We are an island race par excellence; even if you are an immigrant, once you become a British citizen you cannot help but adopt the national character in this respect. That characteristic is insularity. You have no choice in the matter. You might like to consider yourself a citizen of the world, but the sea has made other arrangements.
Compared to Britain, all the other countries in Europe (except little Malta) have rather hazy borders. At a point in recent history Denmark extended south into what is now Germany. The border area, Schleswig-Holstein, led to two wars in the 19th century. Poland did not exist at all in the nineteenth century, being divided among its neighbours; when it was briefly restored to independence after the First World War it extended far to the east. The Russian Revolution had caused the collapse of the Czarist Empire, and the borders of Poland reflected this fact. A few years later the victorious Stalin pushed the borders of his client state out of its eastern territories and focused the state into what had formerly been Prussia. The German city of Danzig became Polish Gdansk.
It is the same all over Europe; Norway emerged from centuries of foreign domination only at the beginning of the twentieth century. Portugal was occupied by the French under Napoleon; Belgium was created in the aftermath of his defeat. Strasburg has repeated changed its allegiance from Germany to France, depending upon which country won the most recent conflict. The South Tyrol changed from Austrian to Italian sovereignty after the First World War. This process is still going on; in 2014 Crimea was forcibly transferred from Ukraine to Russia. The borders of all mainland European states have moved as a result of plebiscites or wars.
By contrast the borders of this country are set in stone. This is literally true along much of the West Coast, and while the sandier shores of Lincolnshire and East Anglia may come and go, it is the impersonal actions of the waves we have to thank, rather than warlike invaders. This has given our people a wholly different perception of our nationhood. Northern Ireland is different, in having a land border with a foreign country, but the creation of Northern Ireland is a relatively recent and fractious phenomenon. Things would be rather different if Scotland ever becomes independent; but as things stand the British mainland is fixed in a way that the borders of other European countries never have been and never could be.
Australia, New Zealand and Japan are also countries whose borders are defined by the sea. Canada is largely bordered by sea, and the common heritage of the British Empire has made the land border with the USA a peaceful one. (Contrast this northern border of the US with the southern one with Mexico, where there has recently been serious consideration of building a wall.) Although their country is much larger in area and smaller in population than Britain, Australians has a similar insular character. Although there is plenty of open space available for settlement, they have very strict immigration requirements, and that is a part of their feeling of nationhood.
This watery border has other consequences for the way we run our lives in Britain. The fact that we opted out of the Euro was in a large part a reflection of our insularity. The pound represents the country, and the coinage had been a changeless part of life for centuries. Victorian pennies regularly turned up in your change until old pennies were abolished in 1971, and the old shilling remained legal tender into the 1980s, although it was referred to as five new pence. It was no accident that the symbol on the old penny was Britannia, surrounded by sea.
The position of being surrounded by water has had other effects too; it gave the country strong borders, but it also made the sea an extension of our national reach. The Channel may have kept foreigners out of Britain, but the sea opened up the world to our Navy. The sea is why the British Empire had a global presence, and that has made the English language the global means of communication. Most of us see no need to speak any language other than English.
The sea has given our country immunity from armed foreign invasion for nearly 1000 years, and this has enabled the evolution of our constitution. The Magna Carta remained a legal milestone throughout the centuries; in other places in Europe the laws of their lands have been swept away by changing empires and foreign armies, but Britain has been insulated from such changes. We normally trace our monarchy back to William of Normandy, although it is possible to go back to Alfred the Great. It is a great history, providing a continuity unknown in the rest of Europe.
In the 21st century the strength of our maritime defensive bulwark has been to some extent compromised. In the second half of last century the great increase in air travel made the English Channel less relevant; if you are going abroad the way is to fly. We are also now bound to France by the Channel Tunnel, and this too has made a portal through our previously impregnable boundary. We are marginally less insulated from the attentions of ‘less happier lands,’ but we are still a pretty insular nation.
Since I started to write this article on our island nation much of what I said has been reinforced by the decision to leave the European Union. A lot has been made of the wider possibilities of trade after Brexit, but the overwhelming impression is of Little England pulling up the drawbridge. Like it or not, if you are English you belong to an island people.
THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND
THE SQUIRES OF TAVERHAM, 1623-1920
I must warn you that there are many convoluted personal relationships in the following article. Do not worry if you are sometimes a little confused about the various people and their family connections involved – you are not alone! I hope the eventual picture that emerges is worth it.
