ChurchStowmarket occupies a strategic location in the centre of the county of Suffolk on the A14 road from the Midlands and the North to the Euro-Port of Felixstowe. The Town is also served by the main Norwich to London rail link. The Town lies on the River Gipping which joins the Orwell estuary at Ipswich. The Gipping was made into a canal in 1793 and the old towpath now forms an enjoyable footpath through the Gipping Valley from Stowmarket railway station to the docks at Ipswich.
The opening of the canal began a period of industrial growth in Stowmarket, bringing trade and prosperity to the Town. A population of 1500 grew to 3000 by 1841. New markets were now accessible to the agricultural producers of the surrounding area. Stowmarket was one of the country’s major producers of malt and the canal enabled the Town’s maltsters to send their products down to Ipswich and then on to London by sea. The coming of the railway in 1846 brought further prosperity to the Town, but it also brought about the gradual demise of the canal.
The medieval heart of Stowmarket lay around the parish church of St. Peter and St. Mary and in the area leading down to the riverbank. Today the town has 131 buildings listed by the Department of National Heritage as buildings of special architectural or historic interest and one, the parish church, is classified as being of “exceptional interest”.
Edward III granted the Town a market charter in July 1347. The Urban District Council purchased these market rights in 1927 and the market continues to serve local people under the Town Council’s auspices every Thursday and Saturday.
One of the Town’s great assets is the Museum of East Anglian Life which occupies a 70-acre site within a stones throw from the market place. The museum has grown greatly since it was opened in 1967 and is now one of the country’s major open air museums.
Stowmarket has changed a great deal during the second half of this century, but it remains a lively and interesting town with a great deal to commend it to visitors.
Ron Pattle
President – Stowmarket Society