It’s hard to define exactly what the Christmas spirit is; family and community celebration perhaps? Or tinsel, carols and mince pies? Whatever it is, the Ipswich Transport Museum Christmas cracker event has it in spades, and that is where I found myself on the afternoon of Saturday 7th December.

IMG_3827As I entered the museum I was greeted by the sound of a brass band playing Joy to the World, which is always a good way to start getting you into the aforementioned Spirit.

As I paid my admission I noticed a child receiving five old English pennies to spend in the museum, this is a yearly tradition I later discovered, allowing the children to spend their 5d on treats and attractions – from a visit to Santa’s grotto to rides on vintage vehicles.

 I began my perusing of the Transport Museum displays to the background sound of carols supplied by the brass band. This was great, providing the warm sensation of a Salvation Army band without the cold, rushed, last-minute Christmas shopping induced panic, that usually accompanies hearing them in the street outside Debenhams. Instead, I could take my time examining the huge amounts of transportation devices on display, from the motorised to the pedal powered. I looked around and learned a little about Ipswich Engineering, and then I looked up and saw bicycles, lots of bicycles, all hanging in a central line from the rafters of the building.IMG_3856

 Established in 1965, Ipswich Transport Museum is the home of all things mechanical made and used in Ipswich over its history, and with companies such as Ransomes and Rapier having made Ipswich their base over the years it turns out this is quite a lot.

The museum is impressively run entirely by volunteers. One such volunteer is John Griffiths, who I found standing next to a miniature railway village, complete with train chuffing smoke, endlessly circling its rails, as if finding it impossible to locate an appropriate spot to stop. We got talking and he enthusiastically began to tell me about the Transport Museum’s lateIMG_3858st major project – the affectionately named ‘Operation Firewood’ – restoring a 1890s tram, which was until recently being used as someone’s shed, back to its former glory.

John is a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of horse-drawn and electric trams. He could, and did, speak with interest on the subject for half an hour, but realising the limited time I had before the museum closed, I extricated myself from the conversation in order to see what else the museum had to offer.

One of the things Children could spend theirIMG_3835 5d on was a Clementine from a mobile grocery vehicle, which was today being manned by one of my colleagues from the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. As I walked over to meet her, Brian, another volunteer, appeared and my colleague introduced us to each other. Upon hearing my connection to the museum service, he kindly offered to take me on an interesting behind the scenes tour of the museum; viewing the stores and hearing plans for future development. When we walked into the museum office Brian was keen to point out their computerised documentation system, which they had created from scratch themselves, and I was yet again impressed with the level of commitment the museum elicited from its volunteers.

 It was time to fully embrace the Christmas transport spirit and experience the delights of a vintage vehicle in motion. I plumped for a bright red 1960s fire engine. A young boy sat in the driver’s passenger seat in IMG_3841front of me taking every opportunity to ring the engine’s bell as loudly as he could, clearly enjoying the rare opportunity to create as much noise as possible whilst being praised for doing so by adults.

I left the hanger feeling pretty Christmassy and very impressed with the friendly and welcoming volunteer army that made the event, and the museum itself for that matter, possible.

So the Transport Museum is great. It goes without saying, but I thoroughly recommend a visit. Oh, and one last thing. MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Most of Europe was busy preparing itself for war in 1939, building weapons, training soldiers, while some desperately brokered for peace. Edith Pretty meanwhile, decided this would be a good time to dig up her back garden. Pretty had become interested in spiritualism since the recent death of her husband and many of her spiritualist friends began to speak of shadowy figures walking around the mounds in the grounds of her estate. Naturally, this piqued Pretty’s interest and soon she had convinced the Ipswich Museum amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to start work on the site.


‘Excuse me’ I said, winding down the window of my ever trustworthy Ford KA.

‘Is it okay if I park anywhere around here?’ The farmer looked at me nonplussed in silence for a couple of seconds.

‘You know, to get out and look around’ I added. I was on my way to Sutton Hoo, but appeared to have ended up in a cabbage farm.

 ‘You carn’t stop around ‘ere’ said the farmer indefatigably, shooting me a look that seemed to say ‘No, this is a forecourt with dangerous threshing machinery and oversized tractors moving huge payloads of cabbages, you stupid townie, you’re in the way’.

