AUGUST 30 1887 – AUGUST 25 1958
Further to my earlier account of Aunt Millicent, I have assembled this picture gallery of her life. The first picture is of Millicent aged about ten; her mother Rebecca had died when she was only seven years old.
She was brought up by her step mother; her father needed help to bring up his young family and he soon married his housekeeper Alice Farrow. Alice went on to have five more children with Millie’s father Charles Mason. At the age of twelve Millicent was still at school, but she was just about to embark on her first job.
This photograph is a portrait of Millie sitting at a table. She may have been still working as a parlour maid in Norwich at Strangers Hall, where her employer was Leonard Bolingbroke, the solicitor who gave the house to the City. Her hairstyle does not seem suitable for the nursing profession; it would not fit into the hat that was an essential part of a nurse’s uniform. However she was soon to abandon her work in service and begin her ascent to the very heights of the nursing profession.
This next picture comes from her time as a pupil nurse in South London. In spite of her still youthful appearance she was in her early thirties by then. As a relaxation from her arduous occupation as a nurse she is taking part in an amateur production of the Beggar’s Opera, with the lead female rôle of Polly Peachum. The Beggars Opera, first performed in 1728, had a phenomenal professional revival in London in 1920, with a run of nearly 1,500 performances. This photograph was taken at Christmas time in 1923, shortly after Aunt Millie had qualified as a midwife. She was living in Balham in the Wandsworth area, just south of the river.
Balham is well served by transport links, with both Underground and Overground stations. It was thus fairly easy for her to get on a train to visit her family in Norfolk. The postal service was cheap and efficient in those days, and you could send a postcard for as little as a ha’penny. There were nearly 500 of these ½d coins to a pound, and even if you posted your card late in the day it would arrive at its destination the next morning without fail. Would that this was still true.
Her place of work was St James’ Hospital in Balham where she had been enrolled as a pupil nurse in 1920. (The official title of the Infirmary was indeed St James’ with no final ‘s’, although the nearby street is correctly called St James’s.) It was a large hospital with over 600 beds, which had been opened in 1910 on the site of a former workhouse, and the building included accommodation for nurses. It finally closed after nearly eighty years in 1988. Millie moved to another hospital in 1926 and eventually progressed to working in Harley Street, the top location for medical advice in the country. There she became the favourite midwife of the highest echelons of society.
The picture above shows Aunt Millie in her nurse’s uniform. Always rather short-sighted, she was still wearing rimless glasses, but by the 1930s she had changed to a heavy round black horn rimmed frame, a style that she wore for the rest of her life. Our first picture of her wearing these glasses was taken in 1936 in Trowse, where she had returned for a short break to spend some time with her father who was then in his late seventies. The two are shown here in his garden. She was already becoming well-regarded in her chosen career, and I think you can tell her father was immensely proud of her.
In 1953 Aunt Millie was employed by Timothy Colman at Bixley Manor, his home a short distance to the south of Norwich. He had recently retired as Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was settling down to married life. This was an important appointment as Millicent was to look after his first-born child, a daughter called Sarah, cousin to the new Queen Elizabeth.
Millie took the opportunity of living near Norwich for a few months to visit family members in the vicinity. We went to Bixley Manor to see her from our home in Poringland, and although I was only four I remember clearly what she said to me; perhaps my family reminded me in later years. However I recall her appearance as that of a very old lady, but in fact she was a young looking sixty-something. She also journeyed into Norwich to see the Withams and the Berrys, her half sisters’ families and doubt other family members too; there were plenty of Masons living in the Lakenham area of the city. Unlike today, Council Houses with large gardens were being built in huge numbers after World War I, and the Masons took full advantage of this fact.
For the Christmas of the previous year she had sent out this studio portrait of herself to acquaintances and members of her family. She had made many friends through meeting the parents of new babies, and in spite of being a single woman I get the impression that her retirement in Kent was not a lonely one. She would have chosen this area to retire to because both her brothers who had remained in Norfolk had already passed away, while her two sisters Nellie and Bessie were both living in Kent at the time.
The final picture I have of Millie shows her in the summer of 1953 in the home of her half-sister Edith Berry (née Mason) in Pilling Park, Norwich.
