It was in 1850 that the Ipswich Freehold Land Society, with its shareholders’ money, bought a large area of land to the north-east of Ipswich belonging to the Cauldwell Hall Estate. The land was bordered by Woodbridge Road to the north, Foxhall Road to the south, Cauldwell Hall Road and Britannia Road. Spring Road at that time was known as Grove Lane. Plots of land were allocated to its members. One Friday, men carrying pick axes and shovels walked up the hills to ‘stake their claim’ and because it was at the time of the great American gold rush this new area of Ipswich was called California.

Soon there would be a St John the Baptist Church and school built in Cauldwell Hall Road, California Chapel on the corner of Cowper Street and California Boys School in Spring Road. With the growing population by the beginning of the century larger churches were needed so St John's C of E was built in Cauldwell Hall Road and still stands today; St. John's Congregational Church was built next to the California Chapel.

By 1898 my grandfather Durrell had opened a fish and chip shop at 167 Spring Road, probably one of the first such shops in Ipswich. Grandfather had been a seaman and, visiting Lowestoft, had seen these shops becoming popular. He thought this a good place to set up shop as the horse drawn trams came up the hill as far as Cauldwell Hall Road so people would pass his shop and call in. The shop was in a terrace named Giles after the builder's son and the only stipulation was that it could not be a beer shop. Behind his premises was his smoke house, fish was collected from Wrights of Eagle Street and also Derby Road Station by his sons. One hundred bloaters would sell for one penny! Here he also bred bulldogs. His stud dog Referee having passed his peak was exchanged for a three-quarter ton sack of potatoes valued at £1.7s.6d. The highest price for an animal being £5.5s.0d.

The Spring Road area of California is where both my Durrell and Saunders families lived. Both sets of grandparents were married in St John's Church and the story goes that some couples who married before the church was dedicated had to re-marry! Most members of the two families were baptised and married there but later the younger members of the Durrell family seem to have married at the new St. John's Congregational Church which was built next to the old California Chapel.

This area had a very close-knit community – large families and not much money. People looked out for their neighbours. My grandmother always had a basket of baby clothes ready for a new arrival. On a Saturday evening, Grandfather always cooked more fish and chips than needed so that on Sunday morning my aunt, carrying a large wicker basket, took the ‘left overs’ to the poor of the district for their Sunday lunch. She was known as ‘The Angel of St. Johns’. 

Tramps would walk up the hill on their way to Heathfields Workhouse, where now the Two Rivers Surgery stands. This was a regular sight, stopping at Tom Newton's, the cobblers, to leave any pennies they had for safe-keeping. These were put in a little cupboard in his workshop and when the shop was eventually sold, many years later, little stacks of coins were found, witness to a kindness shown. Another relative once owning the Brickmakers Arms always provided a clean shirt in exchange for one needing washing and repairing for these men of the road. Just some examples of the community spirit at the time. 

The Durrells were a large family: seven boys and four girls. The oldest boy told of going to a field near Barnards Mill on Woodbridge Road to pick up stones, these used for building roads; another of getting up early before school to deliver milk and one of helping in a bakery. As the boys grew, they joined the Boys Life Brigade at California Chapel and became good footballers. A number of them went on to play for Ipswich Town and Ipswich Town Babes. 

Opposite the shop was Buscall’s the butcher and Mr Lee had the shop on the corner of Cauldwell Hall Road with the Post Office. When my mother was twenty-one her father asked her what she would like as a present. Unlike her older sisters she did not want a gold bracelet but knowing her father was becoming unwell she asked to take over the shop as a florists and greengrocers. My mother married into the Saunders family in 1931. She ran this shop until 1945 when the last family member died and the house was no longer being needed as a family home.

By the time I came on to the scene, I feel not  much had changed. My grandfather Durrell was no longer around but there still remained his last bulldog, Bonzo. Also another legacy from grandfather was a bad-tempered green parrot in a huge cage. My brother tells that when this parrot died, he went up the garden with my blind aunt and buried it. The butcher’s was now owned by Mr. Copsey and the corner shop was run by one of my Durrell uncles who had married Mr Lee's daughter. Mr Lee ran the Post Office on the opposite side of the road next to Greengrass’s, a gentlemen’s outfitters and Mr Welham's greengrocers on the corner. On that corner was the horse trough, one of many which stood at the top of most of the hills ready to refresh passing horses and even dogs at a trough underneath. 

