Dame Julian of Norwich

She was born c 1342 and is variously known as Mother Julian, Dame Julian or Saint Julian. She spent her life in Norwich, and we must assume that she was born there. I have tried to read the Revelations of Divine Love several times, but I have never been able to enter fully into the mind of Dame Julian. Great though her reputation is, I suspect that I am not alone in this. Those who write about her claim to be great admirers of her writing, although I have my doubts about how well they all appreciate her theology. Recently a journalist claimed she was the female Chaucer. This statement is only true in a chronological sense, as both writers were contemporary.

The work of Geoffrey Chaucer (b. c 1343) is not popular reading material today, at least not in its original language. As a 14-year-old O level student I had to read the Nun’s Priest’ Tale and the Pardoner’s Tale in Middle English. For me this was a delight, but I suspect that a number of my colleagues found it a nightmare. The reading of the 14th century Canterbury Tales in its original version is something that I guess would defeat many modern A level students, let alone having it as part of the GCSE. I may be wrong and today’s students are as clever as their ever-increasing grades claim, but I doubt it. Personally I love Chaucer, but his subject matter could not be more different from that of Julian of Norwich. They were however both writers in the language of English, newly re-emerging after centuries when French was the language of the powerful. It survived only as the spoken tongue of the common people.

St Julian's Church

St Julian’s Church

Julian’s approach to theology is a quiet and tolerant one, that was probably at odds with orthodox thought at the time. It was wholly different to the strident and violent religious controversies that were to characterise the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation a century and a half later. Her view of Divine Love is very popular today, and she is quoted in T. S.Eliot’s Four Quartets. By contrast the opinions of Sir Thomas More on religion would nowadays provoke almost universal condemnation. For instance he opposed the use of English in dealing with religion; for daring to read the Gospels in a language they could understand he was prepared to burn heretics at the stake, in spite of the resolute way he faced his own death under Henry VIII. Taking the diametrically opposed view, Julian was the first English writer to use the vernacular to discuss God’s work.

For those of us who are not theologians her primary importance is as the first female to use English. Very little is known of her life; even her name is derived from St Julian’s church, just off King Street in Norwich, where her anchorite’s cell was built into the wall. The church still stands and is the mother shrine devoted to Julian, but it was badly damaged by bombing in 1939/45 war. The exact location of her cell is lost, and after the Reformation even her name fell into obscurity.

She was rescued from oblivion by Father Cressy, an Anglian cleric who was exiled to the Continent during the Civil War. There he converted to Catholicism,  and his Sixteen Revelations on the Love of God by Mother Juliana was published in 1670, probably in Douai. By then he was again living in England, as chaplain  to Charles II’s Catholic Queen. Julian’s fame did not really take off until a version was published in Modern English at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then her reputation has grown across the Christian world, and she is now revered internationally.

When the Revelations of Divine Love was written in the late 14th century Norwich was second only to London in size and importance. Margery Kempe (b. c 1373), another Norfolk woman, is also hailed as an early female author, and perhaps the first English woman to write her autobiography. She too wrote in Middle English. Although Margery Kempe was a mystic and made many pilgrimages in this country and abroad, she was certainly no theologian. John Skelton (b. c 1463), the first Poet Laurate in England, was another Norfolk resident. By his time the language had evolved into Modern English, the tongue we still understand today. He wrote of the nuns of Carrow Abbey, thought by some to have been where Julian received her monastic training.

The city still has more medieval churches than anywhere else in England or indeed in Northern Europe. It was the Industrial Revolution that left Norwich behind in terms of size; thank goodness it did, for if it wee still the second city in the land it would be an urban sprawl over most of Norfolk. It did however retain its importance in the cultural sphere; the writer Sir Thomas Browne and the artist John Crome are just two examples of this. The earliest flowering of the intellectual life in Norwich was in the writing of Dame Julian.






Glandford churchband ford

Glandford church and ford

Glandford is always pronounced ‘ Glanford’, and used to be spelt that way too. It lies on the river Glaven, and the name is an abbreviated form of ‘Glaven-ford’, so where the middle ‘d’ came from I am at a loss to speculate. As things stand the place looks like a bodily organ. It is a very small village between Letheringsett and Wiveton near Cley in North Norfolk. I doubt I could say enough about it to fill up an article for this blog were it not for the 4th baronet Sir Alfred Joderell (1847-1929) and his various constructions in the village. It also has a ford near the church, but this appears to be too deep for most cars to attempt to cross; certainly no-one from my family has ever done so. The lane on the far side of the ford – Hurdle Lane- only leads by a circuitous route back to Lethringsett, which is much more directly accessed from Glandford by the Blakeney Road. Tractors may ford the river with ease, and a footbridge allows passage by pedestrians. I will refer again to the ford, but first I must mention Glandford’s greatest benefactor.

