The Work Furnace

Lighting up the lost industries of Ipswich

"I have heard that Ipswich was once described as the 'Glasgow of the East'. Indeed with a population of over 100,000 in the post-war years, the town represents a seismic shift in a predominately agricultural county."

"Why Ipswich? Well, the town developed from a grain handling port to a port handling raw materials and finished goods for export. The River Gipping was navigable to Stowmarket, and then the railway connected to the town to the rest of the nation."

"As with all industrial revolutions, the development of industries in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the expansion of Ipswich by building of new houses with the services being provided by the municipal authority, Ipswich Borough Council. It also led to the development of different industrial  sectors - there was in particular heavy industry, brewing, agriculture, food and printing. Many of these industries operated in separate and distinct areas of the town. For example: most heavy industry was by the docks or had access to the railway network; brewing was mainly just off-centre/waterfont  area, as well as food products; bakeries were prevalent in the Whitehouse area; clothing manufacturers were concentrated around the Tower Ramparts and Woodbridge Road areas."

"The industrial base provided prosperity and along with it a fine shopping centre with two main department stores. In the Ipswich of my youth you could find whatever you needed; in the early years a mechanics institute over time eventually became Ipswich Civic College and then Suffolk College. There were many pubs, some restaurants, at one time a public hall in Westgate Street (where Primark now is), a theatre, and from the 1930s a professional football club at Portman Road. Firms within the town also had sporting and cultural activities for their employees, and many employees stayed with one employer all their working lives."

"The Ipswich of today has become more service orientated - we no longer export engineering expertise across the globe and as a town, like many others, we have become enthralled with online shopping. Over time the proud industrial history has been effectively 'airbrushed' out of existence and as memories fade there would have been no way of future generations knowing the impact that Ipswich firms had on the British and international economies."

"The Work Furnace project goes a long way to redress the lack of knowledge and building an understanding for the future."

---Graham Day

Discover The Work Furnace...

Click here to take a look at our exhibition co-created using photos, documents and words shared by former factory workers of Ipswich.