The Story of F.A. Christie and Son

There is a small plaque, part of the Ipswich Maritime Trail, on a building between Bistro on the Quay and Issacs on the Quay. It is currently the home of an architecture firm and estate agent. But 180 years ago, it was a coal warehouse for the company owned and run by John Christie (b.1798). John and his family would become leading coal merchants in the town during the 19th Century.

Christie’s Warehouse on Wherry Quay – May 2020

By 1839 Christie was bringing between 500-700 tons of coal a month from the coal fields of the North-East of England. These were brought into Ipswich and into the warehouse on Wherry Quay on five of his registered ships, including the Providence and Lady Middleton.

John’s son, Frank A Christie, was born in 1835 and started out as a draper’s assistant and then a clerk in Ipswich. When John died in 1866, Frank took over and the business expanded. Frank provided work for his two elder sons, Frank Herbert and Leonard Alexander; who were both clerks with Frank H also being the company accountant.

In 1894, Frank A had several premises on Salthouse Street. Which included a Coal Warehouse, a Salt Warehouse, Office and Timber Depot as well as Sawmills. Over the following 10 years the business developed becoming F.A Christie and Son, a Coal, Salt and Timber Merchants. The company office was based on Cliff Road with warehouses still operating on Salthouse Street and Wherry Quay.

Unfortunately, Frank H died in 1896 aged only 29. In 1907 Frank A Christie died to leaving the business to Leonard. In 1918 Leonard died and subsequent pressures on the business, both locally and nationally, forced the closer of the company. The decontrolment of coal as well as coal strikes and coal shortages during and following the First World War hastened the decline of Christie’s. Which was already under pressure from competitors. Following Leonard’s death, the company assets were sold off and acquired by local competitors.

A variety of Christie’s local competitors operated close by during the early 20th Century. These included Mellonie & Goulder Ltd which bought the coal aspects of Christie’s in 1924 and William Brown & Son Ltd who acquired the timber interests. Isaac Lord’s was also a close competitor, housed in the building complex right next door to Christie’s warehouses. Today this complex houses the bar and restaurant Isaac’s on the Quay.

Today all of these once busy industrial buildings sit quiet and unassuming on the modern waterfront, each with many stories to tell.

Reader Interactions


  1. Colin Kinghorn says

    Very interesting. Spent a lot of time around the wet dock in the 80s and 90s when my gaff ketch Marjie was based there. Would like to have known more details like this.

    • ALLAN BOOTH says

      I dived on the wreck of the Fearless near Deal, Kent. The ketch formerly owned by Frank A Christie from 1876 until his death in 1907. New owner Walter Waugh, London had the vessel until its sinking in 1923. All timber work has since gone but the cargo of Belgian bricks are still evident.

  2. peter christie says

    I am a direct descendant of the Ipswich Christie’s and have traced the family history back to their arrival in the town – but some new facts here so thank you

    • Jill Hyams says

      Hello Peter. I’m a direct descendent of John Christie (1772-1825) of Ipswich, father of the above-mentioned John Christie. I’d be interested to know when the family arrived in Ipswich – the earliest details I have are of John senior’s father, William Christie (c.1740-1800), marrying Abigail Howes in Ipswich in 1769. Any further info gratefully received. Jill

  3. Mark says

    I have discovered that my wife is a descendant of the Christie’s as Frank A. Christie’s daughter married a Charles W. Sutton.

    They are all buried quite close together in the Cemetery in Ipswich

  4. Mark says

    So I have been up to the Cemetery today and have noticed that 2 of Frank Alexander Christies sons, Frank Herbert and Eustace James died on exactlt the same day – 12th April 1896.

    I am making an assumption that they must have both died in some sort of incident? Is anybody aware of anything that happened on that day?

    • Gavin Brown says

      Yes it was a tragic boat accident on the River Orwell near Pin Mill. Frank Herbert, Eustace and a friend Philip Tracy all died in the incident. Frank Herbert left a young widow and three daughters under 4 years old.

  5. Graham Parr says

    Sunday 12th April 1896
    One of the most melancholy events that has occurred on the Orwell for many years happened on Sunday evening, a yachting accident involving the death by drowning of three young men who were widely known and enjoyed the esteem of all their acquaintances.
    A party consisting of Mr. Herbert Christie, Mr. Leonard Christie and Mr Eustace Christie (sons of Mr. Frank A. Christie, coal factor and timber merchant, of Lower Brook Street), Mr. Philip Tracy, son of Mr N Tracy, of Lower Brook Street, and Mr. Roger Pawsey, son of Mr. F. Pawsey, of the Ancient House, Butter Market, started on Sunday morning about a quarter to eleven o’clock from the Cliff Bight in the una, Little Dorrit, for a cruise to Harwich. At Harwich they walked about for a time, and on starting for the return trip, as the wind had risen, they took in four reefs which occupied a considerable time, and delayed the getting off. Mr. Leonard and Mr. Eustace Christie took turns in sailing on the way down and Mr. Leonard sailed the boat back as far as Stratton Bight, about two miles below Pin Mill. Here, the boat seeming to have got pretty well out of the wind, the sail was made fast. This had not been done long, however, when a gale suddenly sprang up, a nor’westerly wind blowing hard straight down the river from Ipswich. Everyone was taken by surprise, and to make matters worse, the anchor, which had been secured in the bows, fell overboard, and the chain running out quickly became knotted, and this caused the anchor to give the boat a sharp pull. In less time than. It takes to relate more than half the sail was thrown into the water and the boat was filled with water.
    Mr. Leonard Christie called out to one of the party to help him unstrap an oar they were sitting on, adding that he would go ashore, and so find out how the mud would bear the rest. Even at this moment the mishap was not regarded seriously, and it was believed all would be able to swim ashore safely. Mr.Tracy, as they were preparing to make the plunge said, “I can’t swim” (meaning he was a poor swimmer, as was the case), let me go first. He had not gone above ten yards before he began to make a row. Mr. Eustace Christie, who followed, cried out, “Let’s get up with Tracy, he is in a muddle,” and then Mr. Pawsey came on. Mr. Herbert Christie had been given the lifebuoy, and therefore no apprehensions were felt regarding him, and Mr. Leonard Christie was meanwhile sitting on the oar upon the mud. Mr. Roger Pawsey, who is rather a good swimmer states that he passed Mr. Eustace Christie, and got up with Mr. Tracy, who cried out to him despairingly to come to his help. Mr. Pawsey took hold of his hand, but could not keep him up. When he tried to help his companion he himself went down, both, of course, being heavily weighted by their clothes. In the meanwhile Mr. Eustace Christie had come up, and said what was evidently no exaggeration, that he was nearly done for. Mr. Pawsey exhorted him to swim on, and as he was unable to get hold of Mr. Tracy again, he himself struck out for the mud. When he last caught sight of Mr. Eustace Christie he was swimming slowly towards the shore. Mr. Pawsey joined Mr. Leonard Christie, and they had to crawl over about a hundred yards of mud in order to get to the shore. The only way of doing this was to jointly retain hold of the oar, and push along with bent knees, which offered a wider field of resistance to the mud than walking in ordinary boots would have done. Before the two started on this very perilous enterprise they saw a figure on the shore. When they had worked nearer they perceived an elderly man (Dilloway, the head keeper) and his wife. These had a rope, which they were prepared to throw, but it was not long enough, and so both sufferers had to proceed with their struggle towards the shore. It should be explained that the first person who had heard the cries was William Foulger, the under keeper, who promptly called out the head keeper Dilloway, and his wife, who live at the Bridge Wood cottage. He despatched Foulger to Sewerage Cottage, which is occupied by a man named Page for some splashers. i.e., planks which are attached to boots to enable persons to walk on mud. Mr. L. Christie and Mr. Pawsey having, however, being hauled in without these aids were treated with the utmost kindness and consideration by these people, who supplied them with restoratives, dried their clothes, and despatched a messenger to Ipswich with information for the relatives, and for fresh clothes. Mr. Christie, sen., with Mr. Tracy, sen., promptly came over, but both were the recipients of very sad news, Mr. Tracy’s son and Mr. Christie’s other two sons being missing. Mr. Herbert Christie leaves a widow and three children, for whom the greatest sympathy is felt. The body of Mr. Eustace Christie was recovered on Tuesday and an inquest was formally opened on Wednesday evening, by the Borough Coroner, but was adjourned until Friday evening, in the hope that the inquiry as to all three cases might be held at the same time. The body of Mr. Phil. D Tracy was recovered on Wednesday. On Thursday, a diver, named Stephen Cowie, who is in the employ of Capt. Pretyman, M.P., was engaged to continue the search for the remains of Mr. Herbert Christie.

    Enquiries at Bridge Wood cottage this morning show that the escape of the survivors was a most miraculous character. The first news of the accident was taken to the cottage by Mr. William Foulger, the under-gamekeeper, who lodges at the cottage. Mr. Foulger, in the pursuance of his duties, was in the wood at the top the hill when he heard loud cries for help. He ran down to the shore, but at first saw nothing. In a minute or two he discerned two persons on the edge of the mud flat waving their hands to attract his attention. Mr. Foulger promptly realised their extreme peril, and ran to the cottage, which, however, close upon half a mile away. Mr. Alexander Dilloway, the Lead gamekeeper, was fortunately home. He had no appliances for getting across the mud and sent Mr. Foulger to the Sewerage Cottages for some splashers – pieces of board about two feet by one which are fastened to the boots, to enable the wearer walk on the mud. Meanwhile Mr. Dilloway and his wife hurried along the shore, and when they reached the spot opposite to where the boat went down, they saw two persons buried up to their waists in the mud. Closer inspection showed that these two persons were slowly dragging themselves towards the shore with the aid of an oar. Without splashers it was impossible for Mr. Dilloway to venture on the mud himself, and he was powerless to render assistance until Mr. Foulger had returned from the Sewerage Cottages. Mr. Page who lives there, arrived some time after, in company with Mr. Foulger, with splashers, but too late to be of any use in the work of rescue. Mr. Foulger was ultimately despatched to the house of the survivors. Mr. Dilloway had a rope with him, but by the time this would have been of any effective service the two young men had gained firm ground. They were in a very exhausted state, but managed to stagger along the sandy beach to the bank below the cottage, up which they were assisted bv Mr. and Mrs. Dilloway.
    The head keeper and his wife hail from Yorkshire, and treated the young fellows with the hospitality for which the great Northern county is proverbial. The excitement and effort had up this point sustained the survivors, but once inside the house and assured of safety, they sat down helpless. Mrs. Dilloway immediately took them in hand, and had great difficulty in getting their clothes off so heavy were they with water and mud, while the young men were themselves utterly unable to do anything. Mr. Christie was the more exhausted of the two, and gave Mrs. Dilloway a motherly woman of the good old – fashioned type considerable anxiety. She got them to bed between hot blankets and prepared a steaming stimulant of elder-syrup. This quickly revived Mr. Pawsey but his companion was a long time recovering. Mrs. Dilloway applied hot-water cans to his feet, and was alarmed to find that both his feet and legs were so numbed that he felt no warmth whatever from the cans. She rubbed his extremities, applied hot blankets, and was relieved when some time afterwards he showed signs of returning vitality. The good woman persevered in her wise treatment, and when Mr. Tracey and Mr. Pawsey arrived with a change of clothes, her patients were able get up and accompany them home. While the absence of mud splashers prevented Mr. Dilloway from actually assisting the survivors to land. it is pretty certain that if he had not been summoned to the scene by Mr. Poulger, Mr. Christie would have succumbed to his exhaustion. At this particular spot no cottage is visible from the shore, and if the poor fellows had found no one awaiting then they would have been compelled to wander about in search of assistance. As it was, Mr. Christie was so exhausted and benumbed that a little delay in the application of remedies would in all probability have proved fatal. Happily for the exhausted men they at once fell into the hands of a woman whose generous Yorkshire instincts were combined with a degree of practical knowledge which would put most holders first-aid certificates to shame.

  6. John Arnott says

    I have been researching my late wife’s ancestors following the discovery of a divers photograph which I now found to be Stephen Cowie. He was a Naval Diving Instructor in Portsmouth for many years and when he retired returned to Nacton nr. Ipswich to work for the MP Mr Prettyman and was then asked to search for the remaining bodies. His diving helmet was on his grave for several years but now no longer. I have two photos and his naval history.

    • Ipswich Maritime Trust says

      Thanks for the comment. An interesting addition to the story, please feel free to send more information and photos to if you would like and we can hopefully research some more on his maritime history after his move to Nacton via our research volunteers.

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