A wonderful place to work

WORLD renowned engineering company Ransomes and Rapier, where thousands of locals worked, was recalled in a recent Kindred Spirits by Mr B Talman, of Harbell Road, Ipswich.

David Kindred

WORLD renowned engineering company Ransomes and Rapier, where thousands of locals worked, was recalled in a recent Kindred Spirits by Mr B Talman, of Harbell Road, Ipswich. The company was on a vast site on the west bank of the River Orwell between Wherstead Road and the river. Strong family ties with generation of the same family spending their whole career there was common. Almost everybody in and around Ipswich had a connection with somebody working there.

Peter Gildersleeves said: “I worked there from 1959 until closure, serving my apprenticeship, partly in the training school, then finishing my time in the machine shop, where I enjoyed some wonderful years working on all skilled machines and forever picking up all the knowledge from the old boys, which became invaluable to me.

“I finished on machining most major lift crane and walking dragline welded constructions and castings and forgings. I became the shop supervisor in 1972 then machine shop superintendant around 1980. I spent three months in India in 1984 with a colleague as part of overseas development scheme, teaching the skills required for walking dragline manufacture. In 1987 I spent a month in Jordan on an erection site working on the walking dragline featured in the recent Kindred Spirits.

“When I started the lodge gate entrance was directly off Wherstead Road, alongside the big fitting shop building. The walking dragline model photo includes some very familiar faces, Micky Franks, a skilled plater and welder, Mick Patterson, a welder, Jonny Hoy, a skilled machinist, Tim Beeston, a skilled machinist, and John Cullum a skilled machinist.

“Ransomes and Rapier was a wonderful place to work, superb skills, tremendous pride in your work, which was known in Ipswich and all around the world. There was inter departmental sport including football, cricket, bowls and darts teams with tremendous rivalry, but always friends afterwards. We also took part in inter firm sport and there were some great sportsmen at Waterside Works who played for some of the senior clubs in the town and for the county.

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“Workmates always loved a men's day out, we went to Great Yarmouth once a year and sometimes to Belgium, just for a few beers. The overriding memory is of the strong friendships amassed over the years. The open days were always very popular. I can recall the little brass cups that were machined to give to the children who watched them being made. Other memories include the three day week we had to suffer for a while and the march through the town when the business was going to merge with its parent company, Newton and Chambers in Sheffield, and there was great uncertainty where the combined product range would be manufactured, thankfully for a while it remained in Ipswich. The most saddening of all was the final closure. I am so privileged to have spent 30 years at 'R&R'.”

The family of Geoff Ford, of Cemetery Road, Ipswich, is also typical of the way several member of the same family worked at R&R. Geoff said: “I worked for Ransomes and Rapier from November 1950 to November 1963, when I was made redundant and joined Ransomes Sims and Jefferies. I worked in the main fitting shop on mobile cranes, truck mixers and sluice gates. The superintendent then was Harold Moore. The foremen were Albert Johnston and Cecil Kemp. The night shift charge-hand was Reg Ellis. My father also worked at there as a groundsman from April 1950 to September1957 when he retired. My cousin Stanley Ford worked for the company as a draughtsman.”

Alan Thurkettle said: “I remember the popular open days. For part of my childhood, I was living at the bottom of Rapier Street in the last house, and used to look out of the window on to the “test heaps” for the digging machines. Later we moved to Harland Street, opposite Rapier's main gate, and my dad was night watchman for a while.

- I will feature more readers memories of the company next week.

- Did you work for any of Ipswich's engineering giants? Another Ipswich company with a long history were neighbours to Ransomes and Rapier. Cocksedge and Company who employed thousands for over a century at their works off Rapier Street. Were you there?