‘Oh’ I said ‘Do you happen to know…’

‘If you want Sutton Hoo you need to git down that path along that way and go back ‘bout quarter mile, then take a left’ Said the farmer cutting in and beginning to look irritated. ‘This is a workin’ farm, you can’t stop ‘ere’.

‘Thank you very much’ I said, ‘I’ll get out of your way then’ The farmer said nothing, but continued to stare at me.

‘Okay, thanks again’ I said with a nervous smile. I turned the car around, narrowly avoiding a cabbage, and followed the track back the way I had come, safe in the knowledge that my famous sense of direction was as intact as ever.

I paid my admission (£7.15) and received my national trust sticker. As I was just about to leave the admissions office the lady who served me called out.

‘Most people start with the visitors centre, it’s just across the way. That will explain things a bit better for you before you head on over to the mounds’.

Carole obviously wasn’t an ipswichhistory blog subscriber; I knew what I was doing. I set off for the mounds straight away.


In the spring and summer of 1939 Basil Brown had begun work on site at Mound 1, with the help of Pretty’s gardener. He was soon followed by a more professional team of archaeologists including Charles Phillips, who took over and extended the excavations, which included the unearthing of the remains of a 90 foot ship burial. The team continued to work until World War Two got into full swing, where upon, the valuable findings from the burial site were put into secure storage in the London Underground. The archaeologists departed also, probably in search of somewhere a little less vulnerable to Nazi bombing, to write up their findings to be published in 1940.

 What had been found was staggering to the archaeologists, it completely changed perceptions of what ‘Dark Age’ Britons were capable of creating. As life began to return to normal in post-war Europe, historians returned to Sutton Hoo, first in 1965 and then repeatedly from the 1980s to the present day, uncovering more burial sites (including 17 confirmed mounds) and piecing together a better picture of what was going on in this confusing mass of mounds.

 Many of the finds at Sutton Hoo show just how interconnected Europe was during the time of early Angles. Mound 1, for example, held weaponry artefacts with strong stylistic links to Viking Scandinavia, but also included coins minted in France and two silver spoons, that were Christian in origin, likely from as far away as Byzantium (modern day Istanbul). One of the things you come away from Sutton Hoo with is a sense that 7th century Angles were far more connected with parts of costal Europe than they were with the landlocked parts of their own island.


The mounds were a good five minute walk from reception and when I arrived I found myself completely alone. There was no real wow moment to speak of, just a lot of large mounds of earth with clumps of gorse cover and a nearby pig farm that leaked faint piggish smells over the burial grounds. After this initial sense of disappointment however, the place began to grow on me. It felt quite isolated bearing in mind it was a place surrounded by farms and Pretty’s heritage site of a home. I began to think about just what was found under this place I was walking over, and after a while, I did begin to feel like I was somewhere quite special.

I made my way around the site and eventually stopped at the viewing platform. After another five minutes of staring at mounds of soil, my interest had peaked and I realised that this place really was unique, as there was nowhere else I could think of that would charge £7.15 to look at mini soil hills. And so, I decided to go in search of greater value from my admission fee and take a walk along a different footpath back to the visitors centre.

20 minutes down the track and I was lost. It slowly dawned on me that I must have absentmindedly missed a right turning somewhere along the way. I pressed on for a while hoping that another path would emerge sooner or later, but later came and went and still there was nothing but closely set trees to my right hand side. I closed my visitors map and began to squeeze my way through the trees and bracken. Somehow 5 minutes later I re-emerged on the other side of the trees exactly where I wanted to be, by the visitors centre.

 I walked forward towards the door and noticed a lady checking people’s national trust stickers on the way in. I looked down to find that mine had vanished, probably torn off by a branch a few minutes previously.

 Carole from reception had been right – you should always start with the visitors centre when you visit Sutton Hoo. Unless, of course, you feel competent enough to look after a sticker for an hour or so.


 We don’t know for sure who the incredible treasures in mound 1 belonged to, but the evidence available does seem to point to Raedwald the 7th century king of East Anglia. First, the age of the coins found within his burial appear to fit the correct time. Secondly, the Venerable Bede’s writing in the 8th century describes Raedwald as a king that converted to Christianity, but retained his heathen beliefs, which is echoed in the findings of both Viking ritual and Silver baptismal spoons in the ship burial chamber. If it wasn’t Raedwald, it was certainly someone with his level of incredible wealth and respect.


