Good or bad . . . the changing face of Ipswich

Remember a row of terraced houses where Tower Ramparts bus station now stands in Ipswich? Or how the pool at St Matthew’s Baths was boarded over so pop concerts and dances could be held? If so, a new book on Ipswich will strike a chord. Steven Russell steps back in time

CHANGE: something as much a part of life as oxygen, sunrises and taxes. Thank goodness for the photographers who have pointed a camera over the decades to capture things before they were taken away and new sights as they were added. Enough of their shots have survived, so we can look back at how life used to be.

More than 300 evocative pictures of the past are in a new book by David Kindred called Ipswich: the Changing Face of the Town, being published this week.

David, who himself has more than 45 years under his belt as a professional photographer, has grouped photographs from different eras to show the impact on different corners of town.

“For example, on one set of pages I have focused on the part now known as Giles Circus, illustrating how much that area, named in memory of the famous cartoonist, has changed since the Victorian period.”

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The images shown on the pages are bound to trigger mixed emotions for folk with their roots in Ipswich. On the plus side, the slumbering waterfront area has been revitalised, with old merchants’ buildings restored and brought back to life and new landmarks built alongside – such as the modern university campus.

On the other hand, we’ve had modern monstrosities such as Carr Precinct and the Greyfriars vision that blighted the town. Even improvements that transformed some of the poorer neighbourhoods came at a price, with tightly-knit communities displaced. Street-widening allowed traffic to flow more freely, but the demolition of historic buildings took away some of the character of the place.

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“Many of the pictures in this book chronicle the architectural choices of the 1960s. St Matthews Street and Carr Street, in particular, are areas of Ipswich where grey, concrete 1960s buildings virtually wiped out the ornate structures that had stood there before them,” confirms David in his introduction.

What the book is bound to do is spark countless discussions about whether or not the benefits of change have outweighed the cost.

The oldest photographs date from the 1880s: a period when firms such as Kodak produced dry plates, made mostly of glass. These were a boon –replacing cumbersome “wet plates” that had to be coated, exposed quickly and then developed while still wet.

Other early pictures include high-quality images taken by Harry Walters, who worked in the town from the 1890s to 1926. Most of his photographs chronicle Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897 and show the streets and buildings of Ipswich as they were at the turn of the century.

Guy Maynard, curator of Ipswich Museum in the 1930s, is another man who deserves our gratitude. “Maynard specifically focused on the poor housing areas of the town – areas such as Cox Lane, ‘The Potteries’ and ‘The Mount’.” The latter was an area of homes cleared in the 1950s and later occupied by the police station, Civic Centre and the Wolsey Theatre.

“Not only did Maynard record the buildings before their demolition but also the people in the streets, bringing the scenes to life.”

Amateur photographers, often unwittingly responsible for helping to chart developments, have also left us a rich vein of material.

“One such photographer, Alan Valentine, took a keen interest in photographing transport and as a bonus recorded the changing town in the background. Valentine also meticulously recorded the dates on which the photos were taken – a detail that is often overlooked but incredibly valuable when attempting to chronicle a changing past.”

Some of David’s own photographs – more modern views! – are also in the book. Ipswich born and bred, he worked as a darkroom technician before joining the East Anglian Daily Times Co Ltd in 1963 as a photographer. He became deputy picture editor in 1980 and ended his career with what had become the Archant newspaper group as picture editor of the Evening Star in January, 2004.

Over the years David has built up what must be the town’s leading archive of photographs.

He’s grateful that technological changes have greatly improved our ability to preserve the past. “My only hope is that some of the hundreds of thousands of images that are now captured daily with digital cameras will survive as long as the images previously taken on film.”

Ipswich: the Changing Face of the Town is published by Suffolk-based Old Pond at �19.95.

David has a number of signing sessions organised in Ipswich:

Saturday, November 5: WHSmith, Westgate Street, 12noon to 2pm

Saturday November 19: Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, St Stephen’s Lane, 11am until 2pm

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