lorry garage / warehouse)
of the greatest names in engineering
and a company at the heart of the industrial expansion of Ipswich until
the late twentieth century, Ransomes has all but disappeared from
modern Ipswich. Disappeared apart, that is, from the name of the
industrial estate on the
site of their
Nacton works: 'Ransomes Europark' and the recently-named The Robert
Ransome public house on Tower Ramparts, after the iron-founder who set
up his foundry nearby in 1789 (see Plaques).
It wasn't until December 2013 that our attention was drawn to a nearby
lettered 'Ransomes' warehouse (scroll down for the new images).
However, we initially noticed the shadows of old
up on the building which used to be called Island House in Wykes Bishop
Street*** off Duke Street.
Once the home of Five Castles Press and, until the 1980s, boasting a
tiny docklands pub on the opposite corner of the block: The Happy
Return (it can still be seen amongst the new dockside regeneration
flats ; see below for images). At that time, part of the building was
Premier Pool Club
staging occasional concerts by local rock bands, later a social club in part of a building
used by Ransomes as garaging for their electric lorries. [See
below the central circular window,
which one assumes was left as an open vent in earlier times, the grime
which surrounded the
'RANSOMES' letters still
clings to the brickwork
undimmed by the green and black staining from above. Is there a date
('1819'?) just below it? This doesn't seem right as Ransomes' St
Margaret's Ditches Works Manager William Worby wasn't asked to find a
new overspill site for the company until 1837; the move started in 1841
and was completed eight years later. (see Reading
List for C. & M. Weaver's history of Ransomes). The 'ghost'
date needs more investigation; perhaps '1910'
is more likely. (As you can see in the Ransomes warehouse lettering
below, the date could be '1919'.) See the 1881 map below.
Ransomes' Orwell Works on the east side
of the Wet Dock around 1865
(engraving above). The viewpoint is from an imaginary helium balloon
which hovers over End Quay or Tovell's Wharf on the 'island'. A steam
engine pulls trucks along the dockside tramway while several ships are
tied up at the quay. The gasometer is at the right. This was a large
site of, in some cases,
buildings now all swept away (apart from our example in Duke Street, of
course, which would have been further to the right of this image). We
assume that Bishop's Hill can be seen rising away from the river basin
at the top right; not sure where the windmill would have stood, though
(visible on the left horizon).
Ploughs and tillage machinery, steam engines, grass-cutting
equipment, trolleybuses, threshers, tractors, combines,
trucks and more – the range of products made by
Ipswich is perhaps the widest of any similar British manufacturer. From
Robert Ransome's small workshop in 1789, the company grew to
and to export all over the world. Having the large Orwell Works between
Wherstead Road and New Cut West, then extending to the Nacton Road site
on the edge of town, this faded lettering is all that is left of this
massive enterprise on the riverside.
A note about Robert Ransome's original foundry
Foundry Road accompanies the 'Lectures' lettering behind the County Library.
One has to travel to Hadleigh to see
Ransomes celebrated in fine style in public lettering on their town
[UPDATE 7.12.2011: "Wet Dock 1936 recollections. I
RSJ Orwell Works as office boy at the quayside spares Forwarding
Department managed by white haired Spencer Hazell. The quayside
featured a large grey painted gate where a weigh-bridge accomodated the
railway track. Behind the weigh-bridge was the Engine Turnery.
The forwarding department's windows looked across to the wet dock to
the Public Warehouse. Next along the quayside was the spares warehouse
with Charlie Sergeant in charge then lastly the foundry then the
GasWorks with its cranes and heaps of coke. Hope this will fill a
little gap. Yours sincerely, Tony Adams." Many thanks, Tony.]
[Additional UPDATE 8.12.11
from Tony Adams: "The building with the red door [in the top image above] garaged
Ransomes made electric lorries. Upstairs was a canteen where workers
could eat their packed lunches and buy a cup of tea for one old penny
which means 240 cups for one pound."]
[UPDATE 25.11.2012: "Dear Mr
I have just discovered your sites on Ransomes and local street names, I
feel I must make contact to congratulate you on some superb visual
I was born and bred in Ipswich, served my apprenticeship at Ransomes
(later, travelling the world for them) and even have a street with my
name on it!
As well as working beside the Dock, I kept various boats there for many
years and am still having "an affair" with it through the Ipswich
Maritime Trust of which you know - and possibly also my brother Stuart
who maintains our photographic archive. (15 years ago I organised "Sail
A specific detail regarding Ransomes old garage and canteen . I
remember (and used) it well. As well as keeping the electric lorries
there (I can still hear the drive chains "clicking"!), there was a
sideways tilting platform there on which trolley bus stability was
tested - there were retaining ropes to catch the bus if it went too
I was at RS&J from '53 to '66 and was deeply involved in the move
from Orwell to Nacton Works.
