Monthly Archives: December, 2014

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 30,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.



Charles Mason at the time of his wedding to Rebecca Buxton

Charles Mason as a young man

Charles Mason was my great-grandfather but because he continued to have children well into the 20th century (by his second wife) there are several members of my family, not much older than me, for whom he is simply the grandfather. Charles moved to Norfolk as a young man to marry my great-grandmother Rebecca Buxton, his first wife. She was a native of Easton near Norwich, but he had grown up in the Stoke on Trent area in Staffs. Staffordshire is a part of the country I know very little about, having only once been there and that was many years ago. Nevertheless it is the family’s Staffordshire connections I am going to attempt to describe in this blog.

Charles’s father Joseph Mason was a tailor in the village of Tittensor just outside the town of Stone, but by the time my great-grandfather was 14 the young lad had moved five miles away to the village of Milwich to be a domestic servant. Rebecca had met her husband to be by also being placed in service in Staffordshire, but in her case it was many miles from her home in Norfolk.

Charles was the youngest of his family; the next oldest to him was his sister Hannah. She was just two years Charles’s senior and she too had become a live-in servant in her early teens. She was married at the age of 18 to William Worsdale, a Staffordshire potter who was living at Trentham near Stoke.  Stoke on Trent was known as the Potteries, and such well-known names as Spode, Minton and (most famous of all) Wedgwood had their factories there. The young couple were married at the Church of the Resurrection at Dresden, a mid 19th century red brick church designed by the Gothic Revival architect Sir Gilbert Scott. His most famous building is St Pancras Station in London. The church was built on land given by the Duke of Sutherland who lived on the Trentham Estate. The pollution got so bad that he left in 1905 and moved much of his great wealth to Canada. In 1912 when the borough of Stoke on Trent refused his gift of Trentham Hall he demolished the house. Trentham Gardens remain though, now a local beauty spot.

Both Hannah’s parents Joseph and Ellen Mason were dead by the time of her marriage and she was given away by her elder brother, also called Joseph. He had performed the same service for his elder sister Ellen who had got married a year earlier. Joseph was working as a gardener in the Stoke on Trent area. Hannah went on to have seven children by her husband William Worsdale over the next dozen years. In 1889 however he died and Hannah was reduced to scraping a living as a washerwoman. In 1894 she remarried to James Goodwin, a man some 20 years younger than her. The marriage once again took place in the Church of the Resurrection and once again my namesake Joseph Mason stepped in to support his sister. The best man was James Goodwin’s elder brother George. Hannah went on to have two more children by James Goodwin, a son Fred and a daughter Ida.



The district was called the Five Towns in the novels of Arnold Bennett (although there are in fact six of them) and apart from the potteries its major industry was coal mining. Trentham pit was closed in 1994 bringing to an end centuries of coal mining in Staffordshire. James Goodwin was a miner and in 1900 his job was dealing with the pit props that were used to support the roof of the mine. By 1911 he was working right at the coalface as a hewer of coal. By then his 15-year-old son Fred was working as an electric motor operator in the pit.

My first cousin twice removed Fanny Wordale (Hannah’s daughter by her first husband)  was an enameller by trade as a teenager. By the age of 27 she had qualified as a nurse and was working at the North Staffordshire Joint Smallpox Hospital in the village of Bucknall-cum-Bagnall. The patients were mostly children with a few young men and women. The Cowpox vaccination for Smallpox which had been discovered by the rural physician Edward Jenner and introduced by him in 1796 was making this much less of a problem by the 20th century, but for those who missed out on inoculation the virus was still a serious (and in a third of cases a fatal) disease. After a global campaign by the World Health Organisation it was the first disease to be eradicated, in 1977. After more than a decade of treating the sick Fanny married Robert Russsell in 1919 at the age of 35. Tragically she died a year later.

It must have been a hard life for Hannah, and one afflicted with sadness; besides the death of Fanny two of her sons by William Worsdale died as teenagers during Edward VII’s reign. A year after the First World War broke out her son Fred signed up in the Royal Fusiliers and by November 1917 he had risen to the rank of Corporal. He died on 28th of that month from wounds received in the Battle of Cambrai that had begun eight days earlier.  He was 21 years old, but he had already won one of the highest awards for gallantry, the Military Medal.

