I can remember a steam roller at work in 1960; already they were quite rare, and most road rollers were diesel. When the Easter Fair came to Norwich Cattle Market in the 1950s there were  several showman’s engines, gently providing the electricity required from the generators above the smokebox. The weight of traction engines was a disadvantage in working the land, and already internal combustion engined tractors had taken over farm work. I can even recall seeing a team of horses pulling a reaper, but never a traction engine, unless it was part of a show. However steam rollers had an advantage in being heavy, and there was a particular occasion when I was up close to a steam roller doing its job.

Traction engine driving a threshing machine. This was about1970; an occasion, not real farm work.

The year was 1960 or possibly 1961. The road that required resurfacing was Pearson’s Road, which leaves the Cromer Road in Holt just outside Crossways. I should explain that I was at boarding school in Holt, and that Crosways was my House. I was eleven years old. The engine driver must have got up early to light the fire, because by the time I emerged from Crossways after breakfast, to begin my lessons, the steam roller was already rolling the granite chips into the road. I could not watch as long as would have liked because there was a maths lesson to attend. When it was time to return to Crossways to prepare for lunch the steam roller was still there, rolling about ten yards of stones into the tar before reversing.

During the afternoon, while I was having a lesson on the parts of speech, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. This put a stop to the task of resurfacing. Although work recommenced when the shower was over the damage had been done; instead of having a smooth surface the road was patchy with lots of chippings coming away where the rain had fallen on the wet tar. Within a couple of years the council had to return and do the job again, although this time it was with a diesel roller.

A Wallis and Stevens Expansion Engine at Woodton Traction Engine Rally.

At the time the railway still ran to Holt, and every afternoon a steam engine arrived at the other end of Pearson’s Road to collect the goods trucks that had been prepared at the yard. I remember the station adjoined a refuse dump (memorable because the gulls swooped down and dropped chicken bones on our Rugby pitch). I rather think that some rubbish was left behind by this goods train, but after so many years I cannot be sure. Now the bypass takes the A148 road along the old railway line and the original station has completely disappeared. The Heritage Line station at Holt has been moved a mile or so down the line, and the building that formerly stood at Stalham station has been erected. Of the old Holt station only the signal box remains, although that has been relocated to Weybourne Station.




The Fen Line runs from Cambridge through Norfolk to Kings Lynn. It passes through the Isle of Ely, now part of Cambridgeshire, though previous to 1965 it was a county in its own right. Before 1923 this line was operated by the Great Eastern Railway; from 1923 until 1947 it was part of the London North Eastern Railway and of course during BR days in was part of the Eastern Region. Now most of the Fen Line is operated by Great Northern, which runs trains from Kings Cross to Kings Lynn, although in normal times Greater Anglia trains from Liverpool Street use the line to Kings Lynn at rush hour. These times are far from normal, and this service is currently suspended. Passenger trains from Norwich to Cambridge and from Ipswich to Peterborough run over parts of the line. Likewise trains from Birmingham to Stanstead Airport use the section from Ely to Cambridge.

Diesel Multiple Unit at Dereham Station, on the way to Lynn

I have used Kings Lynn railway station, but more years ago than I like to admit. Then you could travel to Hunstanton from Kings Lynn, and through Swaffham to Dereham. These routes have long been closed, although I have myself used both these lines. This was in the late 1950s, when steam was still the main form of motive power, although (as you can see from the photograph) DMUs already took you from Dereham to Lynn. The Hunstanton line was however still steam hauled. In those days the obvious way to travel to Lynn from Norwich was by the direct train, which left Norwich Thorpe on the Cambridge line (now the Breckland Line) and at Wymondham it went north. It reversed at Dereham to continue to Kings Lynn. It was theoretically possible to continue on the Cambridge line and change at Ely, to continue to Lynn. Why anyone would want to go this round-about way is unclear. Now of course anyone who must go to Lynn from Norwich by train must use Ely Station. Before 1952 it would also have been possible to travel north to Wells and then west to Heacham and reach Lynn in that way, but the journey would have taken all day; perhaps more than a day. Before 1959 there was a completely different way to get to Lynn – a wholly unconnected railway system. This was the former M&GN. This took you from north (Cromer), east (Great Yarmouth) or south Norfolk (Norwich) through Melton Constable west to South Lynn station. This was not a quick way of going to Lynn, but at least it was via a direct train from Norwich City Station. The point of describing all these other lines into Lynn Station is to point out that I have never used the remaining line through Downham Market. I have only used the Fen Line as far as Ely.

