Nothing could beet that smell

AT this time of the year, Ipswich used to have the sweet smell of a successful sugar beet harvest in the air as the crop was converted into sugar at the Sproughton Road works.

AT this time of the year, Ipswich used to have the sweet smell of a successful sugar beet harvest in the air as the crop was converted into sugar at the Sproughton Road works.

The history of the site was recalled in Kindred Spirits by John Langford of Larchcroft Road, Ipswich. Life in the early years there sounds like it was under tough conditions.

Jean Soetebier (nee Smith) sent memories of the site from her home in Holland. Jean said: “You could say I was brought up on sugar! My father Arthur Smith went to work at the factory as a fitter around 1926. On discovering the terrible working conditions he said he would only stay for one season, but he said that every year until he retired in 1954 at the age of 65!

“From September to February, during production time, machinery was kept in running order without closing the factory. He worked shifts, weekends and Christmas and always brought that well-known smell home with him. The rest of the year he worked days on maintenance and repairs from 8am-5pm, Saturdays from 8am-12.30pm. There were no canteen facilities so the workers took their own food and drink to be consumed during the half-hour break from 12.30-1pm. No holidays either except the Bank Holidays. His first official week's holiday was in August 1937!

“The houses on the main road were occupied by the Dutch management. Every year there was a sports day for the workers' families, and a picnic tea on the grass. The management had a policy not to employ anybody who was related, but in 1941 the war changed that and I was taken on in the office as a shorthand typist where I stayed until I married and moved to Holland in 1947. I was a regular, but during the campaign more people were taken on temporarily in the factory and the office to cope with the extra work. We worked hard, no automation, everything manual.

“During the war the factory had advance warning of an air raid with our own siren to be sounded before the town one. There were flower beds outside the office which I turned into a vegetable patch. There was no public transport along Sproughton Road so we cycled in all weathers. Office staff had two weeks holiday and we also worked Saturday mornings. On the whole, they were happy years and I made many friends.”

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Former Ipswich man Ray Pilgrim, who now lives in the north of England contacted me by email.

Ray said: “I well remember the sugar beet factory particularly the smell on a foggy November night! In the 1930s some of the beet was transported along Bramford Road by horse and cart and as lads we would nick large beet and carve them to make candle powered lanterns. While awaiting my call up to the Royal Navy in 1945 I worked at the factory for a season. My job was to examine each load and assess the amount of soil per hundredweight. The duration of the season each year depended on the crop and sometimes ran from October to February and eased the dole queues around Ipswich. Another interesting works on the Sproughton Road was the Co-op Dairy at Boss Hall.

“They must have had at least a hundred horse drawn milk carts with solid wheels and oil lamps and they supplied the whole of Ipswich. Every morning about 4 o'clock they would race, sometimes three abreast, along Bramford Road and the noise for about 30 minutes was unbelievable. You can imagine what it was like with metal crates and glass bottles! The Co-op also had large greenhouses at Boss Hall where they grew tomatoes and each year at the end of the season the tomato plants were dumped in a huge pile near the railway line. I was sent by my mum, with others, to collect the green tomatoes to make chutney.

“I started at Bramford Road School in 1932 when Miss Hadgraft was head. My first teacher was Miss Knight and then I moved up to Miss Thrower's class before entering the junior section where the head was Mr Thorpe.

More memories of the Dales brick works, Ipswich and the dangerous adventure playground it provided for school children have arrived for Kindred Spirits.

I featured details recently of the railway which served the works. The site closed in 1959 and is now mostly built over.

Douglas Harper of Rushmere Road, Ipswich said “I was interested in your article about the Dales Brickworks Railway. In the early and mid 40s, I spent many happy boyhood hours in that area doing everything from exploring to fishing in the ponds and searching for spies! We knew about the railway and “surveyed” it quite actively. At that time there were track remains near Grove Farm and the course of the line towards the Westerfield sidings was quite visible. Going towards the brickworks evidence could be found just above the Henley Road bridge and then a cutting ran to the Dale Hall Lane bridge, my recollection is that it was at the lowest point of the valley and ran almost parallel with Onehouse Lane and Dales Road. The lower side of Dale Hall Lane bridge was used as a rubbish tip with bulky things thrown over the parapet, nothing changes!

“Below Dale Hall Lane the valley dropped away sharply, it was very marshy and this area stretched right down to the works, it was, I think, used as a water supply. We found no traces of the line here. It must have skirted the wet area below the higher land on which stood Chambers off-license and a row of cottages, some of which were destroyed by a bomb before joining what is now Dales Road, which was then a dirt track, above the works office. Here there were tracks in places, a turntable junction and a road crossing off the track (Dales Road).

“Below the office was the works proper on both sides of the track. We tended to be chased away from this although little was going on. There were also further pits and ponds which we sometimes explored. The area between the works office and Dale Hall Lane was in-filled by Ipswich Corporation with domestic waste. Much of this area now has houses built on it and a recreation area off Baronsdale Close.”

Jack Keen of Wallace Road, Ipswich added: “As young boys we used to play in the brick works on a Saturday afternoon, when the workmen were not there. We used to ride on the tip wagons that were used to transport the clay, we used to push them to the slope and ride on them, they were on a rail track, there was a lever which when operated used to tip the V-shaped containers over to discharge the clay, riding down the slope on them was a very dangerous thing to do, as we could have been seriously hurt, especially if we had accidentally moved the lever to tip the wagon and we would have been sent flying! But of course, we didn't see any fear at that young age!

“I was also interested in the memories of the White City Works of Ransomes Sims and Jefferies, as I worked in lawn mower building, which was featured in the photo with the FE 2b aircraft featured in Kindred Spirits and can well remember the latticework roof as shown in the photo. I drove a flat-form Flatstruck there. I worked at Ransomes until I retired in 1984.”

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