Ipswich History in Photographs

The maritime history of Ipswich is well documented, but what is perhaps not so well known is the happy coincidence of the construction of the new Wet Dock and the invention of photography by Henry Fox-Talbot. It was his invention that inspired pioneer photographers to record the scene in this exciting new medium in the late 1840s. It is remarkable that these first images have survived as a unique legacy of some of the earliest photographs ever taken in the world. Since then, although a few have appeared in various publications, the Trust’s work to digitise them over the past fifteen years brings them back to life for us all to enjoy. One, by local chemist John Wiggin, is of exceptional quality and shows the newly completed Custom House in 1846; then rather attractively described as the town’s new ‘Hall of Commerce and Captains’ Coffee House’, replacing the medieval one on the same site. Another, by Robert Burrows, is believed to be the earliest photograph of the Orwell, taken at Woolverstone Cat House long before the river channel was dredged. Ipswich should be proud to have such rare and important images from the very earliest days of photography. 

Recently the BBC’s Michael Portillo came to view the Archive which he then featured in the January 2017 edition of his ’Great Railway Journeys’ programme. Many of the Archive’s 3000 images of the dock and river, can now be viewed on the Trust’s website www.ipswichmaritimetrust.org.uk. One of the main reasons for placing the Image Archive on-line is to expand it, adding useful information that we do not currently have and so make it a more useful public resource. Members of the Trust are now able to do this on-line for themselves and of course Waterfront Life readers would be welcome to join us!