V.A. Marriott Ltd

Ipswich Historic Lettering: V.A. Marriott(photos courtesy Dave Riseborough)
2010: Dave Riseborough sent in this gentle memory-jogger of trade lettering:
"... the Marriott Builder's building in Handford Road, which I think is particularly beautiful. Here is a quote from their website: "Valentine Arthur Marriott, a bricklayer by trade, founded the company in 1895. The business developed with projects of all types and size being undertaken and in 1920 the company was incorporated as V A Marriott Limited and moved to our still current address in Handford Road, Ipswich.". So I think the letters could go back to the 1920s, but they could have brought them from their previous address as they look Victorian and cast iron to me."


Once again we find stray full stops after the 'A' and the word 'Marriott' (but not after the 'V', which would have made more sense). Dave points out that this second full stop is actually painted onto the white-painted brick surround; so the cast iron full stop has probably been lost. This also explains the absence of a full stop after the 'V'.

Also, shouldn't it be 'Building Contractors'? or are we being pedantic? Lovely, eccentric font with little flicks on the serifs and elsewhere (for example, a third of the way up the 'O'). Nice tight paint job on these raised cast iron characters, mind - even if the word 'Contractors' is a bit too close to the fenestration for comfort.

Another glance at the company website reveals some interesting facts.
'The history of the company shows a catalogue of quality buildings many of which are still in good use, such as the Cobbold family public houses, the Safe Harbour and the Suffolk Punch, shops and offices around The Walk, Cranfield Court and the Footman Pretty (now Debenhams) department store in Lloyds Avenue. We have been developing schools, public buildings, commercial sites as well as building residential housing from our own sites....

One of the best examples of traditional construction and our ongoing involvement has been at St. Helens Primary School in Ipswich A few years ago we won the contract to build an extension to form a new hall and classrooms. During this work someone remembered seeing an old cost book from long ago with St Helens costs itemised. Only 3 old handwritten ledgers survive from pre World War Two but one of these has details of every pound, shilling and penny spent when VA Marriott built the school during 1913 and 1914.
The total cost was 10,971 18s 6d
In 2005 we again secured a contract to extend the front of the school. An idea of inflation during the 20th century is given by comparing this cost of the whole school in 1914 with the later infilling extensions which came to nearly 1,000,000.
Extended Warranty? So durable were the large sash windows we made in 1914 that we took them out of the old front elevation and fitted them in the new front. When we removed them they were as good as the day they had been fitted two world wars ago.'

17.9.2009: on the Contract Journal website:
'As many as 55 jobs could be lost at Suffolk-based contractor V A Marriott, which has started the process of entering a company voluntary arragement (CVA).
The 114-year-old firm is to complete all current projects but will wind down its operations over the coming months, with all work likely to stop by early 2010, according to the East Anglian Daily Times.
Creditors are expected to receive full payment once the assets of the business have been realised.
In a statement yesterday, Marriott said: “The company has taken the decision because of recent trading results and an inability to obtain finance from its bank. A return to profitable trading is not foreseen during this recession.
“The directors want to reassure customers that current building projects will be completed to the firm's usual high standards and intend to meet all post completion obligations.”
 Managing director Roland Marriott added: “The directors of V A Marriott are very proud of the long tradition of quality workmanship associated with the firm.
“We have taken this action so we can meet all our outstanding obligations and keep the company's reputation intact.” ']

[UPDATE November 2011: The whole site is being cleared including this lettering.]

UPDATE! 17.12.12: "Some while ago you featured the lettering on the end wall of the joiners shop at our old premises on Handford Road. Before demolition we removed the cast iron letters and have them stored. If you know of a good use or home for these (other than Sackers) I would be interested to hear from you. Roland Marriott" We're sure that we can come up with some ideas for the characters.]

[UPDATE 21.1.13: by chance John Norman, Chair of the Ipswich Society, penned the following article for the local press. Our thanks for permission to reproduce it here.
"Handford Cottage

Valentine Arthur Marriott started his building business from premises next to the seven arches bridge at the bottom of Crane Hill in 1895.  From the beginning he set his sights on sizeable contracts and created a successfully company building schools and large detached houses.  Valentine was a bricklayer but as the company grew he employed carpenters, joiners and plumbers to offer a complete building package.  Records of most of their early contracts are lost but one ledger remains and it contains details of the building of St. Helen’s Primary School in 1913.  The original school was built for less than 11,000.  Marriott’s returned to St Helen’s again and again as the school expanded and changed, most recently in 2005 for their latest and largest extension, a project that cost almost 1 million.

In 1920 Valentine Arthur Marriot purchased part of the garden of Handford Lodge in Handford Road, one time residence of Peter Bruff, railway engineer and designer of the tunnel under Stoke Hill.  Adjacent to the Alderman Canal (the original channel of the River Gipping) the land was marked on the first Ordnance Survey maps as being ‘liable to flood’. 

