Kindred Spirits: The day they’ll never forget - the announcement that Ransomes and Rapier employees were told the company was doomed
The volume of letters sent in following the publication of photos from Ransomes and Rapier proves what an important role the company played in Ipswich’s past.
This week David Kindred wrote: “The Ransomes and Rapier feature of a couple of weeks back is still bringing interesting response.
“Graham Day tells us how his father Edward was devastated by the problems facing the company he loved.”
In his letter Graham also recalls the day that Robert Maxwell flew into Ipswich in his private helicopter to tell staff the company was doomed.
This is imprinted on the memories of those who worked there and their families.
“I was a staff photographer with the Star at the time and was there to cover his visit,” said Mr Kindred.
“I remember the air of gloom as Robert Maxwell strode across the overgrown grass area, in front of the works canteen, to tell long-faced staff that more than 118 years of history was over.”
He added: “Rod Cross was prompted to write following my feature about Ipswich Maltings and he recalls working around the dock area of Ipswich.Sandra and Keith Gardner were landlord and lady of the Royal William public house, London Road, Ipswich, and they wonder if Kindred Spirits readers remember their time there?”Share your memories by email.
“You recently published a photograph of employees of Ransomes and Rapier marching in 1972 to save their jobs.
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It had been an-nounced by Newton Chambers, the parent company of Ransomes and Rapier, that all production at the Waterside Works would cease and manufacture of the entire NCK-RAPIER, Newton Chambers, range of excavators and other heavy construction equipment, would move to the Newton Chambers works in Sheffield.
The news had come as a complete bombshell to the workforce.
My father Edward, known as Ted, was a quality control inspec-tor, which during the 1950s and early 1960s had entailed him visiting engineering firms who subcon-tracted to R and R.
Often trips were out of Suffolk to “exotic” locations such as Sheffield, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Manchester, travelling by train and staying for several days, returning at the end of the week.
He had also been a union shop steward, secretary of the bowls club, and a chorister in the Waterside Works Male Voice Choir, so he was well known.
The possible closure did leave him very deflated, as he had been a company man through and through.
He had been an engineer for the majority of his working life and like all R and R employees was intensely proud of the products they made, which were world class and often very innovative, in the days when a high proportion of the adult workforce in Ipswich worked in the many engineering companies spread throughout the town.
He was a proud man, who had never suffered the indignity of unemployment and who in his mid fifties bitterly resented the fact that he was going to be placed on “the scrapheap”, with no real prospects of finding another job.
We had lived in Old Stoke for many years, and many of the people around us had members of their families working at the factory.
I was 22 at the time and went with my mother to watch the marchers leave the factory from Bath Street and march along Wher-stead Road, towards the town cen-tre.
Like many people we joined the march and walked into the town to Christchurch Park, assembling by the Cenotaph. The marchers called for the managing director, Mr Wade, to be sacked, although my father never totally agreed with the chants.
The assembled marchers were addressed by the local MPs, with the most memorable speech coming from the Rt Hon Keith Stainton, the Conservative MP for many years for the Sudbury and Woodbridge constituency, who received tumultuous cheers when he announced that the board of Newton Chambers had made the wrong decision, and that it was the Sheffield site that should be closed.
The march was the starting point of a campaign to keep the factory open, and subsequently delegations, including the MPs, went to Sheffield to negotiate with the Newton Chambers board, which eventually did agree to keep the Ipswich factory open. Ultimately the Sheffield site was closed.
Both my mother and I were pleased that we had offered our support at the time to my father as we realised the personal devastation he felt. Unfortunately he did not have many working years left, as he died of cancer in 1973.
The factory was eventually closed by one Robert Maxwell, who helicoptered in in 1987, to cease work and transfer production to Stohert and Pitt, one of his companies in Bath. One of the attractions for him with R and R was the pension fund which he subsequently plundered for his own ends to keep his empire afloat!
It always has irked me that Ipswich Borough Council never really acknowledges properly the contribution made by the multitude of engineering firms to the history of Ipswich, particularly in R and R’s case, where they were responsible for building the first railway in China, and for massive technological feats as the Walking Dragline excavators, one of which I man-aged to see working in the 1980s at an open cast mine near Corby.”
“I started at Rapiers in 1952, from leaving school, I did a five-year apprenticeship in the foundry. I had to leave in 1958 to do National Service.
I then worked in various foundries in UK for 50 years before retirement.”
“The superb picture of the fire at Ipswich Maltings at Stoke Quay and mention of Paul’s Maltings in nearby Felaw Street, brought to mind the time I spent with R&W Paul Ltd during the mid-1960s.
I was a student at the time and for three successive summer holidays
supplemented my grant by work-ing at the maltings.
Most of the time I worked in Albion Mill, by the Custom House.
