Ipswich Icons: Adventures of The Deep and a tale of Iraq

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Picture: IAN CLAY

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Picture: IAN CLAY - Credit: Archant

John Norman has had letters: one from an ex-Ipswich diver, the other reminding us of a great local company

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Picture: IAN CLAY

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Picture: IAN CLAY - Credit: Archant

A couple of items this week from correspondence I have received recently.

Firstly, following the article on St Clement’s Shipyard, I have received a note from John Cresswell, who was tug-master and diver with Ipswich Dock Commission.

Primarily, he fills the gaps in my knowledge of the shipyards just outside the lock gates, the ships using the slip and the owners of the yard.

John also relates one of the more “exciting” dives he undertook off St Clement’s Yard. He was tasked to replace the haul wire between the winch and the block and sheave in the murky depths at the low end of the slip.

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Pictrure: Ian Clay

The Ramadi Barrage in Iraq, designed and built by Ransomes & Rapier. Pictrure: Ian Clay - Credit: Archant

Donning an 11-stone diving suit and brass helmet he crawled, one knee either side of a rail, down the slip and into the river.

Remaining on the concrete was essential: below the low-tide line the slip was covered in black ooze and the water-logged mud on either side was of undetermined depth.

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Finding his way simply by feeling the rail between his legs was no easy task in zero visibility and with John dragging 300 feet of airline, safety rope and messenger wire. He crawled on and eventually came to the large concrete stump marking the end of the slip.

John then had to unfasten the messenger wire from his belt, thread it through the sheave (pulley) and ensure it ran smoothly.

It was then a case of turning around, relocating the rail and following it back to the surface. The team on dry land were hauling in John’s airline, which made progress easier, but the messenger wire was suffering the resistance of the bottom pulley and was thus twice as hard to pull.

With the inside of the glass in his helmet steamed up with condensation and the outside covered in slime and river mud visibility remained non-existent until he broke surface, his view of the world turned from complete black to a very murky brown.

His assistant, waiting on the tide line, helped him to his feet and removed his face glass. John could see again and at last realise the enormity of the task he had just undertaken.

John remained suited and booted (in heavy lead-laden dive boots) until the messenger wire had pulled the two-inch downhaul wire through the pulley and back up to the winch. With a 500-ton boat on board, the carriage had to be hauled back down the slip into the water as well as “up” when the vessel arrived.

The whole task, according to John’s dive log, took four hours, a time which excludes scrubbing down – not only himself but also his boots, helmet and rubber dive suit. Cleaning and clearing the air valves took a little longer, the Orwell mud sticking to everything.

Another Ipswich guy working in very different but equally dangerous conditions is Ian Clay, part of the team repairing the Ramadi Barrage in Iraq.

The barrage sits in the Euphrates River to the west of the town of Ramadi.

You will no doubt be aware that Iraq is permanently short of water but during the early spring the snow melts in eastern Turkey and northern Syria and the Euphrates carries the excess water through Iraq into the Gulf of Oman. The purpose of the barrage is to divert this excess into Lake Habbaniyah, where it is stored for use as drinking water and irrigation.

The Ipswich connection: The barrage was originally built by Ransomes & Rapier in 1954 but was damaged during the war against Isis.

Not only did Ransomes & Rapier design the barrage, they also supplied all the gearing, arms, gates and counter-balances, shipped them out to Iraq and erected them on site. Ian tells me that, other than the damage suffered in the conflict, the sluice is in excellent condition, testament to the workmanship produced by Ransomes & Rapier before their untimely demise.

Ian’s purpose in writing is to seek help from anyone who worked at R&R in the 1950s/1960s who might know about the design and function of water control gear. Ian would really like sight of the original plans. We are searching known sources of Ransomes & Rapier records but if you think you can help please get in touch.

I am also searching for information on Wrinch & Sons’ iron foundry in Nacton Road. Wrinch were one of the biggest producers of garden furniture and equipment in the country until the advent of plastic chairs.

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