I have had the first returns from my publisher on the progress my book is making. Nearly half the edition has been sold already. Such a publication will never be a best-seller. It really isn’t about the money however. The writing was done because I wanted my thoughts on the Danes to be more widely known. Still it was rewarding to get a cheque in the post (and it really was a cheque!). I know that medieval history is not to everyone’s taste, and I apologise if it not to yours.

However, if you do want to read St Edmund and the Vikings get down to your local bookshop and buy a copy! For a history book it is very good value, and even if you don’t want to read it there are many colour illustrations in it for you to browse through. If you live in Norfolk you could borrow it from the library (they have some copies for loan) – I don’t mind which path you take so long as you read it. I see it has yet to feature in the Suffolk Library catalogue – perhaps one of you could give them a nudge? It would be better coming from you than from me. I have been promised some book reviews but they have not appeared yet, so when they do I might sell a few more. The print run was not huge and I would hate it if any potential buyers found that it had sold out.

Have I had any more thoughts on St Edmund since the book came out? Well, after so many years of writing the book it has been a mental relief to turn my attention to other things. As far a the actual writing is concerned, on further thought there are always ways in which I could have improved things, but if I kept on altering it I would never have published. In answer to the question I pose, it is no; I have not had any more earth-shattering revelations about St Edmund. If I do I will certainly let you know. What I would really like is an archaeological dig round the chapel at Lyng. Who knows what that might turn up? Possibly nothing at all, but possibly further evidence that the chapel dates back to the early years of the tenth century/late ninth century. That would really excite me and might even demand a second edition. Even if I had no suggestions about is connection with St Edmund I think the site deserves investigation. I met the owner of the field when I gave at a talk at Lyng some years ago and I am sure he could be persuaded to allow a dig.You don’t know what I am talking about? You must read my book to find out.

St Edmund and the Vikings                    869–1066

Joseph C. W. Mason

Now Available!
Paperback, 234×156 mm, 168 pp. With 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 b/w illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6







Parson James Woodforde

I have told you before about the antiquity of the pubs in Costessey including the White Hart. The pub has been rebuilt twice since the eighteenth century, though it has retained its name. It was still called the White Hart when I first remember it, though recently the name has been abbreviated to The Harte. In the morning of May 21st 1778 Parson Woodforde and some friends walked to the White Hart in Costessey from Weston Longville (a journey of several miles) to see a famous woman who was staying at the pub. This was Hannah Snell who dressed as a man. While staying at Costessey she was selling laces and haberdashery to provide her with a livelihood, and Woodforde gave her 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) for some buttons worth only 1/4d (just under 8p in modern money). Obviously her celebrity was good for trade! The transaction netted her over £20 by today’s value. But what was her fame? – it was more than just having been a cross-dresser obviously.


Hannah Snell was born in Worcester on 23 April 1723. At the age of 17 she moved to London where she married. Her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant and she later found out he had been hanged for murder. After her young daughter died she enlisted in the Royal Marines in the sloop-of-war HMS Swallow at Portsmouth. She served in the Marines in India, fought and was injured several times (including being shot in the groin according to her account, though this unlikely story is disputed), but in three years she was never discovered. However on her return to England she revealed her true sex to her shipmates. She could no longer serve in the colours but was persuaded to petition the Duke of Cumberland (the head of the Army) to secure a soldier’s pension. This she was granted for wounds received. She became a celebrity having the story of her exploits written in the Gentleman’s Magazine. She undoubtedly embroidered the events of her life, but as related here they seem to be true. A chapbook (i.e. a cheap popular pamphlet) entitled The Female Soldier was published in 1750 and ran to two editions. Her portrait was painted several times and engravings of her in military uniform and aiming her musket were widely published; her fame even reached rural Norfolk!

She appeared in uniform on stage doing military drills and singing appropriate songs; she was also briefly the landlady of a pub in Wapping. She remarried and had two more children who survived; she has descendants living today. Widowed once again she married for a third time. It must have been after her third husband died that she was travelling East Anglia in 1778, selling trinkets. Later her military pension was increased and she was no longer compelled to travel the country profiting from her name. In the 1780s she was living in Stoke Newington (London) with her son who was by then grown up and working as a clerk. By her late sixties she was suffering from dementia and after being admitted to Bedlam she died in 1792. She is buried at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.




What a lovely scene.

A garden border could not be more beautiful, but this was all designed by nature!

Cliff and the North Sea at West Runton

We went to West Runton this summer and it was a hot day. The sea breeze however made the extreme heat less oppressive. So where is West Runton? Well it is a village on the North Norfolk coast, between East Runton and Beeston. As you can see from the picture above, cliffs descend to the sea. I have been through the village many times as it is on the coast road from Cromer to Sheringham. Many years ago I went to the Links (though not to play golf at the famous course); but I had never seen the sea from West Runton before this year. There is no promenade nor amusement arcade but there is a cafe and a huge car park by the sea. West Runton was developed as a holiday resort in Edwardian times as one can see from the elegant villas that form the village. It still has a number of shops that cater for the residents as well as the passing trade. This including a post office.

Runton Hill was a former boarding school for girls. It closed over twenty years ago, but during my schooldays it was the closest girls’ school to Gresham’s. Gresham’s was a boys’ school in those days, and the two establishments frequently cooperated, particularly in science lessons which were not a strong point of Runton Hill’s curriculum. The fate of Runton Hill was sealed when Gresham’s went co-educational in the 1970s; who would send their daughters to a seaside village, even a delightful one like West Runton, when an ancient Public School was available for them a few miles away? The buildings still have an educational use however, being the site of Kingswood which hosts school trips throughout the year. The most famous Old Girl of Runton Hill School is the Duchess of Kent whose great love and proficiency in music was established at the school.

The West Runton Elephant is the fossilised skeleton of a mammoth that was revealed in the cliffs in the 1990s. Almost the entire skeleton was removed by archaeologists and it is now being restored in Norwich Castle Museum. It is planned to return the animal’s bones to West Runton where they will be put on display.

West Runton has a railway station which has the distinction of being the only former M&GN Railway Station that remains approximately in its original condition on Network Rail. Of the other two stations that were built by the Eastern and Midlands Railway (forerunner of the Midland and Great Northern), that at Sheringham has been moved a little way down the line, while much of Beach Station at Cromer is now Morrison’s car park. I have been through the station at West Runton many times (though not for years) but I have never got out there. It has a single platform as the line is single track and there is now only a modern shelter there. The station is kept in good order by a group of local volunteers and flowers are tended throughout the summer. The village is incredibly lucky to have a regular railway service that connects it hourly with Norwich and the rest of Britain’s railway infrastructure.





St Matthew from Cawston Church rood screen (16th century).

The earliest mention of spectacles known in England dates from 1328, when the will of the Bishop of Exeter mentions ‘spectaculum oculo’ (spectacles for the eyes). They were valued at two shillings (ten pence), which I gather was a considerable sum of money at the time. Although Pliny mentions that the Emperor Nero used an emerald to improve his vision, spectacles as we know them were invented in Northern Italy, as is recorded by a Dominican friar who wrote in 1306: ‘It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses‘. A painting in Cawston church (dating from around 1500) shows St Matthew wearing a pair of glasses. At this period these still had to be held up to the eyes, although an early form of pince-nez that gripped the nose had already been developed. By 1600 we have a picture of a Spanish Cardinal (by El Greco) wearing glasses with sidepieces extending over the ears.

The  WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF SPECTACLE MAKERS is one of the Guilds of the City of London, whose Charter was granted by King Charles I in 1628. They adopted the motto ‘A blessing for the aged’. My father became an optician by studying under the Spectacle Makers Company. He had to go up to London to take the exam, and on qualification he got the letters FSMC (Fellow of the Spectacle Makers Company) after his name. This entitled him to become a Freeman of the City of London. This was superior to being a Freeman of the City of Norwich (which he was not entitled to), and although he never took up the honour he remained proud of the possibility throughout his life. The term ‘Fellow’ did not however mean that he was a ‘Liveryman’ of the Company; that was restricted to a membership 400 (originally just 60) who were prominent London businessmen. Now that all opticians must have a university degree the Spectacle Makers Company is no longer directly involved in education.

Spectacle frame made by Mason and Gantlett.

Most ophthalmic opticians stuck to testing eyes, but my father took this a step further and really did become involved in making spectacles. This side of his business began in the 1940s and continued for the rest of his life. (Sight testing remained his main occupation except for a brief period when had an optical factory.) In spite of the fact that his qualification was from the Spectacle Makers Company it had nothing to do with the actual making of glasses. This skill he had to teach himself. If you wish to learn more of this side of his life I refer you to an earlier blog – FRANK MASON (PART THREE).

Another Norwich man who was entitled to become a Freeman of London was Jeremiah Colman who started his mustard business in 1814. He did take up the honour, in 1838. Although his business skills had nothing to do with spectacle making, it was as a Liveryman of the Spectacle Makers Company that he was enrolled as a Freeman of London. In the nineteenth century the Guilds of London had ceased to have a sole involvement with the industry stated in their title, their ostensible raison d’être.  Already those with no connection with spectacles had begun to be admitted as members, although their interest in the training of opticians shows that some involvement with the industry remained. As far as the choice of Company was concerned, that depended on which one had a vacancy at the time, and in Jeremiah Colman’s case this was the Spectacle Makers. From starting off as just another minor flour miller in Norfolk, Jeremiah had become a very important businessman in London, whither a regular service by horse and cart delivered his product from Stoke mill. A cart-load may not seem very much, but if the amount was two or three cart-loads a week the volume begins to become quite substantial; you didn’t need that much mustard powder to supply Georgian London. Before Jeremiah’s death in 1854 the railway line from Norwich had removed any barriers to trade.

Although things like contact lenses and lazar eye surgery have made spectacles less necessary today, they are still the commonest form of visual aid. Although they had been about for 500 years, glasses did not reach the whole of European society until the 19th century. The earliest type of eyeglasses were for reading. I will not go into the technical difference between these and distance glasses, but these were a later development. By tradition Pope Leo X became the first person to wear distance glasses for short-sightedness in the 16th century. Dr Johnson only had a hazy view of the mountains on his visit to Scotland, and at the theatre in London he could not see the actors’ faces; I assume therefore that distance lenses (i.e concave rather than convex) were still no widely available. This was no doubt because the correction of myopia (the medical term for short sight) requires a sight test and a prescription tailored to the individual, unlike reading glasses. Distance lenses were common enough by the composer Franz Schubert’s time however, because his severe myopia was treated by wearing glasses.



There have only been Lord Mayors of Norwich for just over a century; before then the position was Mayor plain and simple. That was established in 1404 under the Charter of Henry IV. The first Mayor was William Appleyard, a prominent citizen whose house in Bridewell Alley is now the Museum of Norwich. Some famous names have been Mayor down the years. In 1846 for example the founder of the famous mustard business Jeremiah Colman held the position. The first Lord Mayor was Ernest Blyth, whose title was conferred mid-term in 1910. The current Lord Mayor is Martin Schmierer, leader of the Green Party in Norwich since 2016. He was born in Germany but came to Norwich as a seven-year old. Martin is the second member of the Green Party to be Lord Mayor of Norwich. At 31 he is probably the youngest councillor to become Lord Major of Norwich (I don’t think anybody has taken the trouble to research this thoroughly). He attended the Norwich School, where he was a contemporary and friend of my son Peter. Peter has returned from London to attend the Mayoral ceremony on July 7th. After attending the afternoon tea party with Martin he joined the Mayor on his Procession through the City centre. The theme this year was The Circus.

