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
|Origins and early growth|
The area surrounding Ipswich attracted habitation from the Stone Age on. Although there was a Roman villa near the northern boundary of what became Ipswich and a Roman road ran through the site, the origins of Ipswich are considered to lie in the seventh century, in a modest settlement on the north bank of the river, immediately north of which was its cemetery, in what later became the Butter Market. Some of the burials in this cemetery were of persons of some status, accompanied by weapons or jewellery and apparently covered by small barrows or even laid in boat-shaped coffins. An earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement in the vicinity lay on the west bank of the River Gipping, but seems to have been no more than a few farms. Around the beginning of the eighth century the settlement north of Stoke Bridge expanded in a planned fashion, both northwards to Cornhill, where roads were laid out in a grid pattern, and south of the bridge; the same period saw the north bank of the Orwell was developed into a quayside. At this point we can attribute to Ipswich an urban character. The town's name, which in medieval times was Gippeswyc, probably refers to the wic on the Gipping (or possibly both heark back to the personal name of a leader of a Saxon group of settlers); another proposed derivation of the name connects it with the Saxon "gip", meaning corner of the mouth, and alluding to the point where the mouth of the fresh-water Gipping turned to enter the salt-water Orwell estuary. This associates the name with a later focus of Anglo-Saxon settlement, on an east-west ridge (now the line of Westgate/Tavern/Carr Streets) crossing the present town centre. On the eastern side of that later settlement have been found kilns which were used for firing pottery made on a slow wheel; this distinctive type of pottery was called "Ipswich ware" and the techniques for making it were introduced from the Rhineland/Frisia ca. 625/650, either by Frisian merchants or immigrating Rhenish potters. Remains of Ipswich ware have been found along a 160-metre stretch of the southern side of Carr Street, indicating that this was quite an important early industry here. "Ipswich People", however, is the name given to Scandinavians who arrived in the 6th century, founding the kingdom of the East Angles.
Another factor in dating Ipswich's emergence is that at towards the western end of this line of Saxon settlement was St. Mildred's church; this is an unusual dedication, attributable to the fact that St. Mildred (who died ca. 700) had connections with the East Anglian royal family, and suggests the foundation would have taken place soon after her death. The church later became associated with local administration. A possible memory, albeit distorted, associating the foundation of Ipswich with patronage of the Wuffing dynasty may be seen in a statement stemming from a royal inquisition at Ipswich in 1340, which concluded that Ipswich was named after a pagan king "Ypus", who made the town the capital of Suffolk (in part because of its port facilities).
This legend may well reflect some historical truth. It seems quite likely that Ipswich was established ca.625 on vacant, low-lying land stretching north of the river, along whose northern bank simple revetements were built to make it easier for ships to dock. The Wuffingas, who had a royal residence in the area, were the likely agents of this foundation, with the intent to create a port/market to supply their needs for imported goods and act as distribution point for produce from their estates, although burial evidence suggesting the presence of influential foreign migrants has prompted speculation about possible Frankish economic imperialism. This commerce in turn stimulated the development of a major production and export industry in ceramics. In conjunction with that and a general growth in the English economy, the late seventh or early eighth centuries saw considerable expansion of the urban area, possibly planned, with new roads laid out and built up (including overtop the now-abandoned cemetery at Butter Market), and increasing population density. However, this development into a gateway to overseas trading centres attracted the attention of the kings of landlocked Mercia, who expanded their rule into East Anglia in the late eighth century. Based on evidence from coins found at Ipswich, this change of rulers was followed by a period of economic decline, but renewed prosperity came after the Danish conquest of East Anglia in the late ninth century. Ipswich was ruled and settled by Scandinavians for several decades and defences were put up around the town, but did not prevent Ipswich being retaken by Saxon forces in 820.
Deforestation and expansion of the population in Suffolk which by the time of Domesday was one of, if not the, most heavily populated county in England helped the Ipswich region (like the Norwich region in Norfolk) become an economic centre. The economic status of Ipswich in the Late Saxon Age is seen in the number of moneyers minting coins there. The earliest coins found date from the 970s, decades after a royal decree had allowed towns, burhs and ports to have mints; large numbers of moneyers have been identified operating at Ipswich in the eleventh century. By that time, and probably earlier, there were burh defences at Ipswich. However, Ipswich is more commonly characterized as a "port" (a centre of commerce), and its inhabitants were known as portmen a term later restricted, perhaps honorifically, to the town council. Port and burh were probably simply two sides of the same coin.
Ipswich's prosperity in the Late Saxon period is reflected in the fact it was frequently plagued by Danish raiders; their plundering of the town in 919 is the first documentary reference to the town. Another serious assault took place in 991, by a large force that moved on to Essex and fought the battle of Maldon. It was again the starting-point of a Danish campaign in 1010, which led to the temporary overthrow of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. The town was among the last targets of Danish raids on East Anglia, in 1069. It may have been this, combined with the borough's association with the rebellious Earl of East Anglia, Ralph de Guader who had a one-third share in the revenues from the borough that had a devastating effect on Ipswich between 1066 and 1086. Immediately before the Norman Conquest Ipswich had 538 burgesses indicative of a total population perhaps exceeding 3,000 paying customary dues to the king; by the time of Domesday there were only 110, with another 100 burgesses too poor to give more than a penny each, while 328 manses (burgage properties) which had previously contributed scot towards the geld due the king were lying waste. Yet we cannot rule out the possibility that, after the Anglo-Saxon population of Ipswich had been subdued, a Norman overlord undertook some redevelopment there, demolishing existing residential areas in order to raise a fortified base and restore or enhance religious and marketplace facilities the same types of initiatives seen at Norwich, Colchester, and some other important towns.
How long it took for Ipswich to recover from the damage done by Vikings and Normans is unknown, but its advantageous location in terms of access to international trade across the North Sea and to regional trade, in a part of the country where there were at that time relatively few market centres, likely helped it bounce back quickly. The large number of burgesses living in Ipswich just before the Conquest, in contrast to there being only 40 acres of arable land held by the burgesses (apparently within the borough boundaries), suggests a high proportion of the residents were earning a living from other than agricultural pursuits. The town had the status of a half-hundred, with its own hundred court; four villages were (at least later) also considered to be part of this half-hundred: Wicks Bishop, Wicks Ufford, Stoke-by-Ipswich, and Brooks. The maritime boundaries of the town also came to extend beyond its local port on the riverside to most of the Orwell estuary.
The 'town centre' was at Cornhill, with various retail markets there and in neighbouring streets. From the principal east-west route (mentioned above) that passed through the town centre, a few streets particularly Brook Street led south to the riverfront. The crossroads character of early Ipswich is reflected in the location of the medieval parish churches, which cluster around these two principal east-west and north-south routes, apart from those churches created to serve suburbs or quayside residents. The exception to this pattern being St. Nicholas', a post-Conquest foundation to serve population expansion along a north-south route connecting the town centre with the bridge across the Orwell. The quayside was in a suburb to the south-east; the absence of churches from the area between quayside and town centre indicates the sparseness of population there and helps explain why the Dominican and Franciscan friaries and the Priory of St. Peter and St. Paul were able to build large precincts there. In the northern part of the liberties was Holy Trinity Priory (now parkland). The town and its suburbs were divided into four leets, which were given points-of-the-compass names, suggesting a division on purely administrative grounds rather than on any early concentrations of settlement. This division is likely to have originated in pre-Conquest times.