West (or Little) Poringland was pronounced ‘West Pauling’ or ‘Little Porland’ in the days when it existed as a separate medieval parish. It lay between East Poringland and Shotesham. The church of St Michael had fallen into dereliction before the Reformation. It had formerly been administered under a curacy and in 1540 the spiritual needs of the small population were taken over by the Rector of Howe, although the church of All Saints in East Poringland was in fact slightly nearer. The poor of the parish were looked after by East Poringland, who also took care of the roads. The hamlet of West Poringland remained as a churchless parish for over three hundred years.

The site of St Michael’s church is in a farmyard off Shotesham Road, the only remaining vestige of the ancient West Poringland village. I imagine that the large pond and meadow between the farm and the road are what remains of the village green. All traces of the church have now been lost, but the walls still stood at just over shoulder-height in 1800. It was at this time that the land in the village was enclosed, and no doubt that was when the village green was incorporated into the local farm. In 1845 the village had a population of 57, compared with 520 in East Poringland. In 1840 there were four tenanted farms in West Poringland, all owned by the Lord of the Manor.

All the principal buildings and businesses were located in East Poringland – pubs, two windmills and a National School, set up in 1841 and still taking pupils a hundred and twenty years later when I was a lad. In the nineteenth century the surnames of Minns and Tubby were already known in the village, and both families were distant relatives of mine. My connection with Poringland arose from my parents moving there shortly before I was born, and the fact that it was also the home to these relations is coincidental.


Leafy Oak Lane was a popular dog walking place for me and my sister nearly fifty years ago. This is in West Poringland. Dove Lane, which leads off it, and eventually ends up at the Dove Public House, was a green lane (i.e.not made up) and so no traffic passed that way; it was perfectly safe for our dogs who would happily run and sniff along the lane. Leafy Oak Lane is a lovely name, but most of the oak trees must have been felled a hundred years ago or more, and the fields now do not even have hedges. It is near where the Poringland Oak is said to have been, and as there is a pond where Dove Lane meets Leafy Oak Lane this may have been the exact spot where Crome painted his famous picture.

Unfortunately the local farmer had taken to dumping farm effluent in the pond some forty years ago, and the result was not pleasant. Luckily nature soon recovers, and although I have not been there for many years I am sure that the scene is again tranquil and serene.






This old town mansion is a fortunate survival in the city. Built over 600 years ago, there are now only a handful of places like it left. The Music House in King Street is one, although it is even older; Dragon House (also in historic King Street) is an impressive late medieval merchant’s home and warehouse; the Curat House is hidden behind a modern facade in the Haymarket and dates from 1501. Strangers Hall is compact and hidden from view. All you see as you walk down Charing Cross is an unimpressive shop window, and the surrounding building is not only unremarkable but quite without merit. The glory of Stangers Hall lies in its interiors. It had fallen into dereliction and would have been demolished had it not been saved in the 1890s by a local solicitor with an interest in history. He was to use it as his home for the last twenty-five years of his life, but it took some time to restore and he did not move into it until early in the 20th century.

MILLIE (28/5/1911) was working at Strangers Hall.

Millicent Mason was one of my great-aunts. In 1900 she was still at school, but she was about to embark on her first job. This portrait of Millie was taken while she was housekeeper at Strangers Hall. Her employer was 51-year-old solicitor Leonard Bolingbroke, who lived there with his wife and children. There were two other members of staff, a cook and a nurse (a member of the family must have had health problems). Leonard Bolingbroke it was who bequeathed the house to the council when he died in 1927. It became a pioneering museum of social history, one of the first in the country. Millie had moved on well before the creation of the museum and had begun her lifetime career as a midwife. While she was still working at Strangers Hall my father used to visit his aunt Millie in her living quarters. He was astonished when the same room was later on display as part of the museum. ‘This isn’t to be view by members of the public’ was his immediate reaction; ‘It was my auntie’s home!’

St Mary the Less is a church near Strangers Hall in the centre of the city. You can easily miss it among all the shops, unless you raise your eyes to roof level; there the tower may still be seen. The church was originally closed in 1544, but in 1565 it was given by the City Corporation to the Dutch refugees who were already being driven out of the Netherlands by religious persecution. The Dutch were highly valued for their weaving skills which found a ready market in East Anglia. They appear to have used the church for selling cloth rather than as a place of worship, holding their religious services in the Dutch language in Blackfriar’s Hall, a tradition which continued into living memory, finally ending in 1929. In 1637 the church of St Mary the Less was transferred to the Huguenot community, the French-speaking Calvinist refugees; prior to that the congregation had worshipped in the Bishop’s chapel in the Cathedral Close. They continued to hold services in French in St Mary the Less until 1832.