The land in Taverham had belonged to the church before the Reformation, partly to the Priory of St Faith in Horsham and part to the Priory of the Holy Cross in Norwich. It was transferred to the Crown under Henry VIII, and in 1563 a 99 year lease was granted to Henry Riches, Lord of the Manor of Swannington, a couple of miles away from Taverham. The remainder of the lease was granted to Augustine Sotherton in 1623, and he or his descendants converted this to a more secure form of tenure known as copyhold. Copyhold was finally abolished in favour of freehold in 1922. The process of securing land rights has been going on for hundreds of years, and has largely been responsible for creating the legal profession in England.
Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597; some sources place his birth three years earlier. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were heavily involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff of Norfolk and as an MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. Upon his death early in the 17th century hi father left £6000 to his son Austin (Augustine). This was a huge sum, equivalent to many millions in today’s money.
The year 1623 was an eventful one for Augustine Sotherton; on May 15th he had married the heiress to the Shernborne family fortunes. She was a young lady called Mary. The wedding took place in St Sepulchre’s church in London, where she had been living since being orphaned twelve years before. The Shernbornes or Sharnbornes could trace their pedigree back to the reign of Edward II and, although not aristocrats, they were truly one of the oldest and most respected families in Norfolk. Aa an only child Mary was the last of the line. Shernborne, which gives the family its name and where they had lived for most of their long history, is a village between Sandringham and Snettisham, just to the east of Ingoldisthorpe. Not only getting married in 1623, Augustine acquired a landed estate in the same year, and on August 8th he was knighted. Perhaps these events are all related; already a rich man, the sudden increase in wealth following his marriage enabled the purchase of the Taverham estate, and maybe the grant of a knighthood was partly in recognition of his wife’s distinguished heritage. Certainly he left the grocery trade behind; from now on this branch of the family would be Country Gentlemen.
We can gather a little more about Mary Shernborne from the marriage register: “15 May 1623. Augustine Sotherton, Esq., Bachelor, 26, his parents dead, & Mary Sherborne, of St Sepulchre’s, London, Spinster, 20, dau. of Francis Sherborne, Esq., decd about 12 years since, since when she hath been trained up & remained with Mrs Mary Colt, Widow, of Colts Hall in Suffolk, her grandmother, who consents, as well as Edward Elrington, Esq., of St Sepulchre’s, in whose custody she now is; at St Bennet’s or St Peter’s, Paul’s Wharf, London.” [She signs the document “Mary Sharnbourn” in a firm hand.] In the Vicar-General’s Book her father is called Francis “of Sherborne, co. Suffolk.” The record is wrong in respect of the county, as Shernborne (or “Sharnbourne”) is in fact in Norfolk, as is her grandmother’s birthplace, Colts Hall. This is a few miles away in the village of Shouldham. Mary’s paternal grandmother remarried after Mary’s grandfather’s death, to a John Stubbs. He had his right hand cut off for writing a pamphlet criticising Queen Elizabeth’s romantic attachment to the Catholic Duke of Anjou.
Augustine Sotherton had at least two children; Thomas, born sometime after 1625, and Mary, born in 1628. She was baptised at Drayton rather than at Taverham, and as there was probably as yet no Hall in Taveram they mat well have been living in Drayton. Augustine died in 1649, and his son and heir Thomas was, in 1669, married to Elizabeth Barwick, daughter of a Norwich attorney. According to the Archdeacon’s transcripts from the Taverham parish register (the original now lost) the next Sotherton was another Thomas, born in 1677. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Barwick). This Thomas was married to Elizabeth Branthwait, who was the granddaughter of Francis Bacon, the eminent judge who is buried in a magnificent tomb in St Gregory’s church in Norwich. You may read more of Francis Bacon in my account of the Longe family, to whom he was also related. Elizabeth Branthwait came from a family of family of lawyers who had bought Hethel Hall in the 17th century.
It was in 1701, during the marriage of Thomas Sotherton and Elizabeth Barwick, that the watermill on the river Wensum at Taverham was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) to a paper mill. Thomas must have had prominent businessman friends in Norwich who persuaded him to promote the printing industry locally. This mill was described as ‘producing paper suitable for printing’ when it opened, but as there were no printers working in Norwich in 1700, the city fathers were obviously keen attract some. This they soon achieved, and by 1710 there were several, all using Taverham paper. This proliferation of printers in the city led to the production of the Norwich Post, the first provincial newspaper in England, and this was followed by several other weekly journals.
The last of the Taverham Sothertons, yet another Thomas, was born in 1707 and died in 1778. It was during his lifetime that the Georgian mansion (which survived until 1858) was built. His only child Mary (1732- 1803) married a second cousin named Miles Branthwait (1728 – 1780) in 1753.
