Ipswich: the pubs we’ve loved and lost
They slip easily from our consciousness once they’ve closed – pubs like the Blooming Fuchsia and the Live & Let Live. A new book revives some memories for STEVEN RUSSELL
THANK goodness for Jack Ruffles. The Ipswich man spent thousands of hours researching the history of inns, taverns, pubs and beerhouses in his hometown. He died in late 2006, at the age of 84, before he could publish the information he had so determindly collected – data he’d uncovered in wills, maps, deeds, parish records and directories at Suffolk Record Office.
Happily, the efforts of the man whose grandparents ran a pork butcher’s shop on the corner of Upper Orwell Street and Upper Barclay Street have not counted for nothing. Jack’s findings have informed a large part of the explanatory text in a new photograph-based book called Ipswich: Lost Inns, Taverns and Public Houses.
It remembers about 400 pubs and other drinking establishments that have closed since the 18th Century – everything from a front-room beerhouse to the grand hotels, and even the Greyhound in Upper Brook Street, for which there’s a record from 1343.
It’s the latest offering from David Kindred, who since leaving the Archant media group eight years ago as picture editor of the Evening Star (sister paper of the EADT) has produced several books looking at the past – as well as continuing to build an archive of vintage images.
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For this new publication he has drawn on old newspapers, archive material and borough records, as well as the diligence of Jack Ruffles, to whom the volume is dedicated.
It’s tempting to think that the closure of pubs is a modern phenomenon, but the book reminds us that inns which once seemed a permanent part of the fabric of Ipswich have always been at risk of slipping away. Change is a constant aspect of history. There have been plenty of ups and downs.
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David points out in his introduction, for instance, that in 1893 there were 308 licensed premises in the town. That figure dropped to 277 just before the First World War.
Even when bricks and mortar were essentially untouched there could still be cosmetic changes.
“The trade flourished until the 1970s, but in the 1980s many old public houses changed their identities in order to remain fashionable and often took on odd names as a result,” he writes.
“Establishments such as the Spotted Cow on Bramford Road became Sloan’s, while the Royal William on London Road became Hoofers. Bars with names like the Toad and Raspberry and the Newt and Cucumber emerged. The idea was to attract a younger trade by providing a nightclub-like atmosphere . . .”
David mentions some of the developments that hastened the end of the licensed trade’s halcyon days – from the emergence in the 1960s of TV sets in homes to the growth of the “night-time economy”, with its nightclubs, restaurants and takeaways. When five years ago the ban was introduced on smoking indoors in public places, “the industry again felt the impact”.
While acknowledging that pubs have faced further competition from off-sales in supermarkets, where very cheap drink has often been used as a loss-leader to lure shoppers, he doesn’t see it as reason to wave the white flag, pointing out that many businesses have adapted.
“They have become venues for live music and karaoke, or have brought in big screens for sporting events. They have greatly improved the range and quality of food on offer. Others have catered for specific social groups.”
David recognises the part being played by the Campaign for Real Ale, whose initiatives have fostered a greater appreciation of beers and ciders as part of our national culture, and “struck a chord with those who objected to the limited range that tended to be offered by the larger breweries and tied houses in the 1960s”.
Neither is he riven by pessimism, even though the latest figures show numerous pubs are each week shutting their doors around the country.
“There are still many pubs in Ipswich in which you can have a drink, ranging from Irish-themed to wine bar. Some of these have long histories; others are here today and gone tomorrow. Although the trade has changed beyond recognition in less than a lifetime, there are still hostelries to be found in the town where you can be sure to feel welcome.”
• Ipswich: Lost Inns, Taverns and Public Houses is published by Old Pond at �14.95.