To return to the Fen Line; Downham Market is one of the principal Stations on the Fen Line. First in importance must come Cambridge, then Kings Lynn. Ely has been a Cathedral City since the 12th century (and was a rich Abbey since Anglo-Saxon times), and it is  a major junction on the Fen Line. I have myself got on and off at Ely for the short walk into the City. Downham Market is small town but appears to be a charming one; as I have said, I have never been there. The other stops on the line are just platforms in the open Fens. Some serve substantial passenger numbers, but they are just villages. The whole of the Fen Line was electrified in 1992. I must also mention the carriage of sand from the Lexziate sand pits, which forms a regular freight traffic from Kings Lynn. This uses the stub of the line which used to go to Dereham until 1968.




JAMES DYSON as a teenager.

Reportedly the richest man in Britain, SIR JAMES DYSON is said to be worth over sixteen billion pounds. I take such details with a healthy pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that he is a very wealthy man. This is not entirely a story of rags to riches however. His start in life was one of privilege, even if money was tight. He was a boarder at Gresham’s School in Holt, along with his elder brother. His father had died in 1956; he had been a classics teacher at the school, and the headmaster allowed the boys to continue their education at Gresham’s gratis. James Dyson is two years older than me – a detail of no importance, but for the fact that I too was a boarder at Gresham’s from a young age. I remember Dyson and his elder brother to a degree, but I remember his mother far better. Dyson’s nickname was Dilly, and his mother (Ma Dilly) was a part time French teacher at the school.

I was a bit behind at French, because at my previous school French was taught in the afternoon, and I had to leave when the lesson had only just begun.  This was to catch the bus home. My smattering of the language was hazy; it included the word for ‘bird’ (oiseau), which I thought was spelt WAZO. As you may tell, I needed extra tuition, and so after school I went into a room with Ma Dilly to try and improve my knowledge of the language. 

James and his brother were in Kenwyn, one of two houses in the Junior School, while I was in Crossways. Although I was in was a different house we did a lot of things together. For instance there were no eating facilities at Crossways, so three times a day we went the few yards over to Kenwyn for meals. After a couple of years James Dyson went into the Senior School, and when I followed it was into a different house. As there was no mixing at meal times in the Senior School (that came in a few years after my time), and as Ma Dilly only taught in the Junior School, I largely lost touch with the Dysons. Not entirely however. James was a first class cross country runner, and I remember watching him come in first at the end of a hard slog across the Holt Lowes.  I must say that running did not impress me greatly – perhaps because I was so bad at it myself – but painting was much more to my taste, and at one time I intended to study art after leaving school. James was also an artist. Art was the nearest he got to academic achievement (art is a more practical pursuit). He went on to study art at the Royal College where he concentrated on design; a wise move which opened the way to engineering. I doubt that the graphic arts would have led to successful career for Dyson; as a teenager he was a thoroughly traditional painter, in a way that has not been fashionable for over a century. Even my father was impressed by his canvases that were shown at the Art Exhibition at Speech Day, and he only respected representational painting. 

When he left school Dyson passed outside my ken, but his productions did not. I well remember the Ballbarrow, one of his first inventions. That was in 1974; I did not need a wheelbarrow at the time, so although I was slightly intrigued by the clever nature of the ball I never possessed one. I did not discover that it came from his hands until many years later,  so I did not give James Dyson another thought until the Dyson vacuum cleaner appeared in this country in the 1990s, and the rest is well known.

