Author Archive: joemasonspage

Islands and sand banks

There are several islands off the coast of Essex, one on the Suffolk coast and only two or three marshy areas of land which approach the status island in North West Norfolk. Scolt Head is the largest and best known of these islands off Norfolk. It is the only one to have name. The only island in Suffolk is Havergate Island, a low-lying area of saltmarsh in the river Ore. It is deserted and is managed as a bird sanctuary, although in the early 20th century it was still used for agriculture and had a small resident population.

Many of the islands of Essex are accessed by causeways which disappear under the high tide. Several have a few houses on them that are occupied for at least part of the year, and more have fields which require cultivation. Northeye Island in the Blackwater estuary was the site of a battle between the Anglo-Saxons and the invading Danes back in the 10th century. The Anglo-Saxons lost the fight because they very sportingly but foolishly let the Danes assemble having got off the causeway before joining them in battle.

East Mersea church

In Essex the only island to have a substantial population is Mersea Island, and that has two villages, East and West Mersea. There are two churches which have been there since the early middle ages. I visited Mersea Island over 30 years ago and discovered that it takes a spring tide to make the causeway impassable. It has a flourishing holiday industry with leisure cruisers and sailing boats which use the waters around the island and there is also a static caravan park by the sea in East Mersea. There are boats fishing for oysters but farming makes up the backbone of the economy.

Blakeney harbour

Blakeney harbour in the 1970s.

Blakeney Point is treated like an island, as is Orford Ness, and both are served by local ferries, but both may also be reached on foot by walkers with strong legs. For Blakeney Point you must leave from Cley, crossing the long sand spit, being careful to avoid the nesting terns during the breeding season. By the time you have reached the old lifeboat station which serves as the base for the National Trust personnel. Once there you might wish to take the ferry back to Blakeney as its landing point is nearby.

To walk to Orford Ness you start at Aldeburgh; the journey is even longer than that to Blakeney Point, being some five miles. There are a lot of former military building to see on the way, and a lighthouse which appears to be in immanent danger of falling into the sea. Until the 1980s the whole area was strictly out-of-bounds, being used for all sorts of secret military experiments.

Scolt Head, near Burnham Overy Staithe in Norfolk, is reached by a ferry which runs in the summer months, although at low tide it is possible to walk to the island. There is an elegant wooden hut/cottage with a chimney built of beach pebbles, which was used by the nature reserve’s first warden, the photographer and naturalist Emma Turner. Scolt Head has been owned by the National Trust since 1923.

The East Coast of England is faurly poorly served by islands, although Lindisfarne in Northumbria has a rich history going back to the beginnings of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times. The Isle of Wight and Hayling Island are two of very few islands on the South Coast. Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour is a haven for red squirrels, which are safe from the American greys that have taken over most of the country. St Michael’s Mount lies just off the coast of Cornwall and that too is reached by a causeway. The Bristol Channel gives access to Lundy Island and off Tenby, Pembrokeshire, is Caldey Island which is dominated by its abbey.

All these islands are coastal islands; the Scillies, the Isle of Man and the Outer Hebrides take on a different character. To reach them you must undertake a sea voyage lasting several hours, or go by air. No one can say exactly how many islands there are off the coast of England or of Scotland; at what stage does an island cease to be an island and becomes merely a rock? Of course Great Britain itself is an island, but despite what some foolish people sometimes say, it is certainly not a small one.





Thomas Ivory was certainly the most important architect of 18th century Norwich. I cannot think of another architect from an earlier period in the city whose name has survived. Architects there certainly were, but they were referred to just as builders. Thomas Ivory similarly started in business a tradesman – in his case as a carpenter. There was no recognised training for architects before the 19th century. In the 17th century the Norfolk architect Sir Roger Pratt was a country gentleman and Henry Bell of Kings Lynn was a merchant. After studying law at Oxford Pratt travelled widely in Europe to avoid the Civil War, using his time to study architecture and no doubt to talk to architects. Bell did not go abroad but he did attend Gonvillee and Caius College at Cambridge; his acquaintanceship with Robert Hooke, designer of the Monument to the Fire of London (among other buildings) helped him learn his craft.

