PRIVATE MASON No. 49919
Alfred John Mason was born on January 3rd 1898. He was one of the ten children of Charles Mason who survived beyond infancy. He was the second child (of five) his mother Alice had with Charles; she was his second wife. Alfred grew up at 25 Russell Terrace in Trowse, a village just outside Norwich. Like his brothers and sisters he was educated at the village school. On leaving at the age of fourteen he worked in the mustard mill at Colman’s Carrow Works where his father and eldest brother were also employed.
When the First World War broke out two years later he was too young to enlist, but as soon as he was old enough he enrolled in the army. He was kept in England as in 1915 (aged just seventeen) he was still too young to fight, and so he was trained in the Royal Army Medical Corps. After basic training he was transferred to the Service Corps in 1916 and deployed to France. He finally made it to a front line fighting unit, the 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. This Battalion had been formed in 1914 and after serving in Gallipoli and Egypt they returned to France in July 1916, where Alfred joined them in 1917. After fighting for months in France he had returned to Trowse on leave in September 1918. During his stay he took the opportunity of visiting old friends and colleagues at the mustard mill. His smart military appearance and his concern for the goings on back home made a definite impression on the workers he met.
In Northern France, at the end of October 1918 his Battalion were in training at
Valenciennes, but with just two hours notice they were ordered to the front line. On the 1st of November their fellow combatants in the 9th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters were ordered into battle, with Alfred and his unit held in reserve. On the 4th the Foresters made a successful attack on the hill at Sebourg with the Lincolnshires in support. On the sixth the Lincolnshires experienced some resistance from the enemy, but on the seventh the Germans were forced back; they were in retreat and disarray, and the war was rapidly coming to an end. However Alfred Mason had already been hit by shrapnel, and on the 3rd of November 1918 he had died of his wounds. By a cruel irony he was the only member of his Regiment to be injured by that shell blast. A week later the Armistice was signed on the 11th November to general rejoicing back home in Norwich, and many people thronged the market place. Alfred’s sister Edith met her future husband on that happy occasion. At the family home in Trowse this delight turned to despair three days later when the news of Alfred’s death arrived. His oldest brother was 38 and his youngest sister was only 11 at the time of his death. It was a very cruel circumstance that he so nearly survived the war.
He was buried at the St Vaast cemetery near Cambrai. There are 45 graves of British soldiers in this military extension to the communal cemetery; for much of the war this village was in German hands. Compiègne were the Armistice was signed is about half way between Valenciennes, where Alfred died, and Paris. Cambrai, where his body lies, is between Valenciennes and Compiègne. In 2014 on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War a display was mounted in Trowse church, with details of the twenty one villagers who gave their lives in the conflict. A photograph of Alfred Mason was among them, and two of his nieces attended the exhibition.
THE BLOG FOR the STORY OF THE MASON FAMILY
Alfred came to the throne of Wessex in 871. He was immediately thrown into the continuing war with the Danes; they were fresh from their victory over the King of East Anglia, which had involved the death of Edmund. Previously the Danes had successfully defeated the Northumbrians at York, so they appeared invincible. King Edmund had been killed by the invading Danes eighteen months before Alfred came to the throne, when his brother was killed in battle with the Danes.
There is no written record of any Anglo-Saxon kings who might have succeeded Edmund in East Anglia, and for many centuries it was assumed that none did, but the names of two kings are now known from the discovery of coins that they issued. The names of these two East Anglian rulers were Oswald and Æthelred. For simplicity’s sake I will restrict my comments to King Æthelred, and from his coinage we can state a few basic facts. One coin from his reign bears the name of the moneyer (i.e. coin-issuer) Sigered, who had also acted in the same capacity for Edmund. The design is also identical with the coinage that had been issued by Edmund. The coins issued a few years later by the Danes were very different; from this information we can assert that there was continuity between the reigns of Edmund and Æthelred, and the change to Danish rule came after 880.
We know that these coins circulated outside East Anglia, as one example was found in Kent, which by then was part of Wessex. This means that it is impossible that the Wessex court was unaware of the King Æthelred’s existence; in spite of this, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (that work of Wessex propaganda) gives the clear impression that Edmund was the last English king of East Anglia, although (perhaps significantly) they did not explicitly say so. Were the authors of the Chronicle trying to hide something? And if so what?
Knowledge was something that Alfred prized above almost everything else. He was an avid collector of travellers’ tales, and we have the details of what he heard about the far north of Norway, and of Ireland too. If he was that interested in distant lands, how could he not have known the king of an adjacent realm like East Anglia? Surely the Wessex court was not only very interested in what was happening there, but they would also have been very well informed. If the writers of the Chronicle were unforthcoming about the king, it was not because of a lack of knowledge. Why was the Wessex establishment so keen to give the impression to posterity that East Anglia had already fallen under Danish rule in 869, with the death of Edmund?
Between the departure of the Danish army from East Anglia late in the year 870, and the return of this army as settlers in 880, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has nothing to say about what was happening in East Anglia. However, we can be certain that its future was high up on the list of concerns discussed at Wednore, after Alfred’s victory over the Danish army. Alfred had emerged from his low point in hiding at Athelney with a radical solution to the problem posed by the Danes in Wessex. After his defeat of Guthrum’s army Alfred was able to put his plan into effect. Despite his victory, he knew that the best way to protect Wessex from future Danish attacks was to give them somewhere else; if they were occupied in setting up another kingdom, they would have less time to bother Alfred. Northumbria they had already taken over, and Alfred had plans to annex the kingdom of Mercia; that left the kingdom of East Anglia as the place to give Guthrum, and he was duly dispatched thither in 880.
For an English king to impose a Danish monarch on an Anglo-Saxon nation was certainly a betrayal, but if it protected Wessex then Alfred could live with that. What he could not contemplate was to impose a heathen king on a Christian people. That is why it was so important for him to have Guthrum baptised, and anointed as a Christian king. This was achieved in 878, but then there was a long delay.
