Ipswich’s Forgotten Railway
serving the Grove and Dales brickyards
by Patrick Enfield. Published in Suffolk Fair magazine, August 1981

["My great great grandad brought his family down from Clackmannan. He was Joseph Paterson. His son, Thomas, was my granny's father and he lived in a Grove Cottage and was a bricklayer. She was called Jane Dougal Paterson. She told me she remembered walking across fields to go to school. Not sure which school. –Jen Greatrex"
Jen has also sent this article about the Dales brickyards, where her great great grandfather gets an honourable mention.]

See also our Brickyards page for more on the Grove and Dales brickyards and a map of the light railway.
My great grandfather, George Airy, who was one of the Great Eastern Railway Company's 'crack' express drivers, once told me that when he drove directors of the company down the line to Felixstowe to admire their recent acquisition, little was to be seen from either side of the embankment which carries the line from Norwich Road railway bridge into Westerfield but open fields. Apart from agriculture, only one industry was present – brickmaking.

"The high grounds about lpswich are composed of sands and brickearth, the greater part of which appears to belong to the period of the middle glacial … At the brickworks on the Henley Road the boulder clay is worked and ground up for the manufacture of various articles and frequently good specimens of ice-marked stone may be obtained here," wrote the author of an Ipswich directory published in 1900.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 11The pond at the end of The Grove: a remnant of the brickyard?
Many years before  that was written, John Luff of Tuddenham had established a brickworks at the top of Sherrington Road opposite Broom Hill Swimming Pool. After closure this became, for a time, a miniature rifle-range and the site is now a recreation ground adjacent to the Old People's Home. However, it is another brickworks in the area which concerns us.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 6   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 7a2015 images
Off Henley Road a short cul de sac leads to Grove Farm and there in the last century R.G. Kirton, in association with Alfred Beaumont, opened the Grove Brick Yard. Nearby stood Grove Cottages, built in 1880, which one year later provided homes for three employees: Thomas King, William Kennel and William Spurling. R.G. Kirton, who managed the concern, lived further off with  his family of six children in a separate dwelling called Boulder House, situated midway between Dales Hall Lane and Henley Road, a site which has now disappeared beneath the gardens and houses of June Avenue.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 24
R.G. Kirton started his business with a capital of 200 and attempted to bring out a patent chimney pot which unfortunately failed to catch on. Financial difficulties engulfed him and he appeared before a London Bankruptcy Court in June, 1886, when he stated that Messrs. Rosher and Company had taken over his liabilities of 350 and given him 90 for the business.

The acquisition by F. Rosher and Company  of the Grove Brick Yard coincided with a period of rapid expansion and change. The firm was London based and directed similar enterprises at Blackfriars, Chelsea, Limehouse and at Sittingbourne in Kent. ln lpswich it had riverside premises at New Cut East, probably those originally operated by Jonathan Chinnock and Company as a glazed stoneware depot at Three Cranes Wharf [see our Wet Dock map].

F. Rosher and Company were determined to exploit  their newly acquired brickworks in lpswich to the limit. They thought in big terms. The existing brickworks were greatly enlarged and a new one constructed at the end of a rough cart track leading off Dales Hall Lane (the future Dales Road).

The distance between Westerfield Station and the Eastern Counties Brick and Tile Works, which was the grand title now conferred upon the "upper" brickworks  formerly known as Grove Brick Yard, was negligible. In order to avoid the awkward indirect haul by road the directors decided to link their brickworks with Westerfield Station by means of a narrow gauge railway. Accordingly an advertisement was prepared which invited tenders for the construction of a short line three quarters of a mile long. None of the replies satisfied Messrs. Paterson and Dixon, a nephew of Mr. Rosher, who had come down from Scotland with Mr. Paterson in 1885 to help run the business. Surely the job might be done more cheaply? Certainly there was no lack of either ballast or willing hands.

One of the platelayers at Westerfield Station was persuaded to leave the railway. He was put in charge of a construction gang and work commenced. The line pursued a sinuous course and one amusing story of its construction concerns the manner in which the construction gang solved the problem presented by curving the straight rails. As the men lacked machinery with which to do this they placed the rails upon wooden blocks and jumped on the rails until they assumed the desired shape. This would have been impossible had the rails possessed a standard gauge section.

Little information has been preserved regarding the rolling stock. The locomotive was an 0-4-4 coupled tank engine constructed in Leeds in 1887. Mr Maude, who has lived in the immediate vicinity of  the "lower" brickworks for many years, recalls that the waggons were of two types: flat trucks carried the bricks and pottery whilst tip-up hoppers carried the coal.