Some other Lord Mayors of Norwich have included the notable author Ralph Mottram, who was appointed for the year 1953/54. Sir Arthur South was another Lord Mayor; he was a prominent Labour Party politician who was also appointed during the 1950s. The South Stand at the Norwich City Football Club has nothing to do with the points of the compass – it is named after Sir Arthur. What is now less well remembered is that he also had a business in the city; it was a shop selling furs. This is now a very non PC business – so much so that such establishments (called furriers) no longer exist. Fake fur may still be purchased, but even this is frowned upon by many. Poor Sir Arthur lived into this period of severe dislike of fur. For some reason people will still tolerate leather goods to a certain extent, but merely to venture a millimetre further to the fur that grows on the animals’ skin is to bring the whole weight of popular disapproval down upon your head. Unless they are vegetarians people will happily eat animals, but are shocked at wearing their fur.

The book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich by Phyllida Scrivens was published earlier this year (2018). It covers the 17 women who have held the position since 1923, when Ethel Colman became the first. She was the second daughter of J. J. Colman, nephew of Jeremiah. He  it was who brought mustard making to Carrow. (She commissioned the pleasure wherry Hathor, which we saw moored outside Howe Hill on the river Ant on the 2nd June 2018.) Ethel Colman was obviously a powerful lady, being one of the first female deacon at Princes’ Street Congregational Church, among other things. She was unmarried, as was the second female Lord Mayor – her name was Mabel Clarkson and she was a member of the Liberal Party like Ethel Colman.

Mrs Ruth Elsie Hardy, Lord Mayor 1950-51.

The third Lady Lord Mayor, Ruth Hardy (née Peachey), was the first to be a married woman. She had risen from the lowest level in society (unlike her two predecessors). Her father earned a living catching rabbits, and she worked her way up from the bottom, beginning as a pupil teacher. She was a forceful character and became a leading light in the Independent Labour Party before the Second World War. I was too young to remember her period of office in 1950, but I met her many times during the twenty-five years thereafter. This is because she was my great-aunt.

Local government has a long history in Norwich. It has developed, particularly in the 20th century, first in the title of the senior member of the council, and then by including people of both genders in that role. The payment of expenses is a relatively recent feature. The 19th century mayors had no need of remuneration, being such people as brewers, architects and insurance magnates. Those of a humbler station in life (such as my great aunt) had more need of financial support. Although in her time she was granted few expenses, there were other subtler ways of gaining from the position. Until the end of her life I continued to benefit from Marks and Spencers’ shirts which she passed on to me. These were returns from which the labels had been removed, but were otherwise perfectly serviceable. It wasn’t much, but this was one of the perks of having been Lord Mayor! No doubt there were others.




WATERMILLS, WINDMILLS; none illustrated here are now in a derelict condition. Some have been restored, some have been demolished and some have been burnt down by accident. 

Old Buckenham Mill, 1970, before restoration.


Jeremiah James Colman purchased the tower mill at Old Buckenham in 1862. This was the year that the firm left the site at Stoke Holy Cross. The production of mustard was transferred to Carrow Works in Norwich, and Old Buckenham was used to produce starch. It was an astute business practice to use his mills to produce high value commodities like mustard powder and laundry starch. These could be sold at a far higher mark-up than bread flour, although the process of milling it was very similar. The railway network enabled Colmans to sell these specialised products across the country. The nearest station to Old Buckenham was Attleborough, three miles away. By 1877 the starch business had been transferred to Carrow, so all the firm’s activities were concentrated on one site.

COSTESSEY MILL before it burnt down in the 1920s.

Simon Wilkin

In 1810 the mill at Costessey – a previous building to that shown above – was owned by Simon Wilkin. He lived in the mill house in Costessey, but he was not himself involved in the dusty business of milling corn. His interests were much more intellectual. He travelled widely, and had a private tutor to teach him Greek! He should have been a student at Cambridge, but as a Baptist he was then ineligible to attend. He lost the mill at Costessey when some incautious investments had him declared bankrupt. He restored his finances through setting up a printing business that was still going in Norwich in the 1970s. He established the Norwich Museum in his house in the city centre; it moved to Norwich Castle later in the century. While still a fairly young man he retired to Hamstead to edit the first edition of the collected works of Sir Thomas Browne. As I said, he was an intellectual.

