My son bought me this autobiography by the former leader of the postal workers’ union for Christmas and I have spent many rewarding hours by the fire reading it. Alan and I are almost the same age and we both have experience of the Union of Communication Worker, so that many of his memories strike a chord with me.
Alan Johnson’s start in life was difficult; his first home was a two roomed slum in London and his later accommodation, although slightly better, was still lacking in comfort and other than basic facilities. His father mostly ignored him during his early years and then he decamped altogether with another woman. A completely self-taught musician, his father spent his evenings playing the piano in local pubs, and most of the following mornings recovering from the night before. His work was meant to be as a painter and decorator, but his way of life meant that few bosses employed him for long. Alan’s mother was hard working but impoverished. He and his sister had to grow up fast.
Nevertheless Alan was fortunate in many ways; his mother was devoted to both her children and worked at all times except when her heart complaint necessitated stays in hospital. She was determined that her children would have a better life than she had, and did all she could to ensure that this was so. The family lived in Notting Hill and the local library was just round the corner. His mother enrolled Alan as soon as he could read. To his great credit he took advantage of this free facility, being able to go there frequently. Enid Blyton and Westerns took his fancy at first, but before he was a teenager he had discovered the delights of P. G. Wodehouse.
Besides getting them reading his mother Lily was desperate that her children should go on to Grammar School rather than the local Secondary Modern. This they duly did. His political allegiance now dictates an opposition to the idea of such schools, but there is no denying they did well for him. The opportunities for even the poorest in society were there in 1950s England, whether in free libraries, good schools (for those with the ability to benefit from education) or, for those in London at least, the ready availability of world-class museums. These too Alan took to his heart, and visited the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum on many occasions.
Those many philanthropists of the 19th century had left numerous institutions which the poor could take advantage of. The housing used by the Johnsons was provided by one such trust, and although the accommodation was of a poor standard by the post war years, the family did not have to deal with the attentions of slum landlords. A glorious summer holiday in Denmark was laid on by another such charity for poor children of Londoners and provided Alan with a view of the wider world beyond the squalor of his immediate surroundings.
His mother bought him a guitar with a pools win when he was about ten and this proved to be a companion to be struggled over for many long hours in his bedroom. Like every guitar playing youth (and there were a lot of us in the 1960s) he dreamed of being a pop star. Despite being auditioned by a well-known band nothing came of his ambitions and with a family of his own by the age of 18 he started his career in the P0st Office.
The impression I have got of his early life is perhaps not quite what he might have expected. Far from living a drab existence, in West London the cultural possibilities all around him were second to none. Had he been living in rural England the provision of services would have been infinitely worse. To take the even basics, mains water, drains and gas would not have existed in the 1950s; even the local telephone kiosk could have been miles away. But far worse would have been the lack of anything to do in your spare time; in spite of you rural surroundings there would not even have been a local park to play in. Even the audition with the band that Alan attended would have been impossibly distant to his country cousins. Alan Johnson has done extremely well to go from such poor beginnings to the height of political power (he was Home Secretary in the last Labour Government and there has been talk of persuading him to take on the leadership of the party), but he was not without some early advantages. Social mobility is now less easy than it was when he was growing up, and now a young person from a similar background might well find it harder to achieve what Alan Johnson has.
This Boy, Alan Johnson. Published 2013, the Bantam Press. ISBN: 9780593069646. Corgi edition 2014 £7.99.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE POST OFFICE
THE musician Francis Cunningham Woods was the son of a court dressmaker Alfred Woods. His son F. Cunningham Woods was born in London, but his father had originally come from Lowestoft. There is not much demand for court tailors in Suffolk, so London was the place for him to remove himself to; he was obviously a good man with a needle. He was able to give his sons good educations; Francis in music and his elder brother Alfred in medicine; a third son went to Oxford and became a clergyman in Australia. Francis was an accomplished musician and he was employed as organist, first at Brasenose and then at Exeter College Oxford, where he was awarded his MA degree in 1891. He had been a pupil of Sir Arthur Sullivan. In 1894 he became Head of Music at Highgate School in North London, a position he held for almost the rest of his life. He was an enthusiastic writer of songs, and the Highgate school song (which can be heard on Youtube) was penned by him. He was well regarded as the life and soul of the party, and was an excellent raconteur.
Although he spent most of his life in London, his East Anglian connections did not end with his paternal association with the East Coast. By the age of 55 his father had sold his successful dressmaking business and had retired to Beccles, where his family would visit him. Moreover Francis’s wife was an East Anglian lady from Norwich, and some time during the school holidays was spent in East Anglia. It as while staying in Norfolk that he wrote the Gressenhall Suite.
