Who is my oldest ancestor that I can show you a picture of? It must be my great-great-grandfather, John Atthow, born in Beeston in central Norfolk in the year 1813. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, the Napoleonic War was still going on and George the Third was on the throne. The prize-fighter Jem Mace (later the first World Champion boxer) was born in the same village in 1831, when John Atthow was already grown up. John Atthow must have been ambitious as he became a fairly prosperous man – maybe that was how he came to had a photograph taken in the middle of the 19th century. By 1850 he was a pig dealer and ten years later he had a farm with several workers; he died before he was fifty years old.


My next ancestor of whom I can show you a photograph was in the following generation, great-grandfather William Rutter, born in 1828 in Whepstead, a village in Suffolk just south of Bury St Edmunds. His father Joseph had a bakery and grocer’s shop in Whepstead when the population of the village was half as large again as it is today. The village can no longer support a shop, although in the 19th century the Greyhound pub also traded as a baker and grocery. The village still has a pub (the White Horse) that was already long-established in Joseph’s day, though I doubt that his family of strict Baptists were frequent visitors. Joseph’ son William Rutter went on to be a baker himself, spending the greater part of his life in the town of Stradbroke in Suffolk. Astonishingly the shop is still there and still baking bread, although it passed out of the family’s hands some 70 years ago.


William’s second wife Lucy was my great-grandmother. She was born near Stradbroke at Syleham in 1844. Her father was a carpenter who had passed away before she was married; that was to the local baker in 1872. Before they married she had been William Rutter’s housekeeper after his first wife had died in 1870. The family got a T Model Ford after the First World War, and although she certainly never drove herself, she was driven around Suffolk by a son. She had twelve children before 1891, the youngest of whom was killed in the Great War. William had died in 1904 and she kept on the bakery, assisted by her numerous offspring.

Charles Mason at his wedding to Rebecca Buxton


Moving on, another great-grandfather Charles Mason was born in Staffordshire in 1857. Unlike those ancestors I have mentioned so far, he did not come from a fairly prosperous background. He met my great-grandmother (a Norfolk girl) while she was working in service near Stoke on Trent. Once he was married Charles had to scrape a living as a kennelman in Kent, while his wife and growing family were living with his mother in law in Norfolk. This hand to mouth existence continued until, by a stroke of luck, he got a position with Colmans, the mustard maker and a model employer. Here he is on his wedding day in 1879. His wife Rebecca (my great-grandmother) is pictured  to the left. She died in 1895 and my great-grandfather remarried.



Another great-grandmother is John Atthow’s daughter, also called Rebecca. She was born in East Bradenham, another village near Beeston west of Dereham. She married Henry Rivett, member of another rising local farming family; his father had progressed through ancilliary trades to being a farmer, which trade his son followed too. Their sons went into farming or the drapery business; my grandfather chose the latter way of life. After she was widowed one of Rebecca’s farmer sons inherited the farm and she moved to a house in West Parade in Norwich. There my sister remembers visiting her as a four year old. She was living with an unmarried daughter and died in 1940.






St Peter Mancroft church, along with the City Hall, is one of the great buildings that dominate the centre of Norwich. The focus of the centre is not a building at all, but the market. To the north stands the Guildhall, that lovely flint building that was the centre of local government in Norwich from the late middle ages until the middle of the twentieth century.To the west of the market place stands its replacement, City Hall, with its distinctive 1930s architecture, topped off with the clock tower. Alongside City Hall is another important building, the forum, containing the Millennium Library. In architectural terms this much preferable to the previous central library, built in the 1960s in the style of the times. Even if the newer building is better, the previous Norwich library was not a bad example though this kind of architecture is now out of vogue. The fire that destroyed it gave the city the chance to replace the library on a grander scale and it did so; the great sadness about the fire lies in the unknown quantity of local material that was lost. It is unknown because the catalogue too was burnt in the fire.

Yet further south is the Assembly House, that 18th century asset that was lost to other uses in the 19th century, until returned to the public through the generosity of the shoe manufacturer H. J. Sexton after the Second World War. To the east of the market lies the main shopping street of the city, Gentleman’s Walk.

