A Guide to Documentary Sources for Archaeological Reports: Ipswich

Documentary Reports provide a site narrative that can detail previous land use and the status of a site during the historic period. In terms of the archaeology it also can offer an account of intrusions into the underlying archaeological layers that determine the preservation or destruction of the remains. If done in a consistent and comprehensive manner it has the potential to recreate the historic townscape of earlier periods. 

A number of documentary studies have been included in various archaeological reports relating to sites in Ipswich and elsewhere in Suffolk. Often these have been prepared at the assessment stage and the subsequent excavation of a site or examination of an adjoining area has provided an opportunity to revise and expand on the original documentary study through researching additional sources. Since the publication of David Allen’s ‘Ipswich Borough Archives 1255 – 1835 A Catalogue’ (2000), it has been easier to identify relevant sources in that collection but the borough archives represent only part of the rich archive of material that is available. In the main site histories have been traced through combining cartographic sources with earlier property records relating to the same site or immediate area and in some instances lists of rents, local and national taxes raised on the properties. The method is not new, in 1899 the Ipswich historian and part-time borough archivist Vincent Redstone examined documentary sources relating to the site of the former Carmelite Priory in Ipswich following Nina Layard excavation of part of the site. Their articles published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute omit plans of the site. Redstone revisited this research in 1928-1930 at the behest of the printers W.S. Cowell Ltd whose premises occupied the site. His research notes are held at the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich (ref. HD11/1:4291/6.35). Also a sketched plan showing his plotting to the property boundaries together with two other plans showing the location of Nina Layard’s excavation and the positions of the priory walls discovered in 1899 and 1939 are in the W.S. Cowell Ltd collection (ref. HC439/A/C2/6-8). The plans suggest that Nina Layard’s work was something more than a ‘watching brief’ suggested by some commentators.

Though from as early as the beginning of the 14th century a number of documentary sources contain measurements of properties and extensions to properties there has been no systematic attempt to plot the property boundaries on later maps.


The Range of Historic Sources and Finding Aids

There are no historical references to Ipswich before the late 10th century but then amongst the earliest surviving documents the 970 charter of the bounds of Stoke by Ipswich provides the first site specific reference to a location in Ipswich Hagenefordabrycge, the present Handford Road Bridge (Fairclough 2003). Despite the importance of the Domesday survey c. 1086, documentary sources remain sparse until the mid-thirteenth century.  From that point onwards range of documentary sources that can be used for the historic geography of Ipswich greatly increase.

A considerable amount of the early material relating to the history of Ipswich has been published or has been studied by earlier historians and though a knowledge of Latin is a distinct advantage when it comes to considering the medieval material, a range of these documents are accessible through transcripts and translations.

Most manuscript sources relating to the history of Ipswich can be found at the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich. The record office also has microfilm copies of various manuscripts that are now held at other repositories such as the British Library and Cambridge University Library. In addition, their extensive local history library and studies collections is a comprehensive archive of published material.

At present researchers have to rely on a range of paper and card indexes to identify relevant material. It is possible to search some of the record office’s catalogues online through the use of the National Archives’ Discovery. A virtue of Discovery is that it can be used to identify further sources held at the National Archives and elsewhere.  The National Archives website also hosts Manorial Documents Register.

Some of the more important catalogues such as those for the Ipswich Borough Collection, the Ipswich Port Authority Collection and parish collections of all of Ipswich’s parishes are available through Suffolk Heritage Direct. Further catalogues will become in March/April 2016, which should further assist researchers.

Despite the further development of Suffolk Heritage Direct, the library and local studies collection will be listed elsewhere as will the microfilm and fiche collections. Until all catalogues are available online problems identifying sources will remain.

These notes are intended to assist researchers to further identify documentary sources.


Ipswich Borough and Liberties

The area of the present Ipswich Borough Council which omits part of the civil parish of Whitton was established under the 1974 local government reforms. The boundaries were those of the former Municipal Borough established in 1835 which included both the bounds of the ancient liberties of Ipswich with the additions of parts neighbouring parishes added to the area of the borough in 1894, 1934 and 1952 (Youngs 1997).

It is fortunate that historic records, dating from the thirteenth century with maps from the sixteenth century, for the areas on the south eastern fringes of Ipswich including the former extra-parochial areas of Alnesbourne Priory and Half Way are in a single archive collection the De Saurmarez Collection (HA 93). The same collection also includes records for the area of Boss Hall (Bordeshowe). The areas of Whitton outside of the borough were mainly the property of the borough’s charity estate. Records in the Ipswich Borough Collection now list on Suffolk Heritage Direct date from the early fourteenth century with maps from 1723 onwards.

