EAST TO WEST AND BACK
On Tuesday 6th January 1981 I got up when it was still dark and my sister Tig cooked me mushrooms and bacon for breakfast; there would be no more meat on that day, for reasons that will become apparent. It had been snowing the day before, but a thaw had set in overnight. I drove to Aylsham to pick up my friend Laura (not her real name), a middle-aged nurse. She was also a music therapist – it was through a mutual love of music that we first became acquainted. She was moving from Norfolk to Gloucestershire, and as I had a boat trailer I had agreed to take her sailing dinghy to her new home in Tewkesbury. I collected her from the stately home where her job had required her living-in (West Lodge, which belonged to the Cozens Hardy family), and drove to Hickling Broad to collect the boat. I securely lashed it and its launching trolley to the trailer and tied the mast on the roof rack.
We got on the road at 10.20 a.m. and stopped in a lay-by at Wymondham for coffee. After making sure the boat was secure it was non-stop to Bedford. There we had our packed lunch. Laura had provided me with Brie and Stilton in wholemeal rolls, but she is a vegan and had an apple and a banana. Laura was very pale in her complexion, which I am sure was because of her diet. It snowed as we travelled through Buckinghamshire. She told me that she had an osteopathic and homeopathic practice in London in her twenties, but becoming disillusioned with alternative medicine she then trained as a conventional nurse. Becoming slightly more traditional in her medical opinions did not extend to her eating habits however; this was fair enough as far as she was concerned, but when she said she had brought up someone’s baby on soya milk I thought she was being positively barmy. She was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, which rather confirms my point.
Beyond Buckingham the road left my well-travelled route to Oxford, going west through Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold. We got to Tewkesbury at 4.30 and left the trailer at the marina. (I collected it the next day.) We went to her friend Hon’s British Legion flat (she had served as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse on a hospital ship); I must say I met some unusual people on this trip. We had a cup of tea – it was green tea. At 7.20 I left for my room in the Bell Hotel, which had a lovely log fire burning in the hearth; just what I needed after a winter’s day. I walked round town and had a drink before returning to my room to watch some telly. I had a bath before retiring to bed.
Being free (temporarily) of my vegan friend I had sausage and bacon for breakfast. I waited by the log fire for Laura to arrive. We went to have look round the impressive Abbey, where the BBC were preparing to record that day’s Choral Evensong with the Exeter Cathedral Choir. We got chatting to a young man from Ipswich who was repairing the organ. He worked for the 200-year-old firm of Bishop and Sons. Tewkesbury is a charming town, with well restored timber-framed buildings and of course the fine Abbey. We went to the marina, unloaded the boat and hitched up the now empty trailer.
Tewkesbury lies on the confluence of the rivers Avon and Severn, and it is a perilous place in times of flooding. Laura and I left Tewkesbury at 11.30 and had an uneventful journey back through the Cotswolds. From Newmarket we were back on the old A 11; none of the route was dual carriageway in 1981. We talked on the journey, and I heard how she was always moving round the country: before coming to Norfolk she was working with disturbed children in Stroud. I heard more of her unorthodox ideas as we drove along; her friend Hon obviously does not share all these, as she had made me some ham sandwiches for lunch. I took Laura back to Aylsham and drove home to my sister and the dogs; Suki was the only one who heard me coming, which delighted her enormously, as her wildly wagging tail showed. All in all this was an extraordinary round trip of nearly 500 miles.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Yarmouth was a major naval base in the age of sail, before becoming a thriving fishing port on the Yare estuary; with the growth of tourism it was the principal holiday resort for Londoners on the East Coast. It was not by accident therefore that it was the first place in East Anglia (not just in Norfolk) to get a train service in 1844, and following this Gorleston was the first place in East Anglia to get a tram service. After four years of work this was opened in 1875, and it used horse-drawn vehicles. A grand scheme for a tramway to link the towns of Lowestoft, Southwold and Halesworth with Gorleston did not see the light of day, and only the Gorleston part was realised. Southwold and Halesworth were linked by a narrow gauge railway in 1879 and Lowestoft got a separate tramway in 1903. With frequent stops the horse-drawn double-decker tramcars in Gorleston could take over two hours to complete the journey from Yarmouth South Town railway station to the area near the pier. At first it ran on a standard gauge track of 4’8″, but this was reduced to 3’6″ after a few years, in 1882.
