Ipswich is a large town and a non-metropolitan district. It is the county town of Suffolk, England. Ipswich is located on the estuary of the River Orwell. Nearby towns are Felixstowe, Needham Market and Stowmarket in Suffolk and Harwich and Colchester in Essex.
The urban development of Ipswich overspills the borough boundaries significantly, with 85% of the town's population living within the borough at the time of the 2001 Census, when it was the third-largest settlement in the United Kingdom's East of England region, and the 49th largest urban area in the United Kingdom.
The modern name is derived from the medieval name 'Gippeswick', probably taken from the River Gipping which is the non-tidal section of the River Orwell. As of 2011, the town of Ipswich was found to have a population of 138,718, while the Ipswich urban area is estimated to have a population of approximately 155,000.
Under the Roman empire, the area around Ipswich formed an important route inland to rural towns and settlements via the rivers Orwell and Gipping. A large Roman fort, part of the coast defences of Britain, stood at Walton near Felixstowe (13 miles, 21 km), and the largest Roman villa in Suffolk (possibly an administrative complex) stood at Castle Hill (north-west Ipswich).
Ipswich is one of England's oldest towns, and took shape in Anglo-Saxon times (in the 7th–8th centuries) around Ipswich dock. As the coastal states of north-western Europe emerged from the collapse of the Roman Empire, essential North Sea trade and communication between eastern Britain and the continent (especially to Scandinavia, and through the Rhine) passed through the formerly Roman ports of London (serving the Kingdoms of Mercia, the East Saxons and of Kent) and of York (Eoforwic) (serving the Kingdom of Northumbria).
Gipeswic (also Gippelwich ) arose as the equivalent to these serving the Kingdom of East Anglia, its early imported wares dating to the time of King Rædwald, supreme ruler of the English (616–624). The famous ship-burial and treasure at Sutton Hoo nearby (9 miles, 14.5 km) is probably his grave. The Ipswich Museum houses replicas of the Roman Mildenhall Treasure and the Sutton Hoo treasure. A gallery devoted to the town's origins includes Anglo-Saxon weapons, jewellery and other artefacts.
The 7th century town, called 'Gippeswick' was centred near the quay. Towards 700 AD, Frisian potters from the Netherlands area settled in Ipswich and set up the first large-scale potteries in England since Roman times. Their wares were traded far across England, and the industry was unique to Ipswich for 200 years. With growing prosperity, in about 720 AD a large new part of the town was laid out in the Buttermarket area. Ipswich was becoming a place of national and international importance.
Parts of the ancient road plan still survive in its modern streets. After the invasion of 869 Ipswich fell under Viking rule. The earth ramparts circling the town centre were probably raised by Vikings in Ipswich around 900 to prevent its recapture by the English. They were unsuccessful. The town operated a Mint under royal licence from King Edgar in the 970s, which continued through the Norman Conquest until the time of King John, in about 1215. The abbreviation 'Gipes' appears on the coins.
King John granted the town its first charter in 1200, laying the medieval foundations of its modern civil government. In the next four centuries it made the most of its wealth, trading Suffolk cloth with the Continent. Five large religious houses, including two Augustinian Priories (St Peter and St Paul, and Holy Trinity, both mid-12th century), and those of the Greyfriars (Franciscans, before 1298), Ipswich Whitefriars (Carmelites founded 1278–79) and Ipswich Blackfriars (Dominicans, before 1263), stood in medieval Ipswich. The last Carmelite Prior of Ipswich was the celebrated John Bale, author of the oldest English historical verse-drama (Kynge Johan, c.1538). There were also several hospitals, including the leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene, founded before 1199. During the Middle Ages the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Grace was a famous pilgrimage destination, and attracted many pilgrims including Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. At the Reformation the statue was taken away to London to be burned, though some claim that it survived and is preserved at Nettuno, Italy.
Around 1380, Geoffrey Chaucer satirised the merchants of Ipswich in the Canterbury Tales. Thomas Wolsey, the future cardinal, was born in Ipswich about 1475 as the son of a wealthy landowner. One of Henry VIII's closest political allies, he founded a college in the town in 1528, which was for its brief duration one of the homes of the Ipswich School. He remains one of the town's most famed figures.
The painter Thomas Gainsborough lived and worked in Ipswich. In 1835, Charles Dickens stayed in Ipswich and used it as a setting for scenes in his novel The Pickwick Papers. The hotel where he resided first opened in 1518; it was then known as The Tavern and later became known as the Great White Horse Hotel. Dickens made the hotel famous in chapter XXII of The Pickwick Papers, vividly describing the hotel's meandering corridors and stairs. The building now houses branches of Starbucks and Cotswold Outdoor.
In 1824, Dr George Birkbeck, with support from several local businessmen, founded one of the first Mechanics' Institutes which survives to this day as the independent Ipswich Institute Reading Room and Library. The elegant 15 Tavern Street building has been the site of the Library since 1836.
In 1797 Lord and Lady Nelson moved to Ipswich, and in 1800 Lord Nelson was appointed High Steward of Ipswich.
Ipswich was subject to bombing by German Zeppelins during the First World War but the greatest damage by far occurred during the German bombing raids of World War II. The area in and around the docks were especially devastated. The last bombs to fall on Ipswich landed on Seymour Street in March 1945.