FRANK MASON (PART THREE)

THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE

JOHN GANTLETT

Before the war was over Frank was again looking to move outside the city and by chance the bungalow that the family had been living in at the beginning of the war was again to let.  They returned to Poringland.  After VE day peace returned to Europe, and after the surrender of the Japanese in September 1945 the Second World War was over. In 1947 an optician called Alfred William Oxbrow had died at the age of 74, and my father bought his stock and business goodwill from his executors. The Oxbrows hailed from Essex where they had been a family of watchmakers: Alfred was born in Kent. He had started his employment as a watchmaker in Canterbury, but in 1900, having qualified as an optician, he set up in business in Norwich. My father was able to sell his stock-in-trade to various opticians for a good price, so that he effectively got the goodwill for nothing. The additional records he now possessed brought him a useful amount of extra business, as he wrote to all his patients every two years to remind them to have their eyes tested again.

MICKEY: the family car  & my sisters

Six years of total war had reduced the economies of Europe to tatters. The Marshall Plan directed billions of US dollars to the UK and other devastated Western nations, but even so things were difficult. The war was over but the hardships of wartime continued. Rationing remained, and in some cases got even more restrictive in the immediate postwar period. In 1946 even bread was rationed, although it had been not been during the war. This lasted for two years. The last commodity to come off ration was meat, which finally became freely available in 1954.  This was nine years after the war ended, and fifteen after it had been introduced. In the hard winter that began towards the end of January 1947 the coal shortage meant the people could only shiver. Potatoes perished in the frost.

Nevertheless the Labour Government was pressing ahead with transforming the land. Nationalised industries were being created to produce a new socialist utopia in Britain. They have almost all been privatised again in the years since then, and even some which had always been in public ownership (like the postal service) are now no longer National Industries.

Spectacle Frame by Mason and Gantlett Ltd

Who now remembers British Road Services, whose red trucks and green vans, with their BRS roundels, used to carry freight along our highways? It was hard to run any kind of road transport business as a private concern after he war. The travel agent Thomas Cook and the furniture repository Pilkington’s used to be part of the great Nationalised Industry sector. Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution called for the ‘common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange’. Electricity supply had already come under national control before the war. The concept of nationalisation was not fully developed as the Socialist agenda until the late 1940s, but many services like water, gas and electricity were under local authority ownership (rather than private companies) almost from the start. In these cases public ownership makes sense; it may have its inefficiencies, but at least we are not in hock to a capitalist oligarchy. For example Anglian Water is owned by a Jersey based company; why does it have to hide itself away in a tax haven? The idea of something as basic as water being sold for private profit still seems shocking to me. We say ‘free as air’, but if only someone could devise a way of making us pay to breathe they surely would. Virtually the only Nationalised Industry that still remains is the greatest of them all: the National Health Service. This behemoth, with well over a million employees, was created in 1948 and it had a pivotal role in my father’s business career. It was into this world of grand schemes and practical hardships that I was born in February 1949.

The WORKS

Foot care and chiropody are among the latest areas to cease to be financed by the NHS, but it has been withdrawing from its responsibilities almost from the start. Prescriptions and dentistry used to be free at the point of use, whereas now we have to pay for these services as we need them. For the first few years everything was free in the optical business; glasses were supplied gratis to whoever needed them. This led to a huge increase in demand; members of the public, who had formerly seen but dimly, queued up at their local optometrist to have their vision restored. As you can imagine, everyone took part in this frenzy, customers and suppliers alike. My father was rushed off his feet. Not one to let a good chance pass him by, he had already begun to make spectacle frames before the end of the war. His workshop was in the basement of his shop in Orford Place. He was soon employing two or three young men to make them, while he tested eyes upstairs. There were many more frames being produced than he need for his own use, and these were sold far and wide. The postwar boom was getting under way; John Gantlett bought a boat which he sailed on the Norfolk Broads.  After the war my father was able to buy a car once more, the first since he had been forced to sell his Morris in the 1930s. He invested in a Wolsey. It was an elegant car, but he could not drive it very far as petrol was still rationed, and it only did 14 miles to the gallon.

Brochure for THE VERSATOR machine

The introduction of free spectacles meant my father was not content with merely making spectacle frames; he turned his attention to making the lenses too. He began to do this in the basement too, but it was too small to accommodate his growing ambition, and he had a factory built in Hall Road (where Homebase now has a store). At the Menistor Works (as he named it) he employed many more people, busily producing frames and lenses in a full range of shapes and powers for short sight, long sight and astigmatism. While all this was going on in Lakenham, he and John Gantlett (who was now a partner in the limited company they had set up) continued to test eyes at Orford Place. Still not content with business activities, to the making of frames and lenses he added the manufacture of lens cutting machinery. His first machine he called the Versator. In designing this he found his wartime training as a hands-on instrument mechanic of great value. War, horrible and unnecessary as it is, leads to many technical and social changes that have great relevance in peacetime. War had once again thrown up unexpected advantages for my father.

