'A labour of love' - Barry traces lives of Ipswich bargemen in new booklet

Barry and Elaine Girling of Stutton with their two booklets on Ipswich history

Barry Girling, who has published a new booklet about bargemen in Ipswich, with wife Elaine holding their previous book, Ipswich Memories of a Special Town - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

Author and local historian Barry Girling has published a new booklet about bargemen in Ipswich.

The booklet, entitled Band of Brothers, covers a century from 1860 to 1960, spotlighting the men who sailed and worked on the town's barges.

Barry, aged 80, who now lives in Stutton, said he has been fascinated by barges ever since he was a child.

Billy Smith (left) and George Baxter at the wheel of an Ipswich barge

Billy Smith (left) and George Baxter at the wheel of an Ipswich barge - Credit: Society for Sailing Barge Research/Richard Smith

"I was one of a group of young boys who lived near Holywells Park. Nobody stopped us from going everywhere.

"I was very taken up by the barges and the crews, coming in and out of the port."

Now Barry,  a member of the Ipswich Maritime Trust, has traced the histories of the bargemen in the town, helped by his wife, Elaine.

"I couldn't have done it without Elaine. She has done so much work," he said.

Barry Girling, who has published a new booklet about bargemen in Ipswich, with wife Elaine, who also worked on the book

Barry Girling, who has published a new booklet about bargemen in Ipswich, with wife Elaine, who also worked on the book - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

The new 52-page booklet includes 450 entries about the history of the bargemen and their vessels, with 40 photos.

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It is a companion publication to the couple's previous booklet, Ipswich: Memories of a Special Town.

"The previous book was based on my memories of growing up in Ipswich in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s," Barry said.

"The new book has been another labour of love and hopefully will fill a small gap in local social history."

Ivan Hazelton at the wheel of a barge in Ipswich

Ivan Hazelton at the wheel of a barge in Ipswich - Credit: Pamela Hazelton

Barry says in his book: "The sailing barge was the early mainstay of bulk cargo transportation, especially between Ipswich and London. The great dock in town with its engineering works, maltings, mills and warehouses generated much waterborne traffic.

"Indeed over the years, close on 200 barges were laid down at Ipswich alone."

He adds: "With the possible exception of Over Stoke, the nucleus of the Ipswich crews were drawn from the villages on the north bank of the Stour, such as Lower Holbrook, Harkstead and Shotley as well as the south bank of the Orwell, particularly the Pin Mill area."

The cover of Barry Girling's new booklet, Band of Brothers

The cover of Barry Girling's new booklet, Band of Brothers - Credit: Barry Girling

Barry explains that a sea-going life was often hard.

"The local barging fraternity was close knit, often related and comprised of those who would 'look out for one another' – a veritable band of brothers," he said. 

When tracing the stories of the bargemen, sometimes Barry and Elaine had a potted history. But sometimes there was only a name to go on, before consulting sources including other authors and the National Maritime Museum.

Barry says in the book: "Best of all is the support that I have received from local people who still fortunately cling on to their memories, and have been so generous with their time and have rallied to the cause, and for which I thank them all."

Ivan Hazelton at the wheel of a barge in Ipswich

Ivan Hazelton at the wheel of a barge in Ipswich - Credit: Pamela Hazelton

You can get both books together for £12, with free delivery within Ipswich. For details, email redroundabout92@gmail.com or call 01473 328621. The books are also available from shops including Waterstones.

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