How is all this connected with Strangers Hall? The house acquired its current name from these incomers or ‘Strangers’ who settled in Norwich, particularly in that area of the city around Strangers Hall. This term ‘Stranger’ included both Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. These immigrants may have accounted for as many as a third of the population of Norwich at their height, but by the end of the 16th century an outbreak of plague, prompted by their poor living conditions, reduced their numbers to about a quarter of the population. Even this was a huge proportion of the city’s residents.

They had a huge influence on the city. Many of the novelties introduce by these Protestant immigrants from Northern Europe resonate down the centuries, almost to the present day. It was for instance the Strangers who first brought the canary to Norwich, a bird which remained popular into the 20th century, when it gave its name to the local football team. The Florist’s Feasts were competitions held among local horticulturists in the local inns. These were a feature of Norwich life from the 1630s for two hundred years, and these too were an immigrants’ innovation. Anthony de Solempne, a Dutch refugee, became the first printer in Norwich in the mid 16 century and was a successful trader; he was made a Freeman of the city. In the brewing industry the introduction of hops led to the production of beer rather than the English unhopped ale; this was also down to the Strangers.

Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were deeply involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff  and MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. In 1623 Augustine was knighted and bought the estate in Taverham, moving from a trader to a member of the landed gentry. It was during his father Thomas’s time that Strangers Hall got its name. His grandfather (also Thomas) was the first person to invite the Dutch to Norwich, and provided lodgings for them at his home in Strangers Hall..






The river Yare is not particularly well endowed with Broads, and of those very few are now navigable. Strumpshaw Broad almost disappeared completely in the 20th century as reed beds reclaimed the expanse of water, and was only rescued by being turned into a nature reserve. I do not include Whitlingham Broad in this list; for one thing it did not exist when I was a lad – it was excavated in the 1980s to provide gravel to build the Southern Bypass.  Rockland Broad is one that is still navigable, and by coincidence it was our nearest Broad when I was growing up. The village was less than five miles from where we lived in Poringland, and was an occasional destination for a summer evening car ride. I knew Rockland dyke well enough; it came up to the road by the New Inn, where my Dad could well drop in as we passed for ‘a half of twos’ – a mixture of mild and bitter. The Broad itself is not visible from the dyke, and my first view of that was in 1955.

CYGNET – note the red ensign!

My father had built a boat for me which we had christened Cygnet. I was six, and the time had arrived for her sea trials to begin, so naturally we took the canoe down to the nearest water at Rockland. We borrowed a rowing boat from the broadsman who lived in the cottage to the right of the dyke, down the path that gives access to the moorings. He was known to my father from years back. At the end of the rope that was passed over the stern was me in Cygnet. All went well as the Broad opened up before us, until I noticed that my feet were getting wet. Cygnet was leaking! My parents were in the rowing boat a few yards ahead and I called out to them in alarm. My enjoyment of the Norfolk Broads was abruptly terminated and the boat was turned round and rapidly rowed back to the staithe. Fortunately my canoe did not sink, and I had a little lifejacket so that I would not have drowned. This ingress of water led to a number of modifications to the boat, but subsequent voyages did not go to Rockland.

When the Broads and rivers of Norfolk were the main route for transport to Norwich, Rockland was quite a centre of industry. The boats are now all leisure craft, but traffic from Rockland staithe used to be entirely for business. The first tourists came to the Broads in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and they mainly went to the Northern Broads from Wroxham and shunned Rockland. Goods shipped from Rockland included reeds for thatching the buildings in the city. Reed thatch would also have been used on many of the local buildings; even the church was thatched in the nineteenth century. Reeds grew all about Rockland Broad, but another kind of roofing material was also produced in the village; distinctive black glazed tiles were fired in the local kiln and bricks were made there too. There was a thriving trade in cast metal objects, with a foundry producing articles in both brass and iron here. It also had several market gardens, and all this produce was loaded onto wherries at Rockland staithe for transport into Norwich.

There are no rocks hereabouts, only mud for many miles around. How then did Rockland get its name? The answer is that the word comes from the Old Norse, meaning the place of rooks. The road by the church is still called Rookery Hill! Rooks must have roosted here since time immemorial; I trust that they still do.





What is consciousness? Well, in one sense it just means being awake, and this is a common feature across most of the animal kingdom. Even a worm is conscious of stimuli; if you prod one it will wriggle. In people consciousness means more than just the opposite of being unconscious however; it means self-awareness among other things. Those other qualities include an ability to look to the future. In most people’s minds these are properties unique to humanity. Cognition is a different matter, and it means the ability to think. A high degree of intelligence is exhibited by other primates, and even my dog is much smarter than me in many ways (for example I cannot find things simply by sniffing them out). But can any animal conceive of this time next week? We cannot ask them, but nothing indicates that they can. Self-awareness and a knowledge of the passing of time are two aspects of consciousness, but no one can say exactly what consciousness is. There is no science of consciousness; it is embraced by philosophy, and it has recently been considered by psychologists, though without any success. Where it fits in the scheme of things is still a complete mystery.