The Versator had just gone on the market and my father was planning his next move when the government started to charge for spectacles. That was in 1952, and sales came to a complete standstill. Once again in his career the ground was cut away from under his feet and business collapsed. My father had a nervous breakdown and John Gantlett had to leave his employment in Norwich. The Works had to be sold and my eldest sister, who had just reached the age of fifteen, was to leave school to work as a secretary. The prospects were bleak, but my father was soon back on his feet. The business of sight testing at Orford Place soon revived, and within a few years he was running his family about in a succession of brand new cars, while my mother had a little Austin Seven for her own use. Instead of working as a pen pusher at Norwich Union my sister had begun a degree course at Oxford University. Things had again turned out well for my father and his family.

Next time we will follow my father as the lease expired on his premises at Orford Place, and he purchased an eighteenth century townhouse in the city centre. These years saw his sight testing business continue to grow, and he finally became financially secure.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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FRANK MASON (PART TWO)

THE TRIALS OF WAR

Frank as a young man

In 1938 my father had set up as an independent trader in a shop in the centre of Norwich. Everything must have been going quite well, because he had employed another optician called John Gantlett; but with the outbreak of war in September 1939 everyone’s attention was grasped by the coming conflict. Such mundane considerations as getting one’s eyes tested went out of the window. He had not been in business long enough to build up any financial reserves, and at the age of 28 he was staring bankruptcy in the face.

He was saved by his reaction to an announcement on the wireless that, because of the blackout, in future all bicycles had to display a rear light. It is a sobering thought that until then it had been perfectly legal to ride a bike in the darkness with only a headlight and a reflector at the back. My father correctly thought that all the rear lights in the country would immediately sell out, and that this would provide him with the opportunity to step in. He made a batch of rear lights from copper tube for the battery, a piece of red perspex and a light bulb, and immediately sold them to Norwich shopkeepers. He was quick off the mark – he had to be – and was soon selling them further afield, as it took firms like Ever Ready some time to catch up with demand; by then people had to some extent returned to their prewar concerns and realized that they didn’t see very well. They returned to the optician to get their eyes tested, and bankruptcy was avoided (for now).

Things were still very tight and the family had to give up their bungalow in the country. My father moved in with his parents in their bungalow in Thorpe St Andrew, and my mother returned to her profession of mid-wife. This was her contribution to the war effort; her pay must also have taken a small amount of the financial pressure off my father. She was sent to work in Peterborough, taking her youngest daughter with her, and woman from Sheringham called Ruby Nurse to help with child care. The eldest daughter Christine remained in Norfolk with her father, being cared for by her grandmother. However her Nanny soon tired of looking after her granddaughter and she too was sent to Peterborough where things became very complicated. Ruby Nurse proved to be an agoraphobiac who locked the children in a room in the house. Tiggie, the younger daughter, had made friends with young Johnny Smith next door, but  on her arrival in Peterborough the elder daughter came between them. My father had given his children the Red Letter- written in red ink, to be posted to him if things got intolerable in Peterborough. Unfortunately for them this was kept on the mantelpiece, and was quite out of the reach of young hands. Moreover, locked in their room they never saw a post box. Things obviously weren’t working out, and my mother returned to Norfolk.

My family would have been homeless, but they were taken in by the rector of Poringland and Howe, the Rev. Claude Trendell. They were put up in Howe Rectory, and my mother was given the job of teaching the villager First Aid, in preparation for the imminently expected German invasion. My sister Christine was stood on a table while the application of various splints was demonstrated on her limbs by my mother. In Howe church you may see my father’s name on the war memorial; none of the residents of the village were killed in the war, and consequently those who served were remembered instead. Among these was Frank Mason.

Illustration from Frank’s RAOC notebook

The introduction of conscription was to give my father a way out of some these difficulties. As a health worker, he was not compelled to serve in the armed forces, but he volunteered and joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1940. There he was trained as an instrument mechanic, looking after the many kinds of equipment like gunsights that the army required in the 20th century. He was sent to Woolwich Arsenal, just as the Blitz was descending on the East End of London; night after night the sky was lit up by fires as the bombs fell. On one on occasion he went  AWOL: he had heard that Norwich had been flattened by bombs and simply took off to see if his family were OK at Howe– of course they were: it was a false alarm. Perhaps it was on this occasion that daughter Christine remembers her Mummy fainting– she probably thought her husband would be court-marshalled. In the event he was just put on fatigues, nothing worse than that. Against all the odds he enjoyed his time in the army. He made many good friends, and found the technical training invaluable in his later life. This branch of the service was transferred to the newly constituted regiment REME (the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) in 1942, but by then he had left the army. After his training, during which time he was a private soldier, he would have been promoted directly to Sergeant Instructor, but he was retired on medical grounds; his flat feet made him unable to march.

Mt father had returned to Norfolk but the family were still living at Howe Rectory. My eldest sister began her schooling at Brooke Primary School while living at Howe, and would have progressed through the State system, had not Claude Trendell remarked to my father that Norwich High School was a better school. My father took him up on this suggestion and transferred Christine to the High School. She had to wear a passed-down uniform. Thereafter all Frank’s children would be privately educated.