After a long period when he concentrated on his inventions, Sir James (he was knighted in 2006) has recently been involved with Gresham’s once again. He has joined the Board of Governors, and is spending £19 million on a new STEAM block at the school. This is small change for him. It will teach the usual STEM subject (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with the addition of art – a nod to his own background.  Work on the building has been progressing during lockdown, so it looks as if completion will not be delayed. It is located at Gresham’s School, but Sir James wants the best teaching of these subjects to be made available to other local schools. 




Thomas Lound came from Tunstead near Stalham in North Norfolk, a few miles inland from the coast. He  was  born in 1831. He grew up to be a strapping lad. His first job was working on a farm, and as a young teenager of about fourteen years of age he would occasionally come to Norwich, driving a cart load of what were termed ‘grains’. This was malted barley, and he delivered it to the Boars Head Hotel in St Stephens Street, where they were used in the brewing of beer. This would have been in about 1845. The Boars Head had been called the Greyhound until about 1843, when it was renamed the Boars Head, referring to the arms of Richard Norgate, who had bought the pub in 1840.

Having unloaded his malt Thomas Lound was told to report to the kitchen, where the cook would give him his breakfast; so, with the kitchen staff, he sat at the long wooden table enjoying cold belly of pork with plenty of fat. He also had a crust of bread and a mug of hot tea. In those days he was still very skinny, so the fat was a welcome part of the meal. Later he became a very big man of over 6ft 6ins tall and wide with it- a veritable giant of a man. Mary Ann Giles was the name of the cook. She had been born in 1827. She came from the opposite end of the county in Attleborough. Her family had however moved to Norwich when she was not much more than an infant. Naturally she became attracted to the handsome young man from Stalham, and in the course of time they fell in love and were married. From a young age Thomas Lound had possessed a great desire to go to sea, and after their marriage he moved with his wife to Yarmouth where he took up the fisherman’s life.  They settled in a house in Blackfriars Road, where they had four children, all girls; Rhoda, Rose, Thurza and Emma.

From beginning as a simple deckhand, Thomas Lound progressed to qualify as a Master Mariner. At the time of the 1871 census he was the skipper of the smack the Cambria – you can see her (YH 444) leaving the harbour mouth at Yarmouth in the picture. She had a crew of a skipper, a mate and four hands. Thomas Lound was in his late thirties, but apart from him the oldest member of the crew was only 23, and the ‘boy’ was  just 17 years old. The members of the crew earned under a pound a week, but the master was paid according to the value of the catch. For most of the year Thomas was away at sea. He trawled the ocean for fish. Cod was then not commonly caught in the North Sea, although haddock was. The beam trawl was invented some time in the early nineteenth century; before that most fishing was done by hook and line. Trawlers did not begin to sail out of Yarmouth harbour until the fishing fleet was transferred to the river Yare from Barking on the Thames in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The trawlers were based not on the northern Yarmouth shore but from Gorleston on the Suffolk side of the river. The earlier type of fishing vessels had been the lugger, rigged with lugsails as the name indicates, where the sail extended fore of the main mast. This simple type of sail was fine for open water, but was harder to handle in confined waters such as the river Yare. ore to the point luggers were not good a handling trawl nets. Unlike the lugger, the sails of these new vessels were attached to the masts, and this allowed foresails to be hoisted. The smack Cambria  was launched on the 25 November 1869 from Messrs Smith’s yard in Yarmouth. The cost of a new trawler at the time was around £650, to include sails, rigging and a rowing tender. This was when ketch rigged trawlers such as the Cambria were the latest thing in Yarmouth, replacing the luggers to become the usual kind of trawler. These ketches had two masts, the taller of them to the for’ard. 


In the spring several smacks left Yarmouth together. They first sailed south, down English Channel and west to Ireland; then it was on to Western Scotland and eventually to Iceland. They returned down the East Coast of Scotland and the East Coast of England. Arriving home at Yarmouth in the early summer it was time for a brief period of refitting and repairs and then it was off again in the autumn to Holland, Heligoland and up the Skagerrak to the Baltic. They called at any port where there was a market for the sale of their fish, and where they could replenish their stock of ice. They returned via the North Sea and the Dogger Bank, long known to fishermen as very productive. Thomas would tell of these journeys to his eager listening grandson. The tales of the people and places and how the fish was sold in foreign parts were all fascinating to the young lad. The master mariner particularly stressed that if his grandson were ever fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the Skagerrak between Norway and Denmark he would have a wonderful sight of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. 