I do not know how common my experience is with regard to consciousness, but I suspect it is quite rare. The dawning of my own self-awareness was (as you might expect) also my very first memory. I was sitting on the hearth-rug at home; then it came to me in a flash of inspiration. One minute I was just playing with something as toddlers do, and then suddenly I realised this basic truth; “I’m me!” The memory is still vivid, I can even remember the colour of the rug that I was sitting on. That was how it occurred to this individual, and in spite of its brevity, it was an awesome discovery. A lot of important things go with self-awareness. The concept of individuality is dependant on that of self, and so one needs to have an idea of what self means. The knowledge of good and evil too cannot exist without it. Returning to my dog for a moment, he appears to have a knowledge of right and wrong; he knows it is wrong to bite me, and right to wait until told to eat his dinner. But are these not just just my principles which have been instilled into him? If he had been allowed to grow up as a wild animal he would never have developed these traits.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of the dawning of self-awareness. Until Adam took the apple humanity had no shame in nakedness, no knowledge of the approach of death and no appreciation of right and wrong. The Book of Genesis is an allegory that contains a deep truth; as I understand things in our post Darwinian era, at some stage in its evolution the animal that we came from became aware of itself, and that was when Homo Sapiens began. In a more personal sense it is a genesis that we all go through, and it comes suddenly like an electric light being turned on. It is me on the hearth-rug all over again. We have no way of knowing if it was a process that took many generations or not, but to me the knowledge of self is either something you have or something you lack. Can it evolve over time? Perhaps Homo Erectus or some progenitor of mankind had a dim awareness of self, but what ‘dim awareness’ means in this context is not clear to me.

It is on a more profound level than a purely scientific one that the idea of consciousness should be regarded. The rationalist whose deterministic universe has no place for such intangibles has nothing to say on the subject.  Yet self-consciousness undoubtedly exists. Perhaps theologians have a better understanding of self recognition. What is consciousness? Heaven knows.






Emily Peachey (b. 1887)

A coney, in case you are unfamiliar with the word, was the medieval term for a rabbit. The area of the country around the town of Mildenhall in Suffolk was a great centre for coney catching, from their introduction less than two thousand years ago until the 20th century. Emily Peachey my grandmother was born in Lakenheath near Mildenhall; so too was her sister Ruth, who became Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1950. The Peacheys came of a long line of warreners in Lakenheath; I can trace my direct lineage back to George Peachey, born in 1662 in the early years of the reign of Charles II. I do not know for sure that he was catching rabbits as long ago as that, but as there was precious little else to do on the sandy soil this is highly likely.

In 1520 the annual rent of Lakenheath Warren was 250 rabbits (payable to Ely Priory) and the catch was 20,000 animals per year, which were worth fourpence a head. I have little doubt that the Peachey family were catching them 600 years ago; perhaps my ancestors in Lakenheath were coney catchers back in 1304, when it is on record that 4,500 rabbits were culled in that year.

The Peachey siblings whom I wish to write about were the children of Robert Peachey (1829-1917) and his wife Amelia (née Phipp, 1841-1918). The children of this couple spread their wings from the confines of rural Suffolk. After hundreds of years when the horizons of the family were circumscribed by the boundaries of this village, this was the generation that left it all behind. It was a feat made possible by the coming of the railway to Lakenheath station in 1845. (The station is still in use, but it only sees one or two passengers a week – a far cry from 1883 when it was a busy place that had its own station master, Robert Souter.) Although they all left Suffolk, not all the members of the family stopped hunting for rabbits. Nor did they all travel very far – at least two of them followed the life of netting rabbits just a few stations down the line in the adjoining county of Norfolk. For example Phipp Peachey, the second of the siblings and father of Emily, worked as a warrener in Arminghall near Norwich.

