The Poplars: a modern view

Greetings from New York City.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Diane Brown, and my grandparents, Frederick G. Laws and Evelyn Barker Laws, lived in Ipswich in a large Victorian mansion on Henley Road near Christchurch Park, probably from the 1930s to 1960s. My sister and I stayed with our grandparents there in the summers of 1954 and '55. Because the memory of that time is so vivid, I returned last year to see the house, which is now Bethesda Eventide, a nursing home.

On our visit, we were shown something I didn't know existed. In the basement of the house was an old door, and on it a large paper with a record written during World War II, when my grandfather had converted the basement into a bomb shelter for the family. My mother was 14 years old at the time and her sister was 10. Each time they went to the shelter during an air raid, they wrote a line on the door with the date and any observations. For me it really brought to life the experience they had as children during the war – for example, my mother wrote that she had to miss hockey because of an air raid, and forgot her gas mask. They also noted where unexploded bombs were found, and which nearby houses had been damaged during recent raids.

The record has been partially damaged by water, but enough of it is still readable to make it very interesting. If anyone from the Ipswich Historic Society would like to go and see it, I would be very happy to donate it to the Society. My grandfather was a Director at Cocksedge and Company Ltd. I believe he helped design a ramp for landing craft at the Normandy invasion. 

The house is at 59a Henley Road in Ipswich. It was called ‘The Poplars’ when my grandparents lived there. Here are some photos. Please let me know if you have any interest in the document.

Diane Brown

Photographs of Frederick and Evelyn Laws












Chairman John Norman writes:

What an interesting story: a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the war, as experienced by a small child and her sister in a relatively quiet* provincial town. This type of document really belongs in Suffolk Record Office and I have written to Diane on this subject.

(*relatively quiet in comparison with other manufacturing towns. Ipswich wasn't, thank goodness, blitzed by blanket bombing – surprising, given that the engineering companies had turned a considerable proportion of their production over to the war effort.)

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