The rainfall map in the UK reflects the distribution of the population pretty closely; London has some of the lowest rainfall in the country and definitely has the highest concentration of people; the North of Scotland on the other hand has the highest rainfall and very few inhabitants. Two hundred years ago the Highland Clearances significantly reduced the population of the this area of Scotland, but the numbers living there were never large. I don’t think this has anything to do with people not liking getting wet though; it has more to do with mountainous regions attracting rainclouds while not providing a living for many inhabitants.
Why do mountains and rain go together? The technical reason for this phenomenon concerns air pressure; the weight of the atmosphere means that the lower the altitude the higher this pressure is. At higher pressures the air can hold more water vapour. As the wind blows this water-laden air over mountainous regions the barometric reading of the air mass falls; this drop in pressure causes the water vapour in the atmosphere to condense and this forms clouds. The water then falls as rain and this explains why Scotland is so wet. Conversely the higher pressure at lower altitudes attracts less rain, and as Norfolk is the least elevated county in the UK it is among the driest regions in England. We still get around three-quarters of a metre of rainfall annually, and this is ample for agricultural purposes providing it falls in a reasonably even distribution throughout the year.
This is not always the case; the worst drought that I can remember was in the summer of 1976, when the parched landscape meant the crops died in the ground, and our gardens looked like desserts. The sun was good for holidaymakers though. The weather pattern which this year has decimated the corn crops in Spain has left the UK wetter than usual. As a result of these favourable growing conditions in the East of England a huge shipment of grain, consisting of thousands of tons of barley, left the outer harbour at Great Yarmouth this summer. This was destined for Southern Europe where it was to provide animal feed. Rain may dampen the spirits of holidaymakers, but it is a great boon nonetheless; we cannot survive without it.
How does rain feature in literature? ‘The rain it raineth every day’ sang Feste in Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. That isn’t true where I live (though this year it may have seemed like it), although on a worldwide scale it is certainly true; it is always raining somewhere across the globe – the raindrops are running down the window pane as I write. Edith Sitwell’s Still Falls the Rain is serious verse that was written during the bleakest period of the Second World War; if it is unknown to you I suggest you read it. The rhyming couplet Rain, rain, go away/ Come again another day was recorded by the ever-engaging John Aubrey in 1687. His version substitutes ‘a Saturday’ for ‘another day’, otherwise is identical. This is obviously a very old folk verse, but it is still popular as a nursery rhyme. It is very short, but sometimes it occurs as a triplet, with the line ‘Little [child’s name] wants to play’ coming at the end.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE WEATHER
[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]
More than ten generations ago my ancestor George Peachey was born in Mildenhall in Suffolk. I do not know what his occupation was, but as all his descendants (right down to my great-grandfather Phipp Peachey) were warreners, I think it highly likely that he was too; rabbits were virtually the only crop that could be harvested from the sandy soil around the Brecks, until the 20th century ushered in forestry and provided a substitute in the form of timber. George Peachey was born in 1662 and grew up during ‘Good King Charles’s golden days’. The reason I mention this monarch is that he was a regular visitor to Newmarket to watch the horse racing on the heath. The town is only 16 miles from Mildenhall, and George may well have seen the king as he made his regal progress into the town.
For more than seven generations the Peacheys lived in Mildenhall, or the adjoining parish of Lakenheath. In this sedentary lifestyle they were not unique; indeed such a lack of mobility was commonplace for many centuries. Others members of my ancestors, for example the Jones family who lived as farm workers within a few miles of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire, were equally settled. The Rivetts are buried in Norfolk’s Shipdam parish churchyard from the 17th to the 2oth centuries, and members of the Mason family still live around Stone in Staffordshire. The Rutters appear to have been bakers in Suffolk throughout the 19th century and into the middle of the 20th. The Buxton family were farm labourers in the Norfolk village of Easton, and their relatives were landlords of the village pub (the Dog) for most of the 19th century. A Buxton was servant to the curate in the adjacent village of Weston Longville in Parson Woodforde’s time, and there is no doubt in my mind that he too was a distant relative of mine.
