When The Bull fell silent

Long hours working hard in the dust and heat at the Ransomes Sims and Jefferies engineering works was the whole working life for thousands of locals.

The sound of the bull horn would summon the men to the works, which until the 1960s was on a vast site around Duke Street and the Dock. “The Bull” kept time, not only for staff of Ransomes, but others all around town including school children responded to the sound to return to lessons after “dinner time”.

This week Rod tells us what it was like to have a father working at RS&J where often several generations of the same family worked.

Rod said “At 12.30, the workers would pour out through the factory gates, like characters in a Lowry painting.

“Some cycled, but most were on foot. The fact that the majority were confronted with either Bishop’s Hill, the steep inclines of Cavendish Street or Back Hamlet, meant that a heavy upright bicycle of that era was hardly practical.

“My father Walter would reach home at 12.45, have a hot dinner, which was the main meal of the day and leave at 1.20, when he heard ‘the bull’ again. “At 1.30, it sounded for the last time; the men returned to their work-benches and machines; and worked for a further four hours, with a short ten minute mid-afternoon break.

“Finishing time was 5.30, but my father frequently worked overtime. He was allowed a 15 minute unpaid break and then worked a further hour and a half. For this he was paid ‘time and a third’.

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“He would then reach home at 7.30 after his second ascent of the day of the Back Hamlet hill. The hours were long and the work arduous, but I don’t remember my father ever taking a day off.

“The fact that he had been laid off during the years of the great depression in the 1930s meant that he appreciated regular full-time employment. I rarely heard him complain about what now seems a fairly bleak working life.

“Fifty years ago it was just the norm amongst his family, friends and neighbours and he thought nothing of it. Most Saturday mornings he would supplement the family income by putting in a further four and a half hour shift.

“He would then wash and change and after dinner make his way down to Portman Road. Watching ‘The Town’ on a Saturday afternoon was for him, like so many others, the one highlight of the long winter months.”

“When he and his fellow workers were transferred to Ransome’s new factory off Nacton Road in the 1960s life was transformed dramatically. There was no ‘bull’ to dictate his life and no longer did he spend an hour a day trudging up and down ‘the hill’.

“Instead, he could now cycle to work, for although the distance was much further, the entire route was on the level.

“The modern works canteen provided a filling, well-priced lunch, whilst the facilities and working environment made conditions at the old Orwell Works appear, in comparison, quite Dickensian, not entirely surprising as the factory had been well over 100 years old when it closed.

“My father never lived to enjoy his retirement. One Friday in 1970 he cycled to work as normal, but was brought home during the afternoon after a seemingly minor incident involving some machinery.

“Within less than 48 hours he had died from blood-poisoning. Like thousands of others, my father had been a loyal and committed worker of Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies.

“He considered them to be fair and honest employers in the best Quaker tradition and had been proud to work for the company. I like to think that its founder, Robert Ransome, would have been equally proud of him.”

-Did you work for RS&J? Write with your memories to Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN or e-mail info@kindred-spirits.co.uk.

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