THE IPSWICH CHARTER

On the 25th May this year it will be 811 years to the day since Ipswich was granted its Royal Charter in 1200. It seems appropriate then, to discover what we can about this important event in Ipswich’s history just in time for us all to pop some champagne corks and light some fireworks in celebration of what was really the town’s first light-toed, faltering steps towards a more democratic form of local governing.

It’s hard to understand the importance of a royal charter today when we take for granted all the things that in the distant past would have been novel and liberating. Now royal charters do little more than give a stamp of approval to businesses or institutions, but in the early 1200s they would have been considered far more valuable. Town charters in the Middle Ages usually made the inhabitants ‘free’ by way of lifting them out of the feudal system as opposed to those who lived in the countryside and villages as serfs (a form of bondage close to slavery). Not only this, but Ipswich’s charter gave the men of the town the ability to elect two bailiffs of the town to look after their interests. The charter also led to Ipswich being allowed to set up one of the first merchant’s gilds in the country to organise the town’s trade.

Ipswich’s Royal charter was signed by King John (of Robin Hood fame), and is one of the oldest royal town charters in England’s history, it even precedes the Magna Carta by fifteen years.

The charter’s 800th anniversary celebrations in the year 2000 have fostered a misconception in recent times that King John was present in Ipswich on the day of the signing, but in actual fact he was busy in France at the time he sealed the charter, at Roche d’Orival near Rouen, and the charter would have been brought to Ipswich by a Herald on his behalf and did not arrive in the town until some days later.

St Mary-le-Tower (left): Ipswich’s first step towards a regional elected government was taken in the churchyard.

After the townspeople received the document, they gathered on the 29th June in the churchyard of St Mary-le-Tower, which remains the civic church of Ipswich today, to elect two town bailiffs and four coroners (government officials). They then met again on 2nd July to choose twelve portmen.

At that second meeting of the townsmen an oath of obedience to the bailiffs, coroners and portsmen was taken by those present. The people then swore to uphold the honour, liberties and free customs of the town while stretching their right hands out towards a Bible that was held aloft.

Ipswich is very uncommon in having a preserved account of what happened when its people received their charter and of how the local people met and decided the way their town should be governed from then on, which is incredibly useful to historians studying the period in detail today.

(Left): A seal created and used in Ipswich a few months after the granting of the town charter by King John.

So, there you have it. It’s not exactly the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation, but I like to think it’s one more small piece of the democratic jigsaw, and even if you disagree we’ve still learnt something new, and that’s the main thing.

BIG TROUBLE ON LITTLE CHINESE RAILROAD

Patriotic Education was introduced in China in 1989 in the wake of the Democracy Movement that met its end in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then, children all over China have grown up with the concept of guochi (‘National Humiliation’) drilled into them in the history classroom. The narrative the Chinese government wish to install in this way is that China was humbled by foreign powers during most of the 19th century because it was weak, now the Communist Party has taken over, made the country strong, and put a stop to this, and rightfully deserves the peoples’ support.

The list of foreign interference in the form of unfair treaties, military confrontations and ruined historic buildings e.g. the destruction of the Summer Palace in China during this time of imperial encroachment is almost limitless. Unfortunately, Europe, and particularly Britain, took a leading role in the exploitation of China’s trade possibilities. The Ching dynasty and those in charge all over China were fairly hostile to the new technologies that westerners offered, all too eagerly, to bring over with them. Many Europeans, however, saw the huge untapped opportunities in the country for rail transport. The only obstacle was overcoming the natural Chinese opposition to what they considered ‘flame breathing machines’ and the laying of railroads, which according to most Chinese villagers would disturb the feng shui of the areas it ran through.

Understandably, at the time as well as now, there was and is resentment from many Chinese people for the way the imperial powers subjugated their people and treated their land. This was the environment in which six men from Ipswich set out to attempt the unlikely and unwanted task of building the first railroad in China. On top of all the other hardships they would have to face in the process, it’s worth remembering that they probably weren’t too welcome there either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Above) The ruins of the Summer Palace destroyed in the Arrow War – one of many important sites that the Chinese government point towards to support the concept of guochi.

Richard Rapier, of the company Ransomes and Rapier based in Ipswich, was a man with a plan; he wanted to be the person responsible for the first railroad in China. He understood the very real gains on offer if China was truly opened up to Western travel and commerce through the development of a Chinese rail network.

