Memories of a real family firm

RANSOMES and Rapier was a huge operation in Ipswich where thousands once worked until its final demise in 1988. Recently the company has been recalled by readers of Kindred Spirits.

David Kindred

RANSOMES and Rapier was a huge operation in Ipswich where thousands once worked until its final demise in 1988. Recently the company has been recalled by readers of Kindred Spirits. Most have remembered how family life and work was closely intertwined at 'R and R'.

Elizabeth Lindley said: “I left school aged 15 in 1952 and started work in the rate fixing office as an 'Ormig' operator, a small duplicating machine that printed out the job and time cards for all the engineering operations. I remember that day very well. At lunch break I met my mother at the canteen as she worked in the wages office, situated in a group of huts at the bottom of Bath Street. Across the canteen a group of lads were laughing at me because I was with my mum. That was the first time I saw the lad who was later to become my husband. We have now been married 51 years. I discovered later that I was sitting opposite my future father-in-law who worked in the cost office.

“I remember the “Walking Dragline” crane which was being manufactured at that time. One day a group of girls from the office were asked by the publicity department to go into the factory and stand in the huge bucket to demonstrate just how large it was. I have never seen any of the photographs taken and have often wondered if anyone has a copy? My husband was an apprentice carpenter and joiner and worked in the maintenance department. As a 'boy' one of his jobs on open day was to fix the bench seating and cushions to the trolley which took people for rides around the factory.

“We were also amongst the hundreds of cyclists that went to and from the factory every day, sometimes getting caught out by the goods train that crossed over from Commercial Road to the docks. This was most annoying if you were a bit late and anxious to get to work. In the morning I only really woke up properly after taking a sniff of the smells coming from the yeast factory and various other factories around the river.”

“I had only been at work a few months when the floods of January 1953 happened. Our office which was beside the river at the bottom of Harland Street was flooded and the smell was awful, all our carbon master copies were destroyed and had to be retyped.

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“The 'bull hooter', which called staff to the works as recalled by Kindred Spirits readers, was actually situated across the river at Ransome Sims and Jefferies, but could be heard for miles and coincided with Rapiers working times. What memories!

“Ransomes and Rapiers was a real family firm. Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles worked together within the factory or offices. There were many relationships that turned to marriage. Friends were made for a lifetime. I still regularly meet girls I made friends with all those years ago.”

Rod Cross, who now lives at Botley near Southampton, added: “The mass exodus of workers on foot and by bicycle was a familiar sight outside all the factories in town when the gates opened at 'dinner-time' or the end of the day. I am almost certain Mr Talman is correct in saying recently in Kindred Spirits that scenes of workers heading home en masse were shot at this location for the 1960 film 'The Angry Silence'. However, I believe all the internal shots of the factory and most notably of the canteen, were filmed at Reavell's & Co. Ltd in Ranelagh Road, manufacturers of compressors and another major Ipswich employer at the time. In the film, Richard Attenborough put in a masterly performance as the blackleg Tom Curtis, sent to Coventry by his work-mates.

“He played opposite the stunning Italian actress Pier Angeli. The Angry Silence, a classic of its type and one of my all-time favourites, also featured a very young Oliver Reed, as well as those old stalwarts, Geoffrey Keen and Bernard Lee.

“I too remember the open days at 'R and R' with the awesome sight of all that heavy machinery; the uniquely heady smell of oil and hot metal; and the deafening sound of the giant press where visitors watched an old copper penny being smashed to around twice its size.

“Technically, defacing a coin of the realm was a criminal offence, but the flattened pennies made a great souvenir and I carried mine around in my blazer pocket for years!