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 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.
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.
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.