Luckily, I found another National Trust sticker lying by a nearby hedge, quickly picked it up and held it to my coat while no one was looking. Then, sticker in place, I walked into the visitors centre like 007 sneaking past the inept guards at a villain’s lair.

Actually, the people at the visitors centre were really nice, and began talking interestingly to me about Sutton Hoo. There was an introductory short film about the people that lived in the area around the 7th Century and interesting exhibits and displays of replica finds (the originals were donated to the British Museum by Edith Pretty). I rounded things off by walking into the newly installed reconstruction of Raedwald’s burial chamber complete with reconstructions of the artefacts found within.

Walking out of the visitors centre and back to the KA, I began thinking it was a shame that the original relics weren’t on display here instead of in London, then maybe more people would want to visit such an interesting place. These things are all relative though I suppose. I expect the 7th century Angles who spent huge energies dragging a longboat over a mile from the river Deben to the burial site, and presumably even longer burying it under a mound of earth, would be a little more put out that the treasures weren’t where they left them.

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Happy New Year everyone! This is just a post to say thank you so much to Kelly Wadsworth for creating a new amazing header for the blog from scratch!

Kelly is a fantastic graphic designer and if you would like to see more of her brilliant work then you should check out her blog and online portfolio of work here:

New post to hopefully follow soon!


I decided to go to Ipswich Museum for some inspiration for my next blog post, especially since I hadn’t been there for years, but while I was walking around I thought it might be fun to write my own little review/guide to the place. What follows is a selection of highlights from my walk around the museum.

Ipswich Museum

Victorian Natural History Gallery

Rosie the Rhino

The first thing you see when you walk through the doors into the museum is the woolly mammoth and in my opinion that’s exactly what you want to see when you walk into a museum. The whole of this first hall is filled with taxidermy – every animal from mouse to monkey to lion, but it’s the mammoth and its sheer size that grabs you first. I walked over and looked up at its hairy face and could instantly remember coming to the museum as a child and wanting to jump over the barrier and climb up on to its back, the same went for the rhino and the giraffe. Standing there, surrounded by stuffed animals of every variety with blank eyes, I found that I still wanted to. I shot a look over my shoulder at the hovering security guard, but he looked like he’d had a long day and I didn’t think it would be fair to put him through the ordeal of tugging a 24 year old man-child off a prehistoric mammal replica, and anyway, I still wanted to see the rest of the museum.

Here are a couple of interesting facts about the Natural History Gallery to keep you going:

1). The gorillas on display known as the Du Chaillu’s Gorillas were the first ever seen in Britain.

2). The rhino (known to visitors as ‘Rosie’) arrived at Ipswich Museum in 1907 and was traded with the British Museum for a pig.

Ipswich Museum’s Victorian Natural History Gallery

Unfortunately, Rosie had her horn stolen in July 2010 and the two men seen driving off from the scene of the crime were never caught. Happily though, the horn has been replaced with a replica and visitors have been leaving messages of congratulations to the curators and Rosie in a comments book next to her ever since, which is very sweet.

Anglo Saxon and Early Ipswich

I walked through a glass door into another part of the museum that houses lots of original artefacts and replicas from Suton Hoo that tell the early story of Ipswich complete with Anglo Saxon dressing-up clothes and the life size humanish looking models you see in all regional museums. One was holding a tool over a piece of metal and looked like he’d been trying for a long time to decide whether or not to hit it, another was of a woman who seemed to be in a similar quandary over whether she should continue with her weaving.

I began to look around and was drawn over to a display inviting me to create an Anglo Saxon name for myself, all you had to do was spin two discs – one with prefixes and another with suffixes – and hey presto! Anglo Saxon name! I spun the wheels and was rewarded with Fri-Wyn or ‘Free-Joy’ in the modern English translation.

I was just getting interested in a display explaining the roots of early Ipswich when the door to the room swung open again and two ex-pupils from the school I work at walked in.

“Oh it’s you” said the first one.

“You ust to work at Westbourne didn’t-cha?” said the second.