The area of Ipswich’s ancient liberties included both the lands under the direct control of the borough and those areas outside the immediate control of the borough previously granted out as manors e.g. Stoke by Ipswich, Wix Bishop, Wix Ufford and Brokes or Brooks together with lands that had become the property of Ipswich’s two priories St Peter and St Paul founded c. 1133 and Holy Trinity founded c. 1177 and other ecclesiastical estates. The boundaries of the liberty were not defined in the borough’s charters but in later perambulations dating from 1351.  In 1812 the borough employed John Bransby to survey the boundaries of the liberties. The results of his work were a printed map of bounds on a scale of 2 ½ furlongs to an Inch (1:19800) of which some 110 copies were printed and a published pamphlet ‘Ancient and Modern Perambulations and Extracts from Charters, Trials and Other Records relative to the liberties of Ipswich by Land and Water intended as a Companion to the Maps of those Jurisdictions’ containing a transcript of the perambulations 1351, 1522 and 1812 of which 300 copies were printed (ref. C/1/1/21 & C/1/5/4).  There were further perambulations in 1672 and 1695 (ref. C/3/10/1/1) and1674 (ref. C/3/10/1/1/2).

It is essential when examining sites on the fringes of Ipswich to understand where they stand in relation to the boundaries historic boundaries.

Ipswich Parishes

The responsibilities of the former ecclesiastical parishes for various aspects of civil administration were removed under various nineteenth century acts of parliament until their civil administration was finally abolished in 1894 and passed to the newly created civil parishes. Ipswich’s civil parishes were abolished in 1903 as was that of Rushmere St Andrew. The role of Ipswich parishes in civil administration is evident as early as 1227 when they were used as the basis for the collection of Tallage (Breen and Ridgard 2010). The boundaries of all of Ipswich’s parishes are first shown in colour on Monson 1848 map of Ipswich (ref. MC4/56). This printed map was formerly available in the record office’s map room has been replaced with a black and white photocopy. The boundaries are also marked on Edward White’s 1849 ‘Detailed plan of Ipswich’. White’s printed map measuring 136 cm x 121 cm was produced on scale of 60 yards to 1 in (2160:1). Because of the size of this map it is not available on open access in the record office’s map room and has not been regularly used in archaeological reports. There are three copies of this map (ref. X6/11/2.1, HD 12:53/3/1 & HD 477/11).

As with the boundaries of the liberty the boundaries of individual parishes were described in perambulations copied into Churchwardens and Overseers Account Books and Parish Books. As examples there are perambulations records and notes of the boundaries of St Mary Tower for the year 1743 in the Overseer’s Accounts (ref. FB 91/G2/4), of the parish of St Peter’s for the years 1771, 1781, 1797, 1811, 1823 in the churchwardens accounts (ref. FB 101/E1/1), of St Mary Elms in 1764 in the churchwardens accounts (ref. FB 104/E1/4) and a separate manuscript description of the bounds of St Nicholas in 1750 (ref. FB 94/A2/1). On the same day as the churchwardens of St Nicholas set out their parish’s bounds the churchwardens of the neighbouring parish of St Lawrence set out with hammer and chisel to record and to mark the bounds of their parish. Their work is described in a written perambulation and on a sketch map of the parish included in their account book (ref. FB 106/A2/1). The description records where marks were made on buildings and the position and form of the marks. In other parishes various points on the parishes’ boundaries were marked in the same manner and also by boundary stones or posts.

The bounds of some of Ipswich parishes were recorded on manuscript maps such as John Bransby’s 1821 map of St Mary Elms (ref. FB104/A1/1), Robert Burcham Clamp’s plan of the parish boundaries of St Nicholas 1827 (ref. FB94/A2/6) and Horatio Ellis’ Plan of the parish of St Mary Tower 1838 (ref. FB91/A/6/2) and Map of the parish of St Clements 1839 (ref. FB 98/A12/1). The purpose of these maps was to accurately depict the sometimes complex boundaries of the parish and detach parochial islands in order to identify those properties liable for church rates

The positions of boundary stones and posts are recorded on the large scale 1:500 Ordnance Survey plans of 1883 and in some parishes the practice of beating the bounds continued into the 20th century.

It should be noted that the perambulations and maps show the bounds of the post medieval parishes. In various medieval records there are references to the parishes of St Augustine, St George, St Mildred and St John’s Caldwell. The locations of some of these medieval churches are known but not the bounds of their parishes. The earlier Domesday parish of All Saints was absorbed into St Mathew’s though the church itself survived until the end of the medieval period and its position is known (Blatchly and MacCulloch 2013). Recent archaeological investigations of the site of another church known only by its geographic location as ‘Osterbolt’ has confirmed that its graveyard spans parish boundary between St Mary Quay and St Clements showing that both parishes do not belong to the early medieval period and were established in the 12th century.

