Memories of life at RS&J

One of Ipswich’s major employers for generations was Ransomes Sims and Jefferies. Memories of their huge site around the dock and Duke Street area of Ipswich have featured recently in Kindred Spirits.

This week readers have recalled many of the characters that made the company tick. Tony Adams of Penzance Road, Kesgrave, said, “In February 1936 I was fourteen-years-old and I left Kesgrave Area School to join Ransomes Sims and Jeffries as an office boy.

“My wages were seven shillings and six pence a week (37.5p) and after one month increased to eight shillings. I was in the home sales forwarding department under white haired Spencer Hazell, who required office boys to address him as “Sir”.

“The office in which I worked was headed by Mr. George Border, assisted by Mr. Douglas Clark. The department overlooked the dock adjacent to a large grey painted wooden entrance gate, which was next to the weighbridge on the dockside.

“At the Duke Street entrance of the Orwell Works a uniformed, Mr. Abbott, manned the lodge at the main gate; he was responsible for sounding the “bull” hooter for starting work at 8am and finishing at 5.30pm.

“The precise moment this sounded the work force would flood Duke Street, those on foot to the several waiting trolley buses in Fore Hamlet and many on cycles heading for Bishops Hill and home.

“On the opposite of Duke Street main entrance was the wages department, presided over by George Offord and second in command Mr. David Kirk.

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“The ‘White City’ works, where the threshing machines were made, was also on that side of Duke Street. At the end of the street was the garage housing the electric vehicles with an upstairs dining hall where tea only was supplied at one and a half pennies a cup.

“The entrance to the general office and hub of all activity was next to the lodge. There we find the postal department with Charles Hustler in charge assisted by Miss Mary Pleasance and an office boy.

“Because of the many overseas agents and customers mail which came in from all over the world quite a business was done in brown envelopes of foreign stamps.

“The general office had some tall sloping desks equipped with pens, ink and blotters and with equally high stools from the Victorian era.

“Royal typewriters were favoured, supplied and maintained by Messes S.R.Batson’s who operated from the Cornhill. “Inter-departmental telephones were the old upright type with a separate earpiece and for which collectors today will pay �100 plus.

“Miss Lottie Akester seemed to reign over all, many held her in awe, but I never did know her exact function. Mr Whitmore who had general oversight, he was a gentleman left over from the Victorian era wearing a Prime Minster Chamberlain type collar.

“Next to the post department was director Mr Pawlin’s office. Upstairs was the office of secretary Mr L. C. Horsley.

“Several other offices leading off were publicity, accounts and lawnmowers I believe and two names spring to mind Mr. Orvis of publicity and Mr. Maton and managing director Mr. Frank Ayton.

“The road outside which led to the dock, the smiths shop and the spares department, a very grimy place with Charlie Sergeant in charge.

“On the right of the road was the noisy engine turnery, full of lathes milling machines and drills with the milky white coolant with its almost disinfectant smell ever dowsing the work.

“A well known personality was Miss Rose looking after female workers and a Mr Widdas a metallurgist. At the dock end of the turnery were stored new trolley bus chassis and portable steam engines ready for export.

“Along the dock, past the forwarding department, was the hot and dirty foundry and dirt from the place was loaded into railway trucks by a worker everyone called “Bummy” reputed to be paid �1 for every ten ton truck loaded.

“In Waterworks Street there was the lawnmower works, in charge was Harry Sparkes, making every imaginable type from the small side-wheel type to multi-gang tractor drawn machines for the golf course.

“The town warehouse was in Princes Street, an old building opposite the Central Cinema exhibiting an old horse plough on its fascia.

“The plough works managed by Mr. Rackham, assisted by Mr Dyer, was between Holywells Road and Cliff Road. At this junction was the lodge manned by Fred where everyone ‘clocked in’.

“On the right, before Ship Launch Road, was the “New Works” department. Opposite The Ship launch public house was the five story implement warehouse with Alf Hobbs operating the hoist for loading the wagons.

“There on the first floor was the busy forwarding department led by Fred Mills, Harold Jessup and me. Gordon Kinsey and bowler hated Bertie William Thompson, a World War One veteran, who would chase urgent goods through the works and Stanley West’s and Mr. Stopher’s paint shop.

“The export warehouse at the rear, with Mr W.L.Oborne in charge, he was assisted by Charlie Denny, Ruby Prentice from Needham Market and me.

“Here implements were crated for shipping all over the world by ‘Bowler’ Brown with a hammer and mouthful of nails. Across Holywells Road were Dutch barns used for storage.”

Mary Payne (nee Symonds) was at Ransomes in a later era and like many others was there with family members.

Mary said, “I left school in December 1961 and joined RS&J on January 1 1962. I was to start work in the punch card department at the Nacton Works office.

“We had to punch thousands of tiny holes into cards by machine, and each card represented an item or part of a piece of farm machinery from every nut or bolt upwards.

“We had to walk to the Hatfield Road junction on Nacton Road or cycle to work as we were not on a direct bus route, we lived near the Duke Street Works, and the uphill route of Bishops Hill was hard work.

“I worked at Nacton for thirteen years as did several members of my family, including my mother, sister, cousins and an uncle.

“This was a great place to work, and I still meet up with the friends I made during that time.

“As children living on the corner of Cliff Road and Patterson Road near the docks, the gas works and the Ransomes works, my sister, brother and I used to play in our small garden.

“We used to sit on the garden gate and watch the men as they left the works for home; they walked, cycled or waited at the trolley bus stop.

“We spent hours playing around the docks area, taking care not to get in the way of the trains, this included swimming in the dock and lock gates or in New Cut during the summer holidays.”

Stan Ransome of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire said “During the summer before World War Two I started work in RS&J’s Duke Street sales department.

“From the very first moment I became “Robert” to everyone there as this was the name of the founder of the company.

“I quickly took the name on board and answered to anyone calling for Robert. The work was rather humdrum.

The head of sales was a very pleasant lady, Miss Akester, I think, one day asked: “Robert do you like your work here?” My answer must have disappointed her because with innocent honesty I said: “Not really, I’d like something more active.”

“A few days later I was instructed to go to the office of David Percival Ransome, known to all as “DPR,” after weighing me up he said: “This war has drastically changed the work we do here and you’ll shortly be moving from sales.

“It was a very brief meeting! About two weeks later I started work in the engineering fitting department and shortly after that was given a letter to take to the labour exchange in Grimwade Street to register as being engaged on essential war work so I would not to be “called up”, which didn’t suit me because I had visions of joining the RAF.

“So I didn’t present the letter, which I still have. Later, I volunteered and was accepted for the service.

“When I was called up and handed in my notice there was an immediate summons from “DPR”.

“A very different attitude this time, included in his outburst was “Robert, you are a disgrace to the name; if you should ever return to this town there will be nothing for you here.” “Robert” was gone forever!”