Miles Branthwait had been born at Kettlestone near Fakenham where his father was Rector. Before going up to Cambridge to read law the Rector’s son attended Gresham’s school in Holt. In fact in the eighteenth century the school was not called Gresham’s, but Holt Free Grammar School. He lived most of his married life at a rented property near Melton Constable, Gunthorpe Hall. The current Gunthorpe Hall was built after his time. He only lived in Taverham for two years before he suddenly died, probably of a heart attack. He was a JP, and from what we know of him, he was a rather bristly character; he told James Woodforde not to fish in his river, which went down rather badly with the Parson.
He was succeeded by his son Miles Sotherton Branthwait (born 1756), one of whose first actions was to commission the architect John Soane to design an elegant dining room for the hall. This squire in turn died (without issue) in 1807, aged 51. He had been a keen huntsman until failing health forced him to sell his hounds. Miles Sotherton Branthwait had taken the running of the paper mill into his own hands in the 1780s, employing the former proprietor of the business as his employee manager. He equipped the mill with brand new vats and formes. Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken by the editor of one of the local newspapers, the Norwich Mercury. He was a new broom in the paper trade and he swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper. Instead of these old-fashioned tools, in 1809 he installed a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier. Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and the mill was declared bankrupt in 1816.
Im 1807 Miles Sotherton Branthwait was succeeded by his nephew Nathaniel Micklethwait (1784 – 1856). On 22 Sept 1784 Nathaniel Micklethwait was baptised before dinner at Weston Longville rectory by Parson Woodforde. Of this he records it was a performance ‘I did not much like, but could not tell how to refuse…[the Micklethwaits] are the strangest kind of People I almost ever saw. Old Mrs Branthwait [née Mary Sotherton] was almost as strange and vulgar.’ We must not take Woodforde’s words at face value when there is another contemporary account which takes a very different tone in describing Mary Branthwait. In this passage Richard Gardiner, a local writer of political pamphlets, refers to her as ‘a worthy descendant of one of Norfolk’s most noble and venerable families, the Sharnbrokes’.
This Nathaniel was the first Micklethwait to be squire of Taverham but he was by no means the last. He was the son of Sarah, Miles Branthwait’s and Mary Sotherton’s eldest daughter. Sarah had married a Micklethwait (also called Nathaniel), but he died aged 26 in 1786, when his son was only two years old. Although the young Nathaniel Micklethwait had inherited the estate in 1807, on the death of Miles Sotherton Branthwait, he did not take up residence in Taverham until over 10 years later, when the dowager Elizabeth Branthwait (née Colborne, 1757-1832) moved to the West of England. She had been born in Chippenham and died in Leamington Spa. Even once he had moved from his home in Beeston St Andrew to Taverham he spent much of his time in London. He was twice married, first to a daughter of ord Waldegrave, and the second time to a daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke. He was moving up in the world, and he sent his son to Eton.
The mill had overcome its earlier difficulties and successfully traded throughout the 1820s, but the structure was becoming old and dilapidated, and by 1840 part of the roof had fallen in, resulting in the death of one of the workers. By the middle of the following decade production had ceased and the machinery was put up for sale. It was rescued from disaster by the arrival of the railway from London, which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to use Taverham paper to produce the newspaper. The Delane family took over the mill, and the mill was rebuilt and re-equipped, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.
Nathaniel Micklethwaite died in 1856 and he was briefly succeeded by his eldest son, a Lt-Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He died within months of becoming squire of Taverham, aged 51. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by the next in line, his half brother The Revd John Nathaniel Mickletwait. He had been Lord of the Manor at Coltishall before inheriting Taverham Hall, and although a clergyman he had no parish duties of his own. It was under his auspices that the south aisle of Taverham church was built. The Revd John Nathaniel Micklethwait was obviously up to date in his reading, a he was in possession of a first edition of an Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This novel has recently been sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering £163,000.
If Squire John Nathaniel Micklethwait is remembered today, it is for building the current Taverham Hall in 1858. His initials appear in many places around the property. He employed the Scottish architect David Brandon. John died in 1877 and the Hall was let to William Waring, a retired railway contractor. He had specialised in civil engineering projects like viaducts. These had been carried out across the world, in Sicily and Uganda, but also in the approaches to St Pancras Station.
One of John Micklethwait’s younger brothers, Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, had distinguished himself by gaining a Cambridge University blue in cricket in 1843. He went on to serve for 40 years as Vicar of Hickling in Norfolk, where his family owned more land and where he received the living which was in his father’s gift. His elder brother, Henry Sharnbroke Nathaniel Micklethwait, who inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Taverham from John Micklethwait in 1877, spent his latter years in London after a career in the Royal Navy. He never lived at the new Taverham Hall. He died in 1894.