Other Boundaries


The Anglo-Saxon origin and role of Ipswich’s leets has been described (Allen 2000). The description and surviving records can be found on Suffolk Heritage Direct (ref. C/2/8). The wards or leets of the borough were defined in the Borough Black Domesday (ref. C4/1/1 f. 70). Later post medieval records grouped the parishes into the town’s ward (Amor 2011 and ref. HA 247/42). Note that these are not the same as the wards shown on Ordnance survey maps.


Medieval property records contain references to property being in the suburbs of the town (Martin 1973). This means that the property lay outside of the town’s wall and ditches. There have been a number of attempts to describe the town’s former wall and ditch and these have often been combined with speculation as to the site of Ipswich’s 12th century castle (Wodderspoon 1850, Clegg 1984 & Wade 1981).

Though the area of the town’s suburbs has not been defined it appears to have been relatively small. The town had limited areas of waste later granted out, but no commons or common rights over open fields. The limited available space for food production may suggest that the town’s inhabitants were dependent on trade from an early date.


At present there is no single index of maps and plans relating to sites in Ipswich. Suffolk Archaeological Service has scanned copies of earlier maps of Ipswich the work of Speed 1610, Ogilby 1674, Pennington 1778 and White 1867. The scanned copies have not been obtained from the original published maps but from photocopies of the same maps that are available in the record office’s map room at Ipswich. As the photocopies are on a reduced scale they occasionally obscure certain details. In addition to the photocopied maps, some additional printed maps are also available on open access together with a comprehensive range of earlier editions of the Ordnance Survey maps including the 1:500 series. A primary concern of the record office which should be shared by all researchers is the long term preservation of the records in their charge. From time to time some maps may be withdrawn for conservation or as with Edward Monson’s 1848 map replaced with photocopies.

Printed Maps

The earliest map of Ipswich the work of John Speed (1552-1629) inset on his map of Suffolk was published in colour in his atlas ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ in 1611. The book was the first to contain a full set of individual county maps of England and Wales. Most but not all of the county maps have town plans on them and those such as Ipswich’s map showing a scale of passes where the places he had mapped himself. The map has a reference table and depicts some of the town’s civic buildings, gates and quay.

Unfortunately when compared with the work of contemporaries Suffolk cartographers, Speed’s map is lacking in accuracy.

John Ogilby (1600-1675) at one time ‘His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer’ is best known for publishing the first British road atlas. His 1674 map of Ipswich based on a survey by Gregory King and Robert Felgate was published on nine sheets in 1690. The map is extremely accurate except for those area where the various sheets adjoin. The photocopies of the original map obscure an important detail in that individual buildings are shaded to show individual properties. Again there a full table of references and Ipswich’s parish churches are carefully depicted around the borders of this map. The map also records the names of some of the land owners but not in a consistent manner.

Joseph Pennington ‘published a map of Ipswich from actual survey, in the year 1778, which is considered to be executed with an extraordinary degree of correctness. At his suggestion, the names of the streets of Ipswich were first fixed. This gentleman is still living and is upwards of eighty years’ (Clarke 1830). Pennington’s map also names various land owners some of whom may have sponsored his work or were potential patrons. His depiction of the bounds of the river Orwell probably show the then river at high tide. The copy of Pennington’s Map with parish boundaries marked should be used with care as some of the former parochial islands detached parts of another parish were every small and may not be shown accurately on this copy (ref. MC3/3).

Edward Monson’s 1848 ‘Plan of Ipswich’ measuring 54 cm x 71 cm (ref. HD 477/10) is marked as fragile and not available for research. It has now been replaced with a black and white photocopy that obscures the coloured parish boundaries shown on the original map (ref. MC4/56).

Edward White’s 1867 map of Ipswich shows all the area within a mile’s radius of the Cornhill, Ipswich and is available on open access. His printed 1849 ‘Detailed plan of Ipswich’ on the scale 60 yards to 1 inch 2160:1 measures 136 cm x 121 cm. This map is not available on open access. There are three copies of the map (ref. X6/11/2.1, HD 12:53/3/1 & HD 477/11). This is the only map that labels public buildings to distinguish them from private houses and then employs different shading for substantial outbuildings, temporary outbuildings manufactories, shed or open buildings and conservatories. In addition to these features various properties owned by 40 named proprietors are marked with their initials and these are listed at the foot of the map.

All these maps together with the Ordnance Survey maps should be used in archaeological reports.

Nearly all other maps and plans were produced for a specific administrative propose or to further define a particular property and if used purely as a geographic representation of an area of landscape, something of their full value will be lost.

