Picture this: How we used to live

BROTHERS Fred and Whallie Plummer were under no illusions about how dramatically life could change in the span of one generation. The family forge set up by their father, Harry, at the end of the 18th Century used to enjoy brisk business.

BROTHERS Fred and Whallie Plummer were under no illusions about how dramatically life could change in the span of one generation.

The family forge set up by their father, Harry, at the end of the 18th Century used to enjoy brisk business. By the late 1960s, however, its destiny was set: it would soon become another traditional village enterprise overtaken by “progress” and industrialisation.

Fred, the blacksmith at Somersham, near Ipswich, for more than 50 years, said in 1968: “Father came to Somersham 75 years ago and opened the smithy. There were fifteen in the family, including nine boys. At one period there were three of us boys helping father and there was a time when we used to look after the shoeing of nearly 140 horses.”

The brothers are just two of the characters, many of them solid and skilled craftspeople, peeping from between the covers of a new book published by the East Anglian Daily Times.


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Photographs drawn from the archives show at a glance how much life has altered in the last 50-odd years - and certainly since the turn of the century.

While locations might be readily identifiable - the Station Hotel in Ipswich, for example, is still as much of a landmark as it was in the spring of 1953, when elephants from Chipperfield's Circus arrived in town by train - occupations, pastimes, domestic arrangements and clothing have undergone seismic change.

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Hence we see the last blacksmith and farrier working in Ipswich, Mr A Whiting, pictured in 1964 in his workshop off Spring Road - the forge having been built by his father in 1897.

There's a 90-year-old mole-catcher sitting atop a wicker basket at Parham, near Framlingham, in the 1950s - looking like he's slipped from a Dickens novel.

Of even more eccentric a bearing is another mole-catcher. Mr J Austin apparently went by the evocative moniker of Krongi in the Martlesham area, near Woodbridge and also claimed to be able to cure warts. Judging by his picture from 50 years ago, he lived with his dogs in a wooden caravan.

There's more: three weather-beaten fellows cutting willow at Creeting St Mary in 1961, and saddler and harness-maker Mr Pearson in his workshop at Washbrook, near Ipswich, in the 1950s. There's basket-making in the sunshine at Wickham Market during the same decade, and a study in concentration as William Hewitt makes decoy pigeons in the summer of 1957.

The pictures for Suffolk From the Archives, the third publication in the series looking at the county in years gone by, have been selected by Dave Kindred. The former senior photographer with the EADT is well aware of what they chronicle.

“The photographs capture a way of life, most of which has gone forever,” he says. “Many of the crafts and skills common in every town and village have been replaced by the throwaway society we now live in.

“Until the 1960s most items in everyday life were repaired over and over again. This kept craftsmen busy repairing items they had sometimes made originally years before.

“Wheelwrights, basket makers, blacksmiths, cobblers and similar skills were available to everybody within a short distance of where they lived. Now a long drive is often part of finding these skills.

“Today few items are repaired. Everything from shoes, clothes, furniture and electrical items are thrown away when they are in need of some attention because the cost is often close to the cost of replacement.”

Happily, he acknowledges, while many of the old crafts might have dwindled, they haven't died off completely; skills such as thatching are still needed and practised in the county.

“Fortunately, working conditions have improved greatly since many of the photographs were taken. Life in the sack factory in Ipswich or the horsehair factory in Hadleigh look primitive. Many people spent their entire careers in conditions which would be outlawed today. Others were paid little but loved the way of life, which meant working in their own village as a carpenter, mole-catcher or something similar.”

Suffolk From The Archive is published by Archant Suffolk Limited at £7.95. ISBN 780954873707

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