above (scroll down).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 17a, 2021
Note also that the 'Infants' sign in simlar style is round the corner in Pleasant Row; it was never covered up. It is shown below.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 42013 images
These street signs placed close together are relatively recent: the upper one, which is attached to the shuttering barrier around the old Gym & Trim site, showing the Borough coat of arms.

Shire Hall Yard
The location is quite historic, but the empty, concrete hulk of the former Gym & Trim business and its car park mark years of blight and neglect. Smart Street leads round to Shire Hall Yard, really a short street, which leads up behind the Tooley Almshouses end wall to Blackfriars Court. The Shire Hall, a large and nearly square brick building erected in 1699 by voluntary subscription, once stood on the G&T site. It acted as a courthouse with two distinct courtrooms and a room for the Grand Jury. Around the side of Smart Street School is Pleasant Row
which originally may have been one of several narrow lanes running from the old town towards the Wet Dock. By the 19th century it was a narrow passage running from the Shire Hall Yard 'by a little gate at the south-east corner' to Star Lane (opened up in the 1980s and destroying many old lanes and buildings) where it is thought the old Drapers' Hall once stood.
Shire Hall period Image of Shire Hall
A map of this area from the 1880s can be found on our page about Courts and Yards.
An even older map,
Pennington's map of 1778, shown on the Courts and Yards page clearly shows the Shire Hall with Foundation Street sloping to its left and, parallel to it, 'The Lower Wash', now known as Lower Brook Street.

Pleasant Row
The ironically named 'Pleasant Row' runs down the side of the old school. The 'Wine Rack' skeletal structure, an abandoned segment of the Waterfront Regeneration since the financial crash of 2008, in the distance.  Since the building of the 'Eastern Gyratory' traffic system, a brick wall blocks the old street.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 22013 images
Walking down Pleasant Row, the first school entrance with a board covering the lettering (perhaps 'GIRLS'?) is almost as it was when the place was noisy with children's voices and bustle. It is as if they have just left after a normal schoolday.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 5
[UPDATE 4.1.2021: At the same time that the boards were removed from the Smart Street elevation, this entrance revealed itself to be that dedicated for 'GIRLS'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 5b, 2021   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 5b2021 images

A little further down, we discover one architectural piece of school lettering which had not been covered by a blue board: 'INFANTS' in terra cotta serif caps against a geometric design, with the school door intact below it. In the background is the sympathetic new residential development.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 6   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 7a
The Borough's local list tells us:
"10-18 Smart Street, former Smart Street School. (1881-82) Architect: Brightwen Binyon. Board school. L-plan storey group at the corner of Smart Street and Pleasant Row. Red brick, Ancaster stone dressings, terracotta panels, slate roof. Varied street elevations with projecting gabled bays, the north west entrance bay with a straight parapet and ornamental stone machicolation course. Segmental arched window openings at ground floor level, recessed arched doorways with stone hood moulds. Above, a double stone string course framing stone fascias (now partly covered by timber panels). At first floor level, tall paired gothic windows with hood moulds, the north west group with stone plate tracery. Ornamental terracotta panels. The recessed bays have smaller gables containing blank arches with brick and stone chequerboard patterns in the spandrels. Traceried roundels to gables facing both Smart Street and Pleasant Row."

