History of Cranfield Mills, Ipswich Waterfront

June 21, 2017

The waterfront at Ipswich, once the biggest wet dock in Europe, had become a run-down docklands area which was ripe for redevelopment. Within that, Cranfields Mill closed in 1999 and became an eyesore in the town. Nearby, the port of Ipswich is a crucial part of the Haven Gateway, which includes Felixstowe, Harwich and Mistley – together they are considered to be the single most important cluster of ports in the UK.

The East of England Development Agency (EEDA) led a partnership across the public and private sector, including Ipswich Borough Council and Wharfside Regeneration (Ipswich) Ltd, as well as other partners as the scheme developed. With a £4m grant in 2000 for the purchase and decontamination of the 0.4ha Cranfields Mill site, EEDA stimulated the wider regeneration of Ipswich Waterfront.
The former flour mill was demolished and the first foundations for the £70m site were laid in June 2007. The site is now home to The Mill, the tallest building in Suffolk and a cultural and architectural beacon for the town. The Mill includes the new £7.9m Jerwood DanceHouse which was supported with a further £1m of funding from EEDA. It will provide the first custom-built dance facility in the East of England and a headquarters for dance agency DanceEast. The DanceHouse was officially opened on 30 October 2009.

This was not so when David Markwell, of Kirby Close, Ipswich, started at Cranfield’s mill in Ipswich in 1963. Cranfield Brothers mills, which stood close to Stoke Bridge at Ipswich dock, employed thousands since the company was founded by John Cranfield in 1884. I featured the company a couple of weeks ago when reader Richard Wadwell wrote seeking the history of a painting that used to hang in his father’s office at the mill.

Mr Markwell explained how life was starting at the mill as a lad in the 1960s. “In 1963 Mr Wadwell interviewed me for a job as a junior clerk at Cranfield’s. During the interview I was reprimanded by Mr Wadwell for not calling him ‘Sir’. Nevertheless I must have made an impression as I was offered the job and started work at the rate of £5 per week in September 1963. At the time Mr Wadwell was company secretary and the firm was a private limited company.

“Mr Wadwell later became joint managing director with Peter Wilks and in due course we were taken over by Associated British Foods, trading as Allied Mills Limited. I found Mr Wadwell to be a fair boss, who looked after his staff while, being a Yorkshire man, he also looked after the company’s pennies!

“I had a long career at Cranfield’s, it was a happy firm to work for and I made lots of friends there. In 2000 I had an invitation to join Allied Mills Head Office at Brentwood for a short-term position, which in due course became permanent. In February 2003 part of the Allied Mills business was acquired by ADM Milling Limited and the Allied Mills office was moved to Tilbury. I, together with a number of my colleagues remained at Brentwood with ADM Milling Ltd, where I remain to this day.”
Richard Wadwell also recalled Sydney Bird the company’s head carpenter.

Diane Hill (nee Bird) said: “Sydney was my great uncle. I believe he passed away in the late 1950s. He worked at Cranfield’s for many years, as did his father before him who was involved in the building of the present site in the late 19th century. When Sydney retired, my grandfather, William Bird, took over his role as head carpenter, spending over 30 years with the company. He passed away in 1973. I spent three years in the office at Cranfield’s 1989-1991. I would often go to the archive room and find pictures of William and Sydney, and also of my other grandfather on my mother’s side, Cyril Finbow, who also spent over 30 years working at Cranfield’s. I was able to go to the carpenters’ room in 1989 and still find tools stamped with my grandfather’s initials ‘WHB’ even though he had retired 40 odd years earlier.”

Emma Roodhouse, the art curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums, said: “We are preparing an exhibition of art work related to the demolition at Cranfield’s that has been depicted by the artist Valerie Irwin. It will run at Gallery 3, Town Hall, from Oct 2009-Jan 2010. For the exhibition I am trying to track down people with links to Cranfield’s.”

Did you work at Cranfield’s? write with your memories to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN.
Caption Cranfield’s Mills at Ipswich Dock in 1949.

From an article in the Evening Star (not dated)

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