History

WOODBRIDGE’S WATERFRONT – ITS PLACE IN HISTORY

-1400s: As the Middle Ages draw to a close, England is ruled by the House of York. Woodbridge’s oldest surviving waterfront architecture built. It comprises the back bar of The Anchor and the terrace to the east – ‘Small Craft’, The Ship and Ferry House (since Georgianised). The core of the Georgianised terrace to the west was also erected at about this time.

-1500s: Tudor times. During the reign of Henry VIII, as the quay spreads seaward, The Boat Inn and the terrace of buildings to the south of Quayside are built. Beale, the owner of The Boat Inn (then, ‘The Ferry Boat’), is brother-in-law to Walsingham, Elizabeth’s minister who presided over the execution of Mary Queenof Scots (1587). Beale also owns the Woodbridge ferry, which is run from the inn.

-1600s: Stuart dynasty. Situated at the interface between farmland and sea, Woodbridge’s mercantile trade flourishes. Shipbuilding reaches its peak with craft over 600 tons built. Three bustling waterfront pubs make a fine living – The Anchor, the Ship, and The Boat.

-1700: Georgian Britain. Mercantile trade continues to flourish but dock silting causes boatbuilding to slide into decline. Ships seldom exceeded 120 tons, and they’re shoal draft too. The Deben becomes a haven for smugglers. In 1793, the current tide mill is built, and it’s state-of-the-art technology. A meadow stretches from the pubs down to the quays and the mill. Skippers can watch their cargo being loaded from The Boat Inn, and bar trade flourishes.

The ‘Boat’, ‘Ship’, and ‘Anchor’
Was the Englishman’s boast
If you’ll call at these houses
They’ll give you a toast
(Refrain)
May the ‘Anchor’ hold fast
And the ‘Boat’ safely swim
And sails of the ‘Ship’
Always keep trim
(Refrain)

Early 1800s: America is long since lost, and Australia recently claimed. Meanwhile, Woodbridge’s dock landscape is transformed irrevocably. With commercial shipbuilding almost extinct salvation comes courtesy of the Napoleonic Wars. ‘The Boat’ turns its back on its dwindling historic clientele and faces northwards towards Market Hill, its new catchment. Cobbold doubled the inn’s capacity to cope with burgeoning business. The Anchor also adds a small Georgian parlour (since demolished). The Ship appears not to have risen to the challenge.

-1850s: the railway arrives, providing initial severance of the town from its increasingly beleaguered waterfront. Barge trade suffers, as also does local bar trade. The Anchor is quick to identify its new clientele, builds its splendid Victorian front bar, and renames itself ‘The Railway Hotel’, a name it retained up to the 1970s. It’s a move that probably spares it the demise of its two counterparts.

Late 1800s: Instability is replaced by Victorian gentility. Lord Tennyson, a friend of Edward Fitzgerald, becomes a regular visitor and sails in Fitz’s ‘Scandal’, based in the dock. Earlier, in1838, the DYC was formed. Leisure marine activity on the Deben, as we know it, has begun. Tennyson lodges at The Bull and, no doubt, slakes his thirst in the riverfront pubs after forays onto the river. Meanwhile, the agricultural depression of the late 1800s delivers the final death knell to serious mercantile trade. Woodbridge’s waterfront comes adrift from the town, its land increasingly valueless. It limps towards the 20th century.

Mid-1900s: Wasteland. By 1960, The Anchor has been called ‘The Railway’ for over a century, ‘The Ship’ closed 40 years previously, and The Boat Inn – latterly a gypsy pub – has recently closed its doors to the public. Who sings the song now? The tide mill is redundant too, left to rot. The waterfront is forlorn, derelict – its vibrant past forgotten. Little remains – except Whisstocks and Frank Knights, and some neglected architecture that is in need of urgent attention.

-1970s- Its value unappreciated, a main road is driven right through the heart of Woodbridge’s historic waterfronts. That road is Quayside. It delivers yet more severance of Woodbridge from its ancient roots, and its worst effects are yet to become realised. The Tide Mill Trust is formed.

-1980s- The tide mill and granary, are returned to their former visual glory. Meanwhile, amid these Listed buildings, an embryonic marina appears. There is by now a waiting list for moorings on the Deben, and Woodbridge’s boatyards are full during the winter. Few realise that the seeds of a marine renaissance have been sown. Despite this, Whisstocks ceases to trade as a boatbuilder.

-2004: The Woodbridge & Melton Riverside Action Group is formed, its aim being to re-unite the main body of town with a reinvigorated, historic waterfront, maintain the zone as a town and community asset; and provide Woodbridge with a marine future, the like of which hasn’t been experienced for over 300 years.’