My EARLIEST YEARS
By BASIL KYBIRD (1928-2013)
Although I was born at my maternal grandparents’ cottage at Holt Heath, my real home was at Gresham, a village a few miles away. My father was the local police constable there. The ‘police house’ was a poor little flint cottage consisting of two up and two down, with a built-on outhouse. I believe this was at 47a Norwich Road, up a yard at the rear of another cottage. Of course I remember nothing of this but photographs of my parents and myself give a good idea of what it was like. There are photographs of me taken outside in the Spring of 1929 near a rear window. There was some irregularity in the flint work which shows in these photos.
There is another photo of me down the road near some white railings. I suppose I was then two or three years old and had a mass of lovely blonde curls. Someone called me Phyllis so the curls had to come off! The neighbours were a Mr. and Mrs. Bishop, who I learned to call ‘Bish’. A girl who lived up the road in some council houses used to take me out in my push chair. She would have been about ten years old.
When I was three years old we moved to North Walsham and I had no reason to go back to Gresham. About seventy years later I had a letter inviting me to go to a Sunday School Reunion there. I told the lady organiser I never went to the Sunday School there as we had left when I was very young. She told me to go along anyway. On a Sunday Pat and I went off to Gresham and found the church, only to learn that we were a week too soon! It was a blessing in disguise really because we then decided to look for where I had lived all those years ago.
I spoke to a lady a few years older than myself outside one of a row of council houses and asked where the old police house was. Hard to believe it perhaps, but she said “You must be Basil Kybird”. She was the ‘girl’ who used to take me out in my pushchair! Such is fame I suppose! Following her instructions we found the old cottage. What a miserable place it was and there were still people living in it! They allowed me to take some photos. It appeared nothing had been done to it, on the outside anyway. The irregularity in the flint work near the rear window was still there and shows up in the photos I had taken. The outhouse was almost derelict and I am sure it could not still be police property in that state!
The following Sunday, the proper date, we went to the church where I expect I was christened and joined the congregation outside waiting for a procession of Sunday School children who led us inside. It was a touching service with the present day children taking part. Afterwards we went to the nearby school for light refreshments and a chat, albeit we knew no-one, although the lady organiser made herself known and thanked us for attending.
In 1932 we moved from Gresham to 37, New Road, North Walsham. Dad was now a police motor cyclist. I now was faced with the prospect of starting school in a year or two and that caused me problems!
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
This picture shows me in the front of Ferry Way, a bungalow in Ferry Road at Southwold, on our annual holiday in August 1958. Although the walls were pebble dashed the house was built of wood and was raised up on stilts about 2ft 6ins above the ground. No doubt this was to save the proper from flooding, an ever-present risk, especially before the 1953 flood led to the building of a sand bank along the front. Lizards used to scuttle below the house and out of the sun on my approach. The gap between the house and the land below was an impenetrable mass of concrete slabs and boulders. I think it has how been boarded in.
In this photograph I am hugging our dog Jet, and just behind his head you can see a corked flagon in a basket. This contained the ginger beer we were making at the time. This involved feeding a ‘ginger beer plant’ (yeast) with sugar, ginger and water and drawing off the brew from time to time.It then matured in the flagon and after day or two was nice and fizzy. I thought it was delicious as it was very sweet, and the fact that it was alcoholic made it even more attractive to me. I never had enough to make me more than slightly tipsy though. Quite how my parents allowed this I don’t know.
The year began with quite a heavy fall of snow. It did not last long, but long enough for me to make a snowman on the front lawn. In January 1958 I did not yet wear glasses. This happened later in the year, when my schoolteacher noticed that I was not seeing the blackboard. I think my father was rather mortified that he, an optician, had not noticed this himself. He bought me the very best of glasses, a plastic frame with sprung ear pieces called Rubis. By the summer I was wearing them, as you can see in the photo.
1958 was the year my sister Christine graduated from Oxford with a degree in English. She spent the whole three years of her undergraduate course at Lady Margaret Hall. She stayed on another year to do her Diploma in Education (as it then was called) or a Dip Ed for short. We went to see her take her degree at the Sheldonian Theatre in October. Daddy liked to do things in style, and we stayed at the Randolph Hotel. He went to town too on the photograph which he took, arranging a red velvet curtain and the Oxford coat of arms as the backdrop. Whether he set this all up at the hotel I don’t now remember. By the time I graduated thirteen years later he was content just to take ordinary snaps as anyone would; but we again stayed at the Randolph.
In 1958 Christine was staying at Professor J. I. M. Stewart’s house in Charlbury Road in North Oxford, while he went on Sabbatical with his wife. My sister was left looking after his teenage children and dog,Berkeley (as in Barclay’s Bank). J. I. M. Stewart was a Scottish academic and an Oxford Professor of English, but is better known as the novelist Michael Innes. He had many Penguins published; he wrote thrillers mostly, with the detective Appleby as their hero. However his best known novel is Christmas at Candleshoe. This was filmed by Walt Disney as Candleshoe in 1977, It stared Jodie Foster, Leo McKern and David Niven.
My father covered himself in glory by his answer to one of the professor’s daughters who asked in reference to the dog: “Do you know why he is called Berkeley?” “Was the dog named after Bishop Berkeley?” (the 18th century philosopher) my father suggested. Of course he was, but the girl had obviously not suspected an optician from Norwich would be aware of this 18th century Irishman. Berkeley was a dog who escaped onto the streets of North Oxford from time to time and could only be recaptured by cries of “chocolate Berkeley”. On one occasion he bit the Regius Professor of Medicine while on one of his escapades.Bishop Berkeley was a great believer in the merits coal tar for its medicinal qualities and Berkely was a suitably black dog.
