Subterranea Britannica

Stoke Hall Vaults, Ipswich

Belstead Road, Ipswich, Suffolk IP2 8AB
OS Grid Ref: TM161437
Date of visit: December 2009

[Source: Chris Rayner]

One of a rare number of listed underground structures (Garage II), the listing description being, as usual, highly condensed:

“Vaulted wine cellars. Later C18, with some C19 and C20 modifications. red brick, with some flared headers, in English, Flemish mixed bonds. On 3 levels all underground, the upper level projecting further south towards the garden boundary of Landsdale Cottage and Belstead Road, the lower level extending further north towards Burrell Road, and formerly the river. Circa 180 feet in length. The lowest level comprises a single range of vaults, the middle level of both parallel and single ranges, the upper level a shorter parallel range. Part partitions between bays, those to lowest level with semicircular headed brick archways. Shallow brick vaulted roofs. Later brick side shelving at intervals. The second level was rendered during World War II for use as an air raid shelter. Brick floors, except to lowest level which descends to natural rock and sand. Brick spiral stair unites middle and lower levels. Blocked lower level circular hole in floor. Access to vaults now through superstructure. Evidence of further openings obscured by render. Said to have a capacity of 157, 500 gallons of wine. It is possible that these vaults were those built for Thomas Cartwright, wine merchant builder of Stoke Hall, now demolished, in 1747. The above ground warehouses, formerly stables etc. to Stoke Hall, are not of special architectural or historic interest.”

The extent of the underground wine cellars under the Stoke Hall’s former stables, 18 in total and 55m in overall length on the three underground levels, is remarkable and must have indicated an owner who cared deeply about his wine. Other oddities include a small square room with a well in it, and a large stone, described as a sarsen stone, embedded in one of the walls.

Sections of the vaulted wine cellars were designated as public shelters during the Second World War , with the addition of escape ladders and freshly rendered walls. The latter were perfect for writing pencil tallies on, one of which from February 1941 lists “Victims” and “Doubtfuls” and suggests a partial ARP use. The vaults are on three levels, the middle one of which was used as a shelter for several hundred people from the town’s dock area

Another sign headed “Medical Attendance at Public Air Raid Shelters” give the names and phone numbers of doctors who had offered to give assistance in an emergency

Former Ipswich Museum curator, David Jones described the shelter’s facilities which included “illuminated signs which were switched on in line with the blackout and off at 10.30 or during an alert. It was heated by a Cara stove. It had its own stirrup-pump, two buckets and fire extinguishers. In addition to a first aid box, (a section of the shelter) was set aside for a casualty holding section provided with extra lights. The emergency exit was purposely widened to take stretchers. A small canteen was set up at which tea and biscuits could be bought”

As with other shelters, numbers of shelterers varied depending on the perceived threat and thus the Emergency Committee found on 3 April 1944 that “21 families, 46 persons use the shelter habitually. Nine had no domestic shelters, two Andersons with bunks, six Andersons no bunks and four Morrisons. The shelter families allowed to continue to use Stoke Hall but (the Committee) felt that the Morrisons would be reallocated if needed.” Back garden Anderson shelters were prone to leaks, but Morrison table shelters were internal and could be used by occupants in all weathers, and as both of these were free issue to poorer households, the Committee felt it could be high-handed

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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