The hamlet of Glandford is adjacent to Bayfield Hall, where Sir Alfred Joderell and his ancestors lived; he was the last of the Joderell baronets. He it was who established the Shell Museum to provide a home for the collection of shells – mollusc shells, crustaceans and even tortoise shells – that he had built up over many decades. It is a very unusual to find a museum in the wilds of Norfolk, and represents a very personal interest of the last baronet.

The Shell Museum is not the only thing Sir Alfred Joderell left behind. He was responsible for the restoration carried out on various churches including that at Blakeney; in the case of Glandford church he rebuilt it from a ruin. Since the Middle Ages Glandford had no parish church and virtually no parishioners either. Sir Alfred was a staunch Anglo-Catholic, and at the beginning of the 20th century he rebuilt it as a High Church memorial to his mother. Besides the Gothick decor he provided it with a carillon. This is an arrangement of bells which rather than simply chiming will play tunes; in Glandford it is automated, to play hymns regularly every three hours throughout the day. Not many miles away Sheringham church has a carillon too, which is played from a keyboard like an organ. Miss Philips, a piano teacher at our school, used to play it at Sunday services.

Shortly after rebuilding the church Sir Alfred did the same thing for the water-mill at Glandford. Using local materials he provided the village with a useful facility; indeed he more or less rebuilt the whole place during his long life. The mill remains, converted into an elegant house. Sir Alfred was a great philanthropist and set up his former butler, disabled in the First World War, as the local miller. Im another act of generosity he provided the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital with enough chickens and turkeys every year to feed all the patients Christmas dinner.

The ford is a major part of the village. The footbridge over the river may be seen to the right in the picture at the top of this page. We took my sister’s dog Suki there in 1971, and you can see her (having crossed the ford) looking alertly towards the camera. To end on a sad note; on a hot Sunday in June in 1785 a young man called John Bullock decided to cool off with a dip in the river. I do not know if he could swim, but he certainly got into difficulties and was drowned there. He was 18 years old. This was before Sir Alfred Joderell’s time, and as Glandford had no church in the 18th century John Bullock was buried in Letheringsett churchyard by his grieving parents.





A GER 4-4-0 of 1864.

A GER 4-4-0 of 1864.

Full Steam Ahead is a BBC television programme on the history of the railways, and it makes the point that trade was almost entirely local until the coming of the railways. Although this is a pleasing thought, it isn’t true. A hundred years before the first trains, the canals were opening up the country to trade. Coal and pottery from Staffordshire and metal wares from Birmingham were pouring down the canals to London as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace. Considering the historians who made the programme are from the Open University, and that the HQ of that institution is based at a hub of the canal system, Miltom Keynes, this is an inexplicable oversight.

In East Anglia we were peripheral to the canal system, but we had our own waterways – the Broads. These provided us with an equivalent trading link, and the wherries and keels kept the goods flowing. To reach the wider world outside East Anglia we had many small ports around the coast, providing the grain we had in abundance to the hungry mouths of London and Newcastle. Coal came south from the latter, and all sorts of luxuries came north from London. Whether canals, rivers or the sea, water was the vehicle for trade.

Even in the eighteenth century William Hardy was supplying porter from the Letheringsett brewery in North Norfolk to pubs in Yorkshire. The barrels were loaded onto horse-drawn wagons for the short journey to Blakeney, and from there they were taken up the coast to the river Humber. This sort of journey would make Burton-on-Trent the centre of beer production once the railways opened up the country, but it had already started decades before George Stephenson.

Coal was the most important commodity across the length and breadth of the land. Everything required coal, from the brick kilns of Kent to the tin mines of Cornwall, and from the iron foundries of the Midlands to the maltings of East Anglia. Coal it was that provided the impetus for the birth of railways themselves, a well as supplying the fuels for their movie power. The first primitive trackways were built around 1800, where gravity supplied the power to send the wagons down from the mines to the harbours of Tyneside. The first steam locomotives were built in1815; remarkably at least two of these earliest locos from the time of the Battle of Waterloo are still extant. We have all heard of Puffing Billy, but her sister engine Wylam Dilly is less well-known.

Once railways began in the North East of England there was no stopping them. The construction of more than a short colliery line came about with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and by the end of the century over 20,000 miles of track had been laid down in the UK. The technology had been exported around the world. Railways had become not only the means of trade but a major article of trade as well. Even now, 200 years later, railways are a principal form of transport in China and India, and even here in England, their birthplace, the railway infrastructure is again thriving, after nearly being killed off by the late and unlamented Dr Beeching.



