Neither JOSEPH nor MASON are uncommon names, and there have been many Joseph Masons over the years. None has been exactly a world-famous character. One Joseph was a maker of musical clocks in London during the 1830s. Coming up to date Joseph Mason (born 1991) is a Championship footballer who currently plays for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Perhaps the best remembered name was that of the founder of the Joseph Mason company, maker of paints and varnish. These tins of paint with name Joseph Mason prominently displayed were a common sight in the shops which dealt with professional painters when I was younger.Through various amalgamations the name disappeared in the 1990s. Joseph Mason was born in Derby in 1762. When he was married in 1787 his occupation was recorded as gardener. He became established as varnish manufacturer and the firm of Joseph Mason and Co was established in 1800. Joseph Mason died in 1826 but the firm went on from strength to strength. Early on the firm’s paints were used for painting the Royal carriages, so they must have had a good reputation. The Mason family involvement with the firm came to an end in 1871 but Joseph Mason Ltd continued to flourish for more than a hundred years.

The American artist Joseph Mason was born in 1808, the son of a bookseller in Delaware, Ohio. He became the pupil and then assistant to the well known John James Audubon, namely for illustrating The Birds of America. Joseph painted the backgrounds to over fifty of the plates used in the book. These botanical studies are a significant part of the appeal of the work. When the book was published he thought that he should have been given credit for his contribution. After his two years with Audubon he made his home in Cincinnati where he worked as a teacher of art and as a portrait painter. He may well have become better known if he had not died in his thirties.

There have been generations of holders of this name in my own family. My great-great-grandfather was another Joseph Mason (born 1815) who worked as a tailor in the village of Tittensor near Stone in Staffordshire. His son, another Joseph, worked as a gardener in Trentham (if you recall, the paint manufacturer in Derby started off as a gardener; gardening must have appealed to these men, as it does to me). The gardener’s son Joseph (b. 1879, my first cousin twice removed) worked for the North Staffordshire Railway (the Knotty) in Stoke on Trent. He was a storeman. His son Joseph was born in 1908 and died in 1975.

Published by the University of Melbourne Press

One of the most interesting Joseph Masons was transported to New South Wales in 1831. He was yet another gardener (b. 1799) and had been working in the central Hampshire village of Bullington. His only crime was to take part in the protests against threshing machines which had broken out across the country in the previous year. Unusually for an early nineteenth century labourer, he could read and write, and do so voraciously and fluently respectively. He could only be an irregular correspondent while a convict, but after the rural protesters of 1830 were given free pardons in 1836 he was able to return to England. Once there he wrote a full account of his life in Australia. This was written for a fellow radical, a Hampshire shoemaker. The manuscript was discovered over a century later and was published in 1996. He eventually rose to be a tenant farmer of 26 acres in Berkshire. Poor health made him give up farming but his neighbours enabled him to stay on in the farmhouse where his wife was able to raise chickens. His brother Robert who had also been transported to Australia remained behind in that continent, and did not visit England until 1864, the year after Joseph’s death.

His memoir is addressed to a fellow radical, one Charles Bastin, and covers many aspects of life in the early colony. He particularly mentions gardening in the outback. There was little native fruit, and of the introduced species, the best for growing were peaches. He expressed sympathy for the native Aboriginal people. In contrast to the hunger that had often been his lot in England, there were so many sheep in New South Wales that the meat was often thrown away. Dogs were companions to the convicts and could live on the offal that was freely available.



The Volkswagen Beetle was the car that our family doctor Heppie – a Scot whose real title was Doctor Hepburn – used to come out to see me when I was very young. I was suffering from those childhood ailments, like whooping-cough, measles and mumps, that have now been largely consigned to the past and banished from our lives. Injections against these diseases were not available when I was a little boy. Although uncomfortable, these illnesses were not regarded as anything other than the necessary adjuncts of growing up, but apparently they were life-threatening. A new black Beetle was a superior motorcar in the early 1950s – the sort of car you would expect your GP to drive in fact.

My earliest experience of riding in a Beetle was on the occasion when my father’s car was out of action for some reason, and he hired a Beetle from Robinson’s. Robinson is still the Norwich VW dealership, but in those days it was located in a garage just opposite Bishops Bridge in Riverside. The garage is still there, now a branch of a tyre fitting company. At one time it was used by a firm called Godfrey’s as a DIY shop. We needed a car because my father had arranged to do an ‘out-test’ (he was an optician and this was his phrase for a domiciliary visit) for Mrs Fakes in Hemsby. Mrs Fakes had kept the village shop in Hemsby when my father had been a regular visitor there before the war. His father (my grandfather) had built a wooden chalet which he erected on the sand dunes. The sands had been under the sea a few years before, so there was no question of  buying the land from the previous owner; I think he just bagged it (Poseidon could not be contacted).

