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Newsletter, January 2009 (Issue 174)

The Old Museum Rescued


In the October Newsletter we referred to the rescue of what is probably Ipswich's first purpose-built museum. But it is worth drawing attention to it again for a number of reasons, most obviously because it is now in use (from mid-November as Arlingtons Brasserie).

Built in 1847, it is historically one of the most interesting buildings in Ipswich. The architect was Christopher Fleury who was also responsible for Ipswich School and who gave the museum a grand neo-classical frontage to convey the importance of what was housed within. That importance is quite clear from the distinguished people who promoted the museum - Professor J S Henslow (Darwin's inspiring tutor at Cambridge), the Rev William Kirby the entomologist, George Ransome the ironfounder and most famously Prince Albert whose visit in 1851 led to his speaking "of little else but Ipswich Museum for several days afterwards". Tom Plunkett's article in our Society's book Ipswich from the First to the Third Millennium is very interesting on these matters (pp 49-53). He reproduces William Vick's photograph of the main floor taken in 1876, where you can see that it was a smaller version of the present museum built soon after in High Street and opened in 1881. Perhaps one reason for wanting bigger premises was the average attendance of 400 people at lectures in the 1870s!

The Society is also delighted to see the building re-used because it is a big problem that important old buildings, which many people rightly say give a town character and should not be pulled down, are often very difficult to use for modern purposes. (In fact, I never thought I'd live to see this building brought back into use.) So the efforts of Ken and Liz Ambler, whose initiative and imagination have rescued the museum, are greatly to be commended. Although restauranteurs, they are also 'building preservers' - rather than 'developers', a term which can cover a multitude of sins! Their first 'preserving' job in Ipswich was Mortimers on Wherry Quay (now the Bistro on the Quay) which involved a substantial new build between existing old buildings. Then they converted the electricity sub-station in Duke Street (now Loch Fyne) which won our Society's High Commendation in 2002.

Furthermore, Arlingtons not only re-uses the museum but incorporates what Dr Blatchly tells us is a staircase saved by Fleury from Thomas Seckford's Great Place, built nearby in the early 1560s. You can now ascend an Elizabethan staircase, sit in a room frequented by eminent Victorians, recall people learning to dance here when it was a ballroom - and eat a good meal!

Neil Salmon

    Front cover of issue 174 Cover, issue 174

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