A response to John Norman’s Ipswich Icons (EADT 8.5.2021) about The Ipswich Bed Company (Barnes, Ransomes Industrial Estate), founded by Thomas Barnes, more recently run by Peter Barnes but, following his retirement, now run by his daughter Chloe Last (née Barnes).

You have produced yet another very interesting article about Ipswich and the latest about the Barnes Company turned my mind back to when I worked in Trafalgar House, although I never knew it had such a prestigious name. I started working there in 1954 as a sixteen year old trainee Screen printer at Chamberlin Signs & Displays (CS&D). This was my second job after working at Burton Son & Sanders in College Street, where I was a trainee printer. 

Photograph:Barnes of Ipswich shop in Tower Ramparts, 1990s.

CS&D produced all types of screen printing from giant street posters to Paul’s pig bats. There were also ticket writers, signwriters, carpenters and a painter who produced display work for shop windows and the shop floor. I worked on the first floor where the printing took place above the car showroom area which was at street level, although I cannot recall any vehicles being in the showroom, maybe they had already moved out. 

However, I do remember that when the sign writers, of which there were at least three, used the vehicle lift to hoist small vans or pub signs up to the second floor so they could work on them, the whole building shuddered when the lift transported the items. On the floor with the sign writers there were about three ticket writers who worked at an amazing speed to write with various coloured paints to produce shop tickets.  At sale times they produced the thousands of tickets for all the large department stores in Ipswich and beyond, they worked on large slightly sloping benches from long lists provided by the stores. I can never remember ever seeing them having to rewrite a single card because of a mistake, but they did discourage anyone talking while they worked. 

There was also a painter who had his spray booth up on the top floor between the rafters, where I rarely saw him wear a mask. The narrow design studio and tea room overlooked the Zebra crossing in Crown Street and we would watch the antics of pedestrians as we supped our tea. Each floor was very open and spacious, with the sign writers drawing up and painting the small vans and inn signs there. Health & safety was unheard of back then, whether in hours worked or fire safety.

We had a contract with Tolly Cobbold to repaint and refurnish all their inn and pub signs, so there was always a continuous flow of these signs being worked on. Screen printing in the 1950s was a rather messy business with all types of solvents involved, plus ink, paper, card and wood all a high fire risk.

We worked very long hours that included a 44 hour week with Saturday mornings included. There was always lots of overtime too, even at my age. My rate of pay was £2. 6s per basic week (one shilling more than at Burtons) A man was only being paid about eight to ten pounds per week at that time. Some of my friends were only getting 30 shillings, so my rate was good.

In 1956 we were bought out by Mills & Allen the national billposting company and we then moved to a large wooden four story building behind Suffolk Seed Stores in Princes Street, but that’s another story.   

Ken Nichols

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