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Ipswich Guide to Local Architecture

Your guide to some of Ipswich's finest architecture

As one of England’s oldest towns, Ipswich has a range of buildings from different historical periods all set in the town’s old medieval town layout. In the town centre early timber framed buildings are evident, as well as examples of architecture from the Tudor and Elizabethan eras. The town centre also includes examples of modern architecture. We have included a selection of most impressive buildings, historic and modern, that makes own town proud.

The Ancient House

the ancient house

Address: Butter Market, Ipswich, IP1 1BT

Description: The Ancient House is one of Ipswich’s most famous buildings. Built in 1567 this Grade I listed building was originally named the ‘Sparrows house’, after the Sparrowe family took ownership in the 1590s, and where it remained for almost 300 years. As staunch royalists, the Sparrowe family made a number of adaptations to the building, which included decorating the exterior walls with extravagant pargetting, with the Royal Arms of King Charles II set proudly in the centre. Four continents are positioned under each window, Europe, Africa, Americas and Asia. Australasia is missing as it was undiscovered at this time.

Additional Information: The Ancient House has transferred ownership during its lifetime. For a while it was a bookshop, whilst nowadays it is home to Lakeland, where some of the interior architecture has been preserved and can still be admired.



Address: 13 Museum Street, Ipswich, IP1 1HE

Description: Now a thriving popular restaurant, Arlingtons was once the building that housed the Museum for the town. It opened in 1847, with an aim to educate the working classes about natural history. In 1851 HRH Prince Albert became the official Patron of the museum. The museum transferred to its current location in 1881, but the current owners have preserved much of the history, which you can read more about on their website. Arlingtons is a stylish brasserie, tucked away in the impressive, Grade II listed, former Ipswich Museum building. French and British seasonal flavours, exquisite wines and convivial atmosphere. Perfect for morning coffee, lunch, dinner and cocktails.

Additional Information: Arlingtons is now a continental restaurant serving traditional French cuisine. It is also a lively café. Open every day – times vary, please check Arlingtons website for more information. Early evening closing on Sundays/Mondays.

Blue Plaque Tours

blur plaque tours

Address: See leaflets – locations across Ipswich

Description: The Ipswich Society has installed a number of blue plaques in the town which is their version of the English Heritage Blue Plaques seen elsewhere in Britain. Mainly across Ipswich town centre is where you will find a number of the Blue Plaques although there are now three which are slightly outside of the town centre. Installed by the Ipswich Society they are a tribute to some of the most distinguished people who were born in Ipswich or subsequently lived here. Download the leaflet and follow a trail around Ipswich to discover some of the Ipswich’s fascinating history, the people and the houses they lived in.

Additional Information: Some famous people who are included in the Blue Plaques include Nathaniel Bacon, Thomas Gainsborough, and Thomas Wolsey.

Christchurch Mansion

christchurch park

Address: Christchurch Park, Soane Street, Ipswich, IP4 2BE

Description: Christchurch Mansion is a beautiful example of a Mansion from the Tudor era. It is widely considered to be one of the jewels in the crown of Ipswich’s history. With over 500 years of history there is much to see and explore at the wonderful mansion. There are helpful fact sheets placed in each room and there are always a number of helpful and informative staff on hand to help fill in the gaps. When you’ve completed your visit, take time out for refreshments in the Mansion Café, and don’t forget to make time for a stroll around the stunning Christchurch Park which is home to many events throughout the year.

Additional Information: It is free to enter Christchurch Mansion. At certain times during the year additional events are planned, including activities for children. Opening times vary across the year, so please check the website before planning your visit.

Fore Street Baths

fore street baths

Address: Fore Street, Ipswich, IP4 1JZ

Description: The Baths are described today as ‘an elegant, traditional Victorian style swimming pool’. It was given a stone fascia and an entrance with nautical-style porthole windows looking out into Fore Street. The small traditional baths were built in 1894, erected in a part of town with many small houses at the time, most of which did not have a bathroom and the facility provided not only swimming, but also hot baths for the public. It is still in use today by the public by schools and for classes, the building retains many of its Victorian features. Even if you are not wanting to take a dip in the water we definitely recommend a visit to admire the architecture of this fascinating building.

