...it's our town

Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Ancient House (Grade I)

Newsletter, October 2003 (Issue 153)

St George's Street, Ipswich

[Editor: Beryl Savidge, an Ipswich Society member for many years, has sent me an extensive account of what she knows about the St George's Street area. I have selected these passages which show her particular interest in the site of the new house, Cawthome, an award winner in the Society's 2002 awards. Miss Savidge explains at the beginning of her account that her great grandparents' small farm in Wiltshire had been commandeered in 1915 so that the Porton Down Gas Research Station could be created - later Porton Down Micro-Biological Research Station.]

I was born on 10 September 1920 in my parents' very large flat at 12a St Matthew's Street, which of course at that time was single carriageway. The Home & Colonial Stores was underneath our flat, and at No 10 there was a baby-clothes and knitting wool shop. I remember the Rainbow pub on the comer of St George's Street where some twenty years later the licensee was murdered in an affray one night.

Within days of my birth a Mrs Anna Stopher arrived to help my mother - she was to become our much loved Nanna and remained with our family for the next forty years and a firm family friend after that until her death at 88. Her husband was a three-colour printer (a highly skilled job in those days) with the Ipswich Printing Works until their disastrous fire in Princes Street in the early 1950s - or it may have been Haddock & Baines which caught fire but it gutted the Central Cinema also. Our Nanna and Bob Stopher lived at 55 St George's Street - these small terrace-type houses were considered a' cut above" the back-to-back houses in Little Queen Street, Bacon's Buildings and Salem Street and finally Dyke Street .......

Because of their association with Porton Gas Research Station, my parents were very interested in the small low building on the site of No 80, Cawthorne. I was always told that this, and an identical building approached through the brick railway arch off Wherstead Road, were built in 1916 as the two Gas Decontamination Units for Ipswich, which because of the ease with which German aircraft and airships could come up following the Orwell and let loose gas canisters, were positioned fairly close to the docks.

I remember this as a longish brick building with a central door and could see from High Street that the rear door was not opposite the front door - this was undoubtedly because of the early 1800s conduit carrying spring water across this site under St George's Street, down beside Civic Centre (where it caused two firms to go bankrupt when trying to construct the spiral car park there) and across to Alderman Cut and so into the River Gipping. A very elderly friend of mine told me that this is why this Gas Decontamination Unit was built on this empty site, and similarly the situation of the one in Wherstead Road which could be tapped into a stream coming down from higher ground at Belstead. It was the cutting through this D-shaped conduit which caused so many problems when dealing with the footings for Cawthome - filled up day by day and by next morning they were like cement-soup and had to be pumped out.

When Ipswich Civic College - now Suffolk College - decided to use this building for their Photographic Section, they put on an outside "skin" of breeze blocks, but they left the original low buttress-type wall intact. This remained until the building was demolished.

Yes, in the Second World War we were, each and every one of us, issued with a gas mask, but I can truly say I never heard of the slightest suggestion of any gas being used on civilians here in Ipswich or anywhere else in the UK.

BERYL SAVIDGE, 23 August 2003

Another new step in making the river an interesting feature of the town is the painting of a mural on a wall near Princes Street bridge and near The Navigator sculpture. The mural by Natalie Toplass depicts some of the industrial heritage of the river and the town. It has been funded by the Local Heritage Initiative via a grant to Ipswich Wildlife Group.
    Front cover of issue 153 Cover, issue 153

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