Tolly Cobbold Cliff Quay Brewery
'Cliff Cottage'

Also called (by some): 'The Old Brewmaster's House/Cottage' or 'The Head Brewer's House'. Richard Toller, who lived in this house 1896-1922, has the nearby Toller Road named after him. Although scant on lettering, the Cliff Quay brewery is an interesting and melancholy site for the town, with its huge decaying tower brewery building, 'The Cliff ' (The Brewery Tap), once home to the Cobbolds, and this rather fine house nearby giving a hint of the past glories of Tolly Cobbold. We recall that this house was used as offices for the brewery business.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 9   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 1
The front door is impressive with its gothic pointed doorway and eccentric carvings. The supports on each side are grotesque, somewhat primitively carved caryatids (satyresses) with prominent breasts. Satyresses are the female equivalent to satyrs, depicted with a human head and torso, generally including bare breasts, but the body of a goat from waist down. They were a late invention by poets and artists and are comparatively rare in classical art, but can be identified in a Renaissance work by Michaelangelo. Such a creature may also be known as a 'fauness', but this nomenclature is rarely seen in English; faunesse is the spelling in French. One can certainly identify the goat's legs and hooves on the carvings.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 4
Below: the left-hand caryatid. On the canopy above it is a Green Man with foliage escaping from his mouth.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 3
Richard Cocke on the Public Sculpture of Norfolk & Suffolk database (see Links) dates the carvings to the 17th century and describes them thus:-
"The pediment shows a ‘green man’ doorway while the doorway is framed by two female satyresses, while another two now support the guttering.
The satyresses are a deliberately coarse version of a figure revived at the end of the fifteenth century in the bronzes of Andrea Riccio, where it is usually linked with the much more popular male satyr. Here their louche appearance and the setting facing the Ipswich quay suggest that it marked a pub/brothel, first port of call for sailors, whose consumption of alcohol would probably make them indifferent to the qualities of the women on offer. The Orwell had silted up by 1744, greatly reducing shipping and trade until the opening of the new Wet Dock in 1844. A date in the seventeenth century is supported by the history of the Cliff brewery, in whose grounds the building stands. The brewery was founded by the Cobbold family in 1746 and was rebuilt and extended by William Bradford between 1894 and 1904, when the original front door, framed by caryatids must have been retained, together with a number of spoils set above the doorway. The caryatids on the brewery building, are mechanical by comparison with those on the older house on which they must have been based."

The door furniture is of interest with a decorative cast iron knocker, a letter opening with 'LETTERS' curving across the flap and a defunct, overpainted doorbell button on the left doorpost.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 5   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 6

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 7   
The caryatids continue at first floor level, just under the eaves, but have suffered some water and algal damage. The windows have stained glass elements and a pleasing design.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 10   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 11
To the left of the house are steps rising to a door in the brick wall accessing the rear garden. From here you can see a pair of worn redbrick chimney stacks with a decorative ridge on the roof with fleur-de-lys shapes.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 12   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Tolly Head Brewer's House 13
Listed Grade II (like The Cliff nearby), the description reads:
"Part of Tolly Cobbolds' brewery premises. A timber-framed and plastered building probably of C16-C17 origin but refronted in the mid-late C19. 2 storeys and attics. There is a cross wing at the north end with a jettied upper storey and part of the main block is also jettied. The windows are C19 lattice leaded casements with pointed arched heads and square label moulds. Roof tiled, with a large square end chimney stack and 1 gabled dormer. The eaves of the main block and the hood to the doorway are supported on old brackets, carved with figures."

[UPDATE 30.9.2014: The photographs of Cliff Cottage on this page, particularly those of the carvings of grotesque satyresses (variously referred to as ‘caryatids’ or ‘corbels’), seem to have opened a rich seam of research and interest. Our thanks to Philip Pantelis for starting the ball rolling with an initial enquiry to Canterbury Archaeology and to our other contributors. Email texts are summarised below.]

