Old Custom House

Associated British Ports (ABP) is the UK’s leading ports operator with 21 ports and boasts the UK’s leading export port for agricultural products at Ipswich.  In the latest of our regular guest writing spots, ABP’s East Coast Divisional Port Manager – Paul Ager - explains the history behind the iconic Old Custom House building.

old custom house, ipswich, waterfront, port

The history of this magnificent building goes back over five centuries.  The original Custom House featured a colonnade to give shelter to merchants and ships’ captains.  It was said to be over 400 years old when it was demolished in 1842 to prepare the site for the New Hall of Commerce, which was opened in 1845.  The new building was built to house HM Customs, the Excise Offices and the Hall of Commerce that was to be used as a meeting place for merchants, shippers and captains.  The site of the building was adjacent to the newly created Wet Dock.

The classical design – with two stairways, stone balustrades and a portico – was the work of local architect John Medland Clark, who died in 1849 at the early age of 36, shortly after supervising its construction.

A feature of the building was chamfered brick, used in the façade to simulate stone.  

An article in the Ipswich Journal described the building on its opening day, Saturday July 26 1845, as a ‘remarkable instance of how much may be done with judicious and economical use of materials, where funds are comparatively scanty’.  Astonishingly, the building cost only £4,250.

The Ipswich Dock Commission, later Ipswich Port Authority, leased the building from Ipswich Borough Council in 1920 when HM Customs and the Excise Offices moved to Museum Street.

Associated British Ports acquired the Port of Ipswich in March 1997 and has carefully restored the Old Custom House to its former glory, exposing original features.