Taverham paper mill 1839


Richard Mackenzie Bacon owned the paper milling business at Taverham for about ten years at the beginning of the 19th century. He was a journalist all his life, and continued to edit the local weekly throughout the period he was trying to establish the first machine-made paper business in Norfolk. He was not himself a hands-on paper maker, but he worked very hard in the business organisation. When his efforts failed he turned his full attention back to journalism. Besides continuing to edit the Norwich Mercury he published the first music magazine in London. He was also instrumental in setting up the Norwich Festival.

TAVERHAM PAPER MIL circa 1898. It produced paper for the Times.

Taverham mill went on to successful operation after Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s doomed efforts. When the railway opened from London to Norwich it became possible to supply paper to the capital. The editor of the Times’s father bought the mill at Taverham (which had again fallen on hard times) and the Norfolk village went on to produce much of the paper used to print the journal for over fifty years. The mill was made uneconomic by the development of wood pulp as the raw material for paper. The  problem with wood had been the chemicals used to bleach the pulp. When this difficulty was solved the whole industry went into a period of change; because the wood was sourced in Scandinavia the import made coastal paper mills the way forward. Taverham mill was a casualty of this change.

Bawburgh mill,

J. H. F. WALTER, owner of the Taverham paper making business from 1884.

J. H. F. Walter was a cousin of the owner of the Times newspaper. He inherited the paper mill at Taverham in 1884 and acquired the mill at Bawburgh to produced pulp for Taveham. The existing structure was built for Walter in 1886, the previous mill having burnt down some years earlier.

Bawburgh mill had ground flour for most of its existence. The first record of a mill there comes from the Domesday Book. In the early years of the 19th century it was occupied by the Colman family in the days before they began producing mustard. After the paper business ceased in 1899 the mill reverted to grinding flour, and continued making animal feed until 1967. Water power had been supplemented by steam engines since the 19th century, and latterly it was replaced entirely by the internal combustion engine.

Horsey mill was in fact a wind pump. One of many on the Broads, it belongs to the National Trust. It has recently been renovated.

HELLESDON MILL (from a postcard of about 1910). This was also at one time a pulp mill for Taverham. It later reverted to flour milling. It was demolished after WW1.

Cley mill.

Hindringham mill

Hindringham mill; this tower mill was built in the middle of the 19th century to replace a tower mill on the same site.  At five stories tall it stands high in this North Norfolk village. The mill was severely damaged in a storm in 1860, and this appears to have led to the bankruptcy of the miller. By 1937 it was derelict. The mill was restored for residential use in the late 20th century. This picture shows the mill in the early 1990s when my wife and children spent a summer holiday there with her parents. The mill is no longer available for short-term lets.

Oxnead mill.

The mill at Oxnead was a paper mill in the early 19th century. It never converted to machine-made paper  and by the late 19th century it was milling corn. The mill was by-passed by the Upper Bure navigation, which gave wherries access to Aylsham. This waterway was made impassable by the floods of 1912.

SAXTED mill, 1962. This preserved mill is in Suffolk.

HEMPSTEAD MILL, 1963. At that time it was still operated occasionally as saw mill.

On entering Mundesley from Bacton on the coast road, this mill is the first thing you see.

LODDON MILL, at the head of navigation on the RIVER CHET. In the 1980s the mill was a restaurant and I took my fiancee there for a meal.

Woodbridge tide mill. It had been working commercially until a few years earlier, and was being preserved in 1971 when I took this picture.

Reydon mill near Southwold in Suffolk, before restoration. It has a brief career as a wind pump before a gale put it out of action permanently.





The stock on the railways includes the fixed assets like the permanent way, bridges and buildings. Rolling stock covers all the wheeled vehicles. More specifically the term is often used to distinguish the stock that must be moved around the system from the locomotives that provided the motive power. In modern times the use of coaching stock that is integral with the power source has removed this distinction from passenger traffic.

Modern train in the country where it all began

In its most basic form the rolling stock of a railway at first consisted of trucks alone. These were operated by gravity, so no locomotive was required; these trucks included the wagons that were used to carry the slate down from the mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales to the harbour at Porthmadog. Workers had to perch precariously on the wagons as they began their long descent, to apply the brakes. When the train was eventually brought to a halt and the slates had been transferred to the waiting ships the empty wagons had to be returned uphill. This was done by a horse, who had also made the perilous journey down in a truck at the back of the train.

Puffing Billy was one of the first locomotive to haul trains in 1815, and the rolling stock was exclusively mineral wagons. Richard Trevithick’s Catch Me Who Can steam engine ran round a circuit of track in Euston Square in London during 1808, and the rolling stock on that ‘Steam Circus’ was for passengers. The first paying passengers to be carried on a railway line were loaded into coal trucks, which may (or may not) have been modified by the provision of seating. The earliest railway coaches made to carry people looked very much like the stage coaches that travelled the roads. These were for First Class passengers, and Third Class travellers were still squeezed into open wagons. This ended in the 1840s, as public outrage at transporting the poor in such uncomfortable conditions grew too loud to ignore. Passenger carriages were all more or less the same, with only the level of internal luxury distinguishing them; that is once the lowest class of passengers got a roof over their heads. Originally there were three classes of passenger, but the Midland Railway abolished Second Class in 1872, and the other companies soon followed. First and Third classes remained until 1956, but by then standard of Third Class carriages was amazing good. I well remember the compartments where all the seats had antimacassars (which were regularly changed). There were pictures behind every seat – coloured reproductions of  paintings, photographs of beauty spots along the line – or else mirrors. They were all kept spotlessly clean by the army of railway workers that were then employed – modern rail companies please note.

Freight demanded numerous different kinds of wagon. As the working of the railways rapidly progressed all kinds of traffic developed their own specific kind of wagon – horse boxes, oil tankers and bolster cars, to name but three. With the modernisation of the railways in the 1960s this variety was simplified somewhat; the mixed freight trains disappeared and livestock was no longer carried on the railways. Short wheel-based four-wheeled rolling stock was replaced, and long wheelbase container flats became the main goods rolling stock. This container traffic predominates in East Anglia, carrying import from the docks at Felixstowe, although there are trains of open wagons for sand from Kings Lynn, and tanker wagons from North Walsham for North Sea gas distillate. Many lines now carry no regular freight services; there is for instance no goods service from Norwich to Ely. In the mid twentieth century freight was still a massive user of the railways. This transfer to carrying people is the major change on the railways, which were originally built to carry freight with passengers as an awkward afterthought. The track maintenance trains for leaf cleaning and line replacement, and the special technical vehicles that carry out the checking of the line are another kind of rolling stock. Naturally these are used over the whole network.

Wheels are what makes rolling stock roll, and I can remember the railwayman walking along a train with a long-handled hammer and banging it on the wheels as he passed. This was to check for any flaws, as a cracked wheel would not make the same ringing sound. This is far too unscientific a process to be used today, but it was undoubtedly effective.

That is my overview of railway rolling stock, from the earliest primitive trucks of the eighteenth century tramways to the sophisticated carriages of today. Everything has changed, but rolling stock still needs wheels. Eventually, if magnetic levitation ever moves from the drawing board to practical use, we will have to adopt a new terminology. Until then we will continue to refer to rolling stock.




Depression is widespread in the modern West; common certainly, and an affliction it may be, but I don’t see it as a mental illness, as many claim it to be. Why? Well you could say that it seems quite logical to be depressed about our prospects, both on an individual level and as a species. We ultimately have no future, on this earth at least; ages after we have all passed away the whole world will be destroyed, along with everything we know. For what reason is being depressed about this fact seen as abnormal?

Before you regard me as a very sad person I must make one thing crystal clear; I am almost never depressed myself. In this respect I think it must be me rather than the rest of you who is acting strangely. Why am I so happy in the circumstances? I will come to that, but first I have some more observations to make about depression. You only have to run through some of the unpleasant side effects of antidepressants to wonder if the cure is worse than the disease; nausea, constipation, weight gain and drowsiness (or alternatively weight loss and insomnia) are just some of them. The loss of sexual appetite is sometimes also cited as an undesirable side effect, but in the circumstances I would call that a positive boon. I have no problem sleeping, and I am of about normal weight, so as you might have guessed I have never taken antidepressants. It is not these pills that keep me so jolly, but without them there would be a lot more depressed people about.