In 878 -880, with the decision to establish the Danes in East Anglia, we have now reached a period of inactivity on the part of Guthrum and his army. Between his baptism and his eventual arrival in East Anglia there was a period of about 18 months. This posed a problem of provisioning; as the Danish army could no longer forage for itself as predators on the people of Wessex they would have to be provided with food. That difficulty however paled into insignificance compared to that task of keeping so many fit young warriors idle for so long. Eventually they became too much for the people of Wessex to deal with, and they were moved across the border to Cirencester in Mercia. This was not a wholly satisfactory solution, for the advantage of putting a reasonable distance between them and the kingdom of Wessex was offset by the difficulty of supervising and controlling them. The question that must be asked is ‘why were these hungry and impatient Danes not sent straight to East Anglia’? The answer must lie in East Anglia itself.
It is sometimes stated that in 880 Guthrum returned to East Anglia, but this implies he had been there before. However, it is clear from reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that he had never before been to East Anglia. He had not arrived in England until after the Danes had left the despoiled lands of Norfolk and Suffolk for Wessex. The nearest he had got to East Anglia was in 874, which year he spent in Cambridge. This has never been a part of the province of East Anglia, and in any case he was only in Cambridge to muster his troops for a renewed assault on Wessex; all his attention was directed west, not east.
When Alfred was arranging the future of East Anglia with Guthrum in 878, they were dealing with a kingdom that neither leader had any legitimate claim to. Even if King Æthelred of East Anglia was (against all the evidence) a Danish puppet king, he owed his allegiance to the dynasty of Ragnar Lothbrok, members of which family had led the earlier invasion of East Anglia which had led to the death of King Edmund. Æthelred could not have been the puppet of Guthrum under any circumstances; if he had been a puppet, Æthelred’s strings would have been pulled from York, the city Ragnar’s sons had retired to after 870. Guthrum was not a part of this family, and the fact that he could walk into East Anglia suggests to me that York had no influence over East Anglia after 870.
The other party to the arrangement, Alfred, had no authority over East Anglia either. His own view of himself as protector of all Anglo-Saxons would not have been shared by the people of East Anglia, who he was engaged in delivering to the mercies of a foreign king. We may imagine that once Æthelred got wind of the fate that Alfred and Guthrum had cooked up for him frantic representations were made, not only to the West Saxon court but also to anybody else who would listen. We may also imagine that some important people in Wessex itself must have had some serious misgivings about Alfred’s intentions.
The fact that not a word of all this appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is not surprising. Like the silence of the Chronicle on the existence of King Æthelred, the propagandists of Wessex were keen to leave the impression to posterity that nothing stood between Alfred and the smooth implementation of his plan. The long delay gives the lie to this story. We cannot know how this situation was eventually resolved, but it is cannot have been done in a pleasant manner.
There is some evidence that Alfred himself had some conscience about the fate that he was wishing on his fellow Englishmen in Norfolk and Suffolk. For all Guthrum’s apparent conversion to Christianity and his Anglo-Saxon baptismal name of Athelstan, Guthrum had not really changed, and Alfred was aware of this. His new religion was politically expedient, not the result of a heart-felt change in belief. No bishops were allowed to promulgate the faith in the east throughout the period of Danish rule. Guthrum proved to be as oppressive as everyone had feared. What evidence do we have have for this? The violent and unjust nature of Danish rule can be found in the treaty between Alfred and the Danes known as Guthrum’s Peace. This also demonstrates how Alfred continued to feel responsible for the conditions under which Guthrum’s English subjects lived.
This treaty, which is likely to date from 886, has five articles. Numbers two and three both deal with murder in East Anglia; article two begins “If a man be slain we esteem all equally dear, English and Danish.” This is a strong hint of two things; one is that inter-ethnic violence was rife. If murder were a rare occurrence there would have been no need to refer to it in the treaty. Secondly, if when it did occur, Danish and English perpetrators were treated equally, there would have been no need for such a clause either. We can therefore be sure that native East Anglians found themselves second class citizens in their own land, as a direct result of Alfred’s intervention. Alfred’s concern for these victims of discrimination has been attributed to his view of himself as the king of all Englishmen. Although it is is certainly true that he saw himself in his way, there is more to it than that. His responsibility was more direct and personal, and reveals perhaps that he felt a sense of guilt for his treatment of the East Anglians. Surely I am not alone seeing Alfred’s queasy conscience at work here?
It is doubtful if Guthrum took these treaty obligations any more seriously than the other oaths he had taken and then reneged upon when it suited him. Alfred certainly wished to improve the conditions under which East Anglians lived, but his ability to do anything about them was severely limited. Ultimately he intended to extend his kingdom into East Anglia, a policy objective which was only accomplished some twenty years after his death. For the time being, and for the remainder of his lifetime, all that Alfred could do was to demonstrate his good intentions by such things as the treaty with Guthrum.
As ruled over by Guthrum East Anglia was more extensive than it had been as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom; it reached into most of Essex and Cambridgeshire, and into part of Lincolnshire too. Essex was the first part of this kingdom to be lost, becoming part of Alfred’s Wessex before Guthrum’s death in 890. North Norfolk finally fell to the Anglo-Saxons in 917.
This examination of the last period of East Anglia’s existence as an independent kingdom reveals how intimately involved it was with Alfred the Great, despite his having no direct power over the land. He established its last dynasty of Danish rulers, and then plotted to depose them and establish his own rule. He even tried to influence their laws in treaty negotiations with the Danish king. You might think Alfred’s story is all about Wessex; but East Anglia was an abiding concern throughout his life.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
My Great Aunt Ruth was born in 1890, to a warrener whose job it was to harvest the rabbits on Jeremiah James Colman’s estate. It was a very ordinary job in which Phipp Peachey, my great-grandfather, disgraced himself by selling rabbits under the counter to the local butcher. This was a serious thing to have done, but he kept his job; however he was no longer allowed to wear the Colman livery. This was apparently a great ignominy for him.
Ruth Peachey was educated at the local village school in Trowse. When she had finished her schooling she was retained as a pupil teacher, which was still how new teachers were trained in the early years of the twentieth century. This was quite a step up for a warreners daughter, but she was not the first of her family to go down this route. Her eldest sister Thurza had already qualified as a teacher. Another Trowse born youngster was called Bertie Hardy, the son of a bricklayer. Three years older than Ruth, he had already qualified as a teacher.