Production was divided between the two brickworks. The upper brickworks specialised in pottery where tiles, drainage pipes, chimney pots, flower pots and pots for blanching seakale were made under the supervision of the Wingroves, father and son. The lower brickworks concentrated upon the manufacture of bricks. The company's locomotive, driven by Joseph Paterson who also carried out repairs, moved these artefacts up to Westerfield Station where they were unloaded and stacked. The train then made the return journey to the brickworks loaded with coal for the kilns.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 17   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 16Top of today's Dales Road
[See the 1930 map of the Grove/Dales brickyards for the location of Dale Hall, which gives this area its name.]
Victorian manufacturers often built houses for their employees and this may have been the first with respect to a terrace of seventeen houses known as Prospect Cottages. These stood in Dales Road on a site now occupied by The Dales public house, its adjacent supermarket and two bungalows. Eight 'brickmakers' lived in Prospect Cottages in 1891: James Kemp, John Woods, Alfred Mills, Thomas Daldry, E. Prentice, John Morgan, Fulcher and Henry Welham (foremen).

Three years later Mr C. Bagshawe Dixon was living at Crosslea House which still guards the entrance to the cul de sac which leads from Henley Road to Grove Farm. Its massive, square, three storied red brick tower singles it out for attention amongst its neighbours. [It seems clear that by the late 20th century this house had been demolished and that recently-built houses to the left of The Grove entrance now occupy the space.] It became the company's office and remained as such after Mr Dixon moved away to Elton Park in Hadleigh Road. Mr Joseph Paterson occupied a house called Netherton near Grove Cottages. Both men were therefore a part of what was in effect an enclosed village community separated from the rest of lpswich. F. Rosher and Company were not unmindful of the welfare of that community which was dominated and unified by its raison d'etre brickmaking. A social club was established and there was a works band which became a popular attraction at fetes and social functions.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: The Grove junctionSite of Crosslea House
F. Rosher and Company appear to have operated the two brickworks for a period approaching twenty years. By 1904 the concern had come back into local hands as a result of its acquisition by Bolton and Laughlin. Both these gentlemen lived in Henley Road: the former at Lyndale and the latter next door at Daleside. The name Laughlin disappeared after the Great War and the business thenceforth was known up to its closure in 1959 as A. Bolton and Company Ltd.

Reference has already been made in an earlier paragraph to a rough cart-track leading off Dales Hall Road, and it appears likely that it was the imminent transformation of this into a made-up road leading into Norwich Road which contributed towards the closure of the railway. In 1921 before the proposed new road bad become a reality, the little-used railway and the upper brickworks near Grove Farm were described as 'disused'  and by 1927 the tracks had been lifted. It is indeed fortunate that the magnificent revised Ordnance Survey map of 1902 with its generous scale of 25 inches to the mile, has recorded for posterity in precise and comprehensive detail every yard of the two mile long line as  it then appeared. From this it is possible to give an exact description of its course between the termini at Westerfield  Station and the lower brickworks erected in Dales Road.

The traveller who passes through Westerfield Station on his way to Ipswich will probably have cast a cursory glance at the vacant stretch of uneven ground on his Ieft which comes into view immediately after his train has left the crossing gates. That "stretch of unneven ground" was once the transfer siding. From Westerfield Station Ipswich bricks and tiles were sent to all parts of the country for A. Bolton and Company Ltd. had built up a high reputation for their products. In 1932 the official handbook of lpswich stated that:
"The works of A. Bolton & Co. Ltd. have been established for many years, and produce red and multi-coloured facing bricks, moulded bricks, arch and rubber bricks, creasing and roofing tiles and fire-place briquettes all of excellent quality. Among the many buildings in which  the firm's facing bricks have been used are the lpswich housing schemes, (which at that time would have included the Racecourse and Gainsborough estates), Public Library, the East Suffolk and lpswich Hospitals, Greenwich Baths, Martlesham Aerodrome and Lloyds Bank, Littleport."

Let us return to our traveller. Should he care to look down the line towards Ipswich he would see, a little beyond the steps of the  stile, the mouth of a cutting in which the brick trains ran parallel with the main line. The cutting is so deep that the locomotive and train would have been hidden from view. The cutting is now filled with an impenetrable thicket of brushwood.

When the line emerged from the cutting it swung round to the left and proceeded over a field towards the Eastern Counties Brick and Tile Works. Five eighths of a mile from Westerfield Station there was a junction. The original line curved sharply to the Ieft and ran down for an eighth of a mile between some large rectangular areas filled with water, probably reservoirs or "pug" basins, and ended in a Y terminus beyond some kilns.