When he was recruited into the army his business in Norwich had been left in the hands of his co-worker John Gantlett. When my father returned to Norwich John Gantlett volunteered in the Royal Navy and was at sea for the rest of the war. He was stationed in the Far East. Back in business, my father could again afford the rent on a house, which was just as well because Claude Trendell returned to his home county of Derbyshire. The family moved into a property in Norwich. This was convenient situated for his work, but also for the German bombs which began to rain down on the city almost as soon as he had moved there in 1942. It was time to move once more, and this time the family found an abandoned railway carriage in a field about a couple of miles outside the city in a hamlet called Markshall. This is across the river Tas from Caistor St Edmund, as has been part of that parish since the seventeenth century. The railway carriage had been used by seasonal workers on the local farm before the war, and had no mains services. Oil lamps and a stove provided light and heat, and water had to be brought from the well at a nearby cottage. I suppose for baths they used the nearby river. It could hardly have been more basic, but it was an idyllic way of life for my young sisters in the summer of 1942. The only black cloud on the horizon for the younger of my sisters was the coming onset of education. “Why can’t I stay at home with Mummie?” she would bitterly complain.

NORWICH in WARTIME: Orford Hill from the optician’s shop

When the Blitz abated my family were able to move back into Norwich (Aurania Avenue), and when the Doodle Bugs and V2s began to fall on the country, the completely random nature of the bombardment meant that no avoiding action was possible. The war in Europe came to an end with the death of Hitler, and the Atom bombs falling on Japan ushered in peace on a devastated country.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

FRANK MASON (Part one)

My grandfather William Mason and family 1911.

YOUTH and EARLY ADULTHOOD

Frank was my father; he didn’t like the name and (to be frank) neither do I. We do not choose our names, and we have to stick with what we are given. I cannot find another Frank or even a Francis among his ancestors. (I, by contrast, can find several Josephs in the family tree going way back to the early years of the 19th century.) Frank was born on September 21st 1911, the second and youngest child of his parents William and Emily. His father spent his life making packing cases for the electric equipment manufacturer Laurence (and) Scott. They were a working class family, but (especially Emily my grandmother) they were ambitious for their children.  The family portrait above shows Frank as an infant on his mother’s knee.

When he was nearly three the Great War broke out, and this affected his earliest years, not always for the worse. Because the school he would have attended (Lakenham Council School) was requisitioned for treating the war wounded he was sent instead to Carrow School. This had been set up by the Colman family as part of their paternalistic care for their employees. My grandfather was not a member of the staff at Carrow Works but non”etheless his son was able to benefit from a rather higher standard of education than would have been available in the Council School. He remembered his earliest teacher ‘Olo’ with respect and gratitude; his name was Mr Olorenshaw.

FRANK MASON AGED 4

When the war ended he did indeed go to Lakenham School, before winning a scholarship to the recently opened Grammar School, the CNS (City of Norwich School). He remained disappointed throughout his life that Latin was not on the curriculum at the CNS; this made it very difficult to apply to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, which required the language in those days, although one of his friends managed to teach himself Latin and went on to Cambridge and a distinguished academic career in America. His parents must have made great sacrifices to support their children beyond the normal school leaving age. Frank did very well for himself when he left Grammar School. Aged 16 he got a job as an apprentice optician. Now the training for such a health professional demands a university degree, but then it was all done on the job. His ability as an optician would certainly be regarded as university level today. His employer was Cecil Amey, a man not many years older than my father. It is a name which survives in the Norwich optical business community. My father was well treated by Cecil Amey, who let him ride around Norfolk on his BSA motorbike in his spare time.

Father (left) in his teens.

Frank had to go to London to be examined by the Spectacle Makers Company, one of the historic Livery Companies of the City. He was awarded a fellowship of the company (FSMC), though this did not qualify him for membership; that was reserved for the most influential businessmen. It did however entitle him to be elected Freeman of the City of London, an something he was rather proud of although he never took the honour up. By the time he was twenty one he had qualified in  the profession. He worked for a time in Stamford in Lincolnshire and back in Norwich he was employed by the firm of D. R. Grey. D. R. Grey (in spite of his style as ‘Dr Grey’) was not himself a qualified optician, and had to employ those like my father who were to carry out the sight tests. The firm specialised in going out into the countryside seeking business; my father hated going unannounced from door to door like this. He called it ‘going on the knocker’ and regarded it as very unprofessional, but it did give him reason to drive around in a Morris car.

The pastime which Dad loved the most of all was flying; remember that this was less than thirty years after the invention of powered flight; it was not the everyday experience that it has since become. He did not fly as the pilot; he would take the controls in flight but not in take-off or landing. His companion was his friend Henry Stringer, who owned a two-seater de Haviland Gipsy Moth. They would take off from Mousehold Heath (the City’s first airport) and fly to places like the Isle of Wight and the River Humber.

The wedding at Thorpe St Andrew, 4 June 1935.