This extract from the Folkstone and Hythe Herald of the 22 January 1927 gives some details of how he found himself near East Dereham, and how he came to write the suite: ‘THE concluding item …was “The Gressenhall Suite” (F. Cunningham Woods), a composition of singular charm. The following interesting notes by the composer on how the suite came to be composed, appeared on the programme. “Some years ago I was staying at Gressenhall near East Dereham, Norfolk. During my visit I was present at a jolly little dance in the parish room. All accompaniments were played on an accordion by a young fellow who was employed in a flour mill. He played a large number of folk dances – mainly traditional – the names of which he did not know. ‘I learnt them from my father,’ he said. One struck me as being a very jolly one and I named it after the village (Gressenhall). A brother of the Squire told me that the words at the commencement of the song, were – “Throw away sorrow, Cast away care! The parish is bound to maintain us.” ‘
The words quoted by the Squire’s brother refer to a popular tune sung in the alehouses of England in the mid 18th century, about the Poor Law. “Hang sorrow, cast away care, The parish is bound to maintain us.” It is therefore very appropriate that it should have been rediscovered in Gressenhall, where the parishes of Mitford and Laundich built the House of Industry in 1776 to maintain the destitute. The Poor Law, as it operated in the 18th century, was much more humane than it became in the 1830s. In the earlier period families which had fallen on hard times were kept together in the workhouse, and not segregated by sex, as happened in Victorian times. Now the old Workhouse at Gressenhall and its attached farm are home to the Norfolk Museum of Rural Life.
It shows how music continues to be important in Highgate School that among its many notable former pupils are the composers John Taverner and John Rutter. I am greatly indebted to Henley Smith, the Head of Music at Highgate School, for allowing me to use the illustration of F. Cunningham Woods which is shown above, and for providing other details of the composer. I am also extremely grateful to Helen Bainbridge, volunteer researcher at Gressenhall Museum, who has discovered much valuable information on Cunnigham Woods. Gressenhall Museum gave a performance of the Gressenhall Suite at 7.30 on JUNE 13th 2015, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its publication. The following is extracted from the publicity for the event:
“…extraordinary opportunity to hear music inspired by Gressenhall in the atmospheric Old Chapel at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. 100 years ago Francis Cunningham Wood visited Gressenhall village’s Reading Rooms for a local dance. Inspired by what he heard he composed and published a string orchestral arrangement entitled ‘The Gressenhall Suite’. A century later, this music will be performed on Saturday 13 June 2015 starting at 7.30 pm. Entry is by ticket only and pre-booking is essential.
This is an extraordinary chance to hear the Suite close to the village which provided the original inspiration. The concert is performed by West Norfolk Jubilee Youth Orchestra and King’s Lynn Minster Choir and will also include late 18th century music and a variety of English part songs. Attendees are advised to bring their own cushion for comfort on the narrow pews of the Old Chapel!
The sheet music for The Gressenhall Suite was re-discovered last year by East Anglian historian Joe Mason. He wrote about his discovery in his blog which was noticed by a volunteer from Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, who drew it to the museum’s attention.
Curator, Megan Dennis said “Researching more about the composer’s life revealed that he was a music teacher and actively supported youth music. Bringing young musicians to Gressenhall to perform his work 100 years after it was written just seemed appropriate. We are really excited to welcome West Norfolk Jubilee Youth Orchestra to the museum and are looking forward to a thrilling evening of music.”
FRANCIS CUNNINGHAM WOODS (1862 – 1929)
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Madingley Hall is the home of Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education – their Adult Education facility. They run weekend courses on a diverse range of subjects, historical, literary and modern language based, but also the more accessible sciences such as the “Story of the Universe”. You need have no formal qualifications to apply. They also do five week courses during the first months of the year, on one morning a week. To attend these one really needs to live in Cambridge, but the weekend courses can be residential and may be attended by anyone in the country. A major part of their activities however now seems to be largely commercially based, as a hotel, conference centre and wedding venue. Back in 1980 it wasn’t organised in quite the same way. There was no emphasis on the more profitable uses of the property; it is a sign of the times that money-making is seen as so important. Undergraduates too had a generous maintenance grant in 1980 and no fees to pay. They did not need to consider money during their university years – that could wait till later. It was in many ways a happier time.
For the weekend courses you live in the 16th century hall for a couple of nights and enjoy the restaurant and the Capability Brown gardens. I went to Madingley twice over thirty years ago, once to a course on the History of a House, and once to a series of lectures on Baroque and Classical Music. This latter course was held in 1980.