1902 map of Smart Street and Pleasant Row

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Pleasant Row 19021902 map
The red oval identifies the approximate site of the Dominican Friary of the Blessed Virgin ('Blackfriars'– see our Monasteries page). The ruins of the Friary church (as shown on our Almshouses page) are the only monastic remains still standing in the town. 'If The Suffolk Traveller (1764, 40) is right in saying that the Blackfriars' territory extended to Star Lane, then Pleasant Row must have formed a back entrance to the priory.' [M. Clegg: Streets and street names in Ipswich; see Reading list]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 21 aerial view
The bird's eye view of the school clearly shows the L-shaped building with gardens and parking in the former playground. The newer accommodation block, emulating the style of the school building, is the furthest south on Pleasant Row. It has thermo-voltaic panels on the roof to capture solar energy. The southern boundary wall of the car park with its brick butresses has hand-painted letters indicating the dedicated parking spaces, presumably from the days of the school – Mr Ward must have been the headmaster:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 22 car park2013 images
[UPDATE 29.5.2023: 'Reading your update on the Shire Hall Schools in Smart Street took me right back to the 1980s when I was a graphic design student at what was then Smart Street College. The name ‘Mr Ward’, painted on the old playground wall, wasn’t a former Edwardian Headmaster, but David Ward, who was one of the Art and Design lecturers while I was a student. The other permanent lecturers all had their own named spaces too but I suspect that they have disappeared under the new additions. I remember them as I was one of the few students who drove to college, in my Wolseley 16/60, so I saw the painted markings every day. Thank you for all your work in keeping the history of Ipswich alive. I still live in the town but work near Bury St Edmunds now. Best wishes, Taff Gillingham.' Many thanks to Taff for the personal recollections of Smart Street Schools.]

It's worth strolling down to the end of Pleasant Row to look at the patched-together construction of the works wall opposite the school. Could those blocks of stone have come from the old Shire Hall building; could they in turn have come from the original Blackfriars monastic buildings nearby? Selling or robbing out and reuse of building materials – particularly those stone blocks not native to the area – was a well known practice (see the 2023 photographs below).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 9
Peeking through the broken pane at the northern end tells you what goes on inside...
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Smart Street 10

Pleasant Row: a hypothesis

Bob Malster's A history of Ipswich (see Reading list) speculates:
'Perhaps it was the Cloth Company that occupied premises in Pleasant Row, off Star Lane, from which the timber roof went in the 19th century to Cholderton church in Wiltshire. This roof, advertised for sale in The Ipswich Journal as "superb antique ornamental Gothic roof, 80ft. long and 19ft. wide within the walls ... well deserving the attention of Antiquaries ...", has carved on it the shears which were the emblem of the clothworkers.'
This takes us back to the national commercial dominance of Ipswich in the wool trade. In April 1591 regulations were made for a fraternity or company of clothiers, clothworkers, weavers, shearmen and dyers which would control the cloth trade within the town and supervise the binding of apprentices and employment of servants. This was the Cloth Company.

[UPDATE 22 March 2023: 'Hi Borin, I was having a look around the Almshouses on Foundation St today and came across a rather curious wall. It forms the back wall of a business premises on Lower Orwell St. It’s on Pleasant Row opposite the old school and looks to be mostly Victorian in age but interspersed among the Victorian bricks are a number of what appear to be limestone blocks and towards the far end, bricks that have a distinctly Tudor appearance. You have probably spotted this wall yourself but I was curious to find out your opinion of it. Could building materials from the old Grammar school or Shire Hall, have been put to another use after the demolition of both? I’ve attached some images but a good view of the wall can be had via Google Maps. Regards, Ben Squirrell.' Thanks to Ben for taking some rather better photographs (included here) of this fascinating, historic, despoiled corner of Ipswich.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Pleasant Row wall 1 to 3
2023 images (above and below) of the Pleasant Row wall courtesy Ben Squirrell
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Pleasant Row wall 4
The narrow pavement and battered kerbing still have their limestone setts marking the gutter (not to mention the yellow line). It's a strange amalgam of history, industry, make-do-and-mend and squalor. Ben notes: 'I was looking at the paving, kerb stones and sets this morning. They do seem to be of some considerable age. If you look along the line of the pavement, there is a drop kerb to nowhere, which would seem to suggest the pavement pre-dates the wall.
Ben adds:
'Regarding Pleasant Row, I've been trying to get to grips with the sequence of events for the wall. On the White map of 1867, the Shire Hall has been demolished, to eventually be replaced by the school. There is no building that sits on the boundary with Pleasant Row, where the wall is situated, at this time. There is a building with a fairly large garden or yard, on Lower Orwell St, that appears to line up with the wall's position.Whether the wall is in position at this time is impossible to say but having a garden/yard there, gives a possible explanation for the drop kerb at least. Moving on to the Ordnance Survey map of 1881, we see the school has been built and a wall is clearly shown running along the boundary of the property on Lower Orwell St. It would be interesting to find out some more information about the properties along that stretch of Upper Orwell St. The OS map of 1881 shows the Orwell Inn on the corner of Fisk's Court but no clue to the identity of the buildings to the south of it. Moving on to the 1902 OS map see detail above], the yard of the building on Upper Orwell St, has been almost filled and there is a building right on the boundary with Pleasant Row.
So what would represent a plausible explanation of the wall and its many different parts? I would suggest at some point either before or during construction of the school, the owner of the building with the yard or garden backing on to Pleasant Row, was offered or took the debris from the Shire Hall and/or maybe Black Friars Priory and made good use of it. The masonry could have just been lying on the surface or maybe it was unearthed when the footings for the school were being dug. All idle speculation, of course.
I can confirm that I am related to Leonard Squirrell [one of the most famous artist/illustrators from Ipswich, see our Blue plaques page]. I believe he was a cousin of my Grandfather.'
Ben adds:'

