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 Gresham’s 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 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. I think permission had been given by Beryl Cozens-Hardy of Letheringsett Hall. 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, 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 drum and bugle band marched about and the bandmaster (Drum Major) tossed his mace in the air. Although it was the CCF band, on Speech Day they didn’t wear dull khaki battle dress but a 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 great character. He was seemingly a great age but lived over 20 years longer, dying at the age of 96 in 1989. He was a bachelor but he lived in the rectory which was in those days still a large property, although the Old Rectory was by then 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 painted in the last 50 years at least, or so it seemed. But Gordon Paget was apparently oblivious to such things. His house was full of organs; obviously the smaller types of portable organs, because the house, although spacious, was not large enough to be filled with church organs. His organs included barrel organs and harmoniums. He was also a lover of all sorts of ecclesiastical furniture and could not bear to see anything go to waste. The church at Hedenham, where he was rector from 1933-1958, provided a home for many pictures, woodcarvings and metal ornaments from various redundant or refurnished East Anglian churches.
I do not remember what exactly the occasion was, but a group of us were entertained to tea in the rectory. It was after some of us had given an orchestral concert in the church. Several of my contemporaries from Farfield were very much involved with organs, either as organists or, in the case of Richard Bower, as organ builder (Richard Bower later rebuilt the organ at Letheringsett church as part of his organ building business) so they got on very well with the rector. He 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 play, but never having attended one 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). 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.