I drove to Cambridge on Friday afternoon – the journey was quite eventful as I got a hole in my silencer! This required me attempting to patch it up with an old tobacco tin, and later with a slightly more permanent kit that I bought in Cambridge. Although only mid April the weather was really hot. On Sunday morning I was up before breakfast was served and walked down to the lake. I was followed by three other course members who were observing the spawning toads. One lady who taught fabric design in Northampton was a former a ballerina with the Ballet Rambert. Also among our party was the under bursar of Clare College and man from East Bergholt in Suffolk who wrote music reviews for the East Anglian Daily Times.
Our lecturer was Alan Stripp. He had been a classics scholar at Cambridge in the early years of the war, but was interviewed by an army officer having only completed a year of his degree course. The interviewer seemed more interested in his ability to do crossword puzzles and to read a musical score than his language ability and Alan thought he was being recruited to a military band! The upshot however was a crash course in written Japanese. Within six months he was sent to the code breaking centre at Bletchley Park, where he was immersed in intelligence to counter the Japanese. He was later sent to India and Afghanistan and learnt Farsi. After demobilisation he returned to Cambridge but not to Latin and Greek. For the last two years of his degree he read Classical Chinese, Japanese and Far Eastern History. He then worked for ten years for the British Council in Portugal and Indonesia. He then went to work for the Cambridge Board of Extra Mural Studies at Madingley. None of this I knew in 1980; to us he was just a very knowledgable musician. The story of his work at Bletchley Park was only revealed many years later, when released from his obligation under the Official Secrets Act, he wrote a number of books on his wartime experiences.
CLICK HERE to see Madingley Hall Hotel.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
We normally associate drifters with Yarmouth and trawlers with Lowestoft, but in fact both types of vessel could be found in both these East Anglian ports. The beam trawl was invented some time in the early nineteenth century; before that most fishing was done by hook and line. Trawlers did not begin to sail out of Yarmouth harbour until the fishing fleet was transferred to the river Yare from Barking on the Thames in the middle years of the nineteenth century. They were based not on the northern Yarmouth shore but from Gorleston on the Suffolk side of the river. Cod was then not commonly caught in the North Sea, although haddock was. The earlier type of fishing vessels had been the lugger, rigged with lugsails as the name indicates, where the sail extended fore of the main mast. This simple type of sail was fine for open water, but was harder to handle in confined waters such as the river Yare.
By the middle years of the 19th century the smack was replacing the lugger to become the more usual kind of trawler. Unlike the lugger the sails of these vessels were attached to the masts, and this allowed foresails to be hoisted. The smack “Cambria” was launched on the 25 November 1869 from Messrs Smith’s yard in Yarmouth. This was when ketch rigged trawlers were the latest thing on the river. These ketches had two masts, the taller of them to the for’ard. The master of the Cambria was Thomas Lound, my step grandfather’s grandfather. Born in Tunstead near Stalham in about 1830, Thomas Lound worked on the land as a young man, carting malted barley to the Boars Head in Norwich, which was were he met the woman who was become his wife. He moved with her to Yarmouth after his marriage where he took up the fisherman’s life. He had always longed for the sailor’s life and he was at sea at the time of the 1871 census, the skipper of the Cambria. He had a crew 5; a mate and four hands. Thomas Lound was 37, but apart from him the oldest member of the crew was only 23, and the ‘boy’ was just 17 years old.
He would sail a long way from Yarmouth on his annual round trip. In the spring he would set out from the East Anglian coast going north-abouts via Scotland to Ireland and thence on to Iceland. Returning to European waters he would sail down the North Sea coast of Scotland on the way to the coast of France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark. He then sailed into the Baltic and visited the ports of Germany and Poland. Salt was the only way of preserving the catch – no ice was then available out of port, as it would soon have melted during the months at sea. The Cambria would call at ports along the way, to unload the fish and stock up with salt for curing future catches, and to take on food and water for the crew. Finally in the autumn the Cambria would return home to Yarmouth, avoiding the worst of the winter weather, while the boat could be overhauled for the next season.
In going so far into deep waters Thomas Lound was exceptionally adventurous; most smacks fished south of the Dogger Bank, which extends off the river Tyne to Northern Jutland. The fish caught in the North Sea did not require curing when caught, but were taken by fast sailing cutter to the Thames, for transfer to Billingsgate fishmarket. Then the haddock could be smoked and the plaice sold to be the London poor- the origin of the fish and chip shop. Fast sailing cutters also sailed to Grimsby and Yarmouth, where the railways gave quick access to the industrial towns of the midlands and the north. Unrefrigerated fish trains lasted into my lifetime, and I can still remember the strong smell of fish on platform 5 of Norwich station, where the trains from Yarmouth and Lowestoft arrived. This smell lingered long after the fish trains stopped coming.