The Autumn term saw the beginning of my last year of education as a day boy at St Mary’s School in Bungay. Thereafter I would be a boarder at Holt. I was in the First Form at St Mary’s, in a building that had been the hay loft over the stables. The Second Form was downstairs where the stables themselves had been.This building is still there on the corner of Outney Road and Scales Street, although the coach house opposite, which in my day was full almost to the ceiling with years of grass cuttings from the lawns, has gone. The building on the other side of Scales Street, nearer the common is also still there, now as a residential house. In 1958 it was the warehouse of Spashett’s the toy shop in St Mary’s Street. I always hoped to see a model engine in its box through the window, but I never did.
The whole of the block from Earsham Street to Scales Street was school grounds, with a lovely lawn and two beech trees, one a copper beech. There were a couple of air raid shelters from the war, and behind a crinkle-crankle wall facing Outney Road a sand pit and the large shed, with one side open to the air. In this shed we could just about play a game of football when it rained. There was a well in one corner, with a concrete cap, onto which a footballer fell and cut his temple. This bled profusely. This sort of danger would horrify a Health and Safety inspector, but such people were not yet born. The crinkle-crankle wall is still there and so is the copper beech, although the other beech tree has gone. The area where the shed was is now a car park.
All this is now well over fifty years ago. A lot has changed, but I am slightly surprised that so much remains. Ferry Way in Southwold seems to have changed its name, but the Ark, a bungalow a few doors away retains is name. We stayed at the Ark in 1954. The houses in Charlbury Road in Oxford are even more expensive than they were half a century ago, but even then they were by no means cheap. I no longer drink ginger beer, but the copper beech still spreads its shade at Bungay. St Mary’s School is now a home for the elderly, which is what it became when the school closed in the 1960s.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Eighteenth century London was the centre of intellectual life in England. It had been the centre of government and trade for centuries, but intellectual life relied on the educated elite. These were largely churchmen; by the nature of their calling they were widely dispersed around the country.
With the Tudors and the building of playhouses in the capital drama became a metropolitan entertainment. The rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire (especially Wren’s churches and St Paul’s Cathedral) made London the main location of English baroque architecture. As the city where Handel lived and worked London became a place of European significance for opera and oratorio. The novel, that new literary form, was published by London’s booksellers after Daniel Defoe discovered the writing of prose fiction in Robinson Crusoe. Ambitious people of many disciplines were being drawn to the capital.
This was despite the lack of a university in London until the 19th century. The British Museum, aimed at instructing the people, was opened in 1759. Admission was free from the start. There had been museums elsewhere, like the Ashmolean in Oxford (opened 1683), but nothing on a national scale. In previous centuries things had not been so centralised; a hundred years earlier Milton produced Comus at Ludlow Castle, Bunyan was writing his great work Pilgrim’s Progress in Bedford gaol and Sir Thomas Browne composed Religio Medici in Norwich.
Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709 and entered Pembroke College in Oxford, but left without taking his degree when his father could no longer support him. This apparently did not do much to hinder his advance to become the foremost literary authority and critic in the country, with a reputation that has not diminished with the passing centuries.
He spent almost the whole of his adult life in London; his early attempt to run a school in Lichfield had ended in failure, although one of it did pupils the notable actor David Garrick. In London Johnson got what journalistic work he could find, writing what articles and verse he could sell, and for a time he worked as a clerk at the House of Commons. He was also able to get academic work as well, being employed as the principal compiler of the first official English dictionary.
Charles Burney was born in Shrewsbury in 1726. He was taught music from an early age and on moving to London got a position as organist. Being brought down by a fever which kept him bed-ridden for months, he moved to Kings Lynn where the air was deemed healthier. He was elected organist at St Margaret’s church, where the salary was substantial as befits one of the largest parish churches in the country. One of his early improvements was to have a new organ installed in 1754, which still remains. He is not widely known as a composer but his keyboard works are definitely worth hearing; several are available to hear on Youtube. He made many friends in Lynn, but hankered after a return to the metropolis. It was while living in Lynn that he began planning the History of Music upon which his fame now rests. His daughter Fanny was born in Norfolk and grew up there as a precocious child. Her first novel was published when she was 26, but she had begun her famous diary ten years earlier. Dr Burney stayed in Norfolk for 9 years.
Dr Johnson became a friend of Dr Burney; both men were given honorary doctorates by Oxford University. In those days this title was used by its recipients, unlike honorary doctorates today, where an over proliferation has reduced their worth. Johnson approach his friends at the University to assist Burney’s musical researches, putting him in contact with Oxford academics, including one who could translate a manuscript from Welsh for him. As a writer he was much admired by Johnson, and the older man used Burney’s The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771) –a book of continental travel – as the model for his own A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775).
Although a generation younger than Johnson, Fanny Burney (married name Mrs D’Arblay) had early writing success which meant that she also became one of Johnson’s literary circle. Her novels are not widely read today, but one of the her phrases – Pride and Prejudice – was taken as the title of Jane Austen’ second novel. She lived into the Victorian era.
This story has been about London and the way it increasingly drew talent from around the country; not only England but Scotland as well – Johnson’s great biographer James Boswell was a Scot, but he too was drawn to London. Kings Lynn in Norfolk has a part to play in Charles Burney’s advance to his prominence, and was the place where Fanny Burney first discovered her ability with words. But their rise to prominence took place after they had moved to London. In many ways East Anglia retained a measure of independence in the arts, in a country increasingly dominated by the capital. It had its own vigorous literary life in such authors as Amelia Opie and George Borrow and in the very earliest days of the nineteenth century it produced the major talents of Crome and Cotman and their art movement of national importance, which foreshadowed the subject matter of the French Impressionists. Gainsborough and Constable also showed the importance of East Anglia in the artistic life of the country.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Orford Ness is a long peninsular on the Suffolk coast which stretches over 5 miles from Aldeburgh to mouth of the river Ore at Shingle Street. The river Ore changes its name from the river Alde when it reaches Aldeburgh.
1958 was near the beginning of the Cold War, and nobody then knew that it wasn’t shortly going to turn into a very hot one. This fact greatly affected Orford Ness. This spit of land had first been used by the War Ministry in the years leading up to the Second World War. Orford Ness was very much involved in the defence of the country and was deeply involved in the Cold War. It was definitely out of bounds to tourists; we now know the sort of things that were going on there, but half a century ago it was all top secret.
