Thousands of people have walked through the impressive front entrance of a building in Museum Street, Ipswich, since it was first opened to the public over 160 years ago. The building, which was closed for around fifteen years, has been brought back to life as a restaurant.
Built as Ipswich Museum, opening in December 1847, it stood in the then new street cut through to link Westgate Street with Elm Street. This Victorian structure has seen several uses since the town’s museum moved to new and bigger premises in High Street in July 1881, which was a big day for the town when, with much ceremony, the new lock gates at the dock and the Post Office on the Cornhill were also formally opened. A directory for 1921 lists the building in Museum Street being used by J Noller builder and contractor, Frederick Fisher auctioneer, estate agent and removal contractor and R Payne dancing hall. In 1928 B Bullard electrical contractor was there with the Arlington Rooms and the Arlington Bowling Club. By 1939 Fred Jewhurst confectioner shared the building with The Arlington Bowling Club.
Most people will remember it as the Arlington Ballroom where ballroom dancing lessons were given to thousands when learning to ballroom dance was a ‘must’ for all young people as this was how thousands of couples met their husband or wife to be, until fashions changed in the mid 1960s. As well as lessons there were many dancing competitions and the school won many trophies in national ballroom dancing events.
Ipswich School of Dancing teacher Rosemary Watson said “Olga Wilmot took over The Arlington Ballroom in Museum Street around 1948. It was then a popular venue with American Servicemen and the locals. Olga operated from there until the business moved to Bond Street in 1991. It is now The Ipswich School of Dancing LLP run by former Arlington teachers Rosemary Watson, Susan Matthews and Jennifer Dix.” The building was designed by Christopher Fleury who also designed Ipswich School in Henley Road. A promoter of the museum, which was said to be ‘more particularly for the benefit of the working class’ was Rev Professor J Henslow who was Charles Darwins’s tutor at Cambridge.
Rev Henslow was keen to educate the working class with free tickets handed out at works and factories to lectures in a time before state education. As the museum outgrew its home it was decided in 1878 to erect a new museum in High Street. The former ballroom stood empty when the dancing school moved out although part of the ground floor was used for a few years as a fitted kitchen showroom. The link between Museum Street and Elm Street was not made until 1850 when an arch was cut through a building to Thursby’s Lane and the lane was renamed Arcade Street. The rest of the lane to Princes Street was renamed Museum Street.