The Haven Bridge which joins the two towns was not suitable for tramlines, so Yarmouth and Gorleston had two separate systems. Yarmouth was slower off the mark to install tram tracks. It had a horse-drawn omnibus service, but the intention to provide tramlines for an electrified service had to be delayed in 1899 because the price of steel, needed in large quantities for the project, was rapidly running out of control. It peaked at £10 a ton, but by 1901 the price had dropped to under £6 and the Yarmouth tramway was hastily completed and opened in 1902. The Gorleston tramway was electrified three years in 1905. The Yarmouth tramway was extended to Caister in 1907; this completed the network.
The tramcars were all double deckers and were painted in a livery of maroon and cream. (You can see one in the hand-coloured postcard illustration which accompanies this article.) Telephone wires were run along the tram poles, and with regular contact points the driver was able ring up the control centre to report any problems he encountered on the line. This use of up-to-date technology shows that Yarmouth was still a place of innovation, as it had been throughout the previous century. The town has since fallen on hard times, with the loss of its Royal Naval presence, the disappearance of the fishing industry, the closure of two of its three railway termini and the growth in popularity of overseas holidays. It is now one of the most deprived areas on the East Coast. The growth of North Sea gas gave the port some business, but even this has declined in recent years; there was hope that the offshore wind turbines might bring prosperity back to the port, but this business is due to go down the coast to Lowestoft.
The period before the First World War marked the high point of the Yarmouth and Gorleston tramways. In these yeas the Corporation purchased a pleasure steamer to run trips that commenced with a tram ride and culminated with a return journey to Norwich, all for the price of sixpence. In 1920 the Corporation purchased its first motor buses and the trams were progressively withdrawn from 1924. The Great Yarmouth section was closed in 1930 and the Gorleston section three years later. Some of the tramcars ended up as holiday chalets at Caister holiday camp.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
The loss of Colman’s mustard to the city of Norwich finally ends a tradition that goes back two hundred years, but it has been inevitable since the company of Reckitt and Colman sold out to a faceless multi-national. One of the first things the new owners did was to sell off the collection of silver mustard pots that the Colman family had built up over many decades, and which should have been left to the Castle Museum. The amount raised by the sale was insignificant in comparison to the company’s annual turnover, but it showed that only money mattered to Unilever. I for one will be glad to see the back of them in Norwich. I wonder what Sir Timothy Colman makes of it? In spite of his directorship, the family had no real control over the company that bore his name by the time the end came in 1995.
It is sad for the remaining workers at Carrow, but the factory is but a shadow of its former self. In the seventies I knew a manager at Carrow and he showed me round the works. Mustard was but a detail of what they then produced at the site. Besides mint and horseradish sauce they had Robison’s fruit squashes, made from juices imported from South America and brought to their doorstep by freighter up the river Yare. Tonic wine was a major product at the site. That was after the company had acquired the similar sounding Coleman’s, of Barn Road Norwich in 1968, makers of Wincarnis.
Before 1862 the mustard had been made at Stoke Holy Cross, the village a few miles outside Norwich. Before the arrival of the railway at nearby Swainsthorpe station in 1847, the mustard was taken to London by a fleet of five horse-drawn wagons. Tins were first introduced in 1851, and until then smaller quantities were supplied in bottles; larger amounts were sent in casks. The growth of the company to such importance could never have occurred without the railway. The sidings to Carrow Works from Trowse station, with their bright yellow mustard wagons, started the journey that spread the condiment throughout the British Empire. It was a brilliant business strategy; the milling of corn produced just flour for bread making, but the pounding of mustard corns produced a powder that could be sold for many times more. How did such a strong flavour become the essential addition to the roast beef of old England? The phrase “keen as mustard” is recorded in the seventeenth century, so the condiment was appearing on our tables long before the Colmans started milling it. Before the Colmans started selling the powder, it was a difficult sauce to make. Even if the plant was available locally, it was used in such small quantities that I can’t see that it was worth your local windmill producing it it. Perhaps you pounded up mustard seeds as part of the preparations for Sunday dinner. That was of course roast beef by tradition, if not always in fact.
