Monthly Archives: May, 2015

GAS MASK

THE AFTERMATH OF WAR

Although the Second World War had been over for less than four years when I was born I was not often reminded of the conflict. As I was growing up there were plenty of things that spoke of the late war if you were listening but we were all looking forward to the bright future than was unfolding as the 1950s dawned. This was even true of the rest of my family who could all remember the war firsthand.

Nevertheless there were some things you could not ignore, and one of these was rationing. Other things were still rationed, but what I remember most was sweet rationing. Sweets eventually came off ration just in time for my fourth birthday in 1953. I don’t suppose I was bought that many sweets after rationing ended – there wasn’t a sweet shop for miles around after all. However the weekly arrival of the ration out of the ration book made the purchase of sweets a necessity. I may well have eaten more sweets while they were rationed than I did later; that is one of the unintended consequences of rationing. My favourite refreshment was not sweets at all but a glass of Corona ginger beer. The purchase of a bottle did not rely on a visit to a sweet shop; the Corona lorry called on us.

RAOC BADGE

RAOC BADGE

My father’s RAOC cap badge was among the oddments that could be found in a box on the mantlepiece. Another relic of wartime was a version the badge in mother-of-pearl and enamel, to be worn as a brooch by the soldier’s wife or girlfriend – in this case my mother. Otherwise there was nothing in the house to indicate that the war had ever taken place. The plaster that had been brought down from the ceilings by a bomb which fell less than a quarter of a mile away had long been replaced.

Outside in the garage there were rather more reminders. There were for instance the remains of the leather gaiters my father had worn as part of his Home Guard uniform. These had been cut up and nailed to the wall to make retainers for garden tools – hand forks and trowels. Also in the garage was a gas mask. There must originally have been four gas masks, one for each of the family. I can remember one with a breathing canister attached directly to the goggles, and one with a long hose like an elephant’s trunk with the canister at the end. There was also a khaki canvas bag that held one of the gas masks.

RAF dog handler, the Guard Room, Stoke.

RAF dog handler, the Guard Room, Stoke.

Beyond the back garden and across one field was a more substantial reminder of wartime. When I first remember them the eight Radar pylons of RAF Stoke Holy Cross were all in place. There were four built of wood (the picture to the left shows the guard-room by the wooden pylons’ site) and four built of steel. In this later photo only three of the steel pylons remain, and an additional one had been erected  in 1959 to relay the Anglia TV signal from Norwich to the transmitter. In 1953 the Radar station was still in use; the concrete huts were still occupied and male and female Air Force personnel made their way back and forth between Stoke and the hutted camps in Framingham Earl, one for each sex. The enemy was no longer Nazi Germany but Russia, and the Cold War meant that continued vigilance was deemed essential. The proximity of so many airmen and women must have meant good trade at Framingham Earl post office, Spalding’s grocery shop and the Railway Tavern, all of which were a short walk away. Besides the Radar pylons at Stoke Holy Cross there were also pylons at Bawdsey near Felixstowe where the early experiments took place. There is now only a derelict bunker there to remind one of its wartime importance.

The Radar Pylons from our back garden.

The Radar Pylons from our back garden circa 1965.

Further afield there was the air raid shelter that had been built at my school in Bungay. This was a dank place used for storing garden tools in my time. There was no natural light and no artificial light either and I don’t think we were supposed to enter, although there was nothing stopping us apart from an easily moved oil drum. Apart from this I can remember no air raid shelters. I can remember lots of pill boxes though; these were a bit brighter inside as at least they had gun slits that let some daylight in. They were nevertheless still damp and smelly places .

In 1950 there were still plenty of RAF airfields in Norfolk; St Faiths (now Norwich Airport) was the nearest of these, but Swanton Morley and Coltishall were not far away. The nearest to our home had been RAF Seething, a former USAAF bomber base, but that had closed in 1945.  There was a USAF base at Scunthorpe near Fakenham right through 1950s and it still has an occasional use as a reserve airfield.  Suffolk had the US air force at RAF Bentwaters until 1993; also at Lakenheath and Mildenhall where they still remain (for now at least, although Mildenhall is due to close in about 5 years time).

The bomb dump at Earsham, where piles of bombs (unfused of course) sat on neat tarmac lay-bys along the roadside were a definite reminder of the recent war. Apparently this too was a USAAF facility. The HQ of the Royal Norfolk Regiment remained at Britannia Barracks throughout the 1950s and in the early years of that decade the Cavalry Barracks were also still in use. The volunteer Civil Defence Service which replaced the ARP air raid wardens during the war was reintroduced in 1949 as the Civil Defence Corps. It was a presence in the city with its headquarters on the Ring Road at Sprowston until the organisation was stood down in 1968.

In the war Norfolk was a front line county, particularly from the air, but over the years this has diminished until now a military presence is virtually non-existent. Having only two sizeable ports, Kings Lynn and Yarmouth (neither with particularly easy access), there was no large Naval base in Norfolk in the 20th century. This was very different in the 19th century when Great Yarmouth was a Royal Navy port with a large naval hospital among its facilities. Only small naval boats used the port in the Second World War – a number of trawlers together with their crews were conscripted for service as patrol boats and minesweepers. An army barracks remains at the former RAF base at Swanton Morley and there is still a Radar station at Trimingham. The largest remaining establishment, by area at least, is certainly Stanta, the battle training area in South Norfolk.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

SOUTHWOLD (10) REYDON QUAY

Joe hods a bunch of Sea Lavendar, Reydon mill.

Joe holds a bunch of Sea Lavender, Reydon mill.

Inland from Blackshore along the river Blyth are the Reydon marshes. This saltmarsh is a haven for wildlife, and in the summer has drifts of sea lavender. Despite its name, this pretty pink-flowered plant is not lavender. It has not the smell of true lavender, but its nectar attracts butterflies and all types of insects. Its Latin name is limonium vulgare. 

There hasn’t been a quayside at Reydon for about a hundred years, but when the Southwold Railway was built in 1879 it was essential to include a swinging span of the river bridge to allow tall ships along the river Blyth to Reydon. This span was replaced in 1914, together with the rest of the bridge, when it was widened. This was to enable it to take a 4’8½” track, in anticipation of upgrading the whole railway line to standard gauge. The Great War intervened, and the conversion never happened, but obviously at the time there was still a quay at Reydon which required access. The Quay Inn in Reydon was still a busy pub in 1895, but as the trade at the quay dwindled the pub closed. By the early years of the twentieth century it was no more.

The main export cargoes from Reydon quay had been agricultural produce such as corn and bark from the nearby farms, but as far as imports went coal was of major importance. It was transshipped at Reydon quay to wherries and taken up-stream to Halesworth. A wherry called the Star was used to carry coal to Halesworth as late as 1911; the main export from Halesworth had previously been malt, taken to London for the brewery business. This trade in malt was ended by the arrival of the East Suffolk railway in 1854, when the carriage of malt was transferred to rail. It was locks that made the Blyth navigable, and these were built on the upper reaches of the river in the 18th century.

The Bailey Bridge

The Bailey Bridge in 1958

A bridge still exists where the Southwold Railway crossed the river at Blackshore, although it was rebuilt after the Second World War. All but one span of the railway bridge had been blown up by the Home Guard during the early part of the war. This was not popular locally and seems to have served little purpose in impeding an advance following possible German landing. By 1947 the missing sections had been replaced by a temporary Bailey bridge, the remaining span being part of the railway bridge of 1914.  The Bailey bridge was itself replaced by a more permanent structure during the 1960s, and the remaining span of the railway bridge was finally demolished at the same time. Some piers of the railway bridge however remain to support the new bridge. Despite its having nothing to do with the Bailey bridge, which was a wartime invention, it is still retains the name. On this rebuilt bridge it is possible for pedestrians and cyclists to reach Walberswick without using the ferry. It is quite a long walk though, so the ferry is still well used when it runs during the summer months.

Reydon mill

Reydon mill

At the riverside at Reydon there was, besides the quay, a drainage wind pump. This brick-built tower mill was constructed as a wind pump to drain the marshes. It was built in 1894, but before the 19th century was over it had been severely damaged in a gale. Consequently it had been a derelict shell for over hundred years when it was restored in 2002. You  can see how it used to look in this picture taken in 1958. It was fortuitous for the preservation of the saltmarsh that the windpump failed, and sea lavender was not replaced by bullocks.

Southwold and Reydon are divided by Buss Creek, and this makes Southwold a virtual island. Mights Bridge across Buss Creek provides the only vehicular access to the town. The creek gets its name from the Herring Buss, a type of Dutch fishing boat. Presumably these used to anchor there. This long waterway was formerly a tidal branch of the river Blyth. Since a weir was constructed at the river end of the creek (before I was born) it is for most of its length non-tidal. The resulting freshwater has allowed Buss Creek to become a popular stretch of water for fishing. However much of its length is now swamp rather than open water. At the other end of Reydon the original Wolsey’s Bridge across the river Wang on the Halesworth Road was paid for by the Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the reign of Henry VIII. As a Suffolk man, his generosity was particularly directed towards his native county, and hence the name of this useful bridge.

JOSEPH MASON
joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

PEDDARS WAY

PEDDAR'S WAY near SWAFFHAM

PEDDAR’S WAY near SWAFFHAM

This ancient trackway crosses Norfolk from south to north. Some people state that it is pre-Roman, but the extreme straightness of the route suggests that it is definitely Roman. More than that, when you have read to the end of short speculations on the reason for the very existence of Peddars Way you agree that it must be Roman. Peddars Way begins near Thetford, where it is a continuation of the Icknield Way. What intrigues me about Peddars Way is not where it begins but where it ends; why does it stop on the coast near Hunstanton? Not for the town itself certainly, because that was a nineteenth century creation.

No, this part of the coast was an important ferry port in Roman times. There the sea part of the journey began, taking travellers to Lincolnshire on their route north. In Roman times, and indeed for centuries thereafter, the Fens were impossible as the route from Norfolk to Lincolnshire; they were an all-but impassable maze of marshes and lakes, only accessible to local Fen ‘Tigers’, who knew the watery way. Even so you had to be prepared to get you feet wet, or perhaps your thighs! From Norfolk a number of routes would take you to the south, but to go to the north, the east or even to the west inevitably meant a sea journey.

Peddars Way was in Roman times the main road in Norfolk, the equivalent of the modern A11. An indication that the track is older than the towns which now populate Norfolk is that the track does not now go through any of them. By contrast the A11 went right through the centre of every town and village on the way. This was true even as recently as when I was a young man. This made sense when the people on long journeys need frequent stops for rest and refreshment. With the coming of the internal combustion engine that increased number of travellers (and shortening their journey times), the villages and towns became nothing but a nuisance. Each of the towns and villages I mentioned had at least one coaching inn where travellers could break their journey for a drink, a meal or a night’s sleep.

There must originally have been similar stopping places on Peddar’s Way. Roman travellers would have need their own inns to break their journeys. The fact that we now do not know where these resting places were suggests that it has not been used by long distance travellers since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. The one exception to this lack of villages along Peddars Way is at Castle Acre, where the route goes right through the middle of the village, and this suggests to me that the village dates back to the Roman Age. In Roman times another major road ran east/west across Norfolk, and this crossed Peddars Way at Castle Acre.  To the Romans this was certainly a place to stop off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Castle Acre Priory

These settlers from the continent imposed their own topography on the landscape. This straight highway is plain to see on a map. For many centuries since then Peddars Way has been no more than a series of farm tracks. The inns along its length vanished, although the fact that it retained its name suggests that a distant folk memory of its former importance remained. Only in the last century has it seen a resurgence in its use. The growth of leisure walking has revived this track as a National Trail, a long distance footpath; even so, the walk is more popular as an aspirational journey than as a factual one; my wife Molly recently took our dog along a length of Peddar’s Way near Swaffham, and met not a soul. Nor have I ever met anyone on the lengths of the track that I have walked in the past.

If it is true that Peddars Way fell out of use with the coming of the Anglo–Saxons, what does this tell us about the transport requirements of new settlers, and their attitude to Fens? In spite of some drainage by the Romans the Fens must still have been very difficult to cross, but for some reason it became less important to go by sea from East Anglia to Lincolnshire. Could it be that under the Romans Norfolk and Lincolnshire were both regions of one empire, while under the Saxons East Anglia and Mercia (of which Lincolnshire was a part) were separate kingdoms, often at war? The passage of legions and administrators along the straight roads and short sea crossings were no longer part of the transport needs of Britain. So that the Fens, instead of being a barrier to transport to be traversed at all costs, became a defensive feature against attack. With this new people in East Anglia – we can now justifiably use this term for the area – the use of Peddars Way ceased to be that of a major highway and became just a convenient pathway for farmers and yokels.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Peddars Way runs from Knettishall Heath in the south to Holme-next-the-Sea at the northern end. For those who wish to plan a walk along Peddars Way try https://trailplanner.co.uk/england/peddars-way-and-norfolk-coast-path/ 

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

FLOWER SHOWS

AND FRUIT AND VEGETABLE SHOWS TOO.

OLD GOOSEBERRYU SHOW

OLD GOOSEBERRY SHOW

These range from the small local flower and vegetable show like the Old Gooseberry Show at Egton Bridge in North Yorkshire (here illustrated) up to the grand Chelsea Flower Show, and I have attended both. In my late 20s/early 30s I went to two of the Chelsea shows.

In those days – nearly 40 years ago – the Chelsea Flower Show in particular was rather different from how it appears today.  Now it is much more about how exotic and modern the gardens on display can be made to appear. In fact I rarely have the patience to watch it on television nowadays. I am sure there are still plenty of fine flowers there, but the TV producers must think this makes for rather dull viewing. I think what annoys me most are the inane comments of the presenters. The real stars of the show are the flowers.

In fact it is the ordinary horticultural show (like the Old Gooseberry Show) that I much prefer, as I prefer the ordinary people singing hymns on Songs of Praise to the constant competitions they have now. For heaven’s sake, congregational singing should not be a competitive activity; but flower shows certainly are. They are intensely competitive which is perhaps why, when I have attended plenty as a spectator, I have never entered one as an exhibitor. I would not have the nerve to compete, even as an ‘also ran’. Not only do you have produce the longest runner bean or the heaviest turnip, you have produce it in its state of greatest perfection to coincide with the date of the show. The nearest I have come to entering a flower show was the Bungay Horticultural Show of 1959. For that I entered not a plant but the picture of a plant. My watercolour of a cuckoo pint won first prize in its category! I think it was for children because I was only ten.

Going up to the Chelsea Flower Show was quite a performance. On May 24th 1978, because I had a dog, I could not leave him at home all day, nor could I travel by train (not because dogs were not allowed on trains but because I would have nowhere to leave him while I wandered round the show). So I bundled him into the car and drove up to London. The road was nearly all single carriageway, but these was no congestion charge for driving in the capital either. I found a multi-storey car park near Marble Arch and left Fido while I took the tube to Pimlico and walked along the Embankment to Chelsea.

First prize

First prize

 

After I had looked round the show it was time to drive home along the A11. In those days it passed through Epping Forest, and this was the ideal place to stop and give my dog a good run; he deserved it after spending all morning in a multi-storey. There were parking places by the roadside in the forest, with height restricting bars that allowed cars through not the taller commercial vehicles. This was right next to the A11 main road. When they built the M11 they renumbered the old road and I have never been able to find this pleasant spot again.

I went to the Chelsea Flower Show twice altogether. The first time the weather was fine but on the second occasion it was rather wet. My abiding memory of this second time was seeing Percy Thrower, now no doubt a forgotten name but then recently the presenter of Gardener’s World on BBC TV. He was standing forlornly in a light coloured Macintosh waiting to answer questions from passers-by – but no one wanted to stop and talk to him in the rain.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST

THE CASTLE, THE CHURCH, THE TEMPLE

The  castle, the church and the temple; these three model buildings were made for my young nephews in Canada by my father and myself. The youngest of these nephews is now well over 40, so you can tell that all these buildings were made many years ago. The first to be made was the castle, and that was entirely my father’s work; I was still at boarding school at the time. It must have been made in 1966. The stone work was represented by pressing a rubber dipped in brown paint onto the mortar coloured background. The whole toy could be taken to pieces – a flat pack castle.

James's Castle

James’s Castle

Having built a castle for his eldest grandson my father came under increasing pressure to do similar presents for the other two children! It was after 1971 that next model was made, and by then I had left university and was living at home, so I was in a position to help him with the next two models. Whereas the castle had been a toy, albeit a very superior one, the next two buildings were scale models. The church was modelled on Worstead church in Norfolk. It was built to 72nd scale to fit into the model railway layout my nephews possessed, although the layout was based on North American practice. With transatlantic locos and rolling stock a medieval Norfolk church must have looked spectacularly out of place. It now comes out every Christmas in my sister’s house, so I understand. I have already done a blog on the model of Worstead church back in October 2011.

DURING CONSTRUCTION

WORSTEAD CHURCH DURING CONSTRUCTION

It was accurately transferred from the architect’s drawings for repairs to the church, done by my cousin Andrew Anderson. He was the architect responsible for upkeep of the church. The model had a lot of interior detail that you could not see from outside, the construction of the roof were an example. This was all correct even down to the hammer beams. I could have gone on almost endlessly, making the model ever more detailed, but I think I stopped before it became too grand for a young boy to play with.

Despite this intricacy the model was quite robust, or so I tell myself. You will notice I am using the first person singular when referring to the building of the model; this work was mostly done by me, from the cutting out of the window tracery on the jigsaw to the painting of the stone effects on the exterior walls. This was done in a similar way to my father’s earlier castle walls, only instead of an eraser I used a rubber finger stall as used for sorting papers. The ‘prickles’ on the rubber stall produced the effect flints when dipped into a suitable saucer of paint where the colours were not fully mixed.

THE FINISHED CHURCH

THE FINISHED CHURCH

This was the most accurate of the three models, being based on an actual church. Worstead church was started in 1379 and was built in one go, all in the same style of early perpendicular architecture. This is more restrained than the decorated style which had been brought to an end by the Black Death. It is the archetypal Wool Church – the cloth known as worsted is named after the village. The church perhaps represents the most modern of the three buildings we made, although it was still very old. It would have been fun to build a model in a more recent style, perhaps Georgian, but we had run out of grandchildren at the time! (My own children arrived much later and never had such delightful buildings.)

The last model was of a Greek Temple; it must have been done at the request of my nephew Richard. Here the problems were quite different. The columns round the temple were extremely repetitive, and they had to be made on a production line scale. I made the pattern on the lathe, and then I cast them all in resin using a rubber mould. I am not sure of the scale which the Greek Temple was built to; it was loosely based on the Parthenon from the Acropolis in Athens and it must have been made to 144th scale or smaller. I had done a paper on Classical Architecture for my Oxford History finals, so using the grammar of orders, triglyphs, metopes, friezes, architraves and all the rest was quite up my street at the time. The most interesting part was the pediment at the front, with the tympanum decorated with relief sculptures. These I did with plastic figures meant originally for 00 scale model railways, although I think these figures were soldiers of a more ancient lineage than was appropriate to the railway age, more suitable to adorn a Greek temple. Because the originals would have been considerably larger than life-size this came out about right, and when painted a uniform stone colour they began to look quite classical. These were based on the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, which I had seen in the British Museum a few years earlier.

The Temple

The Temple

JOSEPH MASON joemasonspage@gmail.com FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

SURLINGHAM

YACHT SEEN FROM THE SURLINGHAM BANK OF THE YARE

YACHT SEEN FROM THE SURLINGHAM BANK OF THE YARE

This is a riverside parish which takes in a wide sweep of the river Yare, which forms its northern boundary. It adjoins Bramerton to the west and Rockland St Mary to the south and east. The village of Surlingham contains Wheatfen Broad where the Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis made his home for the last four decades of his life. I went there in about 1956 with my sister’s friend Tibby (Miss Tibbs). She was studying biology at Oxford and was spending part of her summer vacation with E. A. Ellis to absorb his knowledge of natural history. (He had no formal qualification but was widely respected in academic circles.) I recall his house, Wheatfen Cottage, was deep in the Broadland marshes. It was a very interesting place but, I think, a slightly chaotic environment.

Surlingham is nowadays a rather remote place to get to, but in the past the river itself was the major highways of East Norfolk until the coming of the railway. It had two ferry services which linked it to the northern bank. One was the self-explanatory Surlingham Ferry, and one was from Coldham Hall. The pubs with these names remain at both locations but there has not been a ferry at either place that I remember, although the ferry at Coldham Hall lasted longer. Surlingham Ferry does not have any houses very closed on the north side of the river; the village on the northern shore is Postwick, which is not a big place.  However Coldham Hall would be very close to Brundall if the ferry were still running. You can see plenty of activity on the other bank from Coldham Hall, but it is a journey of many miles to get there, even since the erection of the bridge on the Southern Bypass at Postwick, which cuts several miles off the journey. Brundall is a large village. Besides having plenty of shops, a library and a Primary School it has not one but two railway stations. Many  holidaymakers on their way to one of the major boatyards in Brundall stop off at these stations. It is rather strange that Surlingham should be so near and yet so far from a major transport hub.

The tug Gensteam on the Yare

The tug Gensteam on the Are

A hundred years ago the river was a thriving place of industry and this included Surlingham. The North River, the Bure, was already mostly used for leisure craft, but the Yare was still used for trade. This not only brought tugs towing barges and sea-going freighters through Surlingham, but boat builders were working along the river bank at Surlingham. Only about a generation before sea going sailing trawlers were being constructed at the boatyard there. You can still see the slipway where wherries were launched next to Coldham Hall. Much longer ago, in the 9th century, Viking warriors sailed up the river Yare, intent on dealing death to the local population. Surlingham did not escape, but not all the action was in favour of the invaders. A Viking war axe, found when dredging near Surlingham ferry, suggests a fight took place there in which a Dane lost his axe, and undoubtedly lost his life too.

My son Peter, wife Molly and I joined other members of my family at Coldham Hall to celebrate my sister Tiggie’s 70th birthday in 2008. We had a meal and then sat out by river – it was a fine June day. We used to be regular visitors to Surlingham; Tiggie and I had walked from Bramerton to Surlingham on August Bank Holiday in 1972. You may read about his riverside ramble in my blog for August 26 2012.

My family at Coldham Hall

My family at Coldham Hall

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THRESHING

THRESHING seems to be the normal way of spelling the word. Thrashing was my father’s preferred way of saying it or, in Norfolk dialect, it is troshin’. But however you say it, the process involves the separation of the seeds from the stalks of corn.

The stooks of corn

The stooks of corn for threshing

 

Before the first application of machinery this meant the use of a flail. If you have never seen a flail – and I don’t think I have ever seen one in use – it consists of two sticks joined by a chain or rope. The longer of the two sticks is held in both hands while the shorter one is used to beat the corn, thus knocking the grain out onto the ground. You might think this a boring and tiring job that any farm worker would be glad to see the back of, but this was far from the case.

The long winter months provided employment for the horsemen who were slowly ploughing the fields but other, less skilled labourers, had nothing to do but threshing. This at least provided them with a modest income during the winter. When the farmer could thresh his corn by machine this source of employment dried up, leaving the workmen penniless, hungry and increasingly angry.

Traction engine driving a threshing machine

Traction engine driving a threshing machine

The Captain Swing riots spread across south-east England during the summer and autumn of 1830, with many threshing machines being destroyed by the rioters. Besides threshing machines, the rioters also hated the Poor Law and the operation of tithes; the workhouses operated by the Poor Law were an inhumane way of supporting the destitute, while the operation of the system of tithes (a tenth of the farmer’s income that went to the Church of England) placed a heavy burden on the farming community.  Many of the countrymen were Baptists or Methodists, who resented this religious tax that went to support the established church. Quakers refused point-blank to pay it, and consequently had to find some other employment than agriculture such as chocolate making or banking, activities they excelled in. However these two institutions, the Poor Law and tithes, did not provide the obvious targets that the machines did.

Many people were in sympathy with the agricultural labourers and juries were in many cases reluctant to convict, when the legal system swung into action against the rioters. However the heavy hand of the law eventually saw many men transported to Australia and some were even executed, although most capital convicts were eventually reprieved. The Luddites had been similarly opposed to the use of machinery a few years before the Captain Swing rioters.

The threshing machine; note how dusty it makes the air

The threshing machine; note how dusty it makes the air

The threshing machine, which caused such problems 200 years ago, has itself been replaced by the combine harvester. Threshing machines are now museum pieces. To demonstrate a threshing machine you need corn that has not been cut by a combine. Back in the 1970s there were still some fields where you could see stooks of corn, and you would find threshing machines at work but as antique features. This was a winter activity as you see from the leafless trees in the picture. I haven’t seen a theshing machine at work for many years; there is no reason why this could not still be done, but I am afraid the skill of tying corn into sheaves has been lost.

Although the use of a steam engine was much quicker than the use of a couple of horses on a treadmill (the earlier kind of power threshing), and that was far quicker than the man powered machines that started the whole thing off, it was still a laborious process. The engine driver had to get up early in the morning to raise steam, and the threshing machine had to be placed in just the right position to connect with the belt drive of the steam engine. Men had to be on hand with pitch forks to keep the machine fed and other men removed the threshed straw; still more bagged up the grain into sacks. By contrast no one is involved in the actual threshing in a combine; it takes place automatically in the bowels of the machine. One man drives the harvester and one drives the tractor which takes the trailers full of corn away. That is the only labour employed, and huge fields are done in a day or less.

Note how much of the equipment used in threshing was made in East Anglia. The Burrell traction engine was made in Thetford (it could equally have been a Garrett traction engine of Leiston in Suffolk) and the Ransome’s threshing machine was made in Ipswich. Their factory was near the quay and they had their own railway to carry the goods to the quayside. From there ships would carry Ransome’s farm machinery for export across the world. The founder of the firm was a Quaker (engineering was another trade Quakers could follow without being involved in tithes), born in Norfolk, who travelled to Ipswich as a young man and established what was to become a flourishing business. After several changes in ownership Ransome is still known as a producer of lawn mowers a related process to theshing.

If you wish to learn more about 19th and 20th century farming you should read my blog on Sheaves, Stooks and Stacks, published June 21 2012.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

CAISTER CASTLE

Caister Castle

Caister Castle

This is more accurately called a fortified manor house than a castle, but the distinction is technical; for all practical purposes it is a castle. The high defensive tower (almost 100 feet tall) and the moat make it look like a castle, and only the windows give a hint that it was not intended to be used in full-scale warfare. It was besieged by the Duke of Norfolk in 1468 and was badly damaged in the process. It had an extensive curtain wall and the castle is completely surrounded by a moat. The living accommodation within the walls has mostly disappeared, although some domestic buildings are still visible. The tower may be climbed by visitors.

The use of brick rather than flint or imported freestone gives us a hint of the period in which it was built. Like the moated Oxburgh Hall in West Norfolk, which was also built of brick, this was a product of the Wars of the Roses when fortified manor houses came into their own. It was built over more than a decade from 1432 by Sir John Fastolf, who used it as his main residence in Norfolk. He was over 50 when he began the building, having spent much of his early career in France where Joan of Arc was leading the opposition to the English. During the latter part of the Hundred Years’ War he managed to make a fortune from captured castles and properties in France. He was able to transfer much of this wealth to his estates in East Anglia before the remainder was lost to the French who recaptured the land.

The Tower

The Tower

After he died childless in 1459 Caister Castle passed to the Paston family, while much of his money went to Magdalen College in Oxford. The college had been founded by the Bishop of Winchester only a year before Fastolf’s death, and this was the first major endowments of the college. The money enabled its complete construction in the six years following 1474. Today the college has a Fastolf Society for major benefactors. Whether this academic generosity was what Fastolf really intended I rather doubt however; he had wanted to leave the castle at Caister and much of his wealth to establish a large chantry to pray for his soul, but his will caused much controversy and litigation.

It was just as well things turned out as they did; Magdalen college has remained a major centre of intellectual life for over 500 years, while all the chantries in England were abolished less than century after Falstaffs death by Henry VIII. The decision to leave the money to Oxford University was, whoever made it, a good one.

Caister Castle became the main seat of the Pastons for over a century, throughout the Tudor period. Sir William Paston was the last member of the family to use the castle as his home. It was abandoned after he died in 1610 when the family moved to the newer and more commodious mansion at Oxnead, and the building at Caister fell into disrepair.

Today Caister Castle is namely for the Motor Museum housed there. This large collection of cars and motor cycles is privately owned. It is housed in specially built exhibition space near the castle.

Caister Castle lies in West Caister and that is a separate parish from Caister-on-Sea. The village has not one but two churches dedicated to St Edmund. The current church was built in the 19th century, but the nearby ruin is the medieval church named after East Anglia’s regal saint. I have been to Caister Castle only once (in 1971) and I took these pictures on that occasion.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

La BAIE de SOMME NARROW GAUGE RAILWAY

View from the carriage

View from the carriage

Le Chemin de Fer de la BAIE de SOMME. This Heritage Railway along the estuary of the river Somme is in Northern France. The 4’8½” and metre gauge dual gauge line was finally abandoned by SNCF in the 1980s, but the narrow gauge section was closed by the early 1970s. The first 3 miles of the railway, which eventually ran for over 10 miles, was opened as a horse-drawn line in 1858. In 1969, with closure immanent, the PRESERVATION SOCIETY was formed.

The principal traffic had been agricultural goods but also included stone (beach pebbles) and shellfish. A passenger service provided access to seaside resorts for tourists. The First World War was a period of heavy use with the Somme valley seeing some of the heaviest fighting of the war. Although part of the line is dual gauge, the preserved railway is run as a metre gauge line exclusively.

A day trip to the railway was organised by the M&GN Railway Society for September 24 1977. The special train began from North Walsham on the Cromer line but my friend Bill Wragge and I joined it in Norwich.  It was an early start – I got dressed at 3.30 in the morning! The train left Norwich at 4.30 and we went to London via Ely. Luckily I was able to snooze on the way. As we crossed the river Thames at Fulham we was saw two herons despite it being central London; it must have been because of the early morning mist that they felt more secure. Then on past the oast houses and hop fields of Kent.

The metre gauge railway

The metre gauge railway

We sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne at 10.30 a.m.. Although Dover to Calais remains as a sea route to France this cross channel service was ended by the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and both the English town and the French one are no longer ports for ferry vessels. In 1977 however such developments were far in the future and the harbour branch at Folkstone was well used. We got on the ferry Vortigern (this vessel was launched in 1969 and was sold by Sealink to Greece in 1988, finally being scrapped in 2005). We had our breakfast of shrimp sandwiches and a lager on board. The ferry had to alter course as we nearly collided with a bulk carrier. At Boulogne we were loaded onto four coaches for the next leg of the journey, about an hour’s drive, to the steam hauled metre gauge line from Le Crotoy to Noyelles-sur-Mer and back. We went through a nice little town called Rue, but this area of France is very flat and there was nothing to see but fields.

Bill on the boat

Bill on the boat

On the return journey we were surprised to find ourselves aboard the Caesarea. This vessel, together with her sister ship Sarnia, had run the mail boat service from Weymouth to the Channel Islands during the 1960s and they were much used by me on visits to my sister Tig who was a teacher on Guernsey from 1963. The mail boat had been taken off the Channel Island run when that was converted  to a roll-on roll-off service in 1973. Before that any cars going to the Chanel Isles were craned up in nets and deposited in the hold. (Sarnia and Caesarea were the Roman names for Guernsey and Jersey.)

Back in England the journey home was rather a nightmare. The train was delayed going through London and at Ely we had to get off altogether and board buses to Shipppea Hill. Then we got on a DMU but Bill had the bright idea of travelling in the First Class section, where I was able to sleep till we reached Norwich. We finally got home 24 hours after we had left. I had arranged to leave my dogs in kennels on Friday and rushed off to get them back at 9.30 on Sunday morning.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

 FOR THE HISTORY OF RAILWAYS

SCHOOL UNIFORM (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 43)

JM as a boy in St Msry's school uniform

JM as a boy in St Mary’s school uniform

This is me in my school uniform. I was aged about seven which would put the date of the picture as 1956. You cannot see the colour, but it was brown with gold piping – unusual but smart. You will see the colour in the next photograph. Apart from my cap, which is pushed much too far back on my head, I could be going to St Mary’s School in Bungay (closed over 50 years ago). In fact I am digging a sandcastle on the beach! Extraordinary as it may seem today, once I had a school uniform I wore it day in, day out, whether it was school time or holiday time. I just didn’t have anything else to wear.

The blazer pockets were very useful to a young boy. What exactly they held I cannot now remember of course, but I suggest that a rubber, pencil, pencil sharpener, some Polo mints, a couple of ha’pennies and a paperclip might well have been among the treasures. More exotic items like a length of string and a cockle shell could very well have been included, for remember I was on holiday. On a more mundane level pockets always contain fluff.

The tie was brown and gold and a tie was an essential part of the ensemble for males; the requirement began at an early age – about three, when it had to be tied for me. My father had to stand behind me in order to do this. He wasn’t adept at reversing all the usual operations, which he would have had to do had he stood in front of me. My mother was much better at doing this, probably because tying a tie is not second nature to a woman, as it was to a man. Tie wearing continued through adulthood and retirement until advancing years relegated the wearer to a bed-bound status, and pyjamas did not have a tie. The ‘other ranks’ in the armed forces did not always wear ties, and those doing heavy manual labour such as miners and farm labourers didn’t either, but virtually everybody else did. Even engine drivers and firemen, in spite of the dirty nature of their work, would report for duty wearing their ties.

Joe at Covehithe, 1958. The swan had flown into power lines.

Joe at Covehithe, 1958. The swan had flown into power lines.

Eventually I rebelled against wearing my school uniform when I was on holiday, and persuaded my parents to buy me some mufti. By the time I was nine I was wearing a blue pullover on holiday at Southwold, although the grey shorts below look suspiciously as if they could have been part of the school attire. The brown part of my uniform ended at my waist with my blazer. I don’t remember what colour my socks were, but from the photographic evidence I appear to be wearing short pale beige ones, with sandals. My shorts were  beige too, but the long trousers which I had graduated to by the time I was ten were grey.

Before I was eleven I had gone on to another school, and another uniform. New rules went with the new clothes. A cap no longer appeared as part of the uniform; indeed no headgear at all, apart from a sou’wester to be worn only in the fiercest of winter storms. Also, having only just managed to get my parents to allow me to wear ordinary clothes at evenings and weekends, I was again doomed to wearing school uniform for weeks on end, because this was a boarding school. All my socks were long grey ones with elastic garters that my mother had to sew together before I left home. For PE I wore merely a pair of  white shorts and plimsols (no shirt). Otherwise shoes had to be black leather lace-ups – no more brown sandals. No satchels were to be used; you either carried your books lunder you arm or used a brief case. And most vexing of all, after persuading my mother to let me go to school in long trousers at St Mary’s, I was relegated to wearing shorts once more – and this went on for years.

Basil Kybird in Bungay Grammar School Uniform.

Basil Kybird in Bungay Grammar School Uniform.

This dressing in uniform continued throughout my schooldays until I was nearly nineteen. A few details altered when I went up from the junior school to the senior school; grey shirts gave way to white ones with detachable collars, and I had to learnt the intricacies of collar studs. At last I was able to go into long trousers again. Essentially however I was still dressed as a schoolboy. A year or two before I finally left school the most senior boys were allowed to wear sports jackets instead of blazers – it was the nearest thing to civvies the school allowed. This privilege was reserved for school prefects, and as I never progressed beyond house prefect (and only attained that position by the skin of my teeth) this did not include me. It was with some relief that I left school and its uniform behind.

This picture of Basil Kybird was taken in 1941 when he was a pupil at Bungay Grammar School. When I asked if he could remember what colour it was he said he couldn’t. Note that even as a Grammar schoolboy he was still wearing shorts. In the 21st century shorts are popular leisure wear for any male under the age of 50; they just remind the wearer of long hot summers. They have none of the overtones of immaturity that they used to have, because the very young no longer wear them.

Norwich High uniform

Norwich High uniform

My sisters were at Norwich High School which then had an attractive apple green uniform – not today’s dark green. This picture was taken in 1949 when colour photography was not yet as good as it later became, but you can get an idea of the colour of the uniform as worn by my sister Margaret and Christine.  Christine is wearing a blazer and skirt while Margaret is in her summer dress of green gingham.

At Gresham’s School my blazer was blue of the same hue as it still is at the school. Gresham’s has the distinction of having two crests on the pocket, one for John Gresham the founder, and one for the Fishmongers Company, the governing body. This wearing to two coats of arms is technically incorrect and is frowned on by the Royal College of Heralds. As it is a practice whose origins in Holt are lost in the mists of time I don’t think the school is expecting to come into line any time soon.

The two coats of arms of Gresham' School.

The two coats of arms of Gresham’ School.

This despite the fact that a single coat of arms was produced for the school by the Royal College of Arms in time for the 400th Anniversary in 1555. This combination of the two coats of arms was revealed on the programme for the centenary celebrations, but the blazer badge still remains with its two shields.

(The wearing of crests on the blazer pocket has now ceased; not I think from any opinion the Royal College might have had, but from a modest relaxation of the strict rules of dress. The blazer however is still blue for both boys and girls, and girls wear a green and blue tartan skirt. In my day there were no girls.)

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE