History of Felixstowe

The rich history of Felixstowe dates back to Roman times

At low tide, head to The Dip, where you may spot the remains of the Roman Saxon Shore Fort, known as ‘Walton Castle’ emerging from the depths. It was built around AD 276-285, but was later lost to the sea in the 18th C.

The oldest part of the town is around the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Old Felixstowe, where a former Benedictine priory once stood. It was founded in 1105 and dedicated to St. Felix – he is depicted on the village sign here. This later moved to Walton (mentioned in the Domesday Book) which emerged as the more important and thriving settlement in the area. Felixstowe itself has no mention in the Domesday Book, and for hundreds of years was little more than a few homes scattered on the clifftops.

The waterway known as ‘King’s Fleet’, a short walk from Felixstowe Ferry played a vital role in The Hundred Years War (against the French) – being the place Edward III assembled his fleet of ships in 1338.

Down at the Landguard Peninsula, the impressive Grade I listed Fort is one of England’s best-preserved coastal defences. The first structures here were constructed by Henry VIII in 1543 to protect the entrances to the rivers Orwell and Stour. This is also the site of the last opposed seaborne invasion of England in 1667, when Dutch soldiers landed at Cobbold’s Point and made an unsuccessful attack on the Fort.

The village sign at Trimley St. Martin shows Elizabethan adventurer Thomas Cavendish who was born at Grimston Hall in 1560. He became the third Englishman to circumnavigation the world in two years and 49 days, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.

Between 1805 and 1812 eight Martello Towers were built on our shores to repel Napoleonic invasion. Four of these towers can still be seen along Felixstowe’s coastline today.

The second half of the 19th C. saw a growth in tourism, with a visit to the town by Augusta Victoria, Empress of Germany and her family in 1891 helping to establish Felixstowe as a truly thriving resort town. They stayed at South Beach Mansion. Major developments in the town serving the Victorian fashion for sea bathing and the provision of a new dock and railway link to Ipswich were the vision of the great entrepeneur and local landower Colonel George Tomline (1813-1889).

One of the town’s key landmarks, the former Felix Hotel (now known as Harvest House) was opened in 1903. The well-known architect Thomas Cotman was commissioned to design a striking and luxurious hotel. It is now private apartments.

Just a short walk away is Cautley House, the only surviving part of The Bath Hotel Tap. In 1914 two suffragettes (Evaline Burkitt and Florence Tunks) tried to burn it down causing great damage.

Another famous visitor to the town was Wallis Simpson (later Duchess of Windsor) who stayed at a house (no longer standing) in October 1936. She was only ere temporarily to attend her divorce hearing at Ipswich Assizes. The site in Undercliff Road East is marked with a plaque

For over 50 years Felixstowe was known worldwide for its association with the RAF and the development of seaplanes and flying boats. It was one of the first RAF stations in Britain and hosted the Schneider Trophy flying boat teams. It was located where the Port of Felixstowe now stands.