In this episode I speak to Pat Grimwade from the Ipswich Maritime Trust about her new publication about Ipswich’s little-known connections to the Hanseatic League.
The Hanseatic League was a confederation of merchant gilds that once dominated much of the Late Medieval Period European trade, connecting ports from Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the Baltic as well as a few in Britain, including Ipswich. At its peak the Hanseatic League even put together a military force that won a war against Denmark.
Pat tells us about how Ipswich came to become a Hanseatic port, what kind of things were traded to and from Ipswich during that period, and what physical evidence remains of the town’s Hanseatic connections today.
Can you see the striking similarity between these medieval seals from Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk, Poland) and Elbing (modern-day Elbląg, Poland) and Ipswich’s own town seal? Find out more about this too in this episode of the podcast.
This episode features a conversation with Hannah Cutler from the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service about early prehistoric Ipswich.
Hannah talks about what the area that would one day become Ipswich was like during the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) and Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age). Hannah also tells us about the work she is currently doing to update the Historic Environment Record for this area, which involves improving the information held online that members of the public can explore for themselves by visiting https://heritage.suffolk.gov.uk/
We also hear about some historic local excavations of early prehistoric finds, including by Nina Layard, a pioneering early female archaeologist and antiquarian.
In this episode I speak to Andy Parker about how the River Orwell came to be gifted to Ipswich by King Henry VIII in 1519 and why it is that Ipswich appears to be the only town in the country to own a river.
Andy volunteers for the Ipswich Maritime Trust, which seeks to protect and promote the astonishing maritime history and heritage of the River Orwell and Ipswich. Andy wrote an article for the Ipswich Star explaining how Ipswich came to be gifted the River Orwell that you can read by following this link:
I was very kindly recently asked on to Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk programme as a sofa guest to talk about local history and how I became interested in it. This is the audio from my interview from the programme that aired on 16th March 2020.
Ipswich wasn’t always the relatively peaceable town we find it today. There was once a time it was subject to raids, occasionally even from continental marauders. One way the people of medieval Ipswich tried to bring greater security to their town was by the building of a defensive perimeter. Today there appears to be no trace of an ancient town wall in Ipswich, so what were the town defences and when did they disappear?
A record survives that mentions town ditches being dug in 1203 but this may have been referring to the extension of an even older defensive line. While some references are made to town walls in documents over the following several centuries, more often the defences are referred to as the “great ditches of the town”. An order in 1604 for a gravel path to be laid upon the top of the walls makes it clear that most, if not all, of the ramparts at this point were an earthen bank rather than a stone wall. It therefore seems probable that the defences consisted of a line of ditches and earthen ramparts with walls connecting them at their weakest points. This defensive line would have curved round the west, north and east edges of Ipswich – the southern edge of town ran down to the River Orwell. As the town grew, communities developed on the outside of the ramparts but those living inside enjoyed greater security although paid more tax for the privilege.
While the extent to which stone walls where used seems to have been minimal, there were certainly stone gates placed at intervals around the town ramparts. Ipswich has historically been more of a centre for trade than a military stronghold and the gates were used as much to regulate trade as for security. Cart-loads of goods would arrive at these gates and then be either allowed in or refused entry to the town. One of the most impressive of these was the West Gate, an imposing structure with battlements, which in 1448 was converted to also house a gaol for many years.
The Westgate was demolished in the 1780s and by the early 1900s pretty much all of the ramparts, ditches and gates had disappeared. The last obvious place any of the former defences could be seen was to the north of the town where some Victorian Houses were perched on top of an earthen bank. This area was then flattened and turned into a space for a car park and later became the bus station at Tower Ramparts.
While the physical remains have disappeared, the memory of the ramparts and gates live on today in place and street names in Ipswich such as Tower Ramparts and Northgate Street. The nearest we can get to seeing any of the town defences now is by paying a visit to the Halberd Inn, as it is said that the last traces of the North Gate have been incorporated into the cellar of this building.
Episode 2 – 17th Century Ipswich and the East Anglian Witch-Hunts
In the year 1645 the biggest witch-hunt in English history got underway and East Anglia was at its grim centre. Hundreds of people were hanged in East Anglia during the following few years after being put on trial for alleged crimes of witchcraft. However, one woman named Mary Lackland who lived in Ipswich was sentenced to the especially extreme sentence of being burned for her purported crimes.
In this episode of the podcast I speak to David Jones about his book The Ipswich Witch, Mary Lackland and the Suffolk Witch Hunts.
We talk about what life would have been like for people living in 17th century Ipswich, David’s ideas about what may have led to Mary Lackland’s trial and execution, methods used by witch-finders to test for the innocence or guilt of the accused, and what might have been behind the emergence of witch-trials at such an extreme level during the 1640s.
The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and most other podcast providers. If you don’t have access to a device with a podcast app you can also listen by following this link listen to the Ipswich History Podcast
I’m pleased to announce that a new book I’ve been working on called Ipswich in 50 Buildings will be published on 15th June 2019.
I will be celebrating the release of the book with a book signing event at Ipswich Museum on Saturday 6th July at 2pm where the book will also be available to buy from the museum shop. All are very welcome to attend – it would be great to see you there!
Here’s the blurb if you would like to know more about Ipswich in 50 Buildings:
Ipswich has a fascinating history dating back to its Anglo-Saxon roots as a settlement on the banks of the River Orwell in East Anglia. Since then, the town has been one of England’s most important ports, a centre for the medieval wool trade, and in the Victorian era developed into a thriving industrial hub. The distinctive history of Ipswich is embodied in the buildings that have shaped the town through the centuries, as successive generations have left their own architectural marks.
Ipswich in 50 Buildings explores the rich history of the town through a selection of its architectural gems, from magnificent medieval churches and Tudor treasures such as Christchurch Mansion, to modern masterpieces such as the groundbreaking design of the Willis Building. Author and historian Caleb Howgego celebrates Ipswich’s architectural heritage in a new and accessible way as he guides the reader around the town’s historic and modern buildings.
As you’ll know if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I’m a big fan of the Suffolk Archaeologist Basil Brown. I made a podcast about him earlier this year, which you can listen to here
I’m going to be leading a Museum Secrets event at Ipswich Museum about Basil Brown (who was once a Museum Attendant at Ipswich Museum himself) on Sunday 25th November 2018, 2.15-3.15pm. It’s free and a drop-in event so there’s no need to book to attend.