Horrors of seeing your home or business flooded is something thankfully most of us never experience. In the twentieth century the low areas of Ipswich were hit twice by flood water. In 1939 from inland and in 1953 from the sea. In January 1939 the River Gipping in Suffolk burst its banks. A combination of heavy rain and melting snow saw disaster follow. Hundreds of homes were abandoned and one person was killed. During the night of January 31 and February 1 1953 a huge surge of water pushed down the North Sea in a freak combination of a very high tide and a North Westerly gale to devastate coastal and inland areas of Suffolk. Maureen Goodger (nee Rayner) told of her mother's experience. Maureen said, “My mother, Lucy Rayner, remembers the floods of January 1939 in Suffolk, when she was living at her future in-laws house H Rayner Carters & Haulage Contractors at 30/32 Wolsey Street, Ipswich. At about four o’clock on Thursday, January 26, 1939, her fiancée Leonard Rayner told her to come and look at the water coming up Quadling Street in waves. The water appeared to be coming from the direction of Princes Street and within a few hours was lapping over the doorstep and had filled the cellar.”
“Lucy’s future in-laws Henry and Alice Rayner, were both bedridden at the time and were sleeping downstairs and told Lucy to keep the fire going as it was the only heating they had, but the water was lapping around the bottom of the grate and sizzling. Henry’s son John came the next day leaving his bike at Lock & Stagg’s garage at Friars Street and waded down Wolsey Street to the company’s premises. The whole family was rescued by rowing boat and went to stay with an older brother Henry Rayner in Lacey Street and Henry took all the horses to higher ground at Gippeswyk Park”.
“The horses had been standing up to the top of their legs in flood water, which was very cold. The furniture in the house all stood on blocks or bricks to help get it clear of the water, unfortunately, the piano got waterlogged, which was repeated in 1953. They had two cats and Lucy remembers seeing them both jump into the water, they did reappear later. The properties around this area suffered the same experience again on January 31, 1953, although with not the same destruction as those on the coast.”
Iris Carpenter (nee Branch), of Ipswich cycled home to Montgomery Road not knowing her father feared for his life that night in 1953. Iris said, “My father was on duty as a Night Watchman at Ransome and Rapiers, Waterside Works, Ipswich, on January 31, 1953. He was one of two men on duty; he went to the waterfront and was greatly disturbed at the water level. High tide was not due for two more hours at 10pm.
He raised the alarm by phone to Ipswich Police and knocked on doors in Bath Street where he knew elderly people lived. My father was a seafaring man all his life and had retired from the Royal Navy. He had great knowledge of the sea and tides; he had lost his father who drowned at Harwich when he was nine years old and his grandfather before that. Little did he think he may survive two wars and nearly drown in his office in Bath Street”!
“The tidal wave, 10ft high, hit the works so hard it buckled the iron girder doors and it looked like tin all bashed and buckled. My father, horrified as the water seeped up the wall higher and higher in his office, climbed onto the mantelpiece, saw his teapot and tray float out of the cupboard plus all the other things floating high in the water.”
“Then the electric failed so he was in darkness, his Wellington boots filled with water and he was clinging to the mantelpiece wall until rescued at daybreak. A long time freezing in cold sea and sewer water. He was a survivor but became very ill”.
“The horror story broke to us next day. We had no idea that Wherstead Road had five foot of water and more. The filth from the water, cold and freezing all night left him with a bug which he never recovered from and he was an invalid for five years, never to forget that dreadful night he suffered in Bath Street office.”
Carol Revett of Ipswich added “As a child my father carried me around the garden to show me all the damage the water had done removing all the garden walls. For years we had a clock with a line halfway through the face where it had floated in the water and the sideboard had a line throughout it as well.”
Tom Scrivener of Ipswich was just a young boy and like all lads he could still find fun in a disaster. Thomas said. “I was born at 31 Bell Lane, in 1928 and I remember the 1939 flood well. I remember taking an old pram and sacks and collecting the coke, which was being washed down from the railway yards in Commercial Road. There was no flood wall by the river then, just railings”.
Peggy Race of Congreve Road, Ipswich added. “I was a child at the time of the 1939 flood. My father worked for the Ipswich Dock Commission, on the lock gates, and we lived on New Cut East. We had the dock at the back of our house, and the river at the front. The water came up the drain near the back door, causing us to be flooded; so the kitchen, dining room and lounge, also cellar were all flooded, and the first four steps of the stairs, so my brother and I were made to stay upstairs. A fire engine came to pump the water out. We were concerned about the cellar because the gas meter was down there. Every time we had to put a shilling in we had to have a lighted candle.”