A gift from the Polish people to Ipswich

Writing what had to be a rather short book about “secret” or Unknown Ipswich l knew that there were always going to be omissions, so I hope to rectify that here.


One of the things that I had to miss out was this lovely Polish icon, which is in St Pancras church in Orwell Place. It was given to the church by the Polish armoured train unit that was stationed in Ipswich during the Second World War. There were twelve armoured train units in Britain at that time and, looking back, they seem very much part of that amateur Heath Robinsonish approach to defence during that war that now seems both comical and admirable. The trains, basic wagons filled with armed Polish troops, patrolled the country from Cornwall to the north of Scotland.

Having discovered the existence of the icon in Ipswich, I was interested in finding out more about St Pancras’ church which is the kind of unprepossessing, neo-Gothic construction that English Catholics were forced to build as their own churches were taken by the established Protestant Church of England following the Reformation. Unlike Victorian era C of E churches, there were few Catholic aristocrats willing to fund beautiful buildings (an exception being the Earl of Shrewsbury who financed, among others, Pugin’s over-decorated St Giles at Cheadle in Staffordshire, where half my family were baptised, married and buried) and the neo-Gothic brickwork does not look so pretty to our 21st-century eyes, but this jewel of an icon is hardly known about and it must be significant to one of Ipswich’s new communities, the Poles who have immigrated to work in the town over the last few years.

Like many such holy images, the icon has lots of stories attached to it, for example that it was painted by St Luke the Evangelist. It appears to have been kept in the monastery of Czestochowa, and one of the stories alleges that Czech soldiers attempted to steal it but were thwarted by heavenly intervention. It was so highly valued that in 1904 the Pope presented a crown set with precious stones to be placed above the image. It was brought to England when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 and it is a measure of the gratitude and esteem of those Polish troops that they left such a significant symbol behind in Ipswich.

Researching one thing always leads to another and a reference to “anti-Catholic riots” at St Pancras’ church in 1863 could not be ignored, although in fact the reports in the Ipswich Journal of that year tell a story that is so comical it probably belongs in the pages of a Dickens’ story. On 7 November 1863 the newspaper reported that a lecture at the Temperance Hall by someone “styling himself as André Massenn, Baron de Camin” was full of anti-Catholic sentiment. Things were not going too badly until the “Baron” announced that the women in the hall should be sent home. He then regaled the remaining male audience with racy stories about the goings on in monasteries and convents. Although it was obvious even to the reporter of the Ipswich Journal that Camin was bogus and a scurrilous rogue, he was wildly applauded by some of his audience, including some Protestant clergymen. The “Baron’s” great mistake was that he went on to impugn the character of the priest at St Pancras, Father Kemp, not perhaps realising that the 18th Hussars who were then at Ipswich Barracks were made up of Irish soldiers.

To avoid further trouble the Mayor decided to ban the lecture the following evening but this only served to stir up trouble. It has to be said that it seems that the “young men and lads” referred to as causing the disturbances did not need much provocation and they were soon persuaded by the “Baron” to go out and smash up the houses of the Mayor and other local dignitaries. A policeman was stabbed, although not seriously.

On the third evening the “Baron” once again spoke. This time the Ipswich Journal described it as a “rather dreary historical lecture on Popery,” so presumably he diplomatically missed out the bits about the naughty nuns. According to the report, “a noisy rabble of two or three thousand boys and lads” waited outside, unwilling to pay the 3d admission price. Afterwards they went to St Pancras’ church and smashed the windows and gas lamps.

It makes you wonder whether the Polish troops who left their treasured icon in Ipswich would have done so if they had known a little more about the history of the town.


One hundred per cent Anglo-Saxon with perhaps just a dash of Viking…

Hearing that a small group of far-right racists are planning a march in Ipswich this weekend, I thought I’d remind myself of Suffolk’s history of incoming migrants. We exported a lot of people over the years too, of course, via convict ships, voluntary emigration and the “overpaid, oversexed and over here” USAAF who were stationed all over the county during the Second World War and took a lot of Suffolk women back to the United States as “GI Brides.”