What I recall about the car was my discovery of a narrow slot behind the back seat which was meant for luggage. VW Beetles retained this feature to the end; when I first discovered this narrow aperture I was small enough to crouch inside it. I happily rode home there. I did not need to worry about my not wearing a seat belt in the car – they did not exist then. My father, who was quite safety conscious, had one fitted to our Hillman Husky in about 1961. They were very new at the time, and were entirely optional; most people pooh-poohed the very idea. Whatever do you want one of those silly things for? The first seat belts were just a single transverse strap from the pillar by your shoulder to the floor, and my father only had one put in for the front seat passenger; even he thought one unnecessary for the driver; the steering wheel would protect him in the event of a crash.  There was no strap across your lap, so in a pile-up you could easily have slipped out it the he belt had not been tightened by hand; when you were closely restrained at all times. The automatic tensioner that locks you in if the car suddenly decelerate was a much later development.


Fast forward over thirty years and the VW Beetle was still going strong; it had been phased out of production in Europe, but it was still being made in South America. My father-in-law-to-be had just bought a new  VW Jetta, and he passed on his faithful old red Beetle to Molly, his daughter and my fiancée. He had bought it in 1973 when they were still being made in Germany, and had kept it for a dozen years or so. When I married her about 18 months later I also married her Beetle! My own car was an old Ford Escort estate, and as it had recently failed its MOT. I got rid of it, and we relied on the Beetle as the family car. For personal transport I got myself a moped.

We must have kept the Beetle for almost 10 years, all through our children’s childhood. The place to go for servicing and repairs was by then Woolley’s Garage in Hingham. Mr Wooley specialised in Beetles. Once I had a go at removing the air cooling duct myself, to replace some parts, but the fiddling with endless screws while lying on the ground convinced me to leave this job to the experts in future. It is a journey of 17 miles from Norwich to Hingham, so it was quite a trip there and back. We certainly didn’t wait in Hingham until the work on our Beetle was finished. I cannot remember how we got back home again, but I suppose Mr Wooley lent us a replacement vehicle – another Beetle of course! It was pleasant to have an excuse to look round the small market town (more of a large village) of Hingham. In those days it had a splendid old ironmonger’s shop, and a secondhand emporium that was worth a browse. It was from Hingham that Samuel Lincoln, the ancestor of America President Abraham Lincoln, left for a new life in the New World in the year 1637.

Eventually we sold the Beetle. With two children, almost teenagers, we had outgrown it, and it was over 20 years old by then. It still had some years of life left in it, but it was in need of a thorough overhaul. I last saw it for sale on a garage forecourt in the village of Felthorpe.




This pretty village has some dark periods in its history. At the time of the Black Death Ringland was used for burying the dead of Norwich; on the way to Costessey, Ringland Lane used to be known as Black Lane  and the Woodland behind is still known as Blackhill Woods.  The area was a huge charnel pit, where after more than 600 years this grisly memory is kept fresh. The bodies would almost certainly have been brought here by boat, as this part of Ringland lies adjacent to the river Wensum.

The village has a population of 260; in the year 1845 it was half as big again. In 1920 it was a larger village than its neighbour Taverham, where the major paper mill had closed twenty years before and the non-resident squire had yet to sell the land in the village. Now Taverham has a population of over 10,000 and is a dormitory for Norwich. The nature of Ringland has changed too, from a community of poor farming families and tenants to one of wealthy owner-occupiers.

Ringland Hills are unusually steep for Norfolk and were formed as a terminal moraine in the ice age. My earliest memory involves being taken to Ringland Hills in my father’s Singer car. By the time I was 8 he had bought a brand new Hillman Husky, so I can’t have been more than 7  and was probably much younger. Now the grassy slopes where I used to picnic are overgrown with brambles. During the 1930s they were a popular place for holding both motorcycle trials and sports car events. Since then Ringland Hills have fallen into dereliction; even the assault course which at one time used the hills is now no more.  Now cars squeeze along the narrow lanes of Ringland and cut up the verges. They use the road as a short cut to the A47; a sign says ‘NO ACCESS TO TAVERHAM’, but however much the authorities would like this to be true it is a lie. There is no law that I know of which only allows residents of Ringland to use the road; it is either a public right of way or it is not, and Ringland Road is a public right of way.

During the First World War my father was brought to Ringland Hills for a Sunday afternoon treat. They are fairly close to the city and so Ringland Hills were a popular place for a stroll from Norwich. In those more energetic days when there were no cars for ordinary folk, a hike for a few miles into the countryside from the city meant a few hours well spent.  My grandparents and their two young children walked all the way from the last tram stop on the Dereham Road; I think it must have been too far for the little legs of the boy, who must have got over tired. Anyway, he misbehaved himself, and was rewarded by his father removing the leather strap round his waist and giving his son an almighty belting. Corporal punishment was the norm in those days; nevertheless it must have made a deep impression on my father, as he still remembered it fifty years later, when he used to recount the experience to me.


A hundred years ago, when my father was taken to Ringland Hills, the bridge across the river Wensum was just a flimsy wooden footbridge, as it had been for many years before that. A field was rented out to provide funds for its upkeep. Anything heavier than a pedestrian had to ford the river, and you can still see where the road went across the green opposite the Swan pub. This popular Ringland pub is where we took our daughter Polly for a meal on her 18th birthday. The setting was marvellous, but the meal was disappointing. Then it was Australian themed cuisine  called ‘The Taste of OZ’. The owners have since returned to the Antipodes, but the quality of the dining has not improved to any extent.

