Big families coped with small homes

LITTLE Italy, the area of Ipswich around Cox Lane, which since the housing was demolished in the late 1930s has been a car park, was recalled recently in Kindred Spirits by Des Drew of Stutton.

David Kindred

LITTLE Italy, the area of Ipswich around Cox Lane, which since the housing was demolished in the late 1930s has been a car park, was recalled recently in Kindred Spirits by Des Drew of Stutton.

Des told us how many of the families like his were very poor with little or no spare income for luxuries. The houses were mostly without power, had outside toilets and no bathrooms.

Many were “two up, two down” with large families crowded into the tiny houses.

Joan Lewis (nee Bowman) of St John's Court, Sunningfield Close, Ipswich, also grew up there. Joan said: “I was born in Lower Barclay Street in 1923. I was one of eight children, six girls and two boys. We had a two-bedroom house, my oldest brother used to sleep at my aunt's house a few doors away. My mother had three more children after me and a Mrs Vise used to act as midwife to the area. As a child I did not know where the babies came from.

“I still laugh about that now. Is that why we were sent out to play on Sunday afternoons to play between the houses whether the day was wet or fine?

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“We had a wash house next door and a toilet in the yard. Mother used to wait outside when it was dark as there was no light there. Toilet paper was scrap on a string. My mother always kept our small outside toilet spotlessly clean. Like Des Drew I was a pupil at St Pancras School, also at the Tacket Street Sunday School although my family was not Catholic.

“My father Chris worked in the lawnmower foundry at Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies, so we had shoes on our feet and a special treat at Easter when we were bought a bonnet from Holland's shop in Upper Brook Street. Mrs Baldwin kept a shop in Upper Barclay Street. She was a good friend to many families, letting people have items on credit until payday. At meal times we had plenty of meat, potatoes and bread, which we loved.

“We only had chicken for dinner at Christmas, followed by tinned fruit. The rest of the year we had rice pudding, custard, spotted dick or jam roly poly pudding for 'afters'. Our Christmas stocking had an orange, nuts and one toy. Once a week we had half a penny to buy sweets at Mrs Michael's sweet shop. We had good parents and were a happy family, like so many more.

“Children would sometimes get a day trip out, organised, I think, by the church in Tacket Street. This was by horse and cart to the countryside. We were given a box of food for the trip. Once a year we were taken to Felixstowe by our parents. We made the journey by train. As exciting as the train was, my best moment was buying a bar of chocolate from a machine at the station. Simple things by today's standards, but we were happy.

“Some of the lovely people I recall from Little Italy are: The Bowman family, the Drews, Crickmore, Whitehead, Heath, Stopher, Huberts, and Bruce. We all played together.

“When we were told the area was to be demolished and our family moved to new housing at Whitton we did not know where it was. We were moved there in 1939. We had electric light, an inside toilet and bathroom in a lovely big house. As a family we were truly blessed.”

Des Drew recalled how Sergeant Sutcliffe, of the Ipswich borough police force, kept a charitable eye on his family, often arranging fruit and vegetables to be delivered to help his mother feed the children when times were particularly hard.

John Pearson, who now lives on the Isle of Wight, said: “I remember Sgt Sutcliffe in a different context. I believe it was the same who was also involved in coaching boys at boxing in local youth clubs. He used to have a beach hut at The Dip at Felixstowe in the late 1950s/60s, about three away from the hut owned by my aunt and uncle Ivy and Gus Page. My parents Ethel and Fred Pearson and I would be collected every Sunday morning at 8am in the summer and driven to Felixstowe in my uncle's grey Hillman Minx APV 268.

“I think that Mr Sutcliffe drove a Rover. I was struggling to learn to swim and Mr Sutcliffe patiently boosted my confidence and eventually succeeded in getting me to swim a few strokes unaided. I still enjoy sea swimming and it was Mr Sutcliffe who literally got my feet off the ground all those years ago! We had some great family times at that beach hut - the sun seemed to shine every Sunday! Happy memories!”

Do you have memories of Sgt Sutcliffe or the Lads' Club? Write to Kindred Spirits at The Evening Star or e-mail

A “POOR children's outing” was organised anually by the Ipswich Motor Cycle and Car Club. In his memories of growing up in a poor family from the Little Italy area of Ipswich in the 1920s and 30s, Des Drew recalled these days out to Rookery Park, Yoxford.

Ian Grimwood, of Dorset Close, Ipswich, has sent me a copy of the programme of events for June 1939. Some of the terminology would be frowned on today. Everybody was asked to be at the Portman Road recreation ground (now part of the Ipswich Town Football Club) for 1pm.

“The cars for the cripples section will enter the park, turn immediately right along the path nearest Portman Walk (now Sir Alf Ramsey Way).

“The outward route of the procession will be via Friars Bridge Road, Princes Street, Cornhill, Majors Corner, St Helen's Street, Warwick Road and Woodbridge Road.

“The cripple section cars will be taken off the route at a marked point and parked as in previous years. The committee will be glad if you will decorate your car. Prizes will be given for the best decorated.”

Dorothy Waters (nee Spalding) of Ashmere Grove, Ipswich, added: “My aunt used to take my sister and I to Rushmere Heath to watch the procession go by. We took a picnic of tinned salmon sandwiches, a rare treat then. The children were in decorated open-backed lorries. What would health and safety say today about this form of transport? Not a seat belt or crash helmet in sight! As they went passed we cheered and waved. We were rather envious as we thought how lucky they were. We could not understand why they were called 'poor children'.”

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