Unilever have made a sort of’ promise to retain a mustard milling facility in Norfolk. This is put forward as a sop to local opinion, but it cuts no ice with me. Without Carrow Works at its heart, there is no mustard in Norwich. In fact when I first remember mustard it was always mustard powder, and this we are told will remain a local product; it was mixed fresh for every meal, and then thrown away. Hence the saying that Mr Colman was made rich by the mustard we left on our plates. I don’t think the way of preserving mustard ready mixed had even been invented in the fifties.
I wonder what my ancestors would make of the news that mustard was to desert the city? My great-grandfather spent most of his working life at Carrow, and his eldest and youngest sons followed him into the mill. It had an important part in my ancestral past, but times move on. Mustard making is but a quirk of history, like shoemaking, silk weaving and woollen cloth making, trades that once defined the city but are now no more. We still have an insurance industry, but even that may pass into history.
At least I will feel no compulsion to buy Colman mustard ever again. In future I can use the French variety which I actually prefer. English mustard is just hot, but Dijon mustard has subtle flavours.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
For men, long hair: turtle neck sweaters: flared trousers: for women short hair and mini skirts; Cuban heels for both sexes. These were the features of dress that immediately spring to mind – but there was so much more than fashion to the Swinging Sixties. The transistor transformed our listening habits. For the first time we could carry a little radio with us out into the countryside. The Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops (the top twenty) had been essential listening on Sunday afternoons if you were a teenager, but that was a feature of the boring old fifties; the Light Programme had almost gone by the time the Swinging Sixties arrived. Radio One launched in 1967 and consigned the Light Programme to history. As far a telly goes, it is a toss-up between two programmes as to which was the show that epitomised the Swinging Sixties; That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 for short) that aired in 1962/3 or Top of the Pops that launched in 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the top bands of the day whose legacy has endured. You may have your own opinion about the artistic quality of the music, but there is no denying its long-lasting effect; it is a disgrace that it has taken over fifty years for Ringo Starr to get his long-overdue knighthood.
It was a time when all the arts were entering a vibrant period of development. In the graphic arts the stark black and white images of Op Art, often employing optical illusion, demonstrated a sophistication that was a refreshingly refined version of abstract art. In the world of serious music the time represented the high-point of serialism, that atonal music which dominated the Third Programme (the precursor of Radio Three). In literature it was the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and his followers that led the way. Sylvia Plath was already dead by 1964, but Phillip Larkin and John Betjeman were still writing (and much better work than Ginsberg as it happens) but they were yesterday’s men and women. The Sixties were all so different from what had gone before; no wonder the older generation shook their heads in disbelief.
The weather in the sixties is memorable for the big freeze of 1963. For almost three months from January 1st the temperature seldom rose above 32 degrees. If that sounds positively tropical to you, remember that then we still used Farenheit, and that 32° meant freezing point. It is unusual for British children to get their sledges out even for a day, let alone for months on end. At least they were proper wooden sledges, not the little plastic versions which even Amertcan children have to use nowadays, which leave you far too close to the snow.
As far as the means of transport were concerned it was of course the Mini that represented the Swinging Sixties; it was first sold at the beginning of the decade, and went on to embody it in the popular consciousness. The Mods and Rockers came out in force on August Bank holiday – which was still held on the first Monday of the month in the 1960s. The Triumph motor bikes of the bomber jacketed Rockers and the Lambrettas of the Parka-clad Mods formed a new form of transport for the young, who a few years before could scarcely afford even a push bike. Jet airliners, which were scarcely known in 1960, were commonplace ten years later. The QE2 was the last of the transatlantic liners. Their time was really over when she was launched in the late sixties, but her elan was both the last flowering of a vanished age and the epitome of the Swinging Sixties. The steam age finally came to an end with the slow disappearance of the smokey funneled steamers on the water, and on British Rail in 1968.
These obvious features were matched by a similar revolution in social attitudes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel written in the twenties by D. H. Lawrence was published by Penguin in 1960, and homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Recreational drugs, although still illegal, were increasingly used by the young. The sexual revolution was a term and a concept quite unknown in the fifties; all these things were aspects of what came to be called the counterculture, and that too was part of the sixties.