All that I have written so far about trade relates to the last three hundred years when the building of canals and railways really did open up the country to the transport of goods. But here in the East the Norfolk Broads needed no Navvies to build them; they had already been dug out to supply peat in the early Middle Ages. Even the peat was an article of trade, and centuries later the waterways served as a transport network across East Norfolk. The agricultural goods our fertile land is so good at producing were taken to Norwich by water, and this helped to make it one of the richest cities in England. Above all we produced excellent woollen cloth that was exported across Northern Europe. From the busy looms of Norwich the woven cloth was  laid out in the fields of the adjacent villages; the 17th century writer Celia Fiennes records seeing the fields of Trowse by Norwich covered with acres of material bleaching in the sun. Once processed the bales were loaded onto boats for the journey downstream to Yarmouth. There they were inspected by factors for loading onto barques destined for Rotterdam, Copenhagen and other foreign ports.

So much for exports; for imports Yarmouth wasn’t so important, as the river Yare only led to Norwich.To the west the Great Ouse and its tributaries gave access to Cambridge, Bedford and Bury St Edmunds. Kings Lynn was where wine, dried fruits and the the novel writing material paper entered the kingdom. It was so important that the Hanseatic League, the trading cartel that governed the import and export business across Northern Europe had its principal English base in what was then called Bishops Lynn. In Shropshire trade may have revolved around selling turnips to your next door neighbour, but in medieval Norfolk we were far more European than we are today.





The University originated as the Norwich School of Design in 1845, so although it only became an independent University in 2013, as an institution of Higher Education it is over a century older than the University of East Anglia, the other Norwich based university. In the middle of the nineteenth century the great years of the Norwich School of Artists still exercised its influence over art in the city, although by then the Society had folded. The Norwich School of Design was for many years located in the building built for the purpose next to St Andrew’s Hall. It first expanded across the road into the shop which had been run by Gunton’s, a large supplier of machine tools, although it also functioned as a builders’ merchants. This was in the 1970s. These properties both abut the river in St George’s Street; at the time the river was an abandoned and desolate place. The surrounding shoe factories had fallen on bleak times, and the theatre which now graces the opposite bank had not then been instituted. The river was a wilderness with saplings growing out of the quayside.

Richard Noverre Bacon

Richard Noverre Bacon

There are a number of local worthies carved into original Art School building. One of these is the editor of the Norwich Mercury from 1844 until about 1865, Richard Noverre Bacon. He was a prominent supporter of the new enterprise. A distant cousin of the editor, my former schoolteacher Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, was a student at the Art School in the 1930s after gaining a First in Geography at Cambridge. No wonder he drew us such marvellous maps on the blackboard!

There have been many notable artists who attended this institution, but the most eminent  must the painter Sir Alfred Munnings. Even in the early twentieth century already he despised modernism, and so he is not popular among the members of the art world, who prefer artists like Tracey Emin and the Turner Prize winning potter who dresses in  drag. Nevertheless he has a fantastic reputation among art collectors. Munnings was born in Suffolk at Mendham just across the border from Harleston in Norfolk. His father was a miller who supplied flour to my great-grandfather, the Stradbroke baker. The young Alfred was apprenticed to Page, the Norwich firm of printer; you can see their current premises on the Ring Road. He worked designing illustrations for the firm’s clients during the day, but attended the Norwich School of Art as a part-time student. It was during this period that he designed the barman logo for Bullards’s brewery, and produced the illustration for the adverts for Caley’s chocolate.

He soon outgrew his early employment, but he spent several months living around the Ringland Hills painting horses and his mischievous young model ‘Shrimp’. These paintings form the subject of a film recently given its premier by a local film maker in Costessey. Even before his death in 1959 his pictures of horses had an international reputation, and today they sell for many millions of dollars when they come up for auction.

Other more recent alumni of the Norwich School of Art include Colin Self, the Pop-artist who rose to fame in the 1960s, and Keith Chapman the man behind Bob the Builder. The presence of a major Higher Education centre in the arts has produced a large number of local businesses in the field of digital arts.





Real folk music no longer exists in this country. It may do so in parts of Germany and Switzerland, but in Britain what is called Folk is the product of middle class guitar strummers of the 1960s. By then the rural working class, the last true upholders of the folk music tradition, had abandoned it for the pop music that radio and gramophone records had made more easily available.

