JAMES Edward Smith was born in Norwich in 1759, the son of a prosperous mercer. A delicate child, he was educated at home until he was admitted to Edinburgh University to study medicine. His father had hopes that he would become a physician, but he had no interest in medicine per se; that however was the only way he could pursue his love of plants. (Botany was a large part of student doctor’s study, as these were the source of all the drugs used.) After leaving university he made his way to London where he mixed with the intellectuals of the city, and particularly those who were experts in Natural History.
His great scoop was to purchase the library and collection of plant specimens that had belonged to the Swedish natural historian and botanist Carl Linnaeus. This had been offered to his acquaintance Sir Joseph Banks, the scientist who had accompanied James Cook on his voyage to Australasia and the Pacific ocean in HMS Endeavour. Banks could not afford the £1000 being sought for the collection, although the price was very reasonable, considering its importance; there were many in Sweden who thought that it should stay in that country, at the University of Uppsala. When J. E. Smith heard of this bargain he persuaded his father to give him the money to make the purchase. This immediately placed him in the centre of debate on botanical subjects both in London and the wider world.
James was still a young man, and he did nor immediately capitalize on his newly found glory. This was before the French Revolution, and he spent two years on the Grand Tour of Europe. On his return to London James Smith busied himself in writings on botany. In 1796 he married Pleasance Reeve of Lowestoft and under pressure from his wife they returned to Norwich.
He was latter knighted for his achievements in botanical science. In Norwich James Edward Smith was sought out by the most eminent scientists in Europe. For them the fact that the Linnean collection was held in his house in Norwich was the principal attraction – it needed to be, because Norwich was not a simple place to visit before the age of the railway; London could fairly easily be reached by ship, but Norwich needed an uncomfortable journey of a day by stage coach from London. When Sir James died in 1828 Lady Pleasance spent three years assembling a two volume work on his life and correspondence.
Lady Pleasance spent nearly 50 years a widow, and without children of her own she was very interested in her nephews and nieces. One of her nieces married into the Bowes Lyon family (later famous for producing the Queen Mother). Of her great nieces, one was Alice Liddell, better known as Alice in Alice in Wonderland. We may learn much about the state of botany in the early nineteenth century from Lady Pleasance’s book, but my own interest is, naturally enough, what can be gleaned of the intellectual life in the city of Norwich at the time. There we may read of the many learned people (both men and women) who made their way to Norwich and wrote him lengthy epistles. These writers have long been forgotten by history, but among specialist on the development of science they are well known. In a future post I intend to delve further into these intellectuals.
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Born in 1758 at Burnham Thorpe, Nelson was educated at Norwich Grammar School and later at the Paston School in North Walsham. He went to sea as a midshipman when scarcely into his teens. He made his way up to command his own ship at the age of 20. The ending of the American War of Independence meant a temporary halt to his advance, but the outbreak of the war with France led to his continued success in battle. He lost his right arm in action, and was victorious at the Battle of the Nile. After the Battle of Trafalgar France never recovered at sea, but Nelson was fatally wounded.
He was immensely popular among his sailors, and with the people of Norfolk, but among the aristocracy his amour with Lady Hamilton posed problems. His great esteem among the people could not be denied, but Lady Hamilton was thrown to the wolves after his death.
Born in Bury St Edmunds in 1752, his family moved to Norwich where (like Nelson) he attended the Free Grammar School (now Norwich School). Intended for a career as a merchant, he was sent to the Netherlands to learn Dutch with regard to following this career. He pursued several business ventures, none of which were successful. A childhood friend, (Sir) James Edward Smith, encouraged him to study botany (Smith’s speciality) and gardening.
He determined to replace the recently deceased Capabilty Brown, and wrote to landowners across the land promoting his abilities as a landscape gardener – a phrase he invented. His attempts to branch out in this way met with success, particularly among Norfolk estate owners, where he was to a degree known. His ability to illustrate his plans with delightful water colours must have done much to persuade his prospects to employ him.
His best work can be seen at Sheringham Park, which can be enjoyed as a National Trust property. Although he did work in many other counties, he remained a Norfolk man at heart to the end, and was buried in Aylsham churchyard when he died in 1818.
Elizabeth Fry was born to the Gurney family of bankers in Norwich and spent much of her childhood in the idyllic setting of Bramerton by the river Yare. She married Joseph Fry; he also was a banker, but not a successful one – in middle age the family was made bankrupt. Elizabeth Fry had 11 children, but devoted her life to ameliorating the lives of female convicts, and trying to place them on a better course of life when released.
