St Faiths, as it colloquially called (“sunfays“) used to be on the main road from Norwich to Cromer. It was already by the 1920s a relatively busy route for motor cars taking holiday makers to the coast. However, the building of the St Faiths airfield (now Norwich Airport) in 1939 just before the Second World War cut the village off from through traffic. Since then it has been a rather sleepy backwater. 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 Faiths 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. About 25 years ago this house was used to celebrate the Latin Tridentine Mass by Catholics opposed to the use of the vernacular. This was contrary to Roman Catholic practice at the time. This was attended by my friend Fred Barnes. He was about 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 market held there from October 17th for three weeks. This attracted sellers and their livestock from as far as away as Scotland, and buyers from London. The changes of the nineteenth century spelled the end of the traditional fair, because the coming of the railway had rendered obsolete the drovers’ roads which radiated from St Faiths. The fields and lanes between here and Spixworth are still named after the beasts which used to be sold there, like Bullock Hill and Calf Lane. The 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 about from their tails. When woven into cloth it made a very tough but rather harsh 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 Sylvia Haymon. In her book Opposite the Cross Keys the author tell a more or less true story of growing up in Norwich in the early part of the 20th century. She was born in 1917 in St Giles when her father was 38. 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. She wrote in such publications as Punch, The Lady and The Times. She also enjoyed some success a writer of crime novels. She also wrote two volumes of autobiography of which this of her childhood is the first.
Although she lived in the city of Norwich the story concerns village life. At the time Horsham St Faiths was about four miles 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 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 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