Rapier took his first real shot at the project in 1872, by arguing that a miniature railway could be sent as a gift from the British to the emperor, seventeen year old Tung Chih. Rapier’s idea was to sweeten the new emperor up with his very own ‘toy’ train, so as to inspire the Chinese Imperial Court to permit or even encourage the development of full sized railways in the face of the opposition being experienced. Unfortunately for Rapier’s proposal, the Chinese were seen to have something of a superiority complex at the time and it was feared that any gift of such a size would be seen as a form of tribute, which could undo much of the work done by the British to counter the Chinese perception of superiority. This spelled the temporary end to Rapiers ambition. It was also unfortunate for Tung Chih, who, without the distraction of a toy railway, turned to the next best form of entertainment – Peking’s brothels – resulting in his death just two years later, at the age of nineteen, from a combination of syphilis and smallpox.

Despite this set back, Rapier continued to work on the development of a lightweight locomotive and railway that could be shipped to China, and in 1875 a real chance finally came for him to realise his dream.

The Woosung Road Company requested a meeting with Rapier to discuss supplying a small railway for Shanghai. Upon the companies visit to Rapier in Ipswich, he so impressed them with his little engine ‘pioneer’ they decided they had found the right man and at once engaged him to provide the entire railway system they had in mind.

Pioneer – China’s first railway engine.

With a deal agreed, Rapier set about manufacturing and assembling China’s first railway in his Waterside Works in Ipswich. All this took place without the permission or slightest knowledge of the Chinese government.

On the 1st October 1876 the engine, railway and six Englishmen left England for shanghai via America in the SS Glenroy. The six men from Ipswich were: Gabriel James Morrison M.Inst. C.E and his assistants John Sadler as chief foreman, William George Jackson and David Edward Banks as engine drivers, John Sadler Jnr. as second foreman and George Sadler as general assistant.

Upon their arrival in China these men, with the help of Chinese labourers, worked to lay the first railroad in China’s history along with bridges, turntables and stations from Shanhai to Woosung. This was no easy task as they had to deal with an extreme climate and long hours of arduous work, which caused them severe health problems. By September 1876 the project had cost the senior John Sadler his life with only half the line being laid. Then George Sadler became ill and had to be sent home under the care of his brother John. This left the project very short staffed, but even faced with these difficulties the team still managed to get the line open and running a passenger service by 1877.

China’s first railway ran from Shanghai to Woosung (now part of an enlarged Shanghai)

Pioneer, the first train to be used on Chinese tracks, was set on a 30” gauge to fit the new line being built, it was capable of running up to 20mph and was able to haul up to 20 tons. Two further Ipswich built engines were transferred to Shanghai to be used for the new passenger service named Celestial Empire and Flowery Land, these were improvements on the Pioneer design and were able to haul more weight and travel at faster speeds.

Celestial Empire pulling the Shanghai to Woosung passenger service

Things didn’t get any easier for the men from Ipswich after the railroad was completed. Not long after the line was put into service a depressed Chinese man laid down on the tracks and was decapitated by a train leading to a diplomatic incident.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that the Woosung Road Company, who had initially made a deal with the Chinese authorities for the project, and who had engaged Rapier to carry it out, had bent the truth (to put it mildly), when making the deal. It was no coincidence they had left the word ‘rail’ out of their company name. The authorities were outraged to discover that a railroad was being constructed by Englishmen from Shanghai to Woosung rather than the road they had agreed to.

The original agreement had made provision for the Chinese to buy back the road if they wished; in October 1877 enough cash was raised and the authorities acquired the line. It was thought that with the considerable popularity the line had found with Chinese passengers the service might continue, but this was not to be. On the day the Chinese bought back the line they announced its immediate closure as of 7pm.

The line was torn up and thrown into the river along with the rolling stock and equipment. Less than two years after work commenced on the line it was made to look as if it had never existed. The remaining English workmen, Banks and Jackson, returned to England.

Neither man decided to return to the Ipswich Waterside Works, probably for fear of being sent back to China or somewhere even more remote. Banks went to the Marine Workshop at Parkeston Quay and Jackson became locomotive superintendent on Southwold Railway.

Today this Ipswich venture is close to being forgotten. In China it is often thought that the Kaiping Tramway, built in 1879, was the first Chinese railway and for many British people this is just another example of imperial unwanted interference around the globe that most people would prefer to forget. Good or bad this is still part of our history and quite an expectional part at that. At the very least, these men from Ipswich deserve our respect for their efforts in the face of such trouble.