In 1929 the first experiments in radio navigation began with the establishment of the Orford Ness radio beacon. During the approach to war the electronic research continued on Orford Ness with some of the very earliest experiments in Radar. The area was used as a rocket range after the Second World War, and experiments with electronics in warfare also continued there. These highly secret operations continued until the ending of the Cold War made the establishment redundant, and the Ness was opened to the public.
During the middle ages Orford was on the sea coast and the Ness, that long sand spit which separates the river Ore from the sea had not yet been formed. There is an account by a medieval writer that the Danes sacked Orford in the ninth century on their rampage through East Anglia on the way to kill St Edmund. This story was written down in a poem by Denis Piramus, a monk of Bury St Edmund’s Abbey. This was hundreds of years after the event and we have no way of confirming its accuracy, but it is perfectly credible that a coastal village such as Orford then was would be exposed to the Viking fleet as it cruised the North Sea coast.
We know rather more about the building of Orford castle. It was built by Henry II and it was unusual in being a Royal Castle. Most castles like the one at Bungay were built by the local baron, and Norwich Castle was the only other Royal Castle in East Anglia. The records of its construction still exist, including details of its cost – £1,413! The keep is made of septaria, a local stone of an attractive ochre colour. You may find lumps of this rock along the coast at Aldeburgh and it appears in the walls of churches in Essex. The details like the window surrounds are of the hard pale Caen stone, and various other types of imported stone were also used. This impressive royal castle made Orford an important place on the Suffolk coast. The town was a major port; it acquired a charter in 1579, and what elsewhere would be called the aldermen of the borough used the apt but unusual title of “portmen”.
This picture is of Orford castle in 1958. When this photograph was taken the castle belonged to the town of Orford, who had opened it to the public in 1930; the castle was transferred to the Ministry of Works (now the Department of the Environment) in 1962. It had long been abandoned, unlike Norwich castle which has been occupied since it was built in Norman times, but the keep is in remarkably good condition.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
“Sunfays” (St Faiths) as it colloquially called, used to be on the main road from Norwich to Cromer. By the 1920s this was already a relatively busy route for motor cars, taking holiday makers to the coast. However, the building of the St Faiths airfield (now Norwich International Airport) in 1939 cut the village off from through traffic. Since then it has been a rather sleepy backwater, and even travellers from the west to Spixworth only pass through a small part of the village. The Old Norwich Road is now a narrow lane leading to the Norwich Aviation Museum on the northern edge of the airport but to nowhere else.
Horsham St Faiths is the village’s name in full, but unlike most places with a saint’s name attached to it this is not the dedication of the parish church; that is St Mary and St Andrew. The name St Faith refers to the priory which stood to the west side of the village in the middle ages. Part of the priory still exists as a private house, containing a wall painting of the pre-Reformation period. In the 1980s this house was used to celebrate the Latin Tridentine Mass by Catholics opposed to the use of the vernacular in services. This was contrary to Roman Catholic practice at the time and those who celebrated mass there were disaaproved of bu the church. This Tridentine Mass was attended by my friend Fred Barnes; he was approaching 90 at the time, but cycled over from his home in Costessey, some three or four miles away. As a concession to his age he had an electric motor on his bike – one that he had fitted himself!
For hundreds of years Horsham St Faiths was famous for the annual cattle fair held from October 17th for three weeks. This attracted sellers and their livestock from as far as away as Scotland, and buyers from London. This was before the railways, so the drovers travelled hundreds of miles with their beasts. The changes of the nineteenth century spelled the end of the traditional fair; the coming of new transport methods rendered obsolete the drovers’ roads which had radiated from St Faiths. The fields and lanes between here and Spixworth are still named after the beasts which used to be sold there; Bullock Hill and Calf Lane. The very last cattle fair was held in 1872. It had begun in the middle ages.
Weaving was practised all over East Anglia in the days when the cloth trade was the foundation of local wealth, and in St Faiths they specialised in the weaving of horsehair. In the days when horses were almost the universal method of transport there was a lot of hair cut from their tails. When woven into cloth it made a very tough but rather coarse and unforgiving material. It was used for the upholstery of chairs and sofas.
My principal reason for mentioning St Faiths is however to bring your attention to the book on the East Anglian childhood of author Sylvia Haymon (1917-1995). In her book Opposite the Cross Keys she tell a more or less true story of growing up in Norfolk in the early part of the 20th century. She was born Sylvia Rosen in St Giles in Norwich. She had a grown up brother and sister, so she was treated like an only child. Her father was master tailor John Rosen, who died before she was a teenager; this however was after the period related in the book. She went on to live in America and London and made her career in journalism. A freelance, she wrote in such publications as Punch, The Lady and The Times. She also enjoyed some success aa a writer of crime novels. She also wrote two volumes of autobiography, of which Opposite the Cross Keys is the first.
Although she lived in the city of Norwich, the story concerns village life in Horsham St Faiths. At the time it in the 1920s it was well outside the city, although it is less far now that the city has grown. The Cross Keys of the title was a pub in St Faiths until 1966, and there is today a Cross Keys Close where it used to be. The names of the places referred to have mostly remained unchanged; the Hippodrome in St Giles, Bridewell Alley and Swan Lane are all referred to and described in their proper places. Horsham St Faiths has however been turned into Salham St Awdrey, and Newton St Faiths into Salham Norgate. Another change has befallen her school, Lonsdale House, which has been altered slightly to Eldon House. This venerable establishment which began back in 1823 only closed in 1988. It is instantly recognisable to the cognoscenti by its purple and grey school uniform which also remains unchanged in the book.
I recommend anyone with a moment or two to spare to get hold of this book. It costs just a few pence for a paperback copy, and is available from internet bookshops (even in America). Quite apart from its local interest, the book is well written. Take my advice and read it; even those unfamiliar with East Anglia will find it a delight.
