It was a decade of change across the land, and Norfolk was no exception. For us though, the change was slower than in the rest of the country. Although I spent nearly all the 1960s away from home at boarding school I was still living in Norfolk; it is a large county after all. After growing up in South Norfolk and going to school in Suffolk in the 1950s, I changed to being a North Norfolk boy. Being an East Anglian still meant a lot, and being a ‘Norfick bor’ meant even more. This distinctive character is something that many other parts of the country have lost long ago and even in Norfolk it has been diluted. My school had the great Dick Bagnall Oakley (known county-wide through his television appearances) with his authentic Norfolk dialect, which he would occasionally lapse into, and this kept the school firmly on Norfolk lines. That significant voice has long gone alas, but it was there in the sixties.

Stooks of corn in south Norfolk, 1960s

So what was Norfolk really like back in the 1960s? For one thing there was much more sea borne cargo coming to Norfolk (Suffolk is a different matter thanks to the growth of the Port of Felixstowe). There were flourishing ports at Wells and Norwich, where grain was traded and coal imported. The port of Kings Lynn had abandoned South Quay, but the Alexandra Dock saw a lot of trade. There were many more fishing boats too. The herring industry in Yarmouth had collapsed right at the beginning of the decade, but the trawler caught white fish were still plentiful just down he coast at Lowestoft. I was living less than four miles from the sea as a schoolboy, and with a few hours to spare I could go to the seaside. There I could witness the thriving inshore fishing fleet, with crab boats on the beach at Cromer and Sheringham. This inshore fishing industry still survives, but it is under increasing pressure; what does the future hold I wonder?

Things like the shrinking of the railway network affected us all in the sixties. This happened all across UK, and the change was not for the better either. It is popular to blame Dr Beeching for this, but it was basically our own fault; our love affair with the motorcar meant the railway was doomed. If we didn’t use them, the railways were bound to close. (Now with the impossibility of parking in our big cities we need the railways once again, and we have lost many of them.) In Norfolk the roads, which should have benefitted from the transfer of traffic from rail, did not have any money spent on them in the sixties. Even the main roads snaked through the centres of all villages and towns they came to; the narrow A11 (the main road to London) threaded its way through the medieval streets of Wymondham and crossed the narrow bridge over the river Tiffey, but this was normal for Norfolk at the time. Heavy lorries were routed straight through the centre of Norwich. London Street was pedestrianised in 1967, but this was a revolutionary development. Cycles were still used to carry workers to Carrow and the many shoe factories in Norwich, but elsewhere they were giving way to the motorcar.

Change was gathering pace everywhere else in the UK, but not here; there were still conductors on the buses in Norfolk, but elsewhere drivers were already issuing the tickets. Motorways were being built, jet airliners were taking to the skies and electricity began to take over as the tractive power on the remaining railways (steam had ended in 1968). However here in East Anglia we were again overlooked. None of these improvements in transport affected us. Norwich Airport opened in 1967, but no jets used it for years. My father flew to Guernsey from Norwich, but it was in a 1940s Douglas Dakota!

The old ancestral homes that had clung on by their fingertips after the war fell by the wayside; many were demolished and others were left to decay. The richest of aristocrats survived, like the Earl of Leicester at Holkham and the Earl of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, but many of the less elevated families had already succumbed to the changed times. The nouveau riche Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars lived in a large house in Hethel, but despite its Georgian appearance that was a new build.

Among the lower middle classes the housing situation was quite different; the home-owning democracy was taking off for them. My own family ceased to be tenants in 1960 when we bought our bungalow; we were not alone. The rent control environment made being a private landlord an unattractive proposition; you retained responsibility for letting the tenancy but could not recoup your expenditure. No wonder the rented cottages were sold off as soon as their otherwise irremovable occupants died. In Norwich the upper floors of shops were left vacant – there was little demand for city centre dwellings and no appetite to provide them. Why complicate things when you were getting a good income from the ground floor retail space?  Slightly beyond the shopping centres council housing was still available to provide decent accommodation for the working class, and those who could afford it moved to new bungalow dormitories in the suburbs.

