I like Jeremy Corbyn’s stated aim to reopen the railway line from March to Wisbech as soon as possible if he becomes PM. As things stand we have endless reports on the subject but no action. Corbyn is naturally in favour of the renationalisation of the railways, but the track infrastructure has been in public ownership since 2002, when Railtrack effectively went bust. It is only the train operating companies and the rolling stock leasing companies that are privatised. I think the policy to take back the railway operators into public ownership as the franchises come up for renewal is the right way to go; it costs nothing to the taxpayer and returns the train operations to those who ought to own them, the people. Instead of paying large subsidies to companies like Virgin Trains and Abellio, the money would be retained in the public sector. Why ever are we filling the pockets of Sir Richard Branson and the Dutch national rail operator in this way? I like LABOUR’s policy on the rail industry; I wish that all their policies were as fiscally neutral as this one!
What about the commitment of Corbyn to abolish university fees? I was one of the lucky generation who not only got our fees paid but got a grant towards living expenses too. The number of young people attending university in those days was under 10%, and the cost to the government was affordable. With that number now nudging 50%, the ongoing cost to the taxpayer would be quite outrageous. The policy is naturally popular among the young, or a section of them at least; whether it ought to be popular among those young people who do not receive a university education (but will nonetheless be expected to pay for those who do) is another point entirely. If political affiliation had anything to do with self-interest none of this group would support the Labour Party, but it has much more to with the idealism of youth. Even this idealism would surely be sorely tested among those unfortunate young graduates who already have student debts of many thousands of pounds to repay. After rashly promising to pay off these debts too, the mind-boggling sum this would cost caused even the Labour leadership to have second thoughts; instead they have said they will merely “think about it”. While the Labour Party is thinking about this, the better paid graduates will have paid off their debts; can they then look forward to a massive lump sum in repayment of the money spent on their fees? Of course not, but that would be the only fair option to pursue. With all these proposals Labour have got into deep waters indeed; where do they see the money coming from for all their schemes? I think they even said they would reduce the deficit at the same time!
The SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY’s plan to set up a not-for-profit alternative to the big energy companies has the potential to provide the way forward in that country. The oligopolies in energy supply are worse than the nationalised industries that they replaced. However, given the SNP’s abysmal record in administration, I wouldn’t count on anything they try to do being a success. Scottish education used to be the envy of the world; look at it now! Scottish universities are still free for Scottish students, but the expense of providing this has been ruinous for the rest of the education system. Further education in Scotland has more or less collapsed.
The LIB DEMS are stuck in an unhappy place; their resolute determination to remain in the European Union should have garnered them much support, given that nearly half the electorate voted that way in the referendum. Moreover, they are the only major party to unequivocally take that position. Nonetheless their parliamentary representation is only 20% of what they enjoyed just a few years ago. I hesitate to mention university fees once again, but their volt face on the subject is the only thing I can point to that could account for their reversal in fortunes.
What can I say about the TORIES? Their tinkering at the margins of student loans is pathetic; it doesn’t impress anyone, and nobody will vote for them because of this. They are in a terrible position; with no majority in Parliament they are attempting to put into effect the greatest constitutional change in this country since the Second World War that is Brexit. Not only that, but most of Parliamentary Conservative Party plainly do not in their heart of hearts believe in the policy they are committed to implementing. I contrast this with the rapidly shrinking paid-up Tory Party membership, who are about 100% Leavers. Mrs May’s inclusive social policy has no prospect of ever being brought about. Much of it is in direct opposition to her party’s pro-business values. Even if it had a chance of success, it is not part of a conservative mindset; it might be a very good thing (or it might not) but the Conservatives should leave Socialist values to a socialist party. The Tories cannot gain from aping Labour at very turn. The true believers will always vote Labour, and the conservatives will have nothing to go to the ballot box for.
You will have noticed how often the subject of university fees has raised its head. The fact is there are far too many universities. At least half are providing a poor standard of education to intellectually challenged students. Many of the rest used to provide a perfectly good technical education without an academic veneer on which successful careers could be built. Worse than possessing this travesty of a degree level qualification, few of these low-end graduates will ever earn enough to pay off their student loans in full, though most will earn enough to ensure that they pay a higher rate of tax than their more sensible non-graduate counterparts. The whole higher education system is a pig’s breakfast.
We live in interesting times.