All these bloodlines would never have met had it not been for George Stephenson and the coming of the railways. Even before the first trains ran into the West Country, an ancestor of mine (a young Buckinghamshire man working as a railway navvy) had met and married an orphan in Cornwall. Domestic service also provided opportunities for employment across the land, now that universal education allowed all to read the adverts for servants and the penny post let them write a letter of application in reply. The trains provided the easy and quick access for the servants to travel to their new jobs. Not all travel was by train; this was the norm, but my uncle’s father arrived in Grimsby from Denmark by boat in the nineteenth century. Physical mobility came first, and social mobility soon followed.
All this concerns my own relatives as you might have guessed. Over the last two hundred years I can point to relatives of mine in Dover and St Austell, Stoke on Trent and Stradbroke, Fenny Stratford and Bishop’s Stortford. They have been coal miners and railwaymen, drapers and wheelwrights, pigmen and gardeners, carpenters and bricklayers. There have been no ladies or gentlemen, no clergymen or army officers. They have been ordinary working people in ordinary working class jobs. This was true until the 20th century, when all this began to change. The opportunities for social mobility expanded exponentially, so that by the 21st century the grandson of a fishmonger is a recently retired banker; the granddaughter of a waitress was a university professor. The grandson of a policeman travels around Europe on behalf of British research foundations. Other relatives have worked in the medical and teaching professions; as architects or engineers, actors and musicians.
The study of family history is very popular nowadays and many people must be able to relate similar tales. It is a tribute to the nation that all these changes should have been going on in science and technology as well as society, that enabled the population to spread their wings. Not all have taken advantage of the opportunities on offer, but they are there for the taking; this simply wasn’t true in the past.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE PAST
[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]
What has happened to style in dress? What has happened to style in general? Now that we could all easily afford to dress well and travel in style, we ignore these niceties of life. Back at the beginning of the last century, when most people were really poor, they comported themselves with dignity. How we laugh at that today, but it was preferable to going round dressed as slobs.
This isn’t about the obesity epidemic, although that is a related problem; it perfectly possible to be fat and stylish, though this is more difficult to achieve than if you are thin. The thing to remember (for women particularly) is that if one is rather overweight you must wear loose clothing. Unfortunately many of these larger ladies seem to have the mistaken notion that tight clothes make them look thin. This untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. Leggings in particular are a bad idea for ladies of ample stature, but they are almost universal these days for all shapes and sizes of women.
For men neckties seem to be on the way out, but nobody has any idea about what should replace them. Merely removing the tie leaves a pointless turn-down collar gaping where the tie once was. A tee-shirt would be more sensible and hardly less stylish. Back in the Swinging Sixties ties were already seen as old-fashioned accessories, but the alternative was the polo necked sweater. This was stylish, but style has been ditched along with neckwear this time round. The veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons made a heartfelt but vain plea recently to replace the necktie with the cravat. This would indeed be a stylish alternative, but the very word reeks of the past. Nicholas Parsons may wear a cravat with style, but nobody younger than him does so.
This picture of my great-grandfather proves how even the poor could still dress well, and he certainly was poor. He worked with animals all his life, latterly as a carter for Colmans mustard. In this picture he is wearing collar and tie, suit and hat with waistcoat and button down collar, all for a stroll in his garden. His father had been a tailor back in the mid 19th century, which might account for some of his dress sense. We might think him rather overdressed for the occasion, but this was the norm in 1920. Everybody wore these clothes – for holidays even more than for work, when a slightly less formal kind of attire or a uniform might be required.
Don’t forget either that the task of laundering clothes was a huge one in those olden days. There were no washing machines or tumble driers. It was still a major undertaking in the mid-20th century, when it took up one day a week (Monday). In earlier centuries it took up a whole week, once a month. I doubt that anything was added to the hot water to help clean the laundry, because soap was a luxury then, taxed throughout the 18th century. Linen sheets and garments would be scrubbed in hot water, left on lines and hedges to dry and bleach in the sun, and then ironed. The laundry maid needed to heat the iron by the fire, so imagine how hot this would make the job in summer. In the winter drying the washing would be the problem, when the short hours of daylight and frequently damp weather made hanging the laundry indoors essential.