Mother ran the shop, so much of my young childhood was spent in this environment. I remember vividly having to sit quietly so my uncles could listen to the one o'clock news, I could feel the tension as it was just before declaration of war. The old wireless wheezed and crackled, the battery having to be taken to Harvey's just up the road to be recharged.

There were lots of small shops in this area. Next door was the barber’s – John Hamilton had moved here when the slum area of Fore Street was demolished. He had been offered a place in Reynolds Road where people were being re-housed but chose to come to Spring Road. In the same row was a couple, Mr and Mrs Bee, who sold bird seed and such like. A dear little couple who, looking back, reminded me of characters from the children's programme Trumpton. I must not forget Mrs Dickman at the sweet shop where, in the war years and until rationing ended, we children went with our sweet coupons every Saturday to get our weekly allowance of 2 oz. of sweets. And, of course, Mr Harry Starling, the chemist’s at the corner of Kirby Street, where everyone went for advice rather than call a doctor. Round the corner in Cauldwell Hall Road was the Co-op grocery, their butchers opposite and, at the top of Upland Road, the Co-op bakery built in 1904. Just into Bloomfield Street was Mr. Smith's market garden. My brother and I remember having to collect various vegetables for mother's shop. I quite liked this job as on the corner of Spring Road and Bloomfield street a lady sold penny drinks from her front room so I always stopped there!

In those days everything was delivered by horse and cart: coal, greengrocery, bread, milk, beer. Just down the hill on the right was the drift to the blacksmith's where Mr. Whiting had his forge. The farrier would walk the horses from their stables to the Smithy. Some of the Suffolk Punches looked difficult to handle, the Farrier having to pull hard on their reins, whilst others trotted sedately down the hill. I can still picture those horses on a frosty morning, foaming at the mouth with clouds of steam belching from their nostrils and the loud clatter of hooves on the icy road. There never was any shortage of garden manure in those days, a bucket and shovel always at the ready. 

Lots of tramps still walked past our shop on their way to Heathfields. They looked dishevelled and dirty with their belongings in a bundle over their shoulders and a battered tin mug tied on with a piece of string. I suppose there were female tramps but I cannot remember any. Gypsies too were regular visitors, such colourful characters with their long swaying skirts, babies tied on with a shawl, carrying their baskets of pegs, lace and ribbons. I must say I was a bit scared of them. They had parked their beautiful, old-fashioned, caravans on Rushmere Heath but I don't think they ever stayed for more than a day or two. 

One visitor to our shop was a short, bent, scruffy man with an oily cap, long coat, a sack on his back and a permanent drip on the end of his hooked nose. I declare my mother was scared of him. He walked in from Ufford to sell his watercress. Mother always bought some from him. My brother and I would wash this in a bowl of water and look for tadpoles. No pre-packed watercress in those days. Hygiene was a thing for the future. 

A familiar sight was Mr Robinson, the chimney sweep, black from head to toe, cycling along with his poles and brushes resting on a little platform at the side of his bike. When shrimps were in season Mr Gibbs from Woodbridge Road came round with a large basket in front of his cycle, ringing his bell and shouting ‘Harwich Shrimps, lovely Harwich shrimps!’ And of course, the rag and bone man visited regularly, just like Steptoe and Son!

Down the hill in the grounds of Cauldwell Hall was a lake with a number of pink flamingos. We were all sad when one day, we heard that these beautiful birds flew up into the trolley bus wires on the nearby Spring Road and were electrocuted. 

I must not forget the two schools. All of my two families had been pupils at St. John's School with girls staying there to finish their education whilst the boys went to California School in Spring Road. Masters at the boys’ school were strict and were very liberal with the cane. Of course, we younger generation all went to St John’s, staying until we took the eleven-plus. By that time California School was an annex to Copleston Road Secondary School. Behind the St John's School was a vinegar factory. 

This area seemed, to a young child, like a sanctuary – little traffic and long days, a close-knit community where all shared in the joys and sorrow of their friends and family – so important during the war years.

Now as I travel along Spring Road, I feel a great sadness as the shops have almost all gone. I have difficulty locating where my mother's shop was, gardens replacing where once the shoppers congregated and gossiped. No longer are there any white Ipswich trolley buses: No. 3 to Whitton and 3A to Adair Road, just the half-hourly red bus to Felixstowe. Somehow, the soul has gone out of the area. 

California? Yes, the Boys School still stands now re-named Parkside Academy and on Foxhall Road the California Bowls Club. A name forgotten by most and I wonder if the bowlers know the history behind their club name. 

Maureen N. Frazer (née Saunders)

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