National Service had ended in 1960 and this opened the way for young people to enter into the world of adulthood without any period to instil a sense of discipline. This, together with the postwar boom, produced a heady mix of unheard of wealth and unrestrained hedonism. Maybe it is because I was young then, but the sixties seemed to be an era of exciting new possibilities; in contrast the fifties had been a time when things were much the same as they had been pre-war, while the seventies were a dreadful decade of industrial action and political strife. There were many changes in the 1960s, and many are changes that I now regret, but there is no denying that we are still living in that brave new world that the Swinging Sixties ushered in.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
The department store that looks out over Norwich Market Place represents a business that is well over two hundred years old. It was established as a grocer’s and draper’s shop in Church Street in the Suffolk town of Woodbridge in 1770. It is thought that the family arrived in England from Holland in 1688 with William of Orange. The founder of the business was John Jarrold I, a grandson of Samuel Jarrold (also a grocer) who was the Mayor of Colchester in 1723. John Jarrold I died at the age of thirty in 1775. His son, John Jarrold II, was much too young to take any part in the operation of the firm, which was carried out on his behalf by trustees until he attained his majority in 1794. In 1800 John Jarrold II married Hannah Hill in Bungay at the age of twenty-seven. After running the grocery and drapery business for ten years he sold it in 1805 and took up residence at Moat Farm in the village of Dallinghoo just north of the town.
The weaving of sackcloth was a local industry in the Woodbridge area, and John Jarrold went into partnership with Richard Bidwell to deal in the sacks that were required in large numbers by the traders in the East Anglian capital of Norwich. The sacks were made in Suffolk but sold in Norwich; were they taken there by sea from Woodbridge harbour on the river Deben to Yarmouth, and then by wherry to Norwich? In 1811 the partnership was dissolved and from then the sack-making business was carried on by Bidwell alone, while Jarrold turned his attention full-time to farming. All went well while the Napoleonic Wars were continuing and agricultural prices remained high, but with the coming of peace in 1815 Europe again began exporting its produce to this country. Agricultural prices in Britain, which had been high for a generation, collapsed.
To make ends meet John Jarrold installed a printing press in the granary in his farm at Dallinghoo. With his brother-in-law Benjamin Smith, and using the stereotyping process developed in Bungay, he was printing various books of an instructional or devotional nature, such as Footsteps to Natural History, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Wesley’s Hymns. Smith had premises in Church Street, Woodbridge, and John would travel around Suffolk selling these works which were especially valued in the country schools. However a farmyard in rural Suffolk was not really the place to grow a thriving printing office, and in 1823 he left the farm in the hands of a steward and moved the business to its current home in Norwich. He was certainly adaptable; by the age of fifty he had been a grocer, draper, dealer in sacks, farmer, printer and bookseller.
The Norwich printing office (which also sold stationery and books) was established at 3 Cockey Lane. This street’s name was changed in 1829 to the more respectable sounding one of London Street, and Jarrold’s store is still located there, just across the road, where it moved in 1840. John Jarrold retired to Coltishall in 1844 and died there in 1852. Of his four sons, who were all employed in the business, John III had died at the age of forty, and Samuel, the next oldest, became head of he firm. The Jarrolds were all prominent members of the Non-conformist community and played a leading rôle in the campaign to abolish slavery in the British Caribbean. They pioneered the Temperance movement in Norwich and were among the first to take the Pledge.
During the 19th century Jarrold’s was a large publishing house and they produced many titles of national repute, including Anna Sewell’s best-selling novel Black Beauty in 1878. Jarrold’s publishing activities were greatest before the dawn of the 20th century, but in printing it went from strength to strength. It was still producing postcards, calendars and many books and magazines into the 21st century. The management however saw the writing was on the wall; although the digital publishing revoluntion was then still in its infancy, the environment was changing. Jarrolds discontinued its printing office in 2004; just in time too, because the new firm that was carry on the business went bust two years later. There is no longer a printer or publisher in Whitefriars, only the John Jarrold Printing Museum.