Bertie and Ruth were married in 1912. When the First World War broke out Bertie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private. He went on to become a sergeant. I do not know how good he was at the language when he arrived in France, but he obviously took full advantage of living among foreigners to improve his linguistic skill. After returning from the front he secured a job teaching French at the City of Norwich School. This was established in 1910 by Norwich City Council as a boys’ secondary school, to be built at Eaton on the edge of town. The most intelligent boys from the City’s Primary Schools were awarded scholarships, to be educated until the age of sixteen. The CNS, together with the Blyth School for girls, were in fact Grammar Schools, although most such schools were set up following the 1944 Education Act.
Ruth was very interested in politics and was a member of the Independent Labour Party. She was proud to call herself a Socialist, and once she was elected to the council she rose rapidly through the ranks. During the Second World War she established MAGNA (Mutual Aid Good Neighbour Association), a voluntary group that supported the vulnerable. In 1950 she was appointed Lord Mayor. For her inauguration she revived the Civic Coach, pulled by two dray horses from Steward and Paterson’s brewery. The coach had been in storage since before the war.
As her Lady Mayoress Ruth had her daughter Marion. How Ruth’s husband would have been described had he wished to fill the position I do not know; her predecessors as female Mayors were spinsters, so the problem had not arisen. As it was Bertie was more than happy to remain in the background. An only child, Marion was a graduate of Oxford University. Like her father she had studied French. All this was a long way from laying bricks and catching rabbits in the Norfolk countryside.
Aunt Ruth retained a great interest in politics, and she lived into the era of Margaret Thatcher. In spite of their very different political backgrounds, she was enchanted by the prospect of a female politician rising to the very highest power in the land. ‘Mark my words,’ she predicted, ‘she will be a great prime minister’.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
I will start with the letter A, and so I will begin with Dr Andrews. When I arrived in 1959 he had already given up the position of school chaplain – apparently due to a crisis of conscience (as I learnt much later). He was housemaster of Woodlands throughout my school career, and he was succeeded in that post by Steve Benson, who arrived during my time in the 6th form. I was taken to task by Dr Andrews for disposing of a black goldfish I had bought at the Holt pet shop in the Woodlands house pond. Apparently it was spotted by Andrews and caused quite a stir; how did it suddenly appear in the pond? How he found out it was me I still do not know; somebody must have snitched on me.
He taught history, so I came into contact with him quite a lot, being a budding historian myself. His manner was precise and rather formal, and he did not make the subject come alive as David Gregory did for me. Neither Benson not Gregory had yet arrived at the school in 1963, so I will say no more about these masters in this article.
Because it was my poorest subject, my father arranged for me to have extra maths lessons with Dan Frampton. I used to go round to his house in Woodlands Close, where he had a surprisingly elegant study at the back of his large garage. There he would attempt to teach me Pythagoras’s Theorem, long division and such like. He must have been successful, because I passed my ‘O’ level in the subject. Dan developed cancer while I was still at school, although I did not learn the detail of this until after I had left. Although he returned to work following treatment, he died before very many years were up. Before he became ill he was the C.O of the CCF, following Colonel Williams. During my short career in the CCF (I joined in 1963 and left in 1966) I had three C.O.s. Two I have mentioned already, and the third was ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, who had been in a pilot in the air force during the war. (He was not of course the real ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, who was a night fighter ace during WWII.) The other two leaders of the CCF were army men.
Bernard Sankey was my housemaster when I went into Farfield in 1963. In that year he was also my physics master. I might have passed my physics ‘O’ level had he remained my teacher, but instead we had a man who could not keep discipline among us 15-year-old boys. Almost the entire form failed, so it wasn’t just me who played him up so cruelly. I can remember sitting in the physics lab doing experiments with Bernard Sankey. One involved collapsing a tin in which boiling water had been sealed, and then allowing it to cool. To demonstrate that all objects would fall at the same rate he went up to the top of one of the towers that adorn the Big School building, and dropped a stone and a feather from the top. Of course they didn’t fall at the same rate, as he knew the wouldn’t, and he explained why. Another involved the use of mercury, and this got spilt of the desk in front of me. We chased the little globules of liquid metal across the woodwork with our fingers. This relaxed attitude to such a poisonous element would horrify today’s teachers, but in 1964 the phrase ‘Health and Safety’ had not then entered our physics vocabulary. Nor had it in chemistry; although we wore white lab coats to protect out clothes from spitting acid, we wore no goggles to protect our eyes. This worried my father, who was a little more advanced in his ideas, and he was glad I wore glasses which protected them to some extent.
Mrs Sankey, his wife, was already becoming ill by 1964 – also with cancer – and Bernard had retired from Farfield by 1966. He went to live in a restored cottage in the nearby village of Hunworth. He invited those of his former Farfield boys who were leaving the Upper Sixth to a meal in his cottage at Christmas 1966. This was a memorable occasion. After leaving Farfield I did not see Bernard again for over 15 years, when in 1984 I and Molly (my wife to be) attended the unveiling of the Gurney Clock in Chapelfiel Gardens in Norwich. This was a replica of John Harrison’s chronometer, and this was just up Bernard’s street. He was an old man by then, but he was as delighted as a young boy by the clock. He seemed to remember me.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
This subject is rather irrelevant to East Anglia; we have not had significant improvements to our infrastructure since Queen Victoria was a young woman. It was then that the railways linking our East Anglian counties to the wider world were built. The motor age was largely ignored in the East. To go west one still has to take one’s life in one’s hands along single carriageway roads; there is no Motorway in East Anglia. Only the A11 is dual carriageway along its entire length and that is disrupted by severe delays at roundabouts like that at Barton Mills. Even our ‘International’ airport has regular flights to just one foreign destination. There are no ferry ports in Norfolk or Suffolk, and even Harwich has only a service to the Hook of Holland, since that to Denmark was abandoned. There has been no investment in our railways for thirty years, since the lines from Kings Lynn and Norwich to London were electrified. Even a slight track realignment at Ely junction which is desperately needed has been delayed because the funds are not available. A similar plan to reinstate dual track through the town of Soham (and to reopen the station there) has been put off indefinitely because we cannot afford it; and this is just to restore a small part of our railway infrastructure to the status it enjoyed a hundred years ago.