My great-great-great-grandfather William Rivett was born in a central Norfolk village in 1776. Shipdham is a large village, about half way between Dereham and Watton; and in the mid C9th it had nearly 2000 inhabitants. The Rivetts were a family of local builders; William was the carpenter and his brother John the bricklayer. William’s eldest sister Susan also married into a building family. The village could support quite a few builders and even a building surveyor. William Rivett appears in the 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Norfolk as carpenter and builder in Shipdham. Aged about 70 William retired to the nearby village of Southburgh to deal in pigs. The building business in Shipdham had already been passed on to his son Thomas while William was still living there. Two of his sons were already living in Southburgh, which may have prompted the move by their father. His son Edward was a country wheelwright in Southburgh employing 2 men and his younger brother Francis was apprenticed to the trade. They were a family of successful tradesmen. Other members of his family became the grocer and the post master in Soutburgh (then a more flourishing village than it has since become). Edward’s descendants continued to work as wheelwrights in Southburgh, while Francis set up business in the trade in Shipdham. He retired to Swaffham where he was living in retirement in 1912.
From as early as 1749 there had been a charity school in Shipdham, which taught about a hundred poor children and they had to pay no fees. They got their basic education gratis. In visual terms the village still appears much as it must have done in the 18th century, with the church dominating the High Street. The market which had been established by the Bishop of Ely in Henry III’s reign had been obsolete for centuries, though the name Market Street still remains. By the mid 19th century it had three Non-conformist chapels including both Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist. It had a wide range of shops and tradesmen, butchers, grocers and ironmongers.
William’s son Henry followed his father into the building trade, but by 1870 he had branched out into farming. He had 12 acres, and produced bullocks for the farmers around Shipdham. His farm was in Blackmoor Row in Shipdham, and this had been passed down to him through his aunt Jane Stagg (nee Rivett). She had married a farmer in Blackmoor Row. When her husband James died at the young age of 49 in 1824 his widow Jane had continued to farm in Blackmoor Row in her own right until her death in 1852. Although she had several sons there were no grandchildren to inherit the farm; James Stagg, the son who had inherited the farm married late in life and had no children of his own; one of his brothers emigrated to the USA and one had died as a young man. When James died my great-grandfather Henry became a farmer, and so started a dynasty of Rivett farmers in Norfolk that survives to this day. His son (also called Henry) was a farmer near Mileham in Norfolk; he was my great-grandfather. Several of the next generation were also farmers, but my branch of the family were drapers.
My Great Aunt Hilda (who married farmer Ralph Wace) appears in this photo. She is the baby on her grannie’s knee; she was a great granddaughter of William Rivett with whom I began this story. By the time this photograph was taken this branch of the family had moved a few miles away to Beeston.
I posted the above information on the Shipdham History Group’s Facebook page and got this interesting comment: Thank you so much for all this information. I have a photo of one of the Rivett men in fancy dress in Southburgh in early C20 and will have to look it up. There is a corner in Southburgh still known as Rivett’s corner so we know where they lived there. I believe that it is Edward Rivett who is perhaps remembered best in Southburgh. Will see what else I can find out about the family, particularly the Rivett who married a Stagg and lived in Blackmoor Row. Thanks again – BB
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
It is a favourite theme of the Brexit debate; who will pick our strawberries when we leave the EU? ‘The Brits are too lazy and incompetent to do anything so lowly’ is all we hear from the Guardian readers and the farming lobby. The Brexiteers point out that fruit was being picked before the advent of cheap labour from Eastern Europe and they are right. I should point out that I voted to remain within the EU, in case you think I am an ardent leaver. I wish to put such political consideration aside for the moment and concentrate on my own experience (admittedly limited) of fruit picking.
When our children were young we would go out as a family to pick fruit. It didn’t matter to the farmer if we were a bit slow – he only paid by results. When we had filled our baskets we took them to the stall, the crop was weighed and we were paid for our labour. Even in those days the person in charge of the field was a Russian; leaving the European Union would not have affected this – Russia has never been part of the EU. Fruit picking was all part of summer and, for the young it meant learning about the outdoor life and the changing seasons. I wonder if it was legal to work our youngsters like this? Probably not, but we only did it for as long as they enjoyed it; we could pick for as short a period as we wished. It was nice for them to spend the money they had earned on sweets or even save it. It is sad, but we couldn’t do this today; the fruit bushes round here have nearly all been grubbed up. Even if they were still there we would probably have had to learn to speak Polish first, to understand what we had to do! As it happens my son does speaks fluent Polish now (along with other languages), so as you can guess I have nothing against the Poles. Many of their young men fought and died for us during the war, and were utterly betrayed when the war ended. The war had started to protect Poland’s independence, and ended with its subservience to the Soviet Empire.
Let us now turn to the practicalities of fruit picking, examine firstly the positives. It is a job for the warm days of summer and autumn. One conjures up images of sunny times in acres of raspberry canes, or the grape harvest of the early fall; climbing ladders to gather the rosy red apples from the trees as the nights draw in. These scenes bear little relationship to reality, to the negative aspects of fruit picking; boring hours spent looking at fruit bushes for a start. You will have eaten so many of them that you will never want to see a strawberry again.
With the growing application of mechanisation, apples are already largely picked by machine. The days of apple pickers perched on wooden ladders are well and truly over; even where machinery isn’t used, apple trees have been developed that grow no more than a couple of metres high. Mechanics is plainly the future, and the days of employing large numbers of fruit pickers will soon be over. Being part of the EU has delayed the process, by allowing large numbers of East Europeans into our country, providing cheap labour. Once the cost of employing people increases it will make it worthwhile to develop methods using genetic modification and engineering ingenuity; these will solve the problem soon enough. I can remember when even the growing of sugar beet was a labour intensive process. The beet was sown by a primitive kind of seed drill, but the thinning out of the crop had to be done by the farmer’s men with hoes. Soon the idea of sending scores of young men and women out into the fields to pick fruit will seem just as old-fashioned as farm workers using hoes.
This new world order is not something I look forward to particularly, it is just inevitable. Those who predict darkly that there will be no fruit on British tables in two years’ time are just scare mongering. For one thing, much of our fruit comes from abroad anyway, and not from the EU either. If all goes to plan fruit should be cheaper to buy after Brexit and more plentiful, not scarcer. It is not only exotic fruit that comes from across the world; all sorts of fruit that we grow here in Britain are available all year round. This is partly because the growing season has been massively extended, but even so the shortest days of the year just do not produce enough sunlight to ripen the crop. It is then that fruit is imported from the Southern Hemisphere. How they pick it down there I know not; probably by very basic means as labour is so cheap in much of the world; but this blog has been about fruit picking here in Britain.
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THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE OUTDOORS
I really should say the delivery officer’s day, because the word postman is definitely sexist, but post person does not roll off the tongue like postman. The job has certainly changed in the last thirty years. For one thing post ladies were very thin on the ground back then.
In the towns delivery officers still walk on their daily postal rounds as they always have done, but the country postmen all drive round in vans today. The red bicycle is a thing of the past. In the 1980s the postman’s bike was still the same as it had been fifty years before. It still had ancient roller lever brakes and no gears, and the bicycle only came up-to-date with modern cable brakes a few years before it passed into history. If you go back a little further to the early years of the last century the rural postman rode a horse to deliver the mail.
The uniform has changed as well as the means of transport. No longer does the postman wear a smart jacket and a military style cap; to be fair he didn’t wear his hat back in the 1980s, but it was still part of the uniform he was issued with. It was the real thing with a shiny peak and brass badge, not a mere baseball cap (though that came later). In fact the uniform was a step back into the past. In the 1970s it had been a neutral grey colour, rather like a businessman’s suit, but in the 1980s it reverted to the traditional dark blue. It no longer had the red piping down the seam of the trousers, but this remained in vestigial form as red piping along the trouser pocket opening. A red and blue tie was provided, and all the postmen had to wear it; over the years the traditional tie that was secure by a knot was replaced by a ready knotted attachment that merely came away when the wearer was grabbed by the neck. This is a sad reflection on the growing violence of the time, and even the postman was subjected to it.
The uniform was blue, but gradually more and more red started to creep into it. At first this was just a panel on the overcoat shoulders, but eventually the whole top the uniform (the shirt) became this colour. The uniform had changed by the twenty-first century to a much more casual appearance. Shorts became general for summer wear, and some hardy souls wear shorts throughout the coldest months of the year. Trainers have replaced sensible black lace-ups for most postmen, and ties have disappeared completely.
At last we can get round to the postman’s day. In general it started much earlier than it does now. It was normal for him to get up at four a.m., even if he lived not far from the delivery office. He would be at work by five, and after receiving the sacks of mail, opening and sorting them, he could be ready to get the ‘all clear’ to go by seven o’clock. Part of the reason for this early start was the fact that many postmen made two deliveries a day. He worked Saturday mornings and this made his working week one of over 40 hours. This made him rather unusual, even among manual workers, by the late twentieth century. In spite of this heavy workload, because of the early start he was home by lunchtime, so the afternoons were free to the garden or go shopping.
Good Friday working ended in about 1990. No postman minded working on Bank Holidays; it was all done on enhanced overtime rate, so the pay was good. Although Saturday deliveries still continue, postmen now work a five-day week and the contracted hours have consequently been reduced. The most fundamental change is that, after half a millennium as a department of state, the Post Office is now a private business. The fact that it is now an ordinary company hardly matters, now that the writing of letters is a lost art; who really cares who delivers the advertising material and official bumf that still pours through our letter boxes? Have these people never heard of email or online communication? Nevertheless I am old-fashioned enough to regret the passing of this Nationalised service. Things which rely on a national network, like the railways, electricity, gas and even the post office need organising on a national basis, and the fad for privatising these things has not resulted in better service in my opinion.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Barnstaple, Devon 1958. My first long distance trip, starting from Norwich Thorpe as the station was then called, to distinguish it from the other two termini in Norwich. Steam engines ruled the tracks in those days!
Glasgow, Scotland, 1962. With my sister Tiiggie we stopped off at Glasgow en route to Malaig, where we were to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We had gone up to Edinburgh on the night sleeper.
Ostend, Belgium, 1965. School trip to Eastern Europe.We went by train from Waterloo. After catching the ferry to Belgium we caught the train at Ostend. There were no electric trains on the European railways then, but in the capitalist West the expresses were already diesel hauled. In Communist Europe the trains were still steam hauled.
Cologne, Germany, 1965. Our first change of trains at about midnight. The workers were still busy digging up the road outside the cathedral (a dedication to getting the job done unheard of in England in those days, and even today). We had to stop at the border with Czechoslovakia where we were thoroughly checked by the Communist border guards. The border was heavily defended by machine gun-toting soldiers. It was strictly prohibited to photograph near the railway, but I managed to sneak my camera there to take this picture!
Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1965. After an overnight sleep in the couchette car of the train we arrived at Prague, our first destination in the Communist East. In the hotel I experienced my first night under a duvet; such things were then unknown in Britain.
Budapest, Hungary, 1965. We spent several days in Czechoslovakia before going on by train to Hungary. We stopped off at the border to view the Danube Bend. In Budapest we rode the ancient electric underground railway which was then still using the original carriages from the 1890s.
Vienna, Austria, 1965. Our last stop was back in the West, and rather flat in comparison to Communist Europe. It was dire in the East for the inhabitants, but as visitors from the wealthy Capitalist part of the world we were treated very specially indeed, almost like Royalty. They needed our cash!
Montreal, 1969. While visiting my sister in Canada my mother and I caught the train from the suburbs to downtown Montreal. We went with my sister and her children. It was single car train, but it had an observation deck (which I used of course). There was another railway visible from my sister’s house, one with plenty of freight trains going past.
Oxford, 1967. I went to Sheringham from school by bus, to catch the train from the station. This was already the new BR built halt. The North Norfolk Railway had purchased the adjacent former station, but as yet no trains were running and it stood derelict. This was in December for my interview for a place at university. From Norwich I caught the train to Liverpool Street, and from Paddington I went to Oxford on a train full of fellow candidates.
Folkestone, 1977, en route for the Baie de Somme, France. With my friend Bill I went on a day trip to ride the Baie de Somme narrow gauge preserved line. The return trip entailed changing trains after midnight at Shippea Hill of all places!
Aarhus, 1982. In Denmark me and my friend Bill travelled from Aarhus in Jutland to the island of Zealand, which at that time involved the entire train being hauled on the ferry for the sea crossing. (Since then a bridge has been built.) The door at the end of the last carriage on the train had a widow, from which you could watch the track disappearing into the distance.
Copenhagen, 1982. Arriving by train, we spent a few days in the Danish capital, where we did all the usual tourist things like visiting the Little Mermaid. We flew back to Manchester airport from there.
Aldershot, 1986. Stopped off for a haircut en route to my RAMC recruitment assessment.
Ash Vale, 1986. To RAMC HQ at Keogh Barracks for basic training.
Windermere, 1986. Just married, Molly and I went on a special to Lake Windermere in the Lake District; on the way we went over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line. We stopped off at Ribblehead station for a look over the valley.
Bournemouth, 1996. I caught the train down to Bournemouth where I had a week’s training at the Elstead Hotel as rep for the Union of Postal Workers. Saw the QE 2 at Southampton.
Paris, France, 2001. Our first overseas family holiday; Molly, Peter, Polly and I went by Eurostar from London. This was before the high-speed line was built, and we left from Waterloo.
Bruges, Belgium, 2002. With our children we went on a day trip by train to Bruges from the Midi Station in Brussels.
Estoril, 2005. On a family holiday to Portugal (when we flew to Porto) we arrived at our hotel by train from Lisbon.
Cascais, Portugal, 2005. We travelled to the beach for a morning sunbathing at the terminus of the line. Sunbathing is something I almost never do, and this was not a success. The railway line was lovely though, and runs along the sea throughout its length.
Flam, 2011. On our Norwegian cruise we travelled this steep electric railway line from sea level (the fjord) up to the mountainous country. There, despite it being August, there was still some snow about.
Brussels, Belgium, 2015. Molly and I travelled on Eurostar from St Pancras and spent a few days with Peter and Alex in Brussels. It as February, and Peter was due to move back to England later in the month. We went first class (as by then I had suffered from a stroke) and were entertained to a lavish meal as we were whisked through Kent.
Wymondham, Norfolk, 2015. I went solo for the first time since suffering from my stroke.I got on the train at Wymonham and travelled to Cambridge, where I was met by my cousin William. I also returned unaccompanied to Norwich.
I have been on many other railway journeys, mostly to London. Over my lifetime I have been by train to Wales, March in Cambridgeshire, Weymouth, Liverpool Street (all of these in steam days), to name but a few. I have travelled on lines that were axed by Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s. This article includes all my travels abroad.
THE BLOG FOR RAILWAY MEMORIES
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To read my initial thoughts on Norwich’s Northern Distributor Road you need to read my earlier blog. CLICK HERE to read THE NORTHERN DISTRIBUTOR ROAD. We are now several months down the line, and some things are becoming clearer. As far as I am concerned (living as I do at the western extremity of the route) it appears to be of little relevance to me and my travel needs. I will have to use the first few miles to reach Norwich Airport in future, because they have now permanently closed the road that I have previously used, to enable the construction of the new road.
I had hoped it might provide a speedier way to get to the London bound trains, but the nearest the NDR comes to the railway station is miles out in the countryside, and I don’t think it will be any quicker. It will certainly be much further to drive than going through the city centre. The road goes quite near Salhouse station, so that would be the place to get the train to Cromer; unlike Norwich station, the car parking there is free but the service is two hourly; only every other train stops there.
The NDR will provide a quicker route to Wroxham and North Walsham, but I seldom go that way; maybe with the NDR making these places more readily available my travelling habits will change. The main destination which it will be much easier to access will be Great Yarmouth. It is a shame that my days of riding the roller coaster on the Golden Mile are well and truly over. It will perhaps make it slightly easier to go to Lowestoft and Bungay too, and a visit to Whitlingham Broad might be bit easier by the new road. Otherwise I do not see myself making much use of it.
What would make my life much easier would be if the bridge over the river Wensum near Ringland were built. This would also relieve Costessey of much through traffic, but this is not part of the current scheme. It seems likely that such a crossing will eventually be built, and only then will the NDR be a useful road. For us residents of Taverham this would mean we would no longer have to thread our way through unsuitable roads to get to the Longwater retail park; and reaching the A47 would be a piece of cake. This would also be the case for travellers from Fakenham, Reepham, Holt and Cromer. To get to the A11 at present these drivers have to make their way into Norwich as far as the Ring Road and then down the Newmarket Road to the Southern Bypass. That is unless they do as I do, and go through the narrow roads and speed bumps to the Royal Norfolk Showground. Even with the opening of the NDR next spring this will still be the most direct and quickest route for them to take, although I am sure the road signs will direct them to take the huge diversion east along the NDR.
The dual carriageway is already complete at the western end, and the construction traffic has moved on. We are not yet allowed to drive along it, but there is talk of the first part from the Fakenham road to the Cromer road opening as early as October; we shall see. One thing is sure; even when it is ‘complete’ there will still be much work to be done.
THE BLOG FOR EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
St Andrew’s Hall has occupied a central role in the civic life of the City for nearly 500 years, and before it became a secular meeting place it was part of a Dominican friary. Every kind of public event has taken place there; I myself have sung from the choir benches as child (though in what circumstances I forget), and as a thirty year old I played there in the orchestra for the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. In less refined company I have been there with my friends to the Norwich Beer Festival; St Andrew’s Hall, together with the adjacent Blackfriars Hall, constitute the largest non-religious gathering place in the City. There have been calls for a modern hall to be built for the citizens, and maybe this will one day come to pass, but there is no immediate prospect of St Andrew’s Hall giving up its time-honoured rôle. Even if such a modern concert hall were to be built it would not occupy so central a location in the City; there could not be a better place for the citizens of Norwich to meet than St Andrew’s Hall. I should think there is hardly a citizen of Norwich who has not attended some function at St Andrew’s Hall the last half millennium.
The Dominican friars (also called the Blackfriars from their austere form of dress) moved onto the site in 1307, having first set up a friary in Colegate eighty years earlier. The chancel of the friary was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. and it was named St Andrew’s Hall from St Andrew’s Church that stands across the road after the Reformation. In medieval times it became a popular place for the rich an influential members of local society to bequeath large sums of money for the erection of memorials within its walls. These included the Paston family, and Sir Thomas Erpingham; the arms of both are preserved around the building.
With the closure of all religious houses by Henry VIII the City Corporation petition the king to buy the former friary in 1538. The hall with its adjacent conventual buildings has preserved the most intact medieval friary left in the country. The buildings cost the Corporation £81, with an unexpected extra £152 for the lead on the roof; as anyone who inspects the exterior of the hall today will recognise, the roof is nowadays made of copper. A print was made in the seventeenth century which shows St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars Hall with a central tower. This fine structure was demolished at some time, but when is unclear.
This Hall has provided the backdrop for civic occasions ever since the 16th century; the first recorded event to take place there was in 1544, with the Mayor’s inaugural feast. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses in the Hall when he came to crush Kett’s rebellion five years later. When Charles II visited the city in 1671 he was entertained to a lavish feast in St Andrew’s Hall. In 1695 it was used as a mint during the great recoinage of that year. The building was used as the City’s Corn Exchange before a purpose-built Corn Hall was erected in Exchange Street. It was also at one time used as the local Assize Court. In 1824 the first concert of the Norwich Triennial Festival took place in St Andrew’s Hall. A quarter of a century later the opening of the Railway to London was the occasion for a great feast and many speeches. The holding of feasts there seems to have fallen off in recent times, but concert are as popular as ever. When Question Time visits the City the team of broadcasters set up their equipment in the ancient meeting place. There simply is nowhere else in Norwich where such an event could happen.
THE BLOG FOR HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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In the ninth century the English East Coast was at the centre of a wave of invasion and warfare. Danish warriors from across the North Sea were making determined efforts to deprive the Saxons of their gold and silver and then rule the land. Eastern England was colonised by Vikings; York was the seat of Viking power in Northumbria from 867 for nearly 90 yeas, and East Anglia had Viking kings from 880 until 917. For the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period the influence of the Vikings was never far away. The Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard terrorised the country in the first years of the eleventh century; he briefly ruled England, and after his death his son Cnut became king of the land.
In Norfolk we can still trace the evidence of Vikings occupation in words and place-names. They soon intermarried with the local Anglo-Saxons, but they changed our language in the process. The Norfolk dialect includes many Danish words. Staithe is a term unknown in England outside the East Coast (this includes Yorkshire as well as Norfolk); it means wharf and comes from Old Norse. Flegg is the name of the old hundred just outside Great Yarmouth and the word means the yellow flag iris in the Danish language. The area around the upper reaches of the river Wensum is particularly rich in such memorials of a time over a thousand years ago. The village of Elsing takes its name from a Danish chieftain ‘Elesa’. The forest called Normans Burrow Wood near Whissonsett has nothing to do with rabbit burrows; it is a corruption of ‘Norseman’s Barrow”. Further west the village of Grimston takes in name from the pagan god Grim, while further east the second part of the name of the village Newton Flotman comes from the Old Norse word for seaman.
Nor is it only words which remind us of the Vikings. There are many archaeological finds which date from the Viking age. A brooch depicting a Valkyrie was found in Norfolk and may be seen in the collection at Norwich Castle Museum. A silver pendant decorated with Thor’s hammer was discovered by a metal detectorist near the river Wensum and hoards of coins from the period when Norfolk was ruled by Danish kings regularly turn up across the county. It was the Vikings who established Norwich as a major town, and the first reference to the name comes from one of these coins, where the inscription records that the mint was located there. They were fierce and ruthless warriors, but they reinvigorated the sleepy economic life of Norfolk.
It is thought that the huge development of the peat industry (that gave rise to the Norfolk Broads) was a result of the initiative of the Danish community. It is significant that in the past a quarter of the landmass in Denmark consisted of peat bogs, and these have been used as a resource since Neolithic times; there is no direct way of linking the origin of the Broads with the Vikings, but this seems highly likely. Long before the coal mines of the Midlands and the North produced the fuel that powered the industrial revolution, the Norfolk wetlands were a hive of activity. Peat dug out across the marshland and carried by river to Norwich provided the inhabitants with fuel. Within two hundred years of the arrival of the Danes in the small town they called Norvic, Norwich was vying to become the second most populous conurbation in the land. The peat was needed to heat their homes.
The Vikings came into the country and things would never be the same again. History has buried the bloodshed and paganism deep in the realms of the past, but the words we use, the landscape we live in and the blonde gene that remains in our bloodline bear mute testimony to the continuing influence of these fair haired warriors. As the Viking age recedes into the past these things will slowly fade, but they have lasted for over a thousand years; we are still Vikings in many ways.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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Gaston Martineau was a Frenchman who arrived in Norwich in the year 1686; he was a surgeon from Dieppe. The year before king Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes; this enlightened piece of legislation had been promulgated in France under king Henri IV in 1598. This king had been brought up a protestant himself, but had been forced to convert to Catholicism to inherit the throne of France. The Edict of Nantes allowed French Calvinists (Huguenots) a degree of protection from persecution. The removal of this protection caused many French Protestants, including Gaston Martineau, to emigrate across the English Channel; many ended up in Norwich. There was already a sizeable presence of continental Calvinists in Norwich, principally Flemish weavers, who had been migrating since the 16th century. Flanders was then part of the Spanish Netherlands, and the Spanish court was not as accommodating as the French court had been until 1685.
Well over a quarter of the population of Norwich was made up of these ‘Strangers’ (as the continental Protestants were called) at one time. Many Huguenots worshipped in French in their own church, which had been granted to them by the City Corporation, but the Martineaus soon converted to Unitarianism and some became Anglicans. One of Gaston’s great grandsons was called Philip and he was also a surgeon. Philip Meadows Martineau (1752–1829) it was who bought Bracondale Woods just outside Norwich City Walls, where his elegant residence Bracondale House was built. The House was demolished in the 1960s and County Hall was erected on the site. The connection with the Martineau family is remembered in the name Martineau Lane, now part of Norwich Ring Road. The original lane was just that, a narrow country lane, part of which was left as a tree-lined footpath when the new Ring Road was built to the north. From the lane one used to be able to see Bracondale House displayed against the trees.
Philip’s brother Thomas went into the textile trade as a manufacturer. One of his daughters was Harriet, and although he married in Northumbria she was born in Norwich in 1802. She was a famous 19th century writer. As a young woman she moved to London where she became something of a literary lion. She spent some time in the United States and on her return to England she wrote some critical comments on the American attitude to slavery and the poverty of female education in America. Her writings extended from historical romances to political economy. She moved to the Lake District during the latter part of her life; she supported herself out of the proceeds of her writing, which was highly unusual for a woman of the time. Her philosophical disposition was favourable to the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin; at an earlier period in her life there was even the suggestion that she would marry into the Darwin family. A period of serious illness led her to a life of celibacy instead.
Meanwhile other members of the family had become established in Birmingham. From 1846 five Martineaus have been Lord Mayor of Birmingham, the most recent in 1986. The Martineaus were related by marriage to the Birmingham dynasty of politicians, the Chamberlains. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was one of their number. It was revealed in 2014 that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is descended from the Martineaus. Her ancestor Elizabeth Martineau was elder sister to Harriet, and so Prince George also is directly related Gaston Martineau. The Martineau bloodline has in this way reached the very highest status in the land.