MEMORIES OF THE COUNTY OF NORFOLK
Locomotive 1643 “Bronllwyd” runs on the 1ft 11 inch gauge Nursey Line at Bressingham in this picture taken in 1971. This 0-6-0 was built by Hudswell Clarke in 1930 and it was bought by Surrey County Council who used it in the construction of the Guildford by-pass. When they no longer required the locomotive it was sold to the slate quarries at Penrhyn in Wales, where she picked up her Welsh name Bronllwyd. She worked for over thirty years in carrying trainloads of slate, and slate workers too! She was sold to Alan Bloom in 1965 at scrap value (£30 at the time). She was restored to working order and remained at the Bressingham Steam Museum until 2010, when she was sold for a lot more than scrap value, and she now belongs to the Statford Barn Railway at Tamworth in Staffordshire. She has been returned to her Surrey County Council livery, although these days she has a cab fitted to protect the driver from the winter’s elements.
Alan Bloom is remembered for the Steam Museum he set up in Bressingham near Diss in South Norfolk, but earlier he was well-known for the garden plants he grew in his nursery there. Born in 1906, his work was plant breeding in the family trade of nurseryman. After starting his career in Cambridgeshire he bought Bressingham Hall and farm after the war, and it was there that he acquired his first steam engine. This was a Burrell single cylinder traction engine which he used to saw firewood during that cold winter of 1946/47, and to clear 20 acres of overgrown scrub in the following summer. In spite of all this work improving the farm, he next decided to emigrate to Canada, but he did not make the break complete by selling everything in Norfolk.
He kept on the farm at Bressingham, leaving it in the hands of a manager. It soon became apparent that his deciding to settle in Vancouver was a mistake, and within two years he was back in Norfolk. He discovered to his great distress that while he was away his manager had sold Bella, his traction engine, for scrap; just to make matters worse, the scrap dealers had disappeared without paying! It was to be some years before he could obtain a replacement, and rekindle his love affair with steam.
Bressingham had the Dell Garden, which he began to create in 1953; it was there that he intended to exhibit his plants to his customers, wholesale purchasers from his nursery. In 1958 he began to open the Dell garden to the general public. The garden was growing in size all the time. He added the steam museum at Bressingham to the garden as part of his display in 1968; he had already shown his traction engine in previous years on an informal basis. From a hesitant beginning, opening every other Sunday for a few months in summer in 1960, Bressingham Gardens and Steam Museum now opens daily from late March to early November. Alan’s speciality as a grower was the production of hardy perennials and conifers, which he displayed in innovative island beds; previously it had been the tradition to plant herbaceous border in long straight rows with the tallest plants at the back. With Alan’s island scheme the tallest plants were in the middle of the informally shaped beds. They could be viewed from all sides and it was easier to reach all the specimens for weeding and planting. (Personally however I prefer the old-fashioned formal herbaceous border!)
In 1961 he was at last able to buy another traction engine. He had made tentative enquiries some years earlier but his only contact had been a dealer who wanted far too much money. This time everything came right and the price was reasonable – £180. It was another Burrell but this time a compound. Unlike the first acquisition, he had no immediate tasks for her to perform, and just steamed her to see her manoeuvring around the yard. By now he was opening his gardens regularly through the summer, and soon he was steaming his traction engine to engage his visitors’ attention. It was the beginning of his steam museum.
It wasn’t long before he was itching to buy another traction engine, and in fact he bought a job lot of three steam rollers, all of which needed restoration. He had plans to use a steam roller to consolidate the paths around his farm, but he hardly needed three! In fact one had lost its front roller – this was replaced by a pair of wheels from a threshing machine and he soon sold it. Almost as soon as the steam rollers had arrived he acquired a Marshall traction engine. That made five engines and number six was a Fowler ploughing engine from a scrap yard in Cambridge.
With his collection of traction engines growing, within a short time his thoughts turned to the Iron Road – railways! His first railway locomotive was a 7¼” gauge model of the London Tilbury and Southend Railway’s famous tank engine Thundersley, but this proved unsuitable for his plans of taking fare paying customers. It wasn’t powerful enough and was later sold. He began his venture into fare earning railways with a narrow gauge line around his nursery; there are now three of these in different gauges. These are the Nursery Railway, the Garden Railway and the Waveney Valley Line. I started this essay by telling you how he purchased Bronllwyd as scrap in 1965. At the same time he bought George Sholto, also a former slate quarry engine. George Sholto was in slightly better order, and he could use the locomotive during the following year. The restoration of Bronllwyd took rather longer to accomplish.
It was not long before he began to add standard gauge locomotives to these, although this time he took them on permanent or semi permanent loan rather than outright purchase, at least to begin with; this saved him the great outlay that the outright purchase of standard gauge locomotives would have entailed. The first standard gauge loco that he obtained was an industrial engine originally from the North Thames Gas Board, which was owned by the Industrial Locomotive Society who need a home for it. In 1968 he had the great privilege of providing a home for Oliver Cromwell, one of the engines to haul the last train of the steam era on BR metals in that year.
Bressingham no longer has these large Pacific and mainline express locomotives which Alan Bloom was once so proud to acquire. Another acquisition the Duchess of Sutherland remained there until 1996, and Oliver Cromwell stayed until 2004. Royal Scot was sold by Bressingham in 2009. In a way this is sad that these grand locomotives no longer reside in Norfolk, but the short distance that these engines could travel at Bressingham was unsatisfactory, and their return to the railway network has brought the opportunity for these locomotives to haul trains over long distances once more. What Alan thought of these disposals, which started during his lifetime (though after his retirement from the museum) is not known to me.
Besides his traction engines and railway locomotives his steam collection included a Savage’s steam driven roundabout or ‘Gallopers’. This was driven by a Tidman & Sons stationary engine, made by the Norwich firm. It is a genuine showman’s engine although not the original one used in the Gallopers, which would certainly have have been of Savage’s own make, from the Kings Lynn firm.