Has it all changed in the last fifty years? In some respects we have joined the modern world, but in others we are still at the bottom of the heap. It has taken half a century for us to get just one complete dual carriageway road, and the nearest motorway ends miles short of Norfolk. There are flats now above all the old shops – it is retailing itself which now is feeling the pinch. Instead of rent control we have greedy landlords everywhere you look. We got electrification on the Great Eastern main line relatively early, but that was done at the disadvantage of making the Wensum bridge single track. Here as elsewhere the property-owning democracy is a distant memory, except for us favoured baby boomers. Those who can afford to join their numbers must squeeze into new three floor terraced houses with a tiny footprint and next to no garden. Bungalows, so useful to house the elderly, are hardly ever built today. Yet in most respects we all have untold wealth – personal computers, smartphones, cars, clothes and so much food that we will all soon be too obese to move. It’s a funny old world.





I used to love words. This delight must go back to my very earliest days, when I first learnt to speak. What my first word was I don’t know (I was naturally far too young for consciousness to have dawned), but it was certainly ‘Ma’; this is how almost everybody start to speak, and it is always taken to mean ‘mummy’ ‘mama’ etc. My son was a slow starter in learning to speak, and an exception to this rule; when he did utter his first word he went straight into saying ‘marmalade’. That too must have meant ‘mummy’, but I like to imagine that he really did mean the orange conserve!

Be that as it may, he has grown up to be better at words than his old Dad; besides having a great command of English, he is also a fluent speaker of Polish and French; in any of these languages he can deliver a speech to an impressive audience of academics, so he must be doing it right.

Many people dream of using words to write a great novel, and perhaps get literary fame and fortune in that way. I am not one of them; I have never wished to write a novel. It is true that when I was about six or seven I did write a story in an exercise book, but that was a complete crib of R. M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island, which was the first full length book I read. Since then I have never wanted to write any more fiction. I hardly ever read it either these days, although as an adolescent I read volumes of the stuff. George Orwell, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley to name but few; I threw my net wide – much wider than I have the space to tell you about here.

Poetry is another matter entirely; at one time I considered poetry as the highest form of art. My attention span will still just about run to a limerick or two, but today I look on words not as an art form at all; to me they are a means of communication. I have just had a book published, and in discussion with my editor I said I was not concerned with the words I used; she could alter them as she saw fit. All I wanted was to make sure that I got my meaning across. You can see my attitude to words has changed.

From the point of view of a foreigner there are far too many words in English. You can say the same thing by using a completely different vocabulary and yet still be intelligible. This is due to the different terminologies than make up our hybrid language. Each new wave of invaders added their own words to the mix. The blunt Anglo-Saxons laid the groundwork for the modern English language. This was composed of words of few syllables; all the common things like cats and dogs, cows and hogs, fish and fowl are all Anglo-Saxon monosyllables. The Viking invaders added some similarly brief Old Norse words that remain in the language, like fog, egg and knot. Next the Normans came and tried to impose their brand of French on the whole country, but instead just made English even more complicated. In the early modern era the educated elite came along and placed words derived from Latin and Greek into the stew. Finally words from across the world were added as the language followed the flag to remote areas, particularly India; the colonists returned with words like hullabaloo, veranda and bungalow. The result is that we are inundated with synonyms, all of which have a slightly different usage. This makes for a language of great richness but also one of great complexity.

The difficulties in English do not end there; there is also the matter of strange spellings, which often bear no relationship to pronunciation. Logically there should be one letter for each sound, but that is not so with English. ‘K’ and ‘C’ can have the same sound, although ‘C’ can also sound like ‘S’. Other sounds have no letter to represent them; although in theory there are only six vowels in English (and two of them, ‘I’ and ‘Y’, have the same sound), in fact vowels have multiple sounds. These can also merge into each other in dipthongs.  Other sounds have no letter to indicate their use. Take the words that use the letters ‘T’ and ‘H’; this digraph represents not one sound but three. Thames, thanks and thought all appear as if they should be spoken in the same way, but they aren’t. Take the last word in the previous sentence; Aunt and aren’t look if they should be spoken differently but sound the same. Who would guess that sauce and source sound identical? That ‘wait’ and ‘freight’ and ‘great’ all rhyme but ‘splint’ and ‘pint’ don’t? I could go on and on. The reason why English is so widely spoken across the world is all to do with the spread of the British Empire and nothing at all to do with it being an easy language to master; it isn’t. Quite honestly it is a crazy way to use words.