Recently the church held a medieval festival with an exhibits of some of its ancient records. There was a concert of medieval music, and the church was almost full for the performance on Saturday, which was great. (It was well attended for the medieval Songs of Praise on Sunday evening too.) In the chancel was displayed a piece of the medieval rood screen, severely damaged by the sixteenth century iconoclasts, but still hauntingly beautiful. Also on display was the marriage register from the 1780s, where one may see the signature of James Woodforde, parson of the adjoining parish of Weston Longville. The current marriage register dates back to 1843, and the church warden has recently had to buy a replacement! The church was begun after the Black Death, except for the tower which is slightly earlier in date. Some churches are austere and rather forbidding, but Ringland church is a friendly place. It has a peaceful airy quality and has a high number of original stained glass panels. The glory of St Peter’s church is the wonderful hammerbeam roof, and it has many carved angels looking down on the congregation.





Revd Benjamin Armstrong

Although he was a local man by birth, the Reverend Benjamin Armstrong travelled down from London to Norwich by train on the 14th of September 1850 to take up his new appointment. He came from Shoreditch station in London via Bishop’s Strortford, Cambridge and Ely by train. He remarked on the view of Ely cathedral; just six years earlier this would have been a much more arduous journey; then the only railway line open in Norfolk had been that from Norwich to Yarmouth. After the ceremony in Norwich cathedral he travelled on to his new living in Dereham, again by train. This town had been reached by railway just three years earlier. The station master was immediately an important person locally, and Armstrong makes a point of recounting his wife’s background on the day when he baptised the family’s daughter. The station master’s wife came of Huguenot stock, and her family had been involved in the shawl trade in Norwich.

With the new method of transport Benjamin Armstrong could make day trips to Kings Lynn or Lowestoft. London was easily accessible. He could travel to Oxford via the varsity line, a journey we can now can only dream about. Great Yarmouth, where he was amazed at the hundreds of fishing smacks, from Holland, France and of course Britain, was another popular destination. In the summer the flat-bottomed Dutch boats could bring tons of plaice, haddock and turbot to the shore; the fish they off-loaded onto horse-drawn carts taken down to the beach through the surf. In October the herrings arrived off Yarmouth and the docks became packed with drifters. Huge quantities of herring were salted for the export trade, and already fish trains were taking the fresh fish around the country. It was another 24 years before Cromer could be reached by train, but as soon as this town was on the railway network he was off with his family to admire the view. Then it was home to Dereham by bedtime. The day trip to the seaside had truly arrived, and the railway company ran weekday excursions with ladies going half fare.

A GER 4-4-0 of 1864.

The railway carriages in 1850 (and for decades thereafter) were simple four-wheeled affairs; heating was not at first available, and bogie coaches and corridor trains had to wait until the next century as far as East Anglia was concerned. In 1850 the locomotives were open to the elements (poor train crews!), although they were covered within ten years.

We are definitely in the modern era; in those earliest days of train travel it was slower to go to London than it is today, but not by great deal. Armstrong remarked how he could be in London in the morning and by the afternoon be attending to parish affairs in Dereham. Compare this with just 25 years earlier, when no traveller went faster than a horse could take you. By coach it took all night and half the following day to go from Norwich to the capital. Nor was travel the only way things were suddenly modern; postage stamps had made communication quick and relatively cheap in 1840. The number of letters passing through Dereham Post Office went from 7000 per annum in 1873  to 25,000 just three years later. There was already the electric telegraph to India in the 1850s, and the first local telegraph lines in Dereham appeared at the same time. The first commercial use of the long distance telephone in Britain took place on the 1st November 1878. This was along the 115 mile line from Cannon Street in London to Norwich– where else? This used the telegraph line of the Great Eastern Railway to transmit the human voice. Photography had arrived and soon it was in common use; street lighting was going up in Dereham, and the parson was anxious to install gas in the church.Thomas Cook had begun his excursions, and he took a huge number of the local folk to Dublin and back for 42 shillings each. This wasn’t exactly cheap, but the idea of an overseas holiday for the masses was an incredible innovation. On the sea crossing by steamer there was nothing to eat laid on, but the travellers made do with large quantities of whiskey, cigars and a crust of mouldy bread!

The Revd Benjamin Armstrong had married Anne Duncombe in 1842, and brought up his family of five children in the commodious parsonage in the town. (One daughter died in infancy.) The large gardens made a suitable place to hold meetings, as when the Norfolk Agricultural Show was held in the town. Being in the centre of the county, Dereham was also where Norfolk County Cricket Club held its matches in the 19th century. National sporting events get a mention in Armstrons’s diary, such as the occasion in 1877 when the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race resulted in a dead heat. Mostly his diary is taken up with the daily round of church affairs; visiting the sick, chairing meetings and conducting weddings (he said he preferred funerals).  It was a more religious community then than it had been in the previous century (and certainly more devout than it is today), and Armstrong held services every day of the week. Sundays were taken up with multiple church services (two, and he wanted to introduce a third as soon as gas light made this possible). As the choir sang throughout the week the vicar thought they deserved a treat; he took the choirboys on a day’s outing to Lowestoft, and only three of them had ever seen the sea before.