It is not that we are a sleepy backwater in term of nationally important facilities. Forget the agricultural industry which produces more crops than any other region in Britain; it no longer employs many workers. But most of the country’s natural gas comes ashore at the terminal at Bacton in Norfolk and Felixstowe in Suffolk is one of our largest container ports. The Cambridge to Norwich corridor is promoted as a major artery in Life Sciences research. The North Sea wind farms are supplied from East Anglian ports. There is a strong possibility that we will we get another nuclear reactor at Sizewell. We are buzzing with state of the art industrial advances, yet the transport infrastructure lags woefully behind.
Compare this with the enormous sums of money being wasted on HS2 (the High Speed railway line from London to Northern England). This involves an eye-watering investment even on current projections, which will inevitably prove to be far too small. Nor will the communities through which this white elephant will charge gain any advantage; to reach their destination in Birmingham or Manchester a few minutes earlier the trains will not be able to stop on the way. Surely the investment in HS2 would be better spent on smaller improvements that are so desperately needed across the country, but especially in East Anglia.
Even the reopening of the line from Wisbech to March has no prospect of happening. The track is still in place, although with years of neglect it would all need to be replaced. The only politician who sees the restoration of rail passenger services to Wisbech as a matter of urgency is Jeremy Corbyn, and this project alone makes me look wistfully at the distant prospect of him becoming Prime Minister.
Corbyn is against nuclear defence. If we could afford both nuclear and conventional weapons I would be in favour, but we can’t. These American missiles hardly constitute a genuine independent deterrent anyway. Once they had been binned by the Corbynistas this would leave the way clear for some future government to spend the money saved on real defence – the ships and aircraft that we cannot at present afford. It is true that Jeremy has the bizarre notion of removing the nuclear missiles but retaining the submarines they are held in, to protect Scottish jobs. In fact the loss of Trident would remove the last thing connecting Clydebank in Scotland with England and free the way for Scottish Independence; the inhabitants of that benighted country could then pursue whatever third world future they chose. They seem to have forgotten the terrible muddle they got into that led to the Act of Union in the first place.
So will any of these things ever come to pass? Will any infrastructure improvements come our way? Well there is a plan to speed up the trains from Liverpool Street to Norwich by closing level crossings in Norfolk, but the loss of road connections hardly sounds like improving anything. There is also the prospect of building the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, but this will be a brand new Motorway, not the reopening of the Varsity railway line. This rail link would not require huge civil engineering investment as the line is still mostly intact, though large stretches of it are overgrown with weeds. In every particular the clever people at the top get all these decisions totally wrong. I could understand them making a few mistakes, but to be so monumentally incompetent takes some doing. We need the infrastructure but not what is proposed, at such great expense. Perhaps that explains why our national debt is about the largest in the world in terms of GDP, and it is growing by nearly one and a half billion pounds a week.
THE BLOG FOR THE FUTURE OF EAST ANGLIA
THE SQUIRES OF TAVERHAM, 1623-1920
I must warn you that there are many convoluted personal relationships in the following article. Do not worry if you are sometimes a little confused about the various people and their family connections involved – you are not alone! I hope the eventual picture that emerges is worth it.
The land in Taverham had belonged to the church before the Reformation, partly to the Priory of St Faith in Horsham and part to the Priory of the Holy Cross in Norwich. It was transferred to the Crown under Henry VIII, and in 1563 a 99 year lease was granted to Henry Riches, Lord of the Manor of Swannington, a couple of miles away from Taverham. The remainder of the lease was granted to Augustine Sotherton in 1623, and he or his descendants converted this to a more secure form of tenure known as copyhold. Copyhold was finally abolished in favour of freehold in 1922. The process of securing land rights has been going on for hundreds of years, and has largely been responsible for creating the legal profession in England.
Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597; some sources place his birth three years earlier. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were heavily involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff of Norfolk and as an MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. Upon his death early in the 17th century hi father left £6000 to his son Austin (Augustine). This was a huge sum, equivalent to many millions in today’s money.
The year 1623 was an eventful one for Augustine Sotherton; on May 15th he had married the heiress to the Shernborne family fortunes. She was a young lady called Mary. The wedding took place in St Sepulchre’s church in London, where she had been living since being orphaned twelve years before. The Shernbornes or Sharnbornes could trace their pedigree back to the reign of Edward II and, although not aristocrats, they were truly one of the oldest and most respected families in Norfolk. Aa an only child Mary was the last of the line. Shernborne, which gives the family its name and where they had lived for most of their long history, is a village between Sandringham and Snettisham, just to the east of Ingoldisthorpe. Not only getting married in 1623, Augustine acquired a landed estate in the same year, and on August 8th he was knighted. Perhaps these events are all related; already a rich man, the sudden increase in wealth following his marriage enabled the purchase of the Taverham estate, and maybe the grant of a knighthood was partly in recognition of his wife’s distinguished heritage. Certainly he left the grocery trade behind; from now on this branch of the family would be Country Gentlemen.
We can gather a little more about Mary Shernborne from the marriage register: “15 May 1623. Augustine Sotherton, Esq., Bachelor, 26, his parents dead, & Mary Sherborne, of St Sepulchre’s, London, Spinster, 20, dau. of Francis Sherborne, Esq., decd about 12 years since, since when she hath been trained up & remained with Mrs Mary Colt, Widow, of Colts Hall in Suffolk, her grandmother, who consents, as well as Edward Elrington, Esq., of St Sepulchre’s, in whose custody she now is; at St Bennet’s or St Peter’s, Paul’s Wharf, London.” [She signs the document “Mary Sharnbourn” in a firm hand.] In the Vicar-General’s Book her father is called Francis “of Sherborne, co. Suffolk.” The record is wrong in respect of the county, as Shernborne (or “Sharnbourne”) is in fact in Norfolk, as is her grandmother’s birthplace, Colts Hall. This is a few miles away in the village of Shouldham. Mary’s paternal grandmother remarried after Mary’s grandfather’s death, to a John Stubbs. He had his right hand cut off for writing a pamphlet criticising Queen Elizabeth’s romantic attachment to the Catholic Duke of Anjou.
