Waterfront | Our Port

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 spots, ABP’s former personnel manager – Bob Jones - teaches the first part of a thorough history lesson.

king canute


Frozen ice begins to thaw in an area originally 500 miles from the sea and an island is formed.  Neolithic migrants settle.


Whilst many continued west following the invasion, some stayed and founded a small trading post.  Occasionally, vessels made their way up the shallow (Orwell) river and the first evidence of a Port was created.


With trade dwindling as the Romans influence waned, it wasn’t until 950 AD that the Town grew to the extent of establishing its own Royal Mint.  However, the new-found importance of the area achieved under Saxon rule soon vanished.


Having previously tried and failed, in 981 the Danes’ invasion succeeded and the Town’s ramparts were reduced to ashes.  The invaders demanded ‘Danegeld’ or ‘protection money’ from the 1000 or so inhabitants and trade almost stopped; the river & port silting-up.


In 1016 Canute sailed up the Orwell and disembarked at Ipswich.  The following Summer, having driven his armies towards London, Canute was King of England.


Trade in Ipswich eventually picked up and by the end of the 12th Century, various trades were being established. Wine was imported from France and wool was being exported from the local areas.


In 1200, King John sold the Town its first Charter and its importance was symbolised by a ship device on its first Common Seal.  The River now saw many ships trading from Ipswich.  By 1281 a merchant community formed and although barely surpassing the previous 1000 resident mark, a collector of customs dues was appointed and first mention is made of a north bank, wooden common quay.


…commenced in earnest in the early 14th Century, with various yards being built along the east bank of the Orwell. A post 9 year war truce with France saw a lift of foreign import restrictions and the wine trade built once more.  Trade in skins, wool, leather, fleeces & fish also thrived and with the coming of the Wooloons in 1336, the wool trade – already established in north Suffolk – began to flourish.  It was in 1340 that the extent of the Port of Ipswich was defined as being from the Town on both sides of the high tide water, to a point beyond Landguard Point, now covered by the sea.