The health of the country was still racked by epidemics of smallpox and cholera, and the advances in medicine were slow to exert their influence on the population; anaesthetics were starting to appear (to begin with in childbirth) and surgery was slowly advancing beyond the ‘cutting for the stone’. This operation (without any anaesthetics) had been the commonest one to begin with, and was attended by some success. The wonder drugs, starting with penicillin, were not to appear until the middle years of the 20th century. In  all sorts of ways the speed of change has accelerated in the last two hundred years and it still continues to do so; before 1800 many things scarcely changed from one millennium to the next.

There have been three volumes of selections from the diaries of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong. The first was published in 1949 and the most recent in 2012. These journals are not so well-known as the diaries of Parson Woodforde; Armstrong’s diaries are much more recent in their concerns, in spite of only 15 years separating the lives of the two men. That makes them more understandable but of less historical interest. Look out for further posts mentioning the Reverend Armstrong; there is plenty more of interest in his diaries to digest.





You may recall that over the course of the years since the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War I have been giving annual updates on the life of Edward Lound MM. He had been born in Leicester, but brought up in Great Yarmouth. He worked for several years in the holiday industry before commencing his army career. He joining up in Derby. As a professional soldier he was at the outset of the war a Colour Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion the Sherwood Foresters; he must have been too good as his job to be promoted, because he never progressed beyond that rank.  He fought on the Western Front in Flanders throughout the war; just eleven private soldiers of his regiment shared this distinction with the equally few officers and NCOs. The other battalion (the 1st) that was in existence at the outbreak of war was serving overseas and did not arrive in France until November. At the outbreak of war he had been in Ireland, and was immediately dispatched to Cambridge and thence to France.  This made him one of the Old Contemptibles, those in the British Expeditionary Force who were involved in the earliest battles up to the end of November 1914.

After the war he went on to serve in Turkey, Egypt and on the North West Frontier. There he was constantly in conflict with the people who he referred to as Pathans; we know these people as Afghans. After leaving the army he worked in Derby until retirement when he and his wife moved back to Norfolk. When his wife died in 1951 he married my grandmother, who had been widowed in 1945.


1917 saw a great change on the Eastern Front, with the collapse of Russian resistance to German advances. From the beginning of the year unrest was growing in Russia, and this led to the February Revolution. The Tsar abdicated and discipline in the army became increasingly suspect. All over Russia the demands for peace were growing. Nevertheless the Provisional Government ordered an offensive against the Austro-Hungarians and Germans to begin on July 1st. The Russians enjoyed initial success against Austria, but Germany proved a much harder proposition, and by the 16th July the offensive had ground to a halt. By the 23rd of the month the Russians were in full retreat. On 1st September Russia attacked Riga, but the Russian troops refused to fight and fled the town. In the October Revolution the Bolsheviks seized power and hastily arranged a truce with Germany.

While the collapse of opposition on the Eastern Front altered the balance of power in Europe, the entry of America into the conflict on the Allied side, on April 6th, proved to be of enormous importance for the future course of the war. The coming of the Americans into the war, in which they had previously been determinedly neutral, was largely brought about by the German attempt to bring Britain to its knees by U boat attacks on neutral shipping. Although the addition of the United States to the Allied war effort was welcome, the arrival of American troops did not take place for another twelve months.

Things were also afoot in Austria, where the Young Emperor Charles I, who had come to the throne late in 1916, was secretly attempting to negotiate an Armistice with the French. Charles, the last monarch of Austria, was not at all warlike in his attitude, and has been sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church for his peaceable intentions. However the part played by Germany was far more influential as far as the British were concerned, and they were by no means ready to make peace.

The new command of the French forces under General Nivelle proposed a large-scale attack by French forces in the north of the country around the river Aisne, which meant a shift in British and Commonwealth forces. These were now to be deployed along a hundred miles of trenches, including Vimy Ridge. This was the scene of three days of bloody fighting which ended on 12th April 1917 with the Canadians taking the Ridge. The dug outs and trenches are preserved as a memorial and this gives some sense of the horrors of war a hundred years ago, though without the mud.

The New Year had begun with hard frosts and snowstorms which made operations extremely arduous for all, including the Sherwood Foresters. The Germans were driven back in the Somme valley by some heavy fighting during January and February. This did not involve the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters to any great extent; they were stationed between Béthune and Arras. Nevertheless six men were lost in January and on one day’s action on 9th February ten members of “C” Company were killed. The relentless casualties of the war kept reducing the Battalion’s strength not only through death, but also through life changing injuries and disease. March passed with repeated raids and counter raids, some larger than the rest but apparently doing nothing to shorten the war. One German raid early in the morning of April 5th was particularly violent, involving up to 50 soldiers who rushed towards the British line from a sap. They drew such a barrage of fire that they retreated back to their own lines, apparently without loss. Two Britons of the Battalion were wounded during this exchange of fire. This was followed by a similar raid from the Foresters a few days later; a Lance-Corporal was severely wounded but there were again no fatalities.

