Docks demolition brings back memories

AS the present phase of demolition work at the former Ipswich Dock is completed, memories of working life there, along with some great photographs taken of the area in the mid 1960s, come today from Mike Farthing of Medway Road, Ipswich.

AS the present phase of demolition work at the former Ipswich Dock is completed, memories of working life there, along with some great photographs taken of the area in the mid 1960s, come today from Mike Farthing of Medway Road, Ipswich.

Mike started his career at the Ipswich Steamship Company a few weeks before his fifteenth birthday in the late 1950s. The Ipswich Steamship Company was on the site next to the Custom House where the huge silo, which was built in 1962 for R and W Paul's, has just been demolished.

Mike gives us a fascinating insight to the busy dock, which has now become mainly a leisure and residential area known as The Waterfront. Mike said: “I was just 14 years old when I started work on January 1, 1957, there was no Bank Holiday then. I started at the Ipswich Steamship Company for the princely sum of £2 -12s-6p per week. The office in which I worked appeared to be unchanged from the Victorian period. There were two rooms, which were heated in the winter by coal fires. Sitting on a high stool at a sloping desk I filled in the details of goods moving in and out of the warehouse in large ledgers with a fountain pen, which I suppose was an improvement on a quill!

“All the entries had to be made in ink and any errors could not rubbed out. To remove them I had to use a penknife held at 90 degrees to the surface of the paper. The blade was moved from side to side removing the top surface of the paper together with the offending entry so it was 'scratched'. I wonder if this is the derivation of the term used by bookmakers for non runners?

“The telephone was something I had not encountered before. It was a two piece instrument fitted to the wall with an earpiece which you lifted from its cradle to hold to your ear while speaking into the mouthpiece. Not long after I arrived we had a vast leap in technology which updated the telephone to the shape we have today and an extension. You had to turn a handle on a small generator beside the phone.

“The business was a mixture of shipping and warehousing storing products for the farming industry and various food items for Burton Son & Saunders. The items we stored reflected the way farm animals were raised and food grown. Some of the raw materials for animal foods were maize meal, bran, flint and granite grit, limestone flour and bone meal. These raw materials were purchased by local millers and agricultural merchants. Every village seemed to have a dealer. One or two of the traders still exist but their businesses have changed now to selling mainly pet products to the general public rather than grinding local grown wheat and barley and mixing in the other ingredients for farmers. We also sold artificial fertilisers. Barges were used to bring these products to the warehouse. Unloading the cargo was by electric crane lifting out the sacks. They were then carried on a man's shoulder and placed in a stack in the warehouse. Pallets and forklift trucks were a thing of the future.”

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“Ipswich at this time had many small bakeries. In our warehouse we stored flour for Cranfield's and Spillers. Our own lorry, a Morris Commercial made the deliveries. The heavy and dusty sacks often had to be carried on a man's shoulder. The flour was in Hessian 'half' sacks, which weighed 12 stones each (140lbs).

“As well as accounting for the goods belonging to Burton Son & Saunders, who produced jam and many other confectionary products, one of my jobs was to go to the jam factory to check deliveries of orange and lemon skins. The skins were imported from Spain in wooden barrels called 'pipes'. The fruit had been cut in half and appeared to have had the juice squeezed out and the cup shapes were tightly packed inside each other in rings to get the maximum amount in the barrels then filled with brine to preserve them. At the age of 15 I had to run the gauntlet of the women working in the jam factory! These women all seemed to wear copper tipped boots, presumably as protective footwear. My task was to record the weight of the fruit. A barrel was laid on its side outside in a cobbled yard and the end was knocked out so the contents spilled onto the ground allowing the brine to drain away. A fork was used to fill one of the wicker baskets and then it was weighed. In today's hygienic world this may seem a strange practice but when I was presented with a delicious gift pack of crystallised orange and lemon slices at Christmas I forgot all that had gone before.”


I will feature more of Mike's memories and photographs in Kindred Spirits next week, showing how the dock area has changed since he worked there.

Another Ipswich man who worked for the Ipswich Steamship company is Tony Howes of Beechcroft Road, Ipswich. Tony said: “I worked for The Ipswich Steamship Company in 1951/2 before joining the Royal Air Force for my National Service. This firm was owned by M F Horlock Ltd of Mistley who managed and owned many barges. The Ipswich Steamship Company was agents for these barges and was responsible for collecting the Harwich and Ipswich dues.

“They were agents for the distribution of cattle feed and poultry feed throughout the region. The feed was stored either loose or in sacks. The warehouse was used for other purposes and often flooded at high tide. They were also agents for Camp Coffee.

“There were about a dozen men in the warehouse and three of us in the office. I dealt with the accounts. I had the privilege of boarding quite a few of the barges and even offered a job as mate on one of them. There were sailing and motor barges. Some of the barge names I recall are Gladys, May, Spinaway C, Venture, Raybel, and Millie.”


What memories do you have of Ipswich Dock area? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN.

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