Valuation Maps

Various writers through all periods have had a tenancy to reference a location in relation to a property or building that was then well-known or the contemporary proprietor was then well-known. Once that knowledge or memory is gone, the reader is at a loss to understand the precise location described.

The Valuation Office maps were produced in advance of the introduction of a Land Tax first proposed under the 1909 budget. The maps for Ipswich together with the field books are not available at Ipswich and are held at the National Archives and for this reason they have only once been used for an archaeological report. The maps for the centre of Ipswich are based on the 1:500 Ordnance Survey plans the boundaries of each property are coloured and are given a hereditament number. The hereditament numbers are used in the field books to identify the name of the owners and occupiers of the properties, postal addresses including house numbers and the value of each property. They also include notes on tenure and occasionally brief sketch plans of the site and observations of boundaries. As commercial directories with complete listings of each street were published 1881 onwards, once the bounds of a property is defined its occupants be easily traced.

These maps and books are the only complete record of the ownership in Ipswich. They are also a definitive references as to the exact boundaries of each property.

See National Archives Research Guides ‘Valuation Office survey: land value and ownership 1910-1915 and Valuation Office map finder.

Tithe Maps

All the centre of Ipswich was either free from the payment of tithes or the payment of tithes had been commuted at an earlier date. Of the 12 post medieval parishes there are tithe maps for St Mary Stoke 1841, St Clements 1844, St Helens 1844, St Mathews 1845 and St Stephens 1849. As these maps show the then rural areas of their parishes they have not been used extensively for archaeological reports. All apart from that for St Stephens are now available as photocopy. Tithe maps should be treated with care, as they did not have to be geographically accurate as they were only produced for the specific administrative purpose that is the conversion of tithes into a fixed rent charge. Building may or may not been shown in detail. In a number of instances the maps were either copies of earlier maps or larger based on earlier maps.

The maps should always be used with their apportionment to records both the names of the owners and occupiers of the lands, field-names if any, cultivation and acreage. The tithe agreement set out at the start of the apportionment also have some relevance to historic geography as they sometimes account for those areas omitted from the payment of tithes.

As an example of the limitations of these maps the parish of St Margaret consisted of over 1288 acres but only 181 acres were subject to the payment of tithes (ref. FDA149/1A/1a).

Sale Plans and Particulars

From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards to further define the boundaries of a property offered for sale a plan of the property was inserted in the sale particulars. An early example of this practice are the sale plan and particulars for Pitt’s Farm 1811 (ref. B152/1/5/15). There are a number of copies of the plan but in this instance they are all in a bundle of deeds and the existence of the plans is not mentioned in the catalogue. The plans are not listed in the card indexes of sale plans or the paper indexes of Ipswich maps and as such they are not mentioned in those catalogues that are available online. Their relevance to the site of Holywells Park, Ipswich only became apparent after extensive research of other material.

Despite omissions from the current indexes sale plans especially those that predate other maps are invaluable and even more so when care is taken to read the sale particulars. The particulars are likely to identify the previous owners and offer brief details of their right to sell the property. They will make reference to tenure whether freehold or copyhold, for land still in agricultural use they will mention the state of cultivation of the fields. Some plans of commercial premises may contain specific details of the buildings.

In some instances antiquarian interest has meant that some maps and property plans have become detached from their original context and this does reduce their value.

Estate Maps and Property Plans

The earliest plan of any property in Ipswich is the ‘platte’ of lord Curson’s house c. 1528. Copies of the original plan now held at the British Library has been published twice in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute (Grimsey 1889 and Blatchly and Haward 2007). Though there is a plan of the gun powder factory in Ipswich dated 1590 the use of such plans was limited before the eighteenth century.

In 1723 Richard Tallemach was employed by Ipswich Corporation to survey various elements, but not all, of their Charity Estates (ref. C/3/10/8/1 & 11). Other maps which were a result of the same survey show the Corporation’s lands in Whitton are ascribed to Robert Wade (ref. C/3/10/8/1/4, 9 &10). Tallemach or Talmarsh also surveyed the lands of Stoke Hall though the map c. 1748 is the work of John Castle’s (ref. HB8/5/472) In 1735 Joshua Kirby produced map of the Christchurch Estate which still hangs in Christchurch Mansion but has been reproduced on a reduced scale in various publications. The surveyor Isaac Johnson was mapped Stoke Hall in Ipswich August 1792 (ref. HD11: 475/77) and in October 1805 (ref. HD11: 475/319). The references to these maps can be found in the separate catalogue of the Isaac Johnson collection, however his 1799 plans of Rope Walk are indexed in the general map catalogue only (ref. HD 1208/1,2). There is also 1793 a plan Cold Hall Farm in St Margaret’s and St Helen’s (ref. HB1/47/2).

