Firm at the cutting edge

Thousands worked for Ransomes Sims and Jefferies the Ipswich engineering giant, which occupied a vast site around the dock, Duke Street and Fore Hamlet area of Ipswich, until the company moved in the 1960s to a site on the edge of town on the Nacton Road. Rod Cross recalled how, like so many local families, generations of men worked for the company producing mainly agricultural equipment.

Mick Hawes, who now lives in Eydon, a small village in Northamptonshire, recalls his time working for Ransomes Sims and Jefferies when some of the working practices, in his eyes, were less than 100% efficient.

Mick said “My first job after leaving Copleston Secondary Modern School, was from August 1962 to August 1964, as the office junior or more officially as a “Trainee Copywriter”, in the publicity department. The department was based in what were still referred to as the “Aircraft Offices”. As Rod Cross recalled the company had been involved in the manufacture of aircraft in the First World War. 1962-63 was that very cold winter and buildings, probably built fairly rapidly around fifty years earlier with very little sign of modernisation, were not the warmest place to spend it.”

“As a sixteen year old straight from school the Publicity Department was a maturing experience. Suddenly, I was working alongside men who were the same age as my teachers and my parents. Most of them had fought in the Second World War. Some were even too old to have been involved! These men, and they were all men, apart from the two secretary/typists who provided them with tea, coffee and their remaining hopes of flirtation. Many were sad. One chap’s wife and children had been killed in the war. He remained remarkably sanguine except on payday, which initially at my time there was alternate Friday mornings. We were paid cash in an envelope. One man continued to work steadily until lunch time on pay day, then, I presume, he submerged his memories with a few quick drinks. He would return from lunch somewhat later than the appointed time and slump for the rest of the afternoon asleep across his desk.”

“It was Don “Chippy” Chipperfield whose lifestyle most impressed me. He managed to remain on the periphery of the department, working his own hours and travelling as a one man film unit, except occasionally when I was allowed to help him, making films such as “All the Year Round” and “Capability Brown”. I thought anyone who could get a company to pay him to indulge his hobby on a fulltime basis must be a good role model.”


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“As Rod Cross mentions, the firm was at that time developing its Nacton Road site and that was where the photographic department was based, while we, the department that they probably had most need to liaise with were still based on the Orwell Works site around Duke Street. In order to facilitate the working between the two sites there was a mini- bus service which ran continually between them on the quarter and half hours. One of my jobs was to collect urgently required photographs. The number of journeys I had to make increased during the period when the youngest member of the photographic staff became my first girlfriend. It is strange to think that today this part of my job would be done by an instant e-mail attachment.”

“With the benefit of hindsight it is not difficult to see the seeds of Ransomes future decline there even at the beginning of the 1960s. There was a great past and one of my tasks was to look through the archives for pictures for a book “Wherever the Sun Shines” celebrating its 175 years. The company seemed safe, although the sight of hundreds of ploughs and other farm machinery lined up on the fields at Nacton Road made me wonder, even as a sixteen-year-old, if the business was really doing as well as was assumed. There was perhaps a desperate effort to catch up. The manufacture of combine harvesters was introduced, but they had remarkably, and presumably uneconomically, small cutter bars. This was not helped when the initial adverts for a new eight foot one went out mistakenly referring to its eight inch cut. Nothing to do with me, honest!”

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The large range of lawnmowers, with the royal appointment coat of arms always displayed proudly on the grass box, despite the fact that the royal warrant was for agriculture machinery and never for lawnmowers, were perhaps still being designed for an era when the wealthy employed staff to cut the lawn with a quality machine rather than meeting the increased demand for something just adequate to cut your own bit of grass”.

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