The History of Ipswich
A large Roman villa stood on what is now Castle Hill in Ipswich, and a major Roman north-south route ran through the district, but it seems no settlement of any size developed there until the arrival of Germanic tribes in the 7th century, when villages and hamlets which had arisen in the previous century coalesced with a new if basic port facility and its attendant houses around 630AD. That port was established by a Saxon royal house, the Wuffingas, from the outset intended as a conduit for trade with Germanic territories across the sea, with resources like whetstones imported and agricultural produce exported in return.
The port town variously called Gippeswick and Gippeswyc was soon bolstered economically by the arrival of Frisian settlers who brought commercial pottery skills to the place, a trade important for at least 200 years. The name Gippeswick has various explanations: that it was a wic or town settled by someone called Gippa; or at the gip (corner) of the river Gipping where it joins the Orwell .
Trade meant prosperity, as evidenced by a Saxon mint operating there from about 970. Such wealth attracted the attention of the Vikings . In the late 9th and early 10th centuries they actually held the town; expelled in 917 they raided again in 919; a Viking invasion force sacked the town in 991 and another in 1010; and even after the Norman Conquest a further raid ravaged Ipswich, in 1069, when Sweyn of Denmark was defeated in battle near the town by a force headed by Robert Bigod.
Norman demands and Viking raids took their toll on Ipswich, which by the Domesday Book of 1086 had gone from a place with trade supporting more than 500 sound burgesses to one with a fifth that number. It only merited a wooden castle built sometime around the end of the 11th century: it was besieged by King Stephen in 1153, and destroyed on the orders of Henry II in 1176.
In spite of such difficulties Ipswich must have been reasonably wealthy in the 12th century, when it supported five significant religious houses.
King John in 1200 gave it a charter which ended its status as a royal burgh in favour of self-government by the town’s burgesses. Shipbuilding and a burgeoning wool trade in the 14th century saw Ipswich established as a major trading site, with fairs to facilitate such business.
In 1475 the town’s most famous son, the future Cardinal Wolsey , was born. During his time as Henry VIII ’s most trusted counsellor his hometown benefited from his vast wealth, but like his power the college he founded in Ipswich was short-lived.
As a port with a shipbuilding industry Ipswich saw the rise of ancillary trades like sail-making in the 16th and 17th century, in part making up for the decline in the wool trade in the latter period. Though wool exports reduced drastically, grain was shipped in bulk from the town, and timber brought in from Scandinavia.
During the reign of Mary I Ipswich saw protestant martyrs burned in the town centre, a sign of the non-conformity evidenced in the following century when it was a major embarkation port for religiously driven emigrants to America.
Ipswich joined the Industrial Revolution rather late, in the 19th century becoming a manufacturing centre for agricultural machinery and an iron-making town, though other industries like brick-making and brewing also thrived then, and its traditional coastal trade from the improved port carried on.
Zeppelins raided the town twice in WWI , to little effect, but the Luftwaffe caused considerable damage in the following conflict, raids continuing well into 1945. Today Ipswich is again a prosperous place, not least because it has become a commuter town serving London .