In 1791 there is the first plan of the enclosure of part of the tidal ooze to create a timber lagoon and in 1801 a new ballast quay was constructed. The plans of these development and all the later development of the Wet Dock and New Cut (1835-1838) are in the Ipswich Port Authority Collection (ELI). Many of the plans are the work of John Bransby (1762 -1837). Amongst the Port Authority records Edward Caley’s 1837 sketch books of dock and dock-side buildings (ref. EL1/7/12/1,) which presumed to be drafts of for his colour plans (ref. EL1/7/12/3-6) include highly detailed drawings of a docks frontage taken at low tide before the building of the Wet Dock. The books include accurate measurements and notes on the conditions of the timbers. These books have never been subjected to a detailed analysis by a timber expert. Some of the timbers may have been in place from as early as the late fifteenth century as part from the Common Quay each proprietor appears to have been responsible for their own quay.

Plans on Deeds

Some extremely large collections of deeds have been deposited at the Suffolk Record Office. The level of cataloguing varies with some descriptions not extending beyond the original labels of each bundle, the quantity of deeds and their date range. There has been no systematic cataloguing of those deeds containing plans of the property. The purpose of the plans is to further define the property described in the text. The text will make a reference to the plan after the property description. The plan and sometimes a schedule was then entered either in a margin or at the end of the deed. Subsequent deeds may not always reuse the plan but simply refer to a plan attached to a deed of a certain date.

The quality of the plans also varies. In their simplest form they simply define the property boundaries and make references to the owners of the adjoining plots. Others are highly accurate contemporary descriptions of the buildings themselves. Examples of these types of plans can be found for the Ipswich Paper Mill site later purchased by the Ipswich Water Works Company. Amongst the title deeds (ref. DD2/5/50-118) there are property plans for 1841 (107) and a detailed plan and schedule for 1851 (116). There are several plans amongst the Paul’s Deeds showing their quay site properties one attached to a mortgage deed dated 14th November 1860 is extremely detailed and the schedule lists all the buildings on the site (ref. HC 461/1/6/2/1).

The numerous plans in the deeds for the site of the former Ipswich Prison later the site of Suffolk County Council’s Offices, St Helen’s Court were of fundamental importance for the interpretation of the site and identification of remaining structures. The deeds held in the county council records are now not available for research.

Civil Defence and Air Precautions

There are a number of annotated Ordnance Survey maps prepared for Civil Defence in advance of and at the outset of the Second World War. Towards the end of the conflict measures were put in place to sell off both air raid shelters and defence works and to compensate the original owners of the properties. The Ipswich Borough Archives contain files relating to this process arranged by street name often contain small plans (ref. DC 8/1/8/2-8).


Individual deeds when separated from their original bundles are often of limited use. Antiquarians and collectors might choose an old document simply for its appearance and antiquity and discard later documents that may have been more useful. Occasionally scattered deeds can be linked together and connected to other sources but that is a time consuming process.

In well catalogued collections it is no necessary to examine the deeds as the main details appear in the catalogue. Additional details such as the property boundaries may not appear in the catalogue and then the deeds will have to be examined.

The record office’s policies in relation to bundle of deeds may change and access to bundles of deeds in collections awaiting cataloguing may not be possible.

When confronted with a bundle of deeds the first document to look for is an abstract of title as this document, which can be quite lengthy, is a summary of the contents of the other documents. In the deeds themselves the property description beginning ‘All that …’ is of the greatest interest. Most of the property description will be formula. The property most fixed in relation to adjoining properties and the street. The phrase follows after the naming of the parties and recital clauses of previous conveyances which all begin with the word ‘whereas’. With bundle of deeds all that is necessary is to compare the property description in the oldest deed with that of most recent and note any changes, if the changes are significant it might be necessary to examine further deeds in the bundle.

Deeds can be complexed and a word such as lease may have a variety of meanings. In deeds of lease and release it is a method of conveyance but other leases can be mortgages or simply tenancy agreements.

Bundles of deeds have been used for various archaeological reports as a means of examining a site history back on occasions to the early seventeenth century. When used in a systematic manner the details contained in deeds provide a series of fixed points that can be expanded using other sources to repopulate entire streets or areas of the town.

