Take down the bath and boil the copper

Poor housing was a major problem in Ipswich in the years before the Second World War. Hundreds of homes within half a mile of the town centre were without mains sewers and electricity.

Poor housing was a major problem in Ipswich in the years before the Second World War. Hundreds of homes within half a mile of the town centre were without mains sewers and electricity. Any thought of a bathroom or central heating were just a crazy dream.

The Stoke area of town was very poor, as was the cramped housing which stood where Cox Lane car park is now. The area that is now the site of the Suffolk College was called “The Potteries”. Hundreds of tiny houses were also packed between Duke Street and Myrtle Street. The area that included Albion Street and Wykes Bishop Street is presently being redeveloped as the former dock area is transformed. This and the Cox Lane area was demolished in the 1930s and families moved to the new council estates including Whitton, Gainsborough and Maidenhall.

In the 1950s the houses of White Elm Street off Cavendish Street were being cleared. This was where Brian Dean of Lower Faircox, Henfield grew up. Brian told me of his life there. He said. “I was born in Ipswich in 1939 and lived at number 20 White Elm Street with my mother and sister through the war years until 1957 when we were re-housed by the council”.

“These houses were very small, just two rooms up and two down, with a tiny kitchen at the back, no bathroom.

The lavatory was out in the backyard where the bath was also hung up to be brought in on a Friday night for the weekly bath in front of a coal fire after the water had been boiled in the copper tank used to wash our clothes. Another item in the yard was the mangle which I used to turn for my mother to put the weekly wash through before it was hung up to dry.

“Monday was wash day throughout the street with lines of sheets, underwear etcetera hanging in back yard. In the yard throughout the Second World War, and for some years afterwards, was our Anderson air-raid shelter, in which we frequently took refuge during the many siren alerts when enemy raiders roamed over Ipswich. Our local air raid warden was Mr Hart, an elderly gentleman who lived at No 34 in the street. He knew my mother was alone with two small children and he would come round, lift up the flap of our shelter, and shine his torch in just to check that we were OK”.

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“Living close to the docks and the gas-holders we had a few near misses, and I can vividly recall emerging from the shelter at dawn one morning and seeing the smoke and flames rising from just across the other side of Bishops Hill where a bomb had exploded in Myrtle Road. I understand now that it actually fell in the Felixstowe Road area and bounced right across Holywells Park before detonating against a small shop and houses in Myrtle Road causing a number of fatalities”.

“On our side of the road the houses ran from number 2 to 36 after which there was a row of concrete surface air-raid shelters which again stood there for some time after the war. Close by there was a drift way which led onto Bishops Hill by the side of the White Elm public house”.

“There was a passageway between No's 24 and 26 which allowed access to the back yards of the houses and through which the dustmen had to come to collect our rubbish, dustcarts being one of the few vehicles to venture into White Elm street as of course car ownership was out of the question for most of the time we lived there. On the other side of the road to us there was an “open all hours” shop on the corner with Cavendish Street. “Schooling was at Cliff Lane Junior School. I walked every day through Holywells Park. Then I went to Landseer Road Secondary Modern for the boys. Few of those from my part of town passed the eleven plus to go to Northgate Grammar School.

“Fortunately as soon as possible after the war the council in Ipswich began to tackle the problem of so much sub-standard housing in the town by building large new housing estates at Castle Hill and Maidenhall and this resulted in Corporation motor buses arriving in the town for the first time as they were considered a cheaper option than expanding the trolley-bus fleet and erecting all the poles and miles of overhead wiring that would have been needed to serve these estates”.

“The people from White Elm Street were moved out during the summer of 1957, my mother was allocated a flat in Swansea Avenue and we left our White Elm Street home for the last time on Friday, August 2, for the Maidenhall estate and the luxury of an indoor bathroom!

“Soon after moving into Swansea Avenue we acquired our first TV. There were only two channels available BBC and ITV in flickering black and white, but like cars ownership of a TV or telephone had been virtually unknown in White Elm Street. The only person eventually to have both a car and a phone there was the corner shop owner Mr Burrows and I don't recall even his family aspiring to own a television set!”

Truants were rounded up with a cane

Eighty six-year-old Bill Button, who now lives in Nailsworth, South Australia, told me of how different life was in Ipswich when he was a boy.

Bill said “I grew up in the Stoke area of Ipswich. It was a real slum area until they built the houses past the Black Bridge and Maidenhall area. I was the last of seven children and brought into the world by local character “Old Ma Rolinson”. There were no posh nursing homes for us those days. My family lived at 32 Station Street. Catton's the bakery was opposite my home”.

“The first school I went to was the infant's school in Croft Street. There were two teachers, Miss O'Donald and Miss Rush. Mr Jackson went round the town looking for absentees on a push bike and armed with a cane”.

“I went on to Wherstead Road School. Among my teachers were Mr Flegg “Snuffy” Kerridge, so called because he used to take snuff behind the black board, Mr Meek, and Mr Basham. Punishment was harsh, even for small “crimes” like talking in class or being late. In those days we got two strokes on each hand from the cane, or if sent to the headmaster three on each hand. The headmistress in the girls' school was Miss Leathers.

The headmaster when I left was Mr Thorpe, he was previously at the Stoke School next door to the church”.

There were two policemen who patrolled “Over Stoke”. They were PC Finch, who rode a push bike and PC Haylett, on a horse, both had truncheons. Any sign of a problem and they would shout “come on you boys, move along”.

“We often used to walk out by Belstead and home by Wherstead. If someone could get hold of a packet of cigarette papers we would pick up the “dosers” (cigarette ends) and roll our own cigarettes, which we would smoke while we sat on the slip way at the bottom of Freston Hill”.

“Huge three masted sailing ships loaded with grain were a familiar sight at Pin Mill. After they were made lighter by off loading grain onto barges, they sailed into the dock to finish unloading”.

“When I first left school for work I went to Ransomes Sims and Jefferies. I worked in the brass shop as an apprentice, unpaid! One of those in charge was Herbert Felgate. I then

worked at Churchman's cigarette factory for 43 years. I came to Australia in December 1979”.

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