What can the frozen north have to do with mild East Anglia? Well Charles Longe was born in Suffolk in 1865; his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had been clerics, but Charles did not follow his ancestors into the cloth. He was for most of his life a land agent, but he and his brother spent the best part of a decade in Canada as young men. The 1891 census of Canada reveals that he was living on Mayne Island, between Vancouver and Victoria. British Columbia had been opened up by the Canadian Pacific Railway, where the symbolic ‘Last Spike’ had been driven in six years earlier. This led to a large movement of people to this western province of Canada.

Charles  was farming sheep on Mayne Island; although part of Canada, this island is south of the 49th parallel, and the shortest distance to the mainland was to America. As well as the wool the sheep too were smuggled across the water in a canoe, 20 at a time with their legs tied together. It was a nefarious way of life. As a contrast to this wild existence, there was a flourishing Lawn Tennis Association on the island of Victoria. Charles held the Lawn Tennis Championship of British Columbia for three years in the 1890s.

The Klondike Gold Rush encouraged Charles Longe to drive a flock of 200 of his sheep to Dawson City to provide fresh meat for the hungry miners in Yukon Territory. After taking ship from Victoria to Fort Wrangell (Alaska) he set off to drive the sheep the 800 odd miles to Dawson City. He was accompanied by two sheep dogs and two Native Americans. Although the journey was arduous and slow – the sheep had to scratch a living by eating the grass under the snow – he only lost a handful of animals on the way. This was in spite of having to construct a scow to carry the animals across the Yukon river at White Horse rapids. He sold the sheep to a butcher in Dawson City, but could not be paid in coin (there wasn’t any) and had to accept gold nuggets instead!

It was while in the Yukon that Charles Longe made the acquaintance of Stratford Tollemache Halliday, a Royal Marine officer. Captain Halliday was five years younger than Charles Longe. In 1900 Stratford Tollemache won the VC for leading a handful of Royal Marines against an attack on the British Legation in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. Although severely injured he killed four of the attackers before he had to return a hundred yards to safety. His shoulder was dislocated and he had a punctured lung. He recovered from his injuries and went on to serve with distinction until he retired as a General in 1930. He was 96 when he died i 1966. Charles Longe did not live to such a great age, dying in 1933.

The Klondike Gold Rush was over by 1899, although mining continued for another four years. The Longe brothers packed their bags and returned to the UK and a more settled life. Darwin City became depopulated after the Gold Rush, but now (over a hundred years later) it is tourist attraction.









St Julian’s Church, Norwich

This fourteenth century woman spent her life in Norwich, and we may assume that she was born there. Her book of mysticism, Revelations of Divine Love was the earliest book to be written by a woman in the English language. Very little is known of her life; even her name is derived from St Julian’s church, just off King Street in Norwich, where her anchorite’s cell was built into the wall. The church still stands and is the mother shrine devoted to Julian, but it was badly damaged by bombing in 1939/45 war. The exact location of her cell is lost, and after the Reformation even her name fell into obscurity. She was rescued from oblivion by Father Cressy, an Anglian cleric who was exiled to the Continent during the Civil War. There he converted to Catholicism,  and his Sixteen Revelations on the Love of God by Mother Juliana was published in 1670, probably in Douai. By then he was again living in England, as chaplain  to Charles II’s Catholic Queen. Julian’s fame did not really take off until a version was published in Modern English at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then her reputation has grown across the Christian world, and she is now revered internationally.

MARGERY KEMPE was born around the year 1373 in Bishops Lynn – now called Kings Lynn. Edward III was coming to end of his long reign; his ambitions in France had led to the Hundred Years War, a problem for those wishing to travel in Europe. Margery’s family were rich merchants, and both her father and husband were prominent members of the local Corporation. Wool was providing great riches across East Anglia, and Wool Churches were springing up in villages around Norfolk. Her wealth enabled Margery to travel with an entourage of confessors and hermits, despite having fourteen children; she had plenty of servants to care for the youngsters back home. Her education was fairly basic, and she authored her book through dictation. It was nonetheless a ground breaking work of autobiography.

Queen Mary Tudor

QUEEN MARY TUDOR was staying Euston Hall in Suffolk, just south of Thetford when she heard the news of her half-brother’s death from goldsmith Robert Reyns on 7th July, 1553. She returned to her home at Kenninghall in South Norfolk and immediately set about claiming the throne.