On a happier note Hannah’s youngest daughter Ida Goodwin married Charles Jones in 1923. She like her mother lived all her life in Staffordshire and lived to be 82. Hannah lived to be over 80, dying in Stoke on Trent in 1939, a year after her brother Charles died in Norfolk and only two years before her much younger second husband James.

The composer Havergall Brian was born in the Dresden suburb of Stoke on Trent, just three years after Hannah’s first wedding. His privilegeid background was very different from the grinding poverty of my great grand-aunt. The low point of her working life must have been when she was a young widow, having to support a family on her own.

This brief picture of Hannah Mason has been built up from such documents as census returns and death certificates, and is therefore lacking any personal details. In contrast my portrait of Charles Mason and his Norfolk family has lots of human touches that have been passed on to me. You may read my account of Charles Mason by clicking on the About tag at top left hand corner of this blog.

Since writing this blog I have been contacted by a distant cousin who shares the same great-great- grandfather, Joseph Mason. His great-grandfather was another sibling of Hannah and Charles, John, born in 1845.



When I first remember the taxis in Norwich they were not so common as they have since become. Here in Norwich the prime taxi firm was  Beeline. Mr Minns – a distant relative who lived about half a mile from us down Caistor Lane – was a taxi driver. The idea of minicabs [taxis which you could not hail from the roadside but had to order in advance] – did not then exist. Before most people had easy access to a phone such a system was impractical. Minicabs first appeared on the streets of London in the early 1960s. This meant that all cabs in Norwich in the 1950s were officially licenced taxis. The number of London style black cabs in the city was not great, if they existed at all. Most taxis were large cars of the time like the Humber Snipe or Wolseley 6/80. I do not ever remember being in a taxi myself in Norwich. I must have ridden one in Nowich in the seventy years I have been alive, but all my memories of  riding in taxis are in London. My father had a car, and so my journeys were either made in that, or else by bus.

cabmans supper

By June 1988 Norwich had caught up with the capital in the provision of black taxis at least, and London cabs were the norm if you wanted a taxi. I had been married about two years, and had just bought a semi-detached bungalow in Costessey. Our eldest child Peter was nearly 18 months old and my wife Molly was expecting our second child. (Although we did not know it at the time of course, this would be our daughter Polly.) We had just one family car, a red VW Beetle, which my wife used to take the baby about, so my journeys to and from work in the city centre were done by bus. The bus I caught home was the number 20, and its route took me along Dereham Road as far as the Oval pub, and then a turn right down Norwich Road into New Costessey. I got off near the bridge over the river Tud, where the road becomes Townhouse Road in Old Costessey.

The bus routes and numbers have changed a little since then, and so has the name of the pub. After being called the Oval since its construction which was probably just after the war, its name was changed briefly to the Wagon and Horses. It is now the Cherry Tree, but at least it is still a pub of sorts although it is mainly an eatery.

In Norwich it was a short walk from my place of work in Surrey Street to the bus stop in Theatre Street, and in Costessey in was an even shorter walk from the main road to our house in Meadow Close, so the journey wasn’t an arduous one. The bus was a double-decker, and being fairly young (well 39 anyway) I mostly travelled on the top deck.

After leaving Theatre Street the bus continued along Chapelfield and then turned down Grapes Hill. At the traffic lights at the bottom  it turned left into Dereham Road. It was along this stretch of the way home, between Heigham Street and Bowthorpe Road that we passed the Ideal Plaice fish and chip shop. This is still a fish and chip shop, though it is now called the Ocean Fish Bar. This was the era for puns on the word plaice; a few years earlier the fishmonger’s shop outside the Market Cross in Bungay (now an estate agent’s) announced it was the Plaice for Quality fish. On this occasion I was rather taken by the sight of a cab driver sitting on the floor of the cab eating his evening snack of fish and chips outside the shop.

If I had a camera I might have tried a shot, but so many things can go wrong with a photograph; you can miss the moment entirely, or the view is all wrong. In those days you got one try before having to wind the film on, by when the bus would certainly have moved on. Luckily I have quite a good pictorial memory and I spent the next few minutes sketching the scene. It wasn’t the first time I had tried to do a picture of a street scene, but I think this was quite a successful one. This is the sketch you see illustrating this blog.

