Farwell to County Hall

IT was the end of an era which has lasted 115 years. Yesterday, Suffolk councillors with barely a tear in their collective eyes picked up their papers and bade farewell to County Hall in the heart of Ipswich.

IT was the end of an era which has lasted 115 years. On Thursday, Suffolk councillors with barely a tear in their collective eyes picked up their papers and bade farewell to County Hall in the heart of Ipswich.

The County Council is moving its headquarters to the £16million Endeavour House in the Ipswich Village complex. Around 1,000 council officers are in the middle of moving their desks across town and when the next full meeting of the authority is summoned, it will be to the 21st century reality of the new headquarters.

Perhaps it was just as well. The historic oak panelled council chamber in County Hall was not at its best yesterday.

It was akin to a furnace as the sun blazed through the stained glass window containing the coats of arms of Suffolk's historic boroughs and towns. The electronic voting system, controversially installed just a few years' ago, decided not to function, forcing councillors to show their support or opposition through the time honoured method of putting up their hands.


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The St Helen's Court building in County Hall dates from 1863 when it housed criminal and civil courts. Cells were in the basement and the police headquarters across the courtyard.

The last public execution in Britain took place here in April 1863 and the building itself witnessed its last hanging in November 1924.

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It achieved international fame when Wallis Simpson was granted a divorce in the county court in October 1936 so she could be free to marry King Edward VIII, forcing the abdication crisis which shook the monarchy, the establishment, and the Empire.

East Suffolk county council took over part of the complex in January 1889 and the first full meeting of the authority took place the following April. Whether councillors broke off from meetings to watch the executions is not recorded.

Thirty years ago this month, as part of the Conservative government's reforms of local government, East and West Suffolk County Councils and Ipswich County Borough Councils were abolished and their main functions amalgamated into the new Suffolk County Council.

Yesterday's farewell meeting was the 179th since April 1974. The longest serving councillor is Labour's David Lockwood, who has represented the Northgate and St Olaves division of Bury St Edmunds since 1975.

Recalling the years, Mr Lockwood said when he first joined it was like a military junta. "Everybody had a title. They treated me as if we were all in the Army."

Three other councillors also sat during the 1970s - Tories Ann Rodwell (Felixstowe Ferry), Guy McGregor (Hoxne) and Selwyn Pryor (Stour Valley).

Yesterday's farewell meeting, chaired by Liberal Democrat Helen Whitworth (Debenham), was the first for the authority's youngest member, 24 year-old Tory Ben Redsell, who won the Woodbridge by-election last week.

Councillors approved the 2004-05 performance and policy plan. When they meet at Endeavour House for the first time, under the chairmanship of Labour's Jane Hore (Lowestoft Central), councillors will be on the countdown to the following May's elections when power may very well switch from the current joint Labour-Lib Dem administration to the Tories.

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