Finally we come the crowning glory, St Peter Mancroft church. This is so obviously the central church in Norwich that many visitors assume it to be the cathedral; it is big enough. Indeed even my university tutor, on his first visit to Norwich made this erroneous assumption. Unlike the cathedral, which is basically Norman in style, St Peter Mancroft is Perpendicular. This makes it more a light, airy and a much more friendly place.

St Peter Mancroft, 1950.

Mancroft is a corruption of its medieval name, Magna croft, a mixture of the Latin word magna meaning great and the Old English word croft for an enclosed area of land; in other words, the market place. It has stood guard over the market for longer than any of the other buildings; even the Guildhall is but a newcomer. Local worthies have been born and married within its walls, and their mortal remains have received their final rites there for over six centuries. The peal of bells has celebrated great national events, and the local populace has gathered in the shadow of the north wall to rejoice at victories and to remember the fallen.

From Gentleman’s Walk coaches used to depart for London (click here to see an illustration). Here Will Kempe (Shakespeare’s comedian actor) ended his mammoth Morris Dance from the capital, in Norwich market place. On the 18th May 1776 Richard Mackenzie Bacon was baptised at St Peter Mancroft, aged just over two weeks. He later went on the invent the first rotary press and publish the first music magazine in the world. Earlier this year I attended the Memorial Service for Margaret Ashcroft at St Peter Mancroft; she had been headmistress of a Norwich school and later spent many years promoting drama in the city. James Edward Smith looked out over Gentleman’s Walk as a child, dreaming of the exotic plants, the study of which would eventually lead to his knighthood. The great Sir Thomas Browne met the diarist John Evelyn under the tower of St Peter Mancroft and discussed the religious opinions of the day.

On a more humble level I have often visited the market to buy cabbages and carrots, chips and shellfish.




The review of my book in the Suffolk Local History Newsletter by the Rev Tony Redman is a very comprehensive account of my book. Considering that this was produced by a Suffolk resident, who has always believed that Edmund’s death took place in that county, his review is fair and balanced. I was aware that my book might not have a positive reception in Suffolk as it promotes the claims of Norfolk, so I was pleasantly surprised by this review. He even says that my book is well written, which is a nice compliment. I only have one slight reservation; the reviewer states that I believe that St Edmund’s body was removed from Lyng when the nuns there were relocated to Thetford. In fact I believe he was reinterred in Bury St Edmunds much earlier, soon after the fall of the last Danish king of East Anglia in around 920 AD.

The newsletter includes a review of another St Edmund book, Edmund; In Search of England’s Lost King, Francis Young, published within a few days of my own. I will deal with this book myself, rather than reproduce the Rev Tony Redman’s review. Much of the book concerns the history of  St Edmund’s cult after 1066, coming up to the present day, and so falls outside my purview. An interesting question that he asks is why wasn’t the newly unified kingdom referred to as the kingdom of the Saxons? After all, Alfred was ruler of the West Saxons not the Angles. It is true that Bede had already referred to the whole Anglo-Saxon church as English (ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum) in the 8th century. However Francis Young suggests after Edmund’s martyrdom this use of the word English helped to identify the people with the East Anglians, as that was Edmund’s kingdom and he was the most famous of the Anglo-Saxon kings. It is impossible to prove, but it is an attractive theory. Less fortunate is Young’s passing comment on the nature of the genome found in Britain. I do not think he can be an expert in this branch of knowledge, and perhaps the subject requires some more reflective consideration than his rather throw-away remark on the matter displays.