In the last week of April the Battalion was moved to the Loos area, where the headquarters were briefly established in what for then were luxurious surroundings. The new HQ even had electric light, but after a day or two this  unaccustomed refinement, this home had to be surrendered to other occupants.  We hear now for the first time in the Sherwood Foresters’ war diaries of a junior N.C.O. suffering shell shock. It is certain that this affliction was suffered by troops long before 1917. The description of the trenches as being full of debris, with rifles and bayonets sticking out of the mud, and the bodies of soldiers left unburied, gives some idea of the daily horror that the fighting men had to endure. This trench warfare had gone on now for years, and almost all were susceptible to the mental damage from daily endurance of scenes of carnage. Edward Lound was not one of these men; he would tell, in a  matter-of-fact tone, of an officer of the Battalion who went mad. When asked if the man was then relieved of his duties, he replied ‘No; he was sent up to the front, where he got a shoulder wound which removed him to safety’.

The position of the Battalion in April was particularly bad as their section of trench had no dugouts and therefore nowhere for the men to shelter from the continuous shelling. During this month they lost 18 men killed and nearly 100 wounded. May and June passed in a similar way. There was no large-scale attack on the German lines during these months, but repeated raids of up to 150 men, who would spend half an hour or so in the enemy trenches before returning. The Germans had a very similar way of operating, so the attrition of soldiers continued with little prospect movement.

At the end of June and the beginning of July the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters were engaging the enemy near the town of Lens. For five months they had been fighting in the area, and although large-scale battles were taking place elsewhere on the front, none involved the 2nd battalion. Nevertheless the fighting had resulted in 67 killed and 302 wounded. On July 14th the troops were visited by King George V for whom the battalion provided a Guard of Honour with drums and bugles; it was an incongruous event in the mud and blood soaked circumstances of war. The whole month of August was spent by the battalion in recuperation, taking part in sporting contests and rifle drills.

On the 4th September they were ordered to ‘Bug Alley’ near Loos, where they were preparing to carry out  a raid on the German lines, but on the 9th they were relieved of their duties. At the beginning of October they were again detailed to the front, where heavy rain and gales added to the difficulties of warfare. With the taking of Passchendaele the Third Battle of Ypres came to an end on 6th November, although the Foresters had not been involved; the Allies had advanced five miles in two months of horrendous fighting. With winter approaching the Germans hoped to regroup before a spring-time offensive, when a huge addition of troops freed from operations on the Eastern Front could be deployed before the arrival of the American forces.

The Allies could not afford to wait for these German reinforcements, and the Battle of Cambrai began at dawn on the 20th November. After the initial success of the Allies, the German response developed into the most substantial offensive in Northern France since 1914. The great break-through made in the German trenches and barbed wire demonstrated the effectiveness of tank warfare. By the 7th December when hostilities ceased, Allied advances to the north were balanced to certain extent by German advances to the south. The Sherwood Foresters had lost 23 men killed in the action.

(to be continued)



In the first quarter of the 20th century there were well over a hundred electric tramways across England, from Newcastle in the North East to Exeter in the South West, and others existed in Scotland and Wales. In Belfast electric trams ran from 1905 until 1954. Norwich was no exception; here the trams did not run on standard gauge track but on the narrower gauge of 3ft 6in that would fit our narrow streets. The system only operated for less than 40 years – the coming of the internal combustion engined motor bus sealed its fate here as it did elsewhere in Britain. Only the Isle of Man and Blackpool retained trams throughout the lean years when this form of transport seemed to be a thing of the past. The last tramway in the UK to close down was in Glasgow, where the final tram ran in 1962. I rode the Glasgow trams in the last weeks of their operation. Health and Safety were completely unknown in those days (especially in Glasgow), and the trams didn’t stop for passengers to get on and off; they just slowed down a little. Of course I didn’t know this, and waited for my tram to stop; this led to much cursing and swearing from the conductor!

Tram in Earlham Road, Norwich

The tramways in Norwich were a relatively late introduction, and consequently they were always electric; there were no horse-drawn trams.  The generating station was in Duke Street. The first trams ran in July 1900.  To get the tram track into the street a pub called the Three Pigeons in St Benedicts was demolished and for the same reason so too were a number of buildings in Redwell Street and by the Bell Hotel. The routes mostly ran radially and the hub of the system was in Orford Place. There was a hut beside the road where the staff were changed and where conductors could obtain extra tickets when their supplies ran low.

The most common fare for travel into the city centre was a penny. Longer journeys could cost up to three pence. School children could purchase a book of twelve tickets for sixpence – a ha’penny each. The service was very popular among the workers who poured in to the factories from their recently built terraced houses that they rented in the outskirts of Norwich. These modern dwellings and the up-to-date trams that served them provided the growing population with rapidly improving conditions of life as the 20th century dawned.

When my father went to school at the recently opened City of Norwich School he would have caught the tram from his home just off Bracondale. Rather than follow the tramlines down to Orford Place he would have changed to the line down Unthank Road. From tram terminus at the junction with Judges Walk it was but a short distance to the school.