We know little about the early life of Thomas Ivory and who educated him in architecture is unknown; I find it incredible that such an accomplished user of the grammar of Classical building could have been entirely self-taught. He first comes to our notice as the builder of Thrigby Hall in 1735. This was rebuilt in the 19th century and it would be interesting to know if his first attempt already showed his mastery of the style. He was also trading as a timber merchant at this time.

The Octagon Chapel in Colegate.

The Assembly House is perhaps the most impressive example of his work, but the Octagon Chapel is the most innovative of his designs. It all hangs together in a way that shows Ivory’s great achievement; it is in no way simply a provincial piece of architecture, but deserves comparison with any Non-Conformist chapel of the time – as was pointed out by John Wesley who preached there. Ivory went on to complete the building of the final wing of Blickling Hall. He also built the first Theatre Royal and even ran the Company of Comedians who appeared there.

I have a personal connection with the architecture of Thomas Ivory; for nearly 50 years my family owned his building at 29 Surrey Street. I consequently have an intimate knowledge of his approach to domestic architecture. I was also a in regular attendance at Ivory House in All Saints Green in the days when it was part of the City College. The 18th century produced many buildings in the Classical style but in Norwich they were almost exclusively the work of Thomas Ivory.

His own house was the building now known as St Helen’s House in the grounds of the Great Hospital. Also in Bishopsgate he had his woodyard which was supplied by water. This timber probably came by sea from Sweden or Finland and was loaded on Keels at Yarmouth. He had planks of up to three feet wide or more which he used at 29 Surrey Street. One of his workmen was called Robert Forster, which we know because he left his name and the date (1765) when working on the portico at 31 Surrey Street.






The river which forms the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex along much of its length rises in Cambridgeshire. It is navigable from Sudbury but as there are at least ten weirs that require portages this is only possible by canoe/kayak today. The first part of the river from Sudbury has a moderate amount of traffic by rowing boat but this falls away at the first portage. The river was one of the first in the country to be canalised but this has long fallen into disuse. A number of fallen trees and shallow stretches with reeds make the passage problematical but the landing places are well maintained. Most canoeists make the trip downstream only, unless they are just going fishing locally. The exertion of constantly going against the flow is exhausting otherwise. Round Dedham Vale the river again becomes populated by rowing boats belonging to the River Stour Trust. They have recently bought the Maria Constable, an electric launch which will take trippers from Flatford to Dedham and back.


The river is best known from this picture of the Haywain by John Constable, although perhaps some people do not realise that this is indeed the river that passes Flatford mill. When the picture was painted the river was at the height of its use as an artery of trade, but you can see that only relatively small vessels were able to pass along this mostly narrow and sometimes shallow river. There were many locks that the barges had to navigate on their way. Lighters were still being used on the river above Manningtree after the First World War.

The river was used for transporting loads short distances; logs to a lcal sawmill for example many centuries ago, but this route to the sea was blocked by water mills, shallows and weirs. The first written record we have concerning opening up the river to navigation is from 1634 when a meeting of the Corporation of Sudbury was held to discuss the provision of locks on the river. Various attempts were made during the seventeenth century to advance the matter but it was not until 1705 that a Bill was passed in Parliament to make the river navigable from Sudbury to Manningtree. The Act did not specify that a full tow path should be provided, but left it to the discretion of local landowners; needless to say this led to problems in later years. In particular the tow path kept changing sides of the river, which required the frequent ferrying of the tow horse back and forth.

Originally there were thirteen stanches and an equal number of pound locks on the navigable river. The waterway was operational by 1710 and only cost the Commissioners £6,500 to complete, which suggests much of the work was either renovation of existing structures or was done on the cheap – probably both. In 1781 another Act of Parliament nominated further commissioners, who included the brother of Thomas Gainsborough and the father of John Constable. We should call this painters’ river. During the following century the stanches were removed and extra pound locks were constructed, and the existing locks were improved.

The use of the river was made less important by the coming of the railway. During the second half of the nineteenth century coal was taken direct from the coal field to Sudbury by train, requiring no transshipment unlike the river. Grain, flour and malt were still transported from places like Flatford by boat. The company got into financial difficulties before the First World War but the navigation was kept open by transferring ownership to a trust. As late as 1928 £25,500 was spent on improving the locks on the lower part of the river. It is a peaceful place, and even if full navigation were ever restored – an unlikely task – it would remain so, as there is no connection with other canals in he country. The railway, which before Dr Beeching went from Marks Tey to Cambridge, now terminates at Sudbury. There is also a station at Bures, another place that used the transport provided by the river Stour.

At Manningtree there is a row of sluice gates between the A137 bridge and the railway which effectively now prevents the passage of boats to the sea. The river branches into two as it approaches Cattawade Nature Reserve and the minor northern river is also blocked by a sluice. The modest river turns into a huge estuary almost within a matter of yards. The ferry port of Harwich at the seaward end looks across to the port of Fellixstowe on the river Orwell, a port that can accommodate the largest vessels on earth. Within less than fifty miles the river has turned from a mere trickle to a major waterway.

JOSEPH MASON                                                                                                                          



I have changed trains at Ely Railway Station. I was travelling on an Anglia Ranger ticket and had already used it to explore most of the railways in East Anglia. In Norfolk I had not been to Downham Market nor to Sudbury in Suffolk; I still haven’t been to those places, but I have to nearly all the other railway stations that continue to exist in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as to plenty that closed half a century ago or more. On September 1st 1982 I had gone from Ipswich to Cambridge via Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket. At Cambridge I caught the train that was going to Kings Lynn, and at Ely I intended to change to the Norwich line. I got into the station at Ely at 4.50 p.m. and had to wait quite a while for the connection to Norwich. That gave me time to walk up to the city and have a look at the cathedral. I also did a little shopping and bought a couple of chews for my dog who had stayed at home with my sister. Although I have been through the station fairly often since then, that was the only occasion that I have actually got off the train there. Of course I have gone to Ely more than once, but sadly all the other times have been by car and not by train.


Ely was a stop on the Fenman Express that was introduced by British Railways in 1949, shortly after Nationalisation. It was normally hauled ex-LNER B1 locomotives. This class of engine had been designed by Thompson in 1942 and was given the classification 5MT – mixed traffic. These were called the Antelope class and the early example were named after types of deer. The Fenman ran from London Liverpool Street to Lynn and on to Hunstanton. By the 60s the express was increasingly hauled by diesel locomotives, but on one occasion the diesel hauling the train carrying the Queen on the way to Wolferton station failed near Ely and a steam locomotive had to come to the rescue!

Ely is on the route to other parts of the country from most places East Anglia as far a railways are concered. You can go south from Norwich to London and west from Newmarket to Cambridge without going through Ely, but otherwise it is virtually impossible to leave the area without going through the junction; you are compelled to go through the city, or else to change there. This is why the junction needs urgently upgrading, which Network Rail do not seem able to afford to do. If you want a train from Kings Lynn to Ipswich you have to change at Ely and you can wait for up to an hour for a connection. This is because the junction just cannot cope with the more frequent trains that are necessary to improve the service. All of the freight traffic from Felixstowe docks to the Midlands passes through Ely, which increases the pressure on the junction. As things stand a total of almost 200 trains a day use the line, and this is set to increase as proposals will see services from Norwich to Stansted Airport and from Peterborough to Colchester via Bury St Edmunds. Both these will link places that currently require a change of train, but all this will only put more pressure on Ely Junction.

The whole Ely problem has been dogged by a penny-pinching approach to investment by Network Rail and its predecessors. Half a mile east of Ely Dock junction (the southerly of the two at Ely) Hawks Bridge across the river Great Ouse was rebuilt as recently as 2007, following damage by a derailed train. This bridge had been wide enough for double track working before it was damaged. The whole section from Ely Dock junction to Kennett had been singled about 40 years ago, and when it was rebuilt it was as a single track bridge. Less than ten years later the need to redouble the line from Kennett was painfully apparent, to allow more freight trains along the line; Hawks Bridge must be rebuilt again, this time to take two tracks once more. Good old Network Rail! By being blind to future needs they just waste money instead of keeping it for the improvements needed at Ely North.