Phipp (1861-1929) was the eldest male child among the Peachey siblings. He went to London as a young man; there were not many wild rabbits in the capital and he must have tried his hand at some other labouring jobs. He met his wife in Wandsworth; she was from Buckinghamshire where her family had also lived for centuries. Their first child was born in London, before he returned to Lakenheath and a life of rabbiting. His second daughter was born in Lakenheath in 1886, and she was baptised Emily. Besides Ruth and Emily, Phipp had three other daughters and three sons. He was lucky to secure a position with Russell Colman, the boss of the mustard firm and an exemplary employer. Phipp moved to Norfolk in 1900. His job was to harvest the rabbits on the Crown Point Estate, which he was meant to pass on to the Colman family. They no doubt distributed them to their numerous employees. Phipp however sold some to the local butcher, an under-the-counter enterprise that was strictly forbidden. On being discovered there was a great commotion; in the end he was allowed to keep his job, but was banned from wearing the Colman livery. My father remembered being told by Phipp to go and hit a rabbit over the head; it must have been shot by Phipp but only injured. My Dad, who was about 11 at the time, could not do this. It was a bit of city-bred squeamishness which annoyed his countryman granddad.


The eldest child, Kate Peachey (b. 1858), married Thomas Reeve in 1886. He was from the adjoining village of Eriswell. He was working there as a warrener in 1890, and later moved to West Wretham near Thetford. Kate died aged 48, but Thomas lived sixty years a widower, dying aged one hundred in 1967. Thomas was not a Peachey, but his brother-in-law Ebenezer was; when the census was taken in 1911 he also was a warrener in West Wretham. Brother Alfred Peachey was working as a farm labourer, also in West Wretham, and no doubt they had both moved there through their connections with elder sister Kate; she was fifteen years Alfred’s senior and twenty years older than Ebenezer, and had already passed away in 1906. She had three daughters and three sons who lived to adulthood, and one daughter who died in infancy.

From the occasional flight by balloon for the few to the jet airliner for the masses; from the penny post to the electronic computer; from horse and cart to the modern motorway; what changes Thomas Reeve had seen! It was the transition from a way of life that had not changed much since the middle ages to the modern world in one lifetime. It is true that many of these aspects of modernity had not then reached East Anglia (and some cases have yet to do so), but the landscape had already altered drastically. The western half of Lakenheath Warren has been obliterated by a huge USAF airbase (one of the largest in Europe), and access to West Wretham is prohibited to the public as part of the infantry training area STANTA. The military have replaced the warreners, and today rabbits may hop unmolested through the undergrowth as jets and bullets whistle overhead. These changes had already taken place while Thomas was still alive.

Kate’s sister Emma moved to London as a teenager to work in service to printer George Judd. There, in the poshest part of West London, she met cheesemonger William Theobald. They married and he went on to become the grocer in a shop in Sutherland Street, Pimlico, next to the pub The White Ferry House (the name hints at the river Tyburn that runs below). The premises where William Theobald lived and sold cheese are still there, now occupied by a surveyor’s office. They had one daughter called Mabel. Emma’s sister Lavinia and her mother were staying with Emma and her family in Pimlico at the time of the 1901 census. Lavinia married Harry Graham in Fulham in 1906; he was a clerk. They had no children. Amelia was another sister who married a Londoner, Henry Coleman. He was a postman in Highgate at the time that their son Horace was born in 1890. By 1911 Henry was working as a time-keeper on the tube, on what is now part of the Central Line.


The most adventurous of the Peachey siblings was Arthur. After marrying a lock-keeper’s daughter he had met on the river Thames, he emigrated to Canada aged 28 in 1908. He ended up running a pool hall and ice cream parlour in Silverton, a mining settlement in the wilds of BC, and there his family grew up. To learn more of his interesting life read my story of Arthur Peachey (click on the link). He was joined in his Canadian adventures by his twin brother Jesse, but in this case the migrant’s life was not a great success. He was working in Eastern Canada mixing concrete in 1914 when war broke out. After serving with the Canadian Army in France he returned to England when the war was over. Jesse had two sons.

Arthur and Jesse were the youngest of the children, and both lived into my lifetime, though they were a world apart from me (literally so in the case of Arthur). Jesse died in 1958 aged 78 and was the last surviving member of the siblings. He ended up in Stratford-upon-Avon; I wonder why he was living in that middle class shrine, Shakespeare’s birthplace? It was a far cry from his origins hunting rabbits in the Suffolk countryside.

In spite of the many changes in the last hundred years, some things in Suffolk seem immutable. My immediate Peachey relatives all left the area in the nineteenth century with the generation described here, but the Peachey name is still common around Lakenheath. For example, the local undertaking firm is G. R. Peachey Ltd.  Known too in Lakeheath is the name Phipp; Stan Phipp passed away some years ago, but his grandchildren still live there. The Phipps must all be related to my three-times great-grandfather Ebenezer Phipp who moved from Bishops Stortford to Lakenheath in 1856. He was a dairy farmer and warrener and also had a business carrying parcels to Bury St Edmunds. The church of St Mary the Virgin in Lakenheath has a number of interesting medieval features, although my ancestors would have attended one of the Nonconformist chapels. Although I have been by train through Lakenheath station, that is two miles outside the village, which I have never been to; considering its significance in the distant (and not so distant) past of my forebears perhaps I should.





