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Newsletter, July 2012 (Issue 188)

1930s Architecture in Ipswich


The wealth of historical buildings in Ipswich has been well recorded up to the start of the twentieth century but those dating from the inter-war years are often overlooked. The style of this period is often referred to as 'Art Deco', and is represented by clean cut buildings with straight lines and geometric shapes, often painted white. Many people will be aware of Broomhill Swimming Pool in Sherrington Road, which was built in 1938 and is a good example of Art Deco design, but there are many other fine examples in the town. Architecture and design were influenced by the change in building materials and technology and other things such as the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1928. All things Egyptian became fashionable and this is reflected in buildings by stepped parapets and sunray decoration; a reference to the Egyptian sun god, Ra.

Lloyds Avenue was cut through in 1929 to allow vehicular access from Tower Ramparts to Cornhill. Therefore, it could be said that the whole avenue is a monument to the architectural style of the 1930s. However, some of the buildings are more noteworthy than others. At first glance Lloyds Tavern looks unprepossessing but an upward glance reveals that it has quite a grand fa├žade with a multi -stepped parapet, which is reminiscent of a pyramid, sided by two flaming urns. Its strong geometric lines complement the rectangle windows and the intricate pattern carved into the stonework. The building was originally an ironmonger's shop run by Smyth Bros, and seems rather ornate for such a purpose, but perhaps it signifies the importance of ironmongers in the local community at that time. In common with many historic buildings in Ipswich it probably goes unnoticed by most of the people passing by because most ground level frontages tend to be plain plate glass.

Another significant building in Lloyds Avenue, both from a cultural point if view as well as design, is the former Odeon Cinema. The cinema was very popular entertainment in the inter-war years with their grand exteriors and luxurious interiors contrasting sharply with the living conditions of the majority of the patrons. It doesn't have a vertical element which was a feature of many of the Odeon cinemas, but it does have a curved end and a decorative facade and column insets of ceramic tiles, not unlike the decorative edging round the doorways and shop fronts of Commerce Chambers in High Street. Curves were often incorporated into the design of a building and reference the shape of the ocean-going liners which were in their heyday in the 1930s.

At the top of Lloyds Avenue is Electric House. When it was opened in 1933 by the Electricity Department of the County Borough of Ipswich it was a milestone in the history of the town and it was commemorated in a souvenir booklet. The building, which was of the latest design, signified the importance of the new medium of electricity as it contained a Demonstration Theatre as well as a showroom. Its past glory now seems forgotten and its future is somewhat uncertain but at the time it was a landmark building in the town and was fully illuminated at night. The beauty of the building is now masked by the trees at the front and it has become a favourite roosting place for the pigeons that infest Tower Ramparts bus station, but it is well worth a visit to the Suffolk Record Office to view the souvenir brochure (SRO 621.31/stack).

Linda Erith

    Front cover of issue 188 Cover, issue 188

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