Jet aircraft crashing in Ipswich, being a runner for the local bookie and black looks from grandmother if you did not attend Sunday school, are the childhood memories of growing up in White Elm Street, Ipswich, for Brian Dean. He tells us what life was like in a part of Ipswich where housing was poor and most families found it difficult to make ends meet. Children were then expected to regularly attend Sunday school. Brian attended at the Grimwade Memorial Hall at the bottom of Back Hamlet. This building has now been restored and converted to flats. Brian said “For the children growing up in White Elm Street, Ipswich, in the immediate post war years of the late 1940s, Sunday school was the norm, most of the children from my part of town went to the Grimwade Memorial Hall at the junction of Fore Hamlet and Back Hamlet, which was linked to the adjacent St Clements Congregational Church. One Sunday a month, after our own service, we would be marched across the road to join the adults in the Congregational church for the main morning service, thankfully we were led out halfway through the service at 11.15 and before the sermon. Perhaps they thought we would fidget too much!”
“My grandmother lived nearby in Long Street at the time and after Sunday school all six of her grandchildren would visit her to report they had attended, she would fumble in her purse for a halfpenny each as a reward, but heaven help any of us who had been missing Sunday school, in her eyes this was inexcusable and a stern reprimand would be handed out. We had attendance cards which were stamped each Sunday and at the end of most years I, with a number of others, would have a full set of 52 stamps and at a presentation service would step forward to receive a book, often a bible, inscribed for good attendance”.
“Highlight of the year was the annual Sunday school outing to Felixstowe, although, for the first two years I attended, the war was still in progress and Felixstowe was out of bounds. It was a restricted area and you could be arrested and fined just for being there if you did not have the necessary pass. Trolley buses were laid on from the Duke Street, Fore Street junction to take us to Rushmere Heath for a ramble and what passed for afternoon tea in the days of meagre wartime rationing”.
“Felixstowe slowly opened up to the public after the war and a train from Derby Road station would be laid on to take us and other Sunday school parties down there for our annual outing to the seaside one Sunday each July. The first peace-time visit was however somewhat austere, the beach was still mined in many places, the pier blown in parts to prevent the enemy using it as a landing stage, the promenade was still strewn with barbed wire, most seafront hotels either boarded up or still commandeered by the military and our only glimpse of the sea was from a safe vantage point on Bent Hill”.
“We had games and afternoon tea before returning home. This was a day at the seaside around 1946. After that things picked up and we had some most enjoyable times there spending our pocket money at Manning’s fun fair and sampling Peters’ delicious ice-cream.”
“Saturday mornings in contrast was a noisy trip to the cinema as in those pre-television days for most families. The Ritz, Gaumont and Odeon all put on sixpenny Saturday morning film shows for children and at the Ritz you could become an “ABC Minor” and get a badge. The show usually consisted of a cartoon or short film of general interest for openers, then a serial shown in parts each week, possibly a little bit of stage entertainment or perhaps something from the organist. I remember the Ipswich Town Football team being presented on stage once”.
“The show would end with a main film, usually either a comedy with the likes of Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy or a western starring heroes like Roy Rogers or Hop-a-long Cassidy, with the “goodies” being cheered at every opportunity and the “baddies” either outlaws or Red Indians, heartily booed every time they appeared on the screen!”
“The cinema was also an outlet at half term providing the pocket money would stretch to a visit. No problems if the programme was a U certificate, we could just walk in, but an A film meant a child could only be admitted accompanied by an adult. The simple solution to that being to loiter just down from the cinema, money in hand and ask any adult about to go in, male or female, if they would take us in with them – innocent days indeed!”
“Very few people had a fridge in the early post-war years and freezers still had to come along, so shopping was done on a day to day basis just to cover immediate needs, with rationing restricting what you could buy anyway, so running errands to the shops in Fore Street to save the legs of some of the older generation in White Elm Street in return for a penny or two by way of a reward, and occasionally a little more, provided pocket money for us children”.