*From David Lewis. ’I have enjoyed reading your entries on Tolly Cobbold Cliff Quay Brewery in your Ipswich lettering web site, particularly the references to 'primitively carved caryatids'. I live in Canterbury and run a web site on local history for the area.  We have a number of similar large breasted female figures - they can be seen at
These figures seem to be rare in England - apart from the Ipswich and Canterbury examples, I am aware of only a handful of others. These are mentioned in the attached draft note that I have prepared for the local paper (I write a column each month).’
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Canterbury satyressesImage courtesy David Lewis
"Those familiar with Canterbury's streets cannot fail to have noticed the striking large breasted female figures which appear to support the overhanging windows or first floor jetties of several of our buildings.  These examples can be seen in Burgate Street, St Peter's Street, Palace Street, and the cathedral precincts.  Others, performing a similar function, take the form of men, animals or grotesque combinations of these.

Every aspect of these figures is shrouded in mystery - why they are there, how old they are, how many there are in other towns, and how they relate to other similar grotesque figures.  What to call them is in itself a problem.  Although often referred to as corbels, this to architectural historians is a misnomer, as they don't play any role in holding up the building above them.  They seem to be purely decorative, and therefor removable, in which case they strictly are brackets rather than corbels.  Some have been removed and lost (this seems the case with one lost in the last refurbishment of the former Boots building).  Others are reported to have moved from building to building (those in All Saints Lane from Lady Wootton's house in St Augustine's, and those in Whitehorse Lane from the old Fleur de Lis Hotel which stood in the High Street).  The fact that they can be moved around makes them particularly difficult to date.  Unlike green men (heads enmeshed with foliage), gargoyles, and the more vulgar Irish female version (Sheela na gig), the Canterbury figures have not yet benefited from academic study or produced any journal literature.

So what do we know?  We have found very few large breasted versions in other English towns - a fine pair (there must be a better way of phrasing this) at Hales Place in Tenterden, one at Wye in Kent, several at an Ipswich brewery site, one on a manor house at Brightling in Sussex, and a London example now in the V & A Museum (Sir Paul Pindar's House).  Further afield, one can be seen on the town hall in Lubeck, Germany.  Some have cloven hoofs in place of feet, some have distorted grimaces, or enlarged ears, or enlarged staring eyes.  Beyond this, all is guesswork.  Were they erected to ward off evil spirits or disease - the black death or plague perhaps?  Are there links with the figureheads of ships?  Is there a brewing link (brewing in Ipswich and the local Kent hop trade)?  Or the Protestants fleeing mainland Europe in the 16th and 17th century?  We simply do not know.  If you come across other examples, do please email the CHAS web site.

Two things are certain.  First, Canterbury has an extraordinary number of these architectural devices that are otherwise rare.  Second, reliance on Internet searches is unlikely to assist this study - Googling large breasted women produces astronomic numbers of hits but very little of architectural interest!   David Lewis"

The Old Coffee House, Tavern Street

*We recently heard that these carved satyresses came from the long-demolished Old Coffee House on the corner of Tower Street and Tavern Street in Ipswich, as shown on the engravings below, in the John Glyde illustrated book about Old Ipswich (see Reading list):-


In the middle, and even towards the close, of the eighteenth century Tavern Street was a picturesque thoroughfare. Gable crowded upon gable; of stiff trimness there was very little. Want of uniformity in height and size was so marked a feature that in some parts of the street each house seemed to have been built from plans which agreed with none other. The view from the Cornhill was pleasing; the other end of the street was narrow, somewhat crooked, and, for vehicles, dangerous. Whilst one wonders how our forefathers could have so built, he involuntarily admires even where his comprehension may be at fault. We have said that Tavern Street was picturesque, and we may add that the most picturesque structure in it was the “Old Coffee House,” an illustration of which accompanies this paper. This house was a fine specimen of the half-timbered town residences of the middle of the sixteenth century. At the commencement of the present century it still stood as one of the most charming examples of ancient domestic architecture in Ipswich, rich as the town then was in that respect.