In 1933 the tramway was purchased by the Eastern Omnibus Company who proceeded to close the system down and replace it with motor buses. The last remaining route was from Newmarket Road to Barrack Street, and the closure of this in 1935 brought the short life of Norwich Tramways to an end. My great-grandfather saw the tram stop arrive by Trowse station (near where he lived) in 1920, and by the end of his life the trams had gone. At one time you could spot an insulator from the trams’ overhead power supply here, and a short length of track there, but now there is nothing left in situ to remind you of the short history of Norwich trams.

Electric trams now seem a very green way of transporting people around the city, compared to the pollution caused by diesel engines, but such thoughts never entered the heads of people eighty years ago. Unlike the cities of Sheffield and Manchester, where trams are again part of the transport mix, I can see little prospect of trams ever returning to Norwich. The obvious place for a tramway here was along the former M&GN to City Station, which would have brought passengers directly into the City centre from Thorpe Marriott, which will inevitably grow in population as demand for housing increases. All the infrastructure was still in place in 1970, but the short-sighted planners could not see the growth in demand for clean transport that was coming. Subsequent bridge demolitions and the creation of Marriott’s Way footpath have destroyed this possibility, so we must forget about reusing closed railways. But what about the railways we still have? Why is not development concentrated on those places that still have railway stations? Never mind planners being short-sighted; they are blind.




AUGUST 30 1887 –  AUGUST 25 1958

Millie as a child

Further to my earlier account of Aunt Millicent, I have assembled this picture gallery of her life. The first picture is of Millicent aged about ten; her mother Rebecca had died when she was only seven years old.


She was brought up by her step mother; her father needed help to bring up his young family and he soon married his housekeeper Alice Farrow. Alice went on to have five more children with Millie’s father Charles Mason. At the age of twelve Millicent was still at school, but she was just about to embark on her first job.

MILLIE, 28/5/1911 – 2 before her 24th birthday


This photograph is a portrait of Millie sitting at a table.  She may have been still working as a parlour maid in Norwich at Strangers Hall, where her employer was Leonard Bolingbroke, the solicitor who gave the house to the City. Her hairstyle does not seem suitable for the nursing profession; it would not fit into the hat that was an essential part of a nurse’s uniform. However she was soon to abandon her work in service and begin her ascent to the very heights of the nursing profession.

Millie as Polly Peachum

This next picture comes from her time as a pupil nurse in South London. In spite of her still youthful appearance she was in her early thirties by then. As a relaxation from her arduous occupation as a nurse she is taking part in an amateur production of the Beggar’s Opera, with the lead female rôle of Polly Peachum. The Beggars Opera, first performed in 1728, had a phenomenal professional revival in London in 1920, with a run of nearly 1,500 performances. This photograph was taken at Christmas time in 1923, shortly after Aunt Millie had qualified as a midwife. She was living in Balham in the Wandsworth area, just south of the river.

Balham is well served by transport links, with both Underground and Overground stations. It was thus fairly easy for her to get on a train to visit her family in Norfolk.  The postal service was cheap and efficient in those days, and you could send a postcard for as little as a ha’penny. There were nearly 500 of these ½d coins to a pound, and even if you posted your card late in the day it would arrive at its destination the next morning without fail. Would that this was still true.

Her place of work was St James’ Hospital in Balham where she had been enrolled as a pupil nurse in 1920. (The official title of the Infirmary was indeed St James’ with no final ‘s’, although the nearby street is correctly called St James’s.) It was a large hospital with over 600 beds, which had been opened in 1910 on the site of a former workhouse, and the building included accommodation for nurses. It finally closed after nearly eighty years in 1988. Millie moved to another hospital in 1926 and eventually progressed to working in Harley Street, the top location for medical advice in the country. There she became the favourite midwife of the highest echelons of society.


The picture above shows Aunt Millie in her nurse’s uniform. Always rather short-sighted, she was still wearing rimless glasses, but by the 1930s she had changed to a heavy round black horn rimmed frame, a style that she wore for the rest of her life. Our first picture of her wearing these glasses was taken in 1936 in Trowse, where she had returned for a short break to spend some time with her father who was then in his late seventies. The two are shown here in his garden. She was already becoming well-regarded in her chosen career, and I think you can tell her father was immensely proud of her.

CHARLES MASON and his daughter MILLICENT in his back garden.

In 1953 Aunt Millie was employed by Timothy Colman at Bixley Manor, his home a short distance to the south of Norwich. He had recently retired as Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was settling down to married life. This was an important appointment as Millicent was to look after his first-born child, a daughter called Sarah, cousin to the new Queen Elizabeth.

Millie in 1953

Millie took the opportunity of living near Norwich for a few months to visit family members in the vicinity. We  went to Bixley Manor to see her from our home in Poringland, and although I was only four I remember clearly what she said to me; perhaps my family reminded me in later years. However I recall her appearance as that of a very old lady, but in fact she was a young looking sixty-something. She also journeyed into Norwich to see the Withams and the Berrys, her half sisters’ families and doubt other family members too; there were plenty of Masons living in the Lakenham area of the city. Unlike today, Council Houses with large gardens were being built in huge numbers after World War I, and the Masons took full advantage of this fact.