On the death of Edmund I am broadly in agreement with his observations on the reports of Edmund’s death in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bishop Asser’s Life of King Alfred. It is when he goes on to consider Abbo’s Passio, the long account of Edmund’s last hours, that we part company. Here he takes the usual path of picking the parts he likes and dismissing those he does not. In particular he disregard Abbo’s account of the Danes arriving by sea. I would have recommended that he had taken more notice of Alfred Smyth’s masterly account Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles before coming to such a conclusion. When it comes to naming the place where Edmund died he reviews the various place called some approximation to Hellesdon (or is some cases just places beginning with the letter ‘h’), although he predictably places most credence in a Suffolk field that no one has heard of, rather than the Norfolk village. I will not go into my theory on the death of Edmund here – I have already covered this elsewhere in my blog. See St Edmund King and Martyr.

Young is sometimes rather cavalier in his approach to facts; he states without a caveat that there were 17 medieval churches dedicated to St Edmund in Norfolk and 5 in Suffolk, although the gazetteer in my book mentions 23 and 9 respectively (and I stress that the list is not a definitive one). This is not an important issue, but he then goes on to rank some counties by their number of churches – a dubious procedure, given the uncertain nature of the data. I understand that he has written 8 books in the last ten years, while I have taken 15 years write just one! Maybe his research has been a little hurried? I am sure that he could find at least as many errors in my book and I do not wish to denigrate the work of this author, who has much of interest to say on this and other matters. If St Edmund is of interest to you by all means read it for yourself. You can come to your own conclusions.


My contribution to this debate is the book St Edmund and the Vikings 869–1066. It is published by lassepress@gmail and is available direct from the publisher, on Amazon or from any new bookshop. It  has 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 black and white illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6. The cost if purchased from the publisher is only £12, post free.

I hope all my readers who are interested in St Edmund have borrowed a copy of my book from the library by now. If you wish to purchased it hurry up! It is still available but who knows for how long.




What are we doing when we play? The dictionary definition is ‘engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose‘. That is the superficial view of play. We are having fun certainly, but there is a deeply serious motive behind it. We are doing nothing less than preparing ourselves for the things that are going to happen to all of us. To put this in modern terms, we are rehearsing life skills. This is true of adults, children – even dogs. This means that play is basic practice for what will happen in the real world, whether it is for humans or in animals. This is what we are doing when we play chess, toy soldiers, football, even noughts and crosses. Conflict is often a large part of play as it is in life – the two teams in a sports match are an example of this, but not all play is conflict; building with Lego bricks, playing with dolls, even a dog returning a ball that you have thrown are cooperative endeavours in play, not involving conflict. It is obvious why children play so much – they have a lot to learn and quickly – but play continues throughout life, though it is less important in the elderly. You will not find much playfulness in an old folks home.

Rugby match; Norwich School against Gresham’s. (6th November 1999)

It is revealing to consider the different uses of the word ‘play’. An important one is the playing of music. Is music a preparation for life? In a much more subtle way than playing games it is. Playing in this respect is much more about cooperation than conflict, though conflict has its place. The playing of a military band helps to reinforce the unity of a regiment before going into battle. It is an important part of preparing for conflict – a real life and death scenario. Playing a hymn tune provides a church congregation with a single sense purpose. The National Anthem produces a unity among the attendees at an event. In these cases playing music is mostly looking forward, but in playing a folk song it is looking back to things that happened long ago. You could regard the playing of a piece of music as erecting a structure in sound that imitates the structure of the world around us. In playing your part in an orchestra you are participating in a joint venture that produces a sense of achievement; it is similar to the feeling of the winning team in a Cup Final.

Yet another sense the word ‘play’ concerns drama. A play is a fictional version of life that prepares you emotionally for the good and the bad, the comedy and the tragedy. That is why we are entertained by plays; they impose order on the welter of experiences that rain down on us every day, and allow us to draw lessons from apparently random events. The same thing is happening when the rules of a cricket match let us create order out of chaos; it has a wicket, overs, an umpire. It is not just wildly hitting out at ball with a bat. A play is even more structured than a sports match but both have a beginning and an end; what happens in the middle is played out before our eyes. This can be a deeply moving experience but ultimately it is not real life; ‘the play’s the thing’*. We leave the stadium or the theatre and go home.