Elizabeth Fry came from the banking arm of the Quaker tradition, and so it is appropriate that the £5 note should have appeared in 2001 with her likeness on it; but it was as social reformer rather for her connections with financiers that her name is remembered in the 21st century.
One of Elizabeth Fry’s sons lived into the 20th century; you can see why some of her contemporaries accused her of neglecting her duties as a wife and mother by spending so much time looking after the female inmates of the London gaols. She had moved to the London area upon her marriage and found the dreadful conditions of the prisons there offended her social conscience.
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THE WEST SUFFOLK RIVER
The source of the Lark disappears into a number of rivulets in the parishes of Bradfield Combust and Whepstead, south of Bury St Edmunds. As far as Bury the river was navigable in ancient times, and was certainly used to bring the stone to build Bury St Edmunds Abbey in the middle ages. In those days there was no attempt made to improve the river with locks or staunches, and where the small craft came to the shallow parts they had to be dragged across by the boatmen’s muscles. It was a laborious process; the craft would have carried a small number of large stone boulders on board – perhaps only one at a time – but then it was all done for St Edmund and the glory of God, not to fill an entrepreneur’s pocket book, so nobody was overly concerned about the work involved.
The first attempts to make this an engineered navigation occurred early in the 17th century. By 1700 the upper reaches needed further work to keep Bury St Edmunds supplied with coal, an increasingly necessary commodity as the Industrial Revolution made it available. Historically Dereham was about the only town in East Anglia without ready access to a navigable waterway. This state of affairs continued until 1846, when the railway line to Bury was opened; this allowed freight traffic another way to reach the town; moreover it came far more quickly than by boat. As the railway network rapidly advanced the Lark Navigation became less and less useful; it was formally abandoned in 1888, which meant that no more maintenance was carried out on the locks by the company. The Eastern Counties Navigation and Transport Co Ltd took over the rights to the navigation and, after carrying out work on the locks, reopened it to Bury in September 1895. However by December the company was bankrupt. Commercial traffic nevertheless continued for a further 30 years. Leisure craft from the Inland Waterways system still use the lower reaches of the Lark; there is one lock at Isleham.
The river has a charming name – more charming perhaps than its surroundings deserve. In fact the name has nothing to with the bird, but concerns a more mundane feature – the garden vegetable, the leek. Certainly the downstream parts of the river pass through some very flat country, with long stretches of straight, canalised waterway. Even before the river reaches Cambridgeshire the the land is relatively featureless, but attractive enough to those who like such countryside (see the photo). It is seen by thousands daily as they approach the the roundabout on the A11 at Barton Mills, but only a fraction know that this is the river Lark, if they notice this uninspiring sight at all.
A short distance downstream is Mildenhall, and Jude’s Ferry marks the current head of navigation; almost full sized narrow boats may be turned here. A few miles more and there is the major mooring place at Lakeside Marina, Isleham. The river has become the border between Suffolk and Cambridgeshire by then, and by the time it reaches Prickwillow it is entirely within the boundary of Cambridgeshire. For the last few miles it goes pretty straight, and for the final stretch it is dead straight. This is all a result of the drainage of the Fens, and its course to its confluence with the Great Ouse is artificial and deviates greatly from the original.
At Prickwillow is the Drainage Engine Museum by the river, in a former pumping station. This has a collection of diesel engines, although the history of drainage goes back long before the internal combustion engine to steam, and before that to wind pumps installed by the Dutch engineers. Now drainage is maintained by electric pumping stations which require only the occasional presence of humanity. The whole system of water level management is remotely controlled and is largely automatic.
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WYMONDHAM is another place that now has a second station, to serve the tourists on the Heritage Line (the Mid-Norfolk Railway) that runs to the town. This is at Wymondham Abbey. This is the second time the town has been served by two stations – there was briefly one in 1845 at Spinks Lane, to the west of the town. If you go there today it is hard to believe such a remote place ever had anything there, let alone a railway station. The level crossing there is seldom used, and if you wish to cross you must open the single gate yourself. The current Network Rail station on the main line at Wymondham used to be a busy junction. Under the LNER trains went to Norwich and Ely as they still do; but in years gone by they also went to Kings Lynn, Wells and Forncett. These were stations at the end of the line, and they stopped at many places in between. These line to Lynn also connected directly with another route to Thetford at Swaffham. Dereham and Fakenham, and most of the important towns in the west of the county were all accessed via Wymondham. One of these lines is still used by the Heritage railway to Dereham, and on occasion visiting locos use the junction, but for the most part it is unused.