Why is this prevalence of depression such a factor today? In spite of what I have said it is a mystery to me; life has always been depressing if you let it be, but everything is so much more comfortable now in every way. The lack of anaesthesia, infant mortality, no retirement for most people, even widespread hunger; things really were grim in the past. Yet depression was not a major problem back the days of yore, or if it was no one talked about it. Perhaps people were far too busy merely surviving to bother about anything else; and this brings me to my recipe for avoiding depression.

In my late teens I was in danger of being deeply depressed. I remember lying in bed one morning, and I was not merely depressed but positively terrified at what the future might hold. Those awful things have indeed mostly come to pass; many of those who I loved have died, and I myself have been quite severely disabled. All those years ago I resolved to ignore anything that I could not alter, for what is the point of worrying about the inevitable? Living for the present has worked well for me, and it is a much better way to resist depression than medication or visits to the psychotherapist. Also it costs nothing, neither to one personally nor to the National Health Service.

The other way to avoid depression is to laugh a lot; I defy anyone to feel depressed with a smile on their face. The two things are incompatible; even a wry smile will do. People have often remarked how I laugh a lot, and sometimes they complain that I laugh when there is nothing (in their eyes) to laugh about. But if you didn’t see the funny side of life it would really be a tragedy. As I said in the beginning, it is quite rational to see life in tragic terms, and maybe it is mad to laugh about it; nevertheless, it is infinitely preferable to see the ridiculous side of things. Would you rather laugh or cry?




I am showing my age when I say that it all seems like yesterday, though 1980 was nearly forty years ago. In political terms in the UK you can sum up the ten years in just one word: ‘Thatcher’.  She was PM throughout the decade. Although she was a constant feature in parliament, in my personal affairs it was a time of great upheaval; in 1980 I was living in the home I had always known, happily walking my dog every morning and hoeing my flower beds before I went to work. It was a solitary and uneventful life, and my sole source of income was the family firm that I had inherited. By 1990 my world had changed; I was a semi-professional musician, a medic in the Territorial Army and had become a freelance journalist. I even had a Union Card! I was shortly to work as a researcher on programmes for Anglia Television. At the end of the decade I wasn’t living in my old family home anymore, but in my current house. No longer a confirmed bachelor, I was married with two young children. You might say that it was a completely different lifestyle, and you would be right.

I had a couple of canal holidays in the ’80s

The Swinging Sixties or the Dire Seventies were eras that had a certain unity of direction, but can you place any theme on the 1980s? Maybe you can, but I can’t. That is not to say that nothing happened during the period, but the events appeared to be unrelated and came out of the blue. Take the deep recession and the doubling of VAT that marked the first years of the decade; the family business, which had been doing quite well until then, never really recovered from the shock. Then, while I and many others were licking our financial wounds and vowing never to vote for that Thatcher woman again, we were plunged into a war thousands of miles away. The resolute precision with which the Task Force was assembled and dispatched to do the job of recapturing the Falkland Islands produced a deep sense of pride among the nation. After that Mrs Thatcher could do no wrong. Even the deeply divisive Miners’ Strike could not shake our faith in Mrs Thatcher. The effective destruction of our coal industry seemed terrible at the time, but who would now support the widespread use of this dirty and carbon rich fuel? Things have moved on and now we are told that renewables are the future of energy production. Mrs T never lost an election, and her downfall was a result of Tory party in-fighting; the Poll Tax was widely regarded as a debacle, but the tax was abandoned without ever being put to the people in an election. Her attitude to the European Union was broadly supportive, but increasingly reluctantly so. She clearly had major doubts about its ultimate destination.

In  weather terms the memorable event of the eighties was the great gale of the 15/16th October 1987. We were living in a flat in Norwich that was close to a copse of trees, but luckily we did not experience too much damage. Others were not so fortunate. Every decade seems to produce its exception meteorological event; in the fifties it was the East Coast Flood, in the sixties it was the Big Freeze and in the seventies it was the Long Hot Summer of ’76.

