Working dock was wonderland for some

UNTIL redevelopment started in recent years, Ipswich Dock was a hive of industry where thousands of local people worked.

David Kindred

UNTIL redevelopment started in recent years, Ipswich Dock was a hive of industry where thousands of local people worked.

The dust and smells from malting and mills and the noise of a giant engineering works were once all part of the Ipswich town centre. I recently published a panorama of the quay from Stoke Bridge to Coprolite Street taken in 1965, alongside the same view today, and asked readers for their memories of working in the area now occupied by the University Campus, Suffolk, restaurants, bars and flats.

Rod Cross, who now lives near Southampton, said: “I worked beneath the grain silo at R and W Paul's Albion Mill for three successive summers in the late 60s. The work, though not strenuous, was mind-numbingly dull.

“In the silo above, a hopper would fill with exactly one hundred weight of barley malt. An operator, gripping a sack beneath a chute, would release a lever and then brace himself as the grain cascaded into the open sack. He would then drag the filled sack to one side where one of us would transport it on a sack barrow to some distant corner of the warehouse.

“When a barge came in we would transfer each sack to the wooden platform, known as 'the bridge', which was suspended on chains over the dockside.

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“The bridge was the exclusive territory of the dockers whose task was to lift the sacks into a strop. When full, a crane would then swing the load out over the dockside and into the hold of the barge below. Nowadays, the whole operation would seem amazingly inefficient and time consuming, but in those days we didn't think twice about it.

“Every Saturday morning I was sent to the Eagle Mill at the far end of the dock by Helena Road. This was like stepping back in time. Albion Mill was cold and concrete, Eagle Mill was warm and wooden with a few sheets of corrugated iron nailed on to protect it from the worst of the elements.

“An old fella named Ernie worked alone below filling sacks, my job was to climb to the top of the mill via four sets of near-vertical stairs.

“Here I'd remain in a twilight world for six hours. About once an hour a bag on one of the wooden chutes would become full with chaff and my job was to replace it with an empty one to enable Ernie to continue to fill sacks below uninterrupted.

“The air was heavy with choking dust and it was impossible to escape the incessant noise of moving belts, wheels and cogs. A few chinks of light peeping through the corrugated iron served as a reminder that I was not in some mine ten miles underground, even if I did feel like a small boy from a Dickens novel.

“Now health and safety regulations would almost certainly outlaw such a practice, but at ten shillings (50p) an hour, a small fortune in those days, I wasn't complaining!

“In the 1960s I loved nothing better than to walk or cycle home to Clifford Road, Ipswich, along the quayside late at night. It seemed like 'another world' experience.

“On one side, the dark waters of the dock, with creaking wooden barges roped to massive iron mooring rings; on the other, silhouetted shapes reaching up into the night sky, separated only by shadowy corners and narrow alleyways, with the occasional wooden door or iron gate dimly lit by a single naked light bulb.

“Most menacing of all was the Customs House, which stood in its dominating central position. What during daytime had been all noise and activity was now eerily still.

“The one exception was Cranfield's Mill where men in flat caps and flour-encrusted dungarees worked throughout the night in the glare of powerful lights, as they filled the wagons that stood beneath the overhead feed tubes.”

Mark Grimwade said: “I have had a love affair with this area all my life. It all began when my mother pushed me there in my pram just before World War Two.

“In the early 1950s I was a "Special Apprentice" at Ransomes Sims and Jefferies, then based on the Dockside. I took to boating and was very fortunate to be lent, at 19, an old sailing yacht. The problem was where to moor her in the winter?

“Ransomes wharf seemed a good idea. I received a memo from the managing director: 'If you must go yachting in the company's time, I suggest you first remove your white overalls'. For many years I wintered my various yachts in the dock, latterly at Neptune Marina, which is partly on Ransomes old quay.

“Having retired, I took on the job of organising "Sail Ipswich '97" which attracted five square riggers, 400 classic boats and nearly 40,000 people over two days.

“A few years ago I suggested that it would be a wonderful feature and facility to have an electric tramway running around the Dock and possibly on to Ipswich Station and the town centre.

“Quite a lot of track remains. With the growing population, awful traffic congestion and current 'green thinking' I had hoped that this might have generated some interest, but, sadly, it got nowhere. Perhaps it is not too late to try again

“I am far from being impressed by some of the very untypical architecture rising high around 'my' dock. I sincerely hope that the island site doesn't go the same way.

“I can remember when there was an avenue of lime trees on New Cut East leading to a bandstand near the lock gates”.

Tom Scrivener, of Heron Road, Ipswich, can recall many of his colleagues from Ransomes Sims and Jefferies.

Tom said: “I started work at Ransomes at 14. I spent my first year as main lodge boy with Alf Abblitt. Anybody working there in the early 1940s will remember Alf.

“He was always standing at the main gate in his uniform like a sergeant major. After a year I went to work in the pattern shop overlooking the dock. We used see ships and boats of all sizes arrive and depart.

“I remember the names of all the chaps I worked with in the metal pattern shop. The foreman was Sam Scopes, the charge hand was Mr Chapman and the rest were Ted Starlin, Frank Fison, Mr Knights, Fred Smith, Stan Scoggings, Sam Bush, Ted Watson, Mr R Moss, Dennis Brown, Bill Day, 'Nobby' Clark and Mr Thirkettle.

“On the lathes were Fred Salmon, Fred Jarvis, Paul Warnes and John Langford. I worked in the pattern shop until June 1946 and joined the RAF for ten years. On return from the RAF I went to work again for Ransomes Sims and Jefferies at Nacton until I retired.”