This container traffic from the port of Felixstowe has grown from nothing in 1960 to the huge operation it is today. Fifty years ago just a handful of containers left Suffolk for Harwich, which was the major freight terminal in the district; one or two trains a day were assembled there for onward distribution. Now Felixstowe takes 40% of all the containers that are imported into the UK and the port is the largest in the country for this kind of traffic.

Dr Beeching had thoughts of closing the line from Ipswich to Lowestoft, but the track would have remained as far as Leiston to carry nuclear waste from Sizewell power station. (I wonder why this hazardous substance always goes by the safe and reliable railway?!) Anyway, that would probably have preserved the goods line to Felixstowe too. In view of today’s pivot role of the port complex in the freight infrastructure of the country, the fact that it retained a rail connection is just as well. Felixstowe Pier station was the original passenger terminal in the town, on the site now occupied by Felixstowe Port. It had opened in 1877 and closed to passengers in 1951. Goods traffic continued in very small quantities.

Of course a lot of containers go by road along the A12 and A14; these highways have had money spent on them, but they are still pitifully inadequate for the 21st century. There is no motorway running into Suffolk, which shows how little priority is given to East Anglia’s transport needs. This is even more true of rail; think how many heavy lorries would be taken off these congested highways by an increase in rail capacity. The line to Felixstowe is single track for nearly its entire length – this was not the case in 1959, although traffic was much lighter then. The work of redoubling the track is not expected to be finished until 2030 moreover, and even then it will not be complete. It is hard to understand why it has taken so long to begin to return the line to its former importance, let alone why it has taken so long to start to upgrade it.

The construction the short (1.2 km) stretch of line between the East Suffolk Line and the Great Eastern main Line (technically known as a chord) means that trains no longer have to pass through Ipswich and reverse on their way to Nuneaton, where many of them terminate. The chord opened in 2014 and was constructed at a cost of £59m, but this is only a small part of the investment needed on the line to the midlands. Trains on this route are expected to more than double in the next ten years as track improvements make this feasible, but as this is one of the premier freight lines in Britain it seems impossibly slow progress.  The result will still be an inferior service. From Suffolk County Council’s point of view the port generates over 10,000 jobs and (in my opinion) much greater investment is needed to preserve Felixstowe’s attractiveness. Other ports are trying to take a share of the business, in particular the new London Gateway port on the river Thames. This will take some of this traffic in the future, but hopefully the increasing trade in the UK will be enough for both ports to prosper.

The redoubling of the line through Soham and the redesign of Ely junction are just two of the improvements urgently required on this line. Unfortunately many of these upgrades will merely be the reinstatement of track that existed in the past, until ‘rationalisation’ took place. At least we have stopped singling these lines now, but it is a pity that this was ever done in the first place. The taking up of track is not done without cost, and the relaying of it is even more expensive. The restoration of two-way working on these few miles to Ely has thrown up so many problems that the project has been abandoned for now, which means that the reintroduction of a station at Soham has also been put on hold. Even the improvements to Ely junction proved too expensive for Network Rail’s current budget and have been delayed until some future time.

The other route by rail through Ipswich to Stratford in East London at present still takes most of the containers from Felixstowe, although this is a pinch point. As more trains run on the Elizabeth Line through Stratford more goods traffic will be routed through Bury St Edmunds instead. The chord in Ipswich will go some way to make this transfer possible. The chord was planned as a freight only line, but this has been upgraded to dual use to include passenger traffic. I can understand specials being directed this way, carrying those wanting to experience the new route, but I am at a loss to envisage any regular passenger services wishing to avoid Ipswich station. The chord has the infrastructure already in place for eventual electrification, although there is no date suggested for when this might be done. It would require the electrification of a mainly freight line, and Network Rail are having difficulties even in electrifying the main line to Bristol. I do not see this electrification to Felixstowe happening any time soon.

It is not generally realised that another chord was introduced on this line nearly one hundred years ago, which created the direct line from Ipswich to Peterborough. Although the term chord was not used then, this short length of track connected the Ely to Newmarket line with the Ipswich to Cambridge line just to the west of Kennett station. The original line from Ely to Newmarket has been returned to agricultural use, but it can still be traced on Google Maps’ satellite view. Before the Soham/Kennett chord was constructed there was not a direct route from Bury St Edmunds to Ely, but a few trains a day went this way by reverse at Newmarket – quite a performance with the locomotive hauled trains of the time.