He was followed as the owner of the Taverham estate by his brother George, but none of these Micklethwait bothers had any children. Henry died unmarried and neither was George Micklethwait married when he died in 1901. The estate then passed to a grandson of Nathaniel Micklethwait (died 1856). Nathaniel Micklethwait’s daughter Sarah (1813-1869) had married John Mills of Roundwood in Hampshire. They were married in London in 1836, and he was the elder brother of Emma Mills, who became the wife of the Revd John Micklethwait. The son of John Mills and Sarah (neé Micklethwait), the Rev Edward Cecil Mills, inherited the property in Taverham after George’s death. He was the Rector of Barford in Warwickshire, and he may well not even have visited Norfolk. The Rev Mills died in 1908, when the estate was left to his son John Digby Mills. He used the Hall in Taverham to house his regiment, the Royal Warwickshires, in the First World War. After an army career he lived in Bisterne in the New Forest and became the local Tory MP from 1932 until 1945. The Hall was sold by John Mills in 1920 and was bought by the headmaster of the preparatory school at Roydon near Diss,. He was looking for larger premises for his expanding school. Taverham Hall School is still in possession of the hall.
TAVERHAM HALL, designed by the Architect David Brandon.
The Mills family are still in possession of Bisterne Manor in Hampshire.
Those who wish to learn the history of Taverham Hall School are referred to Where Elephants Nest (1996) by Peter Beer. A history of Taverham from early times to 1969 (1969) by Thomas Norgate has much useful much information, but it would be easier to follow if it contained footnotes. A 12 page pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the opening of the village hall in 1957. The Parish Registers, Taverham 1601-1837 (1986) transcribed by Judith Sims and indexed by Patrick Palgrave-Moore contains much useful information relevant to this article. There are references to the village in other books but as far as I am aware the above mentioned are the only books on Taverham.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
There were a million cars on the road in the UK in 1950, and today there are 30 million; I heard this recently on the radio and I have no reason to doubt it. This period neatly encompasses my lifetime. I was fortunate to belong to one of those families that possessed a car in 1950. I was very much in the minority then. It was four years after the war and new cars were almost unobtainable; if you were lucky enough to get one they were incredibly expensive. Our car wasn’t a new one therefor; it was a pre-war Morris Minor illustrated to the right.
In 1950 most people did not travel so far as they do today, and when they did it was by public transport. The draughty old double-decker buses had a platform at the back that was open to the elements. There was no heating in the winter, although in the summer you could open a narrow pane at the top of the window and let the breeze waft in.
For those who were fortunate enough to have a railway station nearby there was always the train. The railway network was almost at its maximum extent in 1950, although a very few branch lines (like that to Hadleigh in Suffolk) had already lost their passenger service before the war. Remote settlements like Hindolveston and North Elmham had passenger trains; however these trains although regular were not frequent.
By contrast with the buses all passenger trains were provided with heating by 1950. The heat came from copious amounts of steam; the engine could easily spare a little from its boiler to pass along the train. It made railway travel much more commodious than most other forms of transport; air liners were still in their infancy. Ocean liners.were well appointed but the sea could be rough which made travel uncomfortable. Even cars were not fitted with heating 70 years ago, although the hot engine was only inches away from the passenger cabin. About 1955 we had bought a small heater which did hardly anything to melt the ice on the inside of the windows; it was powered by the 12 volt car battery, so it couldn’t do much without running it down.
As you can tell, there wasn’t much traffic on the roads in 1950. Even ten years later they were nearly deserted. As you walked the country lanes the occasional car would pass by, but when it did it could be doing a high speed. Although 65 mph was about the maximum you could get out of a normal 1960 car, there was no national speed limit. If you could wind your motor up to 80 mph you could legally drive at that speed. Only where a 30 mph limit existed was this not allowed, and these limits were only applied in built-up areas. Otherwise it was only the relative feebleness of the engine which prevented more accidents.
The road network was all covered with tarmacadam by 1950, but its narrow twists and turns were still as they had been when the horse and cart was the fastest mode of transport. Country road junctions had no right of way; there was little need to give way as you swung round the corner as there was seldom another car in vicinity. The junctions were not protected by white lines. In the city the narrow streets seemed to be full of traffic, but this was because there were few parking restrictions and no pedestrianised roads; traffic lights were few but Belisha beacons were relatively common. Such developments as dual carriageways and roundabouts were almost unknown. About the only stretch of dual carriageway I can remember in Norfolk was Prince of Wales Road in Norwich. This arrangement was not to separate the lines of traffic but to allow a fine avenue of pleached lime trees to grow down the middle of the street; of course these have long been felled, victims of the motor car.
Road widening and the straightening of dangerous bends did not get underway until the 1960s. It was the 1970s before any towns were bypassed. There were no Motorways in Great Britain until 1959, and there are still none in Norfolk. Kings Lynn was one of first to have a new road to relieve traffic in the town centre. It was single carriageway but had three lanes. This deadly arrangement allowed cars travelling in opposite directions to pull out simultaneously with fatal results. Even now much could be done to make the road network fit for purpose in the 21st century. Far too many of the roads are still much as they were in the 18th or even in the 16th century.