“Most generous of the adults I ran errands for was Mrs Blacksall at number 16 who always gave me a sixpence for fetching her paraffin and just once in a while a shilling, which made me feel really well off. An errand every Saturday morning for my grandmother who lived round the corner in Myrtle Yard, a tiny close at the bottom of Bishops Hill where four decrepit dwellings shared one outside toilet, was to get her snuff. She would give me a half-crown to get three packets of snuff at ten pence a packet from the shop of Mr Fisk, a tobacconist in Fore Street and that was her weeks supply”.
“Another Fore Street visit was for my aunt to charge the accumulators for her radio, I would take two down to be charged up and bring two fully charged back, the cost being sixpence for accumulator as I recall, and these and other little chores provided us with the cash for comics, Saturday morning pictures etcetera. Then as I got older I became really affluent by doing a paper round, delivering copies of the Evening Star for Percy Ambrose who ran a newspaper distribution service from his home in Cavendish Street. For this I got paid seven shillings and sixpence plus, if we could sell any of the few spare copies of the “Star” that we carried, he would usually let us keep the cash.
The “Star” at the time costing a penny ha’penny, that’s less than 1p! Mind you the shortage of paper kept the ‘Star’ down to quite meagre size, I kept the copy announcing the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952 and it consisted of 12 pages then, but had been a lot less than that at the height of the paper shortage.”
“The oddest errand I had to run was for my grandmother on my mother’s side who lived in Long Street and would occasionally give me a coin wrapped in a piece of paper to take to the shop at the end of the street. I never bought anything with it just handed it over which puzzled me a bit, and I found out much later that the lady running the shop was in fact the street “bookie” this before betting shops became legal and she would take bets on the big horse races of the day, like the Derby or Grand National.”
“All the children in White Elm Street first attended Cliff Lane Primary School before facing the 11 plus exam, I began there in the last year of the war when a block of air-raid shelters stood on one side of the playground and we occasionally took refuge in them, usually if a stray VI flying bomb was in the area. At the bottom of Cliff Lane stood a device which when triggered emitted thick clouds of black smoke, no doubt in an effort to blanket out the dock area from attack by low flying aircraft”.
“We only had one male member of staff, Mr Turtle the janitor, all the teaching staff was female with Miss Butcher the headmistress and strict disciplinarians they were too. One whose name I recall with a certain amount of trepidation even after 60 years was Mrs Cusworth, a very large lady who used to bustle along the school corridors like a Spanish galleon in full sail; if she gave you a clip round the ear you felt it for a week. I have to say though those teachers were very good at their job and I’m sure we picked up the basics of maths, English, reading etc far quicker than youngsters learn them under todays softly, softly approach. The ever present threat of a clip round the ear for not paying attention, which of course was allowed then, definitely helped to speed our progress!”
“Each summer the Ipswich schools sports day was held at Portman Road and pupils from the various schools in the town would compete against each other in athletics events on the football pitch with trophies going to both individuals and the school which came out on top with the most points at the end of the meeting.”
“We had just arrived back from the sports day one Wednesday afternoon and were playing in White Elm Street when above us an RAF Vampire jet, taking part in exercises over the town spun out of control, it missed us but took the roof off a house in Myrtle Road, just the other side of Bishops Hill before crashing through the wall of Holywells Park where it blew up. This was just a few houses away from those destroyed by a bomb in June 1943. Despite frantic calls from mothers to stop, we kids tore up the driftway that led from White Elm Street to Bishops Hill to see exactly what had happened, but within minutes the crash scene had been sealed off by the police and the fire brigade, who had raced there from the fire station which at the time was in nearby Bond Street. The pilot and one unfortunate girl passing by were killed, but with workers just leaving the surrounding Ransomes factories casualties would have been severe had the aircraft come down in Duke Street, Fore Hamlet or on Bishops Hill.”
“I moved on from Cliff Lane school in 1950 to Landseer Road and left there in 1954 to begin work, first at the large Egertons Garage in Crown Street. Our time in White Elm Street came to an end in 1957 when the council re-housed us in modern up to date accommodation on the Castle Hill and Maidenhall estates and the old street was demolished as part of the programme to clear away the narrow streets of sub- standard houses close to the town centre”.