Augustine Sotherton had at least two children; Thomas, born sometime after 1625, and Mary, born in 1628. She was baptised at Drayton rather than at Taverham, and as there was probably as yet no Hall in Taveram they mat well have been living in Drayton. Augustine died in 1649, and his son and heir Thomas was, in 1669, married to Elizabeth Barwick, daughter of a Norwich attorney. According to the Archdeacon’s transcripts from the Taverham parish register (the original now lost) the next Sotherton was another Thomas, born in 1677. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Barwick). This Thomas was married to Elizabeth Branthwait, who was the granddaughter of Francis Bacon, the eminent judge who is buried in a magnificent tomb in St Gregory’s church in Norwich. You may read more of Francis Bacon in my account of the Longe family, to whom he was also related. Elizabeth Branthwait came from a family of family of lawyers who had bought Hethel Hall in the 17th century.
It was in 1701, during the marriage of Thomas Sotherton and Elizabeth Barwick, that the watermill on the river Wensum at Taverham was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) to a paper mill. Thomas must have had prominent businessman friends in Norwich who persuaded him to promote the printing industry locally. This mill was described as ‘producing paper suitable for printing’ when it opened, but as there were no printers working in Norwich in 1700, the city fathers were obviously keen attract some. This they soon achieved, and by 1710 there were several, all using Taverham paper. This proliferation of printers in the city led to the production of the Norwich Post, the first provincial newspaper in England, and this was followed by several other weekly journals.
The last of the Taverham Sothertons, yet another Thomas, was born in 1707 and died in 1778. It was during his lifetime that the Georgian mansion (which survived until 1858) was built. His only child Mary (1732- 1803) married a second cousin named Miles Branthwait (1728 – 1780) in 1753.
Miles Branthwait had been born at Kettlestone near Fakenham where his father was Rector. Before going up to Cambridge to read law the Rector’s son attended Gresham’s school in Holt. In fact in the eighteenth century the school was not called Gresham’s, but Holt Free Grammar School. He lived most of his married life at a rented property near Melton Constable, Gunthorpe Hall. The current Gunthorpe Hall was built after his time. He only lived in Taverham for two years before he suddenly died, probably of a heart attack. He was a JP, and from what we know of him, he was a rather bristly character; he told James Woodforde not to fish in his river, which went down rather badly with the Parson.
He was succeeded by his son Miles Sotherton Branthwait (born 1756), one of whose first actions was to commission the architect John Soane to design an elegant dining room for the hall. This squire in turn died (without issue) in 1807, aged 51. He had been a keen huntsman until failing health forced him to sell his hounds. Miles Sotherton Branthwait had taken the running of the paper mill into his own hands in the 1780s, employing the former proprietor of the business as his employee manager. He equipped the mill with brand new vats and formes. Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken by the editor of one of the local newspapers, the Norwich Mercury. He was a new broom in the paper trade and he swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper. Instead of these old-fashioned tools, in 1809 he installed a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier. Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and the mill was declared bankrupt in 1816.
Im 1807 Miles Sotherton Branthwait was succeeded by his nephew Nathaniel Micklethwait (1784 – 1856). On 22 Sept 1784 Nathaniel Micklethwait was baptised before dinner at Weston Longville rectory by Parson Woodforde. Of this he records it was a performance ‘I did not much like, but could not tell how to refuse…[the Micklethwaits] are the strangest kind of People I almost ever saw. Old Mrs Branthwait [née Mary Sotherton] was almost as strange and vulgar.’ We must not take Woodforde’s words at face value when there is another contemporary account which takes a very different tone in describing Mary Branthwait. In this passage Richard Gardiner, a local writer of political pamphlets, refers to her as ‘a worthy descendant of one of Norfolk’s most noble and venerable families, the Sharnbrokes’.
This Nathaniel was the first Micklethwait to be squire of Taverham but he was by no means the last. He was the son of Sarah, Miles Branthwait’s and Mary Sotherton’s eldest daughter. Sarah had married a Micklethwait (also called Nathaniel), but he died aged 26 in 1786, when his son was only two years old. Although the young Nathaniel Micklethwait had inherited the estate in 1807, on the death of Miles Sotherton Branthwait, he did not take up residence in Taverham until over 10 years later, when the dowager Elizabeth Branthwait (née Colborne, 1757-1832) moved to the West of England. She had been born in Chippenham and died in Leamington Spa. Even once he had moved from his home in Beeston St Andrew to Taverham he spent much of his time in London. He was twice married, first to a daughter of ord Waldegrave, and the second time to a daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke. He was moving up in the world, and he sent his son to Eton.
The mill had overcome its earlier difficulties and successfully traded throughout the 1820s, but the structure was becoming old and dilapidated, and by 1840 part of the roof had fallen in, resulting in the death of one of the workers. By the middle of the following decade production had ceased and the machinery was put up for sale. It was rescued from disaster by the arrival of the railway from London, which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to use Taverham paper to produce the newspaper. The Delane family took over the mill, and the mill was rebuilt and re-equipped, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.
Nathaniel Micklethwaite died in 1856 and he was briefly succeeded by his eldest son, a Lt-Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He died within months of becoming squire of Taverham, aged 51. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by the next in line, his half brother The Revd John Nathaniel Mickletwait. He had been Lord of the Manor at Coltishall before inheriting Taverham Hall, and although a clergyman he had no parish duties of his own. It was under his auspices that the south aisle of Taverham church was built. The Revd John Nathaniel Micklethwait was obviously up to date in his reading, a he was in possession of a first edition of an Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This novel has recently been sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering £163,000.