The house occupied a site in Tavern Street, at its junction with Tower Street, on the Eastern side, and was a relic of which the town might well be proud. The position was favourable to its reputation. Then, as now, Tavern Street was a principal thoroughfare, and in those quieter days no travelling artist, no lover of the picturesque, could pass this old house without being touched by its mute appeal. One can but regret its disappearance. Commercial developments and consequent improvements are almost certain to involve the sweeping away, or dismantling of their beauty, the creations of past ages. That such a house as this could not remain an abiding monument of art and utility, it may be urged, is not so much the fault of their day, as of those who provided Ipswich with intricate streets and narrow lanes. All the same, while bowing to possibly imperious necessity, one would have liked to have preserved so interesting a link between the past and the present. It would have displayed the influence which foreigners had in forming the once prevailing taste. The old class of Merchants and Burghers did not higgle over items. To them good work and ornamentation had a charm. Such embellishments of domestic architecture attested alike to their wealth and taste.

Let us look more closely at this structure. It presented a long frontage, broken into three gables, upon Tavern Street, and had a considerable depth in Tower Street. It was of three stories. The ground floor was solidly constructed of the local brickwork, with bonding upright timbers at intervals. Above this was a projecting principal floor, and over this, in the gables, were spacious attics. These upper stories were faced with plaster. All the leading vertical and horizontal lines were emphasized by richly carved woodwork, to which we shall presently revert.

The house, which seems originally to have been in one occupation, became divided into three tenements, each having a gable, and a separate entrance. Each division was of irregular formation. Owing to this system of sub-division, many a house in Ipswich to-day is of mysterious outline, innocent of symmetry, and suggestive of adaptation roughly carried out. We may trace here a social change. The salient feature and the glory of the “Old Coffee House” was the elaborately carved post at the South-west angle. This projected to a considerable distance on to the footway, and was carried to the hipping of the gables. It was ornamented with tiers of full length human figures, more than half life-size, in four stages, two to each story. The were carved in wood, doubtless oak, for no other material would so well have stood the effects of weather and time, and incidental ill-usage…"

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Old Coffee House 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Old Coffee House 2
This engraving of The Old Coffee House comes from John Glyde's 1889 book Illustrations of old Ipswich.

*From Philip Pantelis. ’I have dug out more information on the Coffee Shop.
1)  The late Norman Scarfe added a footnote on the Coffee House in his translation of A Frenchman’s Year in Suffolk 1784 by Francois De La Rochefoucauld, Suffolk Record Soc Publ. Vol XXX, 1988 on page128:
The diary entry is “Ipswich is very well inhabited, many gentlefolk living there, and, besides that tradespeople. All gather every evening in a coffee house, where one can play cards and eat, which is very convenient for strangers.”
Norman adds in his footnote  “In 1767 it had coffee, tea, card and dining rooms. It was then then acquired by ten shareholders, including Richard Hanning, and Daniel Bamford became landlord. An information was laid against him for allowing billiards to be played and the Justices found against him and revoked his licence. The conviction was quashed by the Court of of the King’s Bench.”

Norman the adds “The fine front was destroyed in 1817 in the interests of providing a few extra inches of paving.”  BUT Norman goes on to add “the corner post seems to have been inserted into the new front”. This, I think he has based his evidence on Glyde’s book of illustrations published in 1889 BUT he unusually has failed to notice the print dates from 1815. So I do not agree with him on the re-use of the corner post.

2) I think you will be interested in the Web Site of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History (SIAH Suffolk) as this year they have scanned all their volumes in an easily searchable form. Freely open all without a need to be a member of the SIAH.  Just by entering a keyword to search.  I entered coffee house and came up with the following  lengthy (49page) article: Proc SIAH vol VI Pt2 1886 by Rev C H Evelyn White on Old Inns and Taverns of Ipswich It has a great deal of information in it including:
on page 169 re coffee houses history “16th Cent carvings moved to Cliff Cottage and adjoining house”  No date for the move is given. Is this Cliff Cottage/adjoining house the Cliff Quay Brewers Cottage?
J C Cobbold seems very keen on CLIFF dwellings. He built a “very neat looking house” as a seaside residence called "Cliff House" in 1829 south of Cobbold’s Point and near the site of Bartlett Convalescent Home [in Felixstowe].
I think the name is just coincidental, and Cliff Quay is the final resting place for the carvings.

