Co-ordinated nationally by English Heritage Heritage Open Weekend is upon us and today the ministering angel of domestic bliss and I took advantage of free access to properties in the town, that are ordinarily closed to the general public, to visit, amongst others, Ipswich School and the Willis Building.
First up was a guided tour of Ipswich School with its distinctive 19th and 20th century buildings, including chapel and libraries. First founded in 1528 by Cardinal Wolsey the school buildings surround a central playing field and cricket square along with a cricket pavilion (used in the past by Suffolk CCC for a number of its fixtures).
The old library houses an impressive collection of antique books and a display of school memorabilia which today included a ball used in the ‘Ipswich School Game’. Played more along the lines of rugby than the more famous public school activity the ‘Eton Wall Game’, the school was persuaded to reduce the team sizes down from 15 to 11 and adopt the rules set out by the new Football Association.
A few years later, in 1878, a number of old Ipswichians formed the Ipswich Association Club and Ipswich Town Football Club was born (although it wouldn’t be known as such for another decade). The school continued to provide the club with a number of its more notable players well into the twentieth century.
The new library has four circular stained glass windows designed by the late John Piper with each window represents one of the season (summer is pictured here). I can’t say they are my cup of tea – or that of the former head master who led us on the tour of the school – but they worth a considerable fortune at six digit numbers per window.
The Willis Building is one of the Norman Foster partnership’s earlier designs and was completed in 1975. A few hundred yards to the south west of the town centre this striking building has an outer layer of sheer glass that reflects the buildings that surround it, including the neighbouring Unitarian Meeting House one of the county town’s oldest surviving buildings. Both are Grade I listed with the Willis Building becoming the youngest building in the UK to be so designated in 1991.
Just as striking as the exterior is the view you get on entering the foyer (see picture and panorama). At one time there was an Olympic size swimming pool on the ground floor, although this has since been covered with a false floor, and after rising up through its four levels by elevator you reach the employee cafeteria and roof top garden (see panorama) which, while not atop the town’s tallest building, still offers some interesting views of central Ipswich.
The colour scheme is its one major failing with Sir Norman – showing a complete lack of sensitivity – choosing green for the flooring and yellow for the walls. I’m not sure I would care to work surrounded by such vivid colours, even ignoring their significance, football wise, and the many ITFC following employees who work in the building are stuck with them forever!