I am rather dubious about the self driving cars they blithely say are soon coming to our streets. They might be fine for the modern highways of North America, or even for the car parks of Milton Keynes; but the roads of rural England are another matter. When you meet a car coming the other way on a narrow lane in North Norfolk one of you has got to drive up the muddy bank for you to pass. Choosing just where to go requires a fine sense of the car’s adhesion and the depth of the mud on the verge. I don’t think Google are anywhere near that yet.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
By ‘Holidays on the Channel Islands’ I mean holidays on Guernsey. Although I have spent days on Sark, Alderney, Herm and even on Jethou (which has been closed to the public for almost 50 years), I always slept on Guernsey. I have never been to that other Channel Island, Jersey, except for one time when my plane back to England landed briefly there. I did not get out. Guerney was a regular destination for me from 1963, when my sister landed a teaching position at the island’s Public School, Elizabeth College. Teaching the bottom form of the Prep School she was the sole female member of staff and she kept this job for seventeen years.
I went there both by the Mail Boat from Weymouth and by BEA Vickers Viscount from Gatwick Airport. BEA (British European Airways) preceded the creation of BA. The other component was BOAC, the long distance carrier. The Viscount was a Turbo-prop aircraft; the jets of the 1960s require too long a runway to use Guernsey Airfield.
In those distant days every armrest in the aircraft’s cabin had an ash-tray at the end. Shops, restaurants and even doctors’ surgeries had provision for stubbing out cigarettes. You weren’t supposed to smoke during take-off, but as soon as the plane was airborne nearly everybody lit up; not me of course, I was too young! Flying was an experience for a young teenager, but going by ferry was an even more exiting proposition; the sea could be rough though. There were two ferries owned by British Railways (this was before the creation of the now forgotten ferry company Sealink), Sarnia and Caesarea. These were the names of Guernsey and Jersey respectively, bestowed by the Romans. You could sit out on the quarter-deck if the weather was fine, and there was even a balcony for’ards where you could stand and watch the spray as the ship plunged into the waves. The Channel can be quite choppy, though the huge swell of the North Atlantic is moderated by the Cornish peninsular.
Guernsey is the first of the islands you came to on the ferry, and it continued on to Jersey after discharging its Guernsey passengers. That is one reason why I have never been to Jersey. As you approached the harbour at St Peter Port your first view of the Channel Islands was the island of Herm. Castle Cornet, the fortification built on a rocky peninsular, guards the entrance to Guernsey’s harbour. As the vessel tied up you could see little green or maroon painted single-decker buses scurrying along the coast road, and the cliff of St Peter Port rose steeply beyond.
The feel of the islands is foreign; that is to say it isn’t English. The French call the islands Les Îles Normande, and they look as if they should still belong to Normandy. William the Conqueror brought the Duchy of Normandy when he became King of England, and the Channel Islands were but an insignificant part of that. The last part of mainland France to belong to the English monarch was Calais, which was lost by Queen Mary Tudor in 1558. She famously said that the word Calais would be found etched on her heart; but the Channel Islands remained in English hands, the last part of Normandy. They have been a possession of the English Crown since 1066, but they are not part of the United Kingdom. The Queen of the UK is still popularly known as the Duke of Normandy in the Channel Islands.
Until about a hundred years ago Patois or Guernésais was the language of the common folk on Guernsey, with elements of Old Norse going back to the 9th century. Patois was a Norman French dialect and until 1948 French was the official language of the island. I doubt many people spoke French on a day-to-day basis, although for Patois it was a different matter. French is no long the legal language, but currently (2016) all Guernsey lawyers have to spend 3 months at Caen University studying Norman law. When my sister arrived in the mid 20th century she found that the older local people had been brought up to speak Patois as their natural first language. The increasing prevalence of British newspapers, wireless programmes and tourists have conspired to banish this age-old language, and now less than 2% of the people can speak it fluently.
The population of the island had risen continuously from 2500 in 1831 (the date of the first census) to just under 63,000 in 2014. Recently this number has shown a small decline; the limited employment opportunities for the increasingly highly educated youngsters has led to a small but steady drift away from the island. The restrictive residential requirements mean the island is not a retirement destination for incomers, except for the very rich.
It is ideal for a summer holiday, but in 1968 I spent the winter and spring there. The weather can be fresh to say the least, but the maritime climate means that snow is almost unknown; when it does fall it never stays more than a few hours. In the 1960s agriculture on the Island of Guernsey revolved around milk produced by Guernsey cows (the only breed allowed on the island) and the growing of tomatoes under glass – Guernsey Toms. From the air the whole island appeared a sea of glass. Since then the market for tomatoes has disappeared and the glasshouses are used mainly for flowers.