Mary’s household  “proclaimed their dearest princess Mary as queen of England.”  Mary wrote to the Privy Council stating her claim to the throne and demanded their allegiance. However Edward VI had named Lady Jane Grey as his successor, so she gathered her loyal Norfolk supporters around her in Norfolk to plan her next move.


SIR JOHN GRESHAM was the successful London merchant who was born in Holt. Just before his death he gave his manor in Holt to found a school. The schooling of promising young lads had been problematical in North Norfolk since Henry VIII had closed the Priory at Beeston, which had until 1536 run the local school. The Fishmongers Company carried out Sir John’s wishes, and the school is now known as Gresham’s School. The Manor House in the centre of the town now holds the pre-prep department of the school. The building was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century. The school was re-founded in 1900 and since then it has become a leading public school, boasting such people as Lord Reith (first Director General of he BBC),the poet W. H. Auden, composer Benjamin Britten and the award-winning actress Olivia Colman among its pupils.

Parson James Woodforde

PARSON JAMES WOODFORDE was the clergyman of Weston Longville in Norfolk for the last 25 years of his life. He would be unremarkable had he not produced a detailed diary of his life which was published by Oxford University Press in the last century. He was born in Somerset, and would have remained there but he was unable to succeed to his father’ parish. He was granted the living in Norfolk in 1774. He was unmarried and lived with his niece Nancy who acted as his housekeeper. We learn of the neighbouring clergy, the local farmers, the tradesmen of Norwich and many other characters in the pages of his diary. It is cameo of life in Norfolk in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and unlike many diarists he mentions those detail of everyday life that so many of them ignore. It is the little things that seem unimportant which are so interesting to history.

Louisa Barwell

Louisa Barwell

LOUISA BARWELL (née Bacon) was born in 1800. She married a Norwich wine merchant in Costessey. After involving herself in her father’s music magazine (she was an able pianist) she became a nationally acclaimed authority on the education of children. She produced many books and articles on this subject. Little Lessons for Little Learners was a simple book, written entirely in monosyllables (except for the title!). This book was a great success, running to fifteen editions. She also became friendly with other notable women of the period, such as Lady Byron, the poet’s widow, and the Swedish Nightingale, the opera singer Jenny Lind. The Barwells lived at 33 Surrey Street in Norwich, and Louisa continued to live there after she was widowed in 1876.

William Jackson Hooker set up a botanical garden in Halesworth. He end up Director of Kew Gardens.

WILLIAM JACKSON HOOKER was an early botanist. He was educated at Norwich School and after a career which included running a botanical garden at Halesworth and being Professor of Botany at Glasgow University he was made Director of Kew Gardens.

His son was also a prominent botanist. Another local botanist was J.E.Smith, the founder of the Linnaean Society of London. He produced several books while living in Norwich and was knighted for his services to plant science.

The Artists John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, both of Suffolk, are well known on a national scale. The Norwich School of Artists was another source  great artistic talent. The finest collection was built up by the Colman family and now resides in the Castle Museum in Norwich. That brings us to the famous band of Colman’s Mustard.


J. H. WALTER was a cousin of the owner of The Times newspaper who ran the paper-mill in Taverham that produced much of the newsprint for the paper during the last half of the nineteenth century. He lived in Drayton and built the Hall there that was for many years used a maternity home. It has since been used a centre for evangelical worship. Besides the paper-mill at Taverham he also ran a pulp mill at Bawburgh to produce the material for use at the paper-mill. It was a shock to the work force when these mills were closed in 1899, but Walter remained in Norfolk and was involved with all areas of the local scene, whether it be the Archaeological Society, the Triennial Music Festival or the operation of the Port of Norwich.


JAMES DYSON was born in 1947 in Cromer and educated at Gresham’s School. As a youth he showed little interest in engineering, being instead dedicated to long distance running and graphic art. He is now known as an inventor, most famously of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, but earlier of the Ballbarrow. He has recently started his own technical university in Wiltshire although his company is to be headquartered in Singapore.

He has recently become involved with the governorship of his old school in Holt.





Spixworth is a village near Norwich and was from 1693 for over two hundred years the residence of the Longe family. During the Longe years it was a small village, dominated by the landowner; when the Longes were displaced the number of homes in the area grew to become dormitory for Norwich, but it is still not a large settlement.