In terms of culture this was the decade when the cinema enjoyed a renaissance. The musical became the dominant theatrical experience, largely through the popularity of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The hold of atonal music on Radio Three was loosened, and the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, which had been regularly performed, are now almost never heard. The 80s saw the beginning of this trend. In the graphic arts postmodernism continued to spread its baleful influence. The food we ate at restaurants  grew in international diversity, but the price could be high and the quality mediocre, at least when contrasted with my wife’s excellent cooking. Literature may have developed in all sorts of important ways, but if so it passed me by. You must forgive me; as you can tell, it was a busy decade for me.




This booklet of road maps was printed circa 1930, sometime between the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925 and George V’s passing inRAC 1936. I can tell this from the Royal Warrants on the advert for Southgates Ltd, the ‘motor specialists’ of Fakenham. No doubt they got Royal approval from servicing the cars at Sandringham. The booklet is a treasure trove of information. From it I learn that the road through Lyng crossed the river by a ford, the bridge that I assumed had been in place for centuries is in fact only about 80 years old. The lane to Ringland had another ford, to be used if you were driving, though pedestrians could use the wooden footbridge from Taverham that had been there since the 19th century. I wonder how often those early cars stalled mid-river through getting water on the sparking plugs while making this perilous crossing? Deeper waterways required other methods of traversing them; there was a car ferry between Plumstead and Surlingham on the river Yare, and another one between Horning and Woodbastwick on the Bure.

There were four toll bridges in Norfolk; that at Hilgay near the river Great Ouse cost you 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence) –  there was no option but to pay if you wanted to go to the railway station there. Hilgay station closed in 1963, although tolls had ended long before. If you were driving between Dereham and Holt the bridge at Guist only cost you fourpence, or threepence in a motorcycle with sidecar. There were no toll bridges in Suffolk, and just two car ferries; those at Walberswick and Bawdsey. These two ferries still ply the rivers Blyth and Deben, but now the largest thing you can take across is a bicycle.

Being a map for touring motorists the booklet does not include railways, but their ghostly presence can be discerned by the roads they crossed, where the level crossings are shown on the map.  It mentions attractions and sights along the way; bathing at Cromer, yachting at Wroxham and angling at these and other places. The flint knapping workshops at Brandon were still operational and were well worth a visit, according to the Royal Automobile Club. It draws the map reader’s attention to the rood screen at West Tofts church. This marvellous church is not now available for visitors, being part of the STANTA Battle Area. If you are determined to see it there is normally an annual carol service held there, but arrive in good time if you want a seat! It is very popular, and deservedly so.

This copy of the book appears almost brand new, apart from the rusty staples. I had originally bought the book of maps to remind me of the routes taken by motorists before any bypasses were built, but I have discovered so much more. There is a gazetteer which has much of interest in itself; Yarmouth is the ‘premier herring port of the British Isles’, while the Quay is ‘one of the largest and finest in Europe’. Some of the information is wrong though; Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard was not born at Horsham St Faiths, in spite of what the book says. She was probably born in the Duke of Norfolk’s home in Lambeth South London, and when she moved as a young child it was certainly to Horsham, but the one in Sussex, not that in Norfolk.

Best of all are the adverts. It is quite remarkable how many hotels are still in existence, about 90 years later. The hotel which is annually take over by the Fishmongers of London (the governing body) for Speech Day at Gresham’s School, the Blakeney Hotel; The Crown at Woodbridge, where I had lunch as a nine-year old and The Cliff Hotel at Gorleston where we went last year for my cousin’s 80th birthday were all advertised in the book. Other hotels like the Bell in Norwich and the White Lion in Eye have closed long ago, but are still remembered with affection. The illustrations, like that of the steam launch carrying tourists on Oulton Broad, or the elegant motor car that appears on the Potter Heigham Garage advert are quite rare among the pages of adverts, but are all the more welcome for that.