I must stress that the smack Cambria should not be confused with the preserved Thames barge of the same name.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
My bookselling started like many things in my life, by accident. I was sorting through a pile of papers in a junk shop in Magdalen Road in Norwich, when I came across a huge selection of violin music for which the proprietor was asking next to nothing. I bought the bundle and took it home. Over the subsequent weeks I proceeded to advertise it for sale by individual title. This must have been in the very early 1980s, and advertising such things as violin music was not so easy as it has since become, with Ebay always to hand.
I cannot remember now where I advertised the music; possibly in Exchange and Mart, but it sold very well. There was a copy of Monti’s Czardas I remember, and a lot of similar pieces for solo violin with piano accompaniment. Unusually most of the pieces were complete. As I later discovered, with sheet music where the pages are all loose, it is very easy for them to become detached and lost. I thought I would look out for some more violin music, but I soon found that this was easier said than done. There were acres of piano music, but nobody wanted that, unless it was very old (i.e. eighteenth century) or very well bound (in full leather and not rubbed or scuffed). Of course, it was because violin music was relatively rare that my bundle had sold so well. These were the sort of things I discovered as I went along. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartache if there had been someone to teach me, but at the time I saw no need of a teacher, being brash and young.
Quite rightly I decided that selling violin music was too specialised a field, in Norfolk anyway, and branched out into music books. These varied between the general, which again nobody wanted, and the specialised, which were highly sought after. Once again it was the violin which appeared to rule the roost. The most expensive were those books on violin making. The knack of making a success of bookselling is of course to buy more cheaply than the price at which you can sell. I could have bought most of these books at the full retail price, but finding a bargain was much more difficult. To me, buying a bargain book from a member of the public seemed a bit underhand, but to find a bargain in bookshop was fair game. It is important to know that the condition of a book is of crucial importance in determining its value, which is something I was slow to appreciate.
Because I did not play the instrument anything connected with violins I could sell without a qualm; anything connected with the double bass, which I did play, of course I kept! I was certainly better at selling music books than just sheet music, but even so the field was rather restricted as far as purchases were concerned. I needed to select another subject in which I was already quite knowledgeable, but not so dedicated that I would feel a pang in selling a book. I had to enlarge my field of subjects, but not to the extent that I was no longer a specialist.
Beyond music the special subject I decided on was maritime books; these were more plentiful in Norfolk than music books. This must be to do with the proximity of the sea and the Broads. These books seemed to have an enthusiastic following across the country which made them easy to sell. I must have produced dozens of catalogues, at first on my typewriter to be printed by the local printer, and latterly on my computer. Of course you only had one copy of each book, but that is how the secondhand book business is.
Specialised knowledge of the kind of books to look for was the key to making a killing, and the wider you spread your net the less you can know about individual titles. The secondhand book selling trade has been turned upside down by online trading. Nowadays the internet has made the economics of secondhand bookselling quite different.
Nowadays the shop selling old books has almost vanished and nearly all such sales are made on-line. In this way you are much more likely to find the book you want, but you are less likely to find it at a bargain price, because it is much easier for the seller to find the going rate by doing a quick search. Serendipity, which would throw up all sorts of unexpected treasures and delightful surprises as you browsed the bookshop shelves, has largely disappeared.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
European Holiday, 1968
When we journeyed to Rimini we did not fly the whole way to Italy, nor (for some reason) did we make the entire journey by coach. We flew to Basel in Switzerland from Manchester airport and got a coach from there. We travelled through Switzerland and as we came down on the Italian side of the Alps we passed the beautiful Lake Como. (Since then I have discovered that the smaller and more intimate Lake Sarnico is even more beautiful.) The tunnel that allows road traffic to avoid the highest part of the St Gotthard pass was opened in 1980; we crossed it 12 years earlier, so we experienced the real mountain heights. The views were spectacular and, although it was high summer, there were still banks of snow along the roadside in the highest parts. The road had a precipitous drop on one side and there were many U turns as it snaked up the pass. The most alarming part was when our coach collided with another vehicle as we rounded such a switchback bend. Fortunately it was only the wing mirrors of the coach and the lorry coming the other way that became entangled, but that was bad enough. I am irresistibly reminded of the closing sequence of The Italian Job, a film which came out the year after our adventure.
I particularly remember all the little Fiat 500s going up the pass; maybe because my car at home was a Fiat 500, or perhaps it was because they all had their bonnets open to help their air-cooled engines. This was at the rear of course, and being air-cooled they must have easily overheated in the lower atmospheric pressure of the pass. The fashionable colour for cars in 1968 was mustard yellow, and in my mind’s eye I can still see little yellow Fiats struggling up the St Gotthard pass. It was a busy road until the tunnel was built; now it is deserted and to venture up it is a lonely challenge that only a few brave souls attempt.
We had arrived in Basel by BAC 111; in that plane we all sat facing backwards, which is the safest way to fly. The only other time I have faced backwards on board a plane was on an RAF VC10 on a flight to Germany in 1986. We got on our coach before daylight and we had breakfast by Lake Thun at a café built on a wooden pontoon over the water. It was still in the early morning air and beautifully peaceful as the mists rose over the lake. It was my first visit to the continent as an independent traveller. The continental breakfast of coffee, rolls and very sharp jam to British taste buds was a welcome meal. The next stop where we could stretch our legs was across the Alps in Milan, near the cathedral. My memory is of sitting outside a café, thinking how expensive a glass of Coke was – but this was in the centre of the city. You could only take £50 abroad at the time; that was ample but it made you very aware of how much you were spending. A similarly expensive drink was bought in St Mark’s Square, Venice, later in the holiday.
I was going abroad with my friend Bill Wragge. It was my first overseas adventure as a gown-up, though not as an adult; we were just 19 years old – still minors at that time. Our base was a hotel in Rimini. We spent a day or two sun-bathing by the Adriatic, but we soon tired of that, even though there were plenty of attractive Italian girls on the beach. One girl in particular was especially attracted to Bill, following him into the sea every time he went in for a dip. Nothing came of this brief infatuation however; the language barrier proved too great. Perhaps more memorable was a morning spent at the locomotive yard at Rimini railway station. By the summer of 1968 the age of steam was over in the UK but in Italy most of the locomotives were still steam engines. They were of a strange appearance to our British eyes. To us the oddest, but very attractive thing, was the flower beds between the tracks where locomotives stood awaiting coal and water. You could not imagine geraniums lining the tracks in a motive power depot in Britain -no way!
Rimimi Post Office was an impressive piece of architecture built in the Art Deco style; being built between the World Wars it was an icon of Mussolini’s Fascist state. It still stood proudly in all its right-wing glory in 1968. There were sculptures on the outside of bundles of fasces and all the people depicted had severe expressions and square jaws. I suppose the building is still there, but maybe it is no longer the Ufficio Postale.
My photograph shows a cheetah taken in Rimini. The animal was earning its keep by posing with tourists while its owner pocketed the cash from the snaps. You cannot see the thick chain which safely restrained the big cat, nor the drugged nature of the poor beast.
No visit to northern Italy would have been complete without a visit to Venice, and we went on a day’s coach trip. We arrived in the Grand Canal in a vaporetto (a motor launch) but we had to experience a gondola ride. There appear to two rival groups of gondolier, one in natural coloured straw hats and the other in black ones. They are surprisingly large and are expertly navigated by a single oar. Near St Mark’s Square we discovered an art gallery with all sorts of valuable paintings (including the inevitable Canalettos) which you could walk right up to. The rooms were empty of security guards and indeed devoid also of any members of the public except for me and Bill. I am sure it would be very different if I went back there today.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF TIMES PAST
I have already published my sister’s account of walks round the village called Exploring Framingham Earl. She was clerk to the Parish Council for a number of years in the 21st century. These are my personal memories of the village and some of its inhabitants. Although it was never my home it was close to where I lived for the first 37 years of my life.
Eddie Cogman was a builder and he lived in large house he had built in Long Lane in Framingham Earl. As a prominent local Methodist he also built the extension to the local Methodist chapel in Pigot Lane. I remember going into his house during the Suez crisis of 1956. Those parents who regularly drove from the Poringland area to school in Bungay arranged to take their children in turn to save petrol. These included Eddie and my father; Eddie’s daughter went to St Mary’s School and so did I, although in a more junior class. I was very impressed by the oak panelling in his living room I remember. His father had been the blacksmith in Caistor.
Richard Hardesty lived about 10 houses along from me on the Poringland side of the Norwich Road. The acquaintance was arranged by my mother, who thought that I must be rather lonely at home with no friends. My school was ten miles away, and my school friends were left behind in Bungay at the end of the school day. Richard went to the local primary school in Framingham Earl and no doubt had plenty of local friends of his own. Nevertheless he played with me for a year or two, on and off. I haven’t seen him for over 50 years but there is still a Richard Hardesty of the right age living in Poringland according to the internet, and I’m sure it must be him.
Richard was an accomplished egg collector, but these expeditions he did on his own, although he would sometimes share the results of his labours with me. I refer of course to the eggs he abstracted from the nests he found. What I remember of our joint enterprises was our clambering over the building site where the Framingham Earl Secondary Modern School was being erected. Hiding behind piles of bricks while a huge grader levelled out the school playing field was a dangerous form of amusement, but in those days nobody had heard of Health and Safety.