Things were very different then; there was no Bury to Ely line, but there were lines from Bury to Thetford  and Long Melford, besides the lines to Ipswich and Cambridge. Bury was then a hub for local trains; goods wagons were loaded and unloaded at virtually every station on the network, while the idea of long distance freight traffic from Felixstowe to the midlands had not entered railway planners’ minds. Now Bury is a station where freight traffic is a heavy user of the line, but obviously these trains do not stop there. It is on a long distance route that did not even exist in the heyday of steam.

Another chord was recently proposed at Reedham in Norfolk, this time reinstating the line of 1847 which connected Yarmouth and Lowestoft directly. This link was made redundant by the opening of Yarmouth South Town station in 1859. This chord would reopen the  direct service from Yarmouth to Ipswich (and perhaps eventually Liverpool Street) via the East Suffolk Line, but this proposal from Network Rail got a dusty answer from the not-very-impressive local MP. He merely said it was a pity the railways had been so drastically cut in the 1960s. Indeed it is, but what is the point of regretting the past? I can do it in a blog like this, but a politician should be looking to the future. It is true that the railway through the Berney Arms halt would need improvement to bring the speed limit up from the current snail’s pace, but this would only be a plus.

Will it ever happen? With the pace of progress with the vital container traffic on the Felixstowe line and the lack of local support I doubt it.






           St Edmund and the Vikings                    869–1066

Joseph C. W. Mason

Now Available!
Paperback, 234×156 mm, 168 pp. With 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 b/w illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6


King Edmund’s short reign over the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia was marred by invasion by Vikings from Denmark. Edmund himself was killed by them. He won no great battle. But he became the most celebrated of all Anglo-Saxon royal saints: dedicatee of dozens of churches, whose relics were the object of great pilgrimages, and regarded for some time as the national saint of England.

The author signs a copy for a customer at the launch on the 19th April.

As his cult grew, it became impossible to draw a line between the truth and its embellishment by hagiographers with their own messages to promote. Was Edmund the chaste, peace-loving man whom Abbo of Fleury depicted, or was he rather a powerful warrior? And why did the Vikings later play a large part in fostering his legend?

Joseph Mason roots his account in the Viking period: the last days of the life of the real man, and the first decades of the development of his cult. He focuses on the Vikings and Edmund’s interaction with them, both before and after his death, and he draws on unconventional sources of information: the pattern of church dedications to Edmund, place names, and the archaeological record. Mason argues that these traces, albeit sparse, provide valuable evidence that suggests how and where the Vikings travelled, where the impact of their invasion was greatest, and where the source of his subjects’ gratitude to Edmund – which was surely the main factor in his acclamation as a saint – is really to be located. The book concludes with a gazetteer of churches dedicated to St Edmund, in East Anglia ad beyond.

Joe Mason read history at Oxford and worked as a freelance journalist for many years. His blog on memories of East Anglia has recorded 200,000 hits.

Available from bookshops and online sellers, or order direct from the publisher: visit www.lassepress.com

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In spite of rapidly growing wealth in India, it is unequally spread. Leprosy is still common in the subcontinent and the charity the Leprosy Mission continues to do much good work in hospitals there, and in other places too. Although the disease may be treated today by multi-drug therapy, the poverty of the sufferers makes this difficult for them, and the social stigma associated with leprosy means that often a remedy is not sought until the effects of the disease are at an advanced stage.


The Lazar House in Sprowston, Norwich, was established over nine hundred years ago by the first Bishop of Norwich to care for those males suffering from leprosy. It was thought to be highly contagious and such hospitals were kept well away from built-up areas. Sprowston was then far beyond the city boundaries and Magdalen Gate gave access to the road leading to Magdalen Chapel, as the Lazar House was known. The nave was used to accommodate the patients and the chancel was their place of worship. The chapel was dissolved in 1547 following the split with Rome, but by then the increasing wealth of the country had made leprosy (which has always been associated with poverty) almost unknown in England. St Mary Magdalen’s Chapel was instead being used by the poor and elderly. The building was then converted to a dovecote, which was damaged during Kett’s Rebellion. It was later used as a barn. During the 18th century the increased demand for housing led to it being turned into cottages. After being bought by antiquarian Walter Rye and restored in 1908 it was later given to the city by Sir Eustace Gurney and it became the first branch library in Norwich in 1923. It remained in this use for eighty years, and it is currently used by a charity for those who have learning difficulties. After a thousand years, it is good to think that Mary Magdalen’s Chapel is still a refuge for the needy and disadvantaged.

