Ipswich Icons: Awful fire first. Later, the end of the dream
PUBLISHED: 16:00 22 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:46 23 April 2018
John Norman finishes his story about the enterprise behind the first flat-packaged patio set for Tesco.
Last week we explored the first half-century of Wrinch and Sons – initially a retail ironmonger in the Buttermarket but towards the end of the 19th century a major manufacturer of garden furniture and garden buildings, from humble dog kennels to major sectional structures in cast iron and glass such as the Winter Gardens for the Sultan of Turkey.
Last week’s story: Ipswich Icons: Ipswich’s own echo of The Two Ronnies
Its factory was in Portman Road, opposite the East Suffolk Cricket Field (which became Ipswich Town Football Ground).
The works consisted of a foundry, boiler house and static steam engine delivering power to an overhead driveshaft which in turn ran the circular saws and other woodworking machinery in the carpenters’ shop, extensive workshops, finishing facilities and stores, together with offices.
There were extensive stacks of timber: stored externally (drying and seasoning) and in the timber sheds waiting to be machined.
Wrinch’s both manufactured their own and bought-in ironmongery, metal components and fixings. They featured bronzed, cast iron bench standards (legs) in a variety of ornate patterns and the cheaper (lighter) wrought iron bench ends with pitch pine slats.
They survived the First World War by producing timber and canvas shelters for the Government and were still doing well until a disastrous fire broke out on a tinder-dry summer Saturday in 1928. It started in a hay loft above a cattle shed (Wrinch’s Portman Road works were next to the Cattle Market) – a fire which quickly spread to Wrinch’s production facilities.
The fire also threatened the adjacent buildings, Churchman’s offices and bonded store on the junction of Portman Road and Princes Street (today the offices of Archant, publisher of the EADT), the Labour Exchange which at that time was next-door to Churchman’s in Princes Street, and it also destroyed the factory of the Syleham Clothing Company.
The fire ripped through Wrinch’s factory, destroying stacks of timber, completed and almost-finished furniture and the offices fronting Portman Road.
Buildings saved included the blacksmith’s shop, the engine shed and the woodworking machines.
Flames could be seen leaping 100 feet into the air, and jumping across the 40-feet-wide road, licking at the wooden football stand opposite. The south-easterly wind carried debris over Alderman Road recreation ground and Handford Road, and brought out crowds of sightseers and employees of the adjacent businesses.
The Co-operative Fete was taking place in Alexandra Park and participants were diverted from the immediate entertainment to watch the flames and smoke rising some distance away on the other side of town. Speculation was rife as to which building was burning but from that distance it was impossible to tell.
By Sunday morning there were possibly 1,000 spectators occupying every vantage point around. Boys on bicycles stood on their saddles, leaning on the high fence surrounding the cricket ground.
Wrinch’s Portman Road factory was never rebuilt; they took the opportunity to move to Nacton Road – into a new production facility adjacent to the new Crane’s foundry. This purpose-designed facility was both efficient and extensive. In fact, during the Second World War, when Alston’s Sudbury factory was rendered inoperative, they moved to Nacton Road and shared facilities with Wrinch’s.
After the war Alston’s created their own facility on adjacent land, initially re-using Nissen huts erected in a continuous line almost 1,000 feet long.
Wrinch’s was purchased by George Pipe before the outbreak of the Second World War – amalgamated with Brown & Woods and EC Collins & Co. They then concentrated their business on school furniture, chairs, desks and laboratory benches, as well as the garden furniture. They introduced softwood products, making the first flat-packaged patio set for Tesco in the early 1980s.
Wrinch’s twice supplied and fitted seats in Snape Maltings Concert Hall (once in the original conversion and again after the Snape fire). By the early 1980s Wrinch’s had ceased production, with the transfer of the business to Thetford, and the Ipswich site was sold. There was an application to Ipswich Borough Council to convert their factory into a DIY store but this was refused and the Nacton Road building was demolished.
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