Jarrold’s has retained its large retail store in Norwich city centre, and has even reintroduced drapery among its lines! This is a throwback to the kind of shop that John Jarrold I opened in Woodbridge 250 years ago. There used to be several large stores in the city with local owners – Bunting’s, Garland’s, Bond’s and Curl’s; the last two remain under new ownership as John Lewis and Debenham’s, but only Jarrold’s is left as a family business.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Network Rail places a high safety requirement on all its operations, and as a consequence our railways are the safest in the world. When you consider that last year alone there were 1.7 billion railway journeys undertaken in the UK, the safety record of rail travel is amazing. There have been only FOUR train accidents that resulted in fatalities in the last ten years. Compare that with the almost daily toll on Britain’s roads, in which around two thousand fatalities occur every year. In the circumstances which method of transport ought you to prefer? There is nothing recent about this aspect of British railways either. As the first railway system in the world, we had to find out all the dangerous pitfalls implicit in the iron road for ourselves, but the safety of railways has always been of the highest priority. Our railways are the only ones in the world that must be fenced off from the surrounding countryside; it is rather worrying to our eyes to see trains speeding past lineside houses in France with nothing between them and the railway. These miles of fencing have been required in the UK from the very start. They not only make trespass on the line by humans more difficult, they also keep farm animals away from the trains.
The first widely reported railway accident occurred at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in September 1830. George Stephenson developed his steam engine The Rocket to operate this, the first real passenger railway. The MP William Huskisson was among the guests who came to witness this major event, but unfortunately he fell onto the track as the Rocket was approaching; his leg was crushed, and with the primitive medical aid available at the time this proved fatal. Railway accidents were common at first; on a journey from East Dereham to Oxford (one that it is no longer possible to make) the Revd Benjamin Armstrong relates how he was delayed for an hour at Winslow station when the locomotive’s boiler blew up. No one was injured on that occasion, but in an entry in his diary in 1855 he mentions that four people were killed in a collision near Attleborough.
One of the major railway disasters occurred on the Norwich to Yarmouth line just outside Brundall in 1874. Twenty five people were killed when two trains collided on a single track section of the line. This accident which is known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster led to the introduction of the tablet system, where an interlocking token must be secured before a train may proceed along a single track. This system is still in use, although the disappearance of the semaphore signal, and with that the closure of many signal boxes (where the tokens used to be exchanged) means that an electronic system of token exchange is now widely employed.
The safety record of the railways is based on the fail-safe principle. It was the proud boast of the M&GN Railway (that ran almost entirely in the county of Norfolk) that during the 80 years in which it was in operation it never killed a passenger.
The use of modern technology makes keeping the railways safe much easier than it used to be. The entire network is regularly checked by a special train that examine the track by ultra-sound for cracked rails, which could fail and cause a derailment. With high-definition cameras they can check the line from the air, and thermal imaging equipment reveals hotspots in the cables on electrified lines that suggest problems with the system. Engineers are then dispatched to the exact location to remedy the problem. It all adds to the safety of the railways.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929 with just a week’s notice, but not before my mother had travelled on it as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station (which is still there) and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and even the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.
The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station is proceeding, although the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold.
Sixty years ago the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war). Past the site of Walberswick station and across Walberswick Heath you come to Tinkers Walk. This gives way to the pine trees of the Heronry before reaching Blythburgh, where the fine medieval church dominate the skyline. It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.
As far as Blythburgh we walked along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for the visit was not to see the remains of the railway but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the puritans in the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.
A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. In spite of Hitchens’ experience, we think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.
Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in the circle of Benjamin Britten’s admirers, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father had was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and remained in touch with him afterwards.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Christmas in the 1780’s
Although Norfolk turkey was already a seasonal treat in the seventeenth century, none was served at Weston Longville parsonage on Christmas Day in 1782. During the previous week however Parson Woodforde held a party at which roast turkey (as well boiled mutton) was on the menu. The party food included currant jelly, apple tarts and custard. Custard in those days meant what we now call egg custard.