This is over thirty years ago, and it signifies nothing much. If I had not done this sketch I would have forgotten all about the occasion, but here it is for what it’s worth.




TWO THINGS happened on Christmas Eve 1906; one more momentous than the other. The slightly less important occurrence was the marriage of my great-grand-uncle Ebenezer Peachey to Agnes Maude Oldfield in Holy Trinity church, Wimbledon. The more epoch making occasion was the first radio broadcast of music and the human voice, which was done from a radio antenna erected at Brant Rock, Massachusetts.

My great-great grandfather’s family, although not very large by Victorian standards, was spread out over more than 20 years. By the time Ebenezer was married his eldest sister Kate had produced her family and had died. However Kate’s slightly younger husband lived on until 1967; when he was born there were no telephones but by the end of his life we had colour television. This story charts an important advance in this development of electronic communication. Ebenezer’s youngest brothers the twins Arthur and Jesse Peachey would, within a few years, emigrate to North America where the events I am about to relate unfolded.

Incidentally Ebenezer was not the only member of the family to marry around London; both my great-grandfather Phipp Peachey and  Jesse had weddings in the capital. Jesse’s twin Arthur was married in Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Before these adventurous souls moved away to marry every ancestor of the Peachey family since at least the 17th century had found a mate from within a few miles of Lakenheath in Suffolk. I am sure that the arrival of the railway in Lakenheath in 1845 had much to do with this sudden opening up of the horizons of my family.

HOLY TRINITY church was built in 1862 to serve the growing community of Wimbledon; then the town was a borough in Surrey and did not become officially part of London until 1965. The church was declared redundant in 1974 but it was refurbished and extended a few years later and is now a flourishing place of worship in south London. Ebenezer had been born in Lakenheath but his wife was a Londoner through and through; she was born in Greenwich and moved to Lambeth where her father was an inspector on the trams. This explains the choice of Holy Trinity for the solemnization of the marriage but it does not tell us how the couple met. This was through Ebenezer getting a job in domestic service in Westminster. He was living in a mews that was the home to retired senior officers in the armed services and which also housed the stables of Lord Avebury. By 1911 he had left all this behind and was working on Thetford Heath in the traditional family trade of warrener.  This life was again interrupted by the First World War when he enlisted in the 9th Middlesex Regiment at the age of 38, and his home address was  given as London once more. He survived the war and ended his days in Cambridgeshire.



Reginald Fesenden was born in Quebec to an Anglican clergyman in 1866. He attended Bishop’s University where he read mathematics but left without taking a degree. (After Fessenden, perhaps the most famous alumnus of this Canadian university is Galt MacDermott, the composer of the musical Hair.)  Fesenden then moved to Bermuda to teach mathematics and there he became engaged to a Bermudan girl. He knew nothing about electricity when he moved to New York in 1886, although he did so in the hope of gaining employment with the inventor Thomas Edison. After initially being rejected he was eventually hired by Edison and soon proved his worth in the laboratory, not only in electricity but also in chemical experiments. In 1890 however Edison became financially embarrassed and laid off most of his staff including Fessenden. He was not unemployed for long and soon  found other jobs with a number of manufacturing companies.

In 1892 he was appointed Professor of Electrical Engineering in the newly formed department at Prudhoe University in West Lafayette. His obvious ability brought him to the notice of the Westinghouse Corporation and through this connection he became professor of the newly established department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. His interests were in the applications of electricity such as electric lighting. He began experimenting with wireless telegraphy in 1898 and by the following year he was transmitting wirelessly between Pittsburgh and a point 13 miles away.

In 1900 he left the University to work for the United States  Weather Bureau in examining the possibility of establishing a network of coastal radio beacons to report the weather without recourse to telegraph wires. By now Marconi’s experiments with radio were becoming known  in the USA. Marconi was however using the so-called spark-gap transmitter and a receiver system which could exchange messages in Morse code but was unable to cope with voice audio. Fessenden was convinced that his wavelength theory was a superior explanation as further researches were to prove. His electrolytic detector involved fine wire in nitric acid and this eventually became the standard in early wireless transmitting experiments.

Some must have attracted him to Christmas because the day before Christmas Eve 1900 he achieved what was probably the first audio transmission of the human voice. The distance he covered was of just over one mile. The result was too distorted to be intelligible but it showed that with further technical advances the human voice could be broadcast by radio.

