A Timeline of the History of Ipswich

POSTED ON: 24/08/2020

The oldest town in England

Ipswich has a fascinating history spanning three millennia and nearly 1,500 years; with Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Kings, Queens, invasions, emigrations, refugees, war and trade. 

Remnants of many of these moments in the history of Ipswich can still be found throughout the town; hidden gems that offer a window into the past. You can visit historic churches such as St Mary-le-Tower and St Peter's by the Waterfront, explore the collections at Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion, follow the Blue Plaque trail or simply wander the ancient streets.

Read through this timeline to get a brief history of Ipswich and it's people:

Medieval Ipswich

Medieval Ipswich


600s - The port of 'Gippeswic' (old English form of Ipswich) is founded with a small trading settlement during the Anglo-Saxon times, after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The name 'Gippeswic' comes from the name of the river Gipping and the Anglo-Saxon word wic meaning 'dwelling-place'.

700 - Frisian potters from the Netherlands emigrate to Ipswich and set-up the first potteries in England since Roman times.

720 - As the town prospers through maritime trade with Europe, a large new part of the town is laid out in the Buttermarket area.

869 - Ipswich is invaded and falls under Viking rule.

917 - Ipswich is recaptured by the English.

1086 - Ipswich has a population of about 2,000.

1177 - An Augustinian Priory is built on the site that is now Christchurch Mansion. St Mary-le-Tower church was also founded around this time.

1200 - King John grants Ipswich it's first Charter; a document granting rights to the people and laying the foundations for civil government. The town begins to flourish as it exports cloth and wool across Europe via the port.

1340 - Ipswich has a population of about 3,000.

1380 - Geoffrey Chaucer writes about Ipswich merchants in The Canterbury Tales.

1473 - Thomas Wolsey, future cardinal to King Henry VIII, is born in Ipswich.

Renaissance Ipswich

Renaissance Ipswich


1528 - St Mary's School is founded

1548 - The Priory is demolished as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Edmund Withypoll begins construction of Christchurch Mansion on the Priory site.

1579 - Queen Elizabeth I visits Ipswich.

1600 - Ipswich has a population of about 4,000. The cloth and wool trade starts a rapid decline as imported fabrics become fashionable.

1620s - Huguenot refugees (French Protestants persecuted by King Louis XIV) emigrate and settle in Ipswich.

1630s - Large numbers of the Ipswich population emigrate to the newly founded Americas and establishing Ipswich Massachusetts.

1665 - An outbreak of The Great Plague hits Ipswich.

1680 - Ipswich has a population of about 7,500.

1720 - The town's first newspaper is produced; The Ipswich Journal. The paper was in press for nearly 200 years.

19th Century Ipswich

19th Century Ipswich


1800 - Ipswich has a population of about 11,000. The port booms as shipbuilding, leather, malting and brewing industries flourish.

1818 - Gas lighting is introduced across the town.

1835 - Charles Dickens stays in Ipswich and uses the town as a setting for scenes in his novel The Pickwick Papers.

1851 - Ipswich has a population of about 33,000.

1868 - The Town Hall is built.

1880s - The first sewers are dug in Ipswich. Horse-drawn trams run are introduced to transport the public into the town centre.

1881 - Ipswich Museum opens; built to educate the working classes in natural sciences including natural history, archaeology, geology and ethnology. The Museum held revolutionary debates about Darwin's theory of evolution written in The Origins of Species.

1885 - The Ipswich Star newspaper begins publications.

1895 - Christchurch Park opens to the public; local merchant Felix Cobbold buys the park from the Fonnereau family and gifts it to the towns people.

20th Century Ipswich

20th Century Ipswich


1901 - Ipswich has a population of about 66,000.

1903 - Electric trams are introduced to replace the horse-drawn trams.

1915 - A German Zeppelin raid during World War 1 kills one man in Ipswich.

1926 - The electric trams cease.

1929 - Ipswich Regent Theatre opens as a 'cine-variety hall' and was one of the UK's first theatre to play films with sound.

1945 - A German bombing raid during World War 2 devastates the town docks, killing 9 people and destroying 6 houses.

1965 - The Ipswich Transport Museum opens; housing collections of the disused trams along with old buses, fire engines and trolleybuses.

1971 - Ipswich has a population of about 123,000.

1974 - The Willis Building is designed and built by Sir Norman Foster and became the youngest grade 1 listed building in the UK.

1982 - The Orwell Bridge is built. At the time, the bridge was one of the longest bridges in the UK.

1986 - Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre opens; now Sailmakers Shopping Centre.

1992 - Buttermarket Shopping Centre opens.

1993 - Ipswich is twinned with Arras, France and lends it's name to the area outside the Buttermarket Centre; Arras Square.


Sources: Britain Express, Colchester & Ipswich Museums, The History Files, Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Maritime Trust, Ipswich Society, Local Histories, Medieval English Towns


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