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Orwell River Cruises
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Ipswich, the county Town of Suffolk, and the Port itself, is spread out with the Ostrich public house by Bourne Bridge marking the boundary. The Ostrich is four centuries old and  named after part of the crest of the Earls of Leicester who once owned the land on which is stands.  It is also said the name ~Ostrich~ was a mistake caused by a drunken landlord whose slurred speech resulted in the sign writer mis-understanding his orders for the sign to be painted ~The Oyster Reach~.

Close by is the Orwell Bridge which was built to take East coast traffic out of Ipswich. Whereas now the Port occupies both the East and West Banks of the river, two hundred years ago it was the West Bank of the river which presented scenes of great commercial activity.  Where now the gardens of the houses in Wherstead Road extend almost to the water's edge, there were the busy shipyards of Halifax and Nova Scotia,  names by which this part of Ipswich is still known by some residents

Splendid East Indiamen were launched from these yards.  The famous Spectator and Friendship were launched from here and in 1817, with spectacular ceremonial, the Orwell was launched.  An impressive ship of 1,350 tons with a keel length of 153 feet, one of the largest of her class to sail from an English Port; 2,000 loads of Suffolk oak went into her sturdy hull and she was completed in 15 months.  The history and importance of the River Orwell is bound up with that of Ipswich itself. In 991 a fleet of 93 brightly painted, dragon-prowed Viking ships swept up the Orwell to sack and pillage Ipswich, or Gyperswick as it was then called.  Ipswich was already a port and down the ensuing centuries this beautiful river has seen every kind of vessel that has marked the evolution of shipping.

During mediaeval times Ipswich was a vital trade outlet for East Anglia and by the time of Edward III Ipswich was one of the richest and most important ports in the country..  Wool was then the staple product and export and was in great demand by the weavers of Flanders and the Netherlands.  Ipswich was ideally placed for this trade, having the raw material close at hand on the backs of the flocks of Norfolk and Suffolk sheep.

It was in the River Orwell that 300 ships massed for the landings of English sailors who were to fight and win the battle of Cressy. In 1588 Ipswich built, fitted out and manned two ships to sail against the Spanish Armada. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the region's cloth trade declined, the estuary silted and the larger vessels had to discharge lower down the river - this was disastrous for the port of Ipswich.

During the 19th century, commissioners were appointed to widen and deepen the Orwell and now the wheel has come full circle once again.

Quays and cranes, ships and sailors once more line the banks of this historic port.  The West Bank Terminal, 240 metres long and with a draft of 6.10 metres alongside, balances the Cliff Quay development on the East Bank.  Ships up to 114 metres can be accommodated in the Wet Dock, built in 1842 and for many years the largest in Europe. 

It is entered through lock gates at high water and gives some some 900 metres of quay space.  The Port of Ipswich is administered by Associated British Ports (ABP) which has jurisdiction over maritime activities from Ipswich to a line drawn from Shotley Point across to Fagbury Cliff.  Thus, after a serious decline, Ipswich has re-established itself over the past 20 years as a major UK port.

click the thumbnail to see plan of Ipswich Port*

(* The plan/map is for information purposes only on this web site. It is possible to print on A4 size, once you have opened the link, by using a colour printer.)

The picture below shows The Old Custom House in Ipswich Port which  now houses  the offices of The Port Authority,  Associated British Ports.

We continue our journey passing under the magnicent centre span of

© 2010 Orwell River Cruises Limited
updated March 16, 2015

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