“Hello, yes I still do” I said

“It’s a dump” said one of them very matter-of-factly

“How’s my brother doin’?” asked the other

The conversation kept going. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but the best thing to come out of it was a mildly humorous moment when I asked one of them what they were doing at college now and thought they said geography when they had actually said photography. By the time I had managed to escape, one of the security men arrived ringing a bell and announced it was closing time and that I needed to leave the museum. The rest of the rooms would have to wait for another visit.

Bones and Fossils Gallery

I left myself a lot longer before closing-time

Ipswich Museum’s Geology Gallery

when I next returned to the museum. I started in the long rectangular room that houses the museum’s considerable collection of bones and fossils. I began prowling up and down the cases looking for something that took my interest. Along one wall were some heavy Victorian display cases displaying the skeletons of various animals as they would have been arranged in life (you really can’t move for dead animals in Ipswich Museum). Apart from bones and fossils this room also devotes itself to telling the story of Suffolk’s geological past over the previous millennia, unfortunately, although I really tried I just couldn’t get passionate about changes in soil composition so I thought it was time to move on.

The main things that I took away from this room were that thousands of years ago some elephants used to be a lot bigger than they are currently and that they had straight tusks. The other was that lions used to be a common enough animal to find in the wild around Ipswich about 210,000 years ago, where, according to an archaeological dig under Ipswich’s Stoke railway tunnel, they were busy chasing red deer.

The Bird Room

You could never accuse Ipswich Museum of being obtuse with their labelling of rooms, the Bird Room is, as advertised, a room with lots of birds in it. I’m not really sure what else to tell you about the bird room, apart from to say it is impressive to see so many different breeds of bird from all over England and Scotland all in one place and it appeals to all ages if the

A photograph of the Bass Rock Case taken soon after its installation

enthusiastic French gentleman and his granddaughter were anything to go by. To be honest, this wasn’t my favourite part of the museum; all the dead animals with their vacant faces and fake eyeballs were beginning to get to me by this point, so I quickly made for the exit. Before I reached it however, I came to the pièce de résistance of the room – the Bass Rock Case. This full size diorama, that includes fifty-two seabirds, aims to recreate a scene from the Bass Rock gannet colony off the coast of Scotland complete with eggs, seaweed and bird poo running down the cliff face. The scene was created thanks to the legacy left by Lord John Harvey in 1902, this struck me as quite an unusual thing to request in your last will and testament, but each to their own.

Egyptian Gallery

I walked into the Egyptian Gallery, which didn’t exist when I used to visit as a child. I was pleasantly surprised at just how good this new section (opened in 2010) was. For a start there are lots of genuinely impressive artefacts on loan from the British Museum on display including some large statues of Various Egyptian gods, some of which are around 4,000 years old. In fact, Ipswich Museum already had an impressive stock of items from Ancient Egypt donated in the early 20th century by friends of the Museum who were keen to prevent grave robbers from getting their hands on them for profit.

Egyptian Gallery

Some of the more impressive objects are kept within a central chamber inside the gallery that is accessible by a doorway for adults and a giant mouse hole in the wall for children to crawl through. There were a lot of families with small children around me at this point and the kids were going crazy for the Egyptian history, when they saw the mouse hole it sent them over the edge and for a good ten minutes it was hard to move for running, screaming, crawling children.

After the families had departed I went into the chamber too (through the door not the mouse hole, although I was tempted). Inside it was really interesting; the curators had thoughtfully placed mirrors at the correct angles to allow you to see inside gold coated masks and sarcophaguses. Seeing the stained cloth inside of the masks particularly forced me to think of these objects not just as pieces of intricate, beautiful art work, but also as the shelters of human remains that they were. It was a bit spooky, but also very fascinating. The other thing that stood out to me was just how many things the Egyptians used to mummify, not just people and cats, but birds and crocodiles, pretty much anything they could get their hands on it seemed.

I walked out of the Egyptian Gallery,

Underfloor display in Egyptian Gallery

looped my way around the balcony of the Natural History Gallery looking down at all the rigid animals below and made my way down the main staircase back to the reception. It was time to go, there was still more to see but that’s plenty enough for this post, and I think I’ve taken up enough of your time already. Anyway, if you’re still interested by this point what are you doing? You’ve clearly got enough time to go and make a visit yourself.


