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Readers share their memories of Ransomes and Rapier after seeing David Kindred's old photos

30 December, 2014 - 14:30
A Ransomes and Rapier walking dragline working in an open cast mine.

A Ransomes and Rapier walking dragline working in an open cast mine.

Memories of time spent working at Ransomes and Rapier have been reignited thanks to a piece by David Kindred featuring old photos from the company.

A test at Waterside Works in the 1970s.A test at Waterside Works in the 1970s.

He said: “I featured the Ipswich engineering company Ransomes and Rapier recently and I have received several replies from readers of Kindred Spirits.”

Ransomes and Rapier (or R&R as it was often referred to in our family) has been an influence on a considerable portion of my life. From a very early age I can remember my Meccanno set being raided by my father, (who at that time worked in the Excavator design office), in order to test some new idea. Maybe that’s how I came to own the set in the first place! I still have one such model which is of a rotary multi bucket design. It was never developed or put into production, which with hind sight was probably a mistake as the principle is now used for trench digging and similar machines can often be seen at roadworks.

I can remember Sports days at a place called Roundwood in the north of Ipswich, and I still have an engraved medal won by my father. Also annual open days at the Waterside Works factory. Health and Safety rules would not allow the freedom visitors enjoyed then. Riding on works trucks and standing next to a mighty drop hammer whilst it flattened your penny coin for instance.

A huge crane being tested in the yard at Ransomes and RapierÕs Waterside Works in the 1970s. The houses and shops in Wherstead Road are in the background.
A huge crane being tested in the yard at Ransomes and RapierÕs Waterside Works in the 1970s. The houses and shops in Wherstead Road are in the background.

Whilst I was at Northgate Grammar School, the first of the large walking draglines was being constructed. With my father’s intense involvement with that I was able to keep the classroom notice board topped up with the latest news on progress. I took a copy of a picture he had drawn which showed the machine compared to Nelsons Column.

I finished the fifth year with six “O” levels and the school wanted me to progress to the sixth, but I had other ideas. I had always liked making things and had been a member of the Ipswich Aeromodelling Club for several years so it seemed the obvious thing to do was to work somewhere where they made things. My parents would have preferred the sixth form option, but after promising to continue my studies at the local Technical College they were appeased. The next thing I knew my father had taken me to see Mr. Sparrow the Personnel Officer ably assisted by Mr.Fenn, and I was taken on as an R&R apprentice at £1 – 8 – 6 per week.

The first six months were spent in the training centre under the eye of Mr Hewit the supervisor and his assistant Mr. Smith. After school hours, getting to work at 7.30am and leaving off at 5.30pm took some getting used to. We all had a dedicated place at a bench equipped with a vice where we learned the art of how to correctly use hand tools. There was a row of machines along one side of the shop and I longed to graduate up to working these. The first one you were allowed on was a pillar drill. You were tasked to mark out and separately drill two plates with a series of holes which were supposed to line up when put together. The trick was to clamp them together and drill them both at the same time when Mr. Smith was having his lunch. I am sure he knew. Next along the line we progressed to using centre and capstan lathes.

During this period I had started attending the Ipswich Civic College one day and two evenings a week. Most of the apprentices were taking City and Guilds courses, but those of us with O levels started the National Certificate course.

At the end of the six months you had to decide which shop you wanted to work in. I thought the Electric Shop sounded very interesting and prompted for that. A decision I have never regretted.

The Foreman of the Electric Shop was Mr. Bill Berry, assisted by Mr. Les Wright and the charge hand was Mr. John Finbow. They were a grand bunch of people to work with and I have often realised just how much I learned from them to complement the college work.

The firm operated a merit badge system for apprentices which provided a very welcome boost to the low apprentice wage. Whilst in the Electric Shop in 1953 the firm suffered from a major flood that affected the East Coast. Most of the works was several feet under water. Considerable damage was caused to the electrical wiring including all that of the machines in the machine shop. Every machine needed to be rewired. A method was devised whereby rags were tied to the ends of the old wires and pulled through the conduits to clear them of water before rewiring every thing using P.V.C. insulated cable. (Relatively new in those days). We all worked long hours to get things up and working again. The Managing Director, Colonel Dare, had a photo taken of us , he was so pleased with our efforts.

Sid Wade, who worked in the Electrical Section of the Drawing Office, made a working scale model of the W1400 walking dragline which the firm decided to exhibit in the Model Engineering Exhibition held in Horticultural Hall in London. Knowing my interest in models I was delighted to be chosen to accompany the model, and spent a memorable week working it. It was quite a challenging experience for an apprentice to be in London on his own, staying in a hotel, and having the responsibility of representing the firm but I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the practical experiences there was promotion to the drawing office. I was at first put in the Sluice Section under Mr. Roland Worsnop. His brother Tom was Office Manager, and Mr. Colin Cameron the Chief Engineer. After a while I was transferred to the Mobile Crane Section under Mr McDonald and Mr. Charles Clark. Discipline was strict. Tom Worsnop would visit every person in the D.O. every week to discuss the drawing they were engaged on. Time keeping was very strict including tea breaks. I never really took to either the Sluice or Mobile Crane design work and was delighted when the chance came to transfer into the Electric Section under Mr. Fergus Watts and Mr. Sidney Wade.

Being an employee I was now able to use the Sports and Social Club facilities, the headquarters of which were, at Roundwood. This was a very popular venue and became the focal point for meeting up on our motorcycles which many of us had by then acquired. It was also frequented by girls from the offices! One in particular, (Sheila Andrews) must have taken my fancy, as we have now been married for fifty 
six years. That club has a lot to 
answer for!

I was keen on swimming in those days and became the secretary of the R&R Swimming Club. One evening a week the Fore Street Baths were reserved for inter firm competitions. There were not that many interested in entering competitive events and the minimum for a team was four, being for the 4 X 50 yards relay. There were two other regulars besides myself; Ivan Hill, and Roy Barlow. Ivan did the freestyle, Roy the breast stroke, 
and I did the backstroke. We were very pleased when we won the cup one year.

I left R&R in 1958 to take up the post of Technician with Ipswich Borough Council.”

Neville Heath, of Ipswich

Hi,I must say how lovely to see the picture of my father and granddad having a pint in the Duke, they both passed on a number of years back. Good to see Kindred Spirits back with us, I go online to read the Star as I live in the USA.

These pictures bring back many happy memories having grown up in Ipswich, keep up the good work and thank you.

Best Regards
Heather Bird Wayman, by email (re photos of Duke of Gloucester, Clapgate Lane, Ipswich)

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