There's a great deal more in my head which someone, somewhere, sometime
might value! - Mark Grimwade" We
look forward to it.]
Above: the lettering in 2013, partially obscured by a
By 2015, the building is split between Glass & Splashbacks on the
ground floor and The Music Room above. The 'Ransomes' lettering shadow
is once again claerly visible.
Behind the Electric lorry garage...
[***Wykes Bishop Street, tiny though it is, has
interesting derivation. The Bishop's Wick, or Wicks Episcopi as it was
sometimes called, was one of the four hamlets into which the town was
once divided (Wykes Bishop, Wykes Ufford – see our St Clement's Church page for a passage on
this by G.R. Clarke – Stoke and Brookes). Wykes
Bishop is the area to
the south of Felixstowe Road which now
includes Bishop's Hill, extending to
the river and including Holywells Park where the residence of the
Bishop of Norwich stood within the extensive moat (fed by the local
springs) which is still to be seen. The site would have given the
Bishop a splendid view of the town and port. Wykes Bishop continued in
the hands of successive bishops from 1235 until the properties of the
diocese were exchanged for those of St Benet's Abbey by Henry VIII.
Source: Robert Malster's 'A-Z', see Reading List.]
Fascinating that all this history is commemorated in the name of this
tiny road. In fact, as one can see on the 1881 map of the area, Wykes
Bishop Street used to run all the way from Fore Hamlet, with a little
kink in the road at Little Wykes Bishop Street and into the 'stub' of
the street which survives today.
'John Street' running from the top centre of the map detail is a
continuation of Duke Street; that it is what we call it today. Duke
Street curves eastwards after the Wykes Bishop Street junction and has
through the housing shown to meet up with a truncated Myrtle Road
(visible at bottom right) at a modern roundabout. Focusing on the 'L'
shape at the lower end of Wykes Bishop Street (the bit we see today),
is clear that the Ransome Electric Lorry Garage, not
surprisingly, did not exist in 1881. There were several
small houses in the space it occupies, but the 'P.H.' which is where
the former Happy Return public house stands, at number 73 Wykes Bishop
Street – at the junction with Albion Street –
illustrates the large missing portion of the thoroughfare. The
still there (see photographs below). One can see how close this site is
south-east corner of the huge Ransome's Orwell Works, so it would be a
place to put an extra works building.
This Cobbold pub building, standing alone since all the nearby
small houses have
been removed, is the former The Happy Return. It is
recorded as in existence in 1823 (perhaps in an earlier building) and
ceased trading as late as 1984 when there were very few regulars
remaining in the area. However the pub name 'Happy Return Building' was
stencilled on each of the two white panels below the ground floor
windows. Even today there is a wrought iron bracket at first floor
height near the corner which once supported a pub sign. Opposite the
south-west face of this building stood, until the major reshaping and
development of Patteson Road, Maude Road and Anchor Square as
residential units, stood an imposing facade in red brick and stone
which was scandalously destroyed. They put up a modern, pale shadow of
the same frontage. We assume that it was the southern entrance to the
Ransome's Orwell Works, or possibly to the Gas Works site.
The Happy Return in happier times.
There are scant traces of the northern part of Ransomes'
Orwell Works still to be found in the Duke Street car park.
Perfidious Albion! Having explored this building several times in our
usual desultory manner, Simon Bole tells of an, as yet, undiscovered
street sign actually built in to one of its walls. Indeed it is visible
in the 2013 photograph (above).
2016 images courtesy Simon Bole
Not only that, but it's not in Albion Street today, but in today's
"John Street". Many thanks to Simon for spotting it. It would be
fortuitous to catch this lettering in raking sunlight.
The dramatic reshaping of the roads in this area of St Clement's Parish
(see Courts & yards) is illustrated
in the comparison of the 1881 map shown above with a present-day street
plan (below). The black spot marks the site of the Albion Street sign.
A few yards away from Wykes Bishop Street is a new lane cut through to
serve the 21st century block developments:
'BALLAST WHARF WALK'
This relates to the name of the wharf across the Wet Dock on 'the
island'; see our Wet Dock map.
At the end of this half-built lane is Page Walk, presumably named after
Admiral BenjaminPage (1756-1845), who is celebrated by a blue plaque in
Ransomes warehouse, Cliff Road
... complete with full stop. As in the Electric lorry depot, the
company left its mark by the
dirt left behind by the characters of the name, how very odd. We are
indebted to Tim Leggett for these excellent (not to mention surprising)
photographs. The second image shows the corner of Cliff Road and Ship
the street nameplate barely readable in the bright sunshine.
courtesy Tim Leggett
The third photograph into the sun shows the old Ship Launch pub,
now a Chinese restaurant, at far left.
Across the road from The Ship Launch is a sad, isolated pillar box.
The Ipswich Society
The above photograph from the Ipswich Society's Image Archive
(see Links) shows the Wet Dock lock gates in
the 1960s, viewed from Griffin Wharf looking north east with the
gasworks in the background, notably 'Jumbo' the towering, German-built
gasometer. To the right of the two maltings vented towers are three
Ransomes sheds, one painted cream. The close-up shows that the
'1919 RANSOMES' lettering was repeated on the dock elevation of
the central shed.
The above aerial view of the area shows the 'skewed' lock gates,
fully open at high water (when the river rises to meet the water level
in the Wet Dock); to the right of the lock are the three former
Ransomes sheds with their eastern ends angled to match the line of
Cliff Road. A shipyard existed to the south for centuries and the
remnants can still be seen. The short Toller Road runs east-west
linking to Holywells Road and the Tolly Cobbold brewery is just south
of this image. To the north is Patteson Road with Helena Road on the
dockside and the Myrtle Road roundabout at the other. Look just below
the centre of Patteson Road and you can still see the circular
footprint, mainly green vegetation, where 'Jumbo', the gasometer once
courtesy Mark Beesley, 2014
Mark Beesley took the above photograph in Kalka in India, at the
railway station which is the terminus for the narrow-guage 'Toy Train'
that runs up through the hills to Shimla. The relief lettering on the
buffer casting reads:
The Ransomes Engineering breakaway company of Ransomes &
Rapier Ltd, founded in 1869 and based at the Waterside Works
Griffin Wharf (see Wet Dock map), soon
made a name for itself that was second to none. In the 1870s it took a
leading part in supplying equipment for the Welsh narrow-gauge slate
railways, and also for similar railways on sugar plantations far across
the sea. Ransomes & Rapier made equipment not only for railways in
Britain but for lines in China, India and other parts of the world;
they manufactured sluices for the Aswan Dam and for other water control
schemes, and built the biggest walking dragline in the world. A
testament to their quality and workmanship is the excellent condition
of the Kalka railway buffer housing kindly photographed and sent in by
Mark. Incidentally, Stoke Hall which once
stood off Belstead Hill was the home of Robert James Ransome
(1830-1891) of Ransomes and Rapier – see that page for a resumé of the
courtesy John Norman
RANSOMES & RAPIER LTD.
IPSWICH 1927 ENGLAND'
our Island page for the R&R swing bridge
over the Wet Dock lock.
Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies
R,S&J was the final and probably the most globally
successful version of the great Ipswich engineering firm:
1785 Ransome and Co
1808 Ransome and Son
1818 Ransome and Sons
1825 James and Robert Ransome
1829 J. R. and A. Ransome
1836 Ransomes and May
1854 Ransomes and Sims
1869 Ransomes, Sims and Head
1880 Ransomes, Head and Jefferies
1884 Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies
[Information from Grace's Guide,
They were based at the Orwell Works,
Ipswich and were a major British agricultural machinery maker as well
as a wide variety of other engineering products. By 1905 the company
employed 2,000 people.
Abbott's Hall collection, Stowmarket
Above: a framed crest, used as a transfer on Ransomes' traction
'RANSOMES, SIMS &
The Ipswich Borough coat of arms
appears at the top of the circle.
Many people do not realise that Ransomes, after many ups and
downs in the 20th century returned to its original production of lawn
mowers. Perhaps fittingly, in the 21st century they trade from Ransomes
Europark on the edge of Ipswich. This is an extract from a Textron Inc.
(the American owners) web page from 2007:-
Jacobsen Ltd, a Textron Inc. company, celebrated the 175th anniversary
of mower production at Ipswich in 2007. Edwin Budding's historic
lawnmower design was patented in 1830 and JR
& A Ransome were the first company to obtain a licence to
manufacture this remarkable invention. The first Ransomes-manufactured
machine for domestic use was produced in 1832 and this signalled the
beginning of commercial mower production in the UK. Although the
company no longer produces domestic lawnmowers they are
one of the leading commercial mower manufacturers supplying equipment
to golf courses, local authorities, landscape contractors, sports clubs
and major sports stadia around the globe.