Ely North junction is the real pinch point. From there you can go in four directions (five if you count the two separate tracks to Peterborough) but the lines are only single track where they meet the line to Kings Lynn. There was some talk of rebuilding Ely station at Ely North junction, but I don’t think this will ever happen; there is little enough money to carry out essential upgrades, without envisioning such expensive additional work. This new station would do away with the need to reverse the trains at Ely en route from Norwich to Peterborough, but to me this seems a minor requirement since locomotive hauled trains have been replaced by double ended units that only require the train driver to walk to the other cab.

The most important improvement to the transport system at Ely involves the construction of the Ely bypass. This has a viaduct crossing both the Great Ouse river and the railway. This new road was opened to traffic on 31st October 2018. After work on the underpass that is being undertaken to provide traffic lights and improved pedestrian access, the level crossing at Ely station will be closed. All heavy traffic and tall vehicles that frequently get stuck under the low railway bridge at Ely station will in future be directed along the bypass instead of using the level crossing. This will improve road transport around Ely, but it does almost nothing to improve the railway system. Even when the level crossing at Ely station has been closed there will still be three others on the B1382 road near the North Ely junction. We are still waiting for anything to be spent on that; it is can of worms that will require a lot of thought sorting it out, and of course oodles of money! Naturally there is no date in prospect for that work to begin.




The fact is that we never went fully over to decimals. How far is it from Norwich to London? 189.6 kilometres of course, or so it ought to be, but if I type the query into Google I come back with the answer 117 miles. If I go into the pub and order a half litre glass of beer what then? I get a funny look and a pint mug. How much did your baby weigh when it was born? Nine and a half pounds not 5 kilos. What thread is that pipe connector on the tap on your sink? Twenty six TPI. What do those letters stand for? Thread per inch. And so it goes on, but it is in a way worse than that. British standard pipe thread has been adopted as the International Standard, and that uses good old Whitworth thread. I thought we had abandoned that quaint old system when we went over to metric back in the 1970s. You live and learn.

We inhabit a strange world where no one knows how much petrol our cars use anymore. We ought to be able to say we do so many kilometres per litre, but our roads signs still give us old-fashioned Imperial miles. Do we say miles per litre? Or kilometres per gallon? In popular use we still say mpg – miles per gallon; we all know miles, but is anyone sure what a gallon is anymore? (It is 4.54609 litres in case you were wondering). In a typically mad English way we are half in and half out of Europe in our use of measurement standards. I will not even start discussing Brexit, except to say that there is strange similarity in the way we are approaching it with our attitude to our units of measurement. We live in interesting times, but they have gone on now for nearly fifty years, so I don’t see them changing anytime soon.

Our continued use of the Imperial System is complicated by the fact that the Americans still use it, although they do use the word Imperial, and call it the US Customary System. That is why we still say that our thoroughly metric TV set has a 22 inch screen. Also they still use gallons when filling their cars with gas, but confusingly it is not the same as the now defunct British gallon. It is only 3.785 litres. They express their body weight in pounds, which is of little use to us who still say stones – or at least if we are of a certain age. I don’t think anyone else in the world uses stones anymore; a  stone, if you did not know, is fourteen pounds or 6.35029 kg.

Of course our railways still run on standard gauge, but that is no longer 4 feet 8½ inches; it is expressed as 1,435 mm. Of course we could never go over to truly metric railway system. That was invented by us in England in the days when we led the world. The same is true of the pipe system, where our old standards have perforce been adopted throughout the world (except in the USA). Just as we could not rip up all the railway lines and convert them to metric, we are stuck for ever with the British Standard pipework. We had exported our pipes along with the thread on the connectors, and the same went for our railways; nobody can now dig up all the old ones.




The earliest printed map of Norfolk was produced by Christopher Saxton in 1579.  It was published in London and appeared along with the other counties in the Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales. By comparing it with modern computer generated mapping it is possible to state that it was not produced to any recognised projection and was basically done on a ‘flat earth’ model. Considering that the Atlas contained the first county maps produced in England it is astonishingly accurate and a fascinating object to study. In 1612 John Speed’s map of Norfolk was published; this was based on the work of Saxton but had additional illustrations including perspective map of the City of Norwich.

This is the 1st edition of the 1 inch map of Norfolk. It is watermarked 1837. See how much smaller Norwich is and there are no railways.

At one inch to the mile William Faden’s map of Norfolk was published in 1797. It was printed on six large sheets, although most copies still in existence have cut unto further smaller sheets. It was much more technically advanced than Saxton’s map of two hundred years earlier. It used astronomical observations to place both Yarmouth and Kings Lynn on opposite sides of the map. Bryant’s map was published on the 1st December 1826 and shows the county as it existed in the next generation. In the 1830s the Government became involved and Ordnance Survey produced the 1 inch to the mile maps of Norfolk on manageable sized sheets. This left the larger scale maps to be produced by private firms such as Jarrolds, who published a map of Norwich in 1848.

In the 1880s the county was again surveyed by the Ordnance Survey at a scale of 6 inches to the mile. The first edition coincided with the height of the railway age, and while some lines were already in place and appear on the maps, others were yet to be built. By the 20th century the mapping of the county was more or less complete as far as most requirements were concerned; only the regular revisions were needed to take account of natural and man-made changes. We may think that sat-nav has changed the world [and indeed it has] but all the basic mapping that it relies upon had already been done.

Map of Markshall adapted from 6 inch to the mile OS map. The field names are taken from Tithe Award Map 1838-1840.

The tithe maps give an excellent view of individual parishes as they existed in the first half of the nineteenth century. Enclosure maps predate tithe maps by up to forty years or more. They were produced under Acts of Parliament to divide up much of the land into fields which had previously been open space. Tithes were the system whereby a tenth of the produce of all farms belonged to the church; originating in the Jewish Torah, it had been set up in Anglo-Saxon time when almost all the wealth of the country was agricultural. In an Act of 1836 Parliament allowed tithes to be converted into money – they had previously been paid in kind, the corn being held in the tithe barn. Tithes were finally abolished in 1936. They provided the income of the church including that of the clergy, although by the eighteenth century many were the younger sons of rich families who did not need any extra income. Tithe maps are limited to individual parishes, where enclosure maps may extend to wherever a landowner’s holdings reached. Much valuable information can be gleaned from both these maps although the reason for their production has utterly vanished into the pages of the past. Old field names change or are lost, commons disappear and these records can give facts or hints of the past. For example lime kilns and brick works may be marked on these old maps which have no historical or archaeological record.

These maps plot the changes that have occurred in the last 500 years since Saxton published his Atlas. Along our sandy coastline these are natural as well as man-made changes. The alterations in the courses of rivers are also more easily made in the mud of the Fens than where a rocky landscape imposes a more rigid landscape. Even more noticeable however than the changes is the sense of permanence that these maps bestow. New towns exist, but most of us live in towns and villages that have been there for one and a half millennia, and some since Roman times. This makes the ‘age of the map’ seem quite recent.




Listening to things on the internet is a necessary part of modern life, and reading things online is similar. Both are ways of acquiring knowledge, or maybe just of entertaining yourself. In any case the internet is a thing of the moment, and the instant you move to another website or turn off your computer the thing you were watching is gone. A hard copy book is not like that; you can put it down to do other things, and you can take it up at any time to carry on from where you left off. [It might help if you use a book mark.] There are many other advantages of a real book. How often have I flicked through the pages of a book to find familiar passage or a new one of interest? Try doing that with a e-book. The physical book is particularly useful in non-fiction titles. Novels work better online than books of reference do; they are read sequentially and do not have indexes or bibliographies which require frequent turning to the back of the book. Such things are possible online but they are much more difficult and take much longer to accomplish. Another thing is the joy of browsing through the pages of a book and discovering all sorts of gems that you did not even know existed. This is denied you with an e-book that begins at the beginning and goes methodically through to the end. You can select pages but I have always found this a this a clunky process.

It is not only the contents of book that you are giving away when select this kind of gift. In the same way that there is something about a birthday card that is lacking about an email, there is a personal quality about a physical book. The postman has to deliver it to your door, you have to go and open the door, maybe sign for the package and unwrap the parcel. All these things help to make it special. It is not just me who sees things in this way. After taking a massive hit when the new technology first became available, book sales have now recovered. Bookshops have declined markedly but this has been compensated for to large degree by the growth of Amazon. This trillion dollar company stared in business as an online bookseller in 1995. Children’s books are another area that is particularly suited to real old fashioned hardback book (paperbacks are too flimsy and e-books are even more insubstantial).


