Child's-eye view of Edwardian Ipswich

THROUGH this column we have learned a lot about life in our area in the past.

David Kindred

THROUGH this column we have learned a lot about life in our area in the past. Some elderly readers have told fascinating stories of their childhood of more than 80 years ago, but we do not often get the chance to learn of a first hand account of a childhood from over a century ago.

I recently featured a bakers shop in Fore Street, Ipswich, where aviation pioneer Edith Cook was born. The shop was taken over by greengrocers Criss and Bessie Gyford in around 1900. Their son, also named Criss, was born at the shop in December 1901 and he recorded his memories in 1982 for future generation to enjoy. His son John Gyford, who lives in Witham, Essex, sent me his father's memories of life in Edwardian Ipswich.

Criss Gyford said on his recordings: “Number 90 Fore Street was built in the early 1500s, about the same time as the nearby Neptune Inn. While my father was serving in the Boer War in South Africa, my mother had converted the front room of 90 Fore Street into a greengrocer's shop. As soon as my father was fit after his return from South Africa they began to build up the business together.

“About three years later they bought the premises next door, number 92 and doubled the shop area. A new door upstairs gave us a very large room always known as the 'best room'. The ceiling was carved plaster and very ornate with a large three oil-lamp chandelier in the centre, which could go up or down on counter weights. There were also oil lamps on both sides of the fireplace.

“A large bow window overlooking Fore Street was a favourite vantage point for me. From that window I saw the laying down of the tramlines and the installation of the wires for the electric trams, which replaced the horse-drawn trams in 1903. From the window I could also watch the lamp lighter with his long hooked pole and lighted taper as he lit the gas street lamps. I could see 23 lamps from that window.

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“The shop had the telephone connected in the early days of the service. There was a metal sign outside the shop with a blue bell design and saying 'You May Telephone From Here'. It was the only sign in the area. My mother was not keen on using the telephone 'Too much electricity is not good' she said.

“I was about three when the electric trams started running along Fore Street. The double lines outside the shop meant that any cart delivering goods had to move to allow the trams to pass. This caused trouble between the tramcar drivers and the delivery men, especially if the tramcar driver kept clanging his bell. The trams were open topped with leather aprons on the top deck for the passengers to use in wet weather.

“A regular thing at the private houses in Fore Street was the cleaning of doorsteps every morning with a scaling stone and a whitener. Residents also sharpened their carving knives on their doorsteps. Sunday meals were taken to the nearby baker's oven for roasting. The baker charged each family just a few pence.

“As a child I would be sent to the butcher's for a half-shoulder of lamb, knuckle end, which would cost two shillings and three pence. There would be children at the butchers buying four penny worth of scraps. These children were from the very poor part of Ipswich around Waterworks Street. Sugar was three pence a pound. You could buy 'double weight' margarine for sixpence a pound. This offer meant you got two pounds for the price of one. My mother always gave us suet pudding or batter pudding as a first dinner course, unless the main course was meat pudding or steak and kidney pie. Rabbits cost eight pence each skinned.

“One of my earliest memories was in September 1902. I was wearing a white furry coat and matching beret. I had my father's Boer War medal pinned on my coat and was carried on my dad's shoulders on the way home from the Cornhill, where he had been presented with the medal by Lord Kitchener who presented the medals to the Suffolk Regiment.

“The back door of 90 Fore Street opened on to a drift way leading to the Dock. As a small boy I spent a lot of time playing there on the barges. The main cargo at the dock was grain and Lucca beans, which were processed into cattle food. Opposite our shop was two maltings, one kept by Mr Meakins, the other by Mr Chinnery. Chinnery's yard also had stables for the horses that pulled the grain carts that took the malted grain to breweries. It was chiefly Cobbold's brewery at Cliff Quay and boys followed the horses with pails and shovels to collect the manure. Most of these children were bare foot.

“It was a regular thing to see women going into Sneezum's pawnbrokers shop on Saturday mornings to get out their husband's and children's Sunday clothes. On Monday they would return them to Sneezum's as they needed the money.

“If I was at home on Tuesdays I would make a point of going to the upstairs window as it was market day and cattle from the east side of town would be driven along Fore Street and into Salthouse Street on their way to market. Often those being driven down Back Hamlet would meet those coming from Bishops Hill and Fore Hamlet. This would cause great excitement in Fore Street. The cattle were always followed by a good many boys with shovels and pails.

“Other memorable occasions were when the horse drawn timber carts with separate bogies had each end of a tree trunk. These were usually drawn by four shire horses. Two harnessed to the front bogies plus two trace horses. They found it very difficult to round the bend from Salthouse Street into Fore Street, holding up all the traffic including the trams. They were heading for Duke Street and Brown's nearby timber yard at the dock. The trace horses were stabled in the forecourt of the Carpenters Arms public house at the foot of Bishops Hill, which was then very narrow with big hedges on both sides.

“The horses were used to help pull heavy loads up the hill. At the top, at the junction of Nacton Road, was a large water trough for cattle and horses. There were also metal cups for people to use and a lower trough for sheep and dogs.

“Cycles were popular and the motor car was just starting to be used, but the main means of power was still the horse. My father had two horses, Charlie and Black Bess. They were used to pull two trolley vans to take vegetables round town. My father's horseman, Tom, was the first person I knew with a gramophone which he brought to Christmas parties where children were amazed to hear such a thing.

“Between number 90 and the Neptune Inn was a small shop occupied by the Haggers. They were pork butchers. In the doorway there were two large hooks from which pig carcasses were suspended. Twice a week carcasses were cut in half. Their sausages contained very large pieces of meat which my mother complained about. They also sold scraps of solidified pork fat which we often had for our 5 o'clock meal.

“Beyond the Neptune Inn was Beard's grocers and wine merchants. Half their place was a shop and the other part a nice residence. Then there was Barnard's corn chandlers and Issac Lord's house and their coal warehouse which led to the dock. Closer to Salthouse Street was Richard Potter's fruit shop, then it was Fenner's cycle shop and Bloomfield's bakery, which always had a nice smell of baking bread.

“On the opposite side of the street was Jackson's Chemist shop. Mr Jackson made his own pills. He made Jackson's Little Liver and Kidney Pills. He also made Jackson's Famous Cough Mixture. Directly opposite my parents shop was Mrs Waton's boarding house for working men. On the corner of Church Street (now Grimwade Street) was Ribbon's hardware shop. On the other side of Church Street was the Sorrel Horse public house, Edwards the bakers and the Social Settlement. When I was about ten-years-old I used to attend services there on a Sunday with my grandfather. There was the usual hymn singing, mostly sailors' hymns like 'Eternal Father Strong to Save' and there was usually a lantern slide show.

“My father was now in the wholesale business and also acting as a ship's chandler supplying practically all the meat and vegetables to the ships visiting Ipswich Dock, most of which were sailing vessels. By this time he had opened shops in Brook Street and St Matthew' Street. My father never smoked cigarettes or a pipe, but was very fond of cigars which he smoked at the weekends. I would be sent to Dotheby's tobacconists in Orwell Place to buy the cigars, which were called Torpedoes and cost three-pence each.”

I will continue Criss Gyford's Edwardian memories next week when he tells us about starting school at Clifford Road. Criss had to walk across open fields to reach the school, which is now surrounded by housing.

Do you have a story of the past to share with Evening Star readers? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich or e-mail


Gyford's shop in Fore Street, Ipswich, at Christmas time around 1908. The pavement was packed with fruit and vegetables. Haggar's butchers shop is on the right next to the Neptune Inn.

Criss Gyford in around 1912.

The way huge tree trunks were transported through Ipswich by horse power is described by Criss Gyford. This massive load was transported by Freston's which was based in Princes Street. Do you recognise this rail yard?

Fore Street in the 1890s with Henry Sneezum's pawnbrokers shop on the right and behind the horse and cart standing on the right. This photograph was taken from where Star Lane now crosses Fore Street looking towards Upper Orwell Street.

Fore Street looking towards the then narrow entrance to Salthouse Street off to the left. Several of the premises, including Potters's fruit shop, recalled by Criss Gyford, were still there when this photograph was taken in the 1930s.

It seems that Criss Gyford's parents rented the premises in Fore Street when they first started trading and then purchased the building in 1910. This document from W E Kersey's solicitors of Tower Street, Ipswich, from April 1910, illustrated how prices have changed in a century.

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