We have nearly forty more years of his life to record, and already it had been an eventful one. He had married in 1935 and by 1938 he was living in a bungalow in Poringland with two young daughters. My parents had been forced to leave the Old Hall in Alpington where they had first set up as a married couple; in spite of the elegant environment it was infested with fleas, which proved immune to all attempts to eradicate them. With £300 from his father in law he had established himself as a self-employed optician in 1938. In his shop in Orford Place he was a successful professional with a growing business, and all this before he was thirty years old.

The next part of the Frank Mason story will cover the wartime years and the difficulties of that time.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

TIDAL DRIFT ROUND THE NORFOLK COAST

The effects of tidal drift can be seen all along the coast, and are especially interesting in Norfolk; at least I find them so. You must forgive me if the subject I am about to discuss is rather technical, but I will not be using technical language. This is principally because it is not a language I understand, but also because I have no wish to blind my readers with science. Some examples of this technical jargon are ‘littoral transplantation’ and ‘distal accretion’; at an academic level the study of tidal drift can be complicated, though I think the jargon makes this worse. I, on the other hand, will be using simple terms and simple concepts.

Blakeney harbour

But what is tidal drift? From studying the tide tables it is evident that in all down the East Coast high water comes earlier in the north than in the south. High tide is about an hour earlier Yarmouth than it is in Lowestoft. This is not merely a matter of timing; the current that is dictated by the tide also flows in a southerly direction.  This we call tidal drift or longshore drift, and its effect can be seen wherever there are breakwaters on the beach; on one side the sand builds up, while on the other side it is carved away. So far it is all relatively straightforward, but it now gets more complicated. Somewhere between Bacton and Sheringham the tidal drift divides; past Winterton it continues to the south, but along the North Norfolk coast it goes west.

Let us examine the direction of the sandspits around the East Anglian coast. At Orford Ness there are many miles of sandbank; this spit goes goes from Aldeburgh in the north to Shingle Street in the south. At Blakeney the sandspit goes from Cley in the east to Blakeney Point in the west. This gives the clear indication of the direction of the longshore drift. So far so understandable, but now we come up with a puzzling fact; further along the Norfolk coast, in the north-western extremity of the county, the sand spits run from west to east! Why is this?

To explain this we must go back and examine what has been going on down the the Lincolnshire coast. There the longshore drift has also been continuing in a north to south direction. It then loops through the Wash, where it briefly goes south to north past Heacham; at Hunstanton it turns east. What happens when the drift that has come down the Lincolnshire coast meets the drift along the North Norfolk coast? At Holme Dunes the sandspit runs from west to east, showing that the tidal drift that has been flowing down Lincolnshire is still the dominant force; but when this current comes up against the North Norfolk current it has nowhere to go. This is not a problem for the North Norfolk longshore drift as it just moves off shore and eventually recirculates. The west/east current just stops and dumps the sediment it has been carrying. The result is the island at Scolt Head; this is how I interpret the situation, though experts might pooh-pooh the suggestion. For much of the North Norfolk coast the action of the tides has caused coastal erosion, but in the area between Brancaster and Wells-Next-the-Sea the ebb and flow of the tides have resulted in the opposite effect. The shifting sands do not rigidly stick to a predictable pattern, but over time (hundreds or even thousands of years) this has been the net result.

Snettisham on the Wash

The tide tables paint a much more complicated picture and one which reflects the complicated currents that swirl around the Wash and other river estuaries. All along the coast of South Lincolnshire the deposition of estuarine mud from the Wash to the south and longshore drift sand from the north have left the ports of Boston and Wainfleet several miles inland. Boston is still a seaport (just), but Wainfleet is now an inland market town with virtually no craft left on the river Steeping; only a sunken hulk holds any memory of busier times. On the Norfolk side of the Wash the village of Snettisham has similarly been the recipient of much silt and the increase in sandbanks continues.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK

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GMT and the HOUR CHANGE

18th century clock still tells the time.

The Royal Observatory was established in 1675 by King Charles II on a site at Greenwich selected by Sir Christopher Wren. From the 17th century the meridian at Greenwich became the basis for astronomical calculations, led by the English Astronomers Royal. As Britain became a great maritime nation through the 18th century this was increasing adopted by other countries as the Prime Meridian. The process culminated with the International Meridian Conference of 1884, held in Washington D.C. (The French continued to use Paris as their prime meridian until 1911.)

We can trace the adoption of Greenwich Mean Time as the effective navigational standard to the award of the prize for an accurate chronometer to John Harrison in 1773. Although GMT may have been important for navigating across the globe, every town across England had its own time. The local clocks were all set to the midday sun by using the sundial. This changed with the coming of railways, which made a nationally agreed time essential for timetabling purposes. When travelling in a north/south direction this made no difference, but the journey from London to Bristol produced a time slip of several minutes. The clock on Bristol Corn Exchange had (and still has) two minute hands, one showing GMT and one showing local time.  ‘Railway Time’ (i.e. GMT) was introduced by the by the Great Western Railway in 1840; as you can imagine there was much opposition to this innovation at first. The adoption of GMT as the national standard time was only recognised by Statute in 1880.

