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Ipswich Icons: Looking back to a time when engineering companies Ransome and Rapier, ER & F Turner, C Mills and Company were top employers in town

10:14 18 October 2015

Cocksedge on Structural beam

Cocksedge on Structural beam


In the second half of the 19th Century Ipswich was booming, a hive of industry exporting manufactured goods across the world, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

There were a number of major engineering companies in Ipswich at this time, Ransomes and their spin-off Ransome and Rapier, ER & F Turner, C Mills and Company, and Crane’s, however the subject of today’s deliberations is none of these but an opportunist from Stowmarket.

Ipswich’s manufacturing base was much wider than one single industry which is perhaps why we didn’t get the reputation of Burton on Trent, Sheffield or Stoke. Malting, the process of converting barley into malt, was a major employment sector. It was predominately a male occupation, labour intensive and back breaking. Working in the limited headroom of a floor malting was only for men of a smaller stature.

Another notable employer of men, rather than women, was brick making, with some 20 brickyards in and around the town turning out soft Suffolk Reds by the thousand for the rapidly developing Victorian terraced suburbs. Almost exclusively these were substantial houses, usually with gardens both back and front; certainly they were not the back-to-backs of northern England or the tenements of central Scotland.

If these industries were predominately a male preserve then there was an equal and opposite number of opportunities for females; in corsets, clothing, cigars (cigarettes) and domestic service. Many females were engaged in home working, particularly in the production of under-garments. Women spent many long hours at home repetitively sewing the same few stitches on similar garments for a few pence a day.

However, engineering was the largest employer, both in terms of the numbers involved and in the size of the final product. Ransomes and Rapier in particular exported sizeable machines to the developing world. It is said that in the 19th Century Ipswich exported more goods than any other port in the country.

It is no surprise that the industrial activities of Ipswich, with its connections by sea and rail (road transport was still horse drawn) attracted new business from rural Suffolk. One such engineer was James Samuel Cocksedge, who had been employed with Woods & Company of Stowmarket, a firm founded in 1812. Cocksedge had already sent his sons elsewhere to gain their apprenticeships (and knowledge of how other firms operated) when he decided to take an opportunity to buy a small engineering company in Grey Friars Road in Ipswich and make it his own.

The Grey Friars Road business included a small foundry, an engineering shop and a pattern shop (wooden shapes were made, pressed into green sand, removed and the depression filled with molten metal which took the same shape as the ‘pattern’. Cocksedge initially employed 12 men and the business was established.

The first of his sons (James Woods Arthur Cocksedge) returned from London, apprenticeship complete, to help in the family firm. Expansion was immediate and they purchased premises across the road from their original works.

When the second son, EH Cocksedge, returned from India with expertise in structural engineering (steel framed buildings) he persuaded his brother that this was the direction the company should take. This decision was the making of the firm; they spotted an opportunity, a gap in the emerging market and adapted to supply the growing demand. Structural engineering was the new method of building with larger and taller buildings pushing the known boundaries of traditional construction.

Cocksedge’s erected the three original steel-framed grandstands at Newmarket racecourse, a bridge on the first Colchester by-pass and the steel frames of the factory for Fisons, Packard and Prentice. They went on to become one of the region;s most significant structural steel fabricators, supplying everything from single steel beams to erecting some of the largest buildings in East Anglia.

In 1903 they opened a new production facility in Rapier Street which in time became their headquarters. Their slight disadvantage with this move is that they were never as prominent in the street scene as either Ransomes’ or Ransome and Rapier. The company folded in the recession of the early 1980s.

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