In the 1950s and 60s there was an Automobile Association phone box where the A144 to Bungay used to diverge from the Beccles Road, the A 146, near the crest of Bixley Hill. (The A 144 has since been down graded to the B 1332.) The AA man with his yellow motor cycle and side car would sometimes be there, which was his base for patrolling that side of the city. There is an AA box preserved at Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast, in its black and yellow livery. AA boxes were phased out from 1968, long before the advent of mobile phones. At the height of their popularity there had been over 1000 of them, but over the whole of the UK they were pretty thin on the ground. They were replaced by the AA by pillar phones, and although about 20 of the old style sentry boxes remain (8 as listed buildings), the phone service was turned off in 2002. A long while ago I was once a member of the AA but I never used one of their phones. You had a key as part of you membership which allowed you to unlock the box and use the phone inside. This would have been useful had you broken down near a box, but of course when you did need one (and a break down was more common in those days) they was none for miles. In fact when I broke down in Dorset and eventually tracked down a phone (not an AA one) there wasn’t even a patrolman available! I did not remain a member after that experience, and have never regretted saving the annual fee.
It has as its major residence Bixley Manor, the home of Sir Timothy Colman and his wife Lady Mary. Before we were married my wife was employed as helper for several evening meals held at Bixley Manor for visiting Royalty; Lady Mary Colman (née Bowes-Lyon, the surname of the late Queen Mother) is a cousin of the Queen. A relation of mine (Great Aunt Millicent Mason) was also employed at Bixley Manor just after the Second World War as a nurse to look after the Colman’s first child.
Bixley is also the place where the farm was that my mother-in-law worked at during the war as member of the Women’s Land Army (see her reminiscence in the blog for January 12 2012). She had to cycle out at 7 in the morning from her home in Hall Road in Norwich, which at least is on the right side of the city. This was alright in the summer, but in the winter when it was dark it could be scary. There was of course no street lighting, and the cycle lamps were largely obscured by blackout regulations. There was moreover always the chance of being bombed by German aircraft seeking out the City, as indeed happened to her on one journey to work, although she was fortunately unharmed.
The church is a sad wreck since it was burnt by arsonists about 10 years ago. Yet in the nineteenth century it was apparently a well used place. On October 19th 1890 it hosted the wedding of Mr Robert Baker and Miss Charlotte Barnes. The guests had to walk there from Norwich. Mrs Lydia Mason, who was one of their bridesmaids, recalled it was a foggy autumn day. The bride wore a dress not of pure white but of “crushed strawberry”. 60 years later they were to celebrate their Diamond Wedding. It is strange to think this celebration was in the age of the atom bomb and the jet plane; when they were married cavalry still formed a large part of the army and the first flight of the Wright brothers was still years in the future.
Mr Robert Baker, who was born in 1869, came from Bixley where his father was a farm steward. He started to work on the land at the age of 12, but after a spell as butcher he joined the Waterworks Company in Norwich as a driver. He was never unemployed until retiring in 1934.
The earliest reference to a Rector of “Biskley” is in 1303 when Roger de Bykerwycke held the parish. The church was dedicated to St Wandregeselius, a unique dedication, at least in this country. He was abbot of Fontanelle in Normandy in the seventh century, and at one time he was the object of pilgrimages.