If you are wondering what to buy for a friend or relative this Christmas may I suggest a book that was published earlier this year? For those interested in the  history of Norfolk St Edmund and the Vikings 869–1066 by Joseph C. W. Mason is the perfect gift. It is a  paperback measuring 234×156 mm. It has 168 pages, with 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 black and white illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6. It is available from the publisher,, Amazon or any new bookshop. The cost is very reasonable especially if purchased from the publisher’s website.





The river Waveney at Beccles on the Norfolk border. 1958

This waterway forms the boundary between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk for most of its length. Before the county boundary changes of 1974 it formed the boundary along its whole length, but in that year Gorleston and a few other North Suffolk parishes on the Suffolk side of the river were transferred to Norfolk. The Waveney flows into Breydon Water at Burgh Castle and there the river ends; the villages of Belton, Fritton and Blundeston were once in Suffolk and now are in Norfolk. The river Waveney flows past these villages and this is where it ceases to be the county boundary. Like the conurbation of Yarmouth and Gorleston, Thetford is another town that straddles the river, but in that case it is the Little Ouse, so we will not be considering that here.

The river Waveney rises in the Redgrave Marshes, near South Lopham in Norfolk. This is also where the source of the Little Ouse is and the two rivers rise only a matter of metres away from each other. When the glaciers of the last ice age melted a lake formed in this part of East Anglia and the Redgrave Marshes are what remains of this lake.

The river passes the towns of Diss and Harleston, both in Norfolk, before reaching Bungay and Beccles in Suffolk. In the 17th century Geldeston Lock was built between these two towns and keels (later wherries) were then able to take their commercial loads upstream to Bungay. The town flourished with the lock providing access via the river Waveney to the sea. This was supplemented by coming of the railway in 1860 and this took much of the traffic from the river. Geldeston lock closed in 1934 and since then the head of navigation has been at Geldeston Locks Inn. This remote pub gets much of its trade from its proximity to the river Waveney and its motor cruisers. Beccles has a large marina and it is the major inland port on the river Waveney. The town of Lowestoft can be accessed from the river but this requires passage through Oulton Broad.

From Breydon Water you can pass up the river Yare, but another watercourse between the two rivers is the New Cut which was constructed in 1832. Being a canal through marshland it is very straight and so quite dull but there is swing bridge where the railway crosses the New Cut at Haddiscoe. It is near where it joins the river Waveney. This was intended to be a commercial venture, allowing shipping to avoid Yarmouth where the harbour authorities imposed heavy dues. Mutford Lock was built to allow passage from Oulton Broad to Lake Lothing. The New Cut cost over £150,000 to dig.As soon as it was opened Yarmouth reduced its charges and shipping from Norwich took the more direct route to the sea. The New Cut was never a financial success and after it was damaged by the 1953 Flood it was proposed to abandon it. Luckily this did not happen. (My daughter works for the Environment Agency in Flood Control for Norfolk and it is proposed that she is given responsibility for the river Waveney. She is quite enthusiastic about the prospect – as I would be too!) The New Cut is now used far more by holidaymakers than it ever was by commercial shipping.

There is an interesting structure across the river at South Elmham St Mary between Harleston and Bungay. Homersfield Bridge was built of wrought iron, cast iron and concrete in 1869. This makes it one of the oldest concrete bridges in the world. The road bridge was in use for 101 years. It is no longer used by road traffic being replaced by a new bridge in 1970. It was restored by the Norfolk Historic Building Trust in 1990.





THOMAS BARRRETT was the last pedlar in Norfolk, at least according to his family. He was born in THE North Norfolk village of Bodham near Sheringham in 1861. On leaving school he worked on the land as his father had done before him. When he was a young man of twenty four the M. & G. N. was being constructed between Melton Constable and Cromer, and he worked as a navvy building the line. It passed within a mile or two of hIs home in Bodham. When the line was finished he was employed as a sackman, a worker who was responsible for covering the loads in the open trucks with tarpaulins.

He moved to Kings Lynn where he got to know a pedlar and he resolved to followed in his footsteps. His route was through the lanes and byways of West Norfolk, selling articles of haberdashery and small cloth items such as handkerchiefs to farmers’ wives and other buyers that he passed on the way. His path did not follow too closely the railways that went through Norfolk for obvious reasons. The railways did not cover the ground so densely in West Norfolk as they did in East Norfolk (and now the area is even less well served by rail). Thomas had a ready clientele in these remote areas; he would have got his customers from the countryside, where the villages may have has a Post Office or general stores, but haberdashery shops only existed in the towns.

There are a number of questions I would have liked to ask Thomas Barrett if he were alive today. The obvious one is what did he do in bad weather? As he is kitted out in the picture it all looks perfect for a dry day, but when it rained what did he do to keep his stock dry? A hamper would let the water through like a sieve. And there was always his own person to consider – what about a raincoat? Did he take anything to make his life more accommodating while he was out on the road; a packet of sandwiches perhaps? And did he always return home every evening? If so, his route must have been rather circumscribed.

After Thomas moved to Kings Lynn he met the woman who would become his wife, Sarah Jane Moses. They were married in 1889 when he was thirty and she was twenty two. She was always known as Jane. She too worked on her own account in the drapery business; she was busy, because Thomas was absent travelling with his hamper on his head for much of the time and the Barretts had a large family of their own to look after. They went to foster an equally large number of children. In the days before the Welfare State there was no support for families and nothing to fall back on. At least with a large family the older children helped look after the younger ones.

The family lived in a small house in Church Street Kings Lynn, near the Custom House and the port. After The Act of Parliament that reduced the age of retirement to 65 was passed in 1925; as that was Thomas’s age he was able to give up his basket of goods and live on his Old Age Pension. He was the last hawker to travel the roads of Norfolk; the coming of the country motor bus after the First World War had made it possible for people to buy their haberdashery in the local town. The use of a needle and thread was fading slowly anyway, and nobody thinks haberdashery of much importance today. Thomas died in 1940 at the age of eighty.

Many of Thomas’s children and grandchildren became involved in the Salvation Army.





ALFRED MASON died Nov 3rd 1918.

This is a special Remembrance Sunday. No one now remembers the war; even those who are still alive a hundred years after the end of the Great War were too young to have any recollection of the conflict, so true ‘Remembrance’ is no longer possible. To consider the awful consequences of mistaken international disagreements is always necessary however.

I have considered many aspects of Remembrance over the years. To me it is not a time of remembrance, because there is no one lost through war whom I remember personally. Three close members of my family were lost in the First Word War, one tragically near to Armistice Day, so that his family were celebrating the peace, not knowing of their loss; and the news of his death did not arrived until a day or two later. Another great uncle was lost in the Somme, and his mother never recovered from the shock. My first cousin once removed (William Astley) was in the Navy and was killed when HMS Bulwark exploded in the early months of the war; he was just 16. I will certainly be thinking of these young men, but of course I cannot remember them.

So what is the significance of the day? For me it is a time of sadness above everything else; so many resources wasted, so many lives lost. How should I react to the thought of war, when it comes round at this time of year? You could get an idea from the fact that I was member of the Territorial Army, but I was a member of the Medical Corps. You might think that this reflects my peaceable nature, but I originally intended to join an infantry regiment. I was advised that I was not fit enough at my age (I was over thirty), but I might manage a less demanding role as a medic. In spite of its care for the injured, the RAMC is not a Pacifist organisation – the Combat Medical Technician carry arms, and are expected to use them to protect themselves and their casualties. I had regular practice sessions with a light machine gun on the firing range.

Arthur Rutter in uniform. Died March 1917.

In my thirties I was a definite enthusiast for the Eleven o’clock minute of silence and the following musical march past. I would weep copious tears as the morning unfolded. The attraction has waned since then, and I don’t recall any interest in Remembrance Sunday during my twenties.

It is only one day out of three hundred and sixty five, and it worth devoting one day of the year to thoughts of the futility of war; it falls in the Autumn when the nights are drawing in, and the leaves are turning colour and beginning to fall. Let the dead rest in peace.