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You are in: Suffolk > History > Local history > Going over Stoke

The Stoke Bridge

Going over Stoke

Stoke, on the south side of Ipswich, has been at the centre of some great innovations, sad losses and intriguing stories. It was the home to Ransomes and Rapier, Ipswich's first railway station and now boasts part of the new look waterfront.

Stoke, or Over Stoke as it is also known, is an area of Ipswich which encompasses New Cut West, Bell Lane and Great Whip Street along with the historic docks.

"The original hamlet of Stoke, or Over Stoke is mentioned in the Domesday book," explained Jill Freestone of the Over Stoke History Group.

"Its Medieval church of St-Mary at Stoke is now a Grade 1 listed building.

"There are no fixed boundaries to the area, which is made up of a part of the parish of St Mary-at-Stoke and part of St Peter's parish, this latter portion consisting of land in the vicinity of New Cut West and Vernon Street."

Part of the Parish of St Mary Stoke in 1840

Part of the Parish of St Mary Stoke in 1840

For many years Stoke has been associated with industry and the working classes due to its position next to the railway and the river bank. Before 1846, like the majority of Ipswich, Stoke consisted mainly of farming land dotted with windmills which assisted the area's mill trade.

Other trades at this time included shipbuilding, which took place at the river bank and their was also a brickyard based a Wherstead Road.

"Over Stoke is quite a well known phrase throughout the town really," explained Bob Blastock, Chair of the Over Stoke History Group. "Because the area became quite industrial and a lot of people had come over the bridge into Stoke for work."

It was in 1846 that the Eastern Union Railway first came to Ipswich, creating new jobs and opportunities for its residents.

View over Ipswich Railway in the early 1950's

View over Ipswich Railway in the early 1950's

"The main starting point for Stoke as an industrial community was the introduction of the railways, which was very labour intensive," said Bob.

"This also effectively doubled the areas population.

"Of course you had the build up of the railway in the Stoke area and everybody that worked on the railway had to live in the local area, especially engine drivers.

"There was a stipulation in the distance that they were allowed to live away from the railway, because that train had to leave on time.

"It was a time when people didn't have too much in the way of alarm clocks or anything like that, so there used to be people knocking on doors and that went on until the 1950's.

"They would never rely on someone relying on an alarm clock."

The first train station of sorts was built in Croft Street in 1846, away from the railway station which we now recognise at Princes Street.

The combination of river and railway allowed Ipswich to further develop its possibilities for trade and industry.

A Ransomes and Rapier HK30 rough-terrain crane

A Ransomes and Rapier HK30 rough-terrain crane

"When the railway first came to Ipswich and the line was extended from Colchester the first station was in Croft Street and about the same time they built the tunnel to meet up with the Bury line.

"Then about 14 years (approx 1860) later they built the new Ipswich station, but the tunnel was built around the same time as the original Croft Street station, and not later as is commonly believed."

The beginnings of Ransomes and Rapier

A historical landmark for Ipswich, Stoke and the boom in industry occurred in 1869, when Ransome and Rapier crossed the Orwell and staked their claim on a section of farmland which became forever known as the Waterside Works.

Jill Freestone and Bob Blastock

Jill and Bob from the Over Stoke History group

During its 118 year life-time Ransomes and Rapier played an invaluable part in Suffolk's war effort and in 1914 extra buildings were put in place at the firm's base for the production of shells, guns and tank turrets.

Well regarded exports included the Ransomes and Rapier cranes and draglines, used internationally as well as in the development of the Orwell Bridge.

Stoke and the rest of the town was beginning to move away from its association with agricultural life and plans for expansion, which took off in the late 1960's, were greeted with huge concern by the wider farming community.

Ipswich had been referred to as 'a gentle town of missed chances' by the Observer (June 13, 1965) but it was attracting a growing amount of interest.

The planning group Shankland and Cox was appointed to assess Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton and look at the possibilities they might hold as London overspill towns.

Axa and Willis insurance buildings

Axa and Willis insurance buildings

The planners were encouraged to consider the industries that were in place in Ipswich and the positive effect town expansion may have on pay levels.

"Each of the major industries in Ipswich were consulted and every one said that they were looking to expand," said Bob.

"No one was looking to reduce labour, so what Shankland and Cox thought was that Ipswich doesn't need any more skilled jobs or engineering, because it was all happening.

"So they went for things like insurance and commerce and that's when places like Willis Faber came to town, and of course that was a successful move.

"But things change."

The findings of the Shankland and Cox survey had, on the whole, many positive effects and in 2008 insurance is a thriving industry in Ipswich, with over 2000 people employed by the various companies throughout the town.

But the eventual and somewhat unexpected decline of the engineering firms in the town caused huge problems in terms of unemployment.

In 1987, at the same time as Tesco at Copdock was beginning to recruit over 400 new staff for its new store, employment optimism was severely dented when it was announced that Ransomes and Rapier was to close.

Water and ballast being dredged at Ipswich

Water and ballast being dredged at Ipswich

This came just a year after steel engineering firm Cocksedges headed into receivership.

With Ransomes over 400 jobs were lost. This followed gradual job cuts and huge financial losses after a fatal error involving a loan to an American firm was made.

The changing face of the Ipswich waterfront

Change became an evident part of town life, with growing expansion plans looming as planners focused on developing the wet dock, thus increasing the potential of the port.

Although not all of the waterfront area is recognised within Stoke's boundaries, the developments in the area had an undeniable effect on Stoke life.

"The Ipswich Dock Commission as it was then known wanted to expand the port and the only way they could expand was to infill the mud flats on the west side of the river which was then known as the West Bank Terminal.

View from a Wherstead Road garden

View from a Wherstead Road garden

"They managed to buy the mud flats from the council for around £30,000."

In 1973 the £33,600 paid by the Ipswich Dock Commission was seen as an incredibly high price to pay for what was effectively a piece of mud, but they viewed it as a worthwhile expense, after a lengthy and somewhat costly legal battle.

"At the time any major development that was done on the docks needed to go through the Houses of Parliament and have a parliamentary bill, so they had to apply for a private members bill in the first instance to give people the opportunity to object."

This led to a flurry of objections not only from local residents but also from Ipswich Borough Council and Ransomes and Rapier, who had concerns over the use of their land.

"The port authority negotiated and satisfied all of these groups, but they didn't satisfy the Wherstead Road Residents' Association, because they wanted to bring this concrete block right up to the back of their gardens.

"So we managed to get some help and we managed to take up an objection at the House of Lords.

Ipswich Waterfront

Ipswich Waterfront

"We managed to prove that the dock commission hadn't made a strong enough case to satisfy the House of Lords so they had to have a second hearing and the Lord Chairman said that since we were of limited means the dock commission should pay our costs.

"Although we didn't win the case we managed to get the actual dock pushed away from the backs of people's houses."

It was a happy coincidence that the material that made up the river bed was suitable for filling the quays and despite strong opposition the work began, with around 15 acres being reclaimed by the dumping of over 300 kilometres of gravel.

2008 and the waterfront area is once again the site of speculation over the developments of flats and leisure facilities.

The history of the area will always be prevalent and Bob hopes the authorities will look at ways to make historical information about the area more accessible.

"I don't think they've done enough to make the wet dock area attractive to visitors.

"I mean the flats are very attractive and look nice but there is nothing really to encourage people to go down there.

"When you come in on the A14 you see this big sign saying historic port but you don't see a historic port do you?

"With that port you can go back to Saxon times and the life of Wolsey, there is a big story to tell."

last updated: 01/08/2008 at 15:21
created: 24/06/2008

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