In the eighteenth century Christmas Dinner was very similar to what we ate when I was a boy, two hundred years later. As we have already seen, turkey was eaten by the wealthy at Christmas time, but on Christmas Day itself the Parson had roast beef. The ‘roast beef of old England’ was clearly the height of luxury to James Woodforde. At home in our modest surroundings at Poringland we sometimes had a leg of beef for Christmas Dinner, but more often it was a roast chicken. Turkey never appeared on our table until the industry started selling the smaller white turkeys – the tradition black Norfolk turkey was just too large to fit in our little oven! Such considerations would not have applied at Weston parsonage. Turkey may have been absent from the Parson’s Christmas table, but plum pudding certainly was on the menu in 1786 in Weston, just as it was in 1986 at Poringland. (Nowadays many people don’t like Christmas pudding and would rather have something lighter and more modern.) Mince pies also featured as part of Woodforde’s Christmas fare, but in the eighteenth century mincemeat was still what it said it was – a concoction of minced mutton, beef or venison.
Woodforde invited twelve old men from the village to join him for Christmas Dinner, and besides the food they each got half a pint of strong beer. The old men’s wives were not invited, but each went home with a shilling that was intended for them. This was at the Parson’s table; at the kitchen table a few days later the squire’s servants arrived from the Hall for an evening’s entertainment, and shared a more homely repast of roast fowl and punch. (This was a drink of liquor with sugar, citrus fruit juice and spices added.)
It was the tradition to extend hospitality to those of a lower station in life at Christmas time. The Hardys of Letheringsett, who owned the local brewery, had their workers over for Christmas Dinner; with the Hardys the workers’ wives were included. (Perhaps the bachelor Parson of Weston Longville felt more comfortable in an all-male gathering.) Unfortunately Mary Hardy (the diarist) was not so interested in those minor details that the Parson recorded, and are so fascinating to us, and did not record what the guests actually ate. I would love to know what their Christmas Dinner consisted of, but it would have been similar to the meal served at Weston.
Christmas, together with Easter and Whit Sunday, were in many parishes the only occasions during the year when communion was celebrated. If Christmas Day fell on a weekday, the sacrament could be delayed until the following Sunday. Having been to communion in Letheringsett in the morning, after Christmas Dinner the Hardy family would walk the mile into Holt for the afternoon service there. The return journey would be undertaken in the gathering dusk. If the snow was falling they would omit this second visit to church. It was not solely for devotional reasons that people attended church; it was also an opportunity to engage in social contact with your friends.
It was colder in the eighteenth century than it is today; frosts could continue into May, and a hard frost or a covering of snow was usual at Christmas time. This meant there was nothing especially Christmasy about a roaring fire; this was a necessity all winter long. Coal was available across the land by the late eighteenth century, but it was expensive; wood fires still heated the homes of the poor, or else they had to wrap themselves up as best they could. At Weston parsonage five chimneys needed sweeping at Christmas time in 1786. Five fires sounds a lot, but that was little enough to keep the whole household warm. The kitchen fire would perhaps have been the only source of warmth for the servants.
Christmas was still very much a religious celebration, and Christmas decorations in the modern sense did not really start until Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree from his native Germany. This was in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The Christmas tree, although a late comer in England, is in fact a reminder of pre-Christian worship, when trees were seen as sacred. Holly, and especially the mysterious mistletoe that grew with no roots in the ground, were other sacred plants. Mistletoe must have played a part in the Christmases of the eighteenth century, but I can find no reference to it in the diaries from the period. Holly however (under its Norfolk dialect name of hulver) occurs in Parson Woodforde’s diary at Christmas time; it has been used as a feature of the winter festival since time immemorial. Dear old Parson Woodforde records the minutest details of his life, but in this instance he only mentions the holly because in that year he got a double supply of it by mistake. The decorations were put up on Christmas Day, not even on Christmas Eve, and certainly not weeks or months in advance.
St Thomas’s day (which then fell on the 21st December, the winter solstice) was the time for the distribution of money or goods to the poor, so they could have some basic Christmas fare (a pound or two of flour was a common gift). The phrase ‘going a-Thomasing’ has long been forgotten, but centuries ago everyone would have known it meant begging by the poor. The 26th of December was the day for giving Christmas gifts (or boxes) to the deserving tradesmen who had supplied the Parson throughout the year: hence Boxing Day. On Boxing Day in 1786 Parson Woodforde provided a gift of a shilling for his maltster’s man and one of sixpence went the blacksmith’ son. There were many other recipients. When I was a postman we got some Christmas tips (though far less than half our customers were generous enough to give us anything); since Boxing Day became a Bank Holiday such gifts are no longer given on that day, and most tipping takes place before Christmas.
