My earliest memories of the south Norfolk market town of Loddon go back to 1958 when my sister Christine was doing her teaching practice at Loddon primary school. I was nine years old. In those days the school was in the old flint building on Church Plain, used from 1858-1969. This was turned into the local library when the school was moved into new premises. The Loddon Secondary Modern School (now the Hobart High School) was also built after the war. Although my sister was going to do her Dip.Ed (diploma of education, the qualification needed to convert a first degree into a teaching certificate) at Oxford she did a fortnight’s pre-teaching practice in Norfolk to make sure the job suited her. The head master was Mr Plum, a born teacher according to Christine. He lived into the 21st century.
This was when the main road from Norwich to Beccles went straight through the centre of Loddon; by-passes were yet to be constructed round all the towns in Norfolk. Even the major route of the A11 to London went through the narrow streets of Wymondham, Attleborough and Thetford. Christine normally drove herself to work in Ladybird, our Austin Ruby, but on this occasion I remember waiting for her to finish in the mid-afternoon, so my mother must have needed her car that day, and drove to Loddon in the afternoon. I must have been pretending to be ill, and so not at school myself.
Among the businesses in the town was a printer, a relic of the days when printing was all hand set as it had been for centuries. This was still going in the 1970s when the world had moved on in Norwich; Mackley and Bunn for example (another old-fashioned letterpress printing office in Timber Hill) had made way for more up-to-date lithographic print shops. But in Loddon this printer hung on longer than most. In the town I also remember going to a junk shop in the High Street and also a garden shop, which I believe remains.
Loddon is the limit of navigation for broads cruisers on the river Chet; previously it had been a staithe for wherries. The Chet is only a few miles long as a navigable river; it was originally a commercial one, bringing traffic to the town and especially grain to the mill. In the summer of 2013 the remains of a medieval boat were found in the mud beside the river Chet, employed in the same river trade that existed almost into living memory. Today the cruisers moor in a newly built pool near the wooden watermill. This was a restaurant in the 1980s and I took Molly there for a meal there when we were courting. It is now a Well Being Centre. Opposite the White Horse pub in Chedgrave (across the river) on the corner of Langley Road was Cannell’s the seed merchants who grew their own seeds. The building is still there, but the company folded many years ago. They produced good quality seed for both the gardener and farmer, and they were available from local stockists like Daniels of Norwich.
Just outside the town is the village of Hales; Hales Green is approached by an unfenced, and in places unsurfaced road. The common land here is farmed by the commoners themselves, a system once normal in England but in most places ended by the enclosure acts which came to head in the early nineteenth century. This is very much a backwater in both time and place, but it has not always been so. In the fifteenth century the grand house of the Hobart family was here. It was built by Sir James Hobart around 1480. He was an important man in the country, being Attorney-General to Henry VII. It was his country seat and must have seen much to-ing and fro-ing to London. This building was once comparable to an older version of Blickling Hall (which was also inhabited by the Hobarts for a time), now only a barn and wing remain. These are in themselves large and impressive building which give just a hint of the grandeur that has passed. The Hobarts sold Hales Hall in the mid seventeenth century and the hall eventually became derelict and most of it was demolished. Today the barn is a venue for expensive meetings, concerts and weddings. The brick-built thatched barn is said to the largest in the country; it is certainly the largest in Norfolk.