Ipswich Icons: Gippeswyk Hall once home to Queen Victoria’s favourite medic
- Credit: Archant
Following the dissolution of the monasteries, the pastures of St Peter’s Priory, which were situated across the river ‘over Stoke’, were divided into six farms and sold to wealthy Ipswich merchants and burgesses, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.
At this time there was very little by way of habitation south of the river. There was a small community very close to Stoke Bridge but beyond this only rolling hills and areas of rough grazing.
Access from Ipswich was limited; a road followed the west bank of the Orwell from Stoke Bridge to Bourne Bridge and to the villages beyond. A second river crossing much further west at Handford Bridge became a lane climbing the hill to Copdock and the road to Colchester.
The farmland surrounding what became Gippeswyk Park was midway between the crossing points and largely inaccessible (Princes Street bridge wasn’t built until after the station opened in 1860). In the late 1500s the land had been owned by Edward Sulyard who also owned the hillsides around St Mary Stoke Church. In 1576 Sulyard sold the Gippeswyk land to John Knapp and in about 1600 Gippeswyk Hall was built.
Gippeswyk Hall was an Elizabethan farmhouse, the farmyard being diagonally opposite in a fold of the hill alongside Birkfield Drive. John Knapp died in 1604 and the hall was inherited by his second son (also John). His eldest son had unfortunately died very soon after being born in 1564. Members of the Knapp family are buried in St Peter’s church where there is a distinctive gravestone with lattens (brass inserts).
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The coming of the railway in 1846 led to a rapidly increasing population ‘over Stoke’. In the 1830s the population was probably not much more than a thousand souls but as industry developed the number of people living south of the river increased rapidly. Ransome and Rapier, Cocksedges, and Reavell’s all had riverside premises. Ipswich’s loco depot required crew who lived within a few yards of the engine sheds, hence the developments in Croft Street, Station Street and Rectory Road.
Gippeswyk Hall is Tudor but is slightly unusual in that it faces east. On an open plot like this it would be typical to orientate the property with a southerly aspect. This is probably due to the rising ground immediately south of the property. The front has a three-storey porch with stone dressings to the windows over a four-centred arch above the door, all typically Elizabethan, albeit on a smaller property than, for example, Christchurch Mansion. Gippeswyk Hall has been truncated and extended over the centuries, but retains the style of a Tudor building.
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When Gippeswyk Hall was no longer required as a farmhouse there was a succession of owners including the Welham, Boyd and Skeet families and towards the end of the 19th Century Sir Alfred Garrod MD, the distinguished physician (1819 – 1907). Garrod started his career at Ipswich Hospital, moved to London in 1843, he was knighted in 1887 and in 1890 appointed physician-extraordinary to Queen Victoria.
In the 20th Century Gippeswyk Hall had a number of commercial uses including the area headquarters for the British Red Cross, a training centre for fork lift truck drivers (with RTT) and as offices.
The Red Rose Chain had been promised a new theatre within the Regatta Quay (flats) development on Ipswich Waterfront but halfway through the contract the developer went into administration, construction work stopped and the shell of the building became known as the Wine Rack. The theatre company moved into the offices at Gippeswyk Hall and decided to try to develop the old portable classrooms at the back of the site. They were successful in a Heritage Lottery Fund bid (in excess of £1million) and held an architectural competition for a new theatre.
The winning entry resembles an old barn which once stood behind the hall, an idea by Charles Currie Hyde in association with Nick Jacobs Architects.
The new Avenue Theatre behind the hall won an Ipswich Society award earlier this year.