The Weather Bureau’s establishment of a chain of coastal radio beacons raised the possibility of ships being equipped with radio receiving equipment, but in 1902 Fessenden became embroiled in a disagreement with the Weather Bureau and left his employment. Two wealthy businessmen now set up the National Electric Signalling Company with its transmitter at  Brant Rock. They were using the crude spark-gap system. Fessenden was convinced that his sine-wave broadcasting system on a single frequency would deliver far more advanced results. As late as 1906 his plans were still being ridiculed by the so-called ‘experts’.

It was approaching Christmas in 1906. King Edward VII was looking forward to the intimate family festivities in his personal estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. It was the height of the British Empire and Empire Day would be a great occasion to celebrated in  this country and abroad. Empire Day was still celebrated in the 1950s, at least at my school,  where the headmistress Miss Maudslay was a great believer in the British Empire; Clive of India was her great hero, although he was a rather flawed character. Empire Day originated in Canada, the idea of none other than Reginald Fessenden’s mother, a prominent Empire Loyalist, author and campaigner in her native Ontario. [Click here to read a newspaper report confirming this connection.]

In the evening of Christmas Eve when (due the time difference) the newly weds, Mr and Mrs Peachey, were celebrating their first night together Fessenden used the alternator-transmitter to broadcast the world’s first radio programme. This historic broadcast was made from Brant Rock. He began with a record of Handel’s Largo. This was followed a violin playing the carol O Holy Night and the singing of the Air by Gounoud, Adore and be Still; both these live performances were made by Fessenden himself. Finally he read a passage from St Luke’s Gospel.

The audience was very small and consisted entirely of wireless operators aboard American ships; as a result of the Weather Bureau’s work in setting up the radio beacons American shipping was increasingly using this new aid to navigation. The ‘SPARKS’ (a nickname for radio operators that far outlasted the transmission system that gave rise to it) who were expecting a weather report in Morse were astonished to hear music and the human voice over their headphones.

Why is Reginald Fessenden, the world’s first DJ, not better known? In Canada he has appeared on a postage stamp but he is virtually unknown in the rest of the world. He spent the First World War in London working on defence devices. He filed over 500  patents including ones involving sonar and television. He died in 1932 in Bermuda.




3d bit

You must be at least 50 to remember the threepenny -3d- bit. For you youngsters who never experienced receiving such riches, I must explain that although it was written ‘threepenny bit’, it was pronounced ‘threpenny bit’. If you were exceptionally lucky you might be treated instead to a sixpence. This was sometimes called a ‘sixpenny piece’ but never a sixpenny bit. Similarly A 3d bit was never a 3d piece. It ought to have been called a threepence bit but this was never a colloquial term.

The distinction between the words penny, pennies and pence has been lost since 1971 when the currency changed. A ‘new penny’ (or since 1982 just a plain penny) is hardly ever mentioned these days – its value is too small to think about- but in the days when it was worth at least something you often heard ignorant people referring to ‘one pence’, not realising that the word pence is plural. It the old days it was acceptable to use the word penny for more than one as sum of money (as in threepenny bit), but not for for more than one coin.The word pence was never used in the singular.

Before decimalisation a two pence coin did not exist but the sum of money still had a distinctive pronunciation – tuppence. A halfpenny too had its own name; it may have been written as a halfpenny but it was always pronounced ha’penny. The name ha’penny lasted into the decimal coinage era as there was a half a new penny coin, but it was soon abandoned as a worthless coin. This was despite its being worth far more than a 1p coin is today, and these are in theory still legal tender. The sum of ‘a penny ha’penny ‘- 1½d- was often referred to as ‘three ha’pence’. ‘Tuppenny ha’penny’ was a way of suggesting that something was not worth very much. ‘Eleven pence there farthings’ was just a ¼d short of a shilling, and was a popular price with our baker; because farthings were hard to come by my mother often had to give the bread-man a shilling for a loaf of bread. The farthing ceased to legal tender in 1960.