During the first week in January Woodforde paid his servants their annual salary, ranging from five guineas for his housemaid to ten pounds for his manservant. His servants were not universally grateful for their pay; his horseman thought he should have got more than eight pounds per annum for his skill. The sums were not very large by modern day standards, even allowing for 250 years of inflation, but you should remember that all their accommodation, most of their food and living expenses were provided by the employer. Woodforde also set out for Norwich in January to settle his accounts with his mercer and coal merchant etc.
The Weston Ringers got half a crown each for their year’s labours. (According to the Office for National Statistics this equates to £20 in today’s money.) As a young lad my son was persuaded to join the bell ringers at Weston Longville, though it had nothing to do with Parson Woodforde; I am sure he had not even heard of him. It is merely the best peal of bells in a nearby church. Anyway, after a few attendances he dropped out – bell ringing was no for him. If they were still so well rewarded at Christmas time he might have stayed! Nowadays bells are rung just for the pleasure they bring. Still it is nice to have this line to connect my family (however tenuously) with the Christmas celebrations of the Parson, a quarter of a millennium ago.
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I like to think I am normal, so I know what the word normal means. I believe that most normal people don’t use the word normative; but how does the word ‘normal’ differ from the word ‘normative’? I couldn’t answer that one, and had to turn to the dictionary for help. In case you were wondering, the answer to the question ‘what is the difference’ is ‘not very much’. Normative has a technical meaning, or more specifically several technical uses among social scientists. Most people who use the word normative would however be much better off using the word normal instead; it is the normal word to use. Nine out of ten people who go for normative just want to sound clever, but end up sounding dumb; the tenth person is a genuine social scientist – but what is one of them? The phrase embraces many of those who practise the humanities, including (rather alarmingly) historians. I regard myself as a historian, and I may be social (or at least sociable), but I certainly don’t regard myself as a scientist. Not in the tradition of Galileo, Newton and Einstein anyway. So who are they?
Science used to mean knowledge plain and simple, but things have moved on since then. Now we divide knowledge into several different categories. One of these divisions is into the Sciences and the Arts; there is plenty to say about out attitude to the arts, but for now I will stick to the sciences. Scientific method – the observation of the physical world, the creation of hypotheses to explain it, and testing these hypotheses by experiment; this defines science to me. You can observe the natural world, and you can construct a theory around it, but if you can’t do an experiment to prove your theory it ain’t science. No one has shown me how to conduct experiments with history, and that makes a non-science, not even a social science. In history I strive for truth – I hope every historian does – but this does not make me a scientist. Some people seem to disagree and think the mere use of quasi-scientific terminology makes one a scientist. This is plain tosh; anyone who uses the word normative in writing history is merely cloaking their work in scientific terms to appear more authoritative than in fact they are.
I have similar doubts about the word norm; it is in a basic sense just the noun from the adjective normal. I do use it sometimes, so it can’t be quite as bad as the word normative, but it is beginning to slide into the world of social science nonetheless. I can see it appearing in things like statistical tables, and statistics show how imperceptibly genuine science can become sheer mumbo-jumbo. Something like a bell curve seems a perfectly acceptable piece of scientific method, even (perhaps) being open to experimentation, but once statisticians get involved in things like predicting the outcome of elections you can see how unscientific statistics can be. Economics is the prime example of a social science, and economists are always making predictions which turn out to be wide of the mark. Look at the Governor of the Bank of England’s statement that a vote to leave the European Community would lead to an immediate recession. If a physicist made a prediction that did not materialise, we would never hear of him again, but economists keep on coming back with more.
Real science can make predictions with almost total accuracy, but the predictions of social scientists are almost always wrong. They may not be completely wrong, but that is hardly the way to define sciences. If it were possible for economists to conduct experiments first, their predictions could be checked, and disastrous mistakes avoided. Are there any true social sciences? Well cookery is practical, genuinely scientific and undoubtedly social; and unlike the abstract social sciences, it is wide open to experimentation; but I think social scientists would be insulted by this suggestion. Presenting falsehoods as facts is what they do; it may be normative in social sciences, but it isn’t normal in the real world. It isn’t even right.
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