In the same year the company was incorporated as V A Marriott Limited and this land registered as their head office.  The land Marriott purchased surrounded Handford Cottage which was; at that time a popular public house, complete with Bowling Green and a number of ‘pub teams’.

In the late 1920’s Marriott’s were contracted by Leslie Barefoot, Architect to build The Walk, one of the first pedestrian-only shopping streets in the country.  The company also forged a close working relationship with the Tollemache Company Ltd, the Ipswich brewer and built a number of mock-baronial Public Houses in the style of Helmingham Hall (the family seat in mid Suffolk) including The Safe Harbour, The Suffolk Punch and The Golden Hind, the latter having one of the finest pub interiors in the south east.  These pubs have become known as the ‘Tolly Follies’.

Handford Cottage continued trading [as a public house] until December 1974 when it was purchased by Marriott’s for conversion into their own offices.  Like all good builders they were always too busy to get around to it but they did manage to recycle the turf from the bowling green before it became another corner of the builders’ yard.

When the recession hit the construction industry Marriott’s decided to call it a day, complete the contracts that were already underway, honour their outstanding commitments and sell the site.  It drew interest from a small German supermarket, from a local medical practice that had considered moving and from McCarthy & Stone who are currently developing a 60 room assisted living retirement home.

Passers by will recall the sign on the gable end of the joiners shop ‘V A. Marriott.Ltd Builders Contractors in Victorian cast iron lettering.  Interestingly it was in an unusual typeface that as far as we can establish was only used elsewhere on the Weston Clevedon and Portishead Railway."
Ipswich Historic Lettering: V.A. Marriott22016 image
Above: the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, based at Brockford Station, Wetheringsett, displays a couple of restored station signs from this tiny line including this from Wilby station. Here, too, the scrolly capital letters resemble the Marriott sign – particularly the 'L'.

[UPDATE 30.3.2024: 'As the great great great great grandson of Valentine Arthur [Marriott], I do have the letters in the photo on your website. I thought them special so, as the company closed, I went up a ladder and took them down and stored them away. It amused me to see that one full stop of the original cast iron had been replaced by a piece of wood painted red. The lettering is still all intact though the buildings are gone. However there are many, many buildings in the area built by VAM that will outlast me and probably many generations to come. 'Builders' and 'contractors' were considered different at the time. Although they are classed together now as language changes. So, the extra 'S' was required. Jon Marriott.']

Handford Lodge
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Handford Lodge Handford Lodge
Handford Lodge was Peter Schuyler Bruff's home from 1846-1900;  it was the home of Mr D. H. Booth after the death of Mrs Bruff at the age of 102 and
was demolished in the 1920s. (Booth, as Mayor of Ipswich, had laid the foundation stone of the Corn Exchange on 22 October 1880.) The reference in the above article to Handford Lodge being 'liable to flood' is ironic given that Peter Bruff's first Ipswich house in the Halifax area of Over Stoke was near the Orwell and in the abnormally high tide of December 1845 the house flooded to a depth of five feet. He moved his family to a house in Norwich Road, thence to the rather eccentric architecture of the Lodge (shown in a period photograph above). Bruff was once travelling by train back to Ipswich and a fellow passenger asked if he knew Handford Lodge. Bruff said he did, without disclosing that he lived there. The man said that when he was stationed at the barracks, he attended parties there. At one card party in the drawing room, a lady was accused of cheating and the resulting dispute led to a duel. The duel was conducted there in the room and each gentleman fired twice, both missing. Honour being satisfied, it is not recorded if they all sat down to gin rummy once more – or what their host thought of the whole thing. He said that he believed that the bullets were still lodged in the wall by the door. Bruff examined the area when he got home and the room was never repapered in his lifetime, the bullet holes being preserved behind two small pictures. Details from Moffat, H.: East Anglia's first railways, see Reading List.]

Ironically, when there were moves to name the new blocks of flats fronting Hanford Road on or near the site of Handford Lodge 'Bruff Court', the decision was made to name it after the last resident: 'Booth Court'. It would be a number of years until the development of housing around Croft Street that Bruff's name was enshrined in a road name, along with other railway-related names.
For more on this and Peter Bruff 's achievements, see our E.U.R. page

Handford Cottage
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Handford Cottage73 Handford Rd
Many will recall this feature of Handford Road with its doors boarded up for many years when it was used by V.A. Marriott's building firm as storage. When it was a popular public house, it had several sets of lettering. 'COBBOLD BEERS' on the wall facing the town, 'Garden and Children's Entrance' on the side gate – very much a sign of the times – and a set of  worded stained glass (perhaps as screens sitting inside the ground floor sash windows: 'SMOKE ROOM' is visible on the left and the others were probably 'Saloon Bar' and Off Sales'. Compare with the, now lost, stained glass signs of The Golden Key. An Ipswich Town Football Club banner hangs at top right signifying its proximity to the football ground in Portman Road. This building replaced the original cottage pub, it closed for business on December 9 1974 and was demolished in November 2011.

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