You can see the trilby hat my ancestor is wearing. Top hats, bowlers, deerstalkers and flat caps, all had their place in the complicated world social status. You touched your hat to acquaintances, and removed it entirely when greeting your superiors. Hats disappeared from British heads in the early 1960s; now only the baseball cap is worn by some young people (normally back-to-front). This headwear still has things to say about the social status of the wearer; I don’t think we will see Prince William wearing his baseball cap back-to-front any time soon. In this country we ought really to wear cricket caps instead of baseball caps, to put us on a par with our American cousins, but these are never seen except on cricketers on match days. BBC reporters may never appear with any form of head covering apparently; even when speaking outside the Kremlin in the dead of winter, the poor saps must speak to the camera with their heads open to the elements. (No Russian would do anything so foolish.) A warm furry hat with ear flaps would not obscure the reporter’s face, and I am sure they don something like that as soon as they are off camera; otherwise they would rapidly lose their ears to frostbite. What is the dress code that forbids broadcasters from wearing headwear? (Except for the headscarf of course.)
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF DRESS
When the large parish church at ELSING in Norfolk was built back in the 1340s, what is now a small village was a substantial country town. Maybe it even rivalled EAST DEREHAM in size. A number of stones recording burials are to be seen on the floor of the church, and as late as the eighteenth century one of these still refers to Elsing as a town. The remains of the guildhall are incorporated into a house in the village, but nowadays the evidence of the formerly bustling town is mostly hard to spot, and not much remains of the once thriving district.
When l visited the church with my wife Molly there was an exhibition of former parishioners who had fought (and in some instances died) in the First World War. This was in 2014, to the mark the centenary of the start of the war. The centenary of the Battle of Waterloo received no such observance (for one thing it fell in the middle of the First World War), but one of the last survivors of that battle is buried in an unmarked grave in Elsing churchyard.
Elsing church was built in the first half of the fourteenth century and has not been materially altered since. The nave has no aisles and is one of the broadest uninterrupted church roofs in the country. It has lost most of the medieval stained glass, and appears very light and open. Despite the loss of its stained glass a lot of pre-Reformation decorative features remain, including a font cover which has been partially restored, to give some idea of the colourful effect.
Our dog Wesley accompanied us, and we met a man from Lincolnshire on a similar church crawl. He was very taken with the fact that a dog with a Methodist name should be inspecting an Anglican church. But (as he observed) the founder of Methodism (John Wesley) remained all his life a member of the Church of England and, as my wife never tires of pointing out, Samuel Wesley the hymn tune composer remained an Anglican until in 1784 he converted to Roman Catholicism! Wesley is certainly an ecumenical name.
It still has pub just across the road from the church. The building dates from the 16th century and it is called the MERMAID. It retains much of its charm, although modern requirements mean a large open-plan bar area rather than the old-fashioned saloon, snug etc. It has a large old fireplace. It is a dog friendly pub, which is a definite plus in my book. However the meal we had there a year or two ago was rather disappointing. Elsing’s economy was always based on agriculture, even when it was a ‘town’, but it is not all fields. The area is surprisingly well wooded. Even today there are many trees among which you can wander with you dog or ride your horse.
The village lies on the river Wensum, which, before the river was interrupted by many watermills, was a major route for trade. The watermill still stands in Elsing, but the last grain was milled for animal feed in 1970. It was water powered until the last. The final miller was one A. H. Forbes. The mill is now a superior style residence. We went to a fête and duck race (that used the mill pond to race the plastic ducks) in the summer of 2017. It was a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon and the surroundings were quite stunning. The mill at Lyng was in the next village downstream, but it has long gone; for a few years in the early 19th century both Lyng watermill and the one upstream at Elsing were paper mills. So too were other mills on the river, notably the ones upstream at Swanton Morley and downstream at Taverham. Not far away were other paper mills at Oxnead on the river Bure at Stoke Holy Cross on the river Tas. At Hellesdon on the Wensum and Bawburgh (on the river Yare) other mills produced pulp for paper. Paper making was big business in Norfolk 200 years ago, supplying the metropolis of Norwich and using rags from the same source.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
My generation has been a lucky one; in fact I cannot see a more fortunate cohort as I examine what I know of the past. No one can foresee the future, but the present generation has problems to confront that never bothered us. Take university education as an example; is true that only about 10% of young people went on to higher education fifty years ago, but it was all free. Not only were our fees paid, but we got a generous grant for living expenses. We never gave money a thought. Imagine that, you poor students of today! Or take the famous Woodstock Music Festival; not that I would have gone to it because this was in America (which meant that it was far beyond me) but that too was free. This took place in 1969, and I had gone up to uni in 1968. It seemed to be a time when everything was free; free love was the favourite theme of journalists when writing of the younger generation, though that one rather passed me by. Nonetheless it was a great time to be alive if you were one of the lucky ones – the baby boomers.