They didn’t hang about in the nineteenth century; the line only got Parliamentary approval in May 1844 and by August 1845 (just over a year later) the station at Wymondham was up and running. Compare that with the station at Cambridge North that took over ten years in the planning and building; and this wasn’t even on a new section of line let alone a whole new railway. I don’t understand why everything is so slow nowadays. We have lost our get up and go.
A few years ago I took the train from Wymondham to Cambridge, and it was an acceptable place to get on. I had to cross the line on the footbridge which was rather slow in my disabled condition. On the return I went through to Norwich; it is no quicker to go to Wymondham from my home by car, and there is no footbridge to negotiate at Norwich – something that would not have occurred to me before I had a stroke. The most noticeable facility at Wymondham is the Station Bistro. This is well used, but almost none of the customers come there by train. It has two rooms for eating in, and one is kitted out like an old style railway carriage. The high backed railway seating gives an authentic feel, and the occasional passing of trains enhances this effect.
In 1923 working day at Wymondham got underway at 6.45, with the arrival of the train from Wells-next-the-Sea. This was on Mondays only and for the rest of the week the train arrived 20 minutes later. The procession of trains from the various locations kept the staff at Wymondham well occupied. The regularity of passenger trains was not quite as frequent as it is today; for example only about ten trains a day went to and from Cambridge on a normal weekday, but against that there were many more destinations. The line was kept very busy by the freight trains that passed through Wymondham, and many of them stopped there too, loading and unloading all kinds of goods. Coal was unloaded for the town and The Briton Brush factory was a major employer at Wymondham and had its own sidings in the town to take its products across the country.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The places in Norfolk have a particular way of pronunciation, one that defeats all those who come from other parts of the country. Here are a few examples: Costessey is pronounced Cossey; Happisburgh is Haisboro. Wymondhan is Windum and Shotesham is Shotshum. Other places used to be similarly abbreviated but have since returned to a more literal pronunciation; Lenwade was Lennard, Hunstanton Hunston and nearby Snettisham was Snetsham or even Sneeze-um; but these usages have fallen into disuse. Stiffkey is another; I am unable say if any residents still refer to the village as Stewky – although in the case of the local shellfish delicacy Stewky Blues (cockles) they are always so called. In the time of the Domesday Book the place was already called Stiuekai, so where the ‘f’s came from is a bit of a mystery. (Actually it comes from Stivekey, an island with tree stumps.)
You might be a little bit puzzled by how to say Deopham (Deefham); Belaugh is perhaps not too mysterious (it certainly has nothing to do with laughter). Tacolneston is another place that outwits those not in the know; for those people it is called Tackleston. The town of Aylsham is pronounced Ellsham not Alesham by the locals. There are undoubtedly many other such places whose proper pronunciation or former name even I, (a Norfolkman born and bred) am unaware of.
Most places in Norfolk have Anglo-Saxon names; a few, like Caistor, reflect their Roman origins. In this case the word comes from the Latin castrum, a military camp. The actual Roman name for Caistor was Venta Icenorum. In this case the place-name refers to an even older language, the Celtic of the Iceni tribe that ruled over Norfolk before the Romans came.
Places with Danish roots are quite common across Norfolk. In the west particularly the ending by is frequently found. Thrigby is an example, but other areas of the county also exhibit Viking influence. Thorpe for instance is word with Danish roots. These place-names came about in the late ninth century and early tenth century when the Vikings ruled East Anglia. Minor place-names, referring to topographical features smaller than a village, such as gate (a way) as in the street Bishopsgate, or dale (a valley) also entered the language through Danish.
The effect of the Norman Conquest was minimal on the creation of place-names. The second part of Weston Longville refers to Longeville in Normandy, which owned the village in the middle ages. There are few places that have any such connection however. The folk etymology which connects Hautbois (pronounced Hubbus) with the French words for high wood (haut bois) is incorrect. Even before the Normans came it was known as Hobbesse. It means a tussocky meadow in Old English.
For the most part or places acquired their names from the earliest settlers who came over from Frisia in the Netherlands. The typical formation is of a personal names with ham added to denote a farm or village. Similarly ton developed into the word town, although originally it just meant an enclosure. The common element ing comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘the people of’. Thus Hevingham means the homestead of the family of Hefa.
River names too have various linguistic origins. Ouse is a British (i.e. pre Anglo-Saxon) word for river, and that very ancient; it can be traced back to Sanskrit. Wensum comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for winding. I do not know of any Norse river names, but the Thurne may be an example; it is right in the middle of the part of Norfolk with the highest number of Danish place-names, and the ‘th‘ sound occurs in Old Norse. The official explanation is that comes from the Old English name for a thorn bush, but in my experience the surrounding countryside is far too wet and fen-like to support the growth of brambles.
I should add that many of these explanations of word origins are disputed, but etymology is not an exact science. It is suggested that Poringland comes from the Latin word for a leek (via the French), but the dictionary of place-names admits that this is unlikely. I must say that when I lived there I never found leeks to grow well in the sandy soil. The most ridiculous name derivation I know of is Wainfleet in Lincolnshire; this is universally traced back to the Anglo-Saxon for a river that may be crossed by a cart. The river part (fleet) I have no quarrel with; it is ‘wain’ that I cannot accept as having any connection with a hay wain. As Wainfleet was at the estuary of the river Steeping (i.e. the deepest and widest part of the waterway) why on earth would it be thought a suitable place for a ford? It was a port, and things were taken there for export; when you arrived with your ‘wain’ why would you want to ford the river anyway? You could as well load your goods onto the ship from the south bank as from the north. If you really need to cross the river there were plenty of boats on hand to ferry goods to the other side. The clincher is that the Roman name for Wainfleet was Vainona. The wain part of the word (whatever it means) obviously dates from long before the Anglo-Saxons arrived there with their carts.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
The two railway stations that had made Fakenham something of a minor transport hub had both closed by the 1970. The first to go was the former M&GN station on the east/west line from Melton Constable to Kings Lynn, which closed in 1959. Five years later the line south to Wymondham, part of the Wells branch, was axed. There are plans for the Mid Norfolk Railway to extend its operations to Fakenham, but that is long into the future if it ever happens. They are buying up sections of the route as they become available. The Norfolk Orbital Railway is an even more ambitions plan to extended the line to meet the North Norfolk Railway at Holt.
Fakenham is where the A1067 from Norwich meets the A148 from Cromer to Lynn. The A1065 from Swaffham also terminates at Fakenham. The town is bypassed as befits such a busy road junction. As with all the bypassed towns in East Anglia, this has come about during my lifetime. At the period I am recalling in following paragraph, none of these road improvements had been started, and all traffic went right through the middle of the town.
Fakenham, Thursday October 5th 1973; we had tea early; it was hamburgers, sausages, onions, mushrooms – my favourite mixed grill. This was followed by apple sponge and custard. We had to get to the Corn Hall at Fakenham for 7.30 for a dog training match with the Fakenham club. Myrtle our instructor was in charge of the Long Stratton club. We filled up with 6 gallons of petrol at Austin’s garage in St Catherine’s Plain, Norwich. Dad and I got to Fakenham in good time so we had a drink first. Fido was down as a pre-beginner on the list and was the second dog on the floor, after Penny, a local dog from North Norfolk.
Fido came 5th and Penny came 6th among the pre-beginners; Sally won this class and another Sally won the top class. Dad won a bottle of sherry in the raffle that followed the competition. Each dog got a tin of Chum and the owners all got a bag of apples. I think we did rather well!
Cox and Wyman the printer was still busy in 1973; there was a late shift, so they were still hard a work when we left the Corn Hall. The printing office occupied both sides of White Horse Street. The printing business in Fakenham closed in 1982, although it continues to operate in Berkshire. The premises were later demolished and redeveloped. We left at 10 p.m. and got home by 11; if this timing to go from North Norfolk to South Norfolk through Norwich seems good going, on roads which were much more twisty in those days, you must remember that there were no speed camera then! When I began to drive in 1966, there was no maximum limit at all. Only the rather creaky car held you back.
I am recalling Fakenham 40 years ago; I have been there often enough with Molly my wife in more recent years, but mostly we have not ventured beyond Morrison’s Supermarket on the outskirts. Most recently we watched our daughter competing in a cycle race that lapped the centre of town.
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The River Nar Navigation was completed in 1759; however, nearly seven hundred years before that the river must have been used to drag barges up stream, to convey the stone needed to build the Castle and the Priory at Castle Acre on the river. This was mostly Barnack Rag stone from the quarry in Lincolnshire. This would have been brought down the river Nene, across the Wash and up the Great Ouse to the confluence with the river Nar. Downstream this rivers has changed its channel greatly over the years, but above Narborough its course has been fairly stable. The nearby Blackborough Priory might have used the river too, but it is constructed of carstone which is available locally; this could have been brought there by ox cart and would not have required transport by water. The upper reaches of the Navigation fell by the wayside in the 19th century; the journey up to West Acre was abandoned in the early part of the century, and the locks were progressively taken out of use. This left Narborough as the centre of trade on the Nar. The wharf there was closed in 1884 when the ‘Old’ Nar tidal sluice was built. This ended all but short length of river which remained tidal, and was used to moor fishing boats which went out into the Wash.
The Roman Road from Caister going west towards Denver crossed Peddars Way at Castle Acre, so it was an important stop from Roman times, and perhaps since long before that. When the river basin at West Acre was excavated the Nar would transport lighters of ten tons burden up and down stream from there. The upper five miles of the Navigation had stanches (primitive structures that held the water back) approximately every half mile, to produce sufficient draught. It is doubtful if these lighters ever penetrated above West Acre, although the smaller craft of 500 years before must have been used to carry the stone to the building projects at Castle Acre. Narborough was always the principal place the river Nar Navigation served; there was a wharf there that carried goods from the surrounding area to Kings Lynn. The Nar flows into the Great Ouse just south of Kings Lynn.
The opening of the Lynn and Dereham Railway (which had a station at Narborough) in 1846 end the importance of the River Nar Navigation almost at a stroke. Although at first the railway only ran from Lynn to Narborough – the extension to Swaffham came a year later – it could carry all the goods that formerly had to use the waterway. Not only was this much simpler than using horses to haul lighters against the flow of the river, it was much quicker too. It may even have been cheaper. It is strange (in retrospect) that the Navigation survived for another forty years. It must have been centuries of tradition that kept these lighters going up the river Nar!
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
I have in the past speculated about the blacksmith in Arminghall, which is a small village just south of Norwich; I knew that there was one once, but everything else about him was a mystery to me. I now believe that I can answer a few question about the last smith to work there; he was for instance employed by the farmer in Arminghall. The farm is pictured above, and in the 1911 census Arthur Smith was the blacksmith.
Arthur Smith was born in 1863 in Thompson, a dispersed village in central Norfolk. The nearest town is Watton, and the nearest railway station was in the next village of Stow Bedon. It opened when the child was six years old. Arthur’s father was an agricultural labourer, as was his elder brother. We could say that Arthur had done quite well for himself in getting a trade; not for him a life buried in the depths of Norfolk; his job took him across the county. While he was growing up Isaac Aldis (or Aldous) was the blacksmith in Thompson, and luckily for the lad he was looking for an apprentice at the time when Arthur had just left school. Isaac himself had been a young apprentice at Saxlingham Nethergate in 1851. At the time nearly every village had a smithy.
Arthur Smith was still living with his parents and working as a blacksmith at Isaac’s forge in Thompson at the age of eighteen. He was coming to the end of his apprenticeship at the time. Ten years later he was married to Mary Ann (née Hunt) who was four years his junior. He had met her while still living at Thompson, but by 1891 the couple were living in Stokesby in East Flegg. Aged 28, he was working for Benjamin Frosdick the local blacksmith, whose forge was in Ferry Lane. He was still childless, but before long he had moved to Armighall and had a growing family to support. Arminghall is a very small village – much smaller than Thompson – and unlike that village did not possess a post office, village shop or even a pub (the nearest to the farm was The Railway in Framingham Earl, about a mile away). Nor did it have a school, which likewise was in the next village. When the business of blacksmith came to its inevitable demise in Arminghall he remained gainfully employed. Although in his mid seventies, just before the Second World War he was still hard at work as Master smith in Loddon. It was heavy work according to the compiler of the account, so the shoeing of horses no longer took up his time.
It is revealing to reflect on the changes that had occurred in Arthur’s lifetime. From a world that was still heavily dependent on horses – and of course on the blacksmith who shod them – life had moved on to rely on motor transport. Electricity was available throughout the nation by the time of his death, whereas even piped water was unknown in Thompson when Arthur lived there. The red phone box had popped up all across the countryside, while the telephone itself was unknown at the time of his birth. The first long distance telephone call was made from London to Norwich when Arthur was a teenager (it used the telegraph cables than ran beside the railway). Before he died in 1945 the jet fighter had taken to the skies, although no powered aircraft had flown until Arthur was forty years old. Television had been broadcast in London before the war, and during it digital computers were being developed in high secrecy at Bletchley Park.
Walter, his eldest son, was working as a farm labourer at Arminghall when the Great War broke out. He volunteered straight away and was recruited into the Norfolk Regiment. He was a stretcher bearer. In 1917 he was discharged as disabled, having lost a leg in the conflict. He died in 1972 in Norwich. My wife’s grandfather also lost a leg in the First World War. He lived an active life with his prosthetic limb, but the pain of the primitive amputation never left him.