Cinema in Ipswich
Post war Ipswich had five main cinema buildings, some of which were purpose built, plus several halls and theatres which regularly showed films. Few people owned a television and so The Gaumont in St Helen’s Street (now known as The Regent Theatre) would be packed with people who wanted to be entertained and informed.
As well as the main film, there would be a supporting (or B film) plus a news reel from Pathe News. Smoking was permitted everywhere in the auditorium.
Colin Moss, The Gaumont Cinema Audience, 1948
The cinema goers of Ipswich in person
“This painting records a different kind of absorption: that of a weary, ration-fed audience in silver screen fantasy. Three or four bodies are picked out in profile by the projector’s reflected light, slouching down, expressionless. There’s nothing to say about them, no more than about the out-of-focus crowd behind them. They are self-contained, fixated on the same thing. Captivated in isolation, glued to the screen.” The Junket.
Today in Ipswich, the Regent occupies the site of the Gaumont Cinema and is, instead, a performance arts theatre which hosts a multitude of shows and events each year. It has been recently refurbished and seats up to 1,551 people.
The interior of the Regent today
Talking about this painting to Chloe Bennett in the early 1990s, Colin talked about his influences at this time. “I had come across Daumier’s work in the V&A as a student and I acquired a big illustrated book about him in 1941 … His beer drinkers, smokers and theatre audiences probably had some influence on me … I used to go to the cinema a lot. Of course everybody smoked in cinemas in those days, there was a thick haze of tobacco smoke…” Colin Moss: Life Observed.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was a French painter, caricaturist and draughtsman whose work often reflected upon the social political conditions of 19th century France. Daumier’s caricatures often mocked the social conventions of the French middle class and also the incompetency of the French Government. Daumier contributed to the journal Le Charivari for many years and arguably his most controversial lithograph was his depiction of the French king Louis Phillippe “Gargantua” – for this he was imprisoned for six months. In his later career, Daumier was one of the pioneers of realist subjects which probably explains why Colin was so interested in him.
Honoré Daumier, Gargantua, 1831
“Ipswich was a town of bicycles. In the 1950s it was supposed to have more bicycles and motorcycles per head of population than any other town in the country. There was a wonderful wave of workers coming out of the factories …. They had the Bull, the steam whistle which would tell people the time in Ipswich when they finished the shifts, and we knew they would come surging out until they got to the hill, then they’d get off and push.” Peter Underwood The Ipswich Society.
Colin Moss, Uphill Workers 1955
Colin’s interest in portraying the lives of ordinary people dates back to his student days at the Royal College of Art. His 1936 painting, Hunger Marches, was part of his Diploma show in 1937. “His unconventional decision to paint the men as they were seen from behind emphasised their upright determination as a body of humanity rather than as a collection of individuals. This was a device which would become almost a trade mark in several of Colin’s future paintings and drawings.” Colin Moss: Life Observed (Chloe Bennett).
Colin Moss Hunger Marches 1936
Ipswich’s industrial heritage included names that were widely known. Engineering companies such as Ransomes Sims & Jeffries, Ransomes & Rapier and Cranes exported goods around the world and employed generations of Ipswich workers. Colin’s 1950 ink and gouache drawing “Ipswich Cyclists” captures three workmates cycling home in the dark from work. One man leans across to chat to his fellow cyclists and the headlamps of the three bikes glow in the gloom.
Colin Moss Ipswich Cyclists 1950
The picture of the cyclists below was taken in the late 1940s at the bottom of Bishops Hill with Fore Hamlet in the background. Round the corner from the sprawling Ransomes Sims and Jefferies plant, a loud steam-powered horn, known to the people of Ipswich as “The Bull”, would summon people to work.
David Kindred, Ipswich Fore Hamlet
Today the area around Bishops Hill and Fore Hamlet is largely unrecognisable. The road was widened in the 1960s to make way for four wheeled traffic, rather than two wheeled, and new buildings have sprung up on both sides of the road.
Fore Hamlet from the bottom of Bishops Hill Photography Michael Jolly
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For many years, Tuesday was market day in Ipswich. The thriving livestock market saw cattle, sheep and pigs being auctioned. The streets surrounding the market area thronged with people and the numerous pubs in the area (now all closed) did a roaring trade on market day.
The Tithe gift sale at the Ipswich Cattle Market (photo by David Kindred )
The men who worked with the livestock had a tough job. The work was hard and the conditions often unpleasant. Colin’s 1956 pastel “Cattle Drovers” depicts two cattle drovers whose job it was to drive the livestock down Princes Street, from the railhead near Princes Street bridge, towards the livestock market in Portman Road.
Colin Moss “Cattle Drovers” 1956
“Lots of people in the period after the war, and who’d been in National Service, wore clothes they’d got in the army as uniform because clothing was rationed. One of them is wearing an ex-army greatcoat. A lot of people used to wear these gumboots with socks that came over the top of them. These men are quite typical of working men at that time. No man went about bareheaded in the street”. Colin Moss: Life Observed
From Jarrow to Ipswich
Twenty years earlier, whilst a young student at the Royal College of Art, Colin had seen the Jarrow Hunger Marchers as they walked through London. His 1936 painting “Hunger Marchers” was the first of many images he produced throughout his long career depicting ordinary men and women. “I like to draw working-class people because they are more interesting than middle-class people”. Colin Moss: Life Observed
Colin Moss “Hunger Marchers” 1936
The End of the Cattle Market
The cattle market was part of Ipswich’s history for centuries. Its location changed several times over the years as the town expanded. In 1856 the cattle market moved to its final site on (what was then) the town marshes, the area which is now between Portman Road and Princes Street. The last livestock market was held in the town in January 1985.
The docks area of Ipswich has been used for trade for well over a 1000 years. When Colin started teaching at the Ipswich Art School in the late 1940s, the dock had yet to transform into the stylish waterfront we see today. The commercial landscape, with its wharves and warehouses, proved to be a source of inspiration for both Colin and his students.
“I used to think the Docks were the best thing about Ipswich. I used to take a lot of sketching classes of students down to the Docks, and in those days they were far more free and easy about where you could go there.” Colin Moss: Life Observed.
Colin Moss “Ipswich from the New Cut” (1950)
Yeast and Sugar Beet
Judy Foster, one of Colin’s students between 1955 and 1959, was similarly impressed. She particularly remembers “a peculiar kind of smell from the Docks, the yeast … the maltings and the sugar beet which wafted one way or another, depending on the direction of the wind.”
Colin Moss “Ipswich Docks” (c1950-55)
A European Sensibility
“What made Colin special was that he brought a European sensibility to local art. He studied with Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg, Austria and absorbed his very colourful view of the world. When he returned to Suffolk, he produced a series of local landscapes including views of Ipswich Docks which he executed in a very strong, vibrant style. The local people hated it – he painted these pictures in strong pinks and purples, not all the colours he was seeing – but this was the influence of Oskar Kokoschka.” Tony Coe – John Russell Gallery, Ipswich
The Waterfront Today
Over the past two decades, Ipswich’s waterfront has been transformed. Now a stylish area of restaurants, shops and apartments, and with a thriving marina, buildings from the waterfront’s rich maritime past, sit alongside developments from the new.
Ipswich Waterfront today – photography Michael Jolly