Origins and early growth |
Development of local government
BUILDINGS AND FORTIFICATIONS | Economy | Information sources
Map of Ipswich at the close of the Middle Ages
Ipswich bailiffs, coroners, chamberlains, and treasurers
Appendix 1: Account of the setting up of self-government in A.D. 1200
Appendix 2: Calendar of usages and customs of Ipswich
Appendix 3: Oaths of officers and burgesses
Appendix 4: Account of revenues and expenditures, 1446/47
|Buildings and fortifications|
There was said to have been some kind of castle built in Ipswich after the Conquest, perhaps in the early years of William I's reign, as part of his programme to subdue the country. After the disgrace of Earl Ralph Guader, which brought the Bigod family to the forefront in East Anglia, the castle must have been held by them, though their other holdings in Ipswich do not seem to have amounted to more than a riverside quay and an adjacent house their interest in the town as a trading base is also suggested by the fact that they acquired the status of foreign burgesses. But the Bigod earls of Norfolk were incorrigibly rebellious and used Ipswich's fortifications in that context. Consequently, the castle was besieged, either by Stephen or by Matilda's son Henry (later Henry II), in 1153, in the final stages of the civil war, and again held against Henry when Hugh Bigot supported the rebellion of Henry's elder sons ca. 1175. It is assumed that the castle was demolished by the king following one of these incidents, though we have no direct evidence. Construction of rampart and ditch defences around the town was begun ca.1204 although this may only have been an overhaul and/or expansion of an earlier fortification; that it was the king who took the initiative here, using labour from Suffolk and Cambridge, hints at a defensive imperative at that time rather than local ambitions. There were apparently plans for wall-building around 1299 and 1352, when royal grants of murage were obtained, but the absence of a series of renewals (usually necessary to finance such large-scale and long-term projects) and the cancellation of the 1352 grant make it doubtful that much progress was realized on such plans. There are references between early fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries to properties adjacent to town walls, but a larger number to those abutting onto the "great ditches" or "wall-ditches", some of which must have connected to the river, since we hear of fish-traps in them. One grant of part of the ditches, in 1302, was revocable if walls were ever built there. It seems walls were erected only around parts of the town and reliance elsewhere was placed on the earthworks; the northwestern sector of the town was a part protected by a wall, and near that corner were one or more "barred gates", while other gates were on the northern and eastern sides. The rivers provided a natural barrier in the south and south-east.
During the Late Middle Ages most towns tried to stay neutral in national political struggles, and their interest in fortifications was as much a matter of controlling trade (to channel it through supervised town entrances/exits) as of protection. Only once do we find some militaristic alarm in Ipswich when, in October 1452, it was ordained that all burgesses be in possession of a bow and arrows, sword and shield, and other weapons, and ensure that their adult employees or servants have a cudgel handy, and that all be prepared to respond day or night to a summons from the bailiffs. Since active hostilities between Yorkists and Lancastrians were then in hiatus, the concern may have been with a more local dispute perhaps that between the town and the Prior of Ely (landlord of local property) which had prompted forceful action by the borough against the Prior's enclosure of common pasture in 1451, and was before the king's court throughout the 1450s. Although Ipswich has been described as Yorkist in its sympathies, and certainly Sir John Howard had some influence there (as elsewhere in East Anglia) it was rather that a few prominent townsmen and rural gentry of the neighbourhood had Yorkist affiliations. The corporation itself shows no signs of taking sides, while the ordinance of 1474 suggests that the borough was tired of being used as a pawn for individuals to assert exercise political influence through parliament.
Although St. Mary Tower, as we have seen from the events of 1200, may have been the site of the folkmoot around that time (and its significance is further suggested by the fact that curfew was rung there), when a moothall was built it was on the south side of Cornhill. This was a more important location, in terms of administration of commerce, since the large corn market was there; the commercial role of the borough authorities is reflected in the alternate name by which the moothall was sometimes known: the Tolhouse. The building may have been in existence by 1212, for the bailiffs' defence against the complaint of Elias de Gippewyc about the relocation of the fish market (to the vicinity of Cornhill) was in part that it was to make collection of tolls easier. Adjacent to the moothall site was St. Mildred's which, previously a parish church, appears to have been absorbed into the moothall property in the 14th century. In 1391 the borough authorities were acquiring another adjacent piece of land, presumably for further expansion of the administrative facilities.
As for most boroughs, the cost of maintenance and repairs to the moothall and other public properties became an increasing burden. In 1361 the borough authorities assigned certain sources of income to repairing the moothall and one of the town bridges; at the same time we hear that the authorities had recently built a new set of butchers' stalls in the meat market, which it then leased to two townsmen. Renovations to a house at one end of the moothall were initiated in 1435; and we hear of new construction at the end of the "plea-hall" in 1448, the costs to be covered from escheats, estreats from Sessions of the Peace, and freemen's entrance fines. In 1446 there is reference to the borough leasing to butchers stalls in the "Flesh-house", although whether the stalls in 1361 were within a permanent superstructure is unknown. In 1391 the borough had two water-mills built on common land between the town bridge and Stoke bridge one was used for grinding corn, the other for fulling cloth. The construction work was accomplished by granting the land to a small committee of burgesses who financed the construction and recouped their costs from the profits of the mill, after which they regranted the land and mills to the community; this brought legal problems, obliging the borough authorities to obtain a royal licence to hold the property in mortmain. In 1435 Stoke Bridge itself was in need of rebuilding, and one of the town's wealthiest merchants, John Caldwell, offered to finance this, if the borough would make a contribution; at some point before 1477 a gate was built to control access over the bridge. The town conduit required work in 1451 as did houses associated with it, while repairs to the town quay were the reason for a levy on the community in 1473; two years later it was the town mill and fishmarket that demanded attention, and in 1477 a new crane was needed for the quay.