On the Channel Islands one can never forget that from 1940 until 1945 this part of British territory was occupied by Nazi Germany. Lookout towers, gun emplacements and bunkers dot the landscape. Unlike the equivalent buildings in the UK, they were constructed with a flair. It was however a dark and ominous stylishness; they were built by slave labourers, Poles and Russians, whose lives were treated as worthless. Most Jews were simply gassed and never reached the slave camps of the islands; the Untermenschen who were brought there were starved and worked to death. These islands were defended with massive concrete constructions, defences that was never tested in battle. In spite of the slave labour all this building was an enormous drain on resources, which would otherwise have been directed to offensive operations towards the Allies, so it was consequently not all negative from a British point of view. The islands were wisely not attacked by Allied Forces and were left to surrender when the Germans were defeated. Although this policy led to severe food shortages for the islanders it created less suffering than an armed attack would have resulted in.
THE STORY OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
THE county of Norfolk is defined by the North Sea and three rivers, so that its borders would be etched in water, if such a fluid element were capable of being so marked. As far as the coastline is concerned there is little that human tampering can do about this. To the north, east and large parts of the west (that stretch along Wash), only the erosion of the beach and the accretion of sandbanks alter the outline of the county. The rivers Waveney and Little Ouse ought to define the southern boundary too, and to a large extent they do; but not entirely so, as will be explained in due course.
South of the Wash Norfolk reaches out beyond the Great Ouse towards the river Nene. At Sutton Bridge the county sign is located almost (but not quite) by the river bridge. As small chunk of Lincolnshire encroaches onto the Norfolk side. Along the A17 Terrington St Clement represents the furthest west Norfolk extends. Further south the river Nene does indeed form the county boundary, and West Walton is about the furthest west you can go in Norfolk. It is over 75 miles from Great Yarmouth. (It is almost as far from South Norfolk to the outskirts of London, which gives you some idea of the size of the county.) Wisbech is only a mile or so distant from the centre of West Walton village, and Wisbech is now in Cambridgeshire. Historically, and until 1965, Wisbech formed part of the Isle of Ely which was one of the smallest counties in England. Although not a part of Norfolk, the Isle of Ely was always a part of East Anglia, while only the eastern edge of Cambridgeshire was so regarded.
The river Little Ouse forms the county border between Norfolk and Suffolk for most of its length. Only for the last few miles in the west to its confluence with the Great Ouse at Brandon Creek does it flow entirely through Cambridgeshire. This river dividing the two East Anglian counties has its complications; Brandon is in Suffolk, but Brandon Railway Station (being north of the river) is in Norfolk. The town of Thetford extends Norfolk onto both sides of the Little Ouse, rather as Sutton Bridge extends Lincolnshire onto the ‘Norfolk’ side of the Nene. The Little Ouse peters out somewhere beyond Kilverstone, but almost immediately a stream may be discerned running in the opposite direction. This is called the river Waveney, and that formed the country boundary until it joined the Yare at Breydon Water. This was true from time immemorial until 1974, when a ‘land-grab’ by Norfolk County Council extended the northern county to the south of the river. In that year all the parishes south east of the Waveney, from Burgh Castle to Fritton, were transferred from Suffolk to Norfolk. What the justification for this was I am not quite sure; certainly Gorleston (which was also included in this transfer) was integral to Yarmouth Southtown, but equally Hopton-on-Sea was clearly part of Lowestoft. Lowestoft remains in Suffolk, although all its economic connection are with Norwich rather than Ipswich.
Many unnecessary changes arose out of this 1974 Act, some of which have been undone subsequently. Most notably this has occurred with Rutland. This has re-emerged to be again England’s smallest county. However I don’t think there is much chance of restoring Burgh Castle to its rightful place in the county of Suffolk. In spite of this anomaly, on the whole the waterways still denote Norfolk. Water also defines Suffolk too, although to a lesser degree. Once more the North Sea marks its eastern boundary, and to the north the border with Norfolk has already been examined. To the south the river Stour forms the county boundary until it is reduced a mere trickle near Haverhill, and no geographical feature exists to take its place. Newmarket has no obvious boundary, and indeed this Suffolk town is almost entirely surrounded by Cambridgeshire. Unlike Burgh Castle it was a prime candidate for boundary realignment in 1974, but for some reason the status quo prevailed and Newmarket is still almost an island. Many of its residents would have preferred to live in Cambridgeshire, but I get the impression that places like Burgh Castle and Fritton felt happy to be in Suffolk.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
We started going on foreign holidays as a family in 2001 with a trip to Paris. Our son Peter was fourteen and had already been abroad to Amsterdam with his Granddad. For his sister Polly (aged 12) it was her first visit to a foreign land. We went by Eurostar, before the new high-speed railway from St Pancras was built, and the departure was from Waterloo station. The tunnel had only been open for a few years. Even by the slow line we soon disappeared under the Channel, and emerged into the French countryside in next to no time. The Chunnel was very quickly passed, but the difference between Kent (the Garden of England) and the open fields of France with a few poplar trees could hardly have been greater.
Now that it is possible for us island dwellers, it is by far better to go abroad by rail. It is not as exciting as getting on a ferry, but less stressful and much less trying than waiting at an airport. There is still the business of passport control, but although this is a pain for us leaving the country, I am glad that we do not have the open borders of the Schengen area. Now that we are leaving the European Union we never will.
We arrived at the Gare du Nord and caught the Metro to our hotel. It was in the Italian quarter, in the Rue Veronese. From our bedroom window we had a view down the street and to a small supermarket. The next morning after a French breakfast of croissants and coffee we set out to walk down to the river Seine. The children were either side of 13 years old, and as we walked along river towards Notre Dame Cathedral they did nothing but fight like tiger cubs. So much for a peaceful stroll along the river for the poor parents. It was a nightmare.
The children had settled down a bit by the time we reached the Eiffel Tower. This we did not ascend right to the top (which would have entailed a journey by lift), but even from our lower vantage point we got a good view of the city. Even to walk to the lowest stage was quite a climb. The Arc de Triomphe was another necessary stop-over on the tourist map. We were only three days in the French capital, and so we saw only a fraction of the things on offer. On the last day Mum and Polly went shopping, but Peter was very keen to see the Pompidou Centre, and he and I walked to that part of Paris.
All too soon our visit was over, and we returned to the Gare du Nord for the return journey on Eurostar. We had a bit of extra luggage, including a large bag of French cheese. All the while the train sped along the tracks back to England we became increasing aware of the strong cheesy smell. The other passengers must have noticed it too, but they said nothing in good Anglo-Saxon fashion. Back in England the train slowed down for a leisurely return to London. Then it was down the ‘Drain’ (the short section of Underground under the Thames) and to Liverpool Street and home.
MEMORIES OF FRANCE
Although the Radar pylons were in Stoke, the camp where the personnel lived was two villages away, in Framingham Earl. The intervening village was Poringland. Although these places sound widely dispersed, the distance was in fact less than half a mile; only a narrow tongue of Poringlad separates the Framinghams from Upper Stoke. I was only seven years old when the camp closed, but I can remember it clearly. There was an RAF roundel painted on the road at the entrance off Long Road, and you would see men and women in RAF uniforms at the base.
There were eight pylons at RAF Stoke Holy Cross; four were built of wood and four of steel. The wooden ones were demolished when the station was closed in 1956; it had lasted much longer than most of the Chain Home Radar Stations, which across the country had been reduced from a wartime maximum of 194 to only a few dozen by 1947. The steel pylons were retained after the RAF left. These were to carry police messages, BT radio communications and to relay the Anglia TV signal from the studios in Norwich to the main transmission pylon at Mendelsham in Suffolk. The camp consisted of wooden huts in Long Road, and they were sold off in 1957.
I would have seen more of the RAF personnel had the entrance to the camp been in Pigot Lane, as this was part of my regular afternoon walk to see Kitty, the retired cart horse. Spur Lane (which connects Pigot Lane with Long Road was a popular dog walking route for our family. Everything here has changed for the worse in the intervening years; Framingham Chase, the childhood home of Timothy Colman which was off Spur Lane has been demolished; the RAF camp has long gone and the 1987 hurricane laid waste the 40 acre plantation in which the RAF huts once stood.
When the base was closed the police dogs who had guarded the base were redundant, and their handlers were ordered to take them out and shoot them. This was a traumatic event for my neighbour, an RAF policeman, as it would be for anyone who had built up working relationship with a dog. You can see Graham’s German Shepherd in the picture.
We have Hitler to thank for RAF Stoke Holy Cross. It was a link in Chain Home system of Radar Stations that provided crucial defensive information during the Battle of Britain. Despite Chamberlain’s optimistic comments about ‘Peace for Our Time’, by 1938 we were already preparing for the forthcoming conflict. RAF Stoke Holy Cross wente operational at Easter 1939. Considering how important Stoke was it is remarkable that we did not get more attention from German bombers. There were air raid shelters at the camp, but perhaps because the huts were very well camouflaged by the surrounding trees they were never needed. One of the steel pylons was destroyed, but this was in a collision with a British Blenheim bomber. Octagon farm-house in Norwich Road was bombed, when young Mrs Spruce lost her life, but the nearby pylons were not severely damaged.
Unlike most RAF stations there was no runway for aircraft at Stoke. I understand that the site of the steel pylons still belongs to the Ministry of Defence, although military use ceased in the 1950s. One could see the pylons for miles around, and coming home by railway from London it was our first sight of home as the train passed through Dunston. The reason for choosing Stoke was its elevation, it being one of the highest points in Norfolk.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
ARCHAEOLOGY is a popular pastime among non-specialists; almost anyone can pick up a trowel and scratch away in the dirt. Historical research, even for amateurs, requires a slightly more intellectual approach. I must make an exception of family history, which fascinates huge numbers of people. It is a very narrow kind of learning; the knowledge of the names and dates of your ancestors is better than a complete disregard of the past, but this kind of history has none of the wider interest that you find with archaeology.
What are the basic differences between the two disciplines? For one thing ,when you begin a dig you can never be quite sure what period any finds will belong to, so archaeologists tend not be so so restricted in their timescale as historians. The differences go much wider than that though. Each examines the past, and both must be aware of the other’s researches, but whereas the historian will go first to the written record, the archaeologist relies on the artefacts that the past has left behind. This reliance on finds in itself skews the nature of archaeological research; except in very rare circumstances, most of the relics of the past that lie in the ground soon rot and disappear. Clothing and foodstuffs leave scant evidence, and the little that can be gleaned about such things needs scientific skills. This is why the discovery of a bronze age settlement at Flag Fen near Peterborough caused such a stir; in the oxygen-free mud of the Fens even the threads that were being woven over 3000 years ago could still be plainly seen. Normally it is only the stonewares and metal goods that are preserved; only the flint head of a neolithic axe is left, and its wooden haft disappeared millennia ago.
In all but exceptional circumstances archaeology is anonymous. The names of the people who tilled the soil or fired the kilns that we speculate over hundreds of years later are unknowable. In extremely rare cases, such as the discovery of the body of Richard III in Leicester, the name is crucially important, but in the vast majority the names of the long vanished people who left their evidence behind are not only unknown but irrelevant.
This is all very different from history; here we are much more interested in individuals. As far as those who produced the evidence go the historian is mainly concerned with the literate, and even the subject matter tends to centre on the more significant occurrences in the past. The archaeologist will have a great time examining the contents of a rubbish tip – something that will hardly concern the historian.
Archaeological research may extend almost up to the present day; the archaeology of the Second World War is now a valid subject, although there are many people still living who can remember a time before the war broke out. History moves on too, and whole volumes are being written about periods I remember well – perhaps by historians who were but babes in arms when the events occurred. When I was a student I used to marvel how the older tutors could remember events that had become the stuff of history.
For me there is no contest as to which I prefer, history or archaeology. History wins hands down; but there is third kind of study which falls between history and archaeology, and that I love even more. This is a recent development, and hasn’t even got an accepted name yet. I call it historical geography; it is a study that combines historical resources with the evidence contained within the landscape. Unlike the archaeologist, the historical geographer does not have to get his hands dirty; and the documents he refers to are as likely to be maps as old chronicles.
If I may give you an example of the kind of research I mean, I have over the last 10 or 20 years traced what I am sure was the last journey undertaken by Edmund, king of East Anglia, in the year 869. This journey memorably led to his death at the hands of the invading Vikings. The history of this event is impossibly obscure to the conventional historian, and is quite beyond the scope of archaeologists. Yet, from the hints given in written documents, together with an intelligent awareness of physical features, navigable rivers, ancient churches and old field names, it is possible to pinpoint the place of Edmund’s death down to a few hundred yards; so at least I believe.
Interesting though this is, the location of St Edmund’s death is a relatively insignificant part history. This geographical approach reveals much more; it shows for example how the later spread of the cult of the saint was directly linked to continuing attacks by the Viking Army. This true not just in East Anglia, but across England. Although Wales and Scotland were equally at risk of attack by Vikings, the influence of this most English of saints did not extend beyond the Anglo-Saxon world. There is too much to explain in this post, but those who are interested may read the blogs referred to below, or apply to for a pdf of my booklet St Edmund’s Norfolk. I will supply it free to anyone who requests it via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), although if you wish to make a contribution to charity that would be great. For those who wish to obtain a physical copy it is still available on ebay.
The blog posts may be reached by clicking the following titles: St Edmund’s Norfolk, Viking Coins, St Edmund and the Wolf, Viking Names?, Caistor St Edmund, Whissonsett, The End of the Kingdom of EA, St Edmund King and Martyr, Caistor (3), Markshall Church, The Vikings, South Creake, Lyng.
As I said, my book is also available on ebay for anyone who would prefer a hard copy. It costs 99p plus postage.