I was a student in ’68; it was my first term at university and I was inevitably drawn into the protests that erupted across the West during that year. In the circumstances the international disquiet that was seen in many places in Europe and the US inevitably had its effect in the UK. It was inconvenient therefore that we, in this country, had little to protest about. Unlike the Americans, who definitely had something to complain about, we were not involved in the Vietnam war (thanks to Harold Wilson). We hadn’t been tearing up the cobble stones like the students in Paris either. Naturally, as this was France, sexual politics played a large part in these riots in the Latin Quarter, but in England this was not an issue. There were no widespread working class strikes in Britain to show that these protests involved anything other than the gilded youth of the upper middle classes having a bit of fun before taking up well paid jobs in medicine or the law. We were the baby boomers, those with less to protest about than any other generation before or since, but that did not stop us.

This was at Oxford by the way, and by the time that the events of May in Paris had sunk in it was the long vacation, so it was October before the undergraduates reassembled to consider their response. As there was nothing obvious to protest about we had to invent something. The student leadership came up with the demand that the University should no longer keep files on the students. I was dimly aware that some records were kept on us, but on sober reflection I now realise that they probably only included things like our Health Service and National Insurance numbers. I very much doubt that they held anything substantial about our opinions, which is what exercised the student body; there is little of substance to be known about the thoughts of teenagers after all. Nevertheless, I joined in the protests. I can remember standing in the square beyond the Bodleian, voicing our ridiculous demands. Some of us even occupied the main reception area of the Clarendon building. We probably screamed some meaningless slogans. In the supine way that the University Authorities have usually caved in to the junior members ever since, they did their best to accommodate us. With the recent case of the Rhodes statue they were about to defer to the activists yet again (and rewrite history in the process), but the matter was taken out of their hands by the alumni’s threats of withdrawing funding. Money talks louder than the most vocal student.

In 1968 they did what they could to placate the radicals but this is now totally opaque to me. I wish  that I had done something else – anything else – with my time; it would have been so much more productive. Still, for the most part, I got on with my studies and the ordinary activities of daily life. Let me give you a taster of what this entailed. I went down to breakfast while my scout made my bed (honestly), perhaps I attended a lecture, had too much to eat for lunch at the Chinese restaurant in Ship Street, wandered down to the Radcliffe Camera to snooze it off (in theory to browse the history books) and then had a pint or two at the Welsh Pony in George Street. I had dinner in Hall before an evening with Elizabeth Jennings at the Poetry Society. Back in my room I made a cup of coffee on the gas ring before retiring to bed.

As for the financial side of things, don’t forget all this was free; the university fees were paid for us without our being concerned about where the money came from, and even the beer and chop suey were purchased out of our generous maintenance grants. Students today cannot believe what a pampered lot we were. As the autumn turned into to winter it got too cold to go on demonstrations. We returned to our incredibly cosseted lives. We took prelims (the only exams we did in the whole three years before finals) and then went home in early December to prepare for Christmas. Downtrodden? No wonder we protested.

Joe Mason and Bill Wragge, Rimini 1968.

Fortunately it did not take me long to realise how foolish it all was. It was another demo, one involving Enoch Powell, that persuaded me that such direct action was pointless when it was not positively counter productive. Some of my contemporaries (like Peter Hitchens) took far longer to abandon their Trotskyist past, and a few have never done so. While I was not at Oxford I continued with my life’s routines of ordinary affairs, only they weren’t really ordinary at all. I spent the spring on the island of Guernsey (where my sister was working) and then went to Italy for a holiday with my friend Bill. There we  spent a morning going round the railway depot at Rimini (it was still full of steam engines); nobody seemed to mind. It was quite unlike a railway works in Britain – there were geraniums growing between the tracks! In Venice we enjoyed a trip down the Grand Canal in a gondola. Back in England I paddled my canoe on the sea off Lowestoft with my Dad, while catching dabs and plaice. These events were in every way far more real and rewarding than the all the intellectual nonsense of meaningless protests. However I must admit that the graffiti was witty; the walls of the colleges were still black with the grime of centuries of coal smoke (cleaning got underway in the 70s), and were perfect for chalking up cheeky messages . Yes, that was the best part of 1968 as far as Oxford was concerned: the rude epithets.



THE GRIEF FAMILY (and other relatives)

Robert Grief was born in Trowse in 1802 and lived all his life there. Until he was over forty he worked as a labourer, but once the railway was opened through the village he got the responsible job of signalman at Trowse signal box. It was not up to the management to look for workers with experience; this was a novel kind of employment, and all comers were welcome if suitable; apparently Robert was. His grandson James was born in 1853, and as a teenager he was grinding corn at the local watermill in Trowse. He later transferred to another watermill further upstream on the river Yare at Marlingford.