These different uses of the word play are not recognized as having any connection by most people. I hope that I have demonstrated the underlying relationship of these kinds of play and its complete contrast with actuality. I think there is the germ of a much longer and deeper piece of writing in this short blog on play, but this will have to do for now.

*This quotation comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.




This takes me right back to the first time I ever went to the dentist. In those days a dental practice meant one man or possibly him and a partner; there were no large group practices or organisations employing dentists then, and certainly no women practitioners. The NHS was under a decade old, and this had a major effect on your treatment; it didn’t matter if all you needed was a check-up or a major root canal filling because it was all still completely free; so were opticians appointments, NHS glasses, chiropody treatments and pharmaceutical drugs. Now one always has to wave one’s credit card at the receptionist whenever you approach any of these ancilliary medical services. Nothing is free anymore except a visit to the doctor. Why can you still go to a GP’s surgery with a snuffly nose and it will cost you nothing, but to see a dentist with raging toothache will cost you big time? The answer is not clear to me; at least at the start all health provision was free. I don’t know if it is still the case, but at one time after the introduction of charges, you could get non-prescription medicines on the NHS but they cost you much more than if you just went to the chemist and paid for them yourself. No-one with any sense would use this service, but it shows how crazy the system is. It is now an unfathomably contradiction of free services and ones you have to pay for. What is the rationale behind it? I can only see a desperate attempt to pretend that the health service is free at the point of use; that is only true in parts. But I digress.

I must have been about six or seven years old, so I still had my milk teeth. As you will find out shortly, my mother (who was trained nurse by the way) later felt incredibly guilty for not taking me to have my teeth looked at earlier. She must have thought that religiously brushing my teeth every night was enough. Obviously she was wrong, as she found out that day!

The dentist’s surgery was on the ground floor of his house, a large red brick building on the corner of Unthank and Grosvenor Roads. This impressive town mansion is still a dental practice, although it now has many practitioners operating from it, not just the one man assisted by his receptionist/wife. The rest of the building which now houses many medical facilities was his living quarters. My father liked this dentist because he had always found him very gentle when he needed things done to his teeth. Being such a delicate operator was quite an achievement in the 1950s, because the equipment available was all fairly basic by modern standards. Not quite as primitive as when you went to the local blacksmith when you needed a tooth out, but you get the idea. The mechanical drills screamed in an unnerving way that could reduce you to a jelly while your mouth was still firmly shut. However I did not experience any of this on my first visit; as my parents were informed I didn’t need a filling; I needed a tooth extraction.

I was put under with Laughing Gas (nitrous oxide to give it its proper name). Luckily milk teeth are not that firmly attached to the jaw and I felt no pain as he wrenched my tooth out. The anaesthetic gas obviously worked from that point of view, but I was not fully unconscious. I even still have an impression in my mind of the gaudy colours and weird images that passed before my eyes. It must have been a vivid experience for me to have any recollection after all these years. Apparently nitrous oxide is a fairly strong hallucinogen and I was slightly surprised to learn that is still used in dental work; surely anaesthesia has advanced in the last fifty years? Apparently it is quite legal to buy canisters of nitrous oxide. I will be very happy if I never hallucinate again; Laugh Gas was bad enough, and the prospect of deliberately ingesting LSD is a terrifying thought to me. Anyway that was my only experience of having a hallucinatory experience. I cannot understand the psyche of those who would even risk their lives in seeking hallucinations. People are strange.




The late Basil Kybird’s family came from Thetford, and in 2012 I published an article by him giving a fascinating account of life in THETFORD before the war.  Thetford has the distinction of being the oldest town in Norfolk to get a mention in an historical document. Venta Icenorum (Caistor St Edmunds) is older, but has not counted as a town since Roman times. Dereham is described as the place where the nun St Withburga died in 743AD, but if this was West Dereham this has never been more than a village. Thetford is recorded as the town where the Danes set up camp in the year 869 on the way to kill King Edmund. At the time of the Domesday survey the Bishop of East Anglia was based in Thetford- he did not move his see to Norwich until later; it is obvious that it is a very historic place.