It’s been a long time since I wrote my last post and it took me a while to get back into the swing of things, particularly when coming to chose a subject to write about. whilst casting about for a topic it struck me driving past a road sign welcoming me to ‘Ipswich the County Town of Suffolk’, that I had no idea why Ipswich, of all Suffolk Towns, had become the County’s top dog.

There have been well established settlements in Suffolk for longer than nearly anywhere else in the country and yet it remains almost stubbornly non-metropolitan. While Suffolk has largely clung to its rural roots, there have been small pockets of urbanisation that have vied for supremacy within the county for centuries. Why it is that Ipswich emerged and remained the most dominant of these and became the County Town is the subject of what follows.

Ipswich’s awkward position in the south-east corner of the county has caused some difficulties over the centuries

The location of Ipswich has thrown up several road blocks for the town over the centuries and could well have seen Ipswich’s importance diminish quite considerably if history had taken any of several slight deviations. This was particularly true when it came to Ipswich’s role in the Shire Moots/County Courts since the earliest developments of the country’s parliament. This was important because considerable power followed the judges who sat in them.

During the 13th and 14th centuries Ipswich played host to the early Shire Moots where the Kings judges, that did not then sit in one place but perpetually moved around to various sites, pronounced their verdicts. They did this in shirehouses, although the knowledge of the exact placement of Ipswich’s original shirehouse has been long since lost. For some reason the inhabitant

s of Ipswich allowed their shirehouse to rot away and thus when combined with Ipswich’s awkward location, the king’s judges decided to make Bury St. Edmunds their new stop off point for the courtly affairs of Suffolk upon their circuit between Cambridge and Thetford.

Wymoundham Moot Hall, an example of a 13th century East Anglian meeting place for courtly affairs

Things remained this way until 1698 when Ipswich, led by Sir Samuel Barnardiston its Member of Parliament, secured a grant of £300 from the county towards building a new and up-to-date Sessions House. In fact, even this could not persuade the judges to cover the longer distance to Ipswich and it was only the fear of smallpox in Bury in 1740 that drove them to the new hall at Ipswich and led to it becoming customary to divide the assizes between the two towns.

Ipswich’s location in the far south-eastern corner of Suffolk has been a drawback in the past, not just in attracting judges to the town but also, perhaps more importantly, in attracting trade. What overcame this problem for Ipswich was the navigability of the river Gipping into the heart of the county. From the middle ages onwards the waterway had been used to transport heavy materials and goods such as wine, salt and stone from the coast further inland, but only after the Navigation Act of 1793 was it opened up to large scale traffic through the spread of canal networks, allowing barges to deliver coal throughout the county as far as Stowmarket. The river routes from Ipswich into the county made it all the more centrally important to the county because there was a lack of good roads in the surrounding area until relatively recent times. This reliance on water transport made Ipswich, near the coast and on the river, an obvious centre of business and communication.

The introduction of railways to Suffolk only served to strengthen the position Ipswich had as a centre for commerce in the county, drawing in more businessmen, labourers and customers from the surrounding smaller settlements. Ipswich market grew as a result and ever since all the villages of south-eastern Suffolk have made Ipswich their centre for shopping, amusement and business.

Ipswich had become a centre for entertainment in the county by the Tudor period, by this time the docks had established Ipswich as a reasonably prosperous place, this was reflected in the high concentration of knights, gentry and wealthy merchants who lived in the town, who in turn made it possible for the development of theatre and dramatic performances that mainly took place in the Moot Hall. At the same time, what we might now consider, less high brow entertainment was becoming available in Ipswich; bear baiting became a regular feature on the Cornhill and players of the cornet and lute walked the streets in the hope of adding to their yearly wage.

The Cock and Pye Inn, which used to play host to one of the county’s favourite forms of entertainment

After the years of Puritan control, when entertainment across the country was for the most part eliminated, (In 1637 the Ipswich bailiffs actually paid the king’s servants not to play in the town) Ipswich once again became a hub for amusement. New theatres including one on Tacket Street were built and horse racing came to Ipswich by the mid 1700s taking place on the nearby heath.