POSTSCRIPT ON ST MICHAEL’S

On the 7th March 2011 the Church of St Michael’s caught fire, the roof promptly collapsed in on itself and the interior was left to smoulder for some time as the building was declared structurally unsafe to enter. All this took place just eleven days after a young, rather good-looking, amateur historian made a new post on his blog about the Victorian New Art of Photography, which included a then-and-now shot of Upper Orwell Street including St Michael’s – as far as I know the last ever picture taken of the church with its roof in one piece.

The fire at the church has caused some controversy, as the building that had been empty since 1997, had recently been acquired by a group seeking to turn it into a Muslim-run community centre, which had unfortunately not insured the building. As the police opinion is that the fire was a deliberate act of arson, accusations have naturally already flared up.

That’s not what this post is about however; Ipswichhistory is more bothered about the loss of an historic grade two listed building in the town, than the politics behind it. So here is a swan song for the church – its very own concise history.

The last ever photo (as far as I can tell) of an intact St Michael’s. Now I just wish I had stood a bit closer.

St Michael’s was built during the early 1880s, the foundation stone being laid on 28th May 1880. It was designed by the Ipswich architect E F Bishopp. If we’re honest, it had never been one of the most attractive churches in the town, but it remains a solid representation of the times that made it; in a Victorian town with prospects to grow in population, both overall and in terms of the size of its Church of England congregation.

Large areas of slum housing existed around the church when it was first opened and it was built with an aim to serve the people who lived there. Upon opening in 1881 the church had space to seat 360 people. By the 1930s it had grown its capacity to 750, which gives some idea of how important a centre of community it had become. Groups run inside the church included: Girl guides, Brownies, Bible study groups, the 25th Ipswich Scouts and Cubs, and a Mothers Union, among others.

Towards the end of the 20th century the size of its congregation began to dwindle, thanks to ever depleting church attendance. This was also not helped by the fact it was very close to three other Church of England congregations at St Helens, and the parish churches of Holy Trinity and St Pancras.

St Michael’s struggled on into the 1990s, partly because of its unusually Low Church character; at its end, it could claim to be the only church in Suffolk that had never used anything other than the Book of Common Prayer. It finally closed its doors for good in 1997.

The church was already a sorry sight before the fire after being left vacant for so many years; the windows were boarded up and the roof was beginning to come away.

The remains of Blackfriars (left).

One afternoon, while I was cycling home, I stopped at St Michael’s to take photos of the burnt-out building. Just before I reached the church I passed through Black Friars Court – a space between some ugly housing where some of the remains of the 13th century Black Friars church and friary buildings are situated. As I stood in front of St Michaels snapping away, it struck me that this building was facing the same fate as Blackfriars; vandals had brought down both, although in St Michael’s case not under instructions from Henry VIII. The Church of St Michael was surely not to be fixed up and refurbished, at least not to what it used to resemble. Its more likely destiny now is to be flattened to make space for new buildings. Goodness knows this area of the town could do with some development, but it’s also sad to see the former hub of a community, where so much was celebrated and cherished for so many years, demolished. It’s even a little sadder than watching it slowly crumble as an empty building.

So, goodbye St Michael’s and good luck.

Burnt-out St Michael’s – a sorry state.

THE MISSING CASTLE

In the twelfth century Ipswich had a motte-and-bailey and sometime after its capture, in 1153 by King Stephen, it was demolished. These two statements are essentially the only things we know for sure about the town’s missing castle.

In my experience, today, people are usually surprised to learn that Ipswich ever had a castle – as was I. So it seems they would have been in 1735, when the prominent cartographer John Kirby said of the missing castle, it was ‘so entirely demolished that not the least rubbish of it is to be found’.

Facts from the past can be very hard things to hang on to. This was especially the case before the advent of (relatively speaking), new technologies like radio and television, which usefully preserve information from the important to the trivial, from a global to local level. When you also minus the printing press from the equation, or even parish records (which did not become widespread in Europe until the 1500s), even facts like the vague whereabouts of one of the largest manmade structures in a medieval town become fairly transient.

When the Normans invaded England and gained power in 1066 they brought with them the motte-and-bailey castle. The phrase itself came over with them – motte meaning ‘mound’ and bailey meaning ‘enclosure’. The motte was a steep hill with a keep at the top and often a ditch dug out at the bottom. The bailey was an extra layer of defence at the bottom of the motte, which also served as a place to house the followers of the lord who ran the castle. This usually included stables, storehouses, bakeries and houses. Over the next century or so the Normans proceeded to do their best to fill the country with these fortifications; an estimated 1000 were built in England. Historians, such as Robert Malster, are fairly certain that it was this kind of fortification that was built in early 12th century Ipswich.