Christma 1952

Pilling Park, 1953

For the Christmas of the previous year she had sent out this studio portrait of herself to acquaintances and members of her family. She had made many friends through meeting the parents of new babies, and in spite of being a single woman I get the impression that her retirement in Kent was not a lonely one. She would have chosen this area to retire to because both her brothers who had remained in Norfolk had already passed away, while her two sisters Nellie and Bessie were both living in Kent at the time.

The final picture I have of Millie shows her in the summer of 1953 in the home of  her half-sister Edith Berry (née Mason) in Pilling Park, Norwich.





Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States in 1861. We all know the part he played in the Civil War, but the fact that his ancestor Samuel Lincoln emigrated to America in 1637 in his teens is a slightly less familiar fact. Samuel settled in Hingham Massachusetts, a settlement some 23 miles south of Boston. Samuel had grown up in the village of Hingham in Norfolk, before being apprenticed to Francis Lawes as a weaver in Norwich. This was a time when Puritan feelings were at their height, especially in Norwich, where Matthew Wren (uncle of the architect Christopher Wren) was appointed bishop in 1635. He tried to impose traditional elements of worship on the churches of the diocese, such as bowing at the name of Jesus and the wearing of surplices. These things were anathema to the Puritans, and many of them longed to escape the stifling influence of the Church of England by establishing a simpler form of worship in the New World. Francis Lawes could not tolerate this state of affairs for long, and within two years he and his family – his wife, daughter and servant Samuel Lincoln – had embarked on the ship the John and Dorothy at Yarmouth for the voyage to New England.

It was no accident that Samuel Lincoln chose to make his home in Hingham Massachusetts. His elder brother Thomas had emigrated two years earlier in 1635 when the town was incorporated. The settlement had been founded by a number of the better-off citizens of Hingham in Norfolk who, together with their clergy the Reverends Peck and Hobart, had sold their property off cheaply in England to make a new life for themselves in America. The poorer folk who were left behind in Norfolk suffered badly from the loss of so many wealthy inhabitants of the village and petitioned Parliament for aid. Hingham Massachusetts is nothing like Hingham in Norfolk; for a start is a coastal town, whereas the English village is deep in the interior of Norfolk. Until the coming of the railways many Norfolk people could live their whole lives without ever seeing the sea, in spite of the county being almost surrounded by water.

The most famous ship to take emigrants across the Atlantic was the Mayflower. She sailed from Rotherhithe on the Thames to Plymouth in 1620 en route to Massachusetts. She had been built towards the beginning of the 1600s in Harwich in Essex. Although the Pilgrim Fathers came from all over southern England, several of them were from Norfolk and Suffolk.

Many generations separate Samuel Lincoln from his descendant Abraham, and George Washington’s ancestral home in Northamptonshire cannot really be called part of Eastern England, but one of the most influential of political voices of the American War of Independence belonged to a Norfolkman born and bred. Tom Paine was born to a weaver in Thetford (note how the wool trade dominated the lives of East Anglians for centuries) and he was educated at the Grammar School there. You can read more about Thomas Paine in an earlier blog I wrote.

To get an idea of the more general way East Anglians were involved in the earliest settlement of the US look at all the place-names that we now associated with North America, but that originated in Norfolk. Yarmouth in Cape Cod was founded in 1639 and Norwich Connecticut in 1659. Norfolk itself means Norfolk Virginia to anyone from across the pond. Denver Colorado gets it name from James Denver, but indirectly from the fenland village in Norfolk. Of course many other parts of England have left their mark on the map of North America, but Norfolk is up there with the best.

So far I have only mentioned those who travelled westwards to the New World, but in the Second World War more American air force personnel were stationed in Norfolk than anywhere else in the UK. In view of the strong ties we in Norfolk have with North America I think we could do even more to foster tourism from the United States to our county.




Mowing the lawn has been a constant feature of my life for as long as I can remember; yet it is so mundane a task that I can recall so little about it. Obviously I was too young at first to do anything in the garden but watch others at work, but by the time I moved into my teenage years I was helping my father to cut the grass, and particularly to do the edges with shears. Dad’s contribution was to install ever more complicated motors to drive the simple Qualcast push mower that he started off with.

His first attempt was to fit a 34 cc 2 stroke JAP engine, which only powered the cutting cylinder and not the roller, which would have made the machine self-propelled. Even so it was a little under-powered, so he moved on to a TVO 4 stroke BSA engine. TVO (tractor vaporising oil) is otherwise called kerosene or paraffin. The engine had to be warm to vaporise the oil, so it had a small subsidiary petrol tank for starting. We used to run our engine mostly on petrol, because by the time it had warmed up enough to switch over to paraffin the lawn was cut and it was time to put the mower way.

Mountfield motor mower

At 120 cc this BSA motor was quite adequate for the cutting the lawn, and next my father wanted to make his mower self-propelled. The meant adding a clutch and a belt drive to power the roller. This added a complication, because the mower ran a little too fast and poor Daddy had almost to run to keep up with the machine. Rather than adjust the gearing he decided to remove the petrol engine and go electric instead; so next it was off to Hagg’s shop in King Street to select an electric motor. He tried both mains (which meant a long cable) and battery power that needed a heavy 12 volt car battery. You may wonder why he did not simply buy a motor mower, but the fact is that he loved the experiments he was making; he said that buying a motor mower was too expensive, but he must have spent much more on his schemes than several off-the-shelf mowers would have cost. The hours he spent on the work bench devising solutions to mechanical problems were much more interesting to him than the boring business of actually cutting the grass.

