STOKE MILL (The river Tas)
Perhaps the period when Stoke achieved its greatest fame was in the nineteenth century when STOKE WATER MILL was the centre of Colman’s mustard business. (Stoke mill had been a paper mill before that in the 18TH CENTURY.) As the businesses of mustard milling and making starch for laundry grew during the first half of the 19th century so Stoke became a busy industrial site. All over the hill at the back of the mill were factory buildings, a windmill and chimneys for steam engines. In 1862 Colman’s lease on the property came to an end. By then they had already opened their works at Carrow in the city, but some milling work was also transferred to Old Buckenham. I have written on the Old Buckenham mill and the Colman connection in my blog on East Anglian windmills.
All the other industrial buildings that once housed the mustard factory have gone, including the tower mill, but Stoke water mill remains. I have been there in its latest guise of RESTAURANT when it was first opened. When I first remember Stoke mill however milling was still carried out there. The water wheel was not still operational, but water still passed through the sluice. Lorries would pull up under the locum to dispatch sacks of grain from below. The wooden doors at the base of the locum were deeply scored by the rope that carried the sacks of grain into the mill.
Round the side by the stream you could peer in, to where the water wheel once was. It was very peaceful and countrified, before the restaurant car park was built. A hundred years before that it was different again, a hub of manufacturing activity. There, by the river Tas in the 1950s I saw my first kingfisher, swooping down to catch fish, flying straight down to dive into the mill stream, and emerging with a minnow in its beak. It was at Stoke mill that the T model Ford that was restored at the Shotesham Globe spent its working life (see my blog of March 14 2012).
THE PYLONS (Upper Stoke)
If Colman’s mustard made Lower Stoke famous, Upper Stoke was made notable by what went on there in the Second World War. It became part of the war effort when eight pylons were erected as part of the advanced and secret RADAR system. Four were built of wood. Wood was electro-magnetically inert which steel pylons were of course not, and this meant no interference in the primitive radar signal. The wooden pylons were started in 1938; despite Neville Chamberlains “Peace in our time” speech of September of that year we were already taking major steps towards war. The steel ones went up slightly later. The wooden pylons were the receiving towers, and the steel ones were for transmitting the Radar signal. The wooden pylons that had been the first to go up were also the first to come down; I can remember their being taken down and they had gone by end of 1960. The guard room for the wooden pylon still exists, and it now houses a small museum. The large concreete bases of the pylons also remained for years and may well still be there. The four steel pylons were more slowly demolished, one by one, until only one remained, although a new pylon was built to relay the television signal from the Anglia studios in Norwich to the mast at Mendelsham in Suffolk. The RAF had long abandoned the pylons to civilian use, although apparently the site is still owned by the Ministry of Defence.
One of the steel pylons was out of line with others, a replacement as the first one had been destroyed on July 18th 1942 when a British Blenheim bomber had crashed into it. Upper Stoke was chosen largely because it represents the highest land for miles around. You can see the pylons (or what remains of them) plainly from the top of the School Road at Drayton some ten miles away, on the other side of the city of Norwich.
There was a small camp for the RAF personnel in Framingham Earl when I was a boy, or rather two camps, a separate one for the WRAFs (the Women’s Royal Air Force) who formed a large proportion of those working at the station. These camps were in Long Road between Spur Lane and the main road, to the west side. Both sets of pylons (wood and steel) were then still in use, and this was almost ten years after the end of the War. The camp closed not long afterwards. Graham MacRobert, my next door neighbour in Poringland came to Norfolk from his native Edinburgh as an RAF police dog handler, married a local girl and stayed for 60 years. When he left the RAF he worked in Jarrold’s printing office until he retired. Now of course the printing office has gone the same way as the Stoke radar station. Anyone who want to read more about RAF Stoke Holy Cross should click here.
THE NUDIST COLONY (Upper Stoke)
Radar was top secret during the war, and another secret establishment in Upper Stoke (but a very different one) is the Naturist’s Camp. I could direct you to the entrance, but beyond that it is a complete mystery to me; but not a very interesting mystery I must confess. It has been rightly stated that it is in Stoke, but not of the village. Its weekend visitors come from all over Norfolk and beyond; they are not locals an they keep themselves apart, inevitably. Incidentally, although we always called it the Nudist Colony, its official title nowadays is the Broadland Sun Association.
THE RUMMER INN (Lower Stoke)
The Rummer Inn was still a place of alcoholic refreshment until 1957 – too long ago for me to ever have had a drink there unfortunately, but I remember being driven past the sign board on the way to Dunston common to exercise Jet, our dog. This is a Dutch gabled building looking out over to Tas river valley. In those days Stoke school was almost opposite the Rummer, on the other side of the road. The new school was built the other end of the village in the late 60s or early 70s. The Rummer no longer looks like a pub, but the architecture of the old school is still that of a typical 19 century village school. The former pub dates from the year 1700 or thereabouts.
What was a rummer? It was a kind of drinking glass, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Rummer Inn was the first stop for drovers taking their cattle south from Norwich market. They could let their beasts out to graze on the water meadows by the river Tas, while the men had a drink or two. It was bought and turned into a family home by Peter Jarrold of the Norwich business family. The Rummer Inn was at the opposite end of the village to the church which is of course dedicated to the Holy Cross.
In my blog on the Decca Navigator (Jan 2013) I have already mentioned Kidner’s farm in Stoke and its Stokely Cross Shorthorn cattle, although this famous herd was sold over 50 years ago. There is much else in Stoke that could be mentioned; I haven’t said anything about the pub which is still open for instance. I will always regard this as the Red Lion although it has been called the Wildebeest Arms for the best part of the last 20 years. Neither have I said much about the new school or the Post Office, and much else besides. But I must leave these places now, as these days I am more familiar with the other side of the city, where I have lived since my marriage in 1986.