Daylight saving, which is the rationale behind British Summer Time, has no relevance for most of the year. In midwinter the hours of daylight are so short that it makes little difference how you fiddle with dial on the clocks; you will rise and retire in darkness anyway. Similarly in summer the nights are so short that the few hours of darkness will not impinge on your daily life. It is only for week or two during the spring and autumn that the correlation between the brightness of the sky and the time on the clock-face has a minor effect on your activities. Yet for this reason we have go through the whole disruptive apparatus of the hour change.

The reason for the clocks changing is all to do with our natural sloth and laziness. If we all got an hour earlier there would be no need for the clocks to change. The government knows it could never tell everybody to get up an hour earlier in the day, so the changing of the clocks is just a clever ploy to get us to do it anyway. The first person to mention that getting up an hour earlier in winter would save money on candles was Benjamin Franklin. This famous American thinker and diplomat was talking about the Parisiens of the eighteenth century.

Germany was the first country to introduce Daylight Saving Time in 1916. The reason was to save coal during wartime, and I suppose it must have worked, though they still lost the war. Their enemy Britain followed suit, and since then Daylight Saving has become widely used across Europe and North America. The countries nearer the equator have little to gain from Daylight Saving Time, as the hours of day and night change but little through the year. The economic argument of saving energy is much less clear-cut today than it was when Daylight Saving was introduced in the First World War. The use of air conditioning, digital equipment and the need for artificial light in modern buildings regardless of the time of day make the the use of electricity less of an issue than it was. The most persuasive argument in favour of the hour changing is the increase in leisure opportunities during the lighter evenings of British Summer Time; but against this must be set the increase in accidents to children while going to school in the darker mornings before the clocks go back. There are arguments for and against the hour change.

Why can’t we just keep GMT (or BST) throughout the year? Do we really gain anything worthwhile from this tinkering with the clock? During the years 1968 – 1971 they didn’t change the clocks and kept BST all year round. For this experimental period British Summer Time was renamed as British Standard Time. There was of course an outcry from the people about losing the hour change,  just as there had been when it was first introduced, but I rather liked the slow progression in the seasons, without the sudden onset of winter darkness. Before I retired I used to enjoy the extra hour in bed in the autumn when the clocks went back, but the effect only lasts a day. This must be repaid in the spring anyway, when your sleep is reduced by the same amount. Now that I no longer work on a daily basis the arrival and departure of Greenwich Mean Time doesn’t make much difference to me.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF TIME

THE PASTON FAMILY

Caister Castle

The rise and fall of the Pastons would not be so well known were it not for the preservation of a series of letters which chronicle the progress of members of the family through the period in the fifteenth century that we call the Wars of the Roses. This was a family of Norfolk country gentlemen who later rose to the aristocracy. If you know where to look you can still see the remains to show the wealth and power they once possessed. Only the servants’ wing of their one-time home in Oxnead now stands, but even this provides an impressive residence for someone in these slightly more egalitarian times. The imposing tithe barn in the village of that name is a remote memorial of the Pastons. The Paston family originated from the village of Pastonon the North Norfolk coast.

OLD LODGE, DRAYTON, NORFOLK

The first two volumes of the letters were published 230 years ago and caused a minor literary sensation at the time. Parson Woodforde passed favourable comment on the letters in his diary, but the fame of them went well beyond Norfolk; they even earned the editor a knighthood from George III. They have been studied ever since, and I recall them being cited by my history tutor at Oxford. This was particularly fascinating for me, as I could picture the places being referred to in the letters. The part played by the Pastons in national affairs was a minor one, but has been rendered important by the records of their daily affairs that have survived.

Paston Tithe Barn built by Sir William Paston in 1581

As I write I am only a mile or two from Drayton Lodge, where Margaret Paston’s men were besieged by the forces of the Duke of Suffolk. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was attacking her retinue at Caister Castle: (Letter from Margaret to her son John, Sept. 12, 1469). “I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister, and lack vitual . . . and the place is sore broken by the guns of the other party; so that, unless they have hasty help, they are like to lose both their lives and the place, to the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman, for every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be so long in such great jeopardy without help or other remedy.”

SIR JOHN GRESHAM

In the same period James Gresham acted as the family’s land agent in the North Norfolk village of Gresham where he lived and where the Pastons were the landowners. The Gresham family too were upwardly mobile, and (like the Pastons) went from humble beginnings  to positions of great wealth. Sir Thomas Gresham founded the Royal Exchange in London and left instructions for the setting up of Gresham College, which remains a uniquely democratic seat of learning. The family crest of the Grasshopper still stands atop the tower at the Royal Exchange. His uncle Sir John left the Holt Grammar School (now known as Gresham’s School) as his legacy to the children of Norfolk. Sir William Paston built the North Walsham Grammar School. This is better known as the Paston School where the young Horace Nelson was the most famous  pupil. Although the Holt Grammar School was much closer to Burnham Thorpe where Nelson lived it was not considered suitable by his father; until it was refounded as Gresham’s School in 1900 it was not regarded as more than a minor establishment for local boys. The Paston College is still a feature of North Walsham although now on a different site and a sixth form college in the state sector. Gresham’s also boasts the Grasshopper as its crest. The Paston Coat of Arms is topped by a more conventional heraldic beast, the Gryphon.