Ransomes Jacobsen is a subsidiary of Textron Inc., a $10 billion
multi-industry company operating in 33 countries with approximately
37,000 employees. The company leverages its global network of aircraft,
industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative
solutions and services. Textron is known around the world for its
powerful brands such as Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft, Jacobsen,
Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO and Greenlee, among others.
- Production of the Ransomes Budding begins in Ipswich in
- Innovations quickly follow and by 1852 some 1,500 improved
the 21-inch mower had been produced. In 1870 the range was extended
with the introduction of horse drawn mowers.
- Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, Ransomes
the world's first petrol driven lawn mower. This single innovation in
1902 was to change the way that grass was cut for ever.
- By the end of the 1920s the Ransomes catalogue featured
Septuple gang mowers, using cutting cylinders from horse-drawn triple
mowers ganged into combinations of five and seven units.
- The new White City works in West London opened in 1937 to
growing demand for Ransomes mowers.
- In the late 1930s greenkeepers began to overcome their
use petrol-driven machines and this was as a result of the introduction
of the Overgreen, a machine featuring a power unit with large pneumatic
tyres that pulled three Certes cutting units and enabled a single
greenkeeper to cut 18 greens in a day.
- After World War II a number of new machines were
the Auto Certes, a mower that developed a worldwide reputation for its
exceptionally fine cut.
- 1964 saw the introduction of the Ransomes Quint, the
tractor-mounted, power-driven five unit gang mower. In the same year,
the Motor Triple was launched; a highly manoeuvrable, high output mower
which elevated Ransomes to the forefront of the European professional
turf care market.
- In 1978 Ransomes acquired an interest in an American
manufacturer, which subsequently became a wholly owned subsidiary,
Ransomes Inc. The result of this fruitful union was the Motor 180, with
power units manufactured in the USA and cutting units built in Ipswich.
- The Motor 213, a hydraulically driven triple reel mower
for the local
authority market was launched in 1982. This high work rate, ride-on
triplex mower heralded the change from large scale pedestrian operated
mowing practices to more productive and cost effective maintenance of
roadside verges and housing areas.
- 1988 and Ransomes acquires Cushman Ryan, the US
provided access to the Cushman Turf Truckster and its wide range of
accessories for topdressing, spraying, aeration and other maintenance
duties on sports turf areas.
- The E-Plex is introduced in 1994, the world's first
triplex greens mower, providing noise and pollution free mowing of fine
turf, particularly golf greens in suburban areas.
- In 1998 Textron Inc., the multi-industry US company
operating in 33
countries with approximately 37,000 employees, acquires Ransomes plc
and establishes Textron Turf Care & Specialty Products group.
- Company re-branded in 2001 as Ransomes Jacobsen Ltd,
focusing on core
brands: Ransomes for local authority and municipal mowers, Jacobsen for
the golf sector.
- 2003 sees the launch of dedicated environmental programme
"Driving Environmental Performance" strapline.
- 2004 and the innovative remote controlled bank mower
launched to wide acclaim and wins multiple industry awards.
- In July 2006 Ransomes Jacobsen signs contract with the PGA
Official Turf Equipment Supplier. The following month they also become
a Lead Partner in Golf Environment Europe, the pan European initiative
working to promote environmental sustainability in golf.
A catalogue from 1851, published for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park
included a 16-inch Budding grass mower priced at £6 5s. Today, the
Ransomes HR9016 wide area mower, powered by an 87hp turbo diesel engine
and with cutting width of 16 feet retails at £61,592.
In 1904, two years after the introduction of the first motor mower,
King Edward VII requested a demonstration of the 30-inch version and
two were purchased for the Buckingham Palace gardens.
Ransomes introduce Britain's first battery-powered electric truck in
1920 and in 1926 produce the first mains electric operated lawnmower.
During World War II the Ransomes factories at White City and Ipswich
produced bomb trolleys, trailers for 25-pounder guns and parts for Bren
gun carriers, Crusader tanks, Rolls-Royce aero engines and Mosquito
An extract from the 1954 accounts records sales of 42,500 hand mowers,
1,100 gang mowers and 9,500 motor mowers."
Our Street furniture page shows an
1881 map showing the Ransomes Lawn Mower Works, south of the
Corporation Water Works in, logically, Waterworks Street. We have heard
Ransomes at one time had lawn mower works on the site of the UCS Art
& Design block (formerly the Vicon tractor works) and at the bottom
of Bishop's Hill ('White City'). There is a picture on page 120 of the
book Ransomes 1789-1989: 200 years
excellence by Carol & Michael Weaver, captioned: 'Assembling hand mowers in the Lawn Mower
Works at the bottom of Bishops Hill, 1966'
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throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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