The generation before had not been so lucky. Shortages were even worse directly after the war than they had been while the conflict was continuing. Petrol was hard to come by, but so too were cars, so for most of the population that hardly mattered. Sweets were one of the last things to come off ration in February 1953, just as I was old enough to toddle into the sweet shop; clothes rationing ended in 1949, the year of my birth. Old Age Pensioners had to save up their pennies to pay the bus fare, but by the time I retired (at the age of 65) bus travel was free for the elderly. I had been born at just the right time; while the poor were struggling to pay their way I was living the life of Riley at college, at the taxpayer’s expense. Now, while students are racking up huge loans of £50,000 or more, I can ride round the countryside all day if I want to, and it won’t cost me a penny! I can understand it when the young cast envious eyes in our direction. Everything has gone right for those of my generation. Those who were older than me had to endure great hardships, and those who are younger must work until they are nearly 70 (or maybe longer). By contrast the sun has shone on us pampered ones.
Hyperinflation hit the country just as we were hitting adulthood. Inflation is a double-edged sword. If you are a saver it whittles away your cash investments in next to no time, but if you are in debt, what you owe can simply disappear. As young people we were all debtors, paying a small fortune on the mortgage for our first home. Small is the operative word; a moderate sized house cost under £10,000, and by the time the twenty-five year mortgage was up the deposit we had paid was just small change. Again the baby boomers had it bang on. Poor millennials have struck it as unlucky as we had got it just right. They must pay rents to us oldies, for houses they have not a hope of getting a mortgage on. Fortunately for them, the bank of mum and dad can easily afford to help them out. With oodles of spare cash we can pay for our children, and they have the prospect of inheriting our fortunes when we kick the bucket (if only we can keep out of the dreaded care home).
We have been so lucky; no major wars have blighted our lives. The economy has done us proud, and the Welfare State (that is now creaking at the seams) smoothed the passage of our lives. The NHS was there for us, a brand new service when we were born, and the advances in medicine have made formerly fatal illnesses just a passing phase. Television, recorded music and the internet have all come to the fore in our lifetimes and have revolutionised entertainment. The car has become a universal means of transport and we all have mobile phones. Yet still we grouse about the quality of our lives!
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF BABY BOOMERS
[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]
We have no rocks here, except for the carstone of West Norfolk, and that only appears through the topsoil to reveal itself in the stripey red and white cliffs at Hunstanton. The stones found in Norfolk are nearly all flints. I recently had an interesting correspondence with a lady in the US about flint; it is strange to consider that this material which is so pervasive in East Anglia is so rare in North America. Flints are produced over millions of years by the rainwater seeping through the chalk. The quartz-rich sediment is absorbed by fossilised sponges which are normally found in layers in the chalk. The flint grows around these sponges, and if you break one open you will normally find a formerly porous part at the centre. Chalk is formed from the shells of myriads of sea creatures, and the sponges represent an ancient seabed. In the neolithic flint mines of Norfolk known as Grimes Graves the best flints are found in the third layer from the top, which lies about 40 feet below the surface. Two of these ancient mines have been excavated and are open to the public. These stone can grow to 50 cms or more in length, although the stones and pebbles found on the surface are much smaller. Flint is a very hard material, but a sharp blow will shatter it; this process is known as flint knapping. The ancient miners tunnelled along this third layer to extract the flints which they made into tools – axes and spears. The use of flint as a building material came much later, but its appearance in the middle ages gives the landscape much of its distinctive character, particularly in the many churches of Norfolk.
Outside the Lake District there are no mountains in England; you might characterise the flat landscape of Norfolk as dull, but that would not be true. Mudflats are not the most romantic of surroundings, but the profusion of seabirds that gather in huge numbers to search out their food by the water’s edge have a certain grandeur. Inland the remaining expanses of sandy rabbit pastures interspersed by Scots pine, that mark out Breckland, have a bleak charm. The acres of forest around Thetford, that have replaced much of this heathland, stretch for miles; but being Forestry Commission plantations they are not the most interesting of woods. The marshland, heathland and woodland are all typical parts of the Norfolk landscape, but its real beauty lies elsewhere.