He sailed a smack for 40 years and when he was too old to go to sea in 1899 he was given a job as night watchman on the Breydon viaduct, which was being built by William Marriott for the  M & G N Railway. It was under construction at the time and he was able to stay to see it completed in 1903.

[My thanks go to Karen Cross who gave me this picture of the Cambria. The information on Thomas Lound came to me through his grandson.]




Bluestone Station was closed to passengers in 1916 but remained open for freight until 1959.

My Grandfather was the sub-postmaster of Cawston in Norfolk before the First World War. It was a general store which sold all manner of goods, both comestibles and clothing. His first child (my mother) was born while he was there. This was before the motor car became a common feature in the country, and to travel about he used a pony and trap. There was a railway station at Cawston, and to get the stock he sold he collected most of it from the Great Eastern Railway station in the village. However some things came by Midland & Great Northern train, and the nearest M&GN station was Bluestone in the adjoining village of Oulton. Sometimes his daughter, aged four or five, would accompany him in the trap.

Charles Rivette’s pony and trap outside the shop.

Here is a picture of his trap outside the Post Office in the High Street. As you can see, he made a special point of selling boots. As you can see, boots were the universal footware in the countryside; even the children are wearing boots. This was a magical time in the history of England; the railways had opened up the country to the wider world. Cawston got its railway station in 1880, as part of the Great Eastern line from County School to Wroxham. In 1897 it was joined by the M&GN line to Great Yarmouth at Bluestone Station in the tiny village of Oulton, a couple of miles beyond Cawston. This station was a late comer to the railway map; the line itself had been opened relatively recently in 1883.

C. E Rivett in the uniform of the RFC

Grandfather Charles left the Post Office in 1916 to fight in the First World War, and the family moved to Wymondham for the duration. When he was de-mobbed in 1919 the family left Norfolk for the town of Wolverton in Buckinghamshire (now part of Milton Keynes). There he opened a draper’s shop – he had been trained in drapery and met his wife-to-be while working in a draper’s shop in Great Yarmouth. His wife was daughter to the baker in Stradbroke in Suffolk, and it was there that he was married in the Baptist Chapel in 1908.

The Rivett family. Far left Charles, next brother Reggie and far right sister Maud.

Charles’s eldest child Joan was born in 1910 in Cawston. She grew up to train as a State Registered Nurse in Hastings; while she was living in Sussex her family moved again, back to Norfolk (Kings Lynn). There he ran a successful draper’s, Rivetts of Lynn; this continued under his son Eric and briefly under his grandson. The business closed down in the 1970s.

The second World War was difficult time; Charles’s health was failing, but his son Eric who had been assisting him before the war was on active service in India. Charles died of a heart attack aged 65, on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth, our current Queen. The date was 20th November 1947. My mother and father were due to visit them in Lyn  on that day with their two daughters. I was as yet un-thought of, so I never knew my grandfather. However I remember Grandma, his wife Connie, very well. She did not die until 1966 when I was seventeen years old.





I have always enjoyed browsing in hardware shops. The large superstores like B & Q I find less enticing. There is something intimate about  a hardware shop. About 50 years ago there was a type of shop called a DIY Store; these were all independent outlets; there was a good one here in Norwich in Grove Road, which was not far from our premises in Surrey Street. All these shops have now gone, to be replaced by branches of large national names like Homebase. These are located in retail parks, well outside the town centres. But hardware shops remain, though much fewer in number than  used to be the case.

A long vanished hardware shop. (The building off Timber Hill still exists, but it looks nothing like this!)

I remember on such shop in St Stephens Street in Norwich; it was called Leach’s. [Loose’s which I put in error, was a china shop in Magdalen Street, as a reader pointed out.] It was only a couple of minutes from my place of work, and I was always calling in to purchase the odd box of screws or a paint brush that I needed for what I was doing. There is  still a hardware shop in the centre of the city – Thorns in Exchange Street, but this is about the only one left in Norwich.  Another hardware shop was near my fathers’s former consulting rooms in Orford Place. This was Lings in White Lion Street; this too has long since gone. Like me a few years later, he was always going to his local hardware shop to buy a nut or bolt (and to chat with his friends the shop assistants), only in his time the assistants stood behind a counter and wore brown warehouse coats.

My favourite one now is the Hardware Shop in Reepham. Thus is especially unusual being situated in a small country town. As you approach the door of this shop you are met with brooms and bag of sand, which would not be suitable inside; that is where the tins of paint, hammers, garden trowels and plumbing accessories are to be found. Fire irons are less common now that so few people have open fires, but if you want a pair of tongs or a poker, this is place to find these items. A range of padlocks is available, and if you need door latch that is fine. This establishment stocks a range of  small electrical appliances such as toasters and kettles, but these are not essential in a hardware shop. Electric garden tools like hedge clippers are perhaps more to the type.

HOVELL’S SHOP IN BRIDEWELL ALLEY, This a specialist among hardware shops; to begin with it supplied other lines like brushes and brooms, but by the 1970s (when this photo was taken) it concentrated on baskets.

I could go describing the sort of things which go under he description of hardware, but I am sure you are all ware of the sort of goods I mean, even if the shops are now a rarity. Now that things are so well packaged the smell is not so noticeable, but years ago this was nice part of the experience.





Wymondham station

Unlike the mainline to London, I have never been a frequent traveller on the Cambridge Line (as we knew it before it was called the Breckland Line). I have not got on (or off) at many of the stations. In 1977 I did get aboard a train aboard at Shippea Hill. This is remarkable, because this is a remote and underused station, with few trains calling there. It was because the line between Ely and Shippea Hill was having work done to it, and our late night special was interrupted; this section was travelled by bus.Shippea Hill is not just a long way from the village – there is no village of Shippea; nor is there a hill. The area is known as Burnt Fen, and it is largely below sea level. There are virtually no dwellings there. The fact that until 2012 it retained a signal box may have something to do with its survival, but not much. There is no requirement for a signal box to have an adjacent station.

The station at Hethersett is no longer there. The explanation given is that it was a long way from the village. Hethersett was closed in 1966. For many years the derelict station building stood decaying, but in the past few years it has been restored as a private dwelling.The next station  on the way towards Cambridge is Wymondham. This station I have used at least once. This is a stopping place for all trains on the hourly service to Cambridge, and some that go to Peterborough on the way to finish up at Liverpool also stop here.  Wymondham is still a junction, in this case with the Heritage Line to Dereham. Until 1964 the line continued on to Wells-next-the-Sea, and until 1968 it met the Kings Lynn branch at Dereham.  Wymondham was also the junction for the cut-off line to Forncett on the London line. This was opened in 1881 and doubled in the First World War. It was closed to passenger services in 1939 and to freight in 1951.

After Wymondham comes Spooner Row, which is bypassed by nearly every train on the line; just a couple of trains stop there in the morning to take any commuters there might be to Norwich, and one in the evening for them to return. Even so this is only a request stop. There are two more stations between Attleborough and Thetford, Eccles Road and Harling Road, and these have a similarly sparse service. Lakenheath (beyond Brandon) has an even more basic service, with no trains at all on weekdays. The Sunday service is meant to serve the bird watching community. It is the only station on the line that is in Suffolk; although the town of Brandon is in that county, the railway station is on the Norfolk side of the Little Ouse river. Thetford is the main settlement between Norwich and Ely. It used to be a major junction, with lines to Swaffham and Bury St Edmunds , but that was closed in 1953, and the line to Swaffham fell to the Beeching Axe eleven years later. There was even talk of the closing of the whole Breckland Line in the sixties, but luckily it survived.

