The wraps will soon be coming off one of Ipswich’s re-polished historic treasures - Holywell’s Park

Holywells House

Holywells House - Credit: Archant

If your knowledge about the Cobbold dynasty and its long-lost mansion has grown a bit hazy, Steven Russell has just the book for you.

The conservatory in Holywells Park, when it was looking somewhat sadder

The conservatory in Holywells Park, when it was looking somewhat sadder

Saturday is likely to prove an emotional time for Nicholas Cobbold as the spotlight falls on his family’s spiritual “home”. Ipswich will remember a dynasty woven into the fabric of the borough – heritage that, arguably, was not so long ago in danger of being lost.

The Cobbolds gave Ipswich a famous brewery that was for decades at the heart of the town’s identity. Cobbolds were MPs, bankers, adventurers, philanthropists and more. They had energy and imagination, curiosity and a sense of fun. They did much to create the spirit and success of the town. But times change. In the 1930s the majestic parkland estate synonymous with the Cobbold story was given to the people of Ipswich. Less than 30 years later the mansion where several generations of the family had lived was knocked down.

Next Saturday sees the culmination of a £3.5 million restoration that’s breathed new life into Holywells Park, the estate that was home to the Cobbolds from 1814 to 1929 and whose ponds fed the nearby Cliff brewery where the beer was made. The stables had in recent times been used as offices and a workshop, but cried out for some TLC. The block has been turned into a visitor centre with café and education and function space.

The conservatory, for years covered in corrugated iron and looking sad, will be available for exhibitions, talks, meetings and similar events. The walled garden has been improved, with a performance area for small-scale theatre, dance, school and community groups.

Elizabeth Cobbold - sociable, charitable, and a learned lady

Elizabeth Cobbold - sociable, charitable, and a learned lady


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Most of the work is down to a £2.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with other money coming from the Friends of Holywells Park and Ipswich council.

The Cobbold Family History Trust, which keeps the past in our minds, is thrilled. But it doesn’t want to forget the missing parts of the jigsaw.

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“The restoration of the park, stables and conservatory is a wonderful achievement but it leaves an unavoidable gap,” it says. “What about the house and the family that lived there?”A new paperback book from the trust aims to fill that gap by charting the histories of one of Ipswich’s most-loved public spaces and the family in the big house.

“It is more than eighty-five years since my great-uncle, John Dupuis Cobbold, the last member of my family to live at Holywells, passed away,” Nicholas Cobbold writes in the foreword. “His son, John Murray ‘Ivan’ Cobbold, had set up home at Glemham Hall [near Saxmundham] and the Ipswich house and its beautiful grounds were no longer required.

'Big'
John Cobbold. Ipswich has much to thank him for

'Big' John Cobbold. Ipswich has much to thank him for

“Since Holywells ceased to be ‘Home of the Cobbolds’, the park has continued to be something of a spiritual home for my family, central to its Ipswich history. Sadly, over many decades, much of that part of Holywells which tangibly connected it to the Cobbolds fell into disrepair, culminating in the demolition of the house in the early 1960s. To twenty-first century users of the park, its Cobbold heritage was in danger of being lost.

“In recent years, this decline has been reversed. Ipswich Borough Council and the volunteer group, the Friends of Holywells Park, have striven to preserve the park’s heritage, as well as to promote and improve it as a public space for Ipswichians.”

The money “has been spent wisely to improve every aspect of the park; its facilities, landscape and those areas which provide a link to its colourful past”.

The book Holywells, Home of the Cobbolds has been commissioned to celebrate the completion of the work. It’s written by historian Clive Hodges, who became interested in the family while researching the exploits in central Asia of Nicholas’s colonel grandfather.

The Slide - one of Elizabeth Cobbold's paper-cuts.

The Slide - one of Elizabeth Cobbold's paper-cuts. - Credit: Archant

He first visited Holywells Park about three years ago, with Anthony Cobbold, keeper of The Cobbold Family History Trust, and found it hard to imagine how the house must have looked in its heyday.

“At that time, few signs of its former grandeur survived; the conservatory” – not an orangery, as it’s often called, he says ? “was hidden from view, clad in tin; the north terrace, affording panoramic views of the park below, was in a dreadful state of repair and the formal gardens around the house and on the footprint of where it had once stood were uninspiring.

“Best preserved was the stable block, still a hive of activity as the base for park staff, though it was clear that it, too, had seen better days.” But there were dreams of new better days. In February he saw “the impressive conversion of the stable block for the first time and walked through the beautifully restored conservatory.

“These buildings, and the sympathetic development of the spaces between and around them, brought the rich history of the site alive for me in a way which had been lacking when I first visited.”

The cover of the auction catalogue from 1930 as the contents of Holy Wells were sold

The cover of the auction catalogue from 1930 as the contents of Holy Wells were sold - Credit: Archant

Pop along

The Cobbold Family History Trust invites everyone to the official reopening of Holywells Park’s stables and conservatory on July 18. Be there before noon for the ceremony and musical events. The trust will display Elizabeth Cobbold’s paper-cuttings and there will be a demonstration. Clive’s book will be launched.

Visitors can also see eight stunning “interpretation boards”, designed by Martin Surgey, that give an essence of the story of the estate and the family.

Holywells, Home of the Cobbolds costs £10 (including postage) from www.cobboldfht.com

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