New temple dream for Ipswich

ACCORDING to the 2001 Ipswich census there were 850 Indians living in the town - a number which experts say has grown considerably since. As plans to build a new temple in Ipswich gather momentum, HAZEL BYFORD profiles this strand of Ipswich's changing community.

ACCORDING to the 2001 Ipswich census there were 850 Indians living in the town - a number which experts say has grown considerably since. As plans to build a new temple in Ipswich gather momentum, HAZEL BYFORD profiles this strand of Ipswich's changing community.

TODAY is an exciting time for Ipswich's Indian community.

After the opening of two mosques and a Sikh temple brought a religious touch of the east from the Indian sub-continent to the town, plans are now underway to build a Hindu temple.

The development will be the latest example of how the community has integrated in to Ipswich, a fact which historian Sushil Soni, a founder member of the Ipswich and Suffolk Indian Association (ISIA), doesn't take for granted. He has compiled a report of the contribution of the Indian community to the economic and social life of Ipswich - which attracted an audience of over 100 when given as a talk in the town centre. His words reveal the wide ranging lengths the Indian community has gone to, in order to integrate.

Dr Soni said: “Over the years I have witnessed lots of changes in Ipswich, from a racially intolerant society to a tolerant society, accepting diversity within the community at large and striving for peaceful co-existence.

“It's important to have a picture of how people got to where they are now. It's something lots of people ask me about.”

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When speaking about the contribution of the Indian community, Dr Soni refers to the community of south Asians from the Indian sub-continent and to the nationals of Indian origin who migrated from east Africa, central Africa and from south Africa.

The honorary vice president of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality said: “The first batch of Indians came to Ipswich between 1950 and 1960. Some bought cheap properties in run down areas, improved them and opened small general stores, but most carried out business as door-to-door salesmen.

“They were classified as peddlers and local authorities issued them peddlers' licences to do business selling goods on a hire-purchase basis door-to-door.

“They used to pack suitcase with shirts, ties, skirts, blouses and socks and collected a few bob a week. Most of their clients were poor farmers, miners or small traders.

“To Ipswich came five Sikh brothers and cousins who started as peddlers and later opened shops selling Indian spices and grocery for Indian residents.

“One of them was Channan Singh Sually who had a small shop at Woodbridge Road. Two others who also became popular businessmen were Niranjan Singh and Kunnan Singh. When I came to Ipswich in September 1967 they were running small corner shops.

“The cousins were involved in setting up the first Sikh temple in Ipswich, and there are now about 80 Sikh families, all related to each other, managing the Sikh Temple (Gurdwara) in Bramford Road.

“Other young members of the Sikh community are carrying forward traditions and contributing towards the social and cultural life of Ipswich. The Sikh community also invested in property, refurbishing cheap properties and renting them out, although the majority continued to run off-licenses and general stores.”

Dr Soni, of Belmont Road, said the second batch of immigrants came from Bangladesh, formerly east Pakistan, between 1967 and 1970.

It saw an influx of more qualified workers including doctors, accountants and engineers.

Dr Soni said: “Among the first immigrants of Bangladeshi origin were Randhir Naha and Aziz Rehman. Mr Naha opened the first Indian restaurant, Taj Mahal in Norwich Road, which he ran until he sold it in the 1980s.

“Mr Aziz Rehman used to work for Ipswich Buses but in 1970 opened the town's second Indian restaurant, in Upper Orwell Street.

“Aziz used to take active part in the social, cultural and civic life of the town. He sometimes had to convince the traditional Bangladeshi conservative Muslim community to conform themselves with British way of life and values. He was instrument in the building of a mosque in Bond Street but his main contribution was towards the welfare of the Bangladeshi community. When he died in 2003, civic leaders attended his funeral and a memorial service was held for his work.

“The contribution of Bangladeshi community in the economic life of Ipswich has been considerable.

“The mushrooming of Indian restaurants and takeaways not only made Indian cuisine popular, but also added to the economy of the town and surroundings. The Indian restaurants run by the Bangladeshis extended as far as Framlingham and Lowestoft in the north, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket in the west, Sudbury and Hadleigh in the south and Woodbridge and Felixstowe in the east.”

Most of the doctors joined hospitals as registrars and later a few became consultants. These included Dr Anwar Ul Huq, who came to Ipswich as a refugee as result of India Pakistan war, and Dr Abdullah Mamujee who came from Tanzania.

Dr Huq joined St Clements's Hospital as a psychiatrist registrar and became a consultant and Dr Mamujee came to Ipswich Hospital as a consultant in the emergency and casualty department. He became chairman of the ISIA and chairman of the Council for Racial Equality. He retired because of ill health in 1994 and died in March this year.

The next batch of immigrants who came to Ipswich were the Ugandan Asians who were expelled from Uganda in 1972 by President Idi Amin.

Dr Soni said: “I remember of visiting them at the reception centre at the closed RAF centre at Stradishall, now used as HMP Highpoint. From here they were moved to different parts of the country and a few settled in Ipswich and Colchester.

“The younger generation were hard working people and, though penniless, they made themselves successful owners of corner shops and off-licences. Some got trained as pharmacists and opened community pharmacies, serving NHS patients. Others qualified as accountants and joined Guardian Royal Exchange and Norwich Union.

“The last batch of Indians were the information technology and telecom engineers who are working at different BT research centres, but mostly at Martlesham.

“They came between 2000 and 2005 and their presence could be noticed in the town with young wives and children shopping and buying Indian grocery and spices from shops.

“There were a few Indian BT engineers who graduated from British universities and came to Ipswich in the 1970's with their families but the bulk came much later.”

The ISIA was set up in 1975 to help the Indian community mix with residents of Suffolk and to promote Indian culture and traditions.

It is non-religious and non-political and has held countless social and cultural events including annual dinners, dances and music as part of Diwali, celebrations for the golden jubilee of India's independence and the release of Nelson Mandela and recently the Indian Summer Mela at Christchurch Park.

An Ipswich 'Hindu Samaj' (a society to oversee a project) has been set up, and it is hoped the new temple known as a Mandir, could be up and running within the next two years.

Dr Soni said: “We looked at hiring halls but the community feared the atmosphere wouldn't be the same as having their own centre. There is no one area of Ipswich where there is a bigger Indian community but we are hoping to get somewhere on the fringes of the town where there are more likely to be car parking and utilities like a kitchen area. As soon as we get premises, we will be away.”

The committee is looking for a home where there is a space for a place of worship, and a separate area for community use which would be open to everyone.

Organisers are expecting to spend between £100,000 and £200,000.


Do you agree that Ipswich needs a new Hindu temple? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email


Emigrated to the UK in 1962 after completing a post-graduation course in ancient Indian history at Delhi University and a diploma in archives from the National Archives of India.

Studied at Durham University for a PhD in modern Indian history and came to Ipswich in 1967, as the deputy county archivist for the then Ipswich and East Suffolk County Record Office.

After reorganisation in April 1974, he worked as a senior archivist for the Suffolk Record Office and retired in December 2001 after 37 years of service in local government.

Served with the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, the Unison Suffolk County Branch, Suffolk's Standard Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), Suffolk Inter Faith Resource (SIFRE), as a parish councillor for Pinewood, the Pinewood Community Hall Association and the Eastern Region Unison Black Members Group.

Hindus: 672.6 million

Muslims: 95.2 million

Christians: 18.9 million

Sikhs: 16.3 million

Buddhists: 6.3 million

Jains: 3.4 million

Other Religions: 2,766,285

Religions not stated: 60,217

Zoroastrians: 71,630

Jews: 5618

(from 1991)