The stable block, all that remains of Spixworth Hall

The Reference in the title is to a slim book written by Arthur Longe, a relative of the family that owned the Hall. It had fallen into decay by 1950, when this book was published, and the Hall was demolished soon after. Arthur Longe lived in Suffolk near Woodbridge. He was 80 by the time the book was published. My interest in the Longe family goes back to the 1990s when I was asked to give a talk on the history of Spixworth. This little book* was the result. Arthur Longe stated in his preface that he wrote his little book to tell his grandchildren about their ancestors. I too want to know more about theses people. It was because Arthur Longe recognised that other outside his family would be  interested that he published the book. I am glad that he did.

In the introduction he records William of Wykeham (born William Longe circa 1320) and founder of Winchester School, as a distant ancestor. The Norfolk Longes cannot have been lineal descendants of the Bishop however, as in those days churchmen were meant to be celibate. Among other interesting photographs, Arthur Longe illustrates what he states to be the “Longe Gainsborough”. He says that this picture is of his ancestors in Spixworth Park. Here I must enter a word of caution; Arthur Longe is not entirely accurate in all he says, and some of his assertions must be taken with a pinch of salt. The picture is indeed a Gainsborough, and it depicts his ancestors John Browne of Tunstall and his wife Elizabeth Wayth; these were his great great grandparents. The picture also shows their daughter Anna Marie, Arthur’s great great aunt. None of these people had any connection with Spixworth Park however. I owe this detailed information to the anonymous reviewer of the book, writing in the East Anglian Daily Times on 22nd August 1950. A newspaper cutting was thoughtfully placed in the book by its first owner.

It was through Anna Maria Bacon (née Browne) that John Longe (Arthur’s great grandfather) was able to claim a relationship with the Bacons. The Longes were proud of their connection to the Bacons of Norfolk, as they are the premier Baronets of England. The relationship was but a distant one, and through marriage not by blood, but nevertheless the Longes continued to append the Bacon name to their own, at least until the twentieth century. For all I know they still may.


Arthur Longe reproduces a list of the contents of Spixworth Hall’s wine cellar, dating from the 19th century. It begins with ’75 dozen bottles of Madeira’ and goes on to list 840 bottles of Brandy (150 of them ‘very old’). In casks there was a pipe of ‘Red Port’ (a pipe was 126 gallons); there was also a ‘Hogshead’ (i.e half a  pipe) of sherry. There were other wines in slightly smaller quantities and ‘a great quantity of ale’. They certainly knew how to drink in those days, although Arthur Young points out that those who did not die of gout were martyrs to the condition. At dinner they would regularly drink themselves under the table and had to be pulled out by their servants, only to return to finish their bottle when the ministrations of the footman had revived them.

He tells us a story about the stable block, the building illustrated in the colour illustration that accompanies this article. One of the owners of the Hall had a liking for wild animals; at first it was a bear, but when the animal chased the butler into a garden privy it was disposed of in favour of a monkey. This was kept in the hay loft over the stables at night. The groom wondered why the horses were found in a muck sweat in the morning, and he decided to watch over them one night. He discovered that monkey climbed down a rope from the hay loft and rode the horses round the ample sized stables for hours!

He prints a page from his ancestor’s diary, which gives the basic facts of the lives of the previous generations. Arthur’s great grandfather John was the Rector of Coddenham in Suffolk, in which position Arthur’s grandfather Robert Longe had succeeded him. The diary of John Longe has been published in extenso in recent times. Although it is good to have an academically produced edition of the diary – Arthur’s musings are anything but professional – there is no substitute for the family traditions related in the ‘Old Night-watchman‘. They give you a real flavour of the long-vanished lives of these country gentlemen.

After all this interesting material about the Hall, Arthur Longe gets down to his ghost story. He tells how he was visiting Spixworth Hall. I was early in the twentieth century, and having recently returned from Canada he had driven down to Norfolk to visit his relatives. After putting the car in the garage and sitting down to dinner he retired to bed, only to be woken by a bearded apparition and his shrieking female companion. Spixworth Hall is unfortunately now more ghostly than the night-watchman himself, and the shrieking wraith will never again appear in the ‘panelled bedroom’.

