Ipswich Icons: Is this Ipswich’s oldest shop?

Number 6 St Helen's Street (Scissors and Needles) is probably the oldest building in the street, dat

Number 6 St Helen's Street (Scissors and Needles) is probably the oldest building in the street, dated 1636 on a lintel above the first floor window. Trade has been carried out from the front room of this building for 400 years. - Credit: Archant

There is no better place to start a walk along St Helen’s Street than under “Major Convenience”, the public sculpture that enlivens the public toilets at Major’s Corner.

The carving on the lintel that gives us clues about the past

The carving on the lintel that gives us clues about the past - Credit: Archant

Paul Richardson’s excellent cartoon and play on words is a larger than life major swotting flies., writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

How appropriate for a public convenience. The major after whom this road junction is named is not, however, a military man ? rather Joshua Major, a dyer who became “surveyor of north west” Ipswich back in 1669.

Across the road is one of Ipswich’s most unloved icons, the former Odeon cinema that enjoyed a short life as a five-screen picture house, designed by Renton Howard Wood Leven in 1989. He suggested its design was a modern incarnation of the traditional Odeon, in particular the 1930s cinema in Harrogate.

The modern materials haven’t stood the test of time; the white blocks have discoloured with rain and the steel panels are showing their age. The real demise was brought about by the arrival of Cardinal Park and the 11-screen Cineworld. Any possibility of re-opening was dealt a further blow recently by the announcement that the Buttermarket Centre was being converted to a 16-screen cinema.

The Regent from Carr Street (precinct) in an early 1970s photograph from the Ipswich Society collect

The Regent from Carr Street (precinct) in an early 1970s photograph from the Ipswich Society collection. - Credit: Archant


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The Regent is a much more important building, designed in 1929 by classic theatre architect William Edward Trent for Provincial Cinematography Theatres. It is unusual in that the boxes are across the back of the auditorium. There is a theatre manager’s house at the stage door entrance in Woodbridge Road and the recently-restored art deco decoration in the crush hall is excellent.

Directly opposite the Regent is a terrace of shops, and one, the obviously older property, dates from 1636 (date carved on lintel above first floor window). This is a typical example of a Tudor house, of which there were considerable numbers in Ipswich. It is almost certain, given the location, that trade has been carried out from the front room of this property since before America was a colony.

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This length of St Helen’s Street is dominated by the former County Hall building. The central portion was built as Shire Hall in 1837 and it has served as a court, prison and administrative centre ? before 1974 for East Suffolk County Council.

Opposite is the County Hotel, today known as the County of Suffolk and dating from early in the 19th Century. The Orchard Street frontage was built for the Hon Douglas Tollemache in 1897, just 10 years after the Tollemache Brothers started brewing in Upper Brook Street. Next time you’re passing, take a look at the decorated gable and the tympanum (the triangular panel above the front door).

The large red-brick house occupied by The Co-operative Funeral Service was designed by renowned Ipswich architect John Albert Sherman in 1903 for doctor SO Eades as both a home and consulting room. At the start of the 20th Century the space out front was the garden, rather than hard-standing. Paving over front gardens is causing two related problems: rain water doesn’t soak into the ground (thus ground water is depleted) but instead flows into the drains (which are therefore overloaded, particularly during storms). These days, paving the front garden requires planning permission and should include an underground soak-away.

The roads running south off St Helen’s Street either side of County Hall are Bond Street and Grimwade Street. Bond Street was cut through in the mid 19th Century (mentioned in White’s Directory of 1855) and is named after Robert Bond of Cauldwell Hall, the big house on the hill a mile to the east.

Grimwade Street was cut across the exercise yard of the Borough Gaol in the early 20th Century and is named after Alderman Edward Grimwade, who is also remembered in the Memorial Hall at the bottom of this busy thoroughfare. The house that has stood empty on the corner of Rope Walk, a few yards into Grimwade Street, was built for the governor of the prison.

To join the society, send either £15 for family membership or £10 (individual) to the Membership Secretary, 11 Dalton Road, Ipswich, IP1 2HT with your name and address.

The subscription qualifies for Gift Aid (which enhances your subscription by 25% at no cost to yourself). If you are a UK taxpayer, please write ‘Gift Aid’ on your joining letter.

For more information, email John Norman or visit the websiteSee more from Ipswich Icons here

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