Artist’s impression of a Suffolk motte-and-bailey castle.

Of course, when you begin to think about it, place names in Ipswich are littered with references to a now forgotten castle of some kind. We have a street, a primary school and an entire voting district (Castle Hill Ward) named after one, to begin with.

So what happened to this structure? Where was it? And are there any recognisable traces of it still surviving in the town today?

There are two theories as to what happened to the castle. John Kirby in The Suffolk Traveller states that the castle was torn down in 1176 on the orders of Henry II, but there is no evidence to support this and nothing to suggest how or why Kirby came to this conclusion. The more likely scenario is that it was destroyed soon after its capture by King Stephen in 1153, for tactical reasons in the war he was then fighting.

The location of the castle is something that has puzzled local historians for quite some time. A few places have been suggested over the years, (mostly outside the centre of the town), but none of them fulfilled the main requirements of a Norman fortification, as Malster puts it: ‘to control the river crossing and the main entrance to the town, and to establish the owner’s authority over the townsfolk’. This was until Keith Wade, a County Archaeologist, stepped up to the plate and suggested a site that does satisfy these criteria.

Wade’s clever idea was to look back at the Saxon lay out of the town’s streets, which it turned out were set on a grid pattern, with the roads aligned roughly North-South and East-West. However, Elm Street did not fit into this pattern, it is diverted south to then curve round past St Mary Elms Church. Wade believes that it once ran directly West to link up with Handford road and that the only suitable explanation for this diversion was the earthworks of a motte-and-bailey castle. Another piece of evidence in support of this site is a name, The Mount, used up until the middle of the 20th century for this area, where the Police Station in modern-day Ipswich now stands.

The red line shows where Keith Wade suggests Elm Street use to run before being re-routed by the castle in the 12th century. The green polygon is a suggested site for the, now missing, castle.

As for there being any remaining traces of the castle today – well, no there isn’t, not exactly. If the site explained here was indeed where the castle stood, then we could at least say that the area has been artificially raised and is left over from the earthworks of the castle, but until further evidence comes along to support that, it’s far from being proved.

The most interesting point to be brought out of all this is just how much and how quickly the landscape in England has changed over the past 1000 years. In fact, Ipswich shouldn’t be too put out about misplacing its castle. Of all the castles built by the Normans in the 12th century to defend the new land they had conquered (roughly 1000), only two still survive in any kind of recognisable form today – one in Lewes and one in Lincoln.

THE NEW ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY (PART TWO)

While I was halfway through writing my last post I realised that what was called for in this situation was a bit of historical detective work. What if I went and got those Victorian photo-books, then found the places where the original photographs were taken and took a comparative modern-day photo? To cut a long story short, that’s what I did.

Because photography was still in its infancy in the second half of the 19th century, and it was still the preserve of the rich gentleman who fancied himself something of an artist, it is down only to a few men that any photographs of Ipswich of the period survive at all. So we should take a moment to thank in particular William Vick (1833-1911), Robert Burrows (1810-1883) and Richard Dykes Alexander (1788-1865), who together seem to have taken the majority of the surviving Victorian Photographs of the town. The remaining early photos examined here were taken in the first decade of the 20th century by someone commissioned to produce a series of views for publication in the increasingly popular form of picture post-cards. Unfortunately their name has not survived on record, but it is almost entirely thanks to their efforts that well shot Edwardian pictures of the town exist.

What follows is the result of my afternoon of looking silly, taking photos of ordinary streets and shops in the town centre.


Ancient House – The original photograph was taken in 1858. Ancient House itself was built during the 16th century.

The Buttermarket, further down the road from Ancient House. The exact date of the original photograph is not known, however it is likely to be around the turn of the century due to the lack of tram lines, which were introduced after 1900.

This photo was taken standing on Carr Street looking over to Tavern Street. The original was taken in the early 1900s. The Great White Horse, which featured in Charles Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers, stands to the right of the picture.

A little further back from the previous photo, still in Carr Street, taken in 1906. New shops replace the old timber-framed ones.

A well known shop-front in Victorian Ipswich – Arthur Cross the draper selling all the latest fashionable gear, next to The Great White Horse in Tavern Street. Today the building houses both a T Mobile and 3 store.