Rear of Jasmine Cottage, 40, Vicarage Road, Thetford.

It has long been a transport hub in the centre of Norfolk and Suffolk. Norwich and Ipswich looked eastwards to the sea for their connections with the wider world, but Thetford is oriented inland. The river Little Ouse took traffic along to Brandon and thence to the Great Ouse river basin. Peddars Way went a few miles east of Thetford and joined the area with the Ickneild Way to the south west. It went where you could cross into Norfolk without getting your feet wet (the rivers Little Ouse and Waveney flow west and east from within about a mile of each other). The A11 (which used to go through the middle of the town) is now the main road to London, but in the past the route from Thetford to London passed through Bury St Edmunds and Chelmsford. It would have been the most direct way to the capital, and that mattered if you were going on foot or by ox cart!

The first railway line to link Norfolk with London opened to Thetford in 1845. Thetford went on to be the junction with the line to Bury St Edmunds and the end of the branch that joined that town with Watton and Swaffham. These branch lines closed in the 50s and 60s and Thetford ceased to be junction. The train is still the quickest way to get there from Norwich; it takes under half an hour by rail, compared to three-quarters of an hour by dual carriageway road. It should soon be possible to get a direct service to Stansted Airport from this Norfolk town. It is true that you could get a direct train from Thetford to Stansted a hundred years ago, but that was before the word ‘airliner’ had entered the travellers’ vocabulary.

In the age of steam it was the place where Burrell traction engines were built. (Basil’s granddad worked for the firm.) The railway was the crucial element in enabling them to dispatch this agricultural machinery across the world. Burrell’s factory once employed hundreds of people in Thetford. It was one of the largest suppliers of powered road vehicles before the dawn of the internal combustion engine age.

In the more distant past the town was a centre of the paper making trade; in the 18th century it was the principal industry in the town. The linen rags required were not available in sufficient quantities in Thetford itself and were brought to the mill by river from places along the Great Ouse. The mill was established shortly before 1735 on a site where a watermill had been since before 1066. After producing an inferior grade of white paper for many years, in the late 19th century the Patent Pulp Manufacturing Co. Ltd. turned its attention to producing articles of papier-mâché like trays and bowls. They used jute sacks to produce pulp for this purpose, and they would have brought them in by train. The mill finally closed in the 1950s.

The Forestry Commission was set up in the 1920s as result of the severe shortage of native grown timber that became apparent in the First World War. The largest forest established in the UK as a result is Thetford Forest.  The farms in the area were not very productive – irrigation was not then available and despite the Scots pine windbreaks that were a feature of the Brecks sandstorms were a common occurrence. The purchase of large tracts of land to grow Corsican pines was broadly welcomed by the local estate owners.

Thetford  Grammar School claims to have been founded in 631. In that year St Felix certainly established a school to train his priests somewhere in East Anglia; there is no proof it was in Thetford, but an ancient town there is a good chance that this was so. If this is the case it is the oldest school in the country and it is incredible that it is still going strong. There may have been a brief period in the sixteenth century when it ceased to function, and from 1944 for nearly forty years it was a part of the State School system. It is again an independent school taking pupils from the ages of 3 to 18 and is coeducational. Its most famous pupil was the son of a weaver Tom Paine, perhaps better known in the US as a major agitator for the War of Independence.





Until 1959 there were two adjacent stations at North Walsham, North Walsham Main and North Walsham Town. North Walsham Main still exists. As the only station there it is now called just North Walsham, as it had been from 1874, when the railway first reached this part of Norfolk, until 1882, when it was joined by its competitor. Town took the M&GN line that ran from Kings Lynn and the midlands to Yarmouth Beach Station. The other line went from Norwich Thorpe to Cromer High until that station was closed in 1953 and Cromer Beach became the station in Cromer. A family acquaintance lived very near to Cromer High and I can vaguely remember the station (I was only four when it ended).

A branch went from North Walsham Main to Mundesley. Before the early 50s, when the part along the coast was closed, it continued via Trimingham to Cromer Beach. North Walsham was a major junction; from there you could take a train in five directions. A connecting spur with the M&GN line ran from just to the south of Town station. In the 1930s this enabled a summer service to run from Yarmouth Beach to Cromer Beach via North Walsham Main and Mundesley. It went out in the morning and returned in the evening, giving holiday makers from Great Yarmouth a day (5½ hours) to spend on the North Norfolk coast.

BRIDGE at HONING, the next station from North Walsham Town.

As an indication of the importance of the town, the Norfolk Coast Express that ran from London Liverpool Street to North Norfolk (avoiding Norwich by the Wensum Curve) made its first stop at North Walsham. The first bogie coaches on the GER had been introduced in 1897 for its predecessor, the Cromer Express. This was the premier express on Great Eastern metals. Water troughs were placed on the line just south of Ipswich to replenish the tender tanks of the Claud Hamilton locos that were the most powerful express engines on the GER at the time. The Cromer Express was made up of bogie corridor coaches that had been newly built in Stratford works in 1897. A restaurant facility was included on the train that would serve 108 travellers at one sitting. The cost of the meal was half-a-crown. The stop at North Walsham allowed discerning passengers to disembark for onward travel to Mundesley en route to the station at Overstrand; this was the centre of ‘Poppyland‘, a desirable destination among the wealthy and fashionable Romantics of the Edwardian era. Another reason for the stop at North Walsham was perhaps a more practical and prosaic one – by then the engine was running short of coal!

In the summer of 1964 I got off the train at North Walsham to ride the line to Mundesley, shortly before it closed in October of that year. By then of course the trains in East Anglia were nearly all diesels. Except for the most minor stations on BR they were however still staffed, including that at North Walsham. Most retained a goods service too. Coal was the mainstay of the cargo delivered to these outlying towns and villages, but some seasonal farm produce also still went by rail, especially sugar beet. Even Mundesley kept open for another two months after passenger traffic ended to clear the remaining sugar beet from the line.

Now North Walsham is the busiest station on the Bittern line. It is the base for commuters from North East Norfolk who work in Norwich; the journey takes just under half an hour and with a season ticket the cost is well under a fiver. The line is single track north of Wroxham but North Walsham has a passing loop where trains cross on the way to and from the coast. The buildings on the station were in a bad condition by 1970 and were demolished some forty years ago, and now there are just modern shelters on the platforms. There is a large yard there for freight, because besides passenger traffic it still has a service of tanker wagons. These take gas concentrate from the Bacton terminal to the port at Harwich. This concentrate is piped along the route of the old branch line from Mundesley to North Wallsham, where it is transferred to rail. It is the only freight to pass through Norwich on a regular basis.





We had a brief visit from the Dutch parents of our son’s partner this summer. This was made even shorter by delays at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport; however we had time for a voyage down the river Ant from Wayford Bridge to How Hill. How Hill is a country house built in the early 20th century by a prominent local architect for his own use and now is a pleasant retreat for educational events. I attended a Recorder Society day school there in the 1980s. I arrived by car and on the return journey I damaged my front axle by missing a turn in the lane because of the mist. Although I had it repaired it was never the same again.

On this occasion I was driven from home without incident. The Dutch couple had hired a car; they had been staying at a pub and we met them at Wayford Bridge. We had hired a cruiser for half a day and set off about half past ten. The day boat had a gas hob and sink, even a table, so we were able to have a cup of coffee and eat the sandwiches that my wife Molly had prepared. Besides our son and his girlfriend, her parents and us we should not forget the most lively member of the party – our four-legged friend Wesley.

The weather was pleasant enough to begin with, so we had the canopy pulled back. Ducks, geese and swans were paddling by with their chicks, it being that time of year. Barton Broad opened up before us and reminded me of learning to sail when I was a teenager. I was a member of the Sailing Club at school and every Thursday afternoon in the summer term we went by coach to Barton Turf. Although I kept my own Enterprise there I particularly enjoyed sailing Fairey Firefly dinghies. These belonged to the school and were perfect for sailing single-handed. With the jib sheet in a jamming cleat, one hand on the tiller and one hand on the main sheet I had  all the open water to play with. I would often capsize, but by stepping onto the centre plated as she went over I could right her without even getting my feet wet; happy days! Sailing took place from the pontoon in the middle of the broad then as it does today.

