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East Anglia Future 50

Looking back at history of BHS site in Buttermarket, Ipswich as company calls in administrators

PUBLISHED: 08:35 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:25 26 April 2016

The Buttermarket, Ipswich in August 1962. Barratt’s jewellers  is on the right at the corner of St Stephens Lane. The Ancient House, then a bookshop, is in the centre. The ABC cinema was then next door to the Ancient House.

The Buttermarket, Ipswich in August 1962. Barratt's jewellers is on the right at the corner of St Stephens Lane. The Ancient House, then a bookshop, is in the centre. The ABC cinema was then next door to the Ancient House.

Dave Kindred

The site of the BHS department store on Ipswich's Buttermarket has a long history.

The ABC cinema in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, when the fire brigade attended during a bomb scare in August 1968.The ABC cinema in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, when the fire brigade attended during a bomb scare in August 1968.

Around the turn of the last century, it was an Ind Coope house called the Wagon & Horses and in 1906 its landlord was a man named John Dale.

But in 1937, the ancient building was demolished to make way for a picture house – the Ritz cinema – which later became the Regal, then the ABC.

Around April 1986, the last picture show took place at the site. Secrecy surrounded the site’s future, but reports at the time suggested it was likely to be demolished and replaced with shops.

BHS had operated from a site on the corner of Tower Street and Tavern Street. There it occupied an art deco building purpose-built for it in 1937, with the curve of the front echoed by the horse shoe-shaped cafeteria inside the store.

The Wagon and Horses, Buttermarket, Ipswich. Picture courtesy David KindredThe Wagon and Horses, Buttermarket, Ipswich. Picture courtesy David Kindred

But the cinema was indeed demolished and a new building constructed as part of the Buttermarket development. British Homes Stores arrived, and became a major part of the Ipswich retail site, occupying a key position opposite the new Buttermarket centre from one facade, and a prominent high street position next to The Ancient House on the other.

Since then, it has been an integral part of the town’s retail heart.

Earlier this year, the Ipswich site opened a food department within the building, complementing its cafes, and was advertising for new staff - section leaders and sales associates – to join its workforce.

Months before, the retail giant had announced it was planning to open food departments in about 60 of its stores across the country.

Suffolk Fire Service outside BHSSuffolk Fire Service outside BHS

When BHS was established in the 1920s as a rival to Woolworths and Marks and Spencer, British Home Stores had food departments in most of its shops.

But in the 1980s it closed many of them – although some, like the flagship store in Ipswich, continued to sell takeaway food and operate a restaurant.

Last year the company was sold by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia fashion group to new owners – who announced that they had reached agreement with food distributors Booker to open food stores in up to 140 of its 171 stores over the next few years.

At that point chief executive Damien Topp said he planned to introduce 60 stores across the country this year, with the first wave of 20 opening last year.

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