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Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Ancient House (Grade I)

Newsletter, July 2009 (Issue 176)

The Public Warehouse

During the presentation last March on 'Aspects of Maritime Ipswich' by Stuart Grimwade and Des Pawson, reviewed elsewhere in this Newsletter, brief mention was made of the above named building, situated on the Island site, adjacent to what we now refer to as the old lock entrance in the New Cut. As some members may not have known about this building, now almost 180 years old and quite distinctive with its barrel shaped roof, I thought a few notes on its history may be of interest.

The opening of the Wet Dock in the 1840s brought increasing trade and shipping to Ipswich. Many businesses involved in the import and export trade built their own warehouses around the dock area, and while the Common Quay provided landing facilities for public use, there was little warehousing facility for the same public use - temporary storage for smaller amounts of goods in transit. This lack, and the ever-growing need to re-position the lock entrance to accommodate the larger ships that found difficulty in manoeuvring into the New Cut lock entrance, was finally recognised by the passing in 1877 of the Ipswich Dock Act. This gave the Ipswich Dock Commission the power to undertake these two improvements to the port as well as other associated works. In 1878 Thomas Miller, engineer to the Commission, presented' A Plan of Ipswich Dock and Port, showing proposed new work'.

Included in this plan is the site of a proposed wharf and warehouse where the Public Warehouse stands today.

A report to the General Committee of Management of the Commission was presented in November 1879 by the Warehouse Committee. This stated that though a temporary wooden shed had been originally proposed as a way of measuring the use of a warehouse, "it would now be highly desirable if a permanent iron building could be erected." This suggestion was accepted by the Commissioners and by March 1880 plans had been prepared by Thomas Miller for a substantial corrugated iron shed 120 x 60 ft with necessary provision to receive a second floor. Early in April 1880 the General Management Committee minuted that William Whitford & Co, Royal Ironworks, Commercial Road, London "had entered into contract ... at the cost of £1106". The contract was sealed by the Commission on 9 April 1880.

On the grand opening of the new lock on 27 July 1881 - the day that the new Post Office on Cornhill and the new Museum in High Street were also opened - the Ipswich Journal reported that "the Commissioners have erected a public wharf and warehouse for general trade, and approved plans for an extension ..... to be carried out as trade develops ... "

So began the working life of this new building. Some details of how it operated can be drawn from the Commissioners' minute books. In September 1881 an advertisement asked for tenders to be submitted for the three year tenancy, rental payable yearly. If the tenant in that period applied to increase the storage capacity by putting in the second floor with any consequent alteration to the ground floor and office accommodation, the Commissioners if agreeable would provide the capital outlay and charge the tenant 7 per cent upon the sum required, to be paid at the same time as the yearly rental. Three tenders were received - the highest one of £ 121 p.a. from Charles Henry Cowell, was accepted - it was stated that the other offers, both lower, had sought to effect changes in the conditions relating to interest to be paid on any capital outlay for extension works. The tenant, it must be assumed, would have responsibility to allocate storage space, charging users on the basis of a scale of rates laid down by the Commissioners. At the turn of the century we find that R W Paul Ltd were tenants. In 1900, as the only applicants to tender, they paid £175 p.a. rental, and in 1902, again as the only applicants, offered £125 which was agreed to.

There is no doubt that more could be found out about the use of the Public Warehouse from the sources I have looked at and perhaps from the recollections of any members who had any working association with it. I hope someone can add more to this short history.


  • Ipswich Dock Commission Records Ref EL1 Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich
  • Ipswich Dock Commission (IDC) Minute Book 1875-1893, EL1/1/3/6
  • IDC General Committee of Management Minute Book 1870-1881 EL1/1/4/5
  • IDC Warehouse Committee Papers 1878-1911 EL1/1/9/5/142-189
  • Plan of Ipswich Docks, Thomas Miller, 1878 EL1/7/5/7
  • Iron Warehouse Contract Drawings, Thomas Miller, 1880 EL1/7/6/7 Ipswich Journal 30 January 1881


    Front cover of issue 176 Cover, issue 176

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