One of the great things about being in London is how easily you can visit other parts of the country for the day. The train for Ipswich leaves from Liverpool Street station and the journey time is around an hour and a half.
It’s one of those places I have driven through but never stopped at. Famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Wolsey,the butcher’s son who rose to be one of the richest most powerful men in the land before he fell from grace when he could not procure a divorce for Henry VIII from his wife Catherine of Aragon.
The city is full of references to him, cardinal this and that, Wolsey this and that. A fine statue near the site of the house where he was born.
You walk down the hill from the station to cross the Orwell. Hill is an unusual word in Suffolk which is famous for being flat, but there several opportunities to work your leg muscles in Ipswich if you feel like it. The centre of the town is ringed by an unsympathetic road and undistinguished modern buildings. But never fear, the centre is delightful and perfect for roaming. The tourist office is housed in a disused church (I came across another ex-church being used as a tearoom) and the staff are both knowledgeable and welcoming.
It’s close by the Ancient House, now home to Lakeland so naturally I left with a couple of household. items.
Ipswich is the only town I have ever visited where the shop staff see telling you the history of the building where they work as part of the job. The same thing happened in Cotswold Outdoor, once The White Horse Hotel. A blue plaque on the outside gives the Charles Dickens connection, and the info from the tourist office said George II, Nelson, and Louis XVIII of France had all been guests, but the assistant told me it is where Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson stayed while waiting for her divorce to come through. When I had a quick look online I read they stayed in Felixstowe, but the story is too good not to share and it might even be true. The courtyard is now glazed over, but you can see the snug where travellers could have enjoyed a drink.
My old Rough Guide to Britain has barely a page on Ipswich which seems more than rough to me. There’s pargeting galore, more half-timbered houses that one has a right to expect, gorgeous carvings, modern sculptures and a good vegetarian restaurant. Although Ipswich’s wealth and importance as a wool town has been in decline for a long time, it still has a sense of itself, unlike some towns whose glory days are behind them. There are independent shops as well as the chain stores, a tea shop housed in an art deco building which was an optician’s, one of the grandest (ex) post office buildings I have ever seen, and older British visitors will recognise Grandma, the most famous of cartoonist Carl Giles creations. She glares up at the window of his old office.
One fact I gleaned from the exhibition at the Christchurch Mansion that amused me was that a law was introduced in the 1570 that all boys and men should wear a woollen cap of English wool and English make on Sundays. The aim was to protect domestic production as the caps were becoming less fashionable and cappers were losing trade to new styles of headgear that were imported. The law was repealed in 1597 as unworkable.