Rate Books

There are Rate books for nearly all of Ipswich’s historic parishes. A number survive from 1572 onwards. The reason for this is the ‘Act for Paving of the Town of Ipswich’ 1571 (13 Elizabeth I, c. 24). The title of the act obscures it additional purpose which was to regulate the appointment of ministers as the act ordered ‘The Bailiffs of Ipswich and Portmen there, the Churchwardens, and four of every parish shall have authority to tax upon every house, ground and tenement, free or copy, situate with the several parishes of Ipswich reasonable sums of Money to be yearly paid, as well toward the finding of a convenient stipendiary minister within every parish, as for the Reparation of the Churches there’. Because the borough had responsibilities for the collection of rate many of the early lists 1574 – 1651 are in a single volume (ref. C/3/2/2/2). Most of the lists are lacking in details beyond naming individuals and the amount they paid. On folios 326v – 346v there is an undated tax list for the entire town c.1574. The list begins with the parish of St Margaret’s and it is unusual in that it contains some subheadings. The list begins with Richard Waller’s garden ‘next Pountney Lane’ and then ‘Edmond Wythypoll esquire for the late dissolved Priory of Christchurch’ and then the subheadings ‘Tankard Strete’ with 11 properties, Baldwyns Lane 4 properties, ‘Carrystrete’ 40 properties beginning with ‘Mr Harbotle for his house’, ‘Warwroke Strete’ 2 properties, ‘St Margaret Strete’ 35 properties ‘The Soame Strete’ 30 properties and finally ‘Brokestrete’ with 32 properties.

An early rate list for St Matthew’s is contained in the parish book 1572 – 1756 (ref. FB95/A2/1). The first document in this volume is the parish accounts dated 24 October 1574 that includes references to St George’s Lane and the site of the Chapel Yard. On folio 155 there is a taxation for the parish ‘according to the statute of 27 February 1572’ a further reference to the Paving Act.

Occasionally the rate lists will identify a known property such as a public house, but their greatest use is tracing the ownership of a property when the owner is mentioned in deeds back to when they are first mentioned in the rate lists. The rate list occasionally make reference to the previous owner or it may be obvious that the property has passed to a new owner through inheritance.

Enrolled Deeds

In the Ipswich Borough records properties can be trace back into the medieval period because from as early as 1294 transcript of deeds of burgage tenements were enrolled in recognizance rolls. The recognizance rolls continued through to 1425. Later enrolments from1438 were contained in the ‘Dogget’ Rolls and Petty Court Books 1601-1843. The process is described in detail in the collection catalogue now available on Suffolk Heritage Direct (ref. C/2/4/).

The problem for a researcher is until 1733 many of the records were written in Latin.

A calendar of the earlier recognizance rolls has been published (Martin 1973). Vincent Redstone (1853-1941) was a schoolmaster at Woodbridge Grammar School from 1880 until his retirement in 1921 he also acted as the archivist for Ipswich Borough Council and had sufficient time to translate and transcribe nearly all of Ipswich’s early borough records then in the care of the borough. There are two sets of the 25 volumes of his transcriptions. The transcriptions given in the set on open access on the shelves of the record office are not as full as those in the set of his transcriptions held in the Library reserve collection (ref. 942.64 Ips/Stack).  Not all the note books are fully indexed and the transcripts of the earlier material are in Latin. The books contain copies of his articles that were published in the East Anglian Daily Times.

The recognizance rolls and other borough records from as early as 1284 contain extracts from medieval wills and Redstone published a list of the early wills in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute in 1915.

A transcript of Nathaniel Bacon’s 'The Annals of Ipswiche. The Lawes Customes and Governmt … of that Towne... 1654' was published in 1884 (Richardson). Bacon (1593-1660) was the former Recorder and Town Clerk of Ipswich. Bacon’s aim was ‘to recollect those auncient memorialls remaining in scattered writings and records whereof noe recollection hath been formerly made and therby lay buried up as it were in a heape of rubbish’. Bacon had access to certain records (1431-1481) that have since been lost.

The original published edition lacks an index but there is a separate bound typescript index available at the record office. Common Soil, Foreshore Grants and Petty Rentals

The right or licence of Ipswich’s burgesses to ‘build in the King’s waste places in the town, and to receive the farms and profits arising from them for their own use’ was noted in the Patent rolls as early 1340 and in the borough’s Portmanmote Rolls there are references to some pieces of common soil upon the ramparts had been leased in 1303. ‘By 1335 the waste was clearly regarded as a desirable and necessary addition to the community’s resources if it was to command a freely disposable revenue’. Such grants could only be made once the original common use or function had ceased to be relevant. The size of each piece varies and the deeds and later rentals include measurements that can be used to identify some of the plots on the later maps.

The grants of foreshore and grants of common soil formed part of the same series but it appears that they were later separated during to a legal dispute over the foreshore. The rents arising from both grants appear in the petty rentals. Most of the rentals apart from that of 1542 are written in Latin. Some were transcribed by Redstone. The rentals of 1499, 1542 and 1570 have full descriptions of the parcels of land that detail is missing from the later rentals of 1637 and 1672. The 1637 rental does mention public house when their signs were place on common soil (ref. C/3/3/4/1-3 & 7).  In addition to the rentals there is a survey of the borough’s lands dated 1569 (ref. HD117/1).