The book includes a genealogy of the Longe family.


* This is my booklet on Spixworth. It may be available on Ebay.








The travel network used to be better in Norfolk than it is today. I know that this is a controversial statement, now that we all have cars, but I am not claiming that travel was easier in the past; when most people had to walk everywhere it certainly wasn’t. I am talking specifically about the network. Obviously I could not catch the bus before the omnibus was invented, but the means of transport that were in existence in the past had a more intimate involvement with the county. It is a fact that the choice of places where you could board ship in Norfolk was far superior back in the day. Now you can get on the Wash Monster at Hunstanton for a half hour trip along the coast, or a ferry at Morston to see the seals, but since Norfolk line stopped running ferries from Great Yarmouth to Holland you cannot go abroad. Today you would have to go to Essex to catch the ferry from Harwich.

Consider Margery Kempe, the great traveller of the 14th century. Six hundred years ago she travelled to Germany to visit her daughter, catching ship from Yarmouth.  Now she would be able to catch a plane from Stansted; much easier, but for that she would have to to Essex. There is travel available from Norwich Airport, but in spite of its proud ‘International’ appellation it goes to very few international destinations. The ghostly Margery Kempe could not fly to Germany from Norwich. The transport available from any Norfolk seaport is just the short round trips I have already mentioned. Until about 150 years ago you could get on a boat at Wells, Blakeney or Cley, Yarmouth or Kings Lynn and travel to the continent; you could go to London any day of the week, and for those who lived near the coast this was the way to go. Journeys from inland places were more problematic. The stage coaches were far too expensive for ordinary people and uncomfortable, even for those who travelled inside; those who travelled on the roof had to brave the weather, as did the coachman. With frequent changes of horse at the posting inns you could go the 100 miles to London from Norwich in about 16 hours. That is long time to sit on a precarious place in the dark – the coach travelled through the night.


The ease of travel improved enormously when railways arrived. Although their prime purpose was to carry agricultural produce to the towns, the people of England were suddenly freed from a static existence. Suddenly a young woman from Norfolk, whose ancestors might never have gone further than Norwich, could go to Staffordshire for a job. The network of lines meant that hardly anyone was more than five miles from a station. The second half of the 19th century was the best time for the transport network in Norfolk; the seaports were still mainly intact and still provided travel abroad, and the train would take you to the most remote parts of this country. By the end of the century more and more people were learning to ride a bicycle, and that would take you anywhere in Norfolk; and before the advent of the motor car, safely too.






This river rises around the village of Laxfield in rural Suffolk. It flows through Heveningham, where the lake is fed from the river. The Hall here is the subject of another of my blogs, click here to view it.


The river was once navigable to Halesworth and is canalised in parts between that town and Blythburgh. The River Blyth Navigation was opened in 1761 after many years of planning. The main commodity imported was coal, brought to Southwold by collier from Tyneside and taken upstream from the harbour by wherry. In the other direction the agricultural produce of the area (particularly malt) was key to the success of the venture. Halesworth became far less reliant on the river when the East Suffolk mainline was opened through the town to Ipswich in 1859. It was almost a century however before the Navigation was formally abandoned. It is possible to canoe down the river from Halesworth but this not commonly done.

Much of the wide expanse of water to the east of Blythburgh, that you can see from the A12 unless the tide is out, when all you will see is mud, was reclaimed for grazing land starting in the 19th century. This reduced the scouring action of the tides and led to the silting up of Soutwold Harbour. These grazing  lands were inundated in the Floods of 1953 and were never restored. This has increased the tidal scour in Southwold Harbour and has to some extent reduced silting, though this is a problem.

The river is crossed in Southwold by the ‘Bailey Bridge’. This pedestrian bridge is not really a Bailey bridge any longer. A Bailey bridge was a temporary structure, developed during the Second World War, which could rapidly be erected without heavy machinery. The bridges were much used to replace those destroyed by the enemy during the invasion of Europe. One was erected after the war over the Blyth to replace the railway bridge destroyed in 1940; this was done not by enemy action but by a foolish idea from the Home Guard that this would in some way impede an anticipated invasion by Germans. The true Bailey bridge (see the photo below) was removed after about ten years, but the name has stuck and is still used for its replacement.