In Norfolk we may still pick up hints of folk music as it used to be. Very often it was simply sung; when played on an instrument it was often the accordion that was used. A nineteenth century invention, this portable reed organ was taken up with enthusiasm by people across the world. We are told this was what was played one evening before the First World War, in Central Norfolk at Gressenhall Village Hall. There a young miller was playing county dance music by ear for a local get-together, when he was heard by a professional musician. Francis Cunningham Woods, who was on holiday from his job as Head of Music at Highgate School, used what he had heard to compose the Gressenhall Suite*. In 2015 the suite was played at a concert in the former Gressenhall Workhouse chapel (now part of the Museum of Norfolk Life), to mark the hundredth anniversary of its publication. I was privileged to be present.

In other parts of the country people like Percy Grainger, Cecil  Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth were diligently collecting the tunes which were soon to die out, had they not been preserved for posterity. My father as young man heard such a song being sung in the Wheel of Fortune pub in Alpington, South Norfolk, but was too shy to copy it down. He had the ability but lacked the confidence. This song had been learnt by the old man as a youngster it in the mid 19th century, but whatever it was both the words and music have now been lost forever. Although the professional musicians who collected these tunes produced suites and arrangements from them, they are art songs and quite different in mood from the simple folk melodies sung over a pint of beer in the local pub. The words of these songs were at least as important as the tunes, and the words were not so important to these collectors, who were musicians first and foremost.



In Norfolk the most popular folk instrument was the dulcimer. I have heard it played, and to be frank it is rather a jangly sound. In the US this type of instrument is called a hammered dulcimer, to distinguish it from the Appalachian dulcimer, which is plucked. Over here this plucked type of instrument is known as the psaltery.

When I was growing up a builder called Mr Matthews lived a few houses along the road from us. I can just remember him, although he must have died in about 1960, before I was was a teenager. He always had fag hanging out of the corner of his mouth. I never thought he was anything but an ordinary Norfolk ‘bor’, but years later his widow remarked to me that he had played the dulcimer. How I wish that I had heard him; he must have been one of the last traditional players of folk music in Norfolk.

The dulcimer has enjoyed a revival recently, but it is now played by such people as university undergraduates and accountants in their leisure hours. Mr Matthews’ chain smoking does not go with this lifestyle, and nor does the job of bricklaying. The tunes are now read from printed manuscripts, not handed down from father to son as they once were. As I remarked at the beginning, folk music no longer exists in this country.

*The Gressenhall Suite was published by Hawkes, but is now hard to find. I have an original set of parts, and as a work now out of copyright it may be copied from the British Library.





Before I talk about Mann Egerton I must make one thing quite clear about the name; although the second part might be pronounced by those not in the know like an egg (i.e. how it was spelt), it should be spoken ‘edge-erton’. It was often abbreviated to its initials, M.E. For most of the 20th century this was the major car dealership in the city of Norwich.

Mann Egerton in Upper King Street, Norwich.

Mann Egerton in Upper King Street, Norwich.

If you wanted a Bentley or a Rolls Royce for example (or more to the point, if you could afford one) you headed off to the branch of Mann Egerton in King Street; but if you could only run to a secondhand saloon you might go along to the Mann Egerton garage in Upper Surrey Street instead. Although it went by the name of Nunns, it was in fact the Ford branch of Mann Egerton. They also had dealerships with Austin/Morris, before that combination amalgamated with Jaguar and Rover to form the British Motor Corporation; later the UK’s main car manufacturing businesses became British Leyland. Of the main car firms in Britain, only Standard/Triumph stayed out of their hands and was represented in Norwich by Duff Morgan. The Head Office of Mann Egerton was at the top end of Prince of Wales Road, just across King Street from the G.P.O.

Cars were only part of their business empire. The firm of Mann Egerton grew from a Norwich based partnership of electricians in the last years of the 19th century. The electrical contracting business had been started by Laurence Scott, and when this company decided to concentrate on making electrical switchgear and machinery it was bought by Gerald Mann who had been born in distant Cornwall. Mann Egerton finally sold their electrical interests in the 1960s. From electrical contracting they progressed to building the bodies for Rolls Royce cars. Before 1914 they had opened garages across East Anglia, and in London.

During the First World War they were directed by the Government to move into aircraft production, like their contemporary Norwich firm at Boulton and Paul. At first they made aeroplanes to the deigns of Short Brothers, but went on to build planes to their own design. When the war ended they redirected their large aircraft produstion workshop to peacetime employment. As aircraft production then principally involved woodworking, the  company transferred to the making of wooden school desks. The aircraft had been made in Reepham Road in Hellesdon, where the school furniture manufacturing was later carried out. This woodworking business was bought out by the management as late as 1986. The company’s motor interests were bought by the Inchcape Group, and although the name Mann Egerton is still used in certain parts of East Anglia, it has faded from the scene in its Norwich birthplace.