My suggestion that a new station at Cringleford would provide an ideal place to serve University of East Anglia, the Science Park and the hospital has several keen adherents, but sadly none in positions of power, so do not expect to hear any more about it; if however you wish to learn more of my proposal click on this LINK.






The 1st of June was first occasion when shielded people (like me) were allowed to go out of their own property since lockdown began. To take advantage of the beautiful weather on Monday – it has deteriorated since – I dedcided to ask Molly to drive to Salthouse Heath. It was cooler on the coast, but very sunny. Our dog Wesley prefers it when it is not so hot and was very excited to arrive there. I was too, because I had never been to that exact spot before. In the 1970s, when I took the photo above, I explored nearby, and in the 1960s I did some activities on the heath with the Cadet Force, but I had not been to the heathy car park. This was designated as ‘Salthouse Heath’ on Google Maps. I was certainly surprised to arrive there without a hitch. Thanks go to Google Maps. 

THE DUN COW, SALTHOUSE, watercolour by J. S. Webster.

We got a good view of the church from where we parked our car. I could also see the village, but not the Dun Cow, the local pub – not that it is open of course as lockdown continues. This delightful picture was painted fifty years ago by my art master and good friend Stuart Webster. Anyway, I sat admiring the view for about an hour while my wife and dog explored the heath. It is part of the Holt Cromer Ridge, that geological feature left by the last ice age, and gives one a grand panoramic view of the sea. The coast road is well known, but this byway just a few hundred yards beyond is a closely guarded secret. I think those who know about this place must keep quiet about it, to prevent it being overrun by tourists. I shouldn’t really be telling you all about it on the World Wide Web.

Salthouse Nature Reserve occupies the marshes next to the sea, but apart from the pub I am not really interested in the low-lying part of the village. Birds are quite interesting in a tangential sort of way, but I would not go there specially in the hope of seeing a bird, even a rare example of the species. A Sculpture Trail has been laid out along the coast, which in my opinion is quite alien to the wild nature of the landscape. This is regardless of the quality of the exhibits, though I doubt that they would be to my taste. Rather than go sculpture watching I would prefer to go bird watching and, as I have already indicated, I am not over keen on that hobby either. When I was a schoolboy I was a member of the Photographic Club, and the schoolmaster who ran it also ran the Bird Watching Club; you might think the two went together quite well, but they did not. To watch birds you need to conceal yourself in hides, which is not a great part of taking photographs. These activities took place along this stretch of coastline between Cley and Weyborne, and I took this picture of Cley church on photographic outing in 1965.

Cley church

Now back to Salthouse Heath and lockdown; personally I have hardly noticed the lockdown because I did not venture far afield before anyone had heard of corona virus, but on principal I object strongly to being told what to do and what not to do. The would almost certainly prove fatal for me, and so I do not wish to be incapacitated by it  but a mere recommendations from our governors would be enough for me.  I  would obey this to the letter, but the drastic invocation of the law was a very bad thing. The intricacies of what you are allowed to do have now got so complicated that absolutely nobody understands them. Meanwhile whole swathes of the economy have been shut down for the foreseeable future, particularly the entertainment  sector.  I would have preferred the Swedish approach, where they have not locked down the whole country. It may have resulted in a higher death rate, but not a huge increase, and it  is a risk which people have taken voluntarily for the most part. It is quite rightly an individual’s choice; it should not be a dictat from on high. However what is done is done and Salthouse Heath was lovely anyway.





In the Domesday Book the settlement was called Sniterley; that name comes from the same root as Snetisham and according to the experts it signifies a stream, though I am at a loss to say what stream that was. Certainly no stream flows out to sea at Blakeney, now or in the past. In those olden days the place we now know as a village was called a town, perhaps because this was a substantial seaport. Now the former town of Sniterley is known as the village of Blakeney. The first recorder mention of Blakeney as the name of the place was in the mid fourteenth century (i.e about 1350). A House of White Friars dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin stood to the east of the quay; the site is now the Friary Farm Caravan Park, and some medieval stonework may be found at Friary Farmhouse Holiday Home. Flints are found in abundance in the area, and that rather than wood formed the building material of the town. The White Friars or Carmelites already had an establishment in North Norfolk in Burnham Norton as well as at Lynn, Yarmouth and Norwich . The National Trust site that provides a pleasant place for visitors to relax and view the saltmarshes (that were part of the friary) does not allow dogs, so I have no intention of going there myself without Wesley.