The grants themselves where they have survived are listed in full in the catalogue of the borough’s archives. Some grants made in the mid fifteenth century were listed in Bacon’s Annals (Richardson).


Following the death of the distinguished local historian Peter Northeast in 2009 the record office received his unpublished manuscripts of transcripts and translations of Suffolk’s medieval wills. His work covered the probate records of the courts of the Archdeaconry of Suffolk, the consistory court of Norwich and the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. His transcripts and translations of wills relating to Ipswich are in four files (ref. HD 2448/1/1/255/1-4) and there are separates file for Stoke, Whitton and the other parishes surrounding Ipswich.

There are published indexes for the archdeaconry of Suffolk to 1700 (Sergeant) and the card indexes of later Archdeaconry wills is now available on Suffolk Heritage Direct. There also published indexes for the Consistory Court of Norwich and these can be searched through the Norfolk Record Office’s online catalogue NROCAT. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills are all available online.


Borough records relate to their own burgage tenements and waste lands their records do not extend far beyond the area enclosed by the town walls and the suburbs. Other lands within the liberty were held of the various manors. Land could be held of a manor as copyhold a form of tenure finally abolished in 1922. At each exchange of a property the former owners had to surrender their lands back to the lordship of the manor before the new owners could take possession. The exchanges were recorded at the manorial courts and entered into the manor court books and earlier rolls. Most court books record the date of the previous transfer but before 1733, part from the period 1653-1660, the records were written in Latin.

The records for the various manors should be listed on the National Archives ‘Manorial Documents Register’. The records for Suffolk have been recently updated but there is an omission in that the records of the Manor of Stoke part of the Ely Diocesan Church Commissioners Records held at Cambridge University Library are at present not listed on the register. The records dating from 1653 have been copied on microfilm and are available at Ipswich. The earliest record is a survey made c. 1653 and annotated up until 1689. The survey gives a description of each piece and then records the previous owners from earlier records that are no longer extant. The earlier references begin in about 1464. There is also in the Library Collection a manuscript ‘Manor of Stoke Copies of Terriers Extracts from Court Rolls etc c 1540-1651’ which appears to relate to other records that are no longer extant (ref. 333.3220942649).

The lands of the manor of Wix Bishop were mainly with the parish of St Clements. The records have been used extensively in archaeological reports on Holywell Park and the areas of Ipswich’s Docks within that parish. Nearly all the former copyhold lands of the manor of Wix Ufford had been granted out at the end of the medieval period and the manor court was only held to record the exchanges of the insignificant remnant of the former estate. Apart of a rental of 1552 was published in Copinger’s ‘Manors of Suffolk’ and the original document is in the Iveagh Collection (ref. HD 1538/274/32). The lands were mainly in the parishes of St Helens and St Clements and some appear to have been interspersed by lands held of Wix Bishop. There is an earlier rental or survey or extent dated 1475-1500 (ref. HA 231/2/11).

The manor of Christchurch inherited the former lands of the Priory of Holy Trinity. All but one of the court books from 1653 have survived and are now held at Ipswich. Each is indexed. The lands were mainly within the parish of St Margaret’s but there were also tenements elsewhere within the borough. Both the freehold and copyhold are listed in a rental of 1546 (ref. HD 1538/271/7). It is possible that this manor had been granted to the Priory of Holy Trinity but the foundation charters for that priory are lost. The medieval court rolls are assumed to be records of the Priory and not the manor. In the early nineteenth century the rolls were held at Christchurch Mansion and but are now divided between those held in Ipswich and others at the British Library. The two surviving late thirteenth century rentals of the Priory of Holy Trinity were published in 1847 (Hunt) the entries can be crossed referenced to show a succession of owners and these can be linked to various parishes.

Though there are references to the lord of the manor of St Peter’s, no post medieval records are known to have survived. David Allen who produced the ‘Catalogue of the Archives of the Borough of Ipswich’ (SRS 2000) is preparing for publication an edition of the cartulary of the Priory of St Peter and St Paul (ref. HD 226/1). This manuscript (ref. HD226/1) formerly held at Lexington Library, Kentucky is a collection of the early transactions or charters of the former priory. It is incomplete and in particular there is a distinct lack of entries relating to the priory’s possessions in Ipswich apart from the charters for Handford Mill. The cartulary contains a record of dispute the rights of presentations to St Clements between the heirs of the church’s founder Rothulf and the priory. The inquisition that determined this dispute was held in 1254 and not in 1201 as has been previously suggested (Breen 2010). The error has appeared in some archaeological reports.

