A mansion and a museum in Ipswich

Friday, September 11th 2015

We planned to take a train from Liverpool Street Station and decided to have breakfast there as well.

Comptoir Libanais, Broadgate Circle
Comptoir Libanais, Broadgate Circle

We had visited this picturesque cafe restaurant several times and always been content. Today, however, our pleasure was spoilt by a dispute over the bill. Without going into details, I will say this left us feeling frustrated, and unjustly treated. As a result, we will not be patronizing this establishment again.

London to Ipswich
London to Ipswich
(Geotagger map)

This map, produced from my geotagger log, shows where we went: to Ipswich in Suffolk (click for a Google Map). We have visited Ipswich before (see Norwich 2010 – Day 3). On that occasion, we went there almost accidentally but today we went on purpose.

Ipswich Station
Ipswich Station

The origin of the of the name of Ipswich is disputed. It in medieval times it was called as Gippeswic or Gypeswic and this could be a composite of a personal name (e.g. Gippa) with wich, meaning a town or settlement. The river that passes through Ipswich is the Orwell which is an offshoot of the River Gipping. This has led some to see the name as meaning ‘the town on the Gipping’. Still others suggest that the word gip refers to the corner of the mouth and that this reflects the similar shape made by the Orwell and the Gipping at their point of divergence. The true derivation of the name will probably never be known.

Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich
Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

We wanted to visit three destinations within the town: Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich Art School Gallery and Ipswich Museum. In the event, we scored two out of three.

Christchurch Mansion is a large Tudor house built on grounds that once belonged to Holy Trinity Priory. Admission is free and photography is allowed.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen

The Priory of Holy Trinity was closed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-41. Sir Edmund Withipol bought the land and upon it erected a fine red-brick Tudor Mansion, handsomely set in what were once the grounds of the priory.

The Servants' Hall
The Servants’ Hall

The mansion continued to be used as a dwelling until 1894 and during that time succeeding occupants made changes and modernized the facilities. The west front dates from the 18th century and internal changes were made also.

Carved mantelpiece
Carved mantelpiece

The house is filled with artworks and decorative items such as the carved mantelpiece pictured above. Large rooms alternate with narrow passages where one can imagine the servants scurrying about their business.

The Green Room
The Green Room

The property was bought in 1894 by Felix Cobbold and philanthropically donated to Ipswich Corporation to be enjoyed by the people of Ipswich and such as ourselves who come to visit it.

The Queen Anne Closet
The Queen Anne Closet

A house is a four-dimensional entity, that is, the changes that occur through time are as important as the physical form and layout of the building and grounds. To give some idea of the timeline, different rooms are decorated and furnished in the style of particular periods, giving an idea of what the rooms might have looked like at those times.

A bedroom
A bedroom

As you progress from room to room, from wing to wing, you feel you are crossing back and forth between epochs.

The State Bedroom
The State Bedroom

This almost royal bed chamber was added by Claude Fonnereau who bought the house in 1734.

Music Room
Music Room

As well as room settings, there are works of art, costumes and objects of various kinds that deserve to be exhibited. To do these justice, some rooms come closer to the more conventional sort of museum display though, where possible, items are grouped by relevance and period.

Entrance Hall
Entrance Hall

Where better to begin impressing your visitors than in the entrance hall, the first part of the house that they see on passing through the doorway? This hall, reaching up to the height of the first floor, displays a boldly patterned floor of black and white tiles and boasts sculptures, large portrait paintings and galleries. Many principal houses would be content to have a room this size as their banqueting room.

Verdant grounds
Verdant grounds

The house sits within the greenery of its gardens. This also serves the purpose of a public park and we here found people taking their ease, playing with their children and enjoying the sunshine.

This is  a grand and interesting house. There is much to see and it would take time to get to know it all in detail. I would be happy to come again as I am sure to discover things that I missed this time around.

Ipswich Art School Gallery
Ipswich Art School Gallery

From Christchurch Mansion, we made our way to Ipswich Art School Gallery. Here a disappointment awaited us: it was closed. I don’t know why (it is supposedly open from Tuesday to Sunday which, I think, includes Fridays), but it was. Its pleasures remain in suspense for us until we can come again.

Ipswich Museum
Ipswich Museum

Nothing daunted, we continued to our next assignment, Ipswich Museum. This Grade II listed building evinces a 17th-century style but was designed by Horace Cheston and completed in 1880.

First-floor gallery
First-floor gallery

If I say this is a museum in the old-fashioned style, that is praise, not criticism. Too many museums these days have succumbed to the hands-on, museums-as-fun mode which simply results in dumbing them down and the removal and much of their stock from public view.

Hairy Mammoth
Hairy Mammoth

The museum specialises in the history of Ipswich and its area. How far back in history it goes may be judged by what is possibly my favourite exhibit, a hairy mammoth. If there is an extinct animal I wish I could have seen alive and kicking, it is mammoths.

Lion
Lion

There are quite a few animals, and particularly birds, in the collection. Some belong to species that once roamed the countryside around here such as bears, wolves and wild boar. Others are a little more exotic, like this splendid lion and an amazingly tall giraffe. I suppose these represent that other local species, the Victorian Gentleman Collector, who travelled widely and brought back specimens from all over the world.

In a more responsible age, we may deplore this unthinking slaughter of the innocents but there was also a genuine scientific purpose underlying the collecting, taxidermy and display of animals, birds and insects. Modern researchers do still have recourse to collections such as this one and the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. Knowledge, however, obtained, cannot be unlearned, nor should it be.

What's for dinner, mum?
What’s for dinner, mum?

The Anglo-Saxons were here, of course, and many exhibits are of their tools, their weapons and their strangely beautiful jewellery. Some tableaux, such as the above, give an impression of their daily lives.

Egyptian Coffin Lid
Egyptian Coffin Lid

No self-respecting museum fails to include objects from Ancient Egypt among its exhibits, nor does Ipswich Museum. Seen above is part of the lid of a coffin containing the mummy of the Lady Tahathor who lived and died in Egypt some 2,500 years ago.

Victorian Stained Glass
Victorian Stained Glass
Nathaniel Westlake for the Church of St Mary Ixworth

I enjoyed exploring the museum though (or perhaps because) it contained far more material than one can absorb on a single visit. Perhaps we shall come again to see the mammoth and the rather thoughtful-looking lion.

How secret is your garden?
How secret is your garden?

On the way to the station, I spotted this pub. My attention was caught by the words on the chalk board on the corner of the building. You may be able to make them out: ‘SECRET BEER GARDEN’. That, surely, is a paradox. How can something be secret if you advertise it? I then noticed that the pub was lacking an essential component. Can you see its name? That’s what’s lacking, the traditional board with the name of the pub inscribed upon it. The pub used to be called the Spread Eagle, a perfectly good name, so why has it been removed? Just a little mystery to end on.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to A mansion and a museum in Ipswich

  1. WOL says:

    I dearly love exhibits like Christchurch Mansion, where rooms are made into historical vignettes with artifacts, furnishings, clothing, etc., that give you a feel for that historical period. This is the first time I’ve seen an actual stuffed wooly mammoth. It must be one of those specimens preserved in permafrost in Siberia.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I too find room settings fascinating. It’s fun thinking yourself into them and their period.

      I don’t know the origin and history of the mammoth but its presence certainly enhances the value of the museum for me.

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