I have great affection for England’s country towns, but heavens! they’re having a tough time. The big department stores are ailing. When they’ve all finally closed, as seems inevitable, the shopping heart of every English town will have been ripped out, replaced elsewhere by online stores, distant warehouses and thousands of delivery vans.
It’s not just the department stores either. Most of the smaller, interesting shops, such as those selling hardware items, books and music recordings, or even those offering violin or watch repairs, have been replaced by charity junkshops (as in the picture below), staffed by volunteer workers. Street photography can document the transition by recording these changes that are constantly taking place on the High Street.
For me, Ipswich in East Suffolk is just a short hop away on the train, so I go there sometimes to take pictures. It’s a town with a proud history, having once belonged to the wife of Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England. It came to be known as Gypeswic or Gyppewicus in the Domesday Book and later as Yppswyche. At school I learned the modern spelling by the mnemonic “I Put Some Water In Charlie’s Hat.” Ipswich.
I should note that the most famous person to emerge from Ipswich was Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s right-hand man, and no one from there has since attained greater heights nor fallen as dramatically.
Other famous people seemed merely to be “passing through,” like the visiting Charles Dickens, or Lord Nelson who was briefly High Steward of the town. An exception was football manager Alf Ramsey who took Ipswich Town to the top of the leagues in 1961/2 before guiding England to World Cup victory a few years later. He’s still in Ipswich, buried in the Old Cemetery.
Old Buildings, New Functions
While there are plenty of new housing estates on the outskirts of Ipswich, the town centre can only repurpose buildings from one function to another. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
When I was at school in nearby Framlingham one of my greatest delights was to visit the Ancient House Bookshop, housed in a spectacular and historic building which is profusely decorated by wood carvings and plaster mouldings. Structurally, the building is still intact, but the bookshop has gone. Inside, there’s nothing but kitchen equipment, lit by modern light fittings (as my picture, below, shows).
Today, all the talk (and quite a bit of action) is about regeneration: the attempt to drag Ipswich into a prosperous future. Notably, the Waterside at the top of the estuary has been redeveloped, as has the Cornhill, where Queen Mary burned martyrs for their Protestant beliefs in the sixteenth century.
Starting from a low base, Ipswich must surely prosper now that it’s home to a University and many major businesses. The title of my picture below (with a map of the town centre) is “The Only Way Is Up.”
To be continued at a later date!