Majors Corner in 1908. The street has taken a slightly different form now but you can still see the Co-operative building in the background, which was built in 1884.

Martin and Newby, Established in 1873. It used to be one of the main hardware stores in Ipswich. Now some of the shop-front survives, but the store itself closed down in June 2004.

Looking down Tacket Street, taken from Upper Orwell Street in 1906. The Unicorn is still there in the background.

St Helen’s Street in 1907. Note the tram-lines that ran throughout the town. The numer 23 tram here, which went to Lattice Barn or Derby Road – coincidently my bus route home from town now.

St Nicholas Street 1885. If you look carefully you can see the top of the Town Hall in the background of both photos.

St Peters Street in 1906. Little has changed aside from the addition of some new shops and the removal of the tram-lines.

Stoke Bridge – original taken in the 1880s. An iron bridge replaces the old one and thanks to the renewed regeneration of the docks the scene has changed significantly. In the background of the modern-day photograph you can see the new university building and new apartments including The Mill development.

Upper Orwell Street around 1904. Largely unchanged, the houses and church on the right hand side of the picture remain largely the same today.

Here, I have included a map showing where in the town centre each of these photos were taken.

Anyway, I hope you found that at least vaguely interesting – I did.

THE NEW ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY (PART ONE)

A couple of years ago I spent my university summer holidays decorating my grandma’s house after my grandpa died. I had to spend a lot of time clearing rooms of furniture that had accumulated fifty years or so of peaceful marital debris, before I could begin painting and re-carpeting. Often, while I was moving cupboards and bookcases from room to room, I would find interesting forgotten items – National Geographic magazines from the mid-1950s, toys from my childhood and German silver tankards from the second half of the 19th century among other things. One bookcase I moved out of my Grandpa’s room was a particular gold-mine for this sort of thing and was full of interesting books and pamphlets. Because I’m such a weed I needed to take the books from the bookcase and move them a bundle at a time into another room before I could carry the bookcase itself. Mid-way through this process I came across two thin books that grabbed my attention – being as I am a remarkably dull person – called Ipswich Remembered in Victorian and Edwardian photographs and Ipswich Remembered 2 in a second series of early photographs. As I often did when I made these kinds of discoveries, I decided that what I deserved right about now was a break and a cup of tea, and I spent the next half an hour sat on a large bucket of emulsion interestedly flicking through the pages of these photo-books, only to discover on standing up that my shorts were dripping paint onto the floor.

All this is a long, roundabout way of saying it’s really quite odd to look at pictures of your hometown taken only a century or so ago. First you see images that look completely alien, then you slowly recognise the curves of streets and pick out church spires and shop fronts that look vaguely familiar, until you realise that this is the street that you bought a pair of trainers on not more than five days ago.

So much has changed – often for the worse. But the really sad thing is that when we look back at photos like these we think that we’re viewing a by-gone era of solid Victorian trustworthiness and a time before the desecration of towns by newer, uglier buildings that often result in an unattractive mix of architectural styles. In fact, a lot of damage had already been done to the historically attractive and interesting parts of Ipswich Town Centre by then; this was actually its heyday. The Victorians and Edwardians (at least in Ipswich), it turns out, were just as bad as us in modern Britain in this respect.

One of the major casualties of Victorian age Ipswich was the Georgian Rotunda first opened in 1794, a domed circular building that was situated on Cornhill. This was Ipswich’s first ‘supermarket’ and housed all manner of shops and stalls. This was pulled down in 1812 – to be fair to the developers the Historian Robert Malster writes that reports survive that tell of the poor ventilation within the Rotunda, but if only photographs had existed then what an interesting thing it would be to see now.

(An artist’s sketch of the Georgian Rotunda)

The Tudor Market Cross, which had been the centre of town life since 1510 when it was given to the town by a well-to-do merchant called Edmund Daundy, and had been ‘beautified’ at the restoration of Charles II, was also replaced with today’s Town Hall. In 1812 town planners made the decision to demolish the Cross ‘in furtherance of the improvements that were then taking place’. But there remains plenty of evidence that this was not done without much regret from local people. According to G.R. Clarke the cross was in ‘excellent preservation’ and was actually very difficult to pull down.