The threepenny bit was a valuable coin before inflation began to eat away at it. It would pay for a bag of sweets or a small ice cream, ever a bus fare if you weren’t going too far. It was the only polygonal coin before the ending of the ‘ten bob note’ ushered in the 50 pence coin in 1969. (This coin was the first to have the decimal “p” on it although the change-over was still two years off.) A threepenny bit was of a golden colour made of nickel brass. It replaced the ‘threepenny joe’ which was made of silver and was a smaller version of the silver sixpence. These silver threepenny joes were still in circulation during my childhood, although their silver content made them worth more than their nominal value, and consequently  would be removed by unscrupulous people for melting down. This was illegal of course, but it still happened. The threepenny joey in theory remained legal tender until decimalisation, but in practice it was never seen at least a dozen years before then.

The design on the reverse of a threepenny bit was either three-headed flower in George VI’s reign or a portcullis under Elizabeth II. The coin had been produced under Edward VIII, but these circulated in very small quantities, and are extremely rare.The portcullis1p was reproduced on the threepenny bit coins minted under Queen Elizabeth II until 1970. Thereafter the symbol appeared on the one new penny piece. The earliest use of the portcullis on a British coin is, as far as I can ascertain, on a silver penny of Edward the Elder. This was the son and successor of Alfred the Great who reigned from 900 – 924 AD. This makes the design over 1100 years old. Since that first appearance in Anglo-Saxon times the portcullis did not again appear on British coins until Tudor times. The portcullis was a badge of the Tudor monarchs, and Henry the Eighth used it on his gold coins as a mint mark. At the end of Elizabeth I’s reign the design appeared on the reverse side of the silver coins produced for trade with the East Indies.

Roman coins used a town gate as the design on some coins, but this included a depiction of the masonry surround as well, and was not strictly comparable with the portcullis which is a grid on chains. The term portcullis comes from the medieval French words porte and coleice, meaning a sliding door.

Roman coin

Britannia coin of Antoninus (AD 138-161)

Coins have been minted in this country for well over 2,000 years, going back to well before the Romans invaded Britain. This continued into the years AD, when from 43 AD Roman coinage was introduced by the country’s new rulers.  It is from the Roman conquest period that we have British coins with a figure of Britannia on them. She is seated with spear and shield, a motif which continues right up to today on the 50 pence coin. This is the longest continuity of symbols employed, having lasted  for nearly  two millennia of coinage in these islands. I am very glad it was not ended by the introduction of the Euro.




St MATTHEW from Cawston, Norfolk

St Matthew from Cawston rood screen

St Matthew from Cawston rood screen,Norfolk

ST Matthew is long sighted; we may deduce this fact from his use of glasses for reading. Were he myopic (short sighted) he would not have had any trouble reading the Bible, but distant prospects would have been hazy for him. I am short sighted and so was Dr Johnson. His visits to the theatre were marred by his being unable to see the stage with any clarity. This must also have made the distant prospects of  little value to him on his Scottish tour which he undertook with his friend Boswell.

Myopia is treated with concave lenses and these are harder to make than convex lenses. Whether these lenses were available in 18th century London I do not know, but Johnson does not appear to have had any. None of the pictures that I have seen of him show him wearing glasses.

Being a great literary figure hypermetropia (long sight) would have been a greater disability for Johnson as he would have had to hold his books as far away as his arms would reach to read them, and do so with difficulty; although the more readily available reading glasses would have helped him.

Presbyopia occurs in old age; it makes the eyes unable to focus properly-technically a lack of accommodation. This is why I now wear Varifocal lenses. Before the complex finishing process was developed to make these lenses possible, the use of bifocal or trifocal lenses provided a similar effect. It is the middle-aged who begin to need this correction. It is possible that St Matthew was suffering from middle-aged lack of accommodation; his balding head certainly suggests a man who is no longer in the prime of youth.

Leaving aside these better known eye problems, since my stroke I also now suffer from hemianopia. This condition means I am now officially partially sighted. While my field of vision to the left is still present, I have no vision at all to the right. I had no idea such a condition existed until it affected me personally. Of all the effects of my stroke (which has fortunately left my speech and ability to think unaffected) the hemianopia is the most debilitating. It is moreover completely invisible, so nobody is aware of my disability unless I tell them. It makes reading very difficult, which in turn gives me problems when giving talks; however this may have improved my delivery of lectures because I now avoid long and involved sentences. I am trying to give talks without recourse to notes, but I find I forget to mention crucial bits of evidence. I am not however alone in this; Ed Milliband forgot to say anything about the fiscal deficit (about the most important subject in most people’s minds) when speaking without notes at the Labour Party Conference.

