Town Hall history

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Researched by Mike Ferrell with the support of Bill Leggate and Phil Hatfield, the information herein has for the most part been extracted from the book written by R L Cross entitled "The Living Past - A Victorian Heritage" published in 1975, with additional information gathered from Wikipedia.

A new beginning

In October 1865 the building contract was sealed and the demolition of the old Town Hall building was started. The old Council Chambers was not destroyed until after the Annual Meeting which was held on the 9th of November and the Magistrates Courts were temporarily moved to the County Hall.

On the 18th April 1866 a large celebration was held to lay the foundation stone.

The decoration on the front of the Town Hall

On the front of the Town Hall there are three heads representing King Richard I, Cardinal Wolsey and King John. These characters were incorporated into the decoration on our Town Hall because it was King Richard who first promised the town its first charter but died before it could be granted, and it was King John who finally granted it to the town. And Cardinal Wolsey was one of the most famous people to have been born in Ipswich.

Above these heads are four statues in stone representing Commerce, Agriculture, Law and Order and Justice.

On the top of the building is an open stonework lantern which sits on a small tower which originally had an illuminated four-dial turret striking clock underneath it, which was made by Dent, 61 Strand, London, the same makers of Big Ben. Also housed in this tower is the bell which was cast in 1867 by John Warner & Sons of the Crescent Foundry, London.

It is interesting to note that Nikolaus Pevsner the great writer on British Architecture lists the Town Hall "quite undistinguished" and the Corn Exchange "also undistinguished" in the first edition (1960 of the Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England). Since then The Victorian Society have given both the Town Hall and Corn Exchange high praise and have listed them Grade 2.

The Interior

The building was designed to cater for a number of functions and in order to accommodate these the build was set out with the following rooms:

  • Council Chamber;
  • Quarter Sessions Court;
  • Library;
  • Committee and retiring rooms;
  • Grand and Petty Juries Rooms;
  • A room for the Magistrates' business.

The basement included:

  • Police Station with seven cells and a parade area;
  • Kitchen to service the function rooms above (via the use of a dumb waiter);
  • Offices for Council servants;
  • Space for the Corporation fire engine and hose to be kept.

The total cost of the building was about £16,000.

The opening of the new building

The building was opened in January 1868 by the then Mayor, Mr John Patterson Cobbold. The opening took place over three days with much aplomb and included a ball attended by around 400 ticket holders.

Fatal Accident

The Ipswich Journal of February 4th, 1879 carried the headline 'Shocking Fatal Accident at Ipswich'. The article described how a piece of masonry had fallen from the Town Hall onto the head of an 18 year old man named Robert Davey who had been walking past on his way to work, killing him instantaneously.

Changes to the Town Hall role

Up until the early 1960s local authority departments were spread all over the town. In 1964 work began on a new Civic Centre that would bring all these various bodies together in one building. It was decided to continue to use the Town Hall for Council meetings and for the accommodation of the Mayor.

In 1969 the Council decided to transfer the Quarter Sessions and Magistrates Courts and the Police Station to a new building on the Civic Centre site. Work on the Town Hall could now go ahead to turn the building into use of the community for meetings, entertainment, dining and exhibitions.

In November 1970 a series of events were staged to show off the new look building and to promote its ability to be used for a wide variety of events. The Town Hall was soon booked out to societies and organisations for their meetings, luncheons, dinners, dances, concerts, exhibitions and coffee mornings.

Because the Town Hall was so successful in its new role the Council decided in 1972 to convert the Corn Exchange to the same functionality thereby increasing the complex's flexibility.