Can't beet the sweet smells of winter

AT this time of the year there used to be a sweet smell in the air around the west side of Ipswich as the sugar beet factory in Sproughton Road processed the thousands of tons of beet grown on local farms.

AT this time of the year there used to be a sweet smell in the air around the west side of Ipswich as the sugar beet factory in Sproughton Road processed the thousands of tons of beet grown on local farms.

Every autumn and winter clouds of steam drifted across the sky until the factory closed in 2001. The grey towers still stand by the River Gipping as the future of the site is still undecided. Michael Collyer, of Cambridge Road, Kesgrave, remembers the factory being built in the 1920s when steam-powered lorries and traction engines would haul the crop from the farms to be processed.

Years later, in the 1960s, Michael worked at the factory during the winter season. During the summer Michael operated his model railway at Felixstowe, giving rides on the seafront near the boating lake, to thousands of visitors every year.

Michael said: “I remember when I was a child the factory being built in 1925 and how much interest it caused, in those days there was a level crossing over the railway before the present bridge was made.

“A little narrow gauge railway carried the earth away from the building site. It was pulled by a lovely little steam locomotive. When the job was completed all the equipment was sold for scrap including the engine and trucks. All future work was done by dumper trucks.

“When the traffic stood at the level crossing it gave me a chance to snaffle a few sugar beet off the back of a lorry to feed my pet Angora rabbits! This usually caused “Hooky” the gatekeeper to chase me away, threatening me with his huge hook, which had replaced his hand lost in a railway accident.

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“In the early days steam wagons and traction engines, often with trailers, joined the lorries and tractors bringing in the sugar beet. I recall one incident when a steam wagon came under the Bramford Road railway bridge and as it turned into Sproughton Road the steering chain broke and it careered across the road and came to a halt after hitting a gas lamp post! When the crew left it was a delight for us boys to climb aboard and play with the controls, we all thought it was wonderful.

“Many years later in the 1960s, I spent several winters at the factory at the weighbridge checking the loads. We could have as many as 600 a day, it kept us busy; the lorries were small by comparison then.

“There were no huge articulated trucks then, the average load was about six to eight tons. Some farmers had purchased old Austin lorries from the Second World War with poor tyres, they often changed punctured tyres two or three times a trip.

“I remember one bursting a tyre just as he came on to the weighbridge and the farmer said 'I've no more tyres left, she will have to run as she is'. He moved off with the old truck leaning over badly.

“During the campaign, which started late September and went on non-stop until late February the following year, Sproughton Road became a sea of mud; my old motorcycle, which I used to get me to and from work, was smothered with mud for months. At times the police would phone us and say lorries were nose to tail from Bramford Road all the way to the factory. Could we move them a bit faster as traffic was at a stand all over the area?

“Many thousands of tons of beet came by rail, as well as coal for the boilers, which produced steam for the various processes for making the sugar as well as generating electric power. Sugar was despatched in sacks by rail in box wagons, also pulp for animal feed. All this changed when the railway connection discontinued.

“The mud washed off the beet and was diverted into large ponds where it settled and was taken back to the farms the following year. The local population accepted the commotion every winter, probably enjoying the sweet aroma of the sugar and the spectacle of the huge column of steam from the pulp dryers which looked wonderful on a sunny day. I lived just off the Bramford Road, less than a mile from the factory and it was a great feature of the neighbourhood.”

Some people today think that playing with toy guns is a bad idea for children. Imagine a school storing guns and live ammunition in a not-too secure hut on the school playground! This was the situation at Morland Road School, Ipswich, during the Second World War.

Willy Simpson, of Windings Road, Elmsett, sent me a football team photograph from the school, which includes him.

Among his memories of life there Willy said “Our headmaster was Mr Birtwhistle, who wore a long black cloak and sometimes a mortar board. He looked like Count Dracula when the breeze billowed his cloak out behind him.

“At playtime my friend Bobby Hoskins used to pretend to be Roy Rogers, the cowboy film star and the rest of us were his sidekicks. There were two Nissan huts in the school grounds where the local defence force stored guns and ammunition. My friend Peter Milliard can recall there was a hole in the hut and some boys used to play soldiers with the guns and put them back afterwards”.

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