Other sports popular at the time that attracted large audiences to the town included cock fighting, most notably at the aptly named Cock and Pye Inn, which still remains so named today. Ipswich was fortunate to be well endowed with many good Inns and Hotels and remained well visited for entertainment and holidaying well into Victorian times, the author Charles Dickens often staying in the regionally famous White Horse Hotel and writing it into his first novel The Pickwick Papers. All of these attractions helped make Ipswich an obvious place to develop county infrastructure.

Another factor that has made Ipswich central in importance in Suffolk has been its role in caring for the sick of the county. During the 19th century when inoculations against illness became widespread, Ipswich became a hub for such treatment for East Suffolk, so much so that in the early days of small pox inoculation doctors refused to inoculate patients from outlying villages because the large numbers of people crowding into the town threatened an epidemic.

The first purpose-built hospital in Ipswich. Today it still performs a caring role as a care home

The East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital was opened in 1836 for about 50 in-patients and has continued to expand ever since, spreading to different sites around the town, cementing the role of Ipswich as the principal care provider for a large area of Suffolk.

Ipswich has managed to develop and maintain features that have made it vital to a largely rural backwater county like Suffolk. It has provided a source for entertainment, important trade links from the coast into the heart of the county and secured a prominent role in courtly and administrative affairs over the previous centuries. It has also become a regional base for essential services such as the police and healthcare system in the local area. Through all this it has also dealt with competition from towns such as Bury St. Edmunds and Stowmarket as a provider of goods, resources and other attractions of power to become regarded as of central importance to the region and become the county town of Suffolk.


Imagine you are a successful film animator living in London in the 1930s and you’ve just finished work on the first Technicolor cartoon ever made in Britain. You are given two job offers; one is to go and work for the Disney team in Hollywood and animate Mickey Mouse and his other incredibly successful chums, the other is to go and live in Ipswich and take a role working on a character called Steve the Horse. Which would you take? This was the choice that faced Carl Giles in his early career. He chose Steve, and in hindsight this was actually a pretty good decision as it was this that set him on a trajectory to be named Britain’s best loved cartoonist of the 20th century.

Steve the horse
A still from Steve goes to London, which sadly never made it into production

Giles was born on 29th September 1916 in Islington, London, although his family came from Suffolk and this may have been a contributing factor when plumping for Ipswich over Hollywood after his initial success. Despite no formal art training Giles started out work as an office boy in an advertising agency in London and was quickly promoted to the animation studio to create moving film cartoons. After spending a period working with film-maker Alexander Korda he then moved to the Ipswich studio of Ronald Davies where he began work on the afore mentioned Steve and helped to animate six eight minute cartoons.

Just before the break-out of the Second World War, Giles moved back to London for his first full-time job as a cartoonist for Reynolds News. In September 1943 he moved to a better paid job with the Express Newspaper Group, with whom he spent the rest of his cartooning career, (later Giles expressed guilt for abandoning the more left wing Reynolds News). A year later he flew to Belgium as the group’s cartooning war correspondent and stayed with the troops as they fought their way across northern Europe, until the last days of the war. During this time he found favour with the public with his popular caricature depictions of Hitler and Mussolini.


A typical war era piece of Giles humour

Giles had interestingly married his cousin, Joan, in 1942 and after his time in Europe returned to his married life with her in their rented cottage just outside Ipswich. In 1946 Carl and Joan moved to Witnesham where they would remain for the rest of their lives at Hillbrow Farm.

Giles’ work at the Express Newspaper Group (1945-1990) spanned an incredibly fascinating period of time in both British and world history, including the end of WWII, the Cold War, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the crises that came with that, the Space Race and first moon landing, as well as Britain’s loss of Empire and influence around the globe and entry into the European Union, the creation of the National Health Service, Queen Elizibeth II’s coronation and the opening of the Eurotunnel to name but a few of the significant points.

giles family tree
The Giles family tree

Throughout these important and often very serious events Giles used his brand of wit and humour to both entertain and give an insight to his readership. One of his most powerful tools in his communication to readers was his host of regular characters that appeared in his cartoons’ take of the news headlines. Most of these characters came from The Giles Family, which was vast. It incorporated Mother and Father and their five children and their spouses as well as grandchildren and the imposing Grandma, not to mention two pet dogs, a cat and a parrot all with unique personalities.