Elizabeth Buxton was an elder sister of my great-grandmother Rebecca. The Buxton family lived in Easton, the next village to Marlingford. She met James Grief there and married him at Marlinford church in 1874, and her first child was born in the village. James Grief moved back to Trowse when he got a job grinding mustard at the mill at Carrow. His uncle Hamlet Grief was already working at the starch mill there. Once established James progressed to become a fireman at the works, a job that was combined with the position of police officer. It is amazing what a complete community existed at Carrow works; besides its own fire brigade and police force it had a staff canteen, a school, medical facilities, musical societies, sports teams and even an illustrated magazine. No other employer in Norwich came anywhere close to Colman’s as far as looking after its workers went.  The Colmans were such good employers that a job there was highly sought after.

 Rebecca’s husband was Charles Mason, a native of Staffordshire, who had met his wife-to-be while she was working there in service. They came to Easton to get married, but Charles (my great-grandfather) was earning a precarious living; the family was living in Northamptonshire when their eldest child was born. His strong point was working with animals, but that hardly led to secure employment; he was a kennel-man while his first children were born. It must have been James Grief who heard that Carrow works had a position for someone to look after the carthorses, and following his recommendation his brother-in-law Charles Mason secured employment as a carter there.


It was while Rebecca his wife was living at her mother’s that her son William was born. (William Mason was my grandfather.) At the time Charles Mason was working far away with the hounds belonging to a hunt in Kent. Once Charles had a secure job as carter with Colman’s mustard the family moved to Trowse. There the connections between the Mason and Grief families continued. As a schoolboy William would have been taught by his cousin Florence Grief, a 15-year-old pupil teacher and eldest daughter of James and Elizabeth. It seems as if Trowse school was almost entirely staffed by members of my family over a hundred years ago. Sisters Thirza and Ruth Peachey were my great aunts on my grandmother’s side of the family, and they were both teachers at Trowse school in the early years of the 20th century. Bertie Hardy (who went on to marry Ruth) was another pupil teacher at the school.

After teaching for twenty years Florence married a widower with a young daughter. Having been born in Bombay of a German father he was a newsagent in Colchester. His shop has been redeveloped, but the area is still a flourishing centre of retail trade. Florence had no family connections in Essex, and when her husband died she moved back to Norwich where there were many cousins. Her mother Elizabeth had four daughters, of whom Florence was the eldest. Another was Edith who married a young man from Ipswich. He had risen from shop assistant to tailor’s cutter at the time of their marriage, and ended up as the designer of clothing patterns. Although Edith had children, all her siblings were sisters, so the Grief name died out with her generation.




St Felix Church Babingley

The priest Felix was brought over from Burgundy by King Sigeberht to evangelise the East Anglian people. This would have been much more difficult had the king not already been a Christian, but even so it was not a straight forward task as the East Anglians were pagans; their gods have been preserved in the names of the days of the week (the Sun god, the Moon, Tiw, Woden, Thor, Freya and an interloper from the Roman pantheon, Saturn). This daily reminder of a belief system that they were trying to eradicate must have irked the early churchmen, and I am sure they would have changed this if they could; at least on the Continent Sunday became the Lord’s Day in their various Latin-based languages. Here we remained resolutely pagan in this respect.

Felix arrived in England in 630 AD. According to one tradition, he first landed at Babingley on the extreme west coast of the county of Norfolk. Norfolk has coasts to the east, north and west, and that to the west borders the Wash. I can understand why many people doubt the authenticity of the story, as to get there from the south would entail going past all the rest of East Anglia, with much more suitable ports all along the coast. It is the very improbability of Babingley that convinces me it must be true; no one would invent such a ridiculous landing-place. The fact that the  medieval Babingley church (still a place of worship in the 19th century but now a ruin) was dedicated to St Felix is another factor. There are few other churches dedicated to him, so maybe this points in the direction that Babingley had some importance in the life of Felix. The legend goes that Felix was led to safety by a beaver (native British beavers were wiped out 400 years ago).

He was made Bishop of East Anglia soon after his arrival, and we know that the place of his see was in Suffolk. It was called Dumnoc, and for many years this was assumed to be Dunwich because of the similarity of the names. The idea that it was in fact at Walton Castle has gained ground in the last fifty years, although the first recorded mention of Walton Castle being the location of the East Anglian see goes back to the 13th century. This Fort of the Saxon Shore, erected in the extreme south-eastern corner of Suffolk by the Romans, fell victim to tidal erosion in the 18th century. The nearest place to Walton Castle still in existence is Felixstowe, and again the name convinces me that Dumnoc must have been here.

Stowe is defined as meaning just a location in place-name reference books, but it had a more specific use in Anglo-Saxon times. To them it meant the shrine or home of a saint (thus the vanished hamlet of Stow near Swaffham was associated with the veneration of St Guthlac, and the burial-place of St Benedict in the Loire valley was called St Benet’s Stowe in Anglo-Saxon sources). Felixstowe therefore originally meant the dwelling place of St Felix, and surely his Cathedral would have been nearby. At another Fort of the Saxon Shore, Burgh Castle (in north-east Suffolk until 1974, now part of Norfolk) an early monastery was established by the Irish monk Fursey; he was also brought to East Anglia by King Sigeberht to help Felix convert the people. It seems to me that a religious building could easily have been constructed in the corner of an old Roman fort, thus saving the building of two walls! Remember that these were the very earliest years of Christians building in England, before the Church became powerful and rich. Anything that saved resources was valuable to the local pioneers of Christianity like Felix and Fursey.

Bishop Felix established a school to teach the boys who would become the priests he required to educate the people of East Anglia about the Christian message. Thetford Grammar School claims its origins in this school that Felix set up, and as it is by far the oldest school in East Anglia, who are we to dispute this? Other snippets of information about Felix may be gleaned from medieval sources. The Liber Eliensis (the Book of Ely) records that he founded the church at Reedham in Norfolk (the church is dedicated to St John the Baptist). He also built the monastery at Soham in Cambridgeshire, which lasted until it was destroyed by the Danish invaders in the late ninth century and was never rebuilt. Another monastery was built during the lifetime of Felix at Beodricesworth (later to be known as Bury St Edmunds) by King Sigeberht. The growth in christian belief continued throughout this period, in spite of the defeat of the East Anglian army by the pagan Mercians under their king Penda.

St Felix died on the 8th March, his Saints Day. King Sigeberht had abdicated to the monastery in Beodricesworth while St Felix was still living. (I may do a post on the king later, but for now suffice it to say that he was martyred circa 643, killed by Penda’s men.) Felix died in 647 or the next year and his body was first buried at Soham and later translated to Ramsey Abbey. He was the first in a line of East Anglian bishops that lasted until 869, when the Danes killed Bishop Humbert and the position fell into abeyance. Various divisions have been made in the see; first in 673, when Norfolk was given its own bishop. When the bishopric was restored after the Danish period East Anglia had a single bishop once again. The western part of the Diocese was hived off when Ely was made a Cathedral in 1109, but the Diocese of East Anglia continued uninterrupted for almost a thousand years until 1914, when Suffolk again got its own bishop.

Little is known of the life of Felix; almost all that is known is recorded in this article. Nevertheless, as you can see, his seventeen years work in establishing the Church in East Anglia was of huge significance. The influence of Christianity may be waning, but it is still deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives. We may no longer go to church, but the eyes of the nation still turn to Westminster Abbey for great national events.




Halesworth was a town of under 1,000 inhabitants in the 19th century, but nevertheless it had several banks, a theatre, three non-conformist chapels and supported a maltings, a brickyard and a gasworks. Now the residents are up in arms about a housing development that was given planning approval last year. This will add 160 houses to the Hill Farm Road area, while another development, approved this year, will add a further 200 properties to the opposite side of town. These are fairly hefty numbers for a small market town with a population of around 5,000 today. If this level of development were planned for Bungay, Hadleigh or Eye* (other small Suffolk towns) I would be much more sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. However, Halesworth differs from these other towns; it still retains its railway station. As for numbers, the station is already doing just fine – it has increased the journeys that start or end there by 20% in the last five years; but a town that has the luxury of a railway service cannot then turn round and say: “Oh no; we don’t want anybody else coming here.” Attleborough in Norfolk has experienced an even greater increase in inhabitants, rising from a population of one thousand a hundred years ago to one a dozen times larger now, and I approve of this for the same reason; it too has a railway station.

Halesworth Railway Station

By my reckoning these lucky towns should get the lion’s share of the new houses we so desperately need. Planners seem oddly blind to this great resource of a railway link, however.  They are as likely to build new homes in Wymondam and Thetford, towns that get a regular rail service, as they are to dump new housing on Aylsham or Dereham, places that no longer have a real railway link, only one to a Heritage line. At least in the case of Halesworth local government is getting it correct and are putting the housing in a town that merits it. North Walsham is another place that should be seeing increased development, to capitalise on its railway station. This is popular for commuters into Norwich, with over a quarter of a million passengers a year. I would go further and develop little places like Gunton and Spooner Row to take advantage of their stations. Spooner Row near Wymondham would need a substantial increase in the number of trains that stop there, but Gunton in North Norfolk has a two hourly service; trains regularly stop there, although it caters for few passengers. As I have said before, such places should be given a choice; take the development or lose your station. There is no way these hamlets should be able to preserve their rural tranquility while having access to the rail network, which connects them to the four corners of the land with only a few changes of train. It is a pity that the pub by the station there closed a few years ago. If my suggestion of developing the area had been taken up it would have had a thriving trade.

Until 2010 Halesworth had a daily through train to Liverpool Street, and with the introduction of the new rollingstock there is talk of reintroducing this service. It would still be a far cry from the time in the 1950s when the named train The Eastern Belle was steam hauled from Lowestoft to London via Halesworth, but it would be a start in restoring the service. Think of the luxury of getting on the train in Halesworth in time for breakfast (yes, the trains were complete with restaurant cars) and getting to London by mid-morning. In 1922 you could board a Pullman car in Halesworth at 7.19 a.m. on weekdays (a porter carrying your luggage to the guard’s brake third) and alight in Liverpool Street three hours later, refreshed and ready for the day. If the demand from the new residents was sufficient, who knows what might happen? We can always dream.

Further south on the East Suffolk Line is the town of Woodbridge. There RAF Woodbridge, now used as the barracks for the 23rd Engineers Regt, is due to close in 2027, and the airfield is to be used to build housing. This seems a good idea, because it would be a brown field site and it would not impact the old town. Woodbridge also has a railway station, though in fact Rock Barracks (as the facility is called) is nearer to the station just north of the town at Melton. (Melton was closed to passengers in 1955, but was reopened in 1984 following a local campaign, and now boasts a healthy number approaching 70,000 users a year.) The platforms on these stations could take much longer trains than the two car units that currently trundle along the line. Perhaps with all these extra passengers potentially using them the trains  will need to be longer and more regular. The singling of long stretches of line north of Saxmundham, that impairs the running of more frequent services, was a false economy, because these penny-pinching measures will all eventually have to be reversed, if the development of towns like Halesworth and Woodbridge continues. This has already happened at Beccles, where at great expense it is once again a two platform station.

Halesworth was also the terminus of the Southwold Railway, the narrow gauge line that served the two towns until it was abruptly terminated in 1929. There was no seeking the views of the local residents on these alterations in their environment in those far-off days; I wonder if they were as opposed to such changes then as they are nowadays? It should never surprise anyone when protests are made about new developments, often from the very people who are living in the houses that were erected in the (equally unpopular) development before last. What would astonish me is if a group of locals got together and said : “Yes, we definitely approve of these new houses being built in our back yard.” Don’t worry; it will never happen.

*Bungay lost its rail passenger service in 1954, Hadleigh in 1932 and Eye in 1931.






I want to make one thing clear from the outset; I have never hunted a fox, even when it was legal to do so. I would be very bad at it for a start. Nor did I ever have any wish to hunt a fox; perhaps if it was edible and I was starving I might have a desire to hunt it down, but with a fox this does not apply. With the fox it is all about the hunt.

It is hard to find a more basic animal instinct. The desire to hunt is ages older than humanity itself.  To watch a pride of lions tracking down their prey (on television of course) will tell you this. Nor do animals only kill to eat; see the results of a fox getting into the chicken coop. It is therefore rather naive to imagine that merely by passing a piece of legislation you can banish the urge to hunt to the past.

The Dunston Harriers at Wymondham for the Boxing Day Hunt

The argument between the foxhunter and the animal rights protester is vastly complicated by the class divide between those two opposing types. In their visceral hatred the interests of the fox itself often get overlooked. From the hunting pink of the clothes, to the riding of a fine piece of bloodstock, the whole picture of a hunt reeks of the upper class. This class hardly exists anymore, and the importance of foxhunting is entirely symbolic. The number of foxes actually killed by hounds was alway tiny, and has now been legislated out of existence. What do the protesters have left to protest about? Only the toffs themselves.

To make one thing clear; the muddy booted protesters do not represent the workers in any way. The working class too has mostly vanished from the land, but in as far as it exists at all it rather approves of hunting. In this case it is hare coursing rather than fox hunting that takes their fancy. All hunting with dogs has been made illegal, unless the prey is rats or rabbits (apparently these species do not feel pain). Fortunately for Jack Russells it is still legal to catch rats.

This ban is something that would be incomprehensible only a few generations ago. Whatever could possess the great and powerful to gather in Parliament to discuss something as trivial as whether a few foxes should be killed by hounds or merely shot? This, when real problems like burglary and violence go unchecked. The hunt protesters are middle class intellectuals, who have nothing in common with ordinary people. They do not really care about the fox either, except in a purely abstract way. What they really object to is the foxhunter. They do not gather to protest hare coursing; for one thing these meets are held in secret, but the largely polite way in which the foxhunting community tolerate the hunt protesters would not hold true among the hare coursing set.

It may be illegal to hunt any mammals with dogs under UK law, but it cannot be made illegal for dogs to hunt unsupervised. Dogs have no respect for human laws, only the law of the jungle, and that not only allows hunting but demands it. What is the position when you take your dog for a walk and it picks up the scent of a squirrel? The dog may have no chance of catching it, but he is hunting a mammal while theoretically under your control; sounds like a crime to me. What do you lawyers say? My dog once hunted a mouse who was unwise enough to enter our house. He never got near enough to touch it, but it was frightened to death nonetheless. It is just as well I was in bed at the time, to be on the right side of the law.

There are several hunts in Norfolk that still exist, though the hounds no longer pursue live prey. In theory the nearest hunt to me while I was growing up was the Dunston Harriers, though their kennels are near Long Stratton. Their quarry in those days was the hare, although (in common with all hunts) they now go drag hunting after a scent like aniseed. Slightly bizarrely they still have a closed season. Perhaps the man with the scent needs a rest – it must be quite tiring dragging that cloth across the countryside. The Dunston Harriers hold regular meets around the county, and at special tines of year (like Boxing Day) these are well attended by supporters.

The shooting of game birds and rabbits is still legal, and dogs are still allowed to retrieve the birds. The increasingly arduous requirements of shotgun licensing make this increasingly difficult however. I believe that, although hunting with dogs has been prohibited, it is still legal to hunt with ferrets; perhaps because ferreting has always been a sport of the lower classes and therefore does not enter the consciousness of the hunt saboteurs. Fishing is the other kind of sport that is still fairly easy to accomplish, though how long this will continue is anybody’s guess. The killing of most kinds of fish is already frowned upon, though the unlucky trout may still be caught for supper; also good luck to anybody who attempts to disgorge an eel of its hook without first cutting off its head. People have strange thoughts about cruelty to animals. They shudder at hunting foxes who live entirely natural lives; even being hunted is part of the law of nature.  But they will happily eat chickens almost daily, whose brief existence is constrained by appalling conditions; artificial light 24 hours a day, fed till they almost burst and squeezed in so tightly that they can hardly move. C’est la vie, c’est la mort.





The wood burner

Now that my book has finally been published, I can return to the really important tasks of the day, and for me that means cutting wood. The wood burning stove has been shut down for the summer and the chimney sweep must be called.  The depleted woodpile needs rebuilding, which means that with chopper and saw I have been busy doing just that. Although I have given an electric circular saw by a neighbour, I daren’t use it; I use a hand saw instead, partly because it is safer, and partly because the exercise must do me good. The easy way is not necessarily the best way to work.

The difference between the intellectual labour of considering Anglo-Saxon history and the physical labour of sawing logs could hardly be greater, but it is difficult to say which I find more rewarding. To see the results of my sawing growing before my eyes has no equivalent in the bookish world. I can spend the day apparently doing nothing, but all the time I am grappling with a particularly knotty historical problem. Conversely, I can spend a whole morning working like a Trojan as the pile of wood grows, while my mind has been a complete blank. The second kind of work may leave me exhausted, but it never leads to a headache. The writing of my book did not do that exactly, but the writing of quizzes to a deadline for the evening paper frequently left me with just that. I would certainly prefer splitting logs to splitting my head with pain, but there is always the financial reward to be considered. Quiz writing was not that well paid, but I am not paid at all as a woodman.

When I used to make things out of wood the work was more balanced. I had to used my grey cells as much as my hands, and sawing wood was but a small part of what I did. I used chisels and gouges, tape measures and calipers, drills and screw drivers.  I would plane a length of wood and then sand it down – things that are now quite foreign to me; I only produce firewood. It is the simplest kind of wood working, but quite complicated enough for this old codger.