Robert Paston was born in 1631 and educated at Westminster School. He was at Cambridge at a difficult time, when many of his contemporaries were staunch Puritans. He spent the years of the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate abroad, much of it in France. He was thus able to avoid the difficulties (including imprisonment and sequestration of their wealth) that befell many Royalists who remained in England. On the Restoration of the monarchy he was elected to Parliament.

OXNEAD HALL as it was

During the reign of Charles II Robert Paston (1631-1683) was created Earl of Yarmouth. The oil painting ‘The Paston Treasures’ (now held at the Castle Museum in Norwich) shows the objets d’art collected by Robert Paston during his travels in France and elsewhere. They were held at Oxnead Hall.

Under James II Robert’s son William converted to Catholicism and was created Treasurer of the Household. However, despite returning to the Anglican fold after the Revolution that deposed James II, he fell on hard times under William and Mary. He died heavily indebted and without living heirs in 1732 and the title became extinct.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK

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1973

BAWDESWELL CHURCH, bypassed in 1973

I was 24 in 1973 and that makes it feel very long ago; it was a long time ago, and it represents a different world in many ways.

One thing that hasn’t changed that much though is going up to the capital by train. By 1973 diesel locomotives had hauled the trains for ten years, and it would be another decade before electrification came to the East Anglian mainline. At the beginning of February 1973 I went to London with my father. We were after some special fasteners for an engineering project we were engaged in. After a search we successfully accomplished that in Clerkenwell. Next we went to South Kensington to visit the Science Museum. There we had lunch and looked round the aviation and nautical exhibits. One thing that caught my eye was the original boat that won the first boat race for Oxford in 1829. We got the 4:30 train back to Norwich and were home by early evening. Our young dog Fido was pleased to see us.

This was the year that the village of Attlebridge on the A 1067 road from Norwich was bypassed. I drove along the new road for the first time on March 15th. Until then all the traffic to Fakenham had to cross the narrow medieval bridge across the river Wensum. Bawdeswell too was bypassed at the same time; there has been little improvement to the road since, although the amount of traffic has grown enormously. In spite of the economic woes of the period (some of which I will detail below) the 1970s were a good time for such minor road improvements in East Anglia; a decade later we had major road building projects like the Norwich Southern Bypass (but we are still waiting for the Acle straight to be widened).

Our brown Daf 44 -“Tabby”.

The family car at the time was a brown Daf 44. From the family point of view the major drawback was the fact that it only had two doors. This was alright if only two people were in the car, but this was not ideal if there were more. Daf cars were Dutch and they were all automatic. The gear lever was simple; there were just three position; forward, reverse and neutral in the middle. There was of course no clutch.  The Variomatic transmission was by two rubber belts, a system unique to Daf cars although they were later bought up by Volvo who produced the 340 series with the same system.

The Daf  44 was fussy at lower speeds and did not really settle down until she was doing 70 mph. Luckily there was little traffic on the roads by modern standards and fewer speed limits, so this speed was frequently achievable. For the first part of the year it was perfectly legal to drive at 70 mph, but the Oil Crisis that began in October caused the government to reduce the national speed limit to 50 mph in December. (In those pre-speed camera days this limit was honoured more in the breach than the observance.) I have hinted at the political and economic troubles we were experiencing at the time; besides the oil crisis we also had in December the Three Day Week. This was introduced because the coal miners were out on strike. Things continued to be difficult throughout the 1970s, culminating in 1978/9 with the Winter of Discontent. This, for those of you too young to remember, was the time when dead bodies went unburied and rubbish piled upon the streets because of industrial unrest.

The Winter of Discontent and the Three Day Week must have made a deep impression on Mrs Thatcher; she was Education Secretary in 1973 and Leader of the Opposition by 1979. To reduce the importance of the coal industry to national life became one of her principal policies once she was in power. Now we distrust coal because it is a dirty fuel, but this had no place in the decision to close down the industry; it was a political matter, the origins of which lay in the strikes of 1973. There is still a huge amount of coal left in under much of Britain, but the future appears to be in renewable energy sources. Shutting down the mines proved to be the way things were going, although many of the redundant miners never worked again. The discovery of gas in the North Sea enabled the country to change the kind of fuel we used. Great Yarmouth power station had been coal-fired; now a gas fuelled one has taken its place. Houses were generally cold and drafty forty years ago, with no doubling glazing or insulation, so we huddled round the fire. In those years we still relied on coal to keep us warm through the chilly months, but I do not recall any problems for us in that regard. Our coal bunkers must have been filled for the winter well before the miners went on strike but this was  not the case for the country at large in 1973. Mrs Thatcher made sure she had huge stocks of coal before picking her fight with the miners.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

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EAST ANGLIA and the NORMAN CONQUEST

Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England who was killed nine hundred and fifty years ago in October 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. Around the year 1045 when he was 25 years old he was appointed Earl of East Anglia. When Harold’s father died in 1053 he became Earl of Wessex and the title of Earl of East Anglia passed to his younger brother Gyrth. Gyrth died alongside Harold in the Battle of Hastings and the next Earl of East Anglia was called Ralph the Staller, appointed by the victorious William the Conqueror. Ralph the Staller was succeeded by his son (also called Ralph) in 1068. He was a leading figure in the failed ‘Revolt of the Earls’ in 1075. This was an attempt to overturn the decision of king William of Normandy not to sanction a noble’s marriage. When the rebel army was defeated outside Cambridge he left his wife to defend Norwich Castle while he went to Denmark in  search of reinforcements. Eventually his wife negotiated permission for her and her entourage to leave the country within forty days. Thereafter with her husband they retired to his properties in Brittany and the position of Earl of East Anglia was abolished by the Norman king.

Norwich had become an important town in England even before 1066, and under the Normans it continued to grow. In 1094 during the reign of the second Norman king, William Rufus, the bishopric of East Anglia was removed from Thetford to Norwich; the foundations of the cathedral were laid two years later. The massive columns which plod down the nave of the cathedral, the zigzag decorations and round headed arches all mark the architecture out as Norman. This monumental stone building must have impressed the locals enormously. Previously they had only experienced wooden buildings, with a very small number of flint ones. Here was a foreign king importing huge blocks of freestone from the continent to build the cathedral. Of course this had to be in the most populous town in the area to impress as many people as possible; Thetford had been eclipsed.

Norman front of Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk

The Norman king William the Conqueror established his control over the country by building a series of castles across the land. The only Royal Castle that he built in East Anglia was at Norwich. This has been occupied ever since it was built; through the middle ages it remained a centre of Royal power, and in the early modern period it became the local county gaol. When a new gaol was built in the 19th century the castle was transformed into the local museum, which it remains today. Earlier in the century the masonry on the exterior was heavily restored, which accounts for the pristine appearance of this ancient building which still towers over the city. In the very first years after the Conquest the original Norman castle had been constructed of wood; the stone keep was built later, at the same time as the cathedral. The site had contained over a hundred Saxon houses and a cemetery.

The distances that such huge amounts of stone had to be brought to build these Norman fortifications and religious buildings is staggering. This was not so bad in Norwich, where the proximity of the broad river Wensum made the transport of stone from Caen in Normandy relatively straight forward, but places like Castle Acre and Walsingham had to rely on much smaller streams to carry the stone to where it was required. It must have been a time of much confidence and vigour by the Anglo-Saxons’ new Norman masters, and nowhere was this more apparent than in East Anglia.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

POLITICS TODAY

I like Jeremy Corbyn’s stated aim to reopen the railway line from March to Wisbech as soon as possible if he becomes PM. As things stand we have endless reports on the subject but no action. Corbyn is naturally in favour of the renationalisation of the railways, but the track infrastructure has been in public ownership since 2002, when Railtrack effectively went bust. It is only the train operating companies and the rolling stock leasing companies that are privatised.  I think the policy to take back the railway operators into public ownership as the franchises come up for renewal is the right way to go; it costs nothing to the taxpayer and returns the train operations to those who ought to own them, the people. Instead of paying large subsidies to companies like Virgin Trains and Abellio, the money would be retained in the public sector. Why ever are we filling the pockets of Sir Richard Branson and the Dutch national rail operator in this way? I like LABOUR’s policy on  the rail industry; I wish that all their policies were as fiscally neutral as this one!

What about the commitment of Corbyn to abolish university fees? I was one of the lucky generation who not only got our fees paid but got a grant towards living expenses too. The number of young people attending university in those days was under 10%, and the cost to the government was affordable. With that number now nudging 50%, the ongoing cost to the taxpayer would be quite outrageous. The policy is naturally popular among the young, or a section of them at least; whether it ought to be popular among those young people who do not receive a university education (but will nonetheless be expected to pay for those who do) is another point entirely. If political affiliation had anything to do with self-interest none of this group would support the Labour Party, but it has much more to with the idealism of youth. Even this idealism would surely be sorely tested among those unfortunate young graduates who already have student debts of many thousands of pounds to repay. After rashly promising to pay off these debts too, the mind-boggling sum this would cost caused even the Labour leadership to have second thoughts; instead they have said they will merely “think about it”. While the Labour Party is thinking about this, the better paid graduates will have paid off their debts; can they then look forward to a massive lump sum in repayment of the money spent on their fees? Of course not, but that would be the only fair option to pursue. With all these proposals Labour have got into deep waters indeed; where do they see the money coming from for all their schemes? I think they even said they would reduce the deficit at the same time!

The SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY’s plan to set up a not-for-profit alternative to the big energy companies has the potential to provide the way forward in that country. The oligopolies in energy supply are worse than the nationalised industries that they replaced. However, given the SNP’s abysmal record in administration, I wouldn’t count on anything they try to do being a success. Scottish education used to be the envy of the world; look at it now! Scottish universities are still free for Scottish students, but the expense of providing this has been ruinous for the rest of the education system. Further education in Scotland has more or less collapsed.

