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Newsletter, July 2009 (Issue 176)

Aspects of Maritime Ipswich


Double acts don't always work well. This one did, because for our last winter lecture on 11 March Stuart Grimwade and Des Pawson, both members of our Society and Ipswich Maritime Trust, had planned it very well. Each concentrated on his own expertise to create a richly patterned presentation. No one leaving the lecture would have been in any doubt that the seaport of Ipswich has a long and fascinating history.

Des Pawson's main two subjects were rope making and sail making. Drawing upon his great knowledge of ropes- he has his own museum of ropes and rope making - he reminded us of the large number of rope makers who worked in Ipswich. Sadly, there are no extant photographs of rope making in the town, so he relied upon photos of a similar Dutch undertaking to show what a rope walk looked like. At the end of the lecture, members of the audience were able to practise rope making under Des's watchful eye. That red cap of his commanded even more attention than usual as his gang concentrated on getting it right!

The craft of sail making lasted much longer in Ipswich, only finishing with Whitmore's. Unlike most other activities at the docks, sail making employed a large number of women. Mrs Whitmore donated a lot of the firm's specialist tools to Ipswich Maritime Trust when the business closed.

Stuart's contribution centred on his wonderful range and number of photographs. Many of the older ones he has restored and several others were ones he's taken, even going back to the 1950s. (Two or three members asked me later whether it was possible for a baby boy to be taking photos so long ago; if he heard that, I hope he was pleased rather than embarrassed!) Very few people would have seen most of these photos so it was a revelation to appreciate that such mighty ships came into our Wet Dock, even up to Dock Head which is now so silted up. Ipswich Maritime Trust is trying to persuade the developers of The Mill (ex-Cranfields) and ABP to clean it out. In addition to 3-masted tall ships, even 5-masted vessels visited the dock. Then there were large steamers too, and paddle steamers in the New Cut, where the existing Steamboat Tavern was not idly named.

In addition to all the industry around the dock, we were reminded of the Promenade on the Island and how popular it was for townspeople's relaxation. For special events, like the launch of the first lifeboat, it seemed as if the whole town turned out. But boats and water can still be a big attraction; 35,000 people attended 'Sail Ipswich' in 1997.

Stuart's surprise packet for us was the Luftwaffe's map of the dock area (provided by John Blatchly) with Ransome and Rapier and Felaw Maltings amongst the targets, both of which had near misses, probably because of the bomb aimers' premature releases.

I'm sure members will look forward to the completion of Ipswich Maritime Trust's display cases which will be in the courtyard of The Mill. The first and biggest is already installed and may be in use when you read this. The changing displays in those cases should make a valuable start in showing us many more Aspects of Maritime Ipswich.

NEIL SALMON

    Front cover of issue 176 Cover, issue 176

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