It is not just sawing that takes up my time. The production of kindling requires me to get out the chopper. Chopping wood is an even more basic task. The earliest copper saws were made in Egypt five thousand years ago, but primitive stone axes were used in the paleolithic period, over a million years before that. When I am chopping wood I am participating in a tradition almost as old as time itself. I cannot retreat any further into the recesses of the human past. By comparison, the Anglo-Saxon period that so exercises my historical mind, is but a fraction of a second away.

So there you have my experience of wood cutting. For those of you who have a tune going through your heads while I am running on about wood chopping, try this; Woody Herman and the Woodchopper’s Ball. For the rest of you ‘chop chop’; I must be off.






Nellie (Ellen Lydia) was one of my great aunts. I was seven years old when she died, but as she lived all her adult life on the South Coast I never met her. I have written about my close relative and  her husband Maurice Lawrence before; then I claimed that they were shadowy figures of whom I did not even have any photographs.  Since hearing from a not-so-distant cousin, I can state that they have emerged from the shadows. I now have multiple pictures of both of them. The children of Charles Mason all grew up in Norfolk, but his three eldest daughters all ended up living in Kent. Two were childless, but one had a family who also grew up in Kent; how did this move to the Garden of England happen?

MAURICE, signalman at Folkestone

Nellie, the eldest daughter of my great-grandfather Charles Mason, went into domestic service in Folkestone in the last years of the 19th century. Bessie was nearly seven years younger than Nellie, but as soon as she was old enough she travelled down to Folkestone to be near her elder sister. Both sisters were married to young men who were working for the railway in Kent; Nellie was married in Trowse in Norfolk in 1908, and Bessie  was married during the war in 1915, in Kent.  Nellie’s husband was a signalman, and Bessie’s husband was a goods clerk called Douglas Hughes. When he was called up 1916 he worked in a similar capacity in Flanders. Nellie had no children; in 1920 she moved with her husband Maurice from Folkestone, where he had been assistant signalman, to be the signalman at Walmer near Dover.

BESSIE (left) & son Charlie on Folkestone beach (1933) .

Bessie had two sons; the eldest was Charles, and on leaving school he applied to the Civil Service Commission to take their examination. Being entered at all was great honour, but he came second in this exam, out of the entire country. This was an astonishing achievement, and he was appointed to a senior position in the Civil Service. As part of his training he received a law degree from London University. This was in 1938, aged 22. Charles worked in Somerset House in London before his employment was interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served in the Royal Navy. After the war he returned to work in the Estate Duty office in West London.

It is remarkable how the grandson of Charles Mason, who had sprung from the very poorest levels of society, should achieve so much, but it is in large part due to the great opportunities that British society provided at the time.

Bessie’s husband Douglas worked at Shorncliffe Camp station, which serviced the Army Camp there even before the First World War. This station was the terminus of the Elham Valley Line, but it was a located on the mainline to Folkestone, so when the Elham Valley line closed before the Second World War it remained open. Nellie’s husband sometimes worked the signalbox at Deal, the next station up the line from Walmer. He retired shortly after the end of the Second World War in 1945.


When the third of the Mason sisters, Millicent, retired from nursing, she too made her home in Kent. She also had excelled in her chosen field, being the midwife of choice to members of the Royal Family. I used to think that we Masons were of minor importance in the scheme of things, and that intelligence that my children might exhibit came from the another side of the family.  I have learnt differently however. The first member of my family to get a university degree was not Marion Hardy (as I had thought), who picked up her degree in 1944; it was Charles Hughes, who qualified before the war. This all happened  years before the Beveridge Report allegedly opened up society to the lower orders. In many ways it is far harder today for the exceptionally able members of the working class to excel than it was in first half of the 20th century.  It was also possible for these people to buy their own houses; Bessie’s husband bought their property in Folkestone in 1926, and Nellie followed in Walmer in 1930. Today similar couples would find it impossible to become owner-occupiers. They would be lucky to be able to afford the rent on a pleasant property on the South Coast of England. It has by no means all been progress in the last hundred years. We have gone backwards in social mobility.




Following its successful launch on Thursday (19th April), the book is now available for the public to buy. The book may be purchased worldwide direct from the publisher, (post free in the UK) LASSE PRESS, 2 St Giles Terrace, Norwich NR2 1NS (Tel: +44 (0)1603 665843) [], or in Norwich from Jarrold’s Book Department. It can also be ordered from your local book store. Don’t forget the title; St Edmund and the Vikings, 869-1066.

ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6

The author signs the book for a customer.