Suffolk

Wallis Simpson 'divorce court' to become flats

Wallis and Edward VIII
Image caption Wallis Simpson (pictured with Edward VIII) was living in Felixstowe, Suffolk, at the time of her divorce from her husband Ernest

A derelict building that played a part in Britain's royal abdication crisis is to be transformed into 40 apartments.

The former County Hall in Ipswich hosted the divorce proceedings of Wallis Simpson in 1936 - allowing Edward VIII to marry her.

The king had already abdicated so that he could marry her - and the crown passed to his brother George VI.

Ipswich Borough Council approved plans to convert County Hall - vacated by Suffolk County Council in 2004.

Edward VIII chose to give up being king when the government decided he could not marry a divorcee and retain the crown.

The divorce hearing was on 27 October 1936 and the decree absolute came through on 3 May 1937.

The county council, which owns the Grade II-listed building, described it as "a really important building at risk" which has been broken into and vandalised since its closure.

Image copyright Ian Bareham
Image caption Suffolk County Council left County Hall in 2004 and moved to its new Endeavour House headquarters next to Portman Road football ground

The building dates from 1836 when it served as a jail and courthouse. Extensions in 1906 allowed it to be used for council business too, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The larger of the two courtrooms will be retained as a heritage space, although there is no material evidence as to which of the courtrooms was used during the Simpson divorce case.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Edward VIII's plans to marry Wallis Simpson sparked a constitutional crisis

The main building will be converted into 10 flats, while the extension, which was added in the 1980s, will be demollished and a new extension added for a further 30 homes.

The proposals have been criticised by the Ipswich Society, whose chairman John Norman described it as a "Portacabin" within the old council chamber.

"The Ipswich Society support town centre living and support the conversion of this building into a residential site but we are very concerned about the way it has been planned," he said.

County councillor Carole Jones said: "[The proposals] are not perfect but it's certainly to be welcomed that we have had this come forward.

"This is a building at risk, a really important building for Ipswich."

It is not clear when the work will begin.

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