If Squire John Nathaniel Micklethwait is remembered today, it is for building the current Taverham Hall in 1858. His initials appear in many places around the property. He employed the Scottish architect David Brandon. John died in 1877 and the Hall was let to William Waring, a retired railway contractor. He had specialised in civil engineering projects like viaducts. These had been carried out across the world, in Sicily and Uganda, but also in the approaches to St Pancras Station.
One of John Micklethwait’s younger brothers, Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, had distinguished himself by gaining a Cambridge University blue in cricket in 1843. He went on to serve for 40 years as Vicar of Hickling in Norfolk, where his family owned more land and where he received the living which was in his father’s gift. His elder brother, Henry Sharnbroke Nathaniel Micklethwait, who inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Taverham from John Micklethwait in 1877, spent his latter years in London after a career in the Royal Navy. He never lived at the new Taverham Hall. He died in 1894.
He was followed as the owner of the Taverham estate by his brother George, but none of these Micklethwait bothers had any children. Henry died unmarried and neither was George Micklethwait married when he died in 1901. The estate then passed to a grandson of Nathaniel Micklethwait (died 1856). Nathaniel Micklethwait’s daughter Sarah (1813-1869) had married John Mills of Roundwood in Hampshire. They were married in London in 1836, and he was the elder brother of Emma Mills, who became the wife of the Revd John Micklethwait. The son of John Mills and Sarah (neé Micklethwait), the Rev Edward Cecil Mills, inherited the property in Taverham after George’s death. He was the Rector of Barford in Warwickshire, and he may well not even have visited Norfolk. The Rev Mills died in 1908, when the estate was left to his son John Digby Mills. He used the Hall in Taverham to house his regiment, the Royal Warwickshires, in the First World War. After an army career he lived in Bisterne in the New Forest and became the local Tory MP from 1932 until 1945. The Hall was sold by John Mills in 1920 and was bought by the headmaster of the preparatory school at Roydon near Diss,. He was looking for larger premises for his expanding school. Taverham Hall School is still in possession of the hall.
TAVERHAM HALL, designed by the Architect David Brandon.
The Mills family are still in possession of Bisterne Manor in Hampshire.
Those who wish to learn the history of Taverham Hall School are referred to Where Elephants Nest (1996) by Peter Beer. A history of Taverham from early times to 1969 (1969) by Thomas Norgate has much useful much information, but it would be easier to follow if it contained footnotes. A 12 page pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the opening of the village hall in 1957. The Parish Registers, Taverham 1601-1837 (1986) transcribed by Judith Sims and indexed by Patrick Palgrave-Moore contains much useful information relevant to this article. There are references to the village in other books but as far as I am aware the above mentioned are the only books on Taverham.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Forts of the Saxon Shore
These are better known as the Forts of the Saxon Shore. This term we derive from the Notitia Digitatum, a late 4th century document, which give us the Latin version. It lists them, but some Roman forts existed along the coast of East Anglia that do not appear in this document although they obviously made up the Roman defensive system. The forts omitted from this list include Caister-on-Sea and Walton Castle, the latter was near Felixstowe but now lost to the sea.
Although some Roman shore forts existed to the north of East Anglia (at Scarborough for instance), the most northerly of those listed in the Notitia was at Brancaster in North West Norfolk. Although the foundations of the fort there have recently been excavated, nothing now remains to be seen above ground level. This was not true three hundred years ago when the fort stood tall, but the landowner in the eighteenth century thought these old ruins spoilt the view, and he demolished them. The structure was on the usual square Roman plan, and was built of the local carstone.
It is interesting to see why these forts were built where they were. Obviously Brancaster was intended to protect the entrance to the Wash. The necessary adjunct to the shore based fort was a fleet of warships to venture out, to deter raiders from Northern Europe. Brancaster harbour made a safe anchorage for these vessels. Also the cavalry from the fort would have been able to ride out along the coast road to Holme and beyond to discourage these raiders from landing. South of that the marshy nature of the Wash coastline did not make ideal territory for possible invasion. The river Great Ouse certainly gave access deep into the heart of the country, and by defending the Wash it was hoped to prevent foreign ships from entering. Brancaster fort would have been directly connected to the Roman road network both around the coast and inland. Peddars Way was a major route which terminated at Holme-next-the-Sea .
Going south round the coast the next fort was at Caister, that lay on the opposite bank of the river Yare to Burgh Castle. Incidentally the name Yare (or Gare) was used for the river by the Romans, as we can tell from the Latin word for Burgh Castle, Gariannonum. Caister would have been a fortified town, but Gariannonum on the south bank of the river was the main fort; there was no town associated with this southern fort. The accompanying fleet would have been moored along the estuary that now forms Breydon Water.
Brancaster was the first fort to be built in East Anglia, about the year 230. Bradwell-on-Sea was another early fort, probably to defend Camulodum (Colchester), the early capital of Roman Britain, although by then this had moved to Londinium. The first garrison at Brancaster may have been from Aquitane, but during the latter decades of Roman occupation it was held by the Dalmatian Cavalry. Burgh Castle may also have been held by Dalmatians. This use of troops from across the Empire gave a sense of unity; certainly once they were withdrawn the local militia were quite inadequate for the task of defending the country.
Only very minor waterways like the rivers Stiffkey and Glaven ran out to sea between the Great Ouse and the Yare and did not merit a naval present or fort; nor apparently did the river Alde in Suffolk. The Deben, Orwell and Stour all flow into the North Sea within a few miles of each other; any of these could have held a Roman fleet. The estuary of the Deben was the nearest to the Roman garrison at Walton Castle, and therefore probably was where it was based.