Alan was a familiar sight driving steam engines at Bressingham; with his long flowing white hair he was an unmistakable. Alan Bloom was awarded the MBE in 1997. Like George Cushing of Thursford, that other great Norfolk collector of steam engines and fairground rides, Alan Bloom lived into the 21st century to be nearly 100 years old. He was still giving a broadcast interviews the year before he died. He was 98 when he passed away in 2005, and Cushing had died in 2003 when he was 99. Longevity seems to go with a life of steam.
See my other posts on some the railway locomotives that have been kept at Bressingham. Royal Scot (Mar 2012); Oliver Cromwell (Feb 2013); and the LBSCR 0-6-0 tank engine (Dec 2013).
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
The Norwich Compagnie of Archers
Thickthorn Hall was bought by Mr and Mrs Derek White in 1977 and soon after that Mr White opened a clubroom for the Norwich Compagnie of Archers in the large downstairs room that looked out across the valley towards the railway line. This view has now rather been impaired by the dual carriageway A11 with its constant stream of traffic which it etched across it. Before the road was built in the 1980s it was only the railway which interrupted the view, and that was not a very busy line. Even when a train passed the sight gave nothing but pleasure. Until the A11 was made dual along most of its length (the final section around Elveden is still being built) the road passed on the other side of Thickthorn Hall. The Hall was down a long driveway and although what is now a quiet backwater was a very busy road, it did intrude upon the house at all.
This provision of a base for the local archery club was not a mere whim on the part of Mr White; he himself was a keen archer. I was a beginner in the art of toxophily when I joined the club in 1978, soon after Mr White bought Thickthorn Hall. He had the targets set up on a lawn to the side of the house.
Gold is the centre circle of an archery target that you have to aim for. Red comes next, then blue and finally black. As with rifle shooting, grouping your shots is almost as important as scoring a bull. As for the technique of shooting arrows, it is slowly coming back to me, being something I haven’t done for more than 30 years. I had a quiver and 6 arrows, an arm guard to stop the bow string from hurting my wrist, and a leather loop to release the bow string. It was alright when I hit the straw target (which was most of the time), but if I missed I had to walk a long way to the hedge the end of the lawn to retrieve my arrows. The nick in the end of an arrow that holds the bow string is called the nock. The terminology needs learning; you can shoot an arrow but you certainly cannot fire one, although this distinction is lost on most people. “Fire” is a word associated with firearms, and equally you cannot fire an airgun or a crossbow although this too is lost on most people.
It was pleasant enough, but I found it a rather solitary sport. If you were a dedicated archer fine, but as far as I was concerned there was no social life that went with toxophily, and eventually I gave it up and concentrated instead on playing badminton; with a mixed doubles foursome you always had certain amount of companionship.
Some extracts from my diary, 1978:
26 April. I rushed off to Thickthorn Hall for the Archery. There were 5 of us. We practised for an hour and a quarter until it began to drizzle.
3 May…the evening was enjoyable but I did not get so many on target as last week. We were 5 yards further away. We left a 9.
10 May. I start off quite well with several golds, but I got worse as the evening wore on. My left arm got increasingly tired and wobbly.
Thickthorn Hall itself is a Georgian mansion with an interesting history. It was built in 1812 and just south of Norwich it was conveniently situated for men of business in the city to use as a country estate. The Gurneys who were prominent Quaker bankers were the owners for most of the nineteenth century. Another branch of the family lived at nearby Earlham Hall and they are better known because Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney) grew up there. A. R Colman of the mustard firm was a later owner of Thickthorn Hall; he was killed in a flying accident as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1943. At this time the leading members of the Colman family lived at Crown Point in Trowse, and later at Bixley Manor. After the Second World War the Mackintosh family bought the Hall, having earlier rented it. They were well known sweet manufacturers (think Quality Street), having bought out Caley the local firm some years earlier. The Hall is now divided into apartments.
Thickthorn Hall appears to get its name from the venerable hawthorn tree that has grown just across the parish boundary in Hethel for about a thousand years. Many legends surround this tree, including that it sprang from the staff belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (who donated his tomb to the crucified Christ). Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea visited the island of Britain two thousand years ago, and a similar story relates to the thorn tree at Glastonbury.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
In the year 869 the king of East Anglia was killed by the invading Danes. We have this on good authority; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. That invaluable source for pre-Norman Conquest history tells us this much. Over the years layer upon layer of legend has been added to this basic story. I wish to strip away all this myth and return to the earliest accounts of Edmund’s end. Besides the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the other early source is the hagiography of Saint Edmund written by a monk about a hundred years after Edmund’s death. This is a much more detailed account than occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but it is also much more suspect.
The manuscript was called the Passion of St Edmund and it was written in Latin by a monk called Abbo. Many of his assertions are clearly ridiculous, such as the story that the King’s severed head called out to his men as it lay on the ground. We must decide if anything the monk says can be believed. Why don’t we look at the topography of East Anglia to see if it can tell us anything which might confirm the truth of any part of Abbo’s tale? Let us start with his statement that Edmund was killed in Hellesdon, a settlement just west of Norwich. Surely such a momentous event as the death of a king and, more to the point, the creation of a major new saint would have left some mark on the landscape, however slight? Some field name perhaps, or an ancient church dedication. Unfortunately in Hellesdon itself, now a suburb of Norwich, there is no clue as to where St Edmund might have been killed.
Just over the parish boundary into the next village of Drayton however is a field called Bloodsdale. There are other fields in East Anglia with similar sounding names, called Blood-something. There are Bloody Field and Bloodmoor Hill in Suffolk, and Blood Hill in Norfolk. These places each have an ancient legend attached to them that a fierce battle took place there between Edmund and the Danes. In Drayton Bloodsdale also has a legend concerning a battle between the Saxons and the Danes, only there is no remaining reference to Edmund. But considering the closeness to Hellesdon we should not ignore the possibility that this was the place where Edmund was killed. Remember also that parish boundaries were not created until a hundred years later, and so settlement names were much more fluid before then. This part of Drayton could well have been called Hellesdon in 869.