Ipswich has had a thriving port since medieval times and as a consequence has always been a place of entry and settlement for migrants. It was known as a welcoming place for incomers, many of whom settled in the town. As an example, from a brief look through the records of the 1901 census of Ipswich, there were more than 20 Italians, 13 people described as French subjects, 64 people who had been born in Ireland and one Russian. Many people in Ipswich will be descendants of these and other immigrants. Since then, there have been significant arrivals of people from the West Indies, the Indian sub-continent and most recently from Eastern Europe, all adding to the vibrant and cosmopolitan nature of the town and enhancing its culture.

Without immigration, there would have been no Jason Dozzell or Keiron Dyer playing for Ipswich Town Football Club, no Emeric Pressburger (who is buried at Saxtead near Woodbridge), the Hungarian refugee who, with Michael Powell, made brilliant films such as A Matter of Life and Death, One of our Aircraft is Missing and The Red Shoes, no Aspall cider (the Chevallier family were originally from the Channel Islands), no Ickworth House (designed by Italian architect, Mario Asprucci, and two Italian craftsmen, Casimiro & Donato Carabelli, were brought over to live in Little Saxham and create the frieze that runs around the dome, no Peter’s ice cream (produced by Ipswich’s Zagni family). Perhaps the Aldeburgh Festival would not have survived as its success was very much the result of the work of its artistic director from 1956 to 1977, Imogen Holst, daughter of the composer Gustav Holst and of Swedish, Latvian and German descent. There are, of course, countless other examples. I have chosen just three more, all eminent people whose families came here from other countries and either settled in Suffolk or lived there for for some time.

Edward Ardizzone, the artist, was born in French Indo-China in 1900, and was the son of Auguste Ardizzone, an Algerian-born, naturalized Frenchman of Italian origin, and his wife, Margaret. Ardizzone spent his childhood in East Anglia, including an idyllic period at his grandmother’s house in East Bergholt from 1905, which he described in his autobiography. Unfortunately he was sent to be educated at Ipswich School where he was bullied so badly that his memories of the town were tainted for the rest of his life. He’s best remembered for his illustrations in children’s books, including The Otterbury Incident and Stig of the Dump, but he also drew a great deal that was inspired by his boyhood memories of the rougher part of Ipswich, including a famous sketch of two women fighting one another outside an Ipswich pub in about 1912.


Cor Visser    The Ipswich Society placed a blue plaque on the front of 44 Fore Street, Ipswich in memory of Cor Visser, a Dutch artist who spent much of his life living in Suffolk. Attracted by his love for sailing and, presumably – like many painters who settle in East Anglia – because of the landscape and the light, he arrived in 1937. Many of his watercolours are of the River Orwell. He was the official war artist to the Dutch Royal Family during the Second World War and his works are in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as well as in various British galleries, including in Ipswich. He died in 1982.

Sophia Duleep Singh (full name: Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh) was born at Elveden Hall in 1876, the daughter of a Maharaja and his first wife Bamba Müller, who was of German and Ethiopian descent. Sophia and her sister Catherine were suffragettes and she was a member of the Pankhurst’s militant suffragette organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union. She spent most of her life fighting for minority rights, including as a leading member of the Women’s Tax Resistance Campaign which argued that women should withhold paying taxes until they were given the vote. You can find more information about her by visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website (and most public libraries will offer you free access).

Sophia Duleep-Singh

The whole agricultural economy of East Anglia has been based on using the toil of travelling people (many of whom would have had Romani or Irish ancestors) and migrant labourers such as the Eastern Europeans who are still working on the land to this day.  It’s worth reminding ourselves sometimes that none of us are – to use the gloriously funny words that Galton and Simpson put into Tony Hancock’s mouth in The Blood Donor, in which he indignantly answers June Whitfield’s question about his British nationality with the assertion that he’s “one hundred per cent Anglo-Saxon with perhaps just a dash of Viking… .”

I doubt that it’s possible to find someone in East Anglia who has a family tree that is exclusively made up of indigenous Britons and many of us, thankfully, have people in our family from all over of the world. It’s good for our health both in terms of genetics and in the huge number of migrants who have come here, temporarily or permanently to work in the NHS, for example – and as the OECD  [links to the Daily Telegraph] has reported recently it’s good for our economy too.