Poringland Post Office was a mile away near the church but Framingham Earl contained our nearest Post Office. The PO that I first remember was in a bungalow constructed of concrete blocks just beyond Framing Earl Primary school. In those days that was where Long Lane met the Norwich Road, although now the school has moved into Poringland. That Post Office was succeeded by one set up in a farmhouse rather closer to our home, on the site of the current Post Office. The farmhouse itself was demolished over 45 years ago. Whereas the old PO merely sold stamps from a counter in the front room the new one became an increasingly busy general stores. The fact that the adjacent meadow with a central oak tree became a small housing estate (Oaklands) must have helped to boost trade. The village sign stands where the meadow once was.
I played badminton for a time in the gym of Framingham Earl High School. This was an evening class held once a week in the late 1970s. There were at least 8 of us and we played mixed doubles in turn. Among the female contingent was a young married woman from Germany and another was a keen member of the Bystanders, an amateur theatrical group in the city. From 1968 until the mid 90s it had a base in Thorpe Road. Although still in existence it now only operates on an ad hoc basis.
I was never a regular at the Railway, Framingham Earl’s only pub. I did call in on the odd occasion however. Eddy Blanchflower was the publican for all the time I lived in Norwich Road until 1978, and before that it had been held by his father. I remember him from his final years at the pub when the only thing he himself could drink was a glass of hot water. Poor Eddy; it was a sad end for the seller of mugs of ale.
All the time I lived just opposite Poringland wood the gate was padlocked. Timothy Colman on whose estate it was kept his gamekeeper busy protecting the young game birds there and at Arminghall wood just down the road. Very occasionally when the gate was left open I would creep in with my dog Fido, but we both felt very daring as we surreptitiously explored the undergrowth. Shortly after I left to get married Poringland Wood was opened up as a leisure facility, complete with car park. Although called Poringland wood it is in fact in Framingham Earl.
The bus stop was very conveniently placed for our home – just opposite the font gate for the bus to Bungay and only a few yards away for getting off on the return journey. This bus stop had the added advantage of having the local post box on the adjoining telephone pole, a facility it retained when the phone wires were placed underground. Although the post box was in Poringland as was one of these two bus stops, the other one was in Framingham Earl. I lived that close to the parish boundary.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
The open air theatre is in the school woods at Gresham’s in Holt. For parents attending the speeches, prize-giving or school play (always Shakespeare) in July it was a summer’s day experience, and a lovely one, as the sun streamed down through the trees. For the school pupils among those present the theatre had a rather larger part to play in our daily lives, and it was not so magical. I am not referring here to the rehearsals for the school play, which involved the acting community for a few weeks in the summer prior to the performances on the big day. I was one of the actors for several years, acquiring bigger and longer parts as time went by. No, I am talking about the School Works parties which toiled through the rest of the year in the school woods.
School Works were superintended by Scruffy Burroughs, the teacher in charge of the workshops. These works took place when the rest of the school were playing rugby or hockey, so as you may imagine the workers were an odd assortment teenagers who were appallingly bad a sport. I wasn’t too hot at sport myself but I wasn’t abysmally bad and so I was only an occasional participant in School Works. The theatre must have been started before the war but my time at the school coincided with a period of expansion. This was manly due to the creation of another boarding house, Tallis, which opened in 1963. Besides calling for extra seats to be squeezed into the Chapel this also meant expanding the auditorium of the open air theatre, and this is where the School Works came in. Typically there were 5 or 6 workers in the party. We were dressed in old clothes, because the work was physical and could be dirty. We gathered outside the Scruff Shacks (the school workshops) where we collected the wooden truck. This had two pneumatic tyres on the wheels amidships, and two smaller wheels fore and aft, in the centre. In this way the truck would always be mobile, either balanced on the two main wheels, or tipped backwards or forwards on three, but never on four. We took the truck down to the woods empty apart from our spades and shovels. The object of our expedition was the school gravel pit, deep in the woods and quite near the railway line. At the tim I am talking about this was abandoned with the track torn up. It is now the site of Holt Station on the preserved line, and is a hive of activity. On School Works our task was to fill the truck with sand and drag it back to the school theatre. It was very heavy once it was full of sand and had to be pulled by three or four boys on ropes at the front and another two pushing up the rear. The need for all this sand was to build up the seating area at the back of the sloping auditorium. There was also a certain amount of masonry and concrete laying to be done, but these were skilled jobs, deemed to be beyond the working party, who were restricted to donkey work. School Works only took up about an hour and a half of the day, and there was only time for one round trip. It was a slow and laborious process, but eventually the work was complete. JOSEPH MASON firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
It is over 50 years since BR closed the section of line which now forms the NNR. I must be one of a small and rapidly dwindling number of shareholders involved with this company since the beginning. I am not only an NNR shareholder but I was also a member of the Society for several years when it was first set up in the 1960s.
The politics of those early days were involved and concerned a lot of in-fighting between groups with very different ideas for the future of the line. The relationship between the company and the society was complicated, and none of this did anything to help advance the return of passenger traffic to this corner of North Norfolk. I have kept up with the developments on the railway, mostly by reading the company’s annual report, but since the 1970s I have not been a frequent visitor to the railway. When I go to Holt it tends to be the shops or my old school that draw me there.
I was one of a small handful of volunteers who, fifty years ago, helped re-lay the track through Weyborne Station, where it had been lifted by BR before its purchase for preservation. We only laid one line into the station and it stopped just short of the road bridge. There were no buildings where the workshops now stand, just a wilderness of long grass.
Only a couple of years before that I can remember using the line through Holt and Weyborne as an ordinary passenger of British Railways (but on a diesel train). Then all the country stations were still staffed, and Weyborne had a ticket clerk and porter who lit the oil lamps that illuminated the platform at night. I think the railway men must have been rather under employed at Weyborne but Holt station was a busy place.It had a daily trade in freight traffic. There was a termly business in handling the trunks of the schoolboys on their way to and from Gresham’s school and the annual carriage of sugar beet to the factory at Cantley. The Norfolkman, the express to Norwich from Liverpool Street, continued on to Sheringham via Cromer where the train had to stop, for the engine to change ends. Although the coaches were perhaps left at Sheringham the engine must have continued on to Melton Constable, the nearest turntable. The Britannia locomotives which hauled the train as far as Thorpe station remained at the Norwich depot however, and a smaller B1 or B12 took over for the last leg of the journey.
For several years after the North Norfolk Railway Company was established no trains ran between Sheringham and Weyborne, although I remember sitting in one of the two diesel railcars at Weyborne while the engine was run. The steam engines stood forlorn on the tracks at Sheringham, done up in green tarpaulins. The first steam locomotive to run revenue earning trains on the preserved line was an 0-6-0 Peckett saddle tank. This was an ex-National Coal Board engine and was much newer and therefore in better condition that the J15 or B12, the GER and LNER locos which represented the original motive power purchases by the M&GN Railway Society. It was many more years before the track was relaid between Weyborne and Holt, which is now a bustling place with water tower, station buildings and carriage sheds.
Much as I enjoy the Heritage railways of Britain there is not one of them that I would not rather was still a part of the national rail network. I would be delighted to lose even the North Norfolk Railway if it meant the return of regular trains from Norwich to Holt. There has been talk of a regular service from Dereham to Norwich along the Mid Norfolk Railway, but the many level crossings seem to have ruled that out. Such dreams are only that; despite the return to growth of rail travel and the ever-increasing population of the country, I see no prospect of any reopened lines in Norfolk. Even the reopening of any of the railway stations closed in the county in the 1960s seems a remote prospect. The nearest may well be Soham in Cambridgeshire on the line between Bury St Edmunds and Ely, where there is a strong possibility that the station that used to serve the town will reopen in the next few years. But what a shame that it was ever closed; what a lot we have to regret about Dr Beeching and his axe.
I have written number of blogs on the M & G N; click here to see one of them.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
THE GENERAL (AUTOBIOGRAPH 29) [1 JAN 2014]
GEORGE CRABBE [4 JAN]
SOUTHWOLD (6) THE SOUTHWOLD RAILWAY [7 JAN]
BRUNDALL MUSIC CLUB [10 JAN]
UNDER THE BRIDGES OF NORWICH [13 JAN]
JOHN COPEMAN OF SWANNINGTON [16 JAN]
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD LOUND PT 1 [19 JAN]
THE RIVER YARE [22 JAN]
BISHOP SHEEPSHANKS [25 JAN]
SUFFOLK PUNCH [28 JAN]
LETHERINGSETT (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 30) [1 FEB]
DICK MERRYFELLOW [4 FEB]
KING EDMUND [7 FEB]
THICKTHORN HALL [10 FEB]
ALAN BLOOM OF BRESSINGHAM [13 FEB]
HORSHAM ST FAITHS [16 FEB]
ORFORD NESS [19 FEB]
DR JOHNSON & THE BURNEYS [22 FEB]
1958 [25 FEB]
GRESHAM VILLAGE [28 FEB]
BLAKENEY MUD (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 32) [3 MAR]
SOUTHWOLD (7) THE 18th & 19th CENTURIES [6 MAR]
RAILWAY STATIONS [9 MAR]
SPRING FLOWERS [12 MAR]
NORWICH CATHEDRAL [15 MAR]
ARTHUR BIRD OF COSTESSEY [18 MAR]
CAISTOR ST EDMUNDS (3) [21 MAR]
SWALLOWS AND A MINICAR [24 MAR]
FRANK WELCH & FAMILY [27 MAR]
HOLIDAY ON SKYE [30 MAR]
COLONEL WILLIAMS (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 33) [1 APR]
BLICKLING (2) [4 APR]
THOMPSON K1 MOGUL [7 APR]
GRANDMA AND THE TV [10 APR]
HOLT LOWES [13 APR]
EAST ANGLIAN GEOLOGY [16 APR]
ATTLEBRIDGE [19 APR]
UEA [22 APR]
THE POPULATION [25 APR]
THE ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS [28 APR]
SUMMER AT CROSSWAYS 1961 (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 34) [1 MAY]
REEDHAM FERRY [4 MAY]
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD LOUND PT 2 [7 MAY]
THE NORFOLK AND THE NORWICH TERRIER [10 MAY]
SOUTHWOLD (8) GUARDSHIP [13 MAY]
STEAM [16 MAY]
HOLT [19 MAY]
COMPUTING [22 MAY]
RICHARD M. BACON AND DICK BAGNALL-OAKLEY [25 MAY]
SPIXWORTH (2) [28 MAY]
LENT TERM 1964 (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 35) [1 JUN]
THE WHITE LION, EYE, SUFFOLK [4 JUN]
INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN NORFOLK [7 JUN]
NORWICH, ANCIENT UNIVERSITY [10 JUN]
THE VEGETABLE PLOT [13 JUN]
WAINFLEET [16 JUN]
WHITWELL STATION [19 JUN]
APRIL IN SUFFOLK [23 JUN]
VIEWS OF TAVERHAM [25 JUN]
CHICKENS AND OTHER LIVESTOCK [25 JUN]
LUCY RUTTER [27 JUN]
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD LOUND PT 3 THE ARMY [4 JUL]
BAWBURGH AND ITS POST OFFICE [7 JUL]
ST EDMUND CHURCHES IN ESSEX [10 JUL]
MARKSHALL CHURCH [11 JUL]
HMS CAMPBELL [19 JUL]
SHIPDHAM [22 JUL]
WEATHER PATTERNS IN THE EAST [25 JUL]
THE IPSWICH BRASS BAND [28 JUL]
GILES LARGE (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 36) [1 AUG]
THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES [4 AUG]
BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS [7 AUG]
PORTS OF EAST ANGLIA [10 AUG]
BECCLES [13 AUG]
LEGAL MATTERS [16 AUG]
THE BROADS OF FLEGG [19 AUG]
THE MILKMAN [22 AUG]
THE ICENI COINAGE [25 AUG]
BOLINGBROKE CASTLE [26 AUG]
ANGLIA RANGER 1/9/82 [1 SEP]
TO UNIVERSITY (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 37) [4 SEP]
THE SWING [7 SEP]
NORWICH SHOPS (5) SNOB [10 SEP]
MUNDESLEY [13 SEP]
MY BLOG POSTS 2013 [16 SEP]
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD LOUND PT 4 1914 [19 SEP]
SARNICO (2) [22 SEP]
BLOATER PASTE [25 SEP]
HMS BULWARK [28 SEP]
KENWYN (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 38) [1 OCT]
NEWTON FLOTMAN [4 OCT]
TRAINS AND BOATS AND PLANES [7 OCT]
QUEEN VICTORIA’S GOLDEN JUBILEE [10 OCT]
NORWICH SHOPS (6) ORFORD PLACE [13 OCT]
SCANDINAVIAN INTERLUDE [16 OCT]
UNCLE ARTHUR AND THE SOMME [19 OCT]
THE VIKINGS [22 OCT]
ASHWELL AND KELSHALL [23 OCT]
THE RIVETTS OF BEESTON [25 OCT]
ST PETER’S COLLEGE GAUDY [1 NOV]
CLOSED STATIONS OF NORWICH [4 NOV]
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 1982 [7 NOV]
FIAT SEICENTO [7 NOV]
ARTHUR PEACHEY [10 NOV]
THE RIVER WENSUM [13 NOV]
THE NORFOLK BELLES [16 NOV]
ROSEBUD AND LILAC COTTAGE [19 NOV]
MY MEDIA CAREER [22 NOV]
THE LAME DOG [25 NOV]
THE PASTON TITHE BARN [28 NOV]
NOTABLE OLD BOYS (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 39) [1 DEC]
THE SOAME STEAM WAGONETTE [4 DEC]
THE WIZARD OF OZ [7 DEC]
RICKETS [10 DEC]
GREAT YARMOUTHJ (2) [13 DEC]
EYE PROBLEMS [16 DEC]
THE THREEPENNY BIT [19 DEC]
CHRISTMAS EVE 1906 [22 DEC]
THE CABMAN’S SUPPER [25 DEC]
CHARLES MASON’S FAMILY [28 DEC]