This small piece of evidence alone would not be very convincing. After all, the village isn’t Helledon, in spite of my special pleading, and there is no reference to Edmund himself in the legend that goes with the field name. But if we cast our eyes a little wider, onto the map of Norfolk, the position is very different. Along the river Wensum three of the closest churches to Helledon are all dedicated to St Edmund. The Ordnance Survey maps that mark the positions of churches do not give the saints’ names that belong them, so we must do a little research. You can see the profusion of St Edmund churches along the rivers of East Norfolk in the map at the end of this post. This a huge number, considering there are only about half a dozen St Edmund churches in the whole of Suffolk, and that is the second most of any county; yet within a short radius from Hellesdon there were six dedications to the saint in early medieval times. Twice that number existed in East Norfolk, and in the whole of the county there were over 24. Surely this tells us that Abbo was right in placing Edmund’s death in Hellesdon? Abbo had the truth on his side in this respect at least.
The fact that nearly all these churches were within yards of the water’s edge also seems to be telling us something. Abbo, besides informing us that the death of Edmund occurred in Helledon, tells us that the Danes who killed him arrived by boat. Abbo also tells us that in order to protect their boats the Danes never ventured far from the water. They had obviously gone up the rivers Yare and Wensum to Hellesdon. In this Abbo’s account varies from that in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which tells us the Danes arrived in East Anglia from Yorkshire on horseback; but although some Danes certainly came by land, those who killed the King were plainly seamen. Perhaps these places that preserve St Edmund’s name in church dedications were the sites of further bloodshed perpetrated by the Danes as they travelled up the river in their longships? Maybe, when the Danes had left the area, the Anglo-Saxon survivors raised these churches to St Edmund in defiance of their pagan enemies.
For those who wish to read more about St Edmund I have written a book, St Edmund and the Vikings. This is available from bookshops or direct from the publisher; see details at the end of this blog. If you search my blog you will find other pieces on St Edmund and the end of the East Anglian kingdom. This map shows the rivers between Hellesdon and the sea. The number of St Edmund churches on these waterways is remarkable.
St Edmund and the Vikings 869–1066
Joseph C. W. Mason
Paperback, 234×156 mm, 168 pp. With 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 b/w illustrations
Available from all new bookshops, Amazon or direct from the publisher www.lasse.press.com
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
AN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY TALE
TAVERHAM is a village 5 miles north-west of Norwich. The Sotherton family owned the Taverham estate during the eighteenth century. Augustin Sotherton had acquired the hall in the first quarter of the seventeenth century and his descendant Thomas Sotherton (1707 – 1778) was the last of the Sotherton squires to own the Hall. The estate then passed to Miles Branthwaite, who had married Mary, Thomas Sotherton’s only child. This marriage too produced a single offspring, a son, Miles Sotherton Branthwaite. We would know little about these people, who would be just names on a page, were it not for the revenge taken by a jilted lover of Mary (or Maria) Sotherton. The lover’s name was Richard Gardiner, and the revenge took the form of a short novel, Pudica, or the History of a woman of Norfolk, which was published by a London bookseller in 1754. Richard Gardiner has been called many things, few of them complimentary, including a sponger and a cad (these epithets were used by local historian R.W. Ketton-Cremer). In spite of these descriptions of him however there can be no doubt that he was quite a presentable young man. For one thing, as he himself observed, he changed his shirt several times a week – quite a notable thing at the time. He had a waggish tongue and he was certainly popular with the ladies. The real problem with Richard Gardiner was that he had a chip on his shoulder; he was convinced that he was the illegitimate offspring of Robert Walpole, the second Earl of Orford. The Orfords lived at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. The Walpole family had certainly supported his education at Eton and Cambridge, but this seems just to have been because his father was chaplain to the family. Gardiner’s own opinion of the relationship between his mother and the Earl seems groundless. Now he had to make his own way in the world, and this was a necessity that he appears to have resented. We cannot know for sure if he was indeed the grandson of a Prime Minister, or the lawful son of his purported father the Reverend John Gardiner. The Walpoles apparently acknowledged their bastards, which they never did of Richard Gardiner, so there is no reason to believe that he was anything other than the perfectly legitimate son of a favoured retainer. Gardiner’s firm conviction coloured his outlook on life, and largely caused him to waste his undoubted literary talents. After Eton he spent a couple of years at Cambridge, but left without taking a degree. After a brief spell on active service with the army he decided to enter the church, and arrived in Norwich in 1748 as a Deacon. (This is a church office held by potential clergymen prior to ordination.) What he really wanted, however, was a rich wife, and it was not long before he met what he believed was the ideal young woman. Mary Sotherton was the daughter and only child of the squire of Taverham. She was only 17, pretty, with a lightly freckled face and possessing the accomplishments expected of a young lady of the times – she was regarded as the ‘best harpsichord’ at her Norwich boarding school. Gardiner was writing after the relationship turned sour, so we should not doubt her musical abilities. His maliciousness becomes apparent when he says that her principal failing was an inherited propensity for ‘fibbing’. The most attractive thing about her, in Gardiner’s eyes, had been the fact that she could expect a fortune estimated at between forty and fifty thousand pounds (a multi-millionaire by today’s standards). This is obvious from his mentioning her wealth.
It appears that the young lady was quite smitten with Gardiner, but her father was in the end adamantly opposed to him. In Gardiner’s account he was at first tolerant towards the impecunious churchman and was only turned against him by the tales against him told by another woman. We only have Gardiner’s word for this however, and reading between the lines I think the young man can never have appeared a good match for Squire Sotherton’s only child and we must take all Gardiner’s assertions with a pinch of salt. To bring what the squire regarded (or came to regard) as a misalliance to an end she was removed from the social scene in Norwich. She was taken to be kept a virtual prisoner at Taverham Hall for months.