From the junction the one and three-eigths of a mile extension straightened out and passed by an enormous depression, visible to  this day, the result  of several years’ extensive excavation for brickearth and boulder clay, before it reached a second junction from which a spur led off a short distance to the left. The line now passed beneath a small oblong structure, probably the engine shed, and then took a diagonal north-east/south-west path between Grove Farm and the Mission Hut, long since converted into a private house.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 15
From Grove Farm the line proceeded southward in a direction and position which brought it almost parallel with the present public footpath between Grove Farm and Valley Road. Almost half way down, the line swung round to the right in a great ninety degree curve, necessitating slight banking and cutting, and then ran under a bridge beneath Henley Road. Part of this "great curve" now lies beneath the recently-erected houses belonging to Vere Gardens estate. Apart from the deep cutting at Westerfield Station, the Henley Road railway bridge, or rather part of the same, is now the only tangible evidence that the railway ever existed. It is remarkable that in view of all the developments which have taken place in the area and a lapse of some ninety years, that one parapet of that railway should still survive.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 3Bridge parapet outside 110 Henley Road
The short stretch of line between HenIey Road and Dales Hall Lane was supported upon a low embankment, the sole example in its entire length, and the line passed under Dales Hall Lane beneath a second and more narrow bridge of which not a trace remains; though the distance between the level of Dales Hall Lane and that of Baronsdale Close, confirmed by the blank wall in which the latter ends, is evidence enough to those with some knowledge of the railway.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 20
From Westerfield Station to Dales Hall Lane the line had an unexciting, even gradient; but from Dales Hall Lane it fell away quite dramatically and one imagines that the small locomotive would have found the steep haul up from the brickworks to Dales Hall Lane very taxing. Miss Madge Borrett, an Ipswich resident now in her eighties, recalls that this event was always accompanied by much fuss and splutter.

Running almost in a straight east-west direction from the great curve the line veered to the right after leaving the second bridge, presumably to avoid the pond, though there were also two large pits, now filled in, until it met Dales Road, which it skirted for the rest of its distance to the terminus by the kilns. Two spurs were sent off to the left.

The entire line consisted of single track and the absence of both turntable and loop raises some questions concerning the way in which the trains were propelled. Did the locomotive pull the trains up from the brickworks? If so, in order to head the train back, it must have shunted the unloaded waggons into the cutting, separated, and waited on a tiny spur which led off at that point whilst the empty waggons were man-handled back so that if might be attached to the front. If this did not take place, the original train – now heavily laden with coal – would have been let down the steep gradient below Dales Hall Lane by a straining locomotive in reverse acting as brake, its wheels probably slipping badly on wet rails in inclement weather. Perhaps the train was permanently headed by the locomotive facing towards the lower brickworks so that the trains were pushed up the gradient and backed into the transfer siding?

A second mystery surrounds the abandonment of the line. Here there is more light, for it is known that this coincided with the retirement of the driver Joseph Paterson just after the Great War. After a quarter of a century's wear and tear it is more than likely that the locomotive would have been in need of fundamental repair, if not replacement, and possibly the cost involved plus the necessity to hire someone to both drive and maintain the locomotive might have been considered extravagant by Bolton and Laughlin, especially as the upper brickworks had hen closed and Dales Road now provided an easy outlet to Norwich Road. These considerations rest upon a speculative basis; but there is evidence to support that basis and nothing to contradict it.

The "enclosed village community" referred to earlier produced some fine examples of long service amongst the brickworkers; and it is appropriate here to record two names amongst those who remained to the end:  Mr. Charles Spurling, who commenced work at the brickworks at the age of 13 as the son of William Spurlins who had worked at the Grove Brick Yard for Beaumont and Kirton, the original proprietors; whilst Mr. Fred Lewis, the last foreman, and his father and grandfather were likewise employees whose combined service spanned many decades.

At the time of closure it was stated that the workforce had declined within three years from twenty to six and that production had fallen from 60,000 bricks per week to 20,000. Quicker and cheaper methods of mechanical production and foreign competition were said to be the cause of closure, though those reasons did not impress the workers who considered that their hand-made Suffolk “reds” were of superior quality.

[The above text taken from an articled
by Patrick Enfield published in Suffolk Fair magazine, August 1981.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 21   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales/Grove 22
Here is the Ipswich Borough Council information board which stands at the entrance to today's green space/playground.
"The 141/2 acre Dales open space was purchased by Ipswich Borough Council in 1973. It was formerly [not 'formally': sic] used for clay and sand excavations for local clay brickworks and despite this being closed in 1959, signs of the digging operation can still be seen.
Due to these excavation works, this area is very undulating and together with two ponds formed from spring rising from the ground, a varied wildlife habitat is formed. Prickly clumps of gorse and brambles provide a haven for many creatures including many small mammals, reptiles and a very rich and varied birdlife. Foxes, hedgehogs and rabbits are often seen here and newts, frogs and toads are frequent visitors to the marshy area. The tussocky grassed area is rich in wild flora and the low lying wet area contains many bog plants such as horsetails and the willow herb.
As seen in the plan below, Dales open space is surrounded by houses which has proved to be a real boon to the birdlife as the gardens form necessary feeding areas especially in winter when food from the resident bramble, elder and hawthorn bushes is diminishing."
See also our Brickyards page for further examples of this Ipswich industry, from Wherstead Road to the California estate.


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