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Ipswich Icons: Don’t you try to climb down these, Santa!

PUBLISHED: 17:38 25 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:38 25 December 2017

Cranfield's Head of Wet Dock with chimney. Picture: ARCHANT

Cranfield's Head of Wet Dock with chimney. Picture: ARCHANT


Ipswich was once called ‘a northern industrial town in the comfortable south’. No longer, says John Norman

This Pretty's Corset Factory shows the junction of Peel Street and Tower Ramparts, with the chimney at the Peel Street end of the factory (adjacent to Electric House). Picture: ARCHANTThis Pretty's Corset Factory shows the junction of Peel Street and Tower Ramparts, with the chimney at the Peel Street end of the factory (adjacent to Electric House). Picture: ARCHANT

The imminent arrival of a man in a red coat causes me to offer him some timely advice. I thought I’d just let him know which chimneys are no longer available.

One hundred years ago, Ipswich was a town of factory chimneys. It was described as “a northern industrial town in the comfortable south” – a town somewhat alien but essential to its rural community.

For the greater part of the 20th Century there were two county towns, responsible for the two counties of Suffolk.

Bury in West Suffolk and Ipswich overseeing the East – both centres of production.

The chimney comes down at Mason's cement works. Picture: MARTYN PAYNEThe chimney comes down at Mason's cement works. Picture: MARTYN PAYNE

Ipswich had one major advantage over Bury: the port. Goods produced in Ipswich were exported all over the world.

Ransomes static steam engines and Rapier’s river sluices are still essential components of the economy of their respective counties.

Ipswich’s foundries needed chimneys, tall and slender, to carry the smoke and soot over the houses and away with the wind.

The engineering works needed a tall flue for the furnace but the other major industries also had chimneys.

Prominent examples included Cranfield’s, William Pretty’s and the pumping station in Waterworks Street.

Heated water turned into steam which was used to drive a static steam engine, the output from which drove a revolving shaft running the length of the factory – from which drive belts transferred the motion to individual machines.

A working demonstration of this transfer of power from overhead shaft to individual items of plant and equipment can be seen working in the Machine Room at Isaac Lord’s on the Waterfront.

Here the power is transferred to corn grinder, bean cruncher and cattle cake mixer.

Most of the output of Isaac Lord’s was horse feed destined for the capital in the hold of a barge, the deck topped with a vast stack of hay.

The majority of Ipswich’s tall chimneys have slipped away, disused and then demolished when electric motors replaced the steam engine. The demise of a couple will be remembered as significant events in the town’s history: spectacles for a quiet Sunday morning.

The chimney at the cement works at Great Blakenham came down gracefully (in 2001), as if in slow motion, giving photographers the opportunity to take a couple of shots in mid fall.

The demise of the chimneys at the Cliff Quay Power Station (November 1994) attracted large crowds onto the high vantage point of the Orwell Bridge, with similar numbers waiting in anticipation on the south bank of the river.

Demolition contractors, aware the impending spectacle will attract vast numbers, some trying to get a little too close (hiding behind the apparent safety afforded by their camera tripod), are reluctant to publish the time when the plunger will be pressed, leading to speculation and debate amongst the waiting hoards.

The contractor does of course have to inform the police and the civil authorities. Thus the word spreads and the crowd grows.

The resultant toppling is over in a flash; the clearing up of the resultant mess takes a little longer and then there is the problem of what to do with tonnes of contaminated hardcore.

Tall chimneys still in use include the one at Ipswich Hospital – the flue not only from the central heating boiler but also as a means of disposal of contaminated waste, dressings and soiled paper garments.

The 1970s concrete flue at Suffolk College is tall enough to spread its waste gasses over Alexander Park and beyond. It was used for a while as an advertising hoarding paired with the Question Mark on the Waterfront.

Like much electronic equipment it enjoyed but a short life. Didn’t they all...

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