|Open as a pub
Open and thriving again today, the Alma is a traditional pub serving an impressive selection of food and a range of real ales. Seafood is a speciality and the historic building provides an excellent setting for dining, a quiet drink or a spot of socialising.
The Alma is a comparative youngster on the Harwich pub scene because, as far as we know, it started out as an ale house in 1859. The fantastic building is much, much older and is often described as a wealthy merchant's house or mansion.
As it stands the building dates from many different periods but it was probably built in 1464 as a house. By 1599 it was owned by Captain Twitt – a relative of Thomas Twitt (or Twytt) a merchant and brewer in the town. The Twitt family were well-connecting and well-known in the town and Captain Twitt's daughter married Christopher Jones at St. Nicholas's Church in 1593. Although Sara died aged 27 in 1603 her husband went on to own a rather famous ship named the Mayflower and used it to guide the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620.
The Alma's life as a public house (then described as an ale house) probably started in 1859 when its founding landlord William Hammond moved to Harwich from Ipswich with his family and opened up selling beer and acting as the local agent for steam packet services. In fact everything we know about the formative years of the pub comes from the association with the steam packets that plied their trade from Ipswich to Harwich, Walton-on-the-Naze and London. The pub is quite clearly named after the Battle of the Alma – the first battle of the Crimean War in 1854 – but it was a popular moniker at the time and the name given to the Ipswich to Walton-on-the-Naze steam packet service, one the boats that sailed the route and the wharf that it sailed from in Ipswich. In this context the local Alma steam packet “brand” was well known and William Hammond probably named the pub to advertise his involvement in the service.
The Alehouse Act of 1828 and the Beerhouse Act of 1830 made it relatively easy to open premises for the purposes of selling exciseable liquors to be drunk on the premises and this is likely how the Alma started life. Alongside enjoying a beer there you could probably buy fish and book yourself on the steam packet to Ipswich. When William Hammond left the Alma he made a living as a Fish Merchant and the next landlord, Thomas Jennings, was also listed in business directories in the early 1870s as a Fish Salesman.
It has often been stated that one Charles Cullingham converted the Alma to a pub and whilst some have assumed that this was right at the beginning it is more probable that Cullingham became involved later as he expanded the tied estate of the Steam Brewery he founded in Upper Brook Street in Ipswich in 1856. Landlord Thomas Jennings was listed in the 1881 census return as an Innkeeper to it is tempting to think that Cullingham's investment occurred at some point in the 1870s and upgraded the ale house to a proper inn. Cullingham's brewery and tied estate was bought out by the Tollemache brothers in 1888 but since the pub was not part of the estate at that time we must assume that it has already switched ownership to become part of the mighty Cobbold empire. Certainly by the 1930s the Alma was an established Cobbold house.
The pub was run by the Chambers family from 1932 to 1987 – with William Chambers running it until 1953 when his son Arthur took over.
In 1957 the Cobbold and Tollemache empires merged to become Tolly Cobbold and the Alma stayed as a Tolly pub until 1990 when the collapse of the Ipswich brewing empire saw the tied estate fall under the control of new pubco Pubmaster.
Pubmaster were bought by Punch Taverns in 2003 and after some grim times in pubco control the pub closed until new owners bought the freehold and reopened the pub in 2010. Pleasingly the pub has gone from strength-to-strength ever since.
Notable Facts, Things to Look Out For
- The Alma has a rare corridor bar where people would crowd in for a quick drink or perhaps some bottles to take home with them.
- The smoke room, fronting onto Eastgate Street, still has the original etched glass windows advertising Cobbold Fine Ales.
- There is a plaque in the main bar near the door onto King's Head Street marking the water level reached during the 1953 North Sea Flood.