A Constable portrait & a neglected cemetery in Ipswich

In about 1807, the Suffolk painter John Constable, renowned for his landscapes, painted a rare portrait. It was a painting of a very old lady, who lived in the parish of St Peter’s, Ipswich. The woman was called Sarah Lyon and she had been born in 1703.

Sarah Lyon

Sarah Lyon died in 1808 at the age of 105. It is believed that she was buried in the Jewish cemetery, close to Fore Street. A transcription published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, vol. XL, part 2 (2002), of the few remaining tombstones, mostly faded to illegibility and all written in Hebrew, includes one to “The woman… 5565 or 5568 [= 1805 and 1808]” which might be hers.

Yesterday, because I’m researching the history of Judaism in East Anglia, I visited the Jewish cemetery. It took me some time to find it and I’m not going to give exact details of its location, because – although it’s hard to believe – there are still people anti-Semitic enough to want to vandalise it.

It was a beautiful spring day in Ipswich and when we eventually found the little patch of ground with a small number of headstones that remain, we took the following photographs through a padlocked, wrought-iron gate. It is a peaceful place, despite being surrounded by extremely busy roads.  A robin was singing within the brick walls that surround the graves. Some of the Hebrew inscriptions are still legible.

There was a synagogue serving the Ipswich Jewish community in Rope Walk, not far from the cemetery. The Jewish population dispersed (probably to larger cities) and by 1877 the synagogue had become so neglected that it was demolished. Ipswich Jews nowadays must go to Colchester to worship.

“I did not think that women could have used such awful words:” The ‘Fracas’ at the Women’s Liberal Association, Ipswich in 1894.

A little-known and very slim book, that was published between 1877 and 1931 by Ipswich printers, Boswell & Son was The Eastern Counties’ Chronology or Book of Dates. Despite its main title, the content is mainly about Ipswich. It contains a range of odd, but fascinating historical information such as “Deaths of Prominent Personages,”  “Storms, Gales & Shipwrecks,” and  “Executions.” From the 1906 edition, it’s possible to learn that the last bull-baiting in Ipswich took place in Fleece Yard in 1805, that in 1828 Mr. Benjamin Catt “attempted to fly” and on 29th March 1905, Daisy Banyard fell through a skylight in the Co-operative stores.

I’ve been fascinated for a while by the brief reference in this book to a “fracas at [the] Women’s Liberal Association at Christchurch Park, July 10… 1894.” Imagining something excitingly political, I did a bit of research. It actually took place in Christchurch Mansion which was about to be sold to the town by its owner, Felix T. Cobbold. Reports of the event in local newpapers, like the Ipswich Journal were quite comprehensive for something that was about… cake!

I have transcribed just one (of several) lengthy contemporary accounts of the events.

Ipswich Journal, 14 July 2011




 The Ipswich Women’s Liberal Association held its annual gathering in Christchurch Park on Tuesday. Our daily contemporary, we find, had no reporter present and so could only briefly allude to the meeting. From what we have since heard it seems a most fortunate coincidence that our daily contemporary had not a reporter present, as he might have found it extremely difficult to give a true yet pleasing account of this sociable (?) gathering. We learn from various sources  (of course we were not ourselves admitted into the charmed circle) that the proceedings were dull in the extreme. A large number, chiefly


at the call of their leaders. The “few remarks” made by Messrs.Goddard and Soames not being reported, we cannot say whether they were edifying or not, but they do not seem to have had a good effect upon the moral tone of some of their hearers, for it seems that the only incident that relieved the dullness of the day was one more befitting Whitechapel than Christchurch park. One of the dames demanding cake was told she had had her share, whereupon, in choice language, she attempted to vindicate her character for truth. Search, however, was made in that useful receptacle for so many and varied possessions, the perambulator which she had with her, and there a store of cake was found. Instead of owning herself in the wrong, this worthy member of the W.L.A. discharged her cup of tea in the face of the lady who had  detected her, and it is said that the uproar that ensued necessitated the interference of the police.