Grandma showing her support for Ipswich Town FC

Of all these figures Grandma was perhaps Giles’ most famous character; she was unveiled as a statue in Ipswich Town Centre in 1993 as a mark of respect for the long and distinguished career Giles had enjoyed working in the town. The Statue’s placement (in the now ‘Giles Circus’) is deliberate so that Grandma can keep a watch on Giles’ former office on the second floor where he created the majority of his work across the road from her situation.

In the words of Michael Parkinson writing in the foreword for the 27th Giles Annual (1972-3) “His humour is never hurtful or vicious. It touches all of us who are possessed of that most important human quality, the ability to laugh at ourselves. The man who can make us do that is not simply a gifted cartoonist, he is an important part of our lives and therefore he is blessed”. Well said Parky. Thanks Giles.

Giles staute ipswich
The Grandma statue in the newly revamped Giles Circus in Ipswich


When I was around 7 or 8 years old, my mum took me and my brothers on the Ipswich open air bus for the first time. This was a pretty big deal from what I remember. Scores of parents with their young children would wait just down the road from Crown Pools (for hours it would seem in kid world), in sizzling heat – for the bus only ran for a few weeks in the height of summer – for an open air bus to pull round the corner and send all the kids crazy with excitement. The main reason all the kids were falling over themselves to get on the bus was because anyone with any sense knew that the climax to the bus tour was a trip across the Orwell Bridge (below). If you were 7 years old in mid-1990s Ipswich, being blown around by high winds on a high bridge on an open air bus driving at 40mph was easily the most exciting thing on the cards for you. It might be sad but it’s true.

The Orwell Bridge

The reason I bring all this up is that before the bridge there was a tour to be sat through. Needless to say this was quite boring and also quite pointless, because all the children on the bus were too young to understand or care and all the parents were too busy stopping their children from climbing over the side of the bus to listen. Genuinely, the only thing I remember about the history of the town from those tours was the point at which we went past the Old County Hall, when the guide would very importantly announce that this was the place where the Simpson divorce was decided and that this had important consequences for the royal family and the country.

If you’ve watched the multi-award winning King’s Speech recently then you probably remember Wallis Simpson as the woman Edward VIII abdicated to marry. The film portrays her in a fairly bad light, but as far as I can see from a bit of research, they went pretty easy on her. To put it bluntly, she seems to have been a fairly big Nazi supporter who slept around with a lot of men and abused her position to pass British intelligence to the Germans before and during World War II. She was a bad egg.

In the autumn of 1936 Wallis Simpson spent six weeks living in Felixstowe in order to gain residential qualifications to have her divorce hearing held in Ipswich, a place in which it was hoped minimal publicity would be gained. Unfortunately for Mrs Simpson this was not to be a low key affair. Associated Press of America was informed of the pending case and the world’s press promptly arrived in Ipswich for the hearing that was to take place on 27th October.

The Old County Court on St. Helens Street

On the day of the hearing the police took the precaution of closing off St Helens Street to prevent the press taking photos of Wallis Simpson as she arrived at the County Court. Naturally, the press, always keen to report a royal public scandal, were not going to let a little thing like that get in their way and took up situations in buildings along St Helens and Bond Street. It’s an interesting example of how much freedom of the press has come on over the past few decades that police stormed these buildings and impounded any camera that they found.

The hearing itself lasted only 25 minutes. The judge, Mr Justice Hawke, seems to have been fairly unhappy about permitting Mrs Simpson her divorce, but in the end after hearing evidence from members of staff from a hotel at Bray-on-Thames, who told of her husband sleeping with another unnamed woman, he relented and reluctantly said ‘Very well, decree nisi.’ (Meaning that unless further evidence was brought before the court within six months to change the decision, then their Marriage would be dissolved).

After the decision Mrs Simpson sped out of the court and was driven at high speed to London. In another attempt to slow down and silence the press a policeman followed her car and then spun his own car round in the middle of the road to prevent them from pursuing. Those who did manage to get through found themselves held up by a ‘routine’ traffic check on the A12 and were asked to provide their driving documents.

Wallis Simpson shaking hands with Adolf Hitler

The hearing in Ipswich led to a crisis that was only resolved in December 1936 when Edward VIII announced his abdication. They were married the following year in June.

In the following years and throughout the 2nd World War the couple lived together in various countries around Europe. As mentioned, Wallis fed intelligence to the Germans through Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the one-time German ambassador to Britain who she had had an affair with. It was always Hitler’s plan, by the way, to make Edward his puppet king in England after an invasion of Britain and so presumably with Wallis as Queen.

As Edward VIII only abdicated due to his wish to marry Mrs Simpson, if she had not gained her divorce he would have remained King with her as his mistress leading into WWII. Thank goodness history took the turn it did that day on the 27th October 1936 in Ipswich. Otherwise, Britain may have found itself fighting a World War in the strange situation of the King’s mistress passing information of the highest importance to the enemies of his subjects.


Ipswich has been a port town for well over a thousand years and its docks as a consequence have a history all of their own far too long to cram into any single blog post. What I’ve decided to do therefore is pick out one significant transition in its history and explain why this was of such key importance to the quay.

Left: The Ipswich wet dock at present.

In the 18th century, Ipswich, and particularly its docks, was in a slump. This must have been very disappointing to the locals, especially as the previous century had been a time of such great prosperity. During the 17th century Ipswich had become a large centre of trade for grain and cloths and had also established itself as one of the only ports in the country through which wool was exported to Europe.

The problems of 18th century Ipswich were largely caused by the state of the River Orwell as it ran through and near the town. The twists and turns of the river near to the town had become a real problem for some of the merchant ships using the docks and were putting many off from using the port. Perhaps more importantly, the docks themselves were becoming increasingly silted up to the point of preventing many vessels from reaching the quayside, particularly at low tide.

Left: A plan showing the twists and turns of the river Orwell with the proposed new channels to be cut to straighten the rivers course.

William Chapman was the first man to suggest improvements that ought to be made to save the town from chronic decline due to the reduction in the rivers navigability. Chapman laid out his plans in the latter half of the 18th century, but unfortunately his ideas were largely left unheeded for quite some time.

By the beginning of the 19th century the ‘Committee of Subscribers for the Improvement of the Port of Ipswich’ could drag their heels no longer and accepted that they had to act. They began to take some of Chapman’s plans more seriously and even invested in a “steam dredging engine” (one of the first in Britain). This was used to begin the ongoing process of clearing the heavily silted areas of the docks, apart from the times when it was broken and in for repair when instead “Mud Men” were employed to dig it out by hand. Let us hope that didn’t happen too often, because as far as I’m concerned standing up to your knees in a gigantic mudflat, holding a spade, and being told you need to clear the whole lot asap sounds like one of the most daunting jobs in recorded history.

Once the mud had been dug up it found a use as ballast in ships that had unloaded their cargo in the port. It’s an interesting fact that most vessels of the period were built to actually be unstable when not weighed down by their goods. So it was that during the Victorian era perhaps Ipswich’s biggest export was the silt from its river, much of it ending up on the banks of the Tyne, as one of Ipswich’s largest trading partners at the time was Newcastle.

The twisting of the river Orwell near to the town was neatly solved by cutting new straighter bypasses for the water to flow through in the 1830s and immediately made the port a more attractive prospect to merchants.

Left: 1830 plans for the Wet Dock and New Cut.

Finally, and most importantly, the Wet Dock along with the New Cut were built by workmen during the late 1830s and early 1840s, under the instruction of David Thornbory who was hired by the port committee. The New Cut allowed the river Orwell to bypass the Dock itself giving the dock a stable water level, while allowing vessels to enter and exit through a lock system. At the time of its construction the Wet Dock, at 33 acres, was the largest of its kind in Britain.

Right: A modern day ariel view of the wet dock/new cut lock gates.

Although the construction encountered some difficulties and proved more time consuming and more expensive than its original proposed cost of £65,178, it soon brought in huge amounts of money for the town – as much as £10,000 a year in port dues by 1855, most of which was ploughed back into further improvements for the docks.

Above: The new cut at low tide – you can see parts of the riverbed, while over in the wet dock the water level remains unchanged.

And so it was that the people of Ipswich were able to turn their economic failings into profit (at least for a while) with a little investment, planning, elbow grease and, of course, mud.

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