Ipswich and Wolsey’s Gate

Ipswich was founded in the late 6th or early 7th century on the north bank of the River Orwell. By the 8th century the settlement had spread over most of the present town centre, and indeed the Anglo-Saxon street pattern can still be seen. The most important industry was the manufacture of pottery, the kilns producing distinctive ‘Ipswich Ware’. Because the site is only 12 miles from the open sea, international trade was also important and imports included wine and pottery.

The Anglo-Saxon name, Gipeswic, can be translated as Gip or Gippi’s trading port or harbour. Or alternatively it may derive from a topographical description of the settlement’s location referring to the gip, gap or opening forming the Orwell estuary. The river was to be of central importance to the development of the town. The early churches of St Mildred’s and St Augustine’s were probably of Middle Saxon origin and St Peter’s and St Mary Stoke may also have been early foundations. From about 970 Ipswich was occupied by the Danes, who may have been responsible for constructing the town’s first defences.

Wolsey’s Gate, adjacent to St Peter’s church, is all that remains of the College founded by Cardinal Wolsey, who was the son of an Ipswich butcher. Built of red brick it was erected in about 1528. The College of St Mary was intended to incorporate the existing grammar school and was probably linked to Wolsey’s college of Christ Church Oxford. The foundation consisted of a Dean, Sub-Dean, twelve fellows, eight singing men, eight choristers, twelve Bedesmen (a man of prayer who prays for the souls of others), a master in grammar, an usher, a second usher and fifty ‘grammar children’. It lay on the site of the dissolved priory of St Peter and St Paul and St Peter’s church served as the College chapel.

By autumn 1529 the School was flourishing, attended by local boys and boys from all parts of the kingdom, but Wolsey’s fall from grace signalled the end of the college. The endowment passed to the Crown and the building stone, from Caen in France, was sent to London for additions to the royal palace at Whitehall. The grammar school was allowed to continue and returned to Felaw’s House.