Hospitals had fallen to other uses in England after Henry VIII seized church lands, and the Great Hospital in Norwich was one of very few to survive when the city fathers took it over. London too had retained St Thomas’s Hospital (named after St Thomas Beckett) when the City of London similarly took over responsibility from the Church. In both cases the merchants had to pay the Crown for the privilege of taking over the care of the sick and elderly, but they could afford it. In other places without these rich philanthropists the old were not so lucky. Guy’s Hospital was opened in the early 18th century to accommodate the incurables from St Thomas’s Hospital. It was founded by Thomas Guy who had made a fortune from the South Sea  Bubble. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was opened in 1771, one of the earliest modern hospitals to be established outside London.

Medieval hospitals were set up in Norman England, and in London the Lock Hospital was first established in Southwark at around the same time as Norwich’s Lazar House, at that too was a refuge for lepers. The name refers to the rags that the sufferers were clad in. Lock Hospital cannot be traced back to the 12th century in an unbroken line, but the persistence of the name suggests some degree of continuity. In any case the place was one of great antiquity. In 1740 the Lock Hospital was rebuilt for the treatment of women with venereal disease by the philanthropist William Bromfield. It was housed in purpose-built premises near Hyde Park Corner and as such it was one of the first new hospitals to appear since the nuns and monks set aside parts of their Priories to care for the sick, some five hundred years before.

Lock Hospital remained a centre for treating women with venereal disease into the 20th century, although other conditions were included latterly. In 1938 a maternity unit was opened at 283a Harrow Road with  midwife Millicent Mason (my great-aunt) as Sister. Two years later the Lock Hospital was taken over as a military isolation hospital, and shortly after the return of peace it became the out patients department of Paddington Hospital under the NHS. It finally closed its doors in 1952 after a long history of looking after the lowest strata of society. Unlike the Lazar House in Norwich it retains no community involvement, indeed the site has been redeveloped for housing.

Other places had their arrangements for caring for the sick and dying (especially in the middle ages) but Norwich and London as the two richest and most powerful cities in the land did more than anywhere else. Although there was little they could do to cure people, the provision of hospitals is a laudable achievement. It long predates the National Health Service.






29 is to the right.

It is a year since I last wrote about the house at 29 Surrey Street that used to belong to my family. Let me remind you; it was used as commercial premises in my family’s time, but until my father bought the house it had been in residential use. Latterly this was commercial hotel called the Angel, followed by a prolonged period of disuse.

Of the rooms on the other floors only the butler’s pantry (that opened onto the former dining room on the first floor) still had its built-in furniture. This must have been refitted in Queen Victoria’s time, because it was all done out in teak, not a wood used in Georgian times. It also it had a stained glass panel in door which was similarly of a later date.  In the butler’s pantry the superior tea service, the silver and wine glasses would have been kept, together with the current bottles of port and sherry.

The kitchen in the basement was also preserved in its original condition when we moved in during 1959. A late addition to this room was a cast iron range with an oven on either side of the central fire. My sister and I did attempt to light the fire on one occasion but it filled the room with smoke; after years of disuse it would have needed at least a month of permanent fires to dry out the chimney. The basement was never cold anyway; the thick walls kept it at an even temperature winter and summer. (We did use the scullery chimney for a Tortoise stove that burnt smokeless fuel.)

There were four rooms in the basement; a store-room under the stairs (maybe for linen), a large pantry (larger than most of today’s double bedrooms) a scullery and the kitchen itself. There was a wall cupboard about three feet from the range, which probably held the cooking utensils. On the opposite wall was a huge pine dresser with open shelves up to the ceiling, to hold the crockery. Below were two huge cupboards at one end and a smaller cupboard at the other, with two drawers above for the cutlery. There was an enormous pine worktop, three or four metres long and more than half a metre wide; it was made from a single plank of wood. There was a gasmeter on the dresser that took shillings; one lasted for months. We used the single gas ring for making cups of tea or coffee.

THE SCULLERY (WORKSHOP); see the roller for a towel still sits on the wall!

Instead of the range, the scullery had a huge open fireplace. From the stone overmantle projected a hook on a swivelling bracket, from which huge joints would once have hung on a clockwork spit. In this room the washing-up would have been done, and the laundry (which would have taken up much of the servants’ time); two servants would have lived in, probably the butler and his housekeeper wife. The attic provided the domestics’ sleeping quarters. Others would have lived out, in the city.

From the kitchen one door opened onto the corridor that led to the stairs, and the other door opened onto the scullery. The walls in the basement were nearly a metre thick. The floor in the scullery was partly of large flagstones, and the rest of the basement was paved with red pamments, about 25 cms square. (All  these measurement were of course in imperial feet and inches; the house had been built decades before the French Revolution that had ushered in the metric system.)

