views updated Jun 08 2018


Ipswich lies at the tidal reach of the Orwell estuary, in southeastern Suffolk, on the shortest crossing of the North Sea to the mouth of the Rhine. Extensive archaeological excavations between 1974 and 1990 have shown that the town is one of the four major craft production and trading settlements of seventh- to ninth-century England (the so-called wics, or emporia). The earliest settlement, dating to the seventh century, appears to have covered up to 15 hectares on the north bank of the Orwell, centered on the crossing point of the river that later became Stoke Bridge. Excavations in 1986, west of St. Peter's Street, revealed the first structures and rubbish pits of this date, associated with local handmade pottery and Merovingian (Frankish) black wares, indicating a trading function. Other sites of likely seventh-century occupation have produced few features of this date, but handmade pottery has been retrieved from later contexts, and a hollowedout tree trunk well discovered at Turret Lane, at the northern limit of the area, gave a dendrochronological date (tree ring date) of a.d. 670 (plus or minus ninety years).

Other elements of this early settlement also have been found. Field boundaries containing cereal remains were excavated at Fore Street, about 200 meters east of the settlement, indicating an agricultural aspect of the local economy. To the north of the settlement is an extensive cemetery. Burials of seventh-century date were excavated at Elm Street in 1975 and at Foundation Street in 1985. The largest group of burials, however, was excavated in 1988 on the Butter Market site immediately north of the early settlement. Here seventy-seven graves were found, despite considerable damage from later occupation. No limits to the cemetery were discovered, and it was clearly larger than the 5,000 square meters excavated. Radiocarbon dates indicate that burial was restricted to the seventh century. Although bone preservation was poor, remains of more than fifty people were recovered, of which it is known that thirty-nine were adults and four were juveniles. Of the adults, research has ascertained that eight were male or probably male and four were female or probably female. All the burials were inhumations, buried with or without coffins in simple graves, in chamber graves, or under small mounds surrounded by ring ditches. Objects accompany nearly half the burials, but the majority of graves were poorly furnished, often with only a knife. Of the more lavishly furnished burials, three dating to the period a.d. 610–670 were accompanied by Continental grave assemblages. The richest was a male buried in a coffin with a sword, shield, two spears, and two glass palm cups.

In the early eighth century Ipswich was expanded to a massive 50 hectares by the creation of a virtual new town, to the north of the original settlement, and by expansion south of the river, into Stoke. New streets were laid out on a gridiron pattern, and buildings were constructed on their frontages. Craft activities, including spinning and weaving, antler and bone working, and metalworking, occur on most sites but not in great quantities. Leatherworking, too, must have been common but is represented only on the waterlogged riverfront site at Bridge Street, where a substantial quantity of cobblers' waste was recovered. Other industries, such as shipbuilding and fishing, also may have been important, but direct evidence is lacking. There can be little doubt, however, that the major industry of the town in both the eighth and ninth centuries was pottery production. Evidence of pottery production stretches for about 200 meters on the south side of Carr Street. Ipswich ware was the only wheel-made and kiln-fired pottery produced in England between the seventh and ninth centuries. The industry supplied the entire East Anglian Kingdom with pottery, and it was exported to aristocratic and ecclesiastical sites as far away as Yorkshire and Kent. On the margins of settlement, environmental evidence indicates agricultural activities, including the keeping of livestock and cereal cleaning, but overall the animal bone evidence suggests that meat was imported into the town from the rural hinterland and that Ipswich was a consumer, rather than a producer, of food.

Little is known about any public buildings that may have served the Middle Saxon town. The first Christian churches appear to be associated with the "new town" of the early eighth century. On the basis of their dedications, the churches of St. Peter, St. Augustine, and St. Mildred probably are the earliest. Excavations also have revealed the sequence of waterfront development. The seventh-century harbor looked very different from the present one, being shallow and tidal, as it is farther down the Orwell estuary in the twenty-first century. Since the eighth century there has been continuous land reclamation, as new waterfronts were constructed nearer the center of the river and the land behind them was filled, raised, and developed. The Anglo-Saxon waterfronts were simple timber revetments, no more than 1 meter high, providing protection to the river bank and hard standing for unloading boats.

International trade was important to the Ipswich economy throughout the eighth and ninth centuries. Imported Norwegian hone stones, Rhenish lava millstones, and Frankish pottery are found on all sites throughout the 50 hectares of occupation and in quantities far in excess of finds from rural sites. The dominant trade link is, not surprisingly, with the Rhine and Dorestad, but there are also links with Belgium and northern France. It is assumed that wool or cloth was exported in return. Rhenish imports undoubtedly included wine for consumption by the local aristocracy and early church. The wine itself was transported in wooden barrels, examples of which have been found reused as lining for well shafts. One such barrel from the excavations in Lower Brook Street in 1975 has been dated by dendrochronology to shortly after a.d. 871 and matches the tree ring pattern of the Mainz area of Germany.

By the eighth century a handful of towns had developed around the North Sea and Baltic coast, each with an economy based on commodity production and international trade. In England there is one such place per Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. Gipeswic (Ipswich) served East Anglia and certainly was founded by the East Anglian royal house, the Wuffingas, whose burial ground at Sutton Hoo and palace at Rendlesham lie less than 10 miles northeast of Ipswich, on the east bank of the River Deben. During the ninth century other towns were founded in the region (among them Norwich, Thetford, and Bury St. Edmunds), and Ipswich gradually lost its role as the East Anglian capital. Although it remained a significant international port, its economy otherwise became that of a market town serving southeastern Suffolk.

See alsoEmporia (vol. 2, part 7); Trade and Exchange (vol. 2, part 7); Anglo-Saxon England (vol. 2, part 7); Sutton Hoo (vol. 2, part 7).


Hodges, Richard. Dark Age Economics: The Origins of Towns and Tradea.d. 600–1000. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Wade, Keith. "Gipeswic—East Anglia's First Economic Capital 600–1066." In Ipswich from the First to the Third Millennium, pp. 1–6. Ipswich, U.K.: Ipswich Society, 2001.

——. "The Urbanisation of East Anglia: The Ipswich Perspective." In Flatlands and Wetlands: Current Themesin East Anglian Archaeology. Edited by Julie Gardiner, pp. 144–151. East Anglian Archaeology, no. 50. Dereham, U.K.: Norfolk Archaeological Unit, 1993.

——. "Ipswich." In The Rebirth of Towns in the West,a.d.700–1050. Edited by Richard Hodges and Brian Hobley, pp. 93–100. Council for British Archaeology Research Report, no. 68. London: Council for British Archaeology, 1988.

Keith Wade


views updated May 29 2018


IPSWICH , town in southeastern England. A medieval community existed there until 1290 with its own *archa. However, relatively little is known about it. Jews began to resettle in the mid-18th century. A synagogue was built in 1792 and a cemetery acquired in 1796. During the French Revolution, the Jews were suspected of Jacobin sympathies and the magistrates had to intervene to save them from attack. The community ceased to exist during the 19th century. At the outset of the 21st century, no Jewish institutions existed in Ipswich.


Abrahams, in: jhset, 2 (1894–95), index; Davis, in: East Anglian, 3 (1889–90), 89–93, 105f., 123–7; C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 71–4; Roth, England, index. add bibliography: M. Brown, "The Jews of Norfolk and Sufflok Before 1840," in: jhset, 32 (1990–92), 219–36; idem, "An Ipswich Worthy Portrayed by John Constable," in: jhset, 33 (1992–4), 137–40.

[Cecil Roth]


views updated Jun 11 2018

Ipswich. Suffolk town, on the Orwell estuary. It was one of the earliest post-Roman towns in Britain, originating in the 7th cent. as a trading port (wic) and industrial town. Large and wealthy from c.650 to 850, it was less important in the high and later Middle Ages. Thomas Wolsey, a major benefactor, was born there in 1471. Under the Tudors and Stuarts it enjoyed a second heyday as a port and cloth town, and was one of the half-dozen largest and wealthiest English provincial towns. Since the 18th cent. it has been of regional rather than national importance.

David M. Palliser


views updated May 14 2018

Ipswich City and port in e England, on the Orwell estuary; the county town of Suffolk. The wool trade brought it prosperity in the Middle Ages. After a decline, its fortunes were revived in the 19th century with the introduction of light industry. Industries: milling, brewing, printing, agricultural machinery. Pop. (1994) 114,000.