This revised sample chapter is from my new travel guidebook Daytrips From London, available now.
Step out of the train station at Ipswich and you might at first wonder what brought you here. Initial impressions, however, can be misleading as this ancient town does have plenty of character and a peculiar charm that slowly takes hold as you stroll its venerable streets. A visit to Ipswich will be appreciated by those who value living atmosphere above preserved quaintness.
Located ten miles inland at the navigable head of the Orwell estuary, Ipswich was first settled in prehistoric times. It became the important Anglo-Saxon port of Gipeswic as early as the 7th century. Trade expanded under Norman rule, and the town was granted a charter by King John in 1199. Ipswich flourished through the 16th century, when a decline set in that was not reversed until Victorian days. Since then, it has continued to grow as a prosperous seaport and regional center.
Trains operated by National Express East Anglia depart London's Liverpool Street Station frequently for the 70-minute ride to Ipswich, with returns until late evening. Service is greatly reduced on Sundays and holidays.
By Car, Ipswich is 74 miles northeast of London via the A12.
Ipswich should really be seen on a Saturday or weekday, when its streets are alive with activity. The Ipswich Museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The local Tourist Information Centre, T: (01473) 258-070, W: visit-ipswich.com, is in St. Stephen's Church on St. Stephen’s Lane, adjacent to the Buttermarket Shopping Centre. Ask them about short cruises on the River Orwell, operated from around Easter through September, the Ipswich Transport Museum, guided walking tours, and the open-top bus tour. Ipswich is in the county of Suffolk, and has a population of nearly 130,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Ipswich enjoys a number of colorful pubs, and some good restaurants as well. A few choices are:
The Galley (25 St. Nicholas St., a block east of the Unitarian Meeting House) Excellent International cuisine, including game, seafood and lobster. T: (01473) 281-131, W: galley.uk.com. X: Sun., Bank Holidays. £££
Dhaka (6 Orwell Pl., 3 blocks north of the Old Custom House) Noted for its fine Indian cuisine. T: (01473) 251-397, W: thedhaka.co.uk. ££
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leaving the train station (1), cross the River Orwell and follow Princes Street to Franciscan Way. Use the underground passage to cross this busy intersection, then turn right to the Willis Building of 1975, a highly successful curved curtain wall of tinted reflective glass that represents the best in modern British architecture. Adjacent to this, and in complete contrast but blending well with it, is the Unitarian Meeting House (2) of 1699, one of the earliest nonconformist chapels in England. If the door facing Friars Street is open, you might want to take a look at the lovely interior with its fine pulpit attributed to Grinling Gibbons, its box pews, and its 17th-century Dutch chandelier.
Follow the map to Westgate Street. A short side trip can be made up High Street to the Ipswich Museum (3), which features collections of local archaeology, geology, and natural history — all refreshingly displayed in a rather old-fashioned manner. Its noted Roman Villa Gallery of costumed figures in authentic Roman room settings is highly worthwhile. T: (01473) 213-761. Open Tues.-Sat., 10-5. Closed Good Friday, Dec. 24-26, Jan. 1. Free. Gift shop.
The pedestrians-only Westgate Street leads to Corn Hill (circa 1800 drawing, above) (4). Mostly Victorian in character, this large open square is dominated on the south by the imposing Town Hall of 1867, and by the ornate Post Office of 1880.
Stroll down Tavern Street and turn left on Tower Street. The civic church of St. Mary-le-Tower (5) has an unusually tall spire and some good carved woodwork inside. Continue on to St. Margaret's Church (6), a richly detailed 15th-century flint structure considered to be the finest church in town.
A path leads into one of the best public parks in England, and to what is undoubtedly the most notable attraction of Ipswich, *Christchurch Mansion (7). Begun in 1548, this elegant country house features many period rooms filled with antiques dating from Tudor to Victorian times, and with paintings by such local Suffolk artists as Gainsborough and Constable. Don't miss the interesting kitchen and laundry. T: (01473) 253-246. Open daily 10-5. Closed Jan. 1, Good Friday, and Dec. 24-26. Free.
The route now takes you down Soane, Northgate, and Upper Brook streets to another famous sight, the *Ancient House (photo, above) (8) on Butter Market. Also known as Sparrowe's House and just about as picturesque as a house can be, this magnificent example of a 16th-century timber-framed building is profusely decorated with extraordinary carvings in high relief.
Just around the corner is the new Arras Square, named after the city in northern France. The Tourist Information Centre (9) is located here in the medieval St. Stephen's Church, while around it stands the very modern Buttermarket Shopping Centre. Cross through this and follow the map towards the river, passing some beautiful old houses en route. The passageway between numbers 9 and 13 on St. Peter's Street is particularly interesting. Turn left on College Street and examine Wolsey's Gate (10), all that remains of a college begun in 1528 by Cardinal Wolsey, a local butcher's son who rose to the very top, only to fall again when Henry VIII tired of his manipulations.
Continue on to the Old Custom House (photo, above) (11) on the quay. Always a busy scene, the colorful waterfront is a fascinating place to explore before returning to the station. Short cruises on the River Orwell are available here.
The Ipswich Transport Museum (12), reached by local bus on route 2 (weekdays; Sundays use routes 74-79 to Felixstowe railway bridge); or by car to Felixstowe Road and Cobham Road, about two miles southeast of the Old Custom House, is housed in a former trolley depot. Its large collection includes old buses, trams, trucks, fire engines, bicycles, and a host of other vintage vehicles either manufactured or used in the Ipswich area. T: (01473) 715-666, W: ipswichtransportmuseum.co.uk. Open school holidays, Mon.-Fri. 1-4; and on Sundays and bank holidays from early April to the end of November, 11-4. Tea room. Gift shop. ££.
Copyright © 2009 by Earl Steinbicker