Additional Information: Did you know that Fore Street Baths is the second oldest operational swimming pool in England?

The Ipswich Martyrs

ipswich martyrs

Address: Christchurch Park, Soane Street, Ipswich, IP4 2BE

Description: This glorious memorial to the martyrs was built in Christchurch Park in 1903. Just a short distance from the Christchurch Mansion in Christchurch Park. The monument has a square, stone base that holds testament to the martyrs on the front, and lists their names on the other three sides. It was designed and created by the Art Memorial Company of West Norwood, and is 27 ft high and 10 ft 6 in square at the base. The base is made of Ketton stone, and the shaft made of polished red granite. This Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the Nine Ipswich Martyrs, who were Protestants who were burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary. Their crime was merely their religious beliefs.

Additional Information: The memorial was paid for by private donations, following a series of articles by Nina Frances Layard which appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times between 1898 & 1902, and which brought public attention to the executions.

Ipswich Museum

ipswich museum

Address: High Street, Ipswich, IP1 3QH

Description: The Queen Anne style of architecture of the Ipswich Museum building was designed by Horace Cheston. If you look up you will see a display of swags, dragons, floral and fossil mouldings, false pillars and framed sections. Inside the museum you can admire the natural history glass cabinets, original pieces that date back to Victorian and Edwardian times. You can explore Ipswich’s past with stories that will inspire and fascinate you. This interesting and unique museum gives you the opportunity to meet the famous woolly mammoth, the elegant towering giraffe and other wonderful curiosities from the natural world.

Additional Information: Entrance to the museum is free. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.

Ipswich Tourist Information Centre

tourist information centre

Address: St Stephens Church, St Stephens Lane, IP1 1DP

Description: Ipswich boasts 13 mediaeval churches within its boundaries, and St Stephen’s Church is the home to the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, following its conversion in the 1990s. Retaining its amazing stained glass windows and a number of other original features, you will certainly get more than you expect when you visit the church. When visiting Ipswich, be sure to make Ipswich Borough Council’s award winning Tourist Information Centre your first call, learn some of the history of the town and find a whole range of places to visit and things to do. Conveniently situated in the town centre, in the lovely medieval building of St Stephen’s Church, you can be sure of a warm welcome, helpful, professional advice and a full range of visitor services to make sure you have a great experience when visiting Ipswich.

Additional Information: The Tourist Information Centre is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm. As well as providing information on local events and places of interest, you can book yourself in for one of their themed guided tours. Learn about the waterfront, architecture, and other interesting facts about Ipswich.

Ipswich Town Hall

ipswich town hall

Address: The Cornhill, Ipswich, IP1 1DH

Description: Ipswich Town Hall was built in 1878 at a cost of £16,000 and opened by the mayor of Ipswich at the time, Mr John Patterson Cobbold. The Town Hall and the adjoining Corn Exchange were created in a typical, grand Victorian architecture style and this is retained to this day. The focal point of the town centre, this impressive building stands proud at the Cornhill and really is something to admire. Open to the public you can admire the architecture inside and out. The Town Hall houses two art galleries, and is home to the Suffolk Craft Society. Whether for a private function, corporate event, business meeting or networking over coffee and cake, the Town Hall and Corn Exchange can provide for all your needs in a historic setting.

Additional Information: The Town Hall, the Town Hall Café and the Suffolk Craft Society are open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Entrance is free.

Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House

ipswich unitarian meeting house

Address: Friars Street, Ipswich, IP1 1TD

Description: Believed to be the only remaining example of a purpose-built timber-framed Dissenting Meeting House of its time, the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House has maintained the original features since its opening in 1700. This Grade I listed building was originally built by English Presbyterians and moved to Unitarian positioning during the 18th century. Interestingly, the building has been known by several names during its timely and interesting history. It was designated a church or chapel of various denominations through most of the 18th and 19th centuries, but to its founders, in the last years of the 17th century, it was a synagogue, a gathering place, where, to quote the sermon on 26th April 1700, the chapel’s opening day, “we meet not only with one another, but all with God.”

Additional Information: The Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House is a living building with sermons and membership activities and events planned throughout the year. This should not deter anyone from visiting and admiring the architecture from the outside.

The Old Custom House

old custom house

Address: Key Street, Ipswich, IP4 1BY

Description: Built in 1844, designed by John Medlan Clark, this brick built Custom House replaced the original wooden construction. Facing onto the wet dock, the building has an impressive frontage with twin stairs and balustrades, portico, Tuscan columns and deep pediments. Built from red and white brick and stone. An interesting feature of the facade is the working of the brick to imitate stone. The ground floor has recently been renovated for use as a conference centre. Whilst the Waterfront area has recently undergone a massive revamp with a hotel, restaurants, marina and new homes, the Old Custom House remains unchanged and still stands as a reminder of the historic significance of the River Orwell to Ipswich history.

Additional Information: The Old Custom House is now home to the Associated British Ports, and is only open to the public during the Heritage Open day weekend.

Pykenham’s Gate

pykenhams gatehouse

Address: 7 Northgate Street, Ipswich, IP1 3BX

Description: Opposite Ipswich County Library is Pykenham’s Gatehouse. This Grade I listed building was built in 1471 by William Pykenham, who had been appointed as Archdeacon of Suffolk. Having decided that the house he had rented from the Priory of the Holy Trinity was not fitting for his status, he proceeded to have the gatehouse built on adjoining land. Admire the large brick four-centred arch and the timber-frame with its wattle & daub filling between the studs. The room above the gateway was used as accommodation by the gatekeeper. Archdeacon Pykenham later had the Deanery Gateway built in nearby Hadleigh. He died in 1497.

Additional Information: Pykenham’s Gatehouse is now owned by the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust and home to the Ipswich & Suffolk Club.

University of Suffolk – Waterfront Building

university of suffolk

Address: 19 Neptune Quay, Ipswich, IP4 1QJ

Description: The UoS Waterfront Building was opened in 2008. This impressive building overlooks Ipswich Waterfront, and its curved design with glass frontage picks up many reflections from the water. A living building, you can admire the exterior, and if you get the chance to view the UoS building from the top of Bishop’s Hill you will also get the best view to admire the unusual grassed roof. The building has six floors, one auditorium which seats 200 people, two main lecture theatres each seating 140 people and 34 teaching rooms seating between 18 and 80 people. Adjacent to the reception is a stunning exhibition space, which hosts a range of exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing the work of students, alumni, staff and guest artists.

Additional Information: The UoS Waterfront Building is open to the public during the Heritage Open Day weekend.

Willis Building

willis building ipswich

Address: Friars Street, Ipswich, IP1 1TD

Description: Designed by architect Sir Norman Foster, built in the 1970s, and officially opened former Prime Minister Sir Harold Macmillan. The Willis building is a Grade I listed building, the youngest building at the time to have been awarded this status. The building is home to the Willis Group Holdings, a major employer in Ipswich. The centre of the building is constructed from a grid of concrete pillars, 14 m apart, supporting cantilevered concrete slab floors. This impressive building with its 890 sheets of toughened dark tinted glass and grand piano shaped design reflects everything around it like a prism , and with its lack of right angle corners it mirrors the art deco Express Building in Manchester – one of Norman Foster’s favourite buildings.

Additional Information: The Willis Building is open to the public during the Heritage Open Day weekend. If you get the chance to visit at this time you will also get to visit the impressive roof garden which provides great views across Ipswich town centre.

Wolsey’s Gate

wolseys gate

Address: College Street, Ipswich, IP4 1BF

Description: Thomas Wolsey was greatly interested in education and was one of the most influential people in England at the time, seconded only by the King himself. He sought permission to build a school in Ipswich, which was to act as a feeder to what is now Christ Church, Oxford, which he also founded. The school was built and opened in 1528 near to St Peter’s Church, but was soon dismantled after his fall from power. The gateway to the Cardinal College of St. Mary is now all that remains of his vision for his home town, the gateway is commonly known as Wolsey’s Gate.

Additional Information: Wolsey’s Gate is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. You can find Wolsey’s Gate beside St Peter’s by the Waterfront. The best view is on the dock side of the one way system, accepting that passing traffic can obstruct viewing at times.

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