My son suffers from keraoconus which is a distortion of the cornea. This causes the centre of the cornea to thin and consequently to bulge. To counteract this tendency he wears contact lenses, but the condition will progress and he may eventually require corneal grafts. Unlike most corneal problems it is not inherited. My daughter’s myopia has been successfully treated by laser eye surgery. I have recently had laser eye surgery as well,to correct a thinning of the space filled with internal liquid in my eyes. This condition has no affect on my current vision, but might (had been untreated) have led to glaucoma at a later date. My wife suffers from Thygerson’s superficial punctate keratopathy. This means her eyes have opaque areas. This does not unduly affect her vision, but it is a chronic condition of unknown origin.

Although this picture of St Matthew from Cawston church appears on the splendidly preserved rood screen, it is not a medieval painting. As the glasses suggest, this is a painting from the modern era. This picture was painted around 1500 AD and by common agreement the middle ages ended in 1485, at least in England. This was when Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth to become Henry VII. This is obviously an approximation, but other more practical developments like the introduction of printing (1476) were changing the way of life. The increasing use of firearms and replacement of Middle English all heralded the modern age. England remained a Catholic country for another 50 year, and it was the reformation under Henry VIII which changed the country so completely. Above all it makes the medieval period, when friars, monks and nuns were central to our daily existence completely different from everything that has represented England since. That is why St Matthew in the picture seems to be medieval figure, even although strictly speaking he is not.



Great  Yarmourth landau awaiting customers.

Great Yarmourth landau awaiting customers.

There is much more to Yarmouth than the Golden Mile and candy floss. I have nothing against either. Candy floss maybe entirely made of sugar but as what you consume is about 90 per cent air it does not do you much harm. And note that the horse-drawn landau that forms the headline picture to this blog (and is a thoroughly charming feature of Yarmouth) is one of the attractions of the Golden Mile.

Nowadays, in a quite amazing piece of pettiness, the horses have to wear canvas “nappies” between the shafts and the front axle to catch any droppings. My father-in-law would have been out there sweeping up the droppings almost as soon as they appeared, to be taken home to spread on his garden. So would my father, and any number of generations before them. “Hoss muck” never stayed on the road for long, but I suppose this queasiness is a sign of the times.

The landaus are an echo of the past which remains, but many things have changed since I first was taken down to the seaside at Yarmouth. Then there were three railway stations so there were many more trains but far fewer cars. A steam shunter drew wagons along the street past the town hall to the South Quay. South Quay itself was so busy with herring drifters that they were moored two or three deep in season, when vessels from as far north as Scotland joined the local boats for the silvery catch.

Along the Golden Mile (which refers to the long strip of Pleasure Beach which runs between the beach and the Marine Parade) I would run wide-eyed. I was never brave enough to try the scenic railway, but just to the south of the entrance to the Britannia Pier was a piece of the funfair that I was brave enough to enter. This was Noah’s Ark which tipped to and fro on its canvas waves. What it contained I cannot now remember for sure but it must have been model animals in pairs. It would have disappeared about 40 years ago, when the picture of the landau was taken. The site is still occupied by part of the Pleasure Beach, but it now appears to be about cartoon characters rather than the Ark. Perhaps Noah is too biblical for this secular age.

The wartime bombing had destroyed much of the old town of Yarmouth; some of the rows remain but the cramped quarters that ran from the market place to the medieval town walls had disappeared. As you can still see from the rows that remain the house were so close together that only pedestrians could pass down them. Specially narrow handcarts were made to navigate the narrow lanes, and one of these may be seen in the Time and Tide museum.

When I first remember the South Denes they were covered by seeming acres of net drying lines. These were rows of posts about 4 ft tall with wires between them. The nets were hung out to dry when the drifters returned to port. This was a necessary part of process because in the 1950s the nets were all made of natural fibre and if left wet they would rot. This also meant that the mending of nets was a frequent chore. 

Now an industrial estate has replaced the net drying lines and tenders servicing the gas platforms and wind turbines moor where the drifters once did. Only a railway to Norwich still runs a much reduced service and nothing goes south to Lowestoft or north to Caister. But we still have the landaus.




