Ypres (Ieper)- A Short History

For over 700 years, there has been a close relationship between Ypres and Great Britain. By the middle thirteenth century, Ypres was a principal centre of the cloth weaving trade and flourished so much that by 1260, it had a population of 40,000 people, with another 150,000 in the surrounding area. Most European nations had their agents and exchanges in Ypres. Between 1260 and 1304, its Drapers Guild built itself a Hall, later named Lakenhall or Cloth Hall, one of the largest and most beautiful secular monuments of the Middle Ages in Europe. In the surrounding province of West Flanders, however, the wool supplies were insufficient to satisfy the needs of the trade and merchants; and England became the principal supplier. During the fourteenth century, the prosperity of Ypres declined and it became involved in civil war and wars between England and Franc, suffering a two-month siege by the English (under the command of the Bishop of Norwich) in 1383, So much damage was done during this siege that a large number of weavers and others who left in the ensuing two hundred settled in England. It was ironic that the weavers of Ypres taught the English the craft of weaving and, with such plentiful supplies of wool in England, the English cloth industry largely replaced the Flemish one. As the Cloth Hall of Ypres became a memorial of a once prosperous trade, the English cloth merchants carried on there in the new cloth halls of Lavenham and other places in East Anglia. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ypres changed from a commercial centre to a fortress town, with its impressive fortifications along the ramparts constructed by Marshal Vauban.

1914 – 1918

By 1914, Ypres was a quiet town of 18,000 inhabitants, proud of their ancient buildings which were silent witnesses of old time, wealth and prosperity. In October 1914, the Germans occupied the town for a few days; the remainder of the war it remained in Allied hands and the Ypres Salient became synonymous with bravery, suffering and sacrifice on a scale unsurpassed before or since. Ypres and Passchendaele became written became written into history as Crecy and Agincourt had been. At the end of the war, Ypres lay wholly in ruins, its Cloth Hall, Cathedral and many other buildings gutted by fire, the remainder of the town destroyed by constant shelling. In its environs and in the Salient, 500,000 men had died; and the 160 Commonwealth war cemeteries around Ypres stand as silent testimony to their sacrifice, gardens of peace in a landscape potted and marked by the bitterness of war.