Lower Orwell Street: 'Emergency Water Supply'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St signStreet nameplate at the top of the slope
While we're in this area, stroll through the bit of Smart Street – which is really a pokey pathway south of the overgrown Gym & Trim site – into Lower Orwell Street. Here is a similar, rather neglected, former industrial street similar to Pleasant Row; it was once the
the poorest and sometimes the most lawless neighbourhood in the town. It is home to a St Clement parish boundary marker which we couldn't find, but luckily Paul Horne did and he's recorded it for us on that page.
Also, there is vestigial lettering painted on the red brick wall:
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lower Orwell St 12013 image
Just below a blocked up window one can make out:
'W S...'

with possibly the rest of a name to the right, now washed away. What can it all mean?

[UPDATE 28.7.2014: "I’ve just stumbled upon your fascinating site. Under Smart Street / Pleasant Row you query 7000GAL and “WS” painted on a wall. I believe that I can explain.
During World War II the cellars of derelict and bombed buildings were flooded to provide water for use by the fire service in the event of water mains being damaged by bombing. These premises were labelled “EWS” (Emergency Water Supply) in large white letters to assist identification. I guess that your example has dropped the “E” at some stage. I trust that this helps. Kind regards, Colin Norfolk" Many thanks to Colin for this rather unexpected solution to the lettering conundrum of Lower Orwell Street.]

[UPDATE July 2015: As well as conventional rigid water tanks. "these EWS reservoirs could also be collapsible efforts like modern low-tech swimming/paddling pools; the sides were waterproofed canvas with wooden frames to keep them rigid. As such there wouldn't be anything left to see. The basements of bombed/derelict buildings were also used as EWS, probably after some minimum repairs to improve the water-holding ability." Quotation from the web. There is another 'EWS' example in Appleby-in-Westmorland.
One of the major hazards during World War II was the threat of incendiary bombs. Such was the risk many business's employed staff to carry out Fire Watch duties which involved long periods on rooftops usualy at night. There was a healthy spin-off in Fire Watch Ladders being erected to allow thorough inspection of roofspaces. "It was acknowledged early on in the war that fire could do more damage than even the heaviest of bombing raids by the Luftwaffe.  As water mains were early casualties after a raid local authorities set up additional means of water supply by means of large street borne cisterns in various locations around the city. The water would have been fed to the fire hoses by manualy operated or steam driven pumps.  Their location was marked in large letters on buildings at street level with arrows and distance markers.  Many of them remained for a number of years after the war and were responsible for number of drownings involving children."
Quotation from the web.]

Compare with other schools' lettering:

Ragged Schools
More schools
(Argyle Street, Clifford Road, Bramford Road, Ranelagh Road, Spring Road, Springfield Junior, Grey Coat Boys)

and Ipswich High School.

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