The published work will include a collection of all the known medieval charters of the priory. A significant number of these charters relating to lands in St Peters, St Nicholas and the former parish of St Augustine’s are held at the National Archives (ref. E40). These were collected together in the Cardinal’s Bundles when the priory was dissolved to finance Cardinal Wolsey’s Ipswich College.

There is a rental of the priory’s possessions dated 1516 held at Manchester University John Rylands Library (ref. CRU/175) There are also two post dissolution rentals held at the National Archives (ref. SC12/15/14 and SC 11/616).

Part of Bigod’s Quay in the parish of St Mary Quay was held until the late nineteenth century of the manor of Walton cum Trimley. The ownership of the quay can be traced in the manorial records back to 1397 (Ref HA119:50/3/18 m 73). It can be traced further in other sources back to the death of Roger le Bygod (Bigod) earl of Norfolk in 1270. Even if these records did not exist the fact that the quay was part of the possessions of the manor of Walton with Trimley shows that it pre-dates the establishment of the borough.

Tax Records

The tallage roll of 1227, the Welsh Tax and assessment of 1283, the subsidy returns of 1327, 1524 and 1568 have all been published and contain limited information relating to historic geography. The Poll Tax returns of 1381 have not survived for Ipswich but the population totals were recorded in the published version of Bacons Annals (Richardson). The geographic value of the 1689 assessment was considered in the published transcript. The author suggested that there were then 1,646 houses in Ipswich (Chamberlain). The original manuscript containing the assessments for 1688-1683 is at Ipswich (ref. HA 247/42). Many of the owners of the properties in 1689 are also named in the published Hearth Tax returns of 1674 (Hervey 1905).

Anthony M Breen February 2016

Reading List


David Allen ‘Ipswich Borough Archives 1255 – 1835 A Catalogue’ Suffolk Record Society Vol XLIII 2000

Nicholas R. Amor ‘Late Medieval Ipswich Trade and Industry’ Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2011

Herbert Chamberlain ‘Ipswich 200 years Ago showing the extent and rateable value of the town at that period being a correct copyof an assessment made in the year 1689’, Ipswich 1889

G. R. Clarke ‘History and Description of the Town of Ipswich’ Ipswich 1830

Muriel Clegg ‘Streets and Street Names in Ipswich’ Salient Press, County Hall, Ipswich 1984

William A Copinger ‘Manors of Suffolk Notes on their History and Devolution: Hundreds of Hoxne, Lackford and Loes’ Vol 5 1909

William Powell Hunt “Two Rentals of the Priory of the Holy Trinity in Ipswich, Suffolk temp Hen III and Edward I”, Ipswich 1847

G. H. Martin’s ‘The Ipswich Recognizance Rolls 1294-1327 A Calendar’ (SRS 1973)

William H Richardson M. A. ‘The Annalls of Ipswich The Lawes Customes and Government of the same  … by Nathaniel Bacon 1654’ Ipswich 1884

S.H.A Hervey ‘Suffolk in 1674; The Hearth Tax returns’, Woodbridge 1905

John Wodderspoon ‘Memorials of the Ancient Town of Ipswich in the County of Suffolk’ Pawsey Ipswich 1850

Frederic A. Youngs ‘Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England’ Volume 1 Southern England Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, London 1980





Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute


John Blatchly and Bill Haward ‘Sir Robert, Lord Curson, Soldier, Courtier and Spy, and his Ipswich Mansion Volume XLI Part 2 2007

John Fairclough ‘The bounds of Stoke and the hamlets of Ipswich’ Volume XL Part 3 2003

B.P. Grimsey ‘Lord Curson’s House: The Bishop’s Palace, Ipswich Vol VII Part 3 1891

Nina Frances Layard ‘Recent Discoveries on the site of the site of the Carmelite Convent of Ipswich and the Old River Quay Vol X part 2 1899

Edgar Powell ‘The Taxation of Ipswich for the Welsh War in 1282 Vol XII Part 2 1905

Vincent B Redstone ‘The Carmelites of Ipswich’ Vol X Part 2 1899

Vincent B Redstone ‘Early Suffolk Wills’ Vol XV part 3 1915

Suffolk Review

Anthony Breen ‘The Ship Owners of Ipswich in 1283: a Maritime Community’, Suffolk Review, New Series, Spring 2009

Anthony Breen ‘Ipswich Tallage Roll 1227: An Introduction’, Suffolk Review, New Series, Spring 2010

Dr John Ridgard ‘Ipswich Tallage Roll 1227’, Suffolk Review, New Series, Spring 2010


Stephen Alsford ‘Medieval Ipswich’


University of Iowa

Calendar of Patent Rolls


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