Ducks at How Hill

We chugged on to the far end of the Broad. How Hill is not far along the river Ant beyond Barton Broad and there we moored just downstream of a Pleasure Wherry.  This was built for the sisters of Alan Colman, who died of tuberculosis at Luxor in Egypt in 1897, aged just 30. He was being cared for on a luxury sailing boat called Hathor, after the Egyptian goddess of love, joy and abundance. The wherry was named Hathor after this yacht, to commemorate Alan and is decorated internally in Ancient Egyptian style. Florence, one of Alan’s sisters, was the wife of the owner of How Hill and spent much of her married life there.

I stayed on board, but the others (including Wesley naturally) went for a walk round the grounds of How Hill. The Hitler Oak is the main taking point here, but to be honest it doesn’t interest me; for one thing the tree is dead and just a stump remains. The oak was awarded to a son of the owner of How Hill who was helmsman of the gold medal winning yacht in the 1936 Olympic Games.

We returned the way we had come, but just before we reached Wayford Bridge the heavens opened. Getting out we were all drenched. (I think this was the last rain we had before the long drought.) The staff of the boatyard had all gone home, and the size of the fob on the key would not allow us to put it through the letter box of their office. We had to leave it on the boat.




Two factors have shaped the Suffolk coastline, and indeed continue to shape it. We are mostly looking at a long timescale, but in places like Benacre and Covehithe the changes are happening quite rapidly. The two factors are the southerly tidal drift and the sandy nature of the soil. In examining these features together we will start far away from Suffolk in the north. Although the tidal drift is southerly all along the whole East Coast, in much of Yorkshire the geological material is rocky and so largely impervious to change. At the extreme south of the county, by the river Humber, it turns sandy and Spurn Head diverts the river sharply south at Hull. The same thing occurs at Great Yarmouth, where from Breydon Water the course of the River Yare turns 180° south; the whole town is built on the sand spit that runs from Caister-on-Sea to the harbour mouth. Like Spurn Head, this was created from sand carried south by tidal action.

This is even more noticeable in Suffolk. Only one river flows east to the North Sea in Norfolk, the river Yare, but all the rivers in Suffolk flow that way. In the south of the county only tiny spits of land are found at the mouths of the rivers Orwell and Deben (Landguard Fort and Bawdsey respectively); this is possibly because the coast turns west south of Shingle Street, and this robs the southerly tidal drift of some of its force. This is not the case with the next river to the north, the Ore. In the middle ages this river flowed out to sea at Aldeburgh as the river Alde. It is still known by that name north of Orford. Six hundred years ago just a minor sand spit extended south of Aldeburgh and the town was an important trading and shipbuilding centre. The Moot Hall is a reminder of this period. When Orford Castle was built that town was also a port with access to the open sea. Now the spit stretches for miles south of that, before the river finally debouches into the sea at Shingle Street.


What happened to the river Blyth at Southwold is in many respects the opposite of what happened at Aldeburgh. If we go back thousands of years, I suggest that the river Blyth then flowed into the sea at Southwold as it does today. A sand spit began to develop and turned the river sharply south, first to Walberswick and then eventually to Dunwich. In 1328 a severe storm broke through the sand spit at Southwold and the river Blyth poured into the sea. You can still trace the course that the river used to take; it now appears as a creek between Walberswick village and the sea. It is best appreciated on Google Maps Satellite View. It is called the Dunwich River to this day. Instead of being just a fishing village sending boats out to sea from the beach Southwold became a major seaport.

Meanwhile Dunwich, deprived of the river flow to keep the harbour clear of silt, eventually became unusable as a port. After losing much of its trade to Southwold to the north and Aldeburgh to the south Dunwich then fell victim to coastal erosion. The sea which had destroyed the sand spit at Southwold next turned its attention to the town of Dunwich itself. Today, instead of being comparable in importance to the City of London, it is a village of around a hundred people.

Southwold rapidly grew into a rich town and prosperous town, as we can see from the fine church of St Edmund that was started a hundred years after the sea broke through. Before then the hamlet had possessed nothing more than a minor chapel.  The town received its Royal Charter fifty years later from Henry VII.  What caused the sea to stop depositing sand along this stretch of coast and change to taking it away instead? I do not know the answer, except to state that the whole Suffolk coastline is a dynamic one. Towns come and go and the sea that deposited the land on which Orford lighthouse was built seems set shortly to take it away again.




I have not been what is normally meant by a career criminal. I have only on one occasion been in a courtroom, and that was the time (over forty years ago) when I sat on a jury. Since I gave up driving ten years ago I have led a pretty blameless life, but before then scarcely a week went by without my committing an offence. It was not violence or burglary or anything like that which put me on the wrong side of the law. As you might have guessed, these were motoring offences.

These were almost entirely exceeding the speed limit. I may have drunk more than was wise before getting behind the wheel when a young man, but in those far off days there was no official cap on the amount of alcohol one could consume. It is hard to believe, but the only crime in the 1960s was ‘being drunk and incapable while in charge of a vehicle’, and that went back to the days when the phrase referred to a horse and cart! I remember the story of Bluey Drake and Barney Welch driving home by horse and cart to Costessey from Norwich after a night on the tiles. This was before the war, and both of them were blind drunk, but as the horse knew the way back no harm was done. The law, especially the ‘incapable’ part, obviously meant total intoxication such as that of Bluey and Barney, and this never applied to me.

As far as speeding went, very often I did not even realise that I had strayed a few miles an hour above the speed limit. I don’t think I was ever apprehended in my wicked ways; I may have forgotten an occasion after all these years, but as far as I am aware I have never even had as much as a parking fine. (Parking is another trap like speeding, but it is not a daily problem like treading on the gas too freely.)

On one occasion I wrote off a car through crashing it. It was in Suffolk and late at night, but when I informed the police of what had happened, on learning that I was uninjured and that no other car was involved they could not even be bothered to attend. If they had turned up I might well have been charged with dangerous driving (I went straight across a roundabout, though that was because my tyres lost their grip). As this occurred deep in the countryside I can well understand their reluctance to turn out in the dark, but I am grateful that they didn’t come nonetheless. It meant I kept my clean sheet as far the law was concerned. I must have got a taxi home that evening.

I have tried hard to remember any other sprees of law breaking in my past, but I cannot think of any. Perhaps I may have made some technical violations of the law as a teenager. In this preponderance of traffic law violations I am sure that I am not alone. My father-in-law was a policeman, and he may have been more aware of speed signs than most of us, but even he must have broken the speed limit now and then. On the whole I am sure that motoring offences are a universal condition among drivers. They are something different from other breaches of the law. I don’t even feel guilty if all I have done is stray a little bit above thirty mph, when the road was clear and the weather was fine.

As technology develops many of these offences will disappear anyway. Already under-inflated tyres are flashed up on the up-to-date car’s data screen, and sound and visual warnings advise the driver if she is getting too close other cars or obstacles. These things make dangerous driving much less likely. The only thing preventing speed limits being automatically applied by the modern car’s computer is the lack of the necessary infrastructure on the part of the Highways Agency. This would be an extremely expensive business to implement, and it would deprive the Government of an enormous revenue stream; consequently I don’t see it being introduced anytime soon. There has been an audible warning signal of approaching speed cameras on my Sat-Nav for years, which helps in avoiding speeding fines.

So there you have my history of crime. All my misdemeanours have been minor ones; I have never injured anyone or even any property (except the car I crashed). My speed violations have been petty ones and I have never been excessively fast. I trust that the Statute of Limitations means that I can admit these many instances of law breaking with impunity. In spite of this article being about my repeated lawlessness, I think that in fact I have been unusually law-abiding.