Eventually he did buy a Mountfield petrol rotary mower. The design of this machine (illustrated above) has not changed in fifty years. Our front lawn at Poringland was quite large, so as my father got older and more frail a reliable motor mower was becoming needed. For one thing the Montfield was much easier to start than the JAP or BSA engines, as it had an automatic rewind on the starting rope, which the others did not. With those engines you had to wind the rope by hand, and if it misfired (as often was the case) you had the tedious business to do again.

While my father was busy experimenting with his lawn mower I had moved on through school to university, and you might think that the study of Anglo-Saxon England and Baroque architecture had pushed all thoughts of mowing the lawn to one side, but this was not so. My landlady had to get up early in the morning to catch the train from Oxford to London, where she was librarian at Imperial College. This left me alone to make my own breakfast, read history books and incidentally to cut the grass in front of her house!

We briefly lived in a second floor flat when I was first married, and there was of course no lawn to mow. Soon we moved into a bungalow which had both a front and a back lawn, and out came the mower again. Our next house (where we still live) also has grass to cut, but now we have gardener to it for us. Now I just clip a bit here and there with garden shears which, as you may recall, is how I started all those years ago.





Parson James Woodforde

PARSON JAMES WOODFORDE (1740-1803) was an unknown character until John Beresford published the first volume of selections from his diary in 1924. This caused something of a literary sensation, and figures such as Max Beerbohm and Virginia Woolf were immediately intrigued and delighted by the details of this eighteenth century cleric’s life.  The popularity of the first volume resulted in four more volumes being published in the following years.

Woodforde had been born in the West Country, and after getting a Scholarship at at Winchester College he got his degree at Oxford. He then spent ten years as curate in his father’s parish in Somerset. In 1773 he was presented with the living at Weston Longville in Norfolk. He moved there in 1776 and after becoming established there he soon settled into life in this country parish, about ten miles outside Norwich. The nucleus of Weston included the church, parsonage and the Hart, the public house that supplied Woodforde with port, gin and rum; much of it smuggled!

On horseback, and accompanied by a servant and a friend or relative, he would travel the East Anglian countryside in the summer. Great Yarmouth, Wells-Next-the-Sea, Lowestoft and Southwold were all seaside places he visited; they were not yet the holiday resorts that they would become in the next century. He was less interested in going  to inland towns. For longer journeys back to Somerset he would take the coach from the Kings Head in Norwich Market Place and travel via London. Norwich, he said, was the fairest city in the country by far, and as a Norwich born person I may be slightly biased, but I think it has held up well to that description. From the castle to the cathedral to Elm Hill it presents a picturesque face to tourist and local alike.

What the reader of a diary wants are just the sort of everyday details he supplies. Of the great national events we may read full accounts elsewhere, but of Mr Mason of Sparham’s playing on the handbells (for example) we can only learn about in Woodforde’s diary. They may seem mundane events, but it is those very glimpses of the past that become lost as time passes, because no one else has recorded them. In the Parson’s diary we may read of an onion which measured 14 inches in circumference; this was certainly a big onion, but the interest is not so much its size. He seldom mentions the vegetables he has with his roast lamb or shoulder of pork, but onions are obviously one possibility. They have good keeping qualities.  ‘Roots’ (probably turnips) he also refers to, and they were available for most of the autumn and winter; asparagus had short season in the spring, but that too appeared on Woodforde’s table.

Much fun was had by ‘the Captain’ – Bill Woodforde, the Parson’s nephew. He had served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence and with demobilisation following the Peace Treaty he stayed at Weston for several months. While there he built a miniature sloop (a type of sailing ship). The baulks of deal from which he constructed the hull he brought from Norwich in Woodforde’s cart, and the lead for the keel he acquired from a glazier in Mattishall. You may get some idea of the size of the vessel, as 25 lbs of lead were needed to balance the keel. Unfortunately he got the balance wrong, and on being launched the vessel listed to starboard and immediately began taking on water. This was a matter of great chagrin to the Captain. Where it took to the water is not revealed, but it may have been  in the river Wensum, or else a local pond.

You can appreciate Woodforde in many different ways; you can dip into his dietary life, which is recorded on a daily basis, or chart the weather. Rain, snow and wind are all recorded, and he had a barometer from which he regularly took the pressure. For me the details of the lives of his acquaintances provide endless snippets of information for my researches into local history; although his appeal is nationwide, for me it is truly local. Weston Longville is only separated from where I lived by one other village. I can picture the rivers he fished in, the woods he skirted around and the roads he ventured along, not from the printed page but from my everyday familiarity with the landscape. Even many of the pubs he mentions are still there, in the old buildings Woodforde would have known, still serving their pints of ale to me as they did to him nearly 250 years ago.