Further south in Essex the fort at Bradwell-on-Sea defended the rivers Colne and Blackwater, and that at Reculver defended the Thames. There were other forts in Kent and two to guard Southampton Water, one on the Isle of Wight. There was a similar series of forts down the coast of Gaul from Calais to Nantes on the river Loire. In Britain these placers were settled by the invading Anglo-Saxons once the Roman legions had been withdrawn. The dire results of invasion may be seen in a recent DNA survey which shows that East Anglian bloodlines are still predominantly Anglo-Saxon; Romano-British Celtic blood is absent. Historians at one time used to suggest that the take-over was relatively peaceful, but modern genetic research suggests this was not so. Hundreds of years later the Viking raiders sailed with impunity along the Saxon shore, mirroring the invasion of the of their Germanic predecessors four centuries earlier. In spite of leaving great changes in the history a geographical divisions of the country, and even changes to its language, the numbers of the Vikings were too small to affect the overwhelming Anglo-Saxon nature of the population.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
RICHARD PERCEVAL BAGNALL-OAKELEY (1908-1974)
Dick was an inspirational teacher to generations of schoolboys at Gresham’s. Before studying geography at Cambridge University he had been head boy at the public school in Holt. His first place of education was the Council School at Hemsby, the seaside village near Yarmouth. There among the local boys and girls he picked the authentic Norfolk dialect which he loved, and he could drop into ‘Broad Norfolk’ at any time. Apart from his wartime service he was a teacher at Gresham’s School all his working life. Beyond the school walls he did much to promote the study of local wildlife among the wider East Anglian public. He was a frequent contributor to BBC East television programmes; but none of the viewers knew what an interesting family the television personality had sprung from.
I have already in a previous post revealed his direct descent from the multi-faceted Richard Mackenzie Bacon, born on May Day in 1776. He was a pioneering paper manufacturer using the brand new machinery in 1809, and was throughout his life the editor of the Norwich Mercury, a weekly newspaper in Norfolk. R.M. Bacon’s eventful career led to his having an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for producing the first music magazine in England. Nor was he the only one of Dick’s ancestors to have an entry in the ODNB; his great-grandmother Louise Barwell also being thus honoured for her writing of books on education.
Another of Dick’s direct ancestors was the dancing master Augustin Noverre who arrived in this country with his brother from Paris 1755. Their ballet company put on performances at Drury Lane under the auspices of David Garrick. The Noverre brothers had invented ballet as an art form, it having previously been a mere entertainment. Augustin Noverre retired to Norwich and his daughter was Dick’s great-great-grandmother
His Bagnall grandmother was an accomplished watercolour painter and perhaps the most prominent numismatist of her time. It was from her marriage that the double barrelled name Bagnall-Oakeley sprang, and one of her sons (i.e. Dick’s uncle) competed in the London Olympic Games of 1908. On both sides of his family therefore he had notable forebears. None of this history I learnt from the man himself, and have had to research it for myself. I am not aware of how much of his family background he knew; probably all that I record here, and more. He was far too modest a man to have talked about any of his eminent forebears; he was much more likely to regale you with tales of the simple marshmen, gamekeepers and poachers whose stories of rural Norfolk he relished.
His maternal grandfather, John Barwell, was a wine merchant in Norwich. He was a wealthy man, but it was a wealth that did not percolate down to Dick to any great extent; he was only a relatively poor country clergyman’s son. Dick became the wealthy owner of Brinton Hall only upon his marriage in 1950. His grandfather John Barwell had married a young lady called Sabine in 1861. She was the daughter of Thomas William Budd, a successful London solicitor, who had taken the lease on Shropham Hall in 1860. Shropham is only six miles from Attleborough station, and this would have given easy access both to London (for Thomas’s work) and to Norwich (where Sabine would have gone to meet John Barwell).
Dick’s great-uncle, Frederick Bacon Barwell, was one of the more illustrious members of this generation. He had married his first wife Fanny in 1868, and she too was one of the daughters of Thomas William Budd. Frederick Bacon Barwell was born in 1831 in Norwich and was married at his bride’s home village of Shropham. After qualifying at the Royal Academy he went on to enjoy a long and productive career as a painter. Frederick Bacon Barwell was a prolific artist who spent much of his career in London, producing portraits of the famous men of the time. His works are to be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. His most highly regarded paintings are however not his portraits but his atmospheric pictures of everyday life. A view of Norwich looking down Cattle Market Street towards Mousehold Heath on market day is particularly fine. It is in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum, although not currently on display. He was a friend of the artist John Millais and shared a studio with him for some years. He retired to Sheringham at the end of the 19th century, and he lived there until his death in 1922. Dick had by then moved on to Gresham’s School in Holt a few miles away, and had the opportunity to visit his great-uncle at his home, White Lodge near Beeston Bump. I wonder if he did? It was only a short bike ride away.
One of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons, Noel, became a Lt Col in the First World War, when he was awarded the Military Cross. Back in civilian life his profession was that of lawyer, and he became the last British barrister to practise in post-independance India. A book has been written in Bengali which contains many reminiscences of his career in India, and this book is also available in English translation (The Great Unknown, Penguin paperback, 2010). Another of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons followed his father into the art world and was a book illustrator, and another became a farmer in Canada; their occupations were as various as their dwellings were far-flung across the globe.
Another of Dick’s great uncles, Richard Barwell, became a consultant surgeon in London. He was involved in treating the great cholera epidemic of 1849, and in common with the vast majority of educated opinion he believed it was spread by a ‘miasma’ or bad smell. It was only later that it was realised that it a water-borne infection, spread by the poor quality of the water supply. Dr Richard Barwell spent his working life in Marylebone, London, where he was widowed in 1890. He died aged 90 in 1916. His son and grandsons continued in the medical profession.
Richard Barwell was retired and living in the block of Georgian houses in Surrey Street when Dick was born in 1908. Grandfather John Barwell had been living at the same house, 33 Surrey Street, before his marriage to Sabine Budd at the age of 35. (Sabine was nine years younger.) Just round the corner was St Catherine’s House, All Saints Green, where John Barwell was living in his latter years, and where Dick was born. This house became the home of a surgeon at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, Athelstan Jasper Blaxland, after John Barwell’s death. After the Second World War it became the BBC studios in Norwich. It was from these studios that Dick made his television broadcasts.
Dick’s aunt Ethel Barwell was involved in medicine, being the matron of the Belgrave Children’s Hospital in London. She lived to be over 90 and died only ten years before Dick himself. Uncle Charles Sedley Barwell qualified as a civil engineer after taking his degree at Oxford; he made his career in Canada and died in Vancouver in 1950. When he enlisted as a Lance Corporal in the Canadian army in the First World War he gave Dick’s uncle, John Barwell the wine merchant of Norwich, as his next of kin. There were three more Barwell uncles, Henry and Francis who were army officers, and Wilfred who was a solicitor in Sussex. The youngest of the previous generation of his family was his aunt Violet (1876-1942). She was a musician who devoted her life to teaching the violin.