(The Tudor Market Cross before it was torn down)

Perhaps most ruthless was the tearing down of the ancient Chapel of St Mildred in the name of modernisation, which had been built by the Wuffinga kings in around 700. St Mildred’s had stood for well over a thousand years and is sometimes referred to in literature of preceding centuries as ‘one of the most beautiful buildings in Ipswich’.

This is not to say that the Victorians didn’t bring their share of improvements to the town. The old Post Office and Town Hall date back that far, even if they did replace some pre-existing places of interest, and the Victorian regeneration of the Wet Dock helped serve to save the town from almost complete financial decline and obscurity. In many respects Victorian town planners actually did a good job of developing the town, it’s just a shame that in the process they also destroyed large chunks of its character.

(Victorian Ipswich still didn’t look too shabby)

History repeats itself constantly in this regard; just like the Victorians were keen to pull down much of what made the Ipswich of the past what it was – such as its central meeting place – and replace it with something more modern, but almost definitely less special, we are willing to do the same now. Towns and cities have to change over time in order to stay relevant to the people who live in them, it’s natural and necessary. What we should learn from the past however is the price that is often paid in the name of modernisation. Sometimes the things that make a place special aren’t the most practical to maintain and it’s easier to tarmac over them and build a new supermarket, but we have an obligation to ourselves and future generations to weigh that up against what we can lose in the process.

AGE AND NAME

It would be nice to start at the beginning. That’s usually a good place to start, but, predictably enough, it’s not that simple. Historians, if they’re honest with themselves, can do little more than venture educated guesses as to when the site that has now come to be known as Ipswich first came to be permanently settled. Peter Bishop in The History of Ipswich – 1500 years of triumph and disaster suggests that it was sometime around 550AD after Wuffa and his fellow marauding Swedes landed on the Saxon shore, whereas Carol Twinch in her equally originally named The History of Ipswich thinks it likely that Ipswich has maintained constant habitation from at least 450AD.

What is certain is that it was a long time ago. We can at the least say that the Ipswich area has been constantly populated with various peoples for at least around 1500 years and by more than 50 generations. 50 generations might not sound like a lot when casually inserted into a text like this, so let us just put that into a more meaningful context. A useful tool for this is the genealogies of the Old Testament. If you take a generation to mean around 30 or 40 years then since the time of Adam and Eve and their largely denounced fruit of knowledge nibbling (which was obviously a very long time ago), we’ve moved on to the tune of around 150-200 generations – I don’t know about you but I was expecting that figure to be higher. Anyway, of that amount 50 is evidently a sizeably proportion and it might get you scratching your beards to consider the fact that Ipswich (or Gipeswic as it was then known), had been well established for well over a thousand years before even the first glimpse of the continent which was to become known as America was reported back to the western world.

Where the name Gipeswic came from is yet another matter for conjecture. Depending on which local historians you care to listen to you will hear that the name certainly came from the town’s eponymous founder Gippa, or that he did not exist at all, and that in fact the town was named for the shape of the river Gipping. The argument for this is that the old English word ‘gipa’, meaning an opening or corner, fits the description of the river as it flows through the area where archaeologists believe the town was initially founded. The other story, as mentioned, is that our old friend Gippa turned up at the river fresh from his travels and decided this looked like a good place to set up a market sometime around 550AD. In Gippa’s time it was common for people to be named for a prominent characteristic they possessed, and as ‘Gipian’ is the old English verb to yawn, some people have made the leap to suggest that Gippa was excessively prone to yawning and that therefore a rough translation of Gipeswic into modern English is ‘Yawnsville’ – this alone gets this explanation my backing, but in fairness it is important to point out that there isn’t really any evidence or reason to trust this suggestion other than its romance.

How Gipeswic or Gippeswyk (again depending on your historian of choice), became Ipswich is much easier to explain convincingly. The ‘G’ before ‘i’ in ‘Gipe’ is silent, making the ‘i’ short, so this would have meant that gippa would have been likely to have been pronounced as Yippa. Over the next thousand years or so spelling eventually followed speech and with the occasional excursion into variants in between, such as ‘Gypewic’ and ‘Ipswiche’ (in medieval times the rule seems to have been: if you’re not sure just stick on an ‘e’ for good measure), we have eventually landed on Ipswich, which now, thanks to the widespread use of the written word should mean we won’t have to update our address books again anytime soon.

Well there you have it, there’s a taste of the history of this little, forgotten town in the heart of the 8th largest county in England. Now we know roughly how old it is and possibly where its name originated from. I hope you’ve found this first blog post as informative and interesting to read as I have found it to write.

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