As one of England’s oldest towns, Ipswich, formally known as Gippeswick (or Gipeswic), was formed by the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th or 8th century around Ipswich dock. The Romans had used the town as an important route inland to rural towns and settlements via the River Orwell and Gipping. Essential North Sea trade with the continent continued after they left. With the arrival of Frisian potters from the Netherlands, and the setting up of large scale potteries, pottery was transported all over England and was unique to the area for 200 years. As the town grew and prospered, Ipswich became a place of national and international importance.
The Vikings invaded in 869 and Ipswich fell under their rule. Earth ramparts were built around the town to defend against the English but they were unsuccessful. In 970, King Edgar gave a royal license to the town to create a mint which continued throughout the Norman Conquest until King John came to power. The town’s first charter was granted by the king in 1200 which set the foundation of its modern civil government.
Trading continued, mainly in Suffolk cloth, to the continent and during the unfolding centuries 5 religious houses were founded, several hospitals and in industry, the wool trade boomed. Geoffrey Chaucer satirised the merchants of Ipswich in his famous book The Canterbury Tales in 1380 and Thomas Wolsey, the future cardinal who was a close political ally of Henry VIII (who closed the religious houses), was born in the town in 1475. During the 16th century the population was around 4,000 inhabitants and by the late 17th century had risen to around 7,500.
During the 18th century, although a prosperous town, its growth faltered. Wool trade ceased but other industries took its place such as shipbuilding, malting, brewing and leather. Lord and Lady Nelson moved to the town in 1797 with Lord Nelson appointed as the High Steward of Ipswich.
With the arrival of the 19th century, Ipswich became an important manufacturing centre in iron, brick making, cement making, grain and oil milling, fertiliser making, tobacco and clothing as well as the important industries from the 18th century. 1812 saw the construction of the corn exchange, for the buying and selling of grain and, in 1868 the town hall was built. During this century, gas street lighting was provided, the first modern police force founded and the town’s first museum opened. By the end of the century, population had reached 66,000. Charles Dickens was a resident of Ipswich for a time using the town as a backdrop for his famous novel Pickwick Papers.
Shipbuilding, farm machinery construction and brewing diminished in the town during the 20th century, but new service industries replaced them. Ipswich was targeted twice during World War One by German Zeppelins, once in 1915 and the other in 1916, which resulted in one death. In the 20’s and 30’s clearance of the local slums began, and the first council houses were built. In 1965 the Transport Museum was founded and the shopping centres of Tower Ramparts and the Buttermarket were opened in 1986 and 1992. The Orwell Bridge was constructed in 1982.