I was based in what was essentially a huge concrete silo which stored the loose malt until it was ready to be weighed, then bagged into hessian sacks and finally sent off by barge to London.
My job, working alongside three of my mates, was to wait for a sack to be filled from the hopper above; secure the lugs at each corner with two metal fasteners; load the sack onto a barrow and then stack it in the warehouse.
When a barge was due, we retrieved each sack, wheeled it to the open platform above the quay and let two burly dockers take over.
They would arrange nine sacks carefully into a strop, which would then be craned out over the
dockside and into the hold of the waiting barge beneath.
The most important person in this operation was the crane driver - a fat, jovial man called Stan.
He had the responsibility of ensuring the load was transferred safely and that a wayward sack didn’t detach itself and fall onto some unsuspect-ing person or vehicle passing below.
He needed considerable skill both to prevent the load from swinging around wildly and then to manoeuvre it accurately through the hold of the barge.
If there was any hint of a wind, he would refuse to oper-ate his crane and the dockers would have to be stood down. Health and safety was in operation even then!
On Saturday mornings I was sent up Eagle Mill, which was at the far end of the dock on the corner of Patterson Road.
This was a wooden structure clad in corrugated iron that dated back to the early years of
I had to clamber up several rickety ladders and step over numerous beams before I reached a particular chute somewhere near the top of the mill.
There I squatted amidst the dust and in semi-darkness, until barley husks and similar unwanted debris had filled a sack.
My job was to simply replace the sack once full.
This only needed doing about once every half hour, but it saved the lone worker filling the malt sacks below from constantly climbing up and down to the eyrie where I was based. It seemed a bit Dickensian, but I didn’t mind the discomfort as I considered I was earning easy money!
Paul’s other maltings in Felaw Street had also stood the test of time.
I only went there once, but it provided me with my most vivid memory.
It was about four o’clock one Monday afternoon and at Albion Mill, the day’s work was already nearing completion.
Then came an urgent call that someone was needed ‘over Stoke’ to clear up a spillage. I was dispatched on my bike, oblivious of the task that lay ahead.
It appeared that there had been a major mechanical malfunction and a veritable mountain of malt had poured unhindered all over the floor of the loading bay.
Two Paul’s men were sweating buckets as they shovelled the malt into the sacks for which it was originally intended.
Missing was the whistling and banter that was normally evident among the workforce. This was serious! I joined in, but progress was slow and however hard we worked the malt mountain diminished little.
What made things really unpleasant was that the more we dug, the more dust we disturbed until it was difficult to see more than a few feet ahead.
Without face-masks there was no alternative but to breathe in the thick polluted air as we worked.
My normal finishing time of 5 o’clock came and went and there was no let-up to the shovelling and bagging.
Eventually the pile of malt began to reach manageable proportions and I was finally released and sent on my way, sneezing and coughing.
Fortunately I was fit and healthy and my lungs didn’t suffer any serious ill-effects, but it wasn’t something I’d want to repeat too often!
Paul’s were excellent employ-ers. In fact, my uncle worked for them for an unbelievable 65 years. As temporary workers our job of course was relatively easy and
couldn’t be compared to the strenuous toil which was the lot of the maltsters themselves, but we loved it and for us students it provided an excellent window into the lives of the working man.”
I recently featured the Trafalgar, Ipswich, public house in photo-graphs from 1974. Readers have named the landlord and landlady.
“Landlady of the Trafalgar pub, named Daphne (nee Wright), her husband was Hubert.
Her sister Ruby Bloomfield kept the Waterlily for many years and her parents kept the Zulu.”
“Living close to the Trafalgar in the 70s I think the landlords were Mr and Mrs Baskett.
Mrs Baskett was playing the accordion in the photographs.”
“Keith and I were very interested to see your article about the Ipswich public house the Duke of Gloucester, Clapgate Lane.
We did our pub training there with Barry and Glynis in the early 1970s and remember many of the characters that used the pub.
After our training at the Duke of Gloucester we eventually had the Royal William, London Road, for many years from the early 1970s to 1983.
We are sure readers will remember the pub as a main music venue because our contract stated that we had to have live music seven nights per week and we always got packed out!
Members of the Ipswich Speedway team also stayed with us until they found lodgings, including Billy Sanders, John Cook, Dennis Sigalos.
We also had many of the Ipswich Witches riders use the pub and when the rival teams came to
Ipswich to race they used to call in too.
We had visits from Bruce Penhall, the Moran brothers, and lots more. We still see couples who tell us that they met in the Royal William, married and went on to have children.
We have so many happy memories of the pub which we would love to share with any old customers.
The picture I have at-tached was taken of us in the lounge at the Royal William.”
Sandra and Keith Gardner