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E.R. & F. Turner, milling engineers

Next to the Ransome companies E.R. & F. Turner was arguably the most important and significant engineering firm in Ipswich, with a history stretching over considerably more than a century; a successor company retains the old name.

Originally known as Bond, Turner and Hurwood, the firm was established in 1837 in premises between College Street and the Orwell later to be named St. Peter's Works. Edward Rush Turner and his two partners went into business as iron founders and general engineers, producing ironwork for the dock project that was taking shape on their doorstep between 1837 and 1842, but it was as specialist milling engineers that the company eventually became known nationally and even in a world-wide context.

The 1844 White's directory lists Bond, Turner and Hurwood as iron founders and agricultural implement makers, suggesting that in the firm's early days it was a rival to J., R. & A. Ransome at Orwell Works and at the Old Foundry in St. Margaret's Ditches. The parallel was carried further when both firms produced their first steam engines during the 1840s and when in 1849, the year Ransomes completed their move to the Orwell Works, Turners expanded into the Greyfriars Works at the corner of Quadling Street and Wolsey Street. Again like Ransomes, Turners exhibited a portable engine at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and in time the 'Gippeswyk' engine became well known; a hundred years on the firm's telegraphic address was 'Gippeswyk, Ipswich'.

The firm was much involved in the building of the Wet Dock, providing the original lock gates for the dock entrance in the New Cut, and it was no surprise therefore when George Hurwood, one of the original partners, left to become dock engineer, succeeding Henry Palmer, who had been primarily responsible for planning and overseeing the construction of the dock and its ancillary buildings.

An advertisement that appeared in the Norwich Mercury in 1852 shows that while the firm was beginning to specialise in linseed and corn crushing mills it was still prepared to do more general work. Describing themselves as agricultural implement makers, ironfounders, millwrights and engineers, Turners called the attention of 'Agriculturists, Graziers, Maltsters, Horsekeepers, and others to their Unrivalled Roller Mills, for crushing Linseed, Oats, Malt &c.' and announced that 'All kinds of Agricultural Implements are made at the above works. Also every description of wrought and cast iron work, Mill Machinery, Steam Engines &c. Plans and estimates furnished on application.'

Edward Rush Turner did enter local politics, becoming a town councillor, but he seems not to have taken a prominent part in council affairs. The writer of a pen-portrait in the Suffolk Mercury in 1873 described him as performing his public duties with so much modesty, and with so little fuss and noise, that he had attracted little attention from the public.

Turners was one of several British companies that claimed responsibility for introducing roller milling technology into this country. Whereas in the traditional method of milling grain is ground in a single operation between two circular stones, one fixed and the other rotating, in roller milling the grain is broken and then ground between rotating steel rolls, passing from one set of rolls to another and being converted to flour in a succession of operations. As early as 1863 Turners were manufacturing middlings-crushers in which rolls were employed in conjunction with stone mills for the gradual reduction of wheat into flour.

Firms such as Turners kept their eyes on developments in Hungary where experiments with roller mills culminated in the successful introduction in 1878 of a complete roller system in which the wheat was produced without the need for traditional stones. Experts were sent from Ipswich to Hungary to investigate the new system, and within a few years Turners were producing a complete roller-milling plant on what was known as the Harrison Carter system. After the termination of the agreement with Mr. J. Harrison Carter the whole business was taken over by Turners. Many of the mills erected by the Ipswich firm both in Britain and abroad were equipped with Turner steam engines and boilers, and also with complete transmission systems produced in Ipswich.

The manufacture of steam engines by Turners continued until 1908, but by that time the firm had developed the milling side of the business to a point at which specialisation forced it to concentrate its energies on roller mills, grain cleaning machinery and similar plant. Nevertheless, the company produced oil engines for some years more. The firm not only manufactured the roller-mills but also undertook the casting of the chilled-iron rolls using a special process and a special mixture of metals to produce a hard-wearing surface of a controlled depth on a soft supporting matrix. These chilled-iron rolls, which were used in the manufacture of paint, ink, rubber and even chocolate as well as in flour milling, were exported all over the world.

Turners had a special interest in the industrial development of South Africa, where they ran their own business in Capetown and Johannesburg for many years. While erecting and equipping many flour mills there Turners also supplied mining machinery, winding engines and other equipment to the gold mines in the Transvaal. The South African business was later transferred to agents, but machinery and equipment continued to be exported from Ipswich to that country for a very long period.

As you eat your breakfast cereal it might be interesting to reflect that E.R. & F. Turner were among the pioneers also in the development of maize flaking machinery used to produce flaked cereals for both human breakfasts and animal feed. In fact the firm erected the first complete maize flaking plant in the country, and in the year of its centenary claimed that the majority of the flaking plants in Britain were of their manufacture. During the First World War Turners contributed to the war effort by producing a single-purpose lathe designed by works manager Mr. Arthur Leggett (later chairman and managing director) for the accurate production of shell bodies and components by unskilled operators. In 1919 the firm joined the ill-fated Agricultural and General Engineers Ltd along with Garrett's of Leiston, Charles Burrell of Thetford and other similar engineering businesses. It was in that period of control by AGE that Bull Motors, set up in Stowmarket in 1898 by Napier Prentice to manufacture quiet-running DC electric motors, moved to St. Peter's Works, becoming an integral part of the Turner company when AGE crashed in 1932. The company was restructured in 1933, and in 1937 as the firm celebrated its centenary work began on a new factory on the site of the closed Valley Brickworks in Foxhall Road. Both the production of electric motors and part of the milling machinery production was transferred to the new works.

An advertising brochure headed "Nous offrons 90 machines de meunerie en plus de 1000 dimensions" and "Construites dans la fabrique la plus moderne du monde de machines de meunerie et representant le resultat de plus de 100 ans d'experience" underlines the international aspect of their trade. Dating from about 1940, this brochure illustrates projects in Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, Egypt, Iraq, India, South Africa, Australia, South America and China.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the company again contributed to the armaments programme, at the same time producing many installations for the separating, cleaning and drying of flax, which began to be grown in Britain when overseas supplies were cut off. The company also played its part in facilitating home food production by manufacturing and installing large numbers of grain cleaning, drying and storage plants. E.R. & F. Turner was taken over in the post-war period by a similar firm operating in Gloucester, and in 1969 the Ipswich firm of W.G. Gosling and Sons Ltd purchased the Ipswich company along with its drawings, patterns, spare parts and the work in progress at the time.

Bob Malster