Although I have referred to this floor as the basement, it was only slightly below ground level at the front, and all the rooms had windows. The interior doors in the basement were half-glazed, because although there were windows to the daylight they were relatively small, and the doors helped spread the limited light round the working area. In the window to the scullery was a large shallow earthenware sink which must have been put in when the house was connected to the water and drainage systems in the nineteenth century. The house still used many of the original lead pipes.

A door in the scullery opened to the back area, and this gave access to the vaults. One was the wine cellar, and an earthenware flagon from some long-forgotten cider company remained when we moved in. Next came the coal cellar, with a manhole cover to the yard above, down which the coalman would have emptied his sacks. Finally came the longest cellar, which took a right angle bend and then descended a step or two to yet another arched vault. The use to which these last cellars had been put was not apparent; they were too damp to store anything that would rot.





When considering the French in Norfolk we naturally think first of those Huguenots who flooded into Norwich in the 17th century to escape religious persecution. The most famous of these Protestant émigrés were the Martineaus, whose name is preserved in Martineau Lane on the city’s ring road. The father of this dynasty was Gaston Martineau, a surgeon who arrived in Norwich in 1686 from Dieppe. The Huguenots are the subject of an earlier post in this blog, and this time I will concentrate on other Frenchmen who have played a part in the history of the county.

One such was John Dusautoy, son of Pierre François du Sautoy. Pierre François was born in the Ardennes in 1728 and came to Scotland as a seventeen year old, where he arrived in a French warship to accompany Bonnie Prince Charlie in his doomed attempt to seize the crown. Following the defeat of his army at Culloden in April 1746, the prince escaped back to France but du Sautoy was captured and imprisoned. Upon his release he remained in this country, and in 1757 he married an English girl in Basingstoke; he had by then changed his name to the English sounding Peter Francis Dusautoy. The youngest son of this marriage was John Abbott, who was born near the South Downs in 1764. As a young man he learnt the paper trade at Romsey in Hampshire, but in 1804 he became proprietor of the paper-mill at Lyng in Norfolk. He remained there for fifteen years, during which time he raised his family. His eldest son Shenton (also a paper maker) married a girl from Norfolk in 1820. John Abbot Dusautoy became influential in the paper industry by publishing a pioneering book on cost accounting in the business. Members of the family have been influential the army, publishing and education. A descendant of Pierre François is Marcus du Sautoy, the current Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. (Charles Simonyi, who endowed the post, was born in Hungary in 1948 and is the computer programmer behind Microsoft Office Word and Excel.)

Turning from a paper maker to a dancer, I will next examine the career of Augustin Noverre. The Noverre family was Swiss but moved to Paris when the children were little. There Augustin and his brother became highly accomplished in the art of ballet. Before the development of the art form by Augustin, and particularly by his brother Jean-Georges, ballet was meaningless succession of unrelated dances, performed in a stereotypical and wooden manner. The Noverres invented the ballet d’action, the first stage in the progression to the modern classical ballet. Jean-Georges wrote an influential book of essays on the dance while performing at Drury Lane in London with his troupe. This was in 1755/6; this coincided with the start of the Seven Years War between England and France, and although the Noverres stressed their Swiss nationality this led to hostility in the capital. While Augustin was descending from the stage, having finished his performance, he was jumped upon by a number of men who drew their swords. Defending himself with his own sword, Augustin believed he had killed one of his attackers; he escaped to Norwich, that most French of English cities, where the community of Huguenots provided him with complete anonymity. To this day nobody knows where he was holed up in the city.


His victim was not seriously injured and when this became apparent Augustin returned to London. Jean-Georges returned to Paris after the engagement in London was over, but Augustin stayed in this country where he had a successful practice as teacher of dance. He stayed in London for thirty years and when he became too old to continue dancing it was not to France but to Norwich that he retired. His son Francis became a prominent citizen in the local social scene, where he taught dancing to the wealthy young men and women, and in business, where he became a director of the Norwich Union Insurance Society. The Noverre name became well known in the city and remained so into the twentieth century; there was a cinema called the Noverre in Norwich until the 1980s.

Almost a thousand years ago the French-speaking natives of Normandy were busy imposing their will on the people of Norfolk. A Frenchman who had a major impact over here was Ralph le Staller, who was Earl of East Anglia until 1075. That was the year in which he led a rebellion against William the Conqueror, and his wife seized the newly built castle in Norwich. As you will realise, even if you have never heard of Ralph le Staller, the rebellion was unsuccessful. The Earl however was able to escape to his other home in Burgundy, where he remained.

Switzerland, Burgundy and Flanders; French-speaking incomers from these lands have, over the years, had their effect on the gentle hills of Norfolk. We may think that foreigners have had little to do with rural East Anglia, but perhaps we should think again.