The Bailey Bridge across the river Blyth

Between the Bailey Bridge and the sea is where the fishing boats which still use Southwold Harbour are located. Before the railway bridge was erected over the Blyth sea-going vessels went upstream to Reydon Quay. Even after it was built this trade continued, because the bridge had a swing span to allow tall ships to pass. This was done when the bridge was built in 1879, and even when it was enlarged to carry standard gauge traffic before the First World War this was still possible. The plan was to make the whole Southwold Railway part of the standard gauge railway network, but instead the line closed entirely in 1928. By then Reydon Quay was no longer used and the swinging span of the bridge was left in place to allow pedestrians to cross, as they still do.


Fishing boats still use the harbour although leisure craft – mostly sailing dinghies – are in the majority. Southwold lifeboat is launched from the seaward end of the harbour. A rowing boat is used to ferry people across from Walberswick during the summer months. The Harbour Inn is a pleasant place to go for a drink and a bite to eat. It is not immune to flooding in spite of some attempt to block the ingress of water, but the wood burning stove in the bar must help to dry it out.








Britannia Hereward the Wake, Norwich Thorpe 1960

All the stations that served Norwich fell outside the City Walls, which meant that when they were built, they fell outside the jurisdiction of the city and came under Norfolk. Victoria Station was in Lakenham and City Station was in Heigham.  Norwich’s first station ran just from Yarmouth to the city and was in Thorpe, and the ‘Thorpe’ part of the name goes back to 1849, when Victoria Station was added as a second railway terminus to the city from London. It lasted by this name for 120 years until 1969 when it again reverted to Norwich, as it had been for five years from its opening in 1844. The others termini included a third, City Station, from 1882. Victoria station closed to passenger trains in the First World War and City Station followed in 1959. City station remained open for coal traffic for about another decade, when this business was transferred to Victoria station. That too was closed in the mid eighties. The building of Norwich station as we know it today dates from the end of the nineteenth century, although the previous terminal building still exists as an adjunct of the ‘modern’ station.

70007 Couer de Lion leaves Norwich Thorpe; view from the bridge.

With all the closures that went on in the 1960s it is remarkable that at Norwich Thorpe all the lines that terminated there were left untouched by Dr Beeching. You can still catch trains from the traditional platforms that they always used; I can remember the mail train waiting at platform 1 in the late evening. If my father had a letter to go to London he could go and post it on the train – there was a letter box in the side of mail van. It cost him an extra penny to buy a platform ticket. No 1 will still take you to London, although you can no longer post letters on it; 3 will normally take you to Cambridge although some of these trains go from platform 1. Platform 2 is always just for London trains. Trains to Liverpool Lime Street leave from platform 3 and ; 5 and 6 are for Sheringham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. That side of the station smelt of fish for years after the last fish train stopped there! This would have been the same a hundred years ago; it gives me a pleasant sense of continuity, that is sadly lacking from most of the railway network.

That is not to say that nothing has changed; the changes in motive power that have happened in my lifetime have been enormous. The most important change has however been the complete disappearance of goods traffic from Norwich. Parcels, fish, mustard for Colmans, heavy switchgear from Lawrence Scott and all manner of goods produced by Boulton and Paul used to make up much of the business of Norwich Thorpe Station. Coal was another major user of the railways, but that was kept away from Norwich Thorpe and directed to the other Norwich stations.

Coaling tower at Norwich. The locomotive is a B12. No. 61572 is preserved on the North Norfolk Railway.

Steam locomotives needed a lot of care; they had to be fueled and watered, the ashes raked out of the firebox and the locomotives must turned to make the return journey. These were all things that could be ignored at most stations, but they had to be done at the terminus and so there was always something going on at Norwich Thorpe. The coming of diesels reduced these operations considerably but the locomotives still had to refuelled and maintained. Maintenance on the fleet of rolling stock was carried out in the old sheds at first, but this is now done at the Crown Point depot just outside Norwich station. This was opened in 1982 in BR days, but by then the days of ‘Thorpe Station’ were over. Many of the trains continue to need regular refuelling, because diesel is still used on the rural routes around Norfolk, although this is no longer a requirement for the London trains. Electric traction came to Norwich in the 1980s.

It is still a well-used facility with over four million passenger journeys a year, making it the busiest station in East Anglia.  Ipswich still has a lot of freight trains that pass through but it is just pipped for passengers by Norwich. Cambridge had over eleven million passenger journeys last year (twelve million if you include the newly opened Cambridge North) but Cambridge city is outside East Anglia. Norwich Station has better range of shops than it had in the 1950s, when only the W. H. Smith bookstall and one restaurant were available, but it was a special place to eat, with silver service from deferential stewards dressed in white jackets.

Standing just across Foundry Bridge it still presents an impressive gateway to the railways of England.






I am going to examine the post-Conquest foundations in East Anglia; the flourishing of religious building took place under the Normans. Certain monasteries predated 1066 but the vast majority were established once the Normans were in control. Why were there so few Anglo-Saxon monasteries? Well, there were some in East Anglia; one at Ramsey in Lincolnshire, and another at Soham just over the border into Cambridgeshire. This one was destroyed in the 9th century by the Danish invaders and was never rebuilt. There was briefly a monastic cell at Burgh Castle, and Ely had a monastery long before it was a cathedral. Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk was established in the 10th century and re-founded by King Cnut in the 11th as a Benedictine Abbey. The Anglo-Saxons were a people with an unquestioning faith, but it expressed itself in different ways. They produced many Royal saints and martyrs for example, in a way that the Normans never did. A few high status individuals set up monasteries or nunneries but as far as we are aware no conventual buildings accompanied the cathedral at North Elmham in Norfolk.

The Normans brought more than a proliferation of religious establishments to England; they also brought a new style of architecture with them. They not only built in stone rather than wood – they even brought the stone itself from Normandy. This is an interesting factor in the placing of the monasteries they built. Freestone is the term used to describe building stone that can be fashioned by masons; this is predominantly sandstone and limestone. In East Anglia there is almost no local freestone. Only the carstone of West Norfolk and septaria along the Suffolk coast were available, and neither were suitable for the finely detailed stone work of the type exhibited in the picture below. Even the churches built of flint needed freestone for the terminations of the walls. The reason why there are so many round towered churches in East Anglia? Round towers do not require quoins.

What has the aesthetic appeal of a style of architecture have to do with geography? Well, the only two sources for the freestone used in these buildings in East Anglia were Caen in Normandy and Barnack in Lincolnshire. Both quarries were accessed by water and at the other end of their journey the construction too was close to a waterway. Norwich Cathedral was built of Caen stone and you may still see at Pulls Ferry the remains of the canal that led from the river Wensum to the precincts of the cathedral. Ramsey Abbey was built of Barnack stone, carried up the river Nene. Bury St Edmunds Abbey was served by the rivers Great Ouse and Lark, brining stone from Barnack; Wymondham Abbey was served by the rivers Yare and Tiffey bringing stone from Caen. We attribute the creation of Walsingham Priory to the Lady Richeldis having a vision there, but without the river Stiffkey which runs from Walsingham to the coast there would never have been a Priory there, or if one had been built it must perforce have been made of wood.

There are no substantial religious buildings that are not reasonably near to the sea or to a navigable river (and remember that streams we wold now regard as far to small for boats were once much used).  Langley Abbey was close to the river Yare; St Benet’s Abbey was next to the river Bure; Castle Acre Priory adjoins the river Nar; Beeston Priory and Weybourne Priory are next to the sea. I could go on; it is an obvious fact, but one that is never considered when speaking of the large medieval buildings of Norfolk. The architectural heritage that remains in ruins dotted around the county was dictated by the waterways of Norfolk.

Castle Acre Priory





Fiat 500 in model form.

The LEGO brick was invented in Denmark in 1958 when I was still a lad, quite young enough to have played with it, but I never did; it hadn’t percolated down to my local toy shop until I had become a man, and had put away childish things. Perhaps Meccano was the nearest equivalent in British toys, and that had been going for years before I was born. I have never liked Lego or Meccanno, though for different reasons. The basic Lego brick comes made up of right angles and in spite of some feeble attempts to round off its corners it is basically restricted to building rectangular structures. Even the Lego people have square arms and legs. I can’t imagine ever having been impressed by Lego myself, but I recognize that many people are.

Meccano is intended to make operational mini-machines, but it is fiendishly complicated even to construct the simplest device. My Meccano set presented me with an array of screws and nuts, cogwheels and metal strips, but I was quite unable to make anything with it that was other than a meaningless jumble of parts. There must have been budding mechanical engineers (both boys and girls of course, in these days of gender equality!) who were happily making model cranes and farm tractors, but I have never met any of either sex. To build anything out of Meccano you needed all the components (and that wasn’t cheap) and a phenomenal amount of dedication and patience to complete your project. That is assuming you had the forethought and ability to visualise the finished article in the first place.

What I liked playing with most of all was toy soldiers. The horrors of war and the killing and death that go with it never entered my consciousness. I would wipe out a whole rank of carefully arranged plastic figures with a sweep of my hand. I can never have thought of my toy soldiers as representing real beings. It wasn’t only toy soldiers that I was interested in as far as violence was concerned; firing off rolls of caps from my cowboy pistol or shooting targets with my pop-gun were almost equally enthralling. I cannot explain this fascination with warfare, and it certainly did not turn me into a killing machine as an adult. It is just a stage in growing up for boys. One of my school friends changed from a pre-pubescent military expert, complete with an intricate knowledge of ranks and regiments, to a teen-aged pacifist in a matter of months. He had to join the cadets soon after his conversion, and he hated every minute of it.

It is commonplace that the less that a toy will actually do, the greater the scope for the imagination of the child. In his respect modern toys are the antithesis of appealing. The greater the sophistication of the toy, the more impoverished the mind of child becomes. Do not feel sorry for the youngster of the past, who only had a skipping rope or a hoop to play with; they were the lucky ones. When Minnie Mouse can answer all your questions in her cute little voice, the immediate reaction is one of enchantment. However this soon palls. If Minnie can do all that, what input is left for the youngster to impart into the game? Similarly a child will get more enjoyment from pushing a wooden train round a circle of track than from a fully functioning electric train set, that will perform most of the functions of a full-sized railway. Such toys are now the preserve of adults.





Wymondham is an interesting town. The Abbey is the town’ parish church, dedicated to St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury. The chapel of St Thomas stands in the High Street and house the library. The tower of the monastery remains at the east end of the Abbey, but the rest of the chancel was demolished centuries ago. The abbey is close to the centre of town and is major tourist attraction. The nave is built of Caen stone like Norwich Cathedral. It is now quite impossible to imagine the river Tiffey carrying stone to the Abbey, but before watermills blocked the passage of boats it was surely the way that stone made its way to the Benedictine monastery. This would have been a slow business, taking one or two blocks of stone at a time, but not as slow as bringing it by bullock cart. This Norman building was founded in 1107, not long after the cathedral.

Wymondham Abbey

The market cross was begun in 1617 after previous one was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1615. Not all the town was destroyed, and Damgate Street in particular has many medieval buildings. The market is held on Friday and has been a weekly occurrence for over eight hundred years. The original Charter was granted to Wymondham by King John in 1205. The products sold nowadays are clothing, fruit and veg, plants, fish, sweets, health foods, pet foods and cleaning materials. There are twelve stalls. In the past I am sure that poultry would have been sold, and rabbits; perhaps other livestock too. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the town was moderately prosperous but the collapse of worsted weaving in the nineteenth century meant no development took place in the town. It is consequently one of the most charming places in Norfolk, not least for the market cross.

Wymondham station as it is today

The town has railway station that is a great asset. It is the way for commuters to get into the city. It is used by approaching 200,000 passengers a year.  It normally takes under 15 minutes to travel in to Norwich. There is another station that serves the Heritage Line the Mid Norfolk Railway, although there are hopeful plans to run these trains to a platform adjacent to the main line. The station at Wymondham was opened in 1845 as part of the first railway to link Norwich with London. The station has a popular restaurant although this has no connection with the railway. The vast majority of its customers arrive by car.

The Bridewell that now houses the Wymondham Heritage Museum was, when I first remember it, still the local police station. Since then the HQ of Norfolk Police has opened on the outskirts of the town. Wymondham is only a few miles from the geographical centre of the county and has good communications with the A11, so it makes sense to locate it there. The population of Wymondham must now be over 15,000 by now, and besides the residents it draws in people from the surrounding area; it has a number of supermarkets. Like all centres there is now pressure to build more houses in Wymondham, and the population is sure to grow further.





The Edict of Nantes had, since 1598, granted the Calvinists of Catholic France a number of rights and protections. When the French Huguenots were again persecuted, following the Revocation of the Edict in 1685, many of them emigrated to England. Thousands of these Protestants made their way to Spitalfields and the nearby villages (as they then were) of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, and Whitechapel. They were destitute, having nothing but their skills to their name.  Very generously the people of London raised about £200,000 to support these ”strangers”, the fund being known as the Royal Bounty. Stranger is regarded almost as a dialect term for these incomers in Norfolk, but it was used more generally in the country in the 17th century. “Here they have found quiet and security, and settled themselves in their several trades and occupations; weavers especially. Whereby God’s blessing surely is not only brought upon the parish by receiving poor strangers…” wrote the editor of Stow’s Survey of London, circa 1687.

The first stage of the worsted industry in Norfolk; shearing the sheep.

The Dutch strangers had already formed a flourishing community in Norwich, beginning in the early years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.They were more likely to travel direct to East Anglia than the French, whose first port of call in this country was more likely to be London. Most of theses refugees were weavers by trade. In Norfolk they soon established successful businesses weaving the local wool. This infusion of new blood seems to have revived the growing of sheep in Norfolk. Many of the French Huguenots who followed the Dutch to England were silk weavers from Lyons and Tours. It has been suggested that Calvinism had spread through the weaving trade on the continent, and this seems likely. In any case the finely patterned mantuas and ‘paduasoys’ made of strong silk, that previously had to be imported from France, were now available from the Spitalfields area. Many of these Huguenots who settled in Norwich were also weavers like the Dutch, but they wove worsted; silk weaving was London based. Perhaps the fact that raw silk had to be imported made London a more realistic place to carry on the trade, as Norwich was as yet not a seaport.

The silk industry was boosted in 1718 when Thomas Lombe, the son of a worsted weaver from Norwich, patented a new machine for silk throwing, based on the process used in Italy. Lombe, who was knighted in 1727, had introduced his new machine in London, but he also set up a silk mill in Derby. Raw silk was imported from Italy, but also in 1718 John Appletree published a prospectus for the growing of silk worms in this country. A farm of mulberry trees was established in Chelsea but it did not meet with much success. The climate in England proved unsuitable for silkworms. The importation of silk therefore continued. The Huguenot church, La Patente, kept records of the occupations of the congregation until it was merged with the Walloon church in 1786, and these show that silk weaving remained central to the community. Even in the late eighteenth century, over a hundred years after their arrival in England, the influence of the Huguenots in the Spitalfields silk industry was still pronounced.

The worsted industry in Norwich had been flourishing in the middle years of the 18th century, but as the Industrial Revolution took off, spinning and weaving was centred on large mills using fast flowing water and coal for steam engines. Norfolk had neither, and by 1780s weaving was in decline in Norwich. It was revived by the incorporation of a silk warp to the worsted weft which, from the 1790s, led to the production of the Norwich shawl. This was a very slow business, that required painstaking weaving on hand looms, not the speedy power looms in the West of the country, so it was ideally done by Norwich workers. At first the decorative designs were embroidered onto the cloth by groups of three or four girls. After Joseph Marie Jacquard invented his punched card system for weaving complicated patterns in 1804 the production of Norwich shawls was not longer such slow process but they were still not a mass-produced product.

The introduction of the Jacquard loom gave an impetus to silk weaving outside Spitalfields; the high degree of skill needed to weave silk was no longer required with this new machine. In Norwich yarn mills and dye works were set up all along the side of the river, which frequently ran red when dye was spilt into the water. A mulberry orchard was planted in Thorpe. As you might have guessed, this growing of silk was no more successful in Thorpe than it had been in Chelsea; nevertheless the Norwich shawl, by the mid 19th century woven entirely in silk, became internationally famous.

It was by now almost three hundred years since Protestant refugees had first arrived, and half a century since the conditions that had led to the migration had ended. In religious terms the community had remained remarkably consistent, both in Norwich and Spitalfields; the Dutch congregation in Norwich only ceased to hold their services in 1928. The Huguenots had disbanded their French-speaking congregations a hundred years before that. In occupational terms they had moved with the local economy; the weaving of Norwich shawls would have included the descendants of the Strangers, but it was not directly connected with the silk weaving that had been practiced in France in the 17th century.