Ipswich Icons - What went on at that old dairy building?

dairy institute

dairy institute - Credit: Archant

I was given a postcard the other day with the suggestion that I researched the history of the building featured, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

Howard House, Gippeswyk Avenue

Howard House, Gippeswyk Avenue - Credit: Archant

The postcard was of the Eastern Counties Dairy Institute in Gippeswyk Avenue. I had never heard of the building, nor the organisation, there were no other clues as to why there should be such an establishment in Ipswich, and the person donating the postcard had simply found it in a box of similar items.

I decided to start looking at Reading University (Museum of English Rural Life) where there are comprehensive records of the East Anglian agricultural industry including many papers from Ransome Sims and Jefferies. I was on to a winner.

It transpires that towards the end of the nineteenth century, when a considerable number of people had moved from the countryside and were living in towns, they were still drinking raw milk that was being produced in crude, sometimes insanitary conditions. Fresh milk is a live product, full of micro-organisms, bacteria (good and bad) and essential minerals, and the populous inevitably drank fresh milk, the idea of pasteurisation having not yet been considered.

But milk was a readily available source of protein, and the railways had made distribution reasonably swift. Not however always swift enough, for back then there was no refrigeration. As a consequence, drinking milk was not without risk, and the government were keen to eliminate the risk.

Ipswich Railway Station Picture: ARCHANT

Ipswich Railway Station Picture: ARCHANT

Concerned by the negative impact raw milk was having on urban communities, the British Dairy Farmers Association met in Aylesbury in 1888 to consider setting up a research and teaching institution – The British Dairy institute.

At around the same time Reading University established, with support from the Board of Agriculture, an Agricultural Department and the British Dairy Institute was incorporated into the University. In 1910, the Institute was expanded to become the country’s leading centre of education in the Dairy industry.

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As with any University, Reading’s key role was research, by staff and students whereas teaching was carried out at other centres, the Midland Agricultural and Dairy College (Kingston on Soar), The Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester and at the Eastern Counties Dairy Institute in Ipswich.

The Institute was primarily a teaching establishment delivering short courses to dairy farmers, dairymen and herds men. They travelled (by train, hence the location of the building) from across East Anglia and stayed for two or three days for each course.

The key to the research at Reading was the vision of clean milk, free from microbes and visible dirt. There was much deliberation as to the need for compulsory pasteurisation or simply scrupulously clean environments in the dairy. The dairy on Reading University’s model farm was equipped with concrete floors, improved lighting, drainage and ventilation. The cows were washed in a separate shed before being milked and the milk was conveyed in stainless steel equipment, all standard procedure today but somewhat revolutionary between the wars.

It wasn’t until after the First World War that the idea of ‘clean milk’ began to have an impact. A Government leaflet published in 1919 ‘The Dairy Cow and Selling Milk’ makes little mention of clean milk and the first ‘clean milk’ competition was held at the Essex County Show in 1920.

By 1924, clean milk was the norm and clean milk competitions were held at most County Shows. The competitions continued until 1936 by which time the Milk Marketing Board had established the Accredited Milk Scheme.

The Milk Marketing Board was established in 1933, a producer run organisation that led the way in ensuring that there was sufficient milk to meet demand, and to act as a buyer should there be over production. A key role was to increase demand through advertising, you might remember ‘Accrington Stanley – who are they?’ in the 1980s. The Board was disbanded in 1993.

The building was demolished in the early 1930s, replaced by a reasonably large (for a residential street) factory manufacturing lubrication oils, belonging to ER Howard Ltd.

The factory (Howard House) was demolished in 2000 and residential accommodation built on the site but retaining the former name.

• See more from John Norman here