THE BLOG FOR the STORY OF THE MASON FAMILY
Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States in 1861. We all know the part he played in the Civil War, but the fact that his ancestor Samuel Lincoln emigrated to America in 1637 in his teens is a slightly less familiar fact. Samuel settled in Hingham Massachusetts, a settlement some 23 miles south of Boston. Samuel had grown up in the village of Hingham in Norfolk, before being apprenticed to Francis Lawes as a weaver in Norwich. This was a time when Puritan feelings were at their height, especially in Norwich, where Matthew Wren (uncle of the architect Christopher Wren) was appointed bishop in 1635. He tried to impose traditional elements of worship on the churches of the diocese, such as bowing at the name of Jesus and the wearing of surplices. These things were anathema to the Puritans, and many of them longed to escape the stifling influence of the Church of England by establishing a simpler form of worship in the New World. Francis Lawes could not tolerate this state of affairs for long, and within two years he and his family – his wife, daughter and servant Samuel Lincoln – had embarked on the ship the John and Dorothy at Yarmouth for the voyage to New England.
It was no accident that Samuel Lincoln chose to make his home in Hingham Massachusetts. His elder brother Thomas had emigrated two years earlier in 1635 when the town was incorporated. The settlement had been founded by a number of the better-off citizens of Hingham in Norfolk who, together with their clergy the Reverends Peck and Hobart, had sold their property off cheaply in England to make a new life for themselves in America. The poorer folk who were left behind in Norfolk suffered badly from the loss of so many wealthy inhabitants of the village and petitioned Parliament for aid. Hingham Massachusetts is nothing like Hingham in Norfolk; for a start is a coastal town, whereas the English village is deep in the interior of Norfolk. Until the coming of the railways many Norfolk people could live their whole lives without ever seeing the sea, in spite of the county being almost surrounded by water.
The most famous ship to take emigrants across the Atlantic was the Mayflower. She sailed from Rotherhithe on the Thames to Plymouth in 1620 en route to Massachusetts. She had been built towards the beginning of the 1600s in Harwich in Essex. Although the Pilgrim Fathers came from all over southern England, several of them were from Norfolk and Suffolk.
Many generations separate Samuel Lincoln from his descendant Abraham, and George Washington’s ancestral home in Northamptonshire cannot really be called part of Eastern England, but one of the most influential of political voices of the American War of Independence belonged to a Norfolkman born and bred. Tom Paine was born to a weaver in Thetford (note how the wool trade dominated the lives of East Anglians for centuries) and he was educated at the Grammar School there. You can read more about Thomas Paine in an earlier blog I wrote.
To get an idea of the more general way East Anglians were involved in the earliest settlement of the US look at all the place-names that we now associated with North America, but that originated in Norfolk. Yarmouth in Cape Cod was founded in 1639 and Norwich Connecticut in 1659. Norfolk itself means Norfolk Virginia to anyone from across the pond. Denver Colorado gets it name from James Denver, but indirectly from the fenland village in Norfolk. Of course many other parts of England have left their mark on the map of North America, but Norfolk is up there with the best.
So far I have only mentioned those who travelled westwards to the New World, but in the Second World War more American air force personnel were stationed in Norfolk than anywhere else in the UK. In view of the strong ties we in Norfolk have with North America I think we could do even more to foster tourism from the United States to our county.
THE BLOG FOR STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Mowing the lawn has been a constant feature of my life for as long as I can remember; yet it is so mundane a task that I can recall so little about it. Obviously I was too young at first to do anything in the garden but watch others at work, but by the time I moved into my teenage years I was helping my father to cut the grass, and particularly to do the edges with shears. Dad’s contribution was to install ever more complicated motors to drive the simple Qualcast push mower that he started off with.
His first attempt was to fit a 34 cc 2 stroke JAP engine, which only powered the cutting cylinder and not the roller, which would have made the machine self-propelled. Even so it was a little under-powered, so he moved on to a TVO 4 stroke BSA engine. TVO (tractor vaporising oil) is otherwise called kerosene or paraffin. The engine had to be warm to vaporise the oil, so it had a small subsidiary petrol tank for starting. We used to run our engine mostly on petrol, because by the time it had warmed up enough to switch over to paraffin the lawn was cut and it was time to put the mower way.
At 120 cc this BSA motor was quite adequate for the cutting the lawn, and next my father wanted to make his mower self-propelled. The meant adding a clutch and a belt drive to power the roller. This added a complication, because the mower ran a little too fast and poor Daddy had almost to run to keep up with the machine. Rather than adjust the gearing he decided to remove the petrol engine and go electric instead; so next it was off to Hagg’s shop in King Street to select an electric motor. He tried both mains (which meant a long cable) and battery power that needed a heavy 12 volt car battery. You may wonder why he did not simply buy a motor mower, but the fact is that he loved the experiments he was making; he said that buying a motor mower was too expensive, but he must have spent much more on his schemes than several off-the-shelf mowers would have cost. The hours he spent on the work bench devising solutions to mechanical problems were much more interesting to him than the boring business of actually cutting the grass.
Eventually he did buy a Mountfield petrol rotary mower. The design of this machine (illustrated above) has not changed in fifty years. Our front lawn at Poringland was quite large, so as my father got older and more frail a reliable motor mower was becoming needed. For one thing the Montfield was much easier to start than the JAP or BSA engines, as it had an automatic rewind on the starting rope, which the others did not. With those engines you had to wind the rope by hand, and if it misfired (as often was the case) you had the tedious business to do again.
While my father was busy experimenting with his lawn mower I had moved on through school to university, and you might think that the study of Anglo-Saxon England and Baroque architecture had pushed all thoughts of mowing the lawn to one side, but this was not so. My landlady had to get up early in the morning to catch the train from Oxford to London, where she was librarian at Imperial College. This left me alone to make my own breakfast, read history books and incidentally to cut the grass in front of her house!
We briefly lived in a second floor flat when I was first married, and there was of course no lawn to mow. Soon we moved into a bungalow which had both a front and a back lawn, and out came the mower again. Our next house (where we still live) also has grass to cut, but now we have gardener to it for us. Now I just clip a bit here and there with garden shears which, as you may recall, is how I started all those years ago.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
PARSON JAMES WOODFORDE (1740-1803) was an unknown character until John Beresford published the first volume of selections from his diary in 1924. This caused something of a literary sensation, and figures such as Max Beerbohm and Virginia Woolf were immediately intrigued and delighted by the details of this eighteenth century cleric’s life. The popularity of the first volume resulted in four more volumes being published in the following years.
Woodforde had been born in the West Country, and after getting a Scholarship at at Winchester College he got his degree at Oxford. He then spent ten years as curate in his father’s parish in Somerset. In 1773 he was presented with the living at Weston Longville in Norfolk. He moved there in 1776 and after becoming established there he soon settled into life in this country parish, about ten miles outside Norwich. The nucleus of Weston included the church, parsonage and the Hart, the public house that supplied Woodforde with port, gin and rum; much of it smuggled!
On horseback, and accompanied by a servant and a friend or relative, he would travel the East Anglian countryside in the summer. Great Yarmouth, Wells-Next-the-Sea, Lowestoft and Southwold were all seaside places he visited; they were not yet the holiday resorts that they would become in the next century. He was less interested in going to inland towns. For longer journeys back to Somerset he would take the coach from the Kings Head in Norwich Market Place and travel via London. Norwich, he said, was the fairest city in the country by far, and as a Norwich born person I may be slightly biased, but I think it has held up well to that description. From the castle to the cathedral to Elm Hill it presents a picturesque face to tourist and local alike.
What the reader of a diary wants are just the sort of everyday details he supplies. Of the great national events we may read full accounts elsewhere, but of Mr Mason of Sparham’s playing on the handbells (for example) we can only learn about in Woodforde’s diary. They may seem mundane events, but it is those very glimpses of the past that become lost as time passes, because no one else has recorded them. In the Parson’s diary we may read of an onion which measured 14 inches in circumference; this was certainly a big onion, but the interest is not so much its size. He seldom mentions the vegetables he has with his roast lamb or shoulder of pork, but onions are obviously one possibility. They have good keeping qualities. ‘Roots’ (probably turnips) he also refers to, and they were available for most of the autumn and winter; asparagus had short season in the spring, but that too appeared on Woodforde’s table.
Much fun was had by ‘the Captain’ – Bill Woodforde, the Parson’s nephew. He had served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence and with demobilisation following the Peace Treaty he stayed at Weston for several months. While there he built a miniature sloop (a type of sailing ship). The baulks of deal from which he constructed the hull he brought from Norwich in Woodforde’s cart, and the lead for the keel he acquired from a glazier in Mattishall. You may get some idea of the size of the vessel, as 25 lbs of lead were needed to balance the keel. Unfortunately he got the balance wrong, and on being launched the vessel listed to starboard and immediately began taking on water. This was a matter of great chagrin to the Captain. Where it took to the water is not revealed, but it may have been in the river Wensum, or else a local pond.