A report in the paper warned that increasing ‘food poverty’ was leading to an increase in rickets.  Not only that, but food banks were part of the problem rather than part of the cure, though quite why I am not sure. This is a dreadful piece of alarmist reporting. According to the NHS the number of cases of rickets they have to deal with is well under 1000 a year. This is therefore hardly a major problem.

One of the main causes of rickets is a lack of  vitamin D, and vitamin D is largely provided by sunshine. Since sunshine is completely free I do not see what it has to with any kind of poverty, food or otherwise. It may well be to do with parental neglect and ignorance, but that is a problem that will not be addressed by providing these inadequate parents with more money. They could well spend the extra cash on computer games to be played in sunless rooms, thus making the problem worse.

If you wish to provide vitamin D by dietary supplements eggs or oily fish are an excellent source. A dozen eggs cost about £1, and a tin of sardines around 50p. Another effective antidote to rickets is calcium, and a pint of milk costs about 40p, and 4 pints a pound. Surely no one  in the UK should be so poor to be unable to afford fresh milk in 2015? Unless all their income is going on the extortionate repayments of Payday Loans that is; but that is a quite different problem from food poverty.

But first you have to realise that milk is a good source of calcium, and that calcium is good for your bones, and that is not the sort of thing an ordinary parent would know perhaps. For about a quid you can provide a perfectly adequate meal which should make rickets a thing of the past.

Food poverty is a strange concept; how does it differ from simple poverty? And how can it co-exist with an epidemic of obesity? Perhaps it refers not to being unable to afford good food but to being unable to distinguish it from junk food. Unfortunately the cure for this requires not money but knowledge, and while money can be dispensed in welfare payments, knowledge is a much harder commodity to share out. I could spend much more on crisps,chocolate, and fizzy drinks than on a good basic diet; perhaps this what food poverty means. I could let my child stay indoors playing on his computer well away from the vitamin producing sunlight. I could spend far more on this kind of lifestyle and yet produce a potential case of rickets.

In fact the problem of poor diets and the associated poor health goes much further than the minor incidence of rickets. It is not all the fault of the food companies either. In an attempt to woo customers they produce ever more exotic and sugar laden breakfast cereals but it is we the public who buy them. We should all know the huge amount of sugar than goes into fizzy drinks. There is nothing wrong with drinking a can of coke if it is followed by three-quarters of an hour playing football; but if it is merely followed by an afternoon lying on the beach it is dreadful (although it would provide you with plenty of sunshine – perhaps too much). How we use the sugar we consume is up to us, not the food companies. They just meet the demand.






The standard of amateur theatrical productions has long been surprisingly good but the degree of sophistication that you see in the  professional looking programme illustrated here demonstrates the kind of thing you can now expect. Taverham now approaches the size of a medium-sized town such as Wymondham and having all the facilities you would expect – library, dentist, surgery, two Post Offices, pubs and supermarkets. What brought this on was my recent evening’s entertainment. The Taverham Players  presented the Wizard of Oz instead of their usual Christmas panto. The Players’ two musicals per year are always fully booked for their week’s run, so it was as well attended as is normal. The Players have been going for 40 years and with the building of Thorpe Marriott the village is much bigger than it was when they began; so is the theatre. The village hall has been much extended since 1974.

I had forgotten that the story begins with the dog Toto being seized for biting their nasty neighbour Miss Gulch. The dog who played the part was very reminiscent of our dog Wesley. Wesley has also recently got into hot water in similar circumstances, so we smiled at the scene. The way the director  displayed the diminutive Munchkins was very effective. The principal actors were all dressed in the traditional costumes, very much as they appear in the 1939 film. We were particularly impressed with the Cowardly Lion. He was not only a good singer but also a fine actor.

I didn’t know many of the cast but I was a postman with two of the backstage staff; they were involved with the Players when we were all sorting letters together 20 years  ago. With all those years experience it is no wonder their productions are accomplished. One them, John Pennells, was  perched high above the audience on the sound system. The musical director was the lady who runs the Domino choir which is one the choirs my wife Molly sings in. She is a very talented and hard-working musician. The band consisted of Brenda on keyboards with a bass guitar and drums.

