The small town of Ipswich, Saint Elizabeth parish in the county of Cornwall is situated at 18° 11’ 60” N 77° 49’ 60” W. It is approximately 21 miles south east from Montego Bay.
Population:- Population figures dating from the 1970s show that there were 1,170 inhabitants back then. No population figures are available from later censuses. Reports in 2013 indicated that the settlement had almost been abandoned, with only a few old-timers still in residence, the youngsters having drifted away. A count undertaken in 2020 showed that there were 290 inhabitants.
How to get there:-
By road: From Black River take A2 north, then B6 north. From Montego Bay take B8, then B6 south. Ipswich is on a barely navigable road to the east of the B6.
Rail services were discontinued in 1992.
Nearest airports are Sangster International, Montego Bay & Norman Manley International, Kingston.
Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5 hrs). No daylight saving time in summer.
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The commonly held belief (and the one that is given by both the Jamaica Information Service & the website About Jamaica) is that this Ipswich was named after his place of birth by the English Baptist Missionary the Rev. John Hutchins, when he was establishing a church here around 1836. Although there is no available evidence that Hutchins was from Ipswich, his wife Mary Ann was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Middleditch who definitely did have connections with Ipswich, Suffolk. After her death in 1838, her father wrote a book “The Youthful Female Missionary. A Memoir of Mary Ann Hutchins, wife of the Rev.John Hutchins, Baptist Missionary, Savanna-la-mar, Jamaica, and daughter of the Rev. T Middleditch of Ipswich”. This was published in 1840. Even so, there is no written record of the Hutchins’ being in Ipswich, St. Elizabeth & there is no record of a Baptist church there. And although her father is known to have been a minister in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1841 (after Mary Ann’s death) there is no reason to think that she ever lived there or had any connection with the town.
However, the name Ipswich was definitely being used in 1776 & probably before that. In 1684, 8,000 acres of land in this area had been bought by John Yates & Richard Scott. This land was granted to Scott in compensation for plantations he had lost during the Anglo-Dutch Wars in Surinam. Although there is no record of Richard Scott’s background, it is known that he was married to Bathshua, the daughter John Oxenbridge, who was a minister from Boston, Massachusetts. The plantation was divided up into three estates, two of which were named after early Massachusetts towns (Ipswich & Springfield). The other, the largest, was the YS Estate, named after the initials of Yates & Scott. The YS falls, which are one of Jamaica’s main tourist attractions, are on the Black River, only eight miles from the Ipswich Caves. It would seem, therefore, that the name comes from this source rather than directly from the original Ipswich in Suffolk.
In December 1776, there is the first written record of Ipswich in an “Indenture registered between John Morse and Thomas Smith of London and others on a mortgage of YS, Ipswich and Springfield Plantations in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica”.
Ipswich was devastated during the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831 & was probably being inhabited by former slaves when the Baptists arrived in the area shortly afterwards.
Up until the 1990s, Ipswich was a thriving community, with a rail service running daily through Ipswich Station. The cessation of all passenger rail services in Jamaica in 1992*, however, had a devastating impact on the town.
As the Jamaican newspaper The Sunday Gleaner put it in an article entitled “Ipswich: Left for Dead” on 21st February 2010:
“There is, for all practical purposes, no road to the community of Ipswich in St Elizabeth. Mostly, there is a rutted pathway, with white marl only navigable at a very careful crawl. At other points, 'public' is a quasi-tragic misnomer for a road that would be much more appropriate on a large landowner's farm, grass in the middle standing out against narrow, white wheel tracks. 'Public' is inappropriate in another sense, as The Sunday Gleaner does not encounter a single car going down into Ipswich from the Maggotty end or continuing the descent towards the main road near the YS Estate.
And apart from the tiny, forlorn community itself there is only one other village, Merrywood, on that stretch of desolation. It is all downhill into Ipswich and it is all downhill in Ipswich where, residents say, the October 1992 final cessation of the public rail service has had a devastating effect.
It is literally a community that is taken in at a glance, except for houses extending along the line. Concrete structures are in the decided minority, as are young adults. This is a comatose community, clinging to life by dint of sheer stubbornness”.
These days, though trains are no more, it is the same railway track that keeps things going at Ipswich. The state of the road to Ipswich is so deplorable that residents are forced to walk with heavy items for as much as two miles. However, the residents have used their ingenuity and now use the old railway line as a means of transporting items to the community. They came up with the idea of making a trolley which could run along the tracks, pretty much like a train does. The trolley is made simply from pieces of wood on the top, and metal beneath for support. The wheels are also made from metal. According to residents, the trolley can effectively hold up to 300 pounds or more, and three persons combine muscle power to push the trolley both uphill and downhill along the track. (Abridged from the Jamaica Star, 1 November 2012)
Ipswich main transport, a makeshift mini train built by the residents - Ian Allen photos
* In 2011, some passenger services recommenced in Jamaica from Spanish Town to Linstead, but neither the capital, Kingston, nor Ipswich could be reached because bridges had not been restored. The revival was short-lived as the railway was not financially viable, and it closed in August 2012, a little over a year after its resumption in July 2011.
Jamaica was originally formed as part of a volcanic island arc in the Cretaceous, some 100 to 75 million years ago. The volcanic conglomerates, sandstones and shales form the Cretaceous basement to the island. A period of faulting followed during which the island began to slowly subside. As it sank slowly below sea level in the Early Eocene, about 55 million years ago, reefs in the shallow ocean formed the massive limestone beds that cover most of the island. The initial deposits of limestone were contaminated by debris still being washed off the remaining land mass and gave rise to the impure limestone known as Yellow Limestone which overlies the eroded basement. As the ocean completely covered the sinking land, the contamination ceased and this led to the pure White Limestone being deposited on top of the Yellow for a period of about thirty million years. Jamaica re-emerged through uplift caused by the tectonic movement of the Caribbean Plate during the later Eocene (25 to 12 million years ago). About 10 to 15% of the total surface area of Jamaica is covered by Yellow Limestone and about 60% of its area is covered by White Limestone. Rainfall dissolves the limestone allowing the characteristic “karst” features to form caves, sinkholes and underground rivers (see Ipswich Caves section, below).
In 1957 the geologist Howard Versey identified a particular sequence of impure limestone from its distinctive fauna which was found only in the rolling hills of the Ipswich area, and hence he named it “Ipswich Limestone”. Although Versey at first placed it as a series in the White Limestone, since 2004 geologists have placed it in the Yellow Limestone formation. Dying benthic Foraminifera continuously rain down on the sea floor in vast numbers, and are preserved as fossils in the accumulating sediment that helps to identify the age and differentiate the type of mineral associated with that fauna. Ipswich Limestone consists of a lower part that is 60 metres (200 feet) thick characterised by fauna of Lepidocyclina antillea and Yaberinella, then a transitional zone of some 10 metres (30 feet) followed by about 105 metres (350 feet) of limestone densely populated by the Lepidocyclina fauna.
The caves are located about one and a half miles north west of Ipswich. Also known as the Duanwarie Caves, the Ipswich Caves are in fact one limestone cave with three entrances, the largest being approximately 25 ft high by 40 feet wide. Once incorrectly described as the second largest cave system in Jamaica, the Ipswich Caves are noted for their stalactites & stalagmites. Guided tours of the caves can be arranged.
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Spirostemma ipswichensis is a species of land snail discovered near to Ipswich, St Elizabeth in 1898. It was first described by Henry A Pilsbry, Conservator of the Conchological Section of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (see Ipswich as a Scientific Name page for full details of this species).
Ipswich is located in Saint Elizabeth, the second largest parish in Jamaica, which is situated in the south west of the island, with a population of 150,993 (2012). St Elizabeth adjoins Westmoreland parish to the west, St James & Trelawny Parishes to the north & Manchester parish to the east. It was named in 1664 after the wife of the first English Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Modyford, 1664-1671. Its capital is the sea port of Black River. There are three mountain ranges in the north of the parish; the Nassau, the Santa Cruz & the Lacovia. To the south is an extensive plain used for grazing cattle, goats & horses. The largest river is the Black River at 33 miles in length. Its tributaries include the Horse Savannah & the YS rivers.
The main industries of Saint Elizabeth are Bauxite mining, fishing, tourism & agriculture. Although sugar cane predominates, other crops produced include tobacco, corn, ginger, rice & coffee.
Tourist attractions include the Appleton Rum Distillery, Treasure Beach, the YS Falls, Lover’s Leap, the Maroon village of Accompong & 44 caves, including the Ipswich Caves.