During his separation from Pudica Dick describes a stay at Spixworth Hall. Of course he muddles up the names in his usual way of transparently pretending anonymity. Francis Longe is called Frank Spixworth. He had been a friend of Francis Longe at Cambridge and their only point of difference was his friend’s objection to puns, which were of course a great favourite of Gardiner himself. He is genuinely complimentary on the beauty and accomplishments of Longe’s wife Tabitha (née Howes of Morningthorpe). Gardiner says that both the Hall and Park were “very genteel” and the Estate was extremely fine. Some that happiest days of his life had been spent, he averred, with the Longe family ar Spixwortha. Persuaded by her friends and family that Richard Gardiner was not a good prospect as a husband, Mary (or Pudica) eventually agreed to drop him. She returned to the city and when they happened to meet informed Gardiner that their friendship was at an end. She wished never to see him again, she said. That was not however the end of the story, and it was inevitable that in a relatively small community they would meet again, as they did at a game of whist. Over her hand of cards Mary hinted that, whatever she might have said in the past, she wished to reignite their passion. This was the cause of the ensuing trouble. Again we only have Gardiner’s side of the story of course, but in this respect it seems all too believable. Gardiner claimed that Mary’s blowing hot and cold confused him, and so he wrote her a letter asking to know exactly where he stood. The letter he gave her was inserted in the pages of Hoyle’s recently published treatise on whist. Rather than asking for clarification, however, he chose to use the French word éclaircissement, a term with which the poor girl was not familiar. Again according Gardiner, she asked her father what the word might mean. The squire was immediately suspicious and asked where she had read the word, and so the existence of the letter and the nature of its contents were revealed. Mr Sotherton was furious, and this time made it very clear that there was no question his ever approving a marriage between them. Richard accepted that Mary and he would never marry, but that was not the end of his search for a wife. Over the next few months he continued to pursue wealthy and attractive young ladies, but with no great success. One promising friendship was with Miss Belle Buxton of another wealthy local family, but this affair was nipped in the bud by her sudden, unexpected and tragic death from smallpox. This led to a disagreement with her brother John, who refused to show Gardiner her will. Gardiner for his part, and with an eye to the main chance, was convinced that he was her rightful heir and that her will would confirm this. All that his marriage hopes succeeded in doing was in making more enemies, so he decided to repay all the people who had crossed him. He would write a book satirising all the Norfolk gentry who were his enemies. For all his faults, he was a man with a talent for writing and a well-developed wit. Abandoning all thoughts of the church he made a precarious career from a mixture of going abroad on active service and writing political tracts here in Norfolk. In this case his work took the form of a satirical novel that was published in 1754. It is a short book with a long title, usually abbreviated to ‘The History of Pudica’. The characters are all given fictitious names that were easy to identify (especially at the time; today we are glad to rely on a key which has been provided in manuscript written in longhand by an anonymous reader). Mary was Pudica, a name only used in the title. Her father was Squire Bull (Thomas Sotherton), and her eventual husband (Miles Branthwaite) was Miles Dinglebob. Gardiner himself appears in the book as Dick Merryfellow and naturally gets a far more sympathetic treatment than anyone else. Mary is portrayed as ignorant, and her father as pompous. He had ‘a good deal of what is called Family Pride’. Miles’s main attraction to Mary Sotherton is said to be that his eyes resembled her favourite fruit – gooseberries (or thapes in the Norfolk dialect employed by Gardiner). By 1780, when he had inherited Taverham Hall, Miles Branthwaite had acquired another nickname- Justice Gobble– which we learn from Parson Woodforde in his diary. He does not sound a very attractive person, but confusingly, in a late piece of writing, Gardiner treats his old enemy Branthwaite in a complimentary manner. He is ‘a gentleman of very amiable character, and greatly esteemed by all who know him.’ It is a redeeming feature of Gardiner that his animosity, although intense at the time, could change eventually into apparent gestures of good will. One section of The History of Pudica is a poem on the wedding of eponymous bride and her husband. The husband was of course Miles Branthwaite or Miles Dinglebob, as Gardiner chose to style him. It consists of a number of verses, an epithalamium (or marriage celebration) to be sung to the tune of ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’.
One verse reads: And don’t you think he was full wise? /And don’t you think he was full wise? /His eyes who said,/All in his Head, /Appear’d like two scalt gooseberries.
To be perfectly honest Gardiner’s poem does not seem very amusing; perhaps contemporaries could pick up on allusions that are lost to us. The story of Pudica does have its genuine flashes of wit, but as you read it you cannot help feeling a bit uncomfortable at the barrage of mockery being directed at a helpless girl. A contemporary critic wrote in The Gentleman’s Magazine: ‘This a rhapsody of private scandal, too dull to excite mirth, and too obscure to gratify curiosity. It is not adapted to any passion but malice, and can neither please those read for vicious or virtuous purposes.’ It was published in London, and to a metropolitan audience the accusation of obscurity is just. To its local readership in Norwich, however, it was deliciously topical, and even to us today it has a relevance with its references to such places as Chapelfield Gardens and the Kings Head (a favourit hostelry of Parson Woodforde which used to be in The Walk where the Royal Arcade now stands). To us of the present day however the main value of the book is the picture that it paints of the life of the middle classes in eighteenth century Norwich. Particularly this work shows the background and family relationships of the Sothertons and Branthwaites of Taverham Hall, or Ox Hall, as it appears in the work of Dick Merryfellow. It is little and fleeting touches like that which bring these long-dead eighteenth century characters back to life.
Shortly after the appearance of The History of Pudica came a similarly named pamphlet (a mere 33 pages long as opposed to the 100 pages of the earlier work). This is called A Letter to John Shadwell…with Observations on the History of Pudica. John Shadwell of Buxton Lodge was Gardiner’s name for John Buxton of Shadwell Lodge – a simple enough ploy of a transparent pseudonym, and one repeatedly used by Gardiner. Ketton-Cremer reported that he intended to write a satire on Buxton, and this is it. The Gentleman’s Magazine had a criticism of this work too. ‘An attempt to excite the curiosity of the publick with respect to the history of Pudica, which is probably another work of the same author, and better reason cannot be given why this attempt became necessary, or why it proved unsuccessful.’ Although it refers to Pudica in its title it has nothing new to add to her story.