BLAKENEY QUAY in 1957 (it is me paddling the canoe).

John and Thomas Thobury and John and Michael Storm gave 13½ acres of Sniterley to the Carmelites in 1296, and the order proceeded to erect a dwelling place for their members. Storm and Thobury were tenants of the Lord of the Manor Sir William Roos, and Sir William contributed 100 marks towards building the accommodation for the friars, with the proviso that he and his wife (Lady Maud) could stay there whenever they were in town. The site was further extended in the following years.

Blakeney harbour

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 the site of the Friary was acquired by the Crown. It was then purchased by William Rede, a mercer from London. What his connection with Blakeney was I do not know, because he transferred it to fellow mercer Sir Richard Gresham less than a month later, so obviously this was the intention from the start, though why Gresham could not have bought it in the first instance is obscure. Sir Richard Gresham was (unlike William Rede) a local man, born in nearby Holt. His son Sir John founded Gresham’s school in the family Manor House in Holt where ‘Old School House’ still houses the infants’ department.

BLAKENEY BAND (19th century).

The village of Blakeney became increasingly remote from the sea as the saltmarshes accumulated and Blakeney Point extended to the west. The nearby settlement of Cley became the major port of the eastern part of the North Norfolk coast, eclipsing Blakeney. Although in the diaries of Mary Hardy of Letheringsett (around 1800) vessels were still being laden and unladen at Blakeney, en route to places along he coast and even in Europe, Cley got an impressive Custom House. Perhaps this was because Cley lay on the river Glaven,  so it did not dry out completely twice a day as Blakeney does. As the nineteenth century wore on Blakeney became increasingly a port for fishermen rather than cargo ships. In the twentieth century it became concerned with leisure boats  using the harbour for their sailing dinghies, and ferries carrying people visiting the seals on Blakeney Point. It is again a much busier place than Cley.

At the time when the railway from Melton Constable was first mooted it was proposed to route it through Blakeney, but in the end it was taken through Holt instead. This would not have affected the village greatly for the whole line lasted less than eighty years.




The de Haviland DH 60 Gipsy Moth biplane

Like the Tiger Moth, the Gypsy Moth (lymantria dispar dispar) is a type of European flying insect. During my teenage years Gispy Moth was the name of a pioneering singlehanded circumnavigational sailing yacht. In the second quarter of the twentieth century however this name was better known as that of the de Havilland biplane, first flown on the 22nd February 1925.  The Gipsy Moth I refer to in this blog is the biplane.

Before the Second World War air travel was still a novel, and for most people, a very unusual form of transport. The vast majority of individuals never envisage taking a plane journey anywhere. It was reserved for the adventurous even more than the for rich, though you needed to be pretty wealthy too. Even for this well-off  part of population, travel was principally by train (if overland) or by ocean liner (if overseas). Almost nobody went by aeroplane; the airline Imperial Airways was formed in 1924, twenty eventful years after the Wright brothers had initiated powered flight. In 1909 Louis Blériot had been the first to fly across the English Channel. Ten years later, after the great advances brought in by the First World War, Alcock and Brown had been the first to fly across the Atlantic ocean. In these early days the only protection from the elements was a flying jacket and a pair of goggles. In 1930 Imperial Airways introduced the Handley Page Hannibal, a four engined biplane which would carry up to 24 passengers and 4 crew. Thankfully, by then they were all under cover. This plane flew air mail and the bravest travellers; first to Paris, and  services were introduced to the nearer parts of the British Empire. As you can see, the numbers were tiny, even amongst those fortunate enough to travel abroad.

