Ditchingham House was the home of the author Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925), famous for writing the adventure novels King Solomon’s Mines and She among others. Lilias Rider Haggard (1892-1968) was the youngest of his four daughters and she was also a writer who concentrated local history books such as The Rabbit Skin Cap and Norfolk Notebook. She lived in Bath House which overlooks Outney Common (i.e. Bungay Common). Ditchingham House was occupied by one of Lilias’s elder sisters, and for a year or two in the 1950s she opened her house for the sale of afternoon teas. (I can’t think that she needed the income.)
. I remember this because once or twice I was taken there by my parents on the way home from school in Bungay. Ditchingham House is on the main road to Norwich, and only a lawned area separates it from the road. I passed it every day on the bus to school and back. Our afternoon tea would have been on Thursday, because that was Norwich’s early closing day and so my father would have been available to drive me home. The rest of the week I went home on the bus. It is rather quaint talking of early closing – I wonder when the tradition died out? It wasn’t quite as laid-back as it sounds, because the corollary of having Thursday afternoon off was working all afternoon on Saturday, but still the pace of life was slower. Almost no shops were open before nine o’clock and all closed promptly five thirty. No where was open on Sundays except the newsagents who worked a few hours in the morning to distribute the Sunday papers. A lot of people still disapproved of Sunday trading. My father was an optician, so his hours of work followed the retailers’. Factory workers’ hours of work were rather different; for them there was no half day during the week, but Saturday afternoons were free. Also factories were open at eight and closed at four unless there was an evening shift. Only a very few establishments had longer hours, mostly small newsagents and sweetshops like Yallop’s on St Catherine’s Plain in Norwich. Even so its hours wouldn’t have extended much beyond six in the evening and lunchtime on Sunday.
. After that digression into opening hours I will return to Ditchingham House. Going into the room where they served tea and cakes, one might expect to be approached by a butler (it was that sort of house), but this was post-war Britain and domestic servants were a vanishing breed. We were waited on by the owner herself assisted by her housekeeper. The tea was mainly memorable to me for not including ice cream! My father warned me in advance not to ask for any. I dare say it did include cucumber sandwiches and fruit scones. The tea was served in a teapot with little teaspoons in the saucers.
. Just up the road is a cul-de-sac called Free Lane. A schoolgirl from Bungay used to take our bus as far as Ditchingham. I don’t think if she was at St Mary’s schoolgirl. Her fare for the journey was 3d – threepence in old money. What a fact to recall of well over half a century ago! I only remember that because the bus conductor used to joke about fare to “free lane” being “free pence”. Bus conductors are another vanished species like butlers, but whereas domestic servants have made something of a comeback among the super rich, bus conductors have gone for good.
. Also in Ditchingham, just the Bungay side of Ditchingham House and on the opposite side of the road was a busy blacksmith’s. The bus stopped just outside the yard on the corner of Drapers Lane. Most of the work involved welding broken farm machinery. I believe that there was a small amount of farriery work to be done, although the horse was no longer used for farming, and was only employed for pleasure, as it still is. The blacksmith has long gone and the forge is now a cottage and you never guess its past. Just beyond the smithy the road descended a hill in a cutting. Some irregularity in the road surface made the car or the bus judder as you went down towards the more populated part of Ditchingham, past the Duke of York, the level crossing and the maltings.‘