The LIB DEMS are stuck in an unhappy place; their resolute determination to remain in the European Union should have garnered them much support, given that nearly half the electorate voted that way in the referendum. Moreover, they are the only major party to unequivocally take that position. Nonetheless their parliamentary representation is only 20% of what they enjoyed just a few years ago. I hesitate to mention university fees once again, but their volt face on the subject is the only thing I can point to that could account for their reversal in fortunes.

What can I say about the TORIES? Their tinkering at the margins of student loans is pathetic; it doesn’t impress anyone, and nobody will vote for them because of this. They are in a terrible position; with no majority in Parliament they are attempting to put into effect the greatest constitutional change in this country since the Second World War that is Brexit. Not only that, but most of Parliamentary Conservative Party plainly do not in their heart of hearts believe in the policy they are committed to implementing. I contrast this with the rapidly shrinking paid-up Tory Party membership, who are about 100% Leavers. Mrs May’s inclusive social policy has no prospect of ever being brought about. Much of it is in direct opposition to her party’s pro-business values. Even if it had a chance of success, it is not part of a conservative mindset; it might be a very good thing (or it might not) but the Conservatives should leave Socialist values to a socialist party. The Tories cannot gain from aping Labour at very turn. The true believers will always vote Labour, and the conservatives will have nothing to go to the ballot box for.

You will have noticed how often the subject of university fees has raised its head. The fact is there are far too many universities. At least half are providing a poor standard of education to intellectually challenged students. Many of the rest used to provide a perfectly good technical education without an academic veneer on which successful careers could be built.  Worse than possessing this travesty of a degree level qualification, few of these low-end graduates will ever earn enough to pay off their student loans in full, though most will earn enough to ensure that they pay a higher rate of tax than their more sensible non-graduate counterparts. The whole higher education system is a pig’s breakfast.

We live in interesting times.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

WILLIAM and HENRY RIVETT

My great-great-great-grandfather William Rivett was born in a central Norfolk village in 1776. Shipdham is a large village, about half way between Dereham and Watton; and in the mid C9th it had nearly 2000 inhabitants. The Rivetts were a family of local builders; William was the carpenter and his brother John the bricklayer. William’s eldest sister Susan also married into a building family. The village could support quite a few builders and even a building surveyor. William Rivett appears in the 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Norfolk as carpenter and builder in Shipdham. Aged about 70 William retired to the nearby village of Southburgh to deal in pigs. The building business in Shipdham had already been passed on to his son Thomas while William was still living there. Two of his sons were already living in Southburgh, which may have prompted the move by their father. His son Edward was a country wheelwright in Southburgh employing 2 men and his younger brother Francis was apprenticed to the trade. They were a  family of successful tradesmen. Other members of his family became the grocer and the post master in Soutburgh (then a more flourishing village than it has since become). Edward’s descendants continued to work as wheelwrights in Southburgh, while Francis set up business in the trade in Shipdham. He retired to Swaffham where he was living in retirement in 1912.

From as early as 1749 there had been a charity school in Shipdham, which taught about a hundred poor children and they had to pay no fees.  They got their basic education gratis. In visual terms  the village still appears much as it must have done in the 18th century, with the church dominating the High Street. The market which had been established by the Bishop of Ely in Henry III’s reign had been obsolete for centuries, though the name Market Street still remains. By the mid 19th century it had three Non-conformist chapels including both Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist. It had a wide range of shops and tradesmen, butchers, grocers and ironmongers.

Hilda Rivett on Grandma’s knee, late C19th

William’s son Henry followed his father into the building trade, but by 1870 he had branched out into farming. He had 12 acres, and produced bullocks for the farmers around Shipdham. His farm was in Blackmoor Row in Shipdham, and this had been passed down to him through his aunt Jane Stagg (nee Rivett). She had married a farmer in Blackmoor Row. When her husband James died at the young age of 49 in 1824 his widow Jane had continued to farm in Blackmoor Row in her own right until her death in 1852. Although she had several sons there were no grandchildren to inherit the farm; James Stagg, the son who had inherited the farm married late in life and had no children of his own; one of his brothers emigrated to the USA and one had died as a young man. When James died my great-grandfather Henry became a farmer, and so started a dynasty of Rivett farmers in Norfolk that survives to this day. His son (also called Henry) was a farmer near Mileham in Norfolk; he was my great-grandfather. Several of the next generation were also farmers, but my branch of the family were drapers.

My Great Aunt Hilda (who married farmer Ralph Wace) appears in this photo. She is the baby on her grannie’s knee; she was a great granddaughter of William Rivett with whom I began this story. By the time this photograph was taken this branch of the family had moved a few miles away to Beeston.

I posted the above information on the Shipdham History Group’s Facebook page and got this interesting comment: Thank you so much for all this information. I have a photo of one of the Rivett men in fancy dress in Southburgh in early C20 and will have to look it up. There is a corner in Southburgh still known as Rivett’s corner so we know where they lived there. I believe that it is Edward Rivett who is perhaps remembered best in Southburgh. Will see what else I can find out about the family, particularly the Rivett who married a Stagg and lived in Blackmoor Row. Thanks again – BB

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE