Ipswich Icons: Ipswich’s own echo of The Two Ronnies
PUBLISHED: 08:40 17 April 2018
John Norman on the local entrepreneur who supplied our emerging middle class and even Queen Victoria
You will no doubt be familiar with The Two Ronnies sketch Four Candles and the ironmonger’s shop which appeared to stock every conceivable item for home and garden.
Alfred Wrinch had just such a shop in the Buttermarket in Ipswich in the 1860s. The shop was well placed to supply the rapidly-growing Ipswich with domestic and garden supplies but Alfred spotted an additional market: garden furniture.
This demand came from a new working class amongst the population: department managers, clerks and book-keepers. These white-collar workers were employed in the rapidly-growing engineering and similar industries across Ipswich.
This new section of the community was moving out of the small terraced houses in Ipswich town centre and into Victorian red-brick semi-detached homes (with gardens).
The Freehold Land Society was instrumental in making these homes available, in Rosehill, California, and off Bramford Lane, but other large houses were built, in some cases speculatively: Anglesea Road, Warrington Road, Christchurch Street and “over Stoke”.
Such was the demand for his stock that Alfred decided to manufacture his own furniture and set up a factory (and foundry) in Portman Road (the statue of Sir Bobby Robson stands on the site).
Key to the growth of Wrinch’s was Alfred’s decision to manufacture folding chairs. Chairs of a style I’m sure you’ve sat upon. They are typically used around bandstands in parks, on the vicar’s lawn during summer garden parties and in domestic gardens, folded for storage in the winter.
Before Wrinch’s mass-produced this furniture it was made by individual local craftsmen, guys who were not well placed to fulfil large orders from corporations and similar organisations. Railway mania was sweeping the country and every station needed platform benches: cast iron ends with plank seats, and a different design for each company.
Alfred was a significant member of St Lawrence Church and a leading light in the development of modern retail in Ipswich. He had a substantial house built, the 10-bedroom Hill Crest in Paget Road (1877).
Alfred Wrinch was mayor 1880-1881 and laid the foundation stone for the Corn Exchange. He named the factory in Portman Road St Lawrence Works and by the turn of the century was employing 500 people.
He sold his Buttermarket shop to Frederick Corder, who redeveloped the site and built a department store that extended through from his store in Tavern Street.
Frederick Corder had established a drapery and furniture store in 1787; by 1844 it was listed as Edward and Henry Shewell Corder’s drapery shop in Tavern Street. Corder’s were bought out by Debenhams and amalgamated with Footman & Pretty, the combined business trading out of a rebuilt Waterloo House in Westgate Street.
By the 1880s Wrinch’s were publishing a substantial catalogue of outdoor products, from watering cans to wheelbarrows, swing chairs with awnings and at least 75 different “benches”. He also sold garden “sports” equipment (croquet, lawn tennis, bowls and quoits) and portable buildings (dog kennels, poultry sheds and greenhouses, dove cotes, duck houses and pigeon lofts).
Wrinch’s became world-renowned for their garden products, offering lasting quality by using cast and wrought iron together with pitch pine and red deal timber imported into Ipswich dock from Canada and the Baltic.
Wrinch and Sons could dispatch their products to anywhere in the world and they sold to customers throughout the Commonwealth and in Britain’s overseas territories.
Towards the end of the 19th Century they were manufacturing a substantial variety of sectional building, using both timber and cast iron.
Their reputation for quality was such that they fulfilled orders for the Sultan of Turkey, who purchased a Winter Garden for his Imperial Gardens in Constantinople (today Istanbul) and greenhouses for Queen Victoria’s summer residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
In 1928 the factory in Portman Road suffered a fire that devastated the business. We’ll investigate that story and their move to Nacton Road next week.