writes a long letter to us on the matter, from which we extract the following:- “There were between two and three hundred people present at the gathering, and while the gentlemen were present they conducted themselves in a proper manner.  It was only when they withdrew that I had an illustration of a tea-fight in its literal sense. It was a most disgraceful and disgusting scene. The tea was served in the Hall, and there was a very large number of women present. Tables were not provided, and those that did not secure seats had to stand. The tea was served by three or four ladies, and I expect that the treatment they received will effectually prevent them studying the comfort of any body of people – particularly the Ipswich’s Women Liberal Association – for a considerable time to come. These ladies had to pass through the entrance hall from the room where the refreshments were laid out to reach a series of rooms where the guests were originally intended to partake of the provisions. Now these rooms were uncomfortably crowded, and some of the women preferred to stand in the entrance hall. The self-constituted waitresses told these persons that they must return to the rooms, but they refuse to return, and as the number increased every minute it was decided to stretch a point, and allow those who cared to do so to take tea in the hall. This was the fatal move, as will be seen in the light of subsequent events. of course those in the hall clamoured to be served first.They were given precedence, but unfortunately there were a number of


amongst them, who, as soon as the waitresses came out of the room containing the provisions, snatched at them, and the consequence was that those in the rooms beyond were not served. The greedy rapacious mortals in the hall snapped up the cake and tea rapidly that it seemed impossible to satisfy them. When one of the waitresses did attempt to carry something to the people who were sitting patiently in the rooms originally intended to be used for refreshment purposes, one of the women in the hall demanded the plate of cake. The waitress told her to wait. This she refused to do, and actually she jumped up and endeavoured to take possession of the tray. The waitress lifted it high into the air, but the women raised her umbrella and scattered the contents. I believe that the perpetrator of this wanton act received a  smack on the face, but this I heard she replied to by giving the waitress such a violent blow in the eye that it has since become very much discoloured. This act was like putting a match to a gunpowder train.

Many of those who had been sitting quietly and content to watch the wholesale pocketing of the cake, &c., until this outrage, boiled over, and demanded the provisions that some of the women had put into their baskets and pockets. One gave answer by throwing a cup of tea in the face of the questioner.


and the tea and cake that had been provided was trampled under feet. The language that was used was horrible. I did not think that women could have used such awful words.

At last the police were sent for, so serious did the outlook become, and they at length quelled the disturbance. It was simply disgusting. Many of the rioters were rolled about on the floor, and their dresses were marked in many places with a mixture of tea. cake and butter. Some had their hair pulled down and bonnets crushed. The filth that was made in the place was indescribable, and I believe that the floor – which is composed of marble tiles – is very badly stained.”

So why was a trivial punch-up over cake recorded in such loving detail and continued to be included in the Eastern Counties Chronology until the 1930s? In 1894 the Local Government Act allowed propertied women to vote for local parish councils. The Women’s Suffrage movement was at the height of its campaigning. In 1893, Emmeline Pankhurst had begun to organize members of the Women’s Liberal Federation to hold mass meetings:

“This marked the beginning of a campaign of propaganda among working people, an object which I had long desired to bring about. … Our leaders in the Liberal Party had advised the women to prove their fitness for the Parliamentary franchise by serving in  municipal offices.”

Suffolk had its share of campaigners for woman suffrage. The Garrett sisters of Leiston, daughters of the well-know family of agricultural machinery manufacturers, were both leading lights of the non-militant suffragist movement. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain and the first female mayor in England (in Aldeburgh). Her sister, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was president of the moderate National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1890 to 1919. Later she would lead a government commission of inquiry into the concentration camps set up by the British to hold civilian prisoners after the Boer War.

More militant suffrage campaigners (probably) set fire to the Pier Pavilion in Great Yarmouth and burnt down the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe in April 1914.

So I think the articles about the “fracas” at Christchurch Mansion, although they are funny, were probably a way of undermining the suffrage campaigners. As late as the 1950s, the East Anglian Magazine accompanied an old photograph of Votes for Women campaigners in Suffolk with the heading: “The Ladies, God Bless ‘Em.”