Richard Gardiner ended his life as he had begun it, distressed by debts. He was living in Ingoldisthorpe near Sandringham in West Norfolk He was supported by Coke of Holkam Hall, who provided him with a job and money to live in some style; but he fell out with him too. He had pleasant house and grounds, known then as now by the name of Mount Amelia, but even as he lay dying in 1781 the shortage of money had forced the house onto the market. It is a rather sad end to the story of Dick Merryfellow. Mount Amelia is today available as luxury accommodation for weddings and large groups.
Mary Sotherton, relict of Miles Branthwaite, who will forever be better remembered as Pudica, lived on into the new century, dying in 1803. By then we are in a different age which was about to launch itself on society, not least upon the people of Taverham. We will hear no more of games of whist and dinner parties. Taverham mill is about to become a pioneering establishment of the industrial revolution and the village saw the birth of the rotary printing press.
[Anybody who wants to read more of Richard Gardiner’s Pudica books can get them as print-on-demand volumes for a few pounds from such websites as Abebooks. For those interested in Spixworth and the Longe family I suggest they read my blog of 18 March 2013 and look for my book on ebay.]
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
FISHING, DUCKLINGS & ORGANS
Letheringsett is the next village to the town of Holt on the Fakenham Road, and it was a simple cycle ride from school to get to it. My bike was brand new in 1961, and I was a cyclist who had only learnt to ride the year before. The bike I had learned on was a blue BSA with roller lever brakes and no gears, but my new bike was a Raleigh Palm Beach with Sturmey Archer 3 speed gears, and it lasted all through my school career and even into university.
My earliest memories of Letheringsett go back to to 1961, when I was exploring the neighbourhood on my new bike. We were allowed to go fishing in the triangular lake off Garden Lane in the village of Letheringsett. I think permission was required from Beryl Cozens-Hardy of Letheringsett Hall, though not on every occasion. I don’t think we had anything like a fishing licence, but the water bailiff didn’t have a lot to worry about because we never caught any fish. Anyway, do you need a licence to fish in a private lake?
Another recollection concerns the river Glaven below Letheringsett mill. It was summer Speech Day weekend and my parents had come down for the occasion. It was a Saturday and this involved the speeches of course, and the school play (always by Shakespeare), both of which were held in the open air theatre in the school woods. There was also tea in marquees on the cricket pitch, while the CCF cadets’ drum and bugle band marched up and down and the Drum Major tossed his mace in the air. Although it was an Army band, on Speech Day they didn’t wear their khaki battle dress but an improvised uniform of blue school blazers with white cricket trousers. I thought It looked very smart. But in the dead times between such entertainments we had to find something else to do.
On this occasion when I was in my early teens we took a picnic down to the river Glaven at Letheringsett near the mill. There is (or there certainly was 50 years ago) a ford where we stopped on the bank to eat our sandwiches. There was a family of ducklings playing in the water who came over to investigate us, and we shared our meal with them. The ducklings were still very young and trusting, and also very inquisitive. Their down was still yellow and their beaks as they took crumbs from our hands were still soft. With the summer sun shining down it was the perfect contrast from the formality of Speech Day.
My last memory of Letheringsett comes from a few years later, near the end of my school career. The rector of Letheringsett was by then the Revd Gordon Paget, a real character. He was seemingly a great age in the 1960s, but lived over 20 years longer, dying at the age of 96 in 1989. He was a bachelor but he lived in the rectory; rectories and parsonages were still in those days largish properties, although even then the “Old Rectory” was already sold on as the home of Sir Roy and Lady Wilhelmine Harrod. You may imagine how lost he seemed in the house, he a single man, while the building was built for a family. Huge black cobwebs hung down from the ceilings, and the walls had not been wallpapered or painted in the last 50 years at least, or so it seemed. But Gordon Paget was apparently oblivious to such things. His rectory house was absolutely full of organs; obviously these were the smaller types of organs, because the house, although spacious, was not large enough to be filled with church organs. His portable organs included barrel organs and harmoniums. He was also a lover of all sorts of ecclesiastical memorabibia; furniture in particular, and he could not bear to see anything go to waste. The church at Hedenham, where he had been rector from 1933 until 1958 provided a home for many pictures, woodcarvings and metal ornaments from various redundant or refurnished East Anglian churches. The church is apparently still well furnished, so I think they may still be there.
I do not remember what exactly the occasion was, but a group of us pupils were entertained to tea in the rectory in the summer of 1967. It was after we had given an orchestral concert in the church. Several of my contemporaries from school were very much involved with all things to do with organs, either as organists or, in the case of Richard Bower, as organ builders, so they got on very well with the rector. (Richard Bower later rebuilt the organ at Letheringsett church as part of his organ building business.) Gordon Paget was of course an excellent organist himself, although as parson he was unable to play at his own services; at least I assume he could not suddenly leave the pulpit to sit at the organ manuals, but never having attended one of his services I am not positive about this.
John Betjeman was a visitor to Letheringsett and in his younger days had even proposed to Lady Harrod (then ‘Billa’ Cresswell) who later lived at the Old Rectory ad I have already mentioned. He wrote a poem on the deceased 1st Baron Cozens-Hardy and his mausoleum at Letheringsett; John Piper even did the artwork to accompany the verse. Lord Cozens-Hardy was real enough, and so was his connection with Letheringsett, but the mausoleum was a piece of poetic licence, and no such structure has ever existed in Letheringsett. In fact Lord Cozens-Hardy is buried in Kensal Green cemetery in London.
To learn more of Letheringsett and the Cozens-Hardy family you must read the The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773 – 1809, edited by Mary Bird and published in 2013.