Ipswich: The evolution of Arlingtons from museum to dance hall to restaurant

Ken and Liz Ambler at Arlingtons in Ipswich

Ken and Liz Ambler at Arlingtons in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

ARLINGTONS Brasserie in Musem Street, Ipswich, is known for its fine dining and atmospheric surroundings. It also has a unique position in the history of the town.

This original museum building, provided by benefactors, was the centre for an explosion in interest in science, the natural world and the environment in Victorian Ipswich.

There were lectures and presentations from many noted scientists and thinkers, attended by hundreds of people who wanted to learn.

Restaurant owner Liz Ambler said: “Imagine Rev Henslow lecturing to 400 people packed in upstairs, all with their bags of monkey nuts, when he explained a sample from The Beagle (Charles Darwin’s research vessel), or something from the museum collection.

“There was a trememdous appetite for knowledge.”

Rev John Stevens Henslow, who was museum president from 1850 to 1861, had been Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge and many of the Ipswich Museum collections were built up at the time of Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species where there was a fascination with the natural world, and of course, strong arguments for and against the theory of evolution.

Many of the people present in functions at the museum were central to the new thinking and others presented important lecture series, notably a series on popular astronomy by Professor George Biddell Airy and geology by Rev Stevens Henslow himself.

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Liz added: “Henslow was a fascinating man. I think he was responsible for the introduction of allotments. He persuaded farmers to allow their workmen a patch of land to grow their own food, so they didn’t go to the pub every night. Of course it was a good thing for a church man to do.”

Henslow, the vicar at Hitcham, was a driving force for education, both in the village, for children and the working man, and at the museum.

Now learning again takes place, in a small way, within the building.

For the past five years, since the dilapidated building was rescued by Ken and Liz Ambler and turned in to a restaurant, it has also become a venue for a variety of informal and formal events.

The Amblers previously renovated the former electricity sub-station in Duke Street, and turned it into Mortimers Fish Restaurant (it is now Loch Fyne).

The return of the Cafe Scientifue nights at Arlingtons links with its illustrous past, a series of lectures taking place once a month.

I went along to hear James Firebrace speak about his work in water conservation in the Yemen.

Liz explained they had a wide variety of expert speakers, such as physicisit Dr Liza Jardine who spoke about galaxy formation while another visitor did a presentation about bees and beekeeping.

These lectures mirror the events from those early years, though are much more informal, and usually in the bar area and you can get a glass of wine or beer, or coffee.

In those early days it was clearly much more boisterous.

Curator D Clarke was not amused and wrote of “the vile and disorderly mob which contaminates our room on public nights” and “their obsence observations (and) indelicate and blasphemous retorts”.

In fact the events list for Arlingtons has plenty of interest.

There is a book club which meets on the last Wednesday of the month, and a poetry café on the first Tuesday of the month in the Henslow Room.

There are also regular monthly wine tasting evenings and, from May 16, Neal Gordon from Memorable Cheeses will present the first of a series of cheese tasings, featuring British and continental cheeses.

Music doesn’t miss out either as there are retro music nights, with vinyl records, two Fridays each month.

Any business has to keep coming up with good ideas to develop and attract new customers, said Liz.

Arlingtons was offering a pre-show special for those going on to the theatre or cinema, between 5pm and 7pm, a £10 menu which included a glass of wine, beer or soft drink, she said.

“We are also introducing a new carvery over Easter,” added Liz.

She is a passionate about the economic health of the town centre and said that it was good to be able to work with the council over things like improving the roads.

“We need to get all the roadworks sorted out,” she added. “We are looking forward to 2014 when it is all going to be done.”

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