Building of the Month November 2018: Lock Keeper's Cottages, Ipswich

Dating from the mid-19th Century, the Lock Keeper’s Cottages played a key role in the history of Ipswich Docks. This diminutive row of cottages with simple detailing of Tudor-style square hood moulds over windows and the zig-zagging gables sit in front of larger warehouses with the towering presence of the Felaw Maltings behind. 

They are located on the Island Site on land reclaimed from the tidal basin in 1842.  From this time until 1881, the centre of activities of this area was the original lock gates where shipping passed from the canal into the dock area.  Here the Lock Keeper’s Cottages and the Harbour Master’s House (see separate entry) were built to allow effective management of the marine traffic.  Now the area is at the core of the historic area on the Island Site and these two buildings have been recognised as buildings of special local architectural and historic interest within the Wet Dock Conservation Area. 

The wider Ipswich dock and waterfront area has been the site of much regeneration development with the conversion of old warehouses and dock buildings to create housing, offices and other spaces for cultural, educational and leisure activities.  Ipswich is also still a working dock though much smaller than in its heyday.  It is therefore notable that the Lock Keeper’s Cottages stand boarded up and disused, their condition deteriorating.  It is very important to the whole area that the Lock Keeper’s Cottages are repaired and brought back into functional use as part of this vibrant area.

The future of these buildings and their setting is under review by its owners and closely linked to the Upper Orwell Crossing project - plans to build three new river crossings close to Ipswich, across this part of the old dock area. The aim is to relieve congestion in the town centre and make this riverside area more accessible. The heritage status of the Lock Keepers’ Cottages along with the Harbour Master’s House (see separate entry), Public Warehouse No.1 and the visible stonework of the original lock entrance has been given high priority by the council which should mean that they are protected.   

There are press reports that, due to an increase in the budget required to see the Upper Orwell Crossing project through, the project's future is now in question.  A final decision about whether it will go ahead is expected in December 2018.  Click here to see the press reports. 

Whatever the outcome, these buildings should not be forgotten and preserving them and giving them a new use should be a priority even if the project does not proceed.