One of my earliest memories is of my going to the Royal Norfolk Show when it was held in Keswick Park. This was the year before it got its current permanent home at the showground in Costessey. The Show went there in 1954, so what I am about to relate must have occurred in 1953, when I was four years old. I have so far been unable to find out where the show was held in 1952, but as it was also held at Keswick in 1951 it may well have been held at Keswick in that year too.
In 1950 the Royal Norfolk Show had been held at Anmer Park, on the Sandringham estate; this better known today as the country home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth attended. My great-aunt Ruth Hardy was closely connected with that Royal Norfolk Show, although it was of little direct relevance to her position as Lord Major of Norwich, on the opposite side of the county. I think the involvement of Royalty demanded that she take an interest, despite her strong Socialist principles. I was naturally too young to attend or even to remember anything about it, but Aunt Ruth’s participation in the opening ceremony is recorded in her mayoral scrapbook.
Keswick is a fairly common place-name. The best known I suppose is the Market Town in the Lake District, but there were also two villages of that name in Norfolk. That on the North Norfolk coast is now almost entirely lost to the sea; it used to be beyond Bacton, and its church was washed away some years before 1870. The Keswick to which I refer is a small village a mile or so south of Norwich. It was only two or three miles away from my home when I was taken to the Royal Norfolk Show all those years ago. The only part of the event that I remember was getting separated from my parents; for a young child this is a terrifying experience, and it is etched deep on my memory.
I remember being found by somebody – a stranger, no-one to do with my family – and an announcement being made over the loudspeaker, that they had found a lost child. My parents soon came to reclaim me, and all was restored to normal; my memory of events then fades as suddenly as it jumps into focus when I was lost. About the show itself my mind is almost a complete blank. I have a vague impression of tents and animals and country smells.
Keswick Hall had formerly been owned by Mr Quintin Gurney, of the family which had founded Gurney’s Bank. The Norwich bank amalgamated with others in 1896 to form Barclays Bank. The Barclays like the Gurneys were a Quaker family, and the two were related; consequently Barclays Bank used to have a strong moral probity that has now been totally lost. The senior branch of the Gurneys had lived at Keswich since it was purchased in the middle of the 18th century. We now tend to associate Earlham House with the family, as Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) had lived there happily as a child. Her mother was a Barclay.
Keswick Hall included the park where the Royal Norfolk Show was held in 1953. In 1948 the first batch of students had moved there. Between 1945 and 1950 the Teacher Training College had been located temporarily at Morley near Wymondham. This is now the co-educational comprehensive boarding school called Wymondham College. Morley had been a hospital for American airmen during the Second World War and had been a Golf Club before the conflict. Until it was blitzed in 1942 the teachers had been trained at a college in Norwich.
On the 15th December 1950 Keswick Hall became the sole site of the local teacher training establishment with the closure of Wymondham Training College. The East Wing of the new college was formally opened with great pomp and ceremony in 1951 by Queen Elizabeth (soon to be known to all as the Queen Mother). On this occasion too my Aunt Ruth played a prominent part, although with more reason as it was close to Norwich.
It was at Keswick College that my wife Molly did her three-year course to qualify as a teacher. She was living at home in Norwich at the time and cycled in every morning from her home. The college has been converted into housing since the Teacher Training was incorporated into the University of East Anglia in 1981. Like the Training College site at Morley near Wymondham, the campus of UEA where graduate teachers are now trained was also once a golf course, in this case at Earlham.
While the Hall was still in operation as a Training College I went to Keswick several times. It hosted meetings of the Recorder Society which I attended; we were taught by an excellent player called Ron Skins. I also attended a concert which was given in the College’s chapel, although on this occasion it was not a recorder concert.
I mostly remember Keswick merely as a place on the way to somewhere else like Swardeston or Intwood. I normally approached the village from Poringland along the Low Road, a journey no longer possible since the construction of the Norwich Southern By-pass. This blocked this road with the local Park and Ride car park. In those days I would turn right off the B1113 to go to Swardeston Common, or past that to Mulbarton. Otherwise I went over the road at Keswick and on to Cringleford. It is many years since I last went to any of those places, or to Keswick itself.