3) But what of the rest of corbels and the Corner Post? I have not been able to make contact with the Ipswich Museum to find out about their items in store.
Best wishes, Philip Pantelis’

The Ipswich Museum store has a remarkable collection of medieval and later carved timbers including a clutch of grotesque figures which resemble the Cliff Cottage carvings to varying degrees. One particular example has a female satyr imprisoned in a ‘cucking chair’. The original cucking chair, an instrument of humiliation, sometimes torture, is on display in the Museum. This theme of restraint of the carved figures may carry over to the carvings on Cliff Cottage – or are the apparent shackles around their ankles stylised fur on their goat's legs? See our Isaac Lord page for two examples of dated timbers from the Museum store.

Philip Pantelis. ’Looking up Satyrs in Penguin Book of Classical Myths by Jenny March does not have any Classical reference to a female Satyr. The female version was C16 invention by Italian artists and locked onto  for  artistic voyeurism by others (to this day). A Satyress was not there to ward off evil (Canterbury suggestion) but  to give other thoughts. On a C16 building it might have been showing a social status, such as: “We are with-it, arty Europeans, aware of the latest trends.” ’

So, to summarise the proposition: the Satyress carvings have been sourced to the decorative frontage of The Old Coffee House which once stood at the corner of Tower Street and Tavern Street in Ipswich.
There appear to be at least eleven Satyresses on the Coffee House as shown in old prints; with only four now on Cliff Cottage (but there are another four on The Cliff – The Brewery Tap). The building was bought by John Chevallier Cobbold (1797-1882) and, prior to the demolition of the Tavern Street frontage for street-widening, the carvings were saved and installed at Cliff Cottage next to the Tolly Cobbold Brewery. Perhaps we should think of J.C. Cobbold as benefactor of the town in the same way that we think of his descendant Felix Thornley Cobbold. The satyresses were fitted onto the exterior of Cliff Cottage and, probably, also The Cliff (Brewery Tap building). These curious carvings are not common and the main concentration of them is on ancient buildings in the city of Canterbury in Kent.
[Incidentally, the Old Coffee House probably stood on the site of a hostelry which was once run by the family of Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime around 1343, though the precise date and location of his birth remain unknown. His father and grandfather were both London vintners; several previous generations had been merchants in Ipswich. (His family name derives from the French chausseur, meaning "shoemaker".) In 1324 John Chaucer, Geoffrey's father, was kidnapped by an aunt in the hope of marrying the twelve-year-old boy to her daughter in an attempt to keep property in Ipswich. The aunt was imprisoned and the 250 fine levied suggests that the family was reasonable well-off. It would be nice to think that part of the Coffee House dated back to those times. A plaque commemorating Geoffrey Chaucer's link to Ipswich can be seen in Tower Street.]

[UPDATE 2.19.2014: From Philip Pantelis. 'I have found another fine pair of Satyresses .  This time they are in a Suffolk church.  Laxfield Church has them on the front of a Jacobean/Stuart Reading Desk.  Possibly contemporary  with the pulpit.  They seem more African in style and may have male faces but certainly have Satyress' breasts! Not sure if their hooves are restrained. From a photo, where they are near an A4 sheet, I judge them to be about 46cm long. Pevsner's Suffolk and Mortlock's Suffolk Churches only mention the Desk, but not the Satyresses. I was surprised to find a photo of the Desk front in Munro Cautley: Suffolk Churches, 5th Edn, page 179 (slightly better photo in 1st Edn).  There is a colour photo on flickr under Laxfield Church:    [under jmc4-Church Explorer Suffolk].']

Across the car park from Cliff Cottage lies the Tolly Cobbold Brewery buildings and the Brewery Tap (originally known to the Cobbolds as 'The Cliff') in front. See our Links page for the Tolly Brewery History website.
See also our Pubs & off-licences page for more traces of Tolly Cobbold in our town and elsewhere.
For much, much more on the Cobbold family tree and its remarkable characters see The Cobbold Family History Trust website (Links).
See also our Lettered castings index page.


Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.

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