MEMBERSHIP CARD of the Norfolk Gliding Club, 1935

MEMBERSHIP CARD of the Norfolk Gliding Club, 1935. Note my father was flight secretary.

My father was one of those few early aviators. He was very interested in flight and aeroplanes from a young age. In October 1934 he went to RAF Mildenhall with thousands of other spectators to witness the competitors taking off for the MacRobertson Trophy Air Race to Melborne, Australia. (RAF Mildenhall had been established in 1930.) How he go there I do not know; he did not own so much as a motorbike at the time, although her borrowed one from his employer Cecil Amey – perhaps that was how her got there. Otherwise Mildenhall was on the national rail network until 1962, so maybe he went by rail. This race was expected to take the best part of a week to accomplish. In fact the last plane to complete the course took several months to do so. The race was won by Grosvenor House, a DH88 Comet that took just under three days of flying time. This wood built twin engined plane was the predecessor of the WWII de Haviland Mosquito light bomber. Besides witnessing the start of the Great Air Race, my father was also a participant in flying. He was Flight Secretary of the Norfolk Gliding Club (see the membership card to the left), but this organisation was severely hampered in its activities by possessing no glider! However he was frequently taken up in a Gipsy Moth from Mousehold Airfield, just north of Norwich. This is now an industrial estate and the site of several retail warehouses.

A Gipsy Moth cost a modest £650 new, but this was infinitely more than my father could afford. However, his friend Henry Stringer (1901-1977), ten years his senior, owned a Gipsy Moth which he flew from Mousehold. This airfield had been established as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome during WW1, becoming RAF Mousehold in 1918 when the Royal Air Force was created. It was used by Boulton and Paul to test fly the aeroplanes that they built not much over a mile away in their city factory. The planes were taken up St James’s Hill to Mousehold Heath on special trucks along an extension to the Norwich tramway system. The route which they took across the heath you can still trace in parts. The Norwich & Norfolk Aero Club had been formed in 1927, and Henry Stringer was an important member. He also belonged to the national organisation, The Royal Aero Club. In 1933 the airfield became the first Norwich Airport, although scheduled flights were not then a regular feature of air travel from Norfolk.

The logo of the club from 2010; they now have a glider!

Joan Rivett, later to become Frank Mason’s wife (and in due course my mother ) had trained as a nurse in Hastings, and in about 1933 was working in Brigg in Lincolnshire. There the former workhouse was being used as a cottage hospital. At the time she had fallen out with her boyfriend Frank and had returned his engagement ring to him by post. This breaking off of the engagement he was not prepared to accept, and with Henry Stringer he flew to North Lincolnshire to re-present the ring to her. My mother must have taken it back; perhaps the dramatic way it was presented to her had something to do with it.

On another occasion she was nursing on the Isle of Wight, and my father and Henry flew there from Norwich. All went well, including crossing the Solent, until it came to the landing at Shanklin air strip. In those days there were already plenty of designated airfields (no doubt more than there are today) but they were just grass fields. As Henry touched down the plane instead of coming to rest on its tail skid tipped forwards onto its nose. The wooden propellor had its tips broken off, but otherwise no damage was done to the machine or its occupants. They had to wait on the Isle of Wight while the Aero Club obtained and fitted a new propellor. My father claimed the broken one as a souvenir; this remained in our possession into my time, but it was never mounted with a barometer in the middle as my father always intended. The Moth was of course an open plane, and so you had to wrap up warm.

Marriage in 1935 and subsequent arrival of two daughters interfered with his aeronautical dreams. With the coming of war he might have revived these thoughts had he been drafted into the RAF, but as an optician he was directed into the instrument maintenance branch of the RAOC (later to become REME). By the time I arrived on the scene, ten years after war broke out, such things were distant memories. He didn’t fly again until the 1960s, when my sister was living on Guernsey and the airline age was taking off. Viscounts flew daily from Gatwick, and we used this service many times when visiting her; my father also flew on a 1940s built Dakota to Guernsey from Norwich Airport, once this facility had opened.

CLICK HERE to watch an early film of a Gipsy Moth in flight.