Building the wet dock

YOU could not buy a small house or, on some parts of the Suffolk coast, a beach hut for £65,158, yet this was the original quote in the 1830s to create a 33-acre wet dock on the natural wide sweeping bend on the River Orwell.

YOU could not buy a small house or, on some parts of the Suffolk coast, a beach hut for £65,158, yet this was the original quote in the 1830s to create a 33-acre wet dock on the natural wide sweeping bend on the River Orwell.

Like most major projects it in the end cost much more. Some said it was as high as £130,000, a huge sum at the time.

It was a brave and inspired decision to go ahead with building the country's largest dock, which has now become The Waterfront, largely a leisure and residential area. Work started in the 1830s to turn the tidal port into a thriving centre of shipping and trade.

The area of enclosed water created then dwarfed anything on the Thames, Liverpool or Hull.

The first ship entered into the lock gates in January 1842. The lock was then off New Cut East. This presented a problem for larger ships having to make a difficult turn into the dock. The present lock, giving a straight run from the river was opened with great ceremony on 27 July 1881. It was quite a day for Ipswich as our proud Victorian ancestors also opened the new post office on the Cornhill and the Museum in High Street.

New Cut was constructed through land in the Stoke area of town. This was to give access to the lock, allow craft to travel up and down the river to Stowmarket and take the water from the River Gipping down river. This created an island of 14 acres. New cut had trees and a promenade until it was lost to industrial expansion around 1920.

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The dock provided work for several generations. Coal, grain, timber and local products moved through the port. There were many public houses around the dock ready to quench the thirst of the workers.

I recently published a photograph in Kindred Spirits of the lock gate crew taken in the 1950s. This has brought memories of living and working in the area from readers.

Mrs P Race of Congreve Road, Ipswich, lived in cottages on New Cut East, built for the lock gate staff. Mrs Race said. “I was six or seven when my parents moved to Ipswich, my father Mr Fisk, who was known as 'Stormy', got a job with the Ipswich Dock Commission as a lock-gate man. The gates were opened by hand then. We lived on New Cut East in one of the two cottages that then had front gardens. Brown's Timber Yard was at the back of our cottages. Nearby was the Lock Tavern public house and a shop, which sold oil, rope, and sails etcetera. There was a slipway into New Cut where a boat came every day to take men down the river to work on ships too big to get into Ipswich.

“Close by were three more cottages on New Cut East where other lock gate men lived. They were Mr Bruning, Mr Newmas, and Mr Coe. At this time the then lock master lived next door to us. The two cottages had at one time been one house. When Landseer Road was built they erected six or eight individual houses behind Cobbold's Brewery for the Dock Commission so we moved there. My father had an allotment there. My brother and I liked to go and pick the raspberries. We had a perfect view of Cliff Quay when, during the Second World War, the Germans bombed there.

“My dad eventually became lock master. I remember Tiny, working at the lock gates then. I used to swim from the lock-gates to the buoys and once got covered in tar. I am now 87, but the memories of New Cut East are still with me and they are very happy ones even though we got flooded while there, the water filled the cellar and up to the first three stairs. My dad told my brother and me to stay upstairs which we did, but loved to see the fire engine pump the water out. The gas meter was in the cellar so we had no lights, only candles.”

Bryan Green of Edmonton Close, Kesgrave, recalls how Ransomes Sims and Jefferies used to export their machinery through the dock from their huge site nearby.

Brian said. “I was employed at Ransomes Sims and Jefferies Ltd at their Duke Street office in the 1950s. I started at one pound 15 shillings a week. Part of my duties was to arrange for lawn mowers to be prepared for export. A form of containerisation was in use at that time. All mowers intended for export to Belgium were prepared in Toller Road for inclusion in a railway ferry wagon which was collected and hauled round the dock and subsequently sent via the Harwich to Zeebrugge train ferry and delivered into the distributor premises in Tielt.

“Somewhat later the distributors in Germany obtained a very large order for gang mowers for the US Air Force at Ramstein. The distributor arranged for a vessel to come from Germany into Ipswich Docks and the entire consignment was loaded from Orwell Works and transported up the Rhine as far as Krefeld. The docks were also used by Ransomes when they decided to give up being the last British manufacture of combine harvesters. A sale was agreed with a Danish concern for the remaining stock of MST56 tractor trailed combines, who arranged for vessels to come into Ipswich Dock to collect them.”

George Leeks of Oulton Road, Ipswich, tells us more about the group of men photographed by the lock gates. George said: “The person sitting second left is my late uncle James Orvis who was know as Jimmy. He was Lock Master for Ipswich Dock Commission, hence the uniform.

“He was eldest son of my grandfather James 'Jummer' Orvis who was tug and dredger master for the Docks Commission. Most of the Orvis family was employed at Ipswich Docks. The second eldest son George Orvis started as a crane driver and progressed to senior stevedore, another son Robert (Bob) also ended his working life at the docks as foreman stevedore.”

When I featured the Reavell's engineering company in Ipswich recently Frank Symonds wrote recalling how, when he served on HMS Tyne during World War Two, the Revell's name plate on the ships compressor always reminded him of home. I have received a letter from Ken Arnold of Bromeswell Road, Ipswich, who also served on the Tyne. Ken said: “I also worked on HMS Tyne. On her return from the Pacific she berthed in the Stour to serve the reserve mine sweeper flotilla based at Harwich, Parkeston Quay. During their decommissioning they were being sprayed with a plastic covering to the gun housings. Here I was to make many friends during my two years service. Are there any other ex H.M.S. Tyne chaps out there?”