After the first few scenes which represented the early part of the film in Kansas which was shot in black and white the stage became very colourful for the land of Oz. The whole thing went off with scarcely a hitch and I can safely say the evening was enjoyed by all.



I haven’t seen the Soame steam wagonette for many years. It left Norfolk for the south of England many years ago, where it was part of the private collection of Sir William McAlpine. Sir William has recently passed away and I gather that the wagonette has now returned to its home in Norfolk. At one time the Soame Steam wagonette made frequent public appearances in Norfolk. It was a common participant in the East Anglian Steam Rallies of the 1950s and 60s, as this picture shows. Beyond East Anglia it had a drive-on part in the 1953 classic film Genevieve, which starred Kenneth Moore and had music by the mouth organ virtuoso Larry Adler. The film concerns a veteran automobile rally, in which the Soame wagonette was one of the entries. I recently saw the film again for the first time since the 1950s, and sure enough I spotted the steam wagonette putting in its cameo appearance. The wagonette would reach a top speed of 25 miles per hour, although a more comfortable speed (given the iron tyred wheels and primitive suspension) was 15 mph.

The Soame Steam Wagonette

The Soame Steam Wagonette

Samuel George Soame (born 1837) was an agricultural engineer with his workshop at Marsham, just outside Aylsham in Norfolk. The building in which he operated (Perseverance Works) is still there, slightly modernised in having new double-glazed windows, and it is now by-passed with the main road passing to the east, but basically just as it was in the 1890s when the wagonette was built. He was something of a pioneer in automotive production. In construction terms the wagonette was basically a wooden cart, of the same type that he would have produced for horse-drawn transport only smaller, and it was fitted with a steam engine. The steam wagonette was made in 1897. Samuel George Soames died in 1918 and his son George Samuel (b. 1875) died in 1937. The firm was sold by the founder’s grandson Frederick in 1940 and the wagonette passed out of the family.

Agricultural engineers had an important part to play in the rural economy. In the same period that Mr Soame was experimenting with new forms of propulsion, just down the road at Cawston the agricultural engineer William Bush was making traditional horse-drawn carts for the Royal estate at Sandringham. As agricultural engineers Soames would have employed the specialist craftsmen of wheelwright and blacksmith. Besides a forge Soame also had an iron and brass foundry and a machine shop. The average number employed at Marsham was about 15, but at busy times it could be double that.

During the early years until 1904 Mr Soames used the steam wagon to travel all around North Norfolk and even had a special place to park it undercover when visiting Norwich. This was at the White Horse in Magdalen Street, where Anglia Square currently stands. After 1904, when his son opened the motor garage in Marsham, he did not use it so much. No doubt the family preferred the more modern (and comfortable) motor car to travel around Norfolk. A petrol engined car would start straight away, while the steam powered wagonette had to wait while the fire was lit and steam was raised and it was consequently stored in a lean-to in Marsham. It was eventually sold in 1946.

Besides producing this early form of motive powered road transport, about forty years earlier he had been the first to make a steam engine to drive a fairground roundabout. This was a portable engine, and he also produced a number of small vertical engines to power fairground organs. The idea was taken up avidly by Frederick Savage, who saw the Soame powered roundabout at Aylsham fair. Savage was born in the next village of Hevingham and was still living there at the time. Savage later made the production of steam powered fairground equipment a principal part of his business in Kings Lynn. The Venetian Gondola Switchback ride preserved at Thursford is a Savage’s product as is their Gallopers Roundabout. Although he became famous for this type of machinery he too began his business as an agricultural engineer, and continued to produce farm machinery as well.

Fairgrounds must have been very popular in the 19th century, when the rural population were becoming more prosperous, but had precious little to entertain them apart from a game of shove ha’penny in the local pub. The fact that roundabouts and other rides were able to use the latest (and relatively expensive) technology suggests that they were very profitable enterprises at the time.

Soame made some traction engines, although none now survives. His son opened what was among the earliest motor garages servicing motor cars, petrol lorries and motor cycles in Marsham. Father and son were both early exponents of many kinds of road vehicle, when most people in the county were still using the horse to get around, but this firm is largely forgotten today. There is more information available in Ronald H. Clarke’s Steam Engine Builders of Norfolk (1988).