There are tree-lined commons, gently rolling hills and copses, and many acres of pleasant cornfields bordered by little becks. Many hedgerows have been grubbed up since the war; I can remember when the large field behind my childhood home was three smaller fields, all divided by hedges. The blackberries and field voles that once lived there had been banished long before it became what it is now; a housing estate. This building activity had been talked about for at least 50 years before it actually happened, so the changes to the landscape are slow in coming. We always moan about new houses, but they is still plenty of land left in Norfolk. However I would far rather see one or two new properties across fifty villages, and not have one community swamped by 100 new houses; that however is not the way things are done nowadays.
I have not yet mentioned the Norfolk Broads. If you like waterways, reedbeds and the wide open sky then this is the landscape for you. The Broads are a phenomenally popular holiday destination, so they must float many people’s boats; a high proportion of the country’s boating holidays are spent on the Norfolk Broads. I think the lack of landing places rather restricts the possibilities of Broadland holiday. The canal system allows you to get out of the barge anywhere you want and walk along the towpath as a companion steers the narrowboat. The Fens are even more of an acquired taste than the Broads. Although some are closed by sluices, many of the waterways are open to boat traffic; the prospect of miles and miles of dead straight drains with high banks that make distant views impossible is a daunting one. These high banks are a necessary part of the landscape, for the water level in the channels is many feet above that of the surrounding countryside. This Fenland landscape is a relatively recent one, having been created in the last three or four hundred years. In those places where the old vistas have been restored you may get a flavour of the old Fenland.
Of all our many landscapes in Norfolk I like the coast the best. I love the cliffs and sand dunes that run for miles and miles around our county. For my holidays give me the seaside at any time of the year. The sandy beaches give way from time to time to pebble banks and mudflats. After the cliffs of Hunstanton the coastline soon changes to creeks and islands that run from Thornham through Brancaster to Burnham Overy. At low tide the sandy expanse of beach at Holkham goes from the pine trees on the dunes to the distant waves. Salt marshes and sand spits suddenly change at Weyborne to the steep glacial hills of the Holt-Cromer Ridge. This in turn gives way to the flat sandy expanses that run down the east coast to the raucous holiday fun of Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile. Whether your delight is bird watching, gathering samfer, cockling, shrimping, digging sand castles or playing on the funfair you may do it here. Roll out the pleasures of the Norfolk landscape!
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
What records would you take to the BBC’s fabled Desert Island? The show was invented by Roy Plomley in 1942 and has been going ever since. Roy himself continued to present the show for over forty years, until his death in 1985. The format is well-known; the guest lists the eight records he would like if he was marooned on a desert island. He or she says a bit about each one, a section of which is then played.
In 1964 one of the first 45s I bought was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, so it was obviously a favourite of mine at one time. That was a long time ago though, and it certainly is not a favourite of mine any longer. My musical tastes soon developed, which makes it puzzling to me that so many 70 year olds still like the music they bought when they were teenagers. None of my 8 Desert Island discs would be pop music now; this fact alone shows why, even if I were a celebrity, I would never get invited on the show. I am afraid my choice of music would be rather indigestible for the anodyne tastes of the general public. If I had to choose a pop record it would be one by Abba or the Carpenters; these are attractive and tuneful songs that are despised by many (as they were by me back then), although they would be perfect for the listeners to Desert Island Discs. Karen Carpenter in particular had such a good voice. I have always maintained that a good song is just that, and its format (whether popular, jazz, classical or art song) is irrelevant; it is the tune that really matters.
It is the almost incessant drumbeat that accompanies nearly every pop song that puts me off them personally, so pop music is definitely out of my list of discs. (How old-fashioned that word is!) Light music however is certainly in. There is such a lot of light music that it is hard to pick just one piece. Nearly everything that Leroy Anderson wrote could make it to my desert island, but there is such a lot of marvellous British music in this genre it would have to be one of our composers. The Dam Busters march is too well-known, so I would go for another march by Eric Coates, Knightsbridge.
One down, seven to go; there is some jazz I like, but not enough to make it onto the list, so it is to the music of Schubert that I go next. Some people say Beethoven is the best ever composer, and some say Mozart, but for me it is J.S.Bach, followed closely by Schubert. There was a lot of music written by Schubert, considering that he died so young, but I am going for The Trout quintet. The ensemble includes a double bass after all, and that was my instrument. The string quintet in C major is a more serious piece, and I really prefer that, but it has two cellos and no bass.
After I had passed through my Rolling Stones phase, my friend Bill did much to educate my musical tastes. Nowadays he listens to lot of Shostakovich and Borodin but these composers, although I can listen to them with pleasure, could make it into my top eight. Elgar comes fairly high up in my list. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are so well known, and so are the Enigma Variations; Salut d’Amour is also pretty well known, but I will go for that. Chopin cannot be omitted either, and both Elgar and Chopin have been favourites for as long as I can remember. I would select Chopin’s 24 Preludes, though if I must restrict myself to only one piece I will go for number one.
Hayden is an underrated composer, and his string quartet are among his best compositions, so my next piece will be his Opus 77, No. 1. Mozart must have a place, and for something a little different I will choose his Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K 330. It is not as powerful as his Requiem Mass, but you do not want to hear a succession of heavy music. If Mozart, then Beethoven too must put in an appearance, although contrary to my opinion of Haydn, I think he is slightly overrated. Like his older German contemporary however, I regard his string quartets as some of his best music; cue the string quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132.
We now come to the last piece, and this must be by that towering genius Johann Sebastian Bach. I have avoided the most serious of compositions until now, but I will end with his B Minor Mass. I avoided listening to this for many years, perhaps being a bit overawed by its reputation, but when eventually I settled down to hearing it I found it tuneful and delightful, and no at all sombre as I had feared it would be.
Bach will always come out on top, but on another day I might opt for an even older set of composers including Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis and John Dowland. I’m afraid I am really that high brow.
FOR MY MUSIC
As the name suggests, this village in South Norfolk is long; over four miles long in fact, though not all of it is built-up. Stratton comes from the Latin word for a street, and this community consists of a long street stretching alongside the main road, built by the Romans. In Roman times the place was already a substantial settlement, if the number of artefacts recovered in field-walking expeditions may be taken as a guide. The ancient route between the Roman towns at Caistor St Edmund (Venta Icenorum) and Colchester (Camulodunum) was known as Pye Road in the middle ages. The section to Ipswich is now more prosaically called the A140. The two sides of the street are bisected by a pretty constant flow of traffic on the A140. This was true even 50 years ago; since then other villages on the same road that were similarly affected by traffic (like Dicklebugh and Scole) were bypassed many years ago. Like them, Long Stratton should have been bypassed too, but it is still on the main road. It not just any old main road either, but the principal highway between the two East Anglian county towns of Norfolk and Suffolk, Norwich and Ipswich. What has Norfolk County Council been thinking of for the last three generations? The traffic in Long Stratton is a disgrace in the 21st century.
Long Stratton is only a village, albeit a large one, but it is far enough from Harleston (the nearest town) to have a good range of shops. It is about equidistant from Diss, Bungay and Wymondham, and Norwich is not much further. Besides having a car sales showroom, a Co-op and a dairy, it has several other shops; the head offices of South Norfolk District Council are located there. It also has a full range of schools, including a High School.
Back in the early 1970s my father and I went to Long Stratton every Tuesday evening to dog training classes at the village hall. This stands opposite St Mary’s church; there is another church, St Michael’s, in the village, which proves it has always been a large one. Fido was about nine months old when he began his evening classes. Eventually we had to leave the hall and transfer our meetings to Newton Flotman, which wasn’t so interesting. The village hall in Long Stratton was used for serving dinners to the Junior School children, and Health and Safety were just beginning to influence our lives; hygiene requirements meant dogs would no longer be allowed in the hall. Newton Flotman had lost its local school long before, so dogs were OK in the hall there. The dog training club was run by a lady called Myrtle, a Long Stratton resident. She would travel all over the country to dog shows; her own dogs were German Shepherds.
Like almost everywhere else, the population of Long Stratton is growing; in 1870 it stood at just 743, although that made it a large village for the time. It is now well over four and a half thousand. Until Dr Beeching the village was served by the railway station at Forncett, just two miles to the west. This had a regular procession of passenger trains, and goods like milk and other farm produce were handled in season. The interruption to the express service from Norwich to London was becoming increasingly inconvenient however, and in 1964 all the stations between Norwich and Diss were closed, although lesser used stations on other lines in Norfolk remain to this day. Most of the residents of Long Stratton commute to Norwich, and I am sure that if a station were to be reopened at Forncett it would attract many of these travellers, who now struggle in to work by road.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
SLEEPING UNDER CANVAS
I remember the small white canvas tent I crept into in those long-lost summers when I was a lad. It was a real tent for two, but I never actually slept in it. However it was fun to do the things that were ancillary to spending the night there, like arranging the ground-sheet and slackening the guy ropes when it rained. These are things that would puzzle most people today. Wasn’t the ‘ground-sheet’ part of the tent? And guy ropes; – why did they need slackening if it rained? I won’t bore you with the answers, but believe me, if you didn’t take these things into consideration you would have spent a wet night under a heap of collapsed canvas.
I didn’t begin real camping until I was a teenager. For most youngsters this would probably have entailed being a Girl Guide or a Boy Scout, but I was never a Scout. Instead my camping was done as an Army Cadet. Things had hardly moved on since Victorian times in terms of the technology employed. Heavy wooden poles held the tent up, and for the larger tents the pegs were still wooden wedges that had to be hammered in with a mallet. The tents I slept in were bigger than the one I had put up on my lawn at home, but you still had to watch those guy ropes and make sure the ground-sheet wasn’t outside the tent (and so letting in the rain). The canvas of an army tent was very tough, and so they were very heavy. Consequently, on one expedition, the four of us cadets decided to do without a tent at all, and sleep under the stars. It was midsummer, and the worst problem was the heavy morning dew. We did take a ground-sheet with us, and therefore slept under it instead of on top!
Some of my camping took place in Norfolk, but mostly it happened elsewhere. When I was sixteen we went on a three-day exercise from Sennybridge, a large army base that still exists in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. This time we did load our packs with tents. We also had to take a map and a compass, and we were given a map reference to rendezvous with our CO three days later. All our food we had to carry on our backs; this consisted of tinned Compo Rations army style. On the other hand, all our water was provided by the mountain streams. This was fine until we discovered a drowned sheep a few metres upstream of our watering hole; this was after we had filled our water bottles and taken plenty of swigs!
Much of my camping was done under the auspices of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, but the effect was just the same. Once I had left school my camping days were almost over, but after I had joined the Territorial Army this part of my life was revived for a short period. The experience of spending the night outdoors was not an enjoyable one in the TA; I only had a waterproof poncho for protection, and sleeping was out of the question due to fire-crackers being let off all through the night; added to that, the threat of a tear gas attack was not conducive to a good night’s rest.
I returned to the joys of camping when I was over fifty, because by then our children were in their late teens and ready for the outdoor life. We had gone to Sheffield (where they both were to attend university) to spy out the land. We spent a couple of nights at a campsite in Monsal Head. This is a beauty spot in the Peak District, and this is near Sheffield. By then the technology of camping had changed beyond recognition. None of it resembled what it had been in my youth; cotton canvas had gone, and no longer were tents cumbersome but light and compact affairs. Strong but insubstantial tent poles could be erected in seconds and separate rubberised ground sheets no longer existed. Their function was integrated into the tent itself. Sleeping bags, which once had been filled with kapok (a natural fibre that was warm enough but heavy to carry) are now made of man-made material that is both lightweight and easy to stow. I was really far too old to go camping on this occasion, but apart from the fact that my air-bed slowly went down overnight (some things hadn’t changed), it was an agreeable few days. The fact that we had our car with us meant there were no heavy backpacks to be humped across the country; our camping trip wasn’t one of the arduous kind. When we finally loaded up the car for our return home that really was my last night outdoors. I cannot say that I am sorry that this chapter in my life is now well and truly over.
My son and his girlfriend recently spent a few nights camping. We still had the equipment we had used in Derbyshire, and lent this to them. The weather was fine, and they had a good time round the fire-pit as the sun went down. Although she is Dutch, his girlfriend has lived all over the world from Hong Kong to Venezuela, but she found the attraction of North Norfolk very special.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST