FRED BARNES OF COSTESSEY

Fred Barnes on his electric bike.

Fred Barnes on his electric bike.

Fred was born in May 1907, the son of the gardener to the Stafford estate. His family lived just over Tower Hill where the kitchen garden for Costessey Park was located. The soil had been tended for generations and was very productive which suited his father just fine – he was able to sell the excess vegetables for his own profit. After the last of the Costessey Jerningham family (Lord Stafford) died in 1913 Fred’s father James had to move out, and transferred his home to Brickfield Loke not far away. But as you may guess from the name, the soil here had never been cultivated and was virtually just brick earth; it was a very different proposition.

Lord Stafford himself was a Catholic, and his ancestor Henry Jerningham had been given Costessey Park by the Catholic queen Mary Tudor in gratitude for his support when she came to the throne. She was living at Kenninghall in Norfolk when the death of her brother Edward was confirmed, and Jerningham was one of the loyal counsellors who attended her. Although she was next in line to the throne there were those who wished the Protestant Lady Jane Grey to become queen in her place, so the local gentry who rallied to Mary’s side deserved her support. Many of the residents of Costessey had also been Catholic since the Reformation and no doubt the Barnes family were among them.

As far as I can trace the family, back into the 18th century, they were Costessey men (mostly brickmakers or bricklayers). In 1870 Henry Barnes (Fred’s grandfather) married Maria Ireson; I remember the Iresons of Costessey, they were builders who lived in Folgate Lane when I was their postman. On the female side of Fred’s family I can go even further back, and further afield too, into the next village of Taverham! There is even a butcher from Lakenham in Norwich – originally from Framingham Pigot; but then there is an Ellen Ryan who came from County Galway! So there was a touch of the Irish in Fred Barnes; I wonder if he knew?

Fred lived all his life in Costessey. When I knew him he had a house in West End which he had built, only a few doors down from Brickfield Loke where he had lived as a boy. He was married but the couple were childless. His trade was bricklayer; he did not drive and went everywhere on his trusty bike. He was employed on the building of the new Roman Catholic church, St Helen’s at Hoveton in 1957. No doubt being a Catholic was how he got the job. Nevertheless it was a fairly long old bike ride of nearly twelve miles back home to Costessey after a hard day’s work. One day he asked Mrs Welch if there was any chance that there was a job of postman going. He was told there was, and from then until retirement he was one of the Costessey postmen. By the time I became one of the Costessey postmen he was over 80, but he was still a regular visitor to Barney Welch, Mrs Welch’s son, at the Post Office.

As a staunch upholder of the Latin Mass he used to attend services in the old rite, which at the time were held at St Faith’s Priory. The Catholic Church forbade the holding of the Tridentine Mass, the old Latin version, and Fred and his companions were therefore frowned upon. He went there on his bike as ever, but he was finding the hills rather a trial at his advanced age. Rather than abandoning the Latin Mass however he fitted an electric motor to his bike with a car battery in a bread bin. This he did all on his own, and it was much cheaper than buying an electric bike – less than half the price. He would sail up the hills on his way to St Faith’s, without pedalling at all! People regarded it as miraculuos. A single charge would take him 50 miles.

Eventually the Tridentine Masses at St Faith’s ceased – the priest became too old to celebrate them and the Priory was sold to new owners. I lost touch with Fred when Barney Welch moved into a home in Taverham when his wife died. Apparently Fred lived on to the grand old age of 93 and did not die until the year 2000. The changes he must have seen in Costessey were amazing. When he was born the village was still the Victorian home to the aristocracy. The end of the Stafford family, the fire that ended the flour mill, the growth of the railway carriage encampment in New Costessey were all major changes. The road bridge across the river Tud in Longwater Lane was newly built when he was a boy; before that the river was only crossed by a footbridge, horses and carts used the ford.  The old Bush Inn was demolished and the old White Hart pub went the same way a few years later. The Falcon Inn building remains but it ceased to a pub when he was middle-aged. But for nearly all his life one constant remained in Costessey – the Post Office and the Welch family that ran it.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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One response

  1. living in west end costessey in the 1960s l would often see fred, going passed our house on his bike , when playing outside as a 12 year old.. little did l think that 40 years later id be on maggies radio show on radio norfolk talking about a film id made about my former home in bawburgh in 1958/9

    Like

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