You can appreciate Woodforde in many different ways; you can dip into his dietary life, which is recorded on a daily basis, or chart the weather. Rain, snow and wind are all recorded, and he had a barometer from which he regularly took the pressure. For me the details of the lives of his acquaintances provide endless snippets of information for my researches into local history; although his appeal is nationwide, for me it is truly local. Weston Longville is only separated from where I lived by one other village. I can picture the rivers he fished in, the woods he skirted around and the roads he ventured along, not from the printed page but from my everyday familiarity with the landscape. Even many of the pubs he mentions are still there, in the old buildings Woodforde would have known, still serving their pints of ale to me as they did to him nearly 250 years ago.
THE BLOG FOR EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The first hint of the coming revolution in road transport came with the Puffing Devil, a steam-propelled road engine built by Richard Trevithick early in the 19th century. This was in Cornwall, where Trevithick was also engaged in the development of the high-pressure steam engine. Steam traction engines were being built all across the country (including East Anglia) by the middle of the 19th century.
There were several producers of this invention in Norfolk, and two firms in particular produced many machines. Charles Burrell of Thetford was making self-propelled road engines by the 1850s. Burrells did not survive and went bust in the first half of the twentieth century, but at one time their Norfolk built traction engines were exported all over the world. Frederick Savage of Kings Lynn’s steam Juggernauts were in production by 1855; the firm moved on from making farm equipment to corner the market in fairground rides and showman’s engines, even before the 20th century dawned. They were still in business in 1973, when the firm closed.
Norfolk is a rural county, which may explain the early enthusiasm for steam engines, that were used in farms to power threshing machinery. Traction engines, which were self-propelled versions of the stationary engine, were later employed to move goods about the farm and drive ploughing machines. The steam-powered wagon made by Samuel Soames in Marsham was an early example of an automotive road engine for personal transport, but it was a one-off.
Norfolk is not particularly notable for its place in the history of the motorcar, but that does not mean it was not involved at all. The firm of Mann Egerton in Norwich was involved deeply in the production of motor cars, building the bodywork for Rolls Royce chassis before the First World War. With the coming of war the firm moved into the production of airframes for the burgeoning aircraft industry. Two Norwich firms were involved; as well as Mann Egerton, who were commissioned by the Government to build aircraft to the deigns of others.This activity ceased with the coming of peace, but the other company who made aeroplanes during the First World War continued making aircraft throughout the Second World War. This was Boulton and Paul, whose Defiant was the most famous British night fighter of the Second World War, although by then production had been shifted to the midlands where the factory was deemed less exposed to enemy action. Earlier planes designed by Boulton and Paul had been the Overstrand and Sidestrand biplane bombers, and they had been made in Norwich.
Even railway locomotives were made in Norfolk. The Great Eastern made all its own locos, but their workshop was at Stratford in East London. When the M & G N was formed their works was in Melton Constable; although mot of their motive power was provided by other manufacturers, they did produce some of their own design of locomotives under their Chief Engineer William Marriott.
Before the coming of these mechanised forms of transport, the horse was the beast that moved men and goods on land. Before that it had been the ox, because horses were only used by the most exalted travellers; for the use of oxen as beasts of burden we must cast or eyes back to the middle ages. The great East Anglian horse was the Suffolk Punch, but this breed was apparently not popular in Norfolk.
With all the waterways in Broadland, water transport was the way we carried out trade before the coming of the railways. The high point of the development of boats for this trade was the Norfolk wherry. With just one sail to handle, this vessel could be sailed by one man, although the assistance of boy was helpful. Wheat and malting barley were taken downstream for transhipment to larger craft, or upstream to Norwich, while coal was carried by wherry upstream from Yarmouth. Lime was another common cargo.
Although the use of the wherry for transport had ceased by the middle 20th century, the importance of water transport continued on the river Yare well into living memory. Sea-going coasters carried coal and timber up to Norwich, and fruit juice from South America to Carrow Works for Robinson’s Barley Water; scrap metal was exported from Wensum wharf. This trade petered out about thirty years ago, and now all the river transport beyond the sea ports is leisure craft.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982
This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.
We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:
We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.
With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.
On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.
On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.
The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.
Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet, without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt. It was of course a Tory landslide.
The liner Uganda was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a school cruise ship in September. After just two months she was chartered as a supply ship for the Falkland Islands. When her charter ran out she was taken to Taiwan for breaking up. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire in the summer of 1982) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship. The book was published twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.
It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE 1980s
In Victorian times, and even into the 1950s, the weather and the changing seasons seldom disrupted train services. Flooding may have been a problem, but there was no difficulty about leaves on the line; trees were kept well back from the track to avoid conflagrations arising from sparks from the chimneys of steam engines. If the wind blew a few leaves under the train the large wheels and heavy superstructure of these locomotives would make short work of them.
The 60 ft rails held together with fishplates could accommodate the most extreme temperatures without buckling. Now we have welded rails the passage of the trains is quieter it is true, but every year on hot days there are delays and cancellations caused by the expansion of the track.
Most recently we have had a catastrophic failure of all the colour-light signals on the Norwich to Cambridge line, caused by lightning strikes. The whole system was permanently stuck at red (which I suppose is slightly better than being stuck at green). To make things worse, the spare parts required had to be ordered from Germany. Semaphore signals never suffered in this way; these old signals were only removed from this stretch of line a few years ago, after more than a hundred and fifty years of faultless service. It hasn’t taken long for the modern signalling infrastructure to reveal its flaws.
The collision between a Cambridge bound train and a farm tractor, which happened about a year ago, was caused because (with the ending of semaphore signalling) the number of signal boxes on the line was drastically reduced. The signalman in the box at Cambridge made a mistake because, when called on the trackside phone, gave the tractor driver permission to cross. The train was already nearly upon him, and although luckily no one was killed, there was a terrible collision. Being so far from the scene must have had an effect; no signalman who had just let a train past his box would have allowed someone to cross. Also, having so much more work to do, with all the other signal boxes closed, it is perhaps not surprising that the mistake was made.
These problems are the result of recent updating on the railway. They haven’t made the trains run any faster, but they have certainly saved money on wages. Do not get me wrong; I fully accept the need to modernise a method of transport that was begun almost 200 years ago, but these improvements should be to enhance safety, not solely to protect the bottom line. They should result in a better service at all times. It should not be so easy for the vagaries of the weather, or the tiredness of the operatives, to disrupt things so badly. It ought to be possible to devise systems that would end the problem of leaves on the line for example; it might be a start to return to the old procedure of cutting back the undergrowth on embankments and cuttings along the line.
As to the problem of the rails expanding in hot weather, it might be that with the increasing warming of the climate, is it time to go back to a slightly shorter length of rail? I wonder how they manage things on the new high-speed line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa? The variations in temperature between night and day must be far greater than anything we experience in this country. There are certainly clever people working in the rail industry who could come up with much more innovative solutions to these problems than me, but at present they do not appear to be doing so. Rather we are told that it is just one of those acts of nature, and we must learn to accept it. A surprising number of badly served customers do accept this, but not me. In the 21st century we should be able to travel with comfort and reliability, nor should it cost a fortune to do so; in all three respects we are worse off than our great-grandparents.
THE BLOG FOR THE FUTURE OF THE RAILWAYS
Norfolk; it is impossible to talk of Norfolk politics without acknowledging the great divide between Norwich, which has been Labour inclined since the birth of the Independent Labour Party in the last years of the nineteenth century, and the rest of the county which has (in the popular imagination anyway) been painted Tory Blue since time immemorial. This, particularly the latter part, is not true by any means.
For hundreds of years the tiny area of Castle Rising in West Norfolk returned two MPs. Some well-known figures sat for Castle Rising, including Samuel Pepys and Robert Walpole. The elections were never contested although they could be bought and sold. Following the Reform Act of 1832, which abolished most of these notorious Rotten Boroughs, some of the smaller boroughs remained until 1867/68; both Great Yarmouth and Thetford returned two MPs until that date. These Rotten or Pocket Boroughs were in the ‘pockets’ of the local landowner and did not respond the changing political mood in the country at large. After 1832 Norfolk was divided into two constituencies, East and West; previous Norfolk had been one. Each constituency in the country returned two Members of Parliament. The bigger constituencies of East and West Norfolk regularly changed their allegiance between Tories and the Liberal Party.
In the House of Commons Norwich was a separate constituency from the first establishment of Parliament in the Middle Ages. In the sixteenth century one of the Members for Norwich was called Thomas Sotherton, a name that may be familiar to the residents of Taverham; his family provided all the squires of the village from 1623 until squires as such disappeared at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Norwich returned George Roberts as its first Labour MP in 1906. He had stood unsuccessfully in 1904. George Roberts lost his seat in 1923, but by then he had ceased to represent the Labour Party.
At the same election Norwich returned one of the first three female MPs to represent the Labour Party. Her name was Dorothy Jewson and she was hardly a typical member of the working class. Her father had been a prosperous coal merchant, and her educational background was Norwich High School and Girton College Cambridge. She was firm in her principles however, and was a pacifist who had opposed the First World War. It was a time of political turmoil nationally, and she lost her seat in the 1924 General Election, although she came closely behind the winning candidates. She stood again in 1929 and 1931, but she never again entered parliament. She sat on the City Council as an Independent Labour Party member, at a time when my Great Aunt Ruth Hardy- a woman of authentic working class roots – was establishing her career in local politics, which led to her becoming Lord Major in 1950.
In the General Election of that year the constituency of Norwich was abolished, to be replaced by Norwich North and Norwich South. The number of representatives did not increase, as the old two member constituencies were replaced by single member ones. The ‘first past the post’ electoral system that we regard as a basic (though controversial) facet of British politics is in fact not that old. I can claim to older than it is, though only just.
In Norfolk the picture is more varied than that in Norwich; West Norfolk has been a Tory stronghold pretty consistently from the nineteenth century onwards, but East Norfolk has swung more between the major parties. North Norfolk has long struck an independent course; throughout much of the twentieth century it returned a Labour MP, and in the twenty first century it has loyally stood by its Liberal Democrat representative, Norman Lamb.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
My great-grandfather Charles Mason was brought up as a Primitive Methodist. This branch of Methodism grew from a large open air meeting of the working class held at Mow Cop in Staffordshire in 1807. (Mow Cop, on the border of Staffordshire and Cheshire, is a ‘ruined castle’ on a hill; actually a summer-house built in 1754 by the local landowner.) The organisers of the meeting had no wish to establish a break-away denomination, but were merely trying to re-assert what they regarded as the basic tenets of Methodism; particularly its missionary outreach to the poor and dispossessed. It this sense it mirrored the creation of Methodism itself, which arose as a branch of the Church of England dedicated to the lowest orders of society. In spite of these views, John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) remained a clergyman of the established church all his life.
The Church of England was firmly entrenched as the church of the Establishment, and the concentration of the ‘Methodists’ on the less well off proved too controversial for the C off E, and the ‘enthusiasts’ split into a separate denomination. There were also some technical disagreements about church organisation, but the rigid class barriers which existed in society proved to be more divisive. A major development was when the founder John Wesley appointed preachers in North America outside the normal ordination procedure as practised in the Church of England. This action in 1784 inevitably led to the setting up of new denomination after John Wesley’s death.
It was less than twenty years after the birth of Methodism as a new church that the Primitive Methodists were divided in their turn from the Wesleyans. Again it was social rather than religious differences that proved insuperable obstacles to unity; the Baptists and the Quakers (for example) have huge disagreements in matters of belief, but in theological terms there was little to choose between the two branches of Methodism, or indeed between them and the mother church, the C of E. To put it crudely, the Established Church was upper class, Methodists were middle class and the Primitive Methodists were working class. The result was that the Wesleyan Methodists refused to countenance the inclusion of such low-class congregations in their ranks. Such camp meetings as those held at Mow Cop were ‘highly improper in England’ they maintained. Thus it was propriety rather than dogma that stood between them.
Living in Staffordshire the Masons were at the epicentre of these developments and were among the first adherents of Primitive Methodism. Before 1800 the residents of Stoke on Trent and the surrounding area were regarded as a bunch of godless and benighted individuals. The Primitive Methodists provided these people, who had been seen as the ignorant and worthless dregs of humanity, with a path to salvation. The movement rapidly spread around the country from its Staffordshire beginnings. By the 1820s there were Primitive Methodist chapels springing up across Norfolk.
In the UK the Primitive Methodists were finally reunited with the Wesleyans in 1932, but in other parts of the world they maintain their independence. As well as providing the nascent Labour Party with many of its members, the ‘Prims’ were instrumental in the formation of the Trades Union Congress. The Primitive Methodists even more than the Wesleyan Methodists were deeply involved in supporting hospitals, providing education (particularly in Sunday Schools which taught children to read and write before the advent of Universal Education) and were foremost in promoting women as preachers.
After leaving Staffordshire to get married in 1879, Charles Mason was already well established in Trowse at the beginning of the twentieth century, but unfortunately there was no Primitive Methodist chapel in Trowse. (Neither had there been one in the first village in which he had made his home in Norfolk, Easton.) The nearest one to Towse was in Queens Road in Norwich, which had been built in 1872. This remained a church after Methodist Union, finally closing after the Second World War. No doubt Charles occasionally attended these popular services, but mostly the family went to the Mission Chapel (associated with the Congregational Church) in the Street in Trowse. This was demolished in 1970. A hundred year after that first meeting at Mow Cop a grand anniversary was held there in 1907. Charles attended the celebrations in Staffordshire, which suggests that he had not entirely lost touch with his family in his birthplace. One of his granddaughters (there are still grandchildren of Charles Mason, not much older than me) has a plate issued to commemorate the occasion in 1907, and this would have been brought back to Norfolk by Charles Mason.
William and Emily Mason (my grandparents) brought their children up as ‘Congs’, no doubt reflecting their own upbringing in the chapel in Trowse. The youngsters went to the morning service at the Princes Street Congregational Church in Norwich, followed by Sunday School in the afternoon. They had time walk home for tea before it was off again to the evening service; it was not a very restful day of rest. Primitive Methodism did not survive into the next generation of Charles’s family, and six years before his death the church had ceased to exist as a distinct entity.
THE HISTORY OF METHODISM
This Norfolk village is hidden away in the depths of the countryside. It is twenty five miles south west of Norwich; it is not exceptionally picturesque but pleasant enough. It comes under Breckland District Council. In summer it is surrounded by green hedges and fields of corn. The church of St Michael is set back on a bend in the road and the bell rings the hours; when we were there in June the clock was a quarter of an hour fast. It has a fine display of 15th century Norwich School stained glass and five remaining figures set in brasses on the floor.
The river Wissey passes through Great Cressingham and rises a few miles north at Bradenham. You are a long way from the Norfolk Broads here, and further downstream the Wissey is home to narrow boats that have come to Norfolk from the Midland canal system. It has more in common with the river Severn that the river Bure in boating terms – almost a foreign country!
Molly and I were there to watch our daughter Polly compete in a British Cycling road race. Although this was held in Norfolk the competitors came from far away; several from London and one from Shropshire. The field was therefore a strong one and Polly did well to finish around half way down the field – there were 30 in the women’s race. It was her first road race, previously she had competed in a Mountain Bike contests near Brandon which we had also gone to watch. On that occasion we never even found the venue! This race started at the village hall and there were seven laps of the surrounding roads, each one taking about 20 minutes to complete. Along the Watton Road the villagers had turned out in force to watch. They probably don’t get very much entertainment in the village. My wife could get no signal on her phone – maybe it would be better on another network.
The nearest town is Watton and for ninety years until 1964 that was their nearest railway station, on the Swaffham to Thetford branch. Great Cressingham may have felt a little less cut off before the Second World War because southwards the Stanford Battle Training Area now blocks off Great and Little Cressingham from the Thetford area. In all five villages (plus a deserted medieval settlement) were taken over by the War Office in 1942 and remain out of bounds today. STANTA is used for regular training exercises by the Paras and others, and soldiers from Europe are frequently to be seen there. The former habitations have been wrecked by decades of neglect and gunfire, but the churches have been preserved. The fine church at West Tofts was largely rebuilt in the 19th century by Pugin, at the expense of its millionaire vicar. It is described as one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in the country and so it is doubly sad that it cannot be visited. However occasional services have been held there since the 1980s.
As a civil parish Great Cressingham is combined with Little Cressingham and two villages together had a population off 421 in the last census. The village school close in 1992 and there is no longer a shop, but the 17th century pub (the Olde Windmill) remains. It seems a popular place with a dining room and guest bedrooms as well as wide range of cask ales.