Gerald Mann went into partnership with Hubert Egerton in 1900. Although the business was then solely electrical contracting, Egerton had already been a pioneer in motor transport. He had driven a De Dion Bouton from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. The provision of petrol to inaccessible corners of Britain must have needed much preparation, and even today such a journey is a major achievement. It was the influence of the motor enthusiast Egerton that propelled the company into the car trade.








Dick was an inspirational teacher to generations of schoolboys at Gresham’s. Before studying geography at Cambridge University he had been head boy at the public school in Holt. His first place of education was the Council School at Hemsby, the seaside village near Yarmouth. There among the local boys and girls he picked the authentic Norfolk dialect which he loved, and he could drop into ‘Broad Norfolk’ at any time. Apart from his wartime service he was a teacher at Gresham’s School all his working life. Beyond the school walls he did much to promote the study of local wildlife among the wider East Anglian public. He was a frequent contributor to BBC East television programmes; but none of the viewers knew what an interesting family the television personality had sprung from.

I have already in a previous post revealed his direct descent from the multi-faceted Richard Mackenzie Bacon, born on May Day in 1776. He was a pioneering paper manufacturer using the brand new machinery in 1809, and was throughout his life the editor of the Norwich Mercury, a weekly newspaper in Norfolk. R.M. Bacon’s eventful career led to his having an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for producing the first music magazine in England. Nor was he the only one of Dick’s ancestors to have an entry in the ODNB; his great-grandmother Louise Barwell also being thus honoured for her writing of books on education.

Another of Dick’s direct ancestors was the dancing master Augustin Noverre who arrived in this country with his brother from Paris 1755. Their ballet company put on performances at Drury Lane under the auspices of David Garrick. The Noverre brothers had invented ballet as an art form, it having previously been a mere entertainment. Augustin Noverre retired to Norwich and his daughter was Dick’s great-great-grandmother

His Bagnall grandmother was an accomplished watercolour painter and perhaps the most prominent numismatist of her time.  It was from her marriage that the double barrelled name Bagnall-Oakeley sprang, and one of her sons (i.e. Dick’s uncle) competed in the London Olympic Games of  1908. On both sides of his family therefore he had notable forebears. None of this history I learnt from the man himself, and have had to research it for myself. I am not aware of how much of his family background he knew; probably all that I record here, and more. He was far too modest a man to have talked about any of his eminent forebears; he was much more likely to regale you with tales of the simple marshmen, gamekeepers and poachers whose stories of rural Norfolk he relished.

His maternal grandfather, John Barwell, was a wine merchant in Norwich. He was a wealthy man, but it was a wealth that did not percolate down to Dick to any great extent; he was only a relatively poor country clergyman’s son. Dick became the wealthy owner of Brinton Hall only upon his marriage in 1950. His grandfather John Barwell had married a young lady called Sabine in 1861. She was the daughter of Thomas William Budd, a successful London solicitor, who had taken the lease on Shropham Hall in 1860.  Shropham is only six miles from Attleborough station, and this would have given easy access both to London (for Thomas’s work) and to Norwich (where Sabine would have gone to meet John Barwell).

Norwich cattle market. Frederick Bacon Barwell.

Norwich cattle market. Frederick Bacon Barwell.

Dick’s great-uncle, Frederick Bacon Barwell, was one of the more illustrious members of this generation. He had married his first wife Fanny in 1868, and she too was one of the daughters of Thomas William Budd. Frederick Bacon Barwell was born in 1831 in Norwich and was married at his bride’s home village of Shropham. After qualifying at the Royal Academy he went on to enjoy a long and productive career as a painter. Frederick Bacon Barwell was a prolific artist who spent much of his career in London, producing portraits of the famous men of the time. His works are to be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. His most highly regarded paintings are however not his portraits but his atmospheric pictures of everyday life. A view of Norwich looking down Cattle Market Street towards Mousehold Heath on market day is particularly fine. It is in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum, although not currently on display. He was a friend of the artist John Millais and shared a studio with him for some years. He retired to Sheringham at the end of the 19th century, and he lived there until his death in 1922. Dick had by then moved on to Gresham’s School in Holt a few miles away, and had the opportunity to visit his great-uncle at his home, White Lodge near Beeston Bump. I wonder if he did? It was only a short bike ride away.

One of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons, Noel, became a Lt Col in the First World War, when he was awarded the Military Cross. Back in civilian life his profession was that of lawyer, and he became the last British barrister to practise in post-independance India. A book has been written in Bengali which contains many reminiscences of his career in India, and this book is also available in English translation (The Great Unknown, Penguin paperback, 2010). Another of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons followed his father into the art world and was a book illustrator, and another became a farmer in Canada; their occupations were as various as their dwellings were far-flung across the globe.

From the Bagnall-Oakeley collection

Shropham Hall (Bagnall-Oakeley collection)

Another of Dick’s great uncles, Richard Barwell, became a consultant surgeon in London. He was involved in treating the great cholera epidemic of 1849, and in common with the vast majority of educated opinion he believed it was spread by a ‘miasma’ or bad smell. It was only later that it was realised that it a water-borne infection, spread by the poor quality of the water supply. Dr Richard Barwell spent his working life in Marylebone, London, where he was widowed in 1890. He died aged 90 in 1916. His son and grandsons continued in the medical profession.

33 Surrey St is to the left.

33 Surrey St is to the left.

Richard Barwell was retired and living in the block of Georgian houses in Surrey Street when Dick was born in 1908. Grandfather John Barwell had been living at the same house, 33 Surrey Street, before his marriage to Sabine Budd at the age of 35. (Sabine was nine years younger.) Just round the corner was St Catherine’s House, All Saints Green, where John Barwell was living in his latter years, and where Dick was born. This house became the home of a surgeon at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, Athelstan Jasper Blaxland, after John Barwell’s death. After the Second World War it became the BBC studios in Norwich. It was from these studios that Dick made his television broadcasts.

Dick’s aunt Ethel Barwell was involved in medicine, being the matron of the Belgrave Children’s Hospital in London. She lived to be over  90 and died only ten years before Dick himself. Uncle Charles Sedley Barwell qualified as a civil engineer after taking his degree at Oxford; he made his career in Canada and died in Vancouver in 1950. When he enlisted as a Lance Corporal in the Canadian army in the First World War he gave Dick’s uncle, John Barwell the wine merchant of Norwich, as his next of kin.  There were three more Barwell uncles, Henry and Francis who were army officers, and Wilfred who was a solicitor in Sussex. The youngest of the previous generation of his family was his aunt Violet (1876-1942). She was a musician who devoted her life to teaching the violin.

Louisa Barwell

Louisa Barwell (nee Bacon), Dick’s great-grandmother.

These cousins, uncles and aunts were not of course direct ancestors of Dick, but I can trace his descent back to his four or five times great-grandfather, Philip Reinagle (1749-1833). He was a painter of dogs, sporting subjects and portraits who turned to painting landscapes in his later years. As a young artist he had been called upon to paint dozens of portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte for distribution to his important subjects. Incidentally Philip Reinagle’s first exhibited landscape was a view from Bracondale in Norwich, although he lived in London. He made only brief excursions to the provinces in those pre-railway days, and was visiting Norwich to paint the portrait of the Mayor, John Patteson. Of course he had no idea that his descendants would become established as a prominent Norfolk family.

His work may be found in the Tate,  V & A, National Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum and numerous other collections of national importance. [CLICK HERE to view a slide show of Philip Reinagle’s paintings.] Philip was the son of Joseph Reinagle (1720-1775), a Hungarian musician who was based in Edinburgh. With such a varied background, including Swiss and German ancestry, it is perhaps not surprising that Dick was such an interesting personality. Having a number of talented artists among his ancestors it is no wonder that Dick was himself a gifted painter, who qualified at the Norwich Art School (now the Norwich University of the Arts) after coming down from Cambridge.



Dick’s second name of Perceval was derived from his great-great-grandmother who was born Sarah Woodyear Perceval in 1779. Sarah was born in St Kitts, one of the Leeward Islands, where the Percevals owned a plantation. Hoever her family returned to England and she was married in 1803 to Francis Bedwell (1776-1835), a lawyer in the Court of Chancery. The marriage took place in Kent. Her daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Budd whom we have already mentioned, and Sabine Budd married John Barwell in 1862. One of their offspring, Amy Perceval Barwell, was Dick’s mother.

I don’t expect you to follow all the ins and outs of these relationships, but they give you some idea of the various talents exhibited by the family. I am very lucky to have been taught by such a man as Dick Bagnall-Oakley.





My sister’s reception at the Assembly House

This was a rather eventful year from a personal point of view, and it was termed the year of the watershed by my father. However the year was notable for other reasons, far beyond the family’s concerns. In 1959 Norwich trialled the new Post Code system; it was slightly different from the system rolled out nationally a decade later. Ours in Poringland was NOR 42W (it became NR14 7QR). On a slightly wider scale it was the year in which the M&GN railway in Norfolk was closed, and the former Gresham’s school pupil Sir Christopher Cockerell launched his invention the Hovercraft. The Morris Mini Minor (soon to universally known simply as the Mini) went on sale and the first section of the M1 Motorway was opened. In Cuba the revolutionary Fidel Castro entered Havana.

For the Mason family it was a year of change on several fronts. My father’s lease on his shop in Orford Place came to an end, and although he was prepared to pay the much higher rent demanded by the landlord, none of his fellow tenants of the the adjacent properties was, and this meant that he was  compelled to seek alternative premises. He took the bold decision to buy a Georgian mansion in Surrey Street. Without a shop window he could not be sure his customers would follow him, but at least (as an optician) a shop window was not essential to his business. The house had been derelict for several years and needed a lot of work done on it. The freehold on the five storey building cost him the grand sum of £4,500, and he had to take out a mortgage, but he was able to pay it off in less than ten years. To get some idea of property values back then our family bungalow outside Norwich was worth £1,000.

UNCLE LAURIE & NANNY at my sister's wedding

UNCLE LAURIE & NANNY at the wedding

My eldest sister had met a Canadian who was doing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in London, and they married in July before she emigrated to Canada in August. Her younger sister had just finished a 3 year teaching course at a  college in Twickenham and was due to start teaching in Suffolk that September; she needed to move into digs in  Ipswich. All these things were added complications for my parents, who really had enough to worry about with the business move.

To top it all the biggest event of the year for me was being sent off to boarding school at the tender age of ten. This happened in late September, after the Battle of Britain open day. I can’t remember which local airfield hosted the display this year – there were so many air bases in Norfolk to choose from. Once that celebration was over there was nothing standing between me and the abyss of leaving my  dear home. I can remember walking down the road towards Arminghall with the younger of my two sisters (the elder one was already in Ottawa), filled with dread. How my parents could have sent a terrified little boy away to boarding school I do not know, but I am so glad they did.  I experienced so many things that I would never have done had I stayed at home, and most of them were positive; it was an excellent education that propelled me to Oxford ten years later.

With all this going on there was no time for us to have our usual summer holiday at Southwold in 1959. I spent a lot of time in the house at Surrey Street doing my little best in scraping the old whitewash off the walls in preparation for a coat or two of more modern distemper, or perhaps bang up-to-date emulsion paint was already available. The whole building had to be rewired (it was still equipped for DC current, which hadn’t been used for years). The plumbing was rudimentary and there were no bathrooms for the guests – the building had previously been a commercial hotel.

Instead of the usual annual holiday my sister and I went for days out by train. I can’t remember anywhere we went, but Cromer, Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Felixstowe must have featured. As the fate of the M&GN shows, the rail network was already shrinking, but places like Swaffham, Fakenham East and Wells were still accessible by diesel multiple units. Aylsham and Burnham Market had already lost their passenger service in 1952. though Watton railway station was still open to passengers until 1964. Unfortunately I never went there.





syon-park3Garden Centres have come about in my lifetime. Until I was well into my teenage years they did not exist. What we did have were nurseries, where plants were grown for sale to the public. They would have some greenhouses where pansies and geraniums were grown for planting out in the spring. This was the time of year when nurseries were extremely busy. At the nursery that I remember best, Daniels of Norwich (now Notcutt’s), they also sold seeds and flower pots from a small counter. This establishment was so well known that it even had a road named after it, Daniels Road. For garden tools you would go to the ironmongers or hardware shop; greenhouses were built by the local carpenter. Apart from the occasional garden bench garden furniture did not exist. Even tubs were old beer casks curt in half.

Daniel’s nursery used be on both sides of the Ring Road. Notcutts garden centre is now on just one ice of the road, and the other side, where I remember buying wallflowers from a greenhouse, has become a housing estate. Garden statues, summer houses and swimming pools now take up much of the space that was once reserved for growing plants. Unlike the old nursery, the plants are no longer grown by the retailer, but are supplied by specialist growers. One of the first such wholesalers of garden plants was Alan Bloom of Bressingham.

Almost the first step towards selling things other than plants and seeds was to stock trowels and forks; these garden tools did not represent a great leap forward, but it was a start. Various fertilisers and weedkillers were dispensed from wooden containers behind the counter and measured out into paper bags. Fisons is a long-vanished trade name that began to appear on boxes and bottles of garden chemicals in the 1950s. The insecticides we used in those days were particularly toxic, and most of the early flykillers such as DDT have long since been banned. Garden equipment now includes power tools, hedge-cutters, edge trimmers  and lawnmowers.  Until the 1960s everybody used a hand mower that cut as you pushed it along. It was hard work. Even my father’s motorised mowing machine, which he was one of the first to use (he had to make it himself) had started life as a hand mower. In mowing the grass by hand the exercise may have been rather tiring, but it can have done nothing but good to the gardener!

There is large Garden Centre less than half a mile from where I live, and another at Bawdeswell is not many miles away. I can remember when the Highway Garden Centre at Framingham Pigot was no more than a table of annuals outside a  cottage; it is now a multi-million pound business. Garden Centres have sprung up all round the country and may be found anywhere that customers may be found. This is true not only in this country but around the world; I was walking round a Garden Centre in Calgary in Canada a few months ago. Whether they have spread to China, India or the bleak northern wastes of Russia I rather doubt, but anyone who can trace their ancestry back to the garden-loving Europeans will probably have a garden centre somewhere near.

Nowadays garden shears are seldom used for hedge cutting, whichhas gone the same way a lawn mowing, and electric cutters have taken over. I would also like to say that Rotovators have superseded the garden spade, but most gardens now are dig-free zones, where shingle or paving slabs have taken the place of vegetable plots. The use of artificial turf for lawns is now very common, where lawns are still used at all. Many smaller front gardens are now put down entirely to car parking.

The Garden Centre caters for all these aspects of gardening, but it has also spread to selling items that have no connection with the outdoors – or indoor plants either. Bottles of liqueurs, books of recipes, pet food, rugs, indoor furniture and wooden animals cover much of the selling space near the entrance, leaving the plants to take second place.  It is all a long way from the simple nursery I knew when I was young.






Lingwood Railway Station

Lingwood Railway Station

This little village in the Yare valley would have little to contribute to this blog were it not for its railway station on the Wherry Line to Yarmouth. This line is not the original one from Yarmouth to Norwich that was opened in 1844. This, the first railway in Norfolk, went via the Berney Arms Halt, through Reedham, Cantley and Brundall.

The line through Lingwood represents the more direct route through Acle, and now takes nearly all the trains between Norwich and Yarmouth. It joins the other route at Brundall. It was opened some twenty years later in 1883. Lingwood was a busy station dealing with agricultural produce, and possessed a warehouse, sidings and a second platform. The growth of road transport robbed all the small stations across the country of their goods traffic. In the mid 1960s most of these small stations became unstaffed halts, and goods trains no longer called at them. That included Lingwood.

After a period of decline the railway is again growing strongly and in the ten years from 2004 to 2014 passenger traffic at Lingwood has grown from 30,000 by more than 50% to 50,000. This puts it on a par with the town of Acle, the only other station on this section of the line. It is a good figure for a rural village, and it obviously draws passengers in from the surrounding area.

At Lingwood there is a level crossing by the station. This was in the news a couple of years ago when a leaf cleaning train ran through the gate when it was closed to the railway. No one was hurt, and the only damage was to the barrier. When the driver descended from his cab he seemed more interested in the local bird life than the job in hand; at least that was what he wanted to talk about. Perhaps if he had been more interested in the track the incident could have been avoided. You may read about this accident by clicking here. Falling leaves cause chaos on the railways every autumn, when the train wheels slip and become deformed, requiring a visit to the workshops. This was never a problem in the days of steam, when the heavy locomotives, large driving wheels and the clearing of the trackside embankments and cuttings of trees minimised the problem. The trees were cutback to avoid sparks from the chimney cause conflagrations, but this had the other useful effect of keeping leaves well away from the line.

When the station building was closed it was left derelict for a time and then it was then taken over by local organisations, including a hair dresser and a doctors’ surgery. Since 1990 it has been run as a bed and breakfast. This is referred to rather  grandly as a hotel on the National Rail website. When he was a schoolboy my son’s best friend was the child of the owners of Lingwood station b & b. The station was a very convenient place from which to catch the train every morning on his way to school in Norwich. My son also frequently went to visit him by train after school.

Lingwood village is the largest in the joint parish which includes North and South Burlingham. Although Strumpshaw is a separate parish, it looks to the adjoining village of Lingwood for its shopping needs and of course the railway. The cricketer Bill Edrich (1916-1986) was born in Lingwood; I do not know how well he is remembered today, but he was a famous sportsman in his time. I don’t suppose his batting average in first-class cricket will ever be equalled today, when there are rather fewer  matches played in a season. Aa a child Bill Edrich also took the train from Lingwood station on his daily commute to school in Norwich. The main reason I remember his name is because I was at school with his son. What a lot of connections we have as a family with Lingwood railway station, through school friends!





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