Ipswich’s ‘Coronation Street’. Remember this close-knit community?
PUBLISHED: 13:30 27 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:10 27 September 2019
Snapshot of a vanished ‘powerhouse where people lived cheek by jowl next to their place of work’ and led dignified, uncomplicated lives
A crisp autumn day in 1939. Steam engine driver Thomas Latter steps smartly out of number 27, bound for the locomotive depot. He has to get his skates on, but still finds time to say "good morning" to James Alliston at number 19, a retired master mariner who'd started out on the barges.
It's a busy morning. Neighbour Arthur Clarke (number 21) is also gathering himself for the challenges of the day. Does he work at nearby engineering firm Ransomes & Rapier, muses a passing stranger strolling down to meet a friend by the Orwell.
"As an illustration of the close-knit community over the river, there can be no better example than Tyler Street," says Barry Girling - Ipswich born and bred and a 21st Century advocate of the town who's striving to ensure we don't forget those who have gone before.
He describes the old area just south of Stoke Bridge as: "A manual powerhouse where people lived cheek by jowl next to their place of work. They worked hard for a living, with very little individual recognition."
Barry's the man behind the book "Ipswich - Memories of a Special Town" (a third edition is just out). A look at Tyler Street should run in the final imprint of the book - due at some point in the future.
It's the research about this road that we draw on here. As Barry and wife Elaine say, "As an illustration of the close-knit community over the river, there can be no better example than Tyler Street" and the folk in its terraced houses.
"Tyler Street was thought to be desirable as the houses possessed rear gardens, which was not always the case Over Stoke. (As the area was known.)
"A lot of the property hereabouts was flooded in 1953, when the water level rose half way up the lower section of the road. A seemingly more modern highway system has accounted for most of the houses, and little now remains."
When manufacturing was strong
"Progress", it's true, isn't always kind to the things in its path. This particular street near Ipswich docks was partly demolished over the years and then found the busy flow of traffic snaking around it.
Tyler Street was long part of a grid of quiet terraced streets - home to hard-grafting folk like Arthur Clarke who helped the town zing. Many worked in those household-name engineering firms and maritime-related enterprises in the days when traditional manufacturing industry was strong.
Behind the trees that help screen the traffic a few metres away on Vernon Street, Tyler Street seems to whisper "I was here well before 2019, you know."
Microcosm of Over Stoke
The Girlings' interest in Tyler Street was sparked by a tale about a barge called Millie. Captain David Greenleaf, who lived in the street, was in charge of the vessel in 1930 when it was run down by a steamer. He was lucky to escape with his life.
Research uncovered quite a bit of material about the road where he lived. Then Stuart Grimwade (project leader of the "Ipswich - Memories of a Special Town" team) found some evocative images from the 1960s and everything came together - "no more than this little road, Tyler Street, a microcosm of Over Stoke, deserves", reckons Barry.
Here's some of what he and Elaine uncovered.
'Unpaid Domestic Duties'
Elaine found details of engine driver Thomas Latter, retired master mariner James Alliston (born 1864) and their neighbours in the 1939 electoral register.
Further down the street was (at number 31) Hubert Pollard, a flour mill sack-room worker (perhaps at Cranfields, on the waterfront). Also living there was iron foundry "slinger" Stanley Brewster.
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Number 35 was home to railwayman Walter Gosling (in his early 30s), while neighbour George Markham (just a bit older) was the mate of a sailing barge. Robert Gibbs, a building and monumental letter cutter, was at 39.
"There were more diverse trades to be found here, as John Searle laboured as a milk roundsman and dairy worker, whilst adjoining, at 41, William Coe, signalman retired…" the couple tell us.
At number 43, Wilfred Smith was a haulier, with horse and cart. "Incidentally, the lot of the wife was generally described as 'Unpaid Domestic Duties'."
And then there was the Greenleaf family…
Three days late for his wedding
David Greenleaf (who lived from 1877 to 1941) was at number 33. Son Robert (1907 to 1974) was at 23. "Both were skippers of sailing barges when sail still held sway.
"They were employed at various times by (limeburner, stone and cement merchant) Eldred Watkins, just a short walk along the quay from their homes; Horlocks of Mistley; as well as R. & W. Paul."
In 1930, Captain David Greenleaf was on Horlocks' Millie and was fortunate to escape with mate John Armstrong, of Turret Lane, Ipswich, when the barge was run down.
"Tragically, a decade or so after Millie's skirmish with the steamer, David went overboard from an unnamed barge, off Free Trade Wharf, Limehouse, Stepney, to accidentally drown in the waters of the Thames."
Robert had started on the barges, with his father, at the age of 12. He later became skipper of the "Eldred Watkins", bearer of the company's name.
"Bob's son Ivan, who began his working life nearby at the acclaimed Ransomes & Rapier Apprentice Training School, is able to confirm that his father still had command of the vessel in 1930.
"A photograph shows a young Bob, thought to have been taken aboard the same craft c.1927. Ipswich barging stalwart Mervyn Stafford is of the opinion that the image could well have been taken adjacent to the quay which served both Christophersons and Watkins, near the New Cut.
"On the personal front, the story goes that, such were the vagaries of wind and tide, Bob was three days late for his own wedding."
Robert was later persuaded by his family to come ashore and in about 1934 got a job with Ipswich milling engineers E.R. & F. Turner.
"As this narrow survey is so revealing, it remains to be seen what other riches are to be found within the working class stronghold of Over Stoke," says Barry, who's in his late 70s.
"This was a safe environment where the occupants could leave open their front doors and neighbours looked out for one another.
"Although by today's standards they did not have much, they lived dignified, orderly, uncomplicated lives: here the engineer, the railwayman and the sailorman.
"Those who tightened the bolts, raised the steam and set the sails - perhaps our very own forebears - now gone, all gone. But not yet forgotten."
- The third edition of "Ipswich - Memories of a Special Town" is £15.99. It's available from the authors at 01473 328621 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and includes a look at Ransomes & Rapier "as the standard bearer for the town's engineering heritage".
The book is also available in town from Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, WH Smith and Waterstones.
For the record, the team behind it also includes Bob Pawsey (sales and promotion) and former Cowells man John Liffen (a graphic designer who puts the books together).
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