These cousins, uncles and aunts were not of course direct ancestors of Dick, but I can trace his descent back to his four or five times great-grandfather, Philip Reinagle (1749-1833). He was a painter of dogs, sporting subjects and portraits who turned to painting landscapes in his later years. As a young artist he had been called upon to paint dozens of portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte for distribution to his important subjects. Incidentally Philip Reinagle’s first exhibited landscape was a view from Bracondale in Norwich, although he lived in London. He made only brief excursions to the provinces in those pre-railway days, and was visiting Norwich to paint the portrait of the Mayor, John Patteson. Of course he had no idea that his descendants would become established as a prominent Norfolk family.
His work may be found in the Tate, V & A, National Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum and numerous other collections of national importance. [CLICK HERE to view a slide show of Philip Reinagle’s paintings.] Philip was the son of Joseph Reinagle (1720-1775), a Hungarian musician who was based in Edinburgh. With such a varied background, including Swiss and German ancestry, it is perhaps not surprising that Dick was such an interesting personality. Having a number of talented artists among his ancestors it is no wonder that Dick was himself a gifted painter, who qualified at the Norwich Art School (now the Norwich University of the Arts) after coming down from Cambridge.
Dick’s second name of Perceval was derived from his great-great-grandmother who was born Sarah Woodyear Perceval in 1779. Sarah was born in St Kitts, one of the Leeward Islands, where the Percevals owned a plantation. However her family returned to England and she was married in 1803 to Francis Bedwell (1776-1835), a lawyer in the Court of Chancery. The marriage took place in Kent. Her daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Budd whom we have already mentioned, and Sabine Budd married John Barwell in 1862. One of their offspring, Amy Perceval Barwell, was Dick’s mother.
I don’t expect you to follow all the ins and outs of these relationships, but they give you some idea of the various talents exhibited by the family. I am very lucky to have been taught by such a man as Dick Bagnall-Oakley.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
A DAY IN THE CAPITAL
I got up at eight o’clock when mother woke me; Fido was very pleased to see me and later I took him for a walk in my old trousers because the weather was so bad. I let him chew up my old hat. I had toast and marmalade for breakfast and then drove up to Norwich railway station. Dad was still asleep when I left. It cost me 17p to park in the Clarence Road car park, overlooking the station. I bought my ticket and some papers to read on the train. As I waited on the platform the sleet was falling, but by the time I got to London it was neither cold or wet. I sat next to two school mistresses on the train who were talking very loudly about education.
Our train arrived at Liverpool Street at twenty to twelve. I had lunch at the Copper Kitchen in Eldon Street (not far from the station). I had chicken soup, pizza and cherry pie and custard, which I paid for in Luncheon Vouchers. (As a businessman Dad had access to these.) I was looking for machinery dealers – I tried one in Tabernacle Street; they did not have what I was looking for, but it is very interesting to find all the industrial equipment for sale so close to the City of London. I then went on long walk to Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road tube station. At Ryan’s I did find plenty of machinery – Myford lathes, lots of big drills and circular saws. I bought a little felt mop to go in a hand drill, and a HSS counter-sink.
I went to Piccadilly Circus; by then I had been on my feet for hours and needed to rest them. I went into a cinema and spent an enjoyable half hour or so watching Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and Movietone News. When Road Runner came round for a second showing it was time to leave to go and meet sister Tig. I got on the underground to Waterloo. Had a snack which included a Swiss roll made with real cream. I read the papers while waiting for her train. When she arrived with her Suki I thought her dog looked rather fat compared to my dog Fido. We all got in taxi to go to Liverpool Street – Tig, me, Suki and her luggage, I thought that it was preferable to going by tube. There were a lot of Army Cadets at the station on their way to camp in Dortmund.
It was still daylight when the train left London at 7.36. We had a comfortable journey after we left the coach where the fluorescent light was flashing for a compartment coach. We had a compartment all to ourselves – what one always hopes for! At Norwich the train stopped at the far end of the platform, but luckily we were at the front of the train. When we got home Fido was of course very pleased to see us. Dad had taken him for a walk at lunch time. We had rosé wine with our supper to welcome Tiggy home.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES
THE LIFE STORY OF EDWARD LOUND [ part six]
Since their arrival on the front line back in September 1914, the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters had not spent any longer than 10 day periods away from the trenches; now however they were to have an extended period of relaxation. On the 19th March they arrived at Wormhout where they were billeted for about a fortnight. This town in northern France was about 25 miles away from Ypres, and an equal distance from Dunkirk. From April 6th the Battalion was accommodated in a camp two miles outside Calais. The distance from the front meant the sound of artillery no longer disturbed their nights. In all they had a break from hostilities of over a month.
Apart from 30 days spent outside Calais, the 2nd Battalion was still defending the Ypres Salient for the first seven moths of the year. Although no major engagements took place, the every day discomforts of trench warfare remained. There were repeated casualties, and acts of individual courage. On July 20th Colour Sergeant Edward Lound was awarded the Gallantry Cord for bravery in the field.
Lt Kaine who joined the Battalion early in 1916 had an interesting past; he had lived for some years before the war with the Sioux Indians in America. He was severely wounded later in the year. On a musical note the arrival in April of Lieutenant G. S. Taylor with his mandolin enlivened the dreary hours that “A” Company had previously had to endure. A few months later he was killed in action. That summer the Battalion’s fifes and drums were reclaimed from the Mayor of Oulch le Château, who had been looking after them since the early days of the war.
Before leaving Ypres I must mention the Wipers Times. This was produced from 1916 until the end of the war by members of the Sherwood Foresters serving in a unit made up during the war, the 12th Battalion. An NCO who had been a printer in civilian life found the press and type abandoned near the front line. For those readers who do not know the journal, it was a satirical publication. It had its