Doing their bit for the war effort

FREDERICK Tibbenham Limited was founded in Ipswich in 1904. The company specialised in making high grade furniture and joinery, period reproductions, including oak panelling and ecclesiastical wood work.

David Kindred

FREDERICK Tibbenham Limited was founded in Ipswich in 1904. The company specialised in making high grade furniture and joinery, period reproductions, including oak panelling and ecclesiastical wood work.

By the 1920s the company was exporting to America, Canada, Australia and Europe. During the two world wars the company used its skilled workforce to make wooded aircraft propellers and other wooded equipment for the military.

I recently featured photographs of Tibbenham's staff working on the propellers during the Second World War at the company's site between Lower Brook Street, and Turret Lane, Ipswich. This site is now occupied by the offices and printing works of the Evening Star.


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Mr F Brown said: “I started work at F Tibbenham's in August 1942 as a 14 year old apprentice.

“The ladies in the photograph did not make the propellers but finished them off, applying brass to the leading edges and soldering over the screws. Their foreman was Tom Shard who lived in Milton Street.

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“The large four-bladed prop was what was known as a test fan for engines. The smaller two-bladed ones were for smaller aircraft trainers. Tibbenham's made all sizes of test fans and the apprentices finished these small ones, and every test fan had to be balanced.

“The test fans and props were laminated in the joiner's shop where Harry Blofield was foreman. They were made out of Mahany Parana pine or birch from top class timber, all kiln dried. They were either finished off in the joiners' shop or cabinet shop. The roughly-shaped propellers were finished off by tradesmen including Ben Wade, George Reynolds and Ollie Kerridge. All the hard work was done by hand.

“Female staff also worked in the Bren gun shop making handles and butts out of walnut roughed out on a multi lathe. The other departments were the mill where Bill Atwood was foreman, also the paint spray shop which finished off the propellers and gave them their final balance. The foreman was George Rumbelow whose brother Jack was a skilled tradesman working on propellers.”

Reg Shapland, of Howard Street, Ipswich, still has a reminder of Tibbenham's. Reg said: “What lovely memories photographs of Tibbenham's brought back.

“I was a very young electrician when the company closed. I was employed by S F Durrant, of Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich. Tibbenham's site was being cleared in the early 1960s in preparation for the new East Anglian Daily Times Company building.

“I was involved in stripping down the generating building which was on the corner of Rose Lane. I have still got one of Tibbenham's benches. It cost the grand sum of £1.

I RECENTLY featured some of the dramas and disasters which have happened in the area around Felixstowe Dock. Among them was an explosion at the gas works site in Walton Avenue in January 1956.

Mr J Garrard, of Acre Close, Witnesham, had only recently started his career in the gas industry and was the first person in Ipswich to receive the call about the explosion.

Mr Garrard said: “The scene of devastation brought back poignant memories of the day. An urgent telephone call came through to the gas works switchboard at Ipswich, which was part of my duties to operate on occasions saying that there had been a serious accident on the old gas works site at Felixstowe.

“This information was immediately passed to the works manager, Mr F J Denny, who appears in the photograph with three members of the emergency services, pointing to the demolished governor building.

“The saddest memory I have of this incident is the death of Mr E Hubert, who along with two others who I think worked for contractors, died in the explosion, or as a result of it.

“In January 1956 I had been at the gas works as a junior clerk for some three months, having joined Eastern Gas Board in October 1955. I retired from British Gas in December 1989 and have many memories concerning colleagues, but none as emotional as the Felixstowe catastrophe.”

THE huge fire at Corder's town centre store in 1966 was featured in Kindred Spirits.

Mrs S Catling, of Argyle Street, Ipswich, was a member of the staff at the time and can remember the dramatic rescue of a dress!

Mrs Catling said: “The fire was on a Monday. We were working in the workroom at the top of the building, doing alterations to clothes for customers.

“One of the ladies had brought along a dress to alter for her sister, she got halfway down the stairs and realised she had left it behind so she went back to get it, fighting her way back and forth through the thick black smoke.

“We had to come through the fire to get out. I remember coming out with a very black face and going up to Marks & Spencer where my mother was working at the time to let her know I was all right.

“I left school in March 1966 and started working at Corder's in the workroom doing sewing and alterations to customer's clothing. Some of the ladies I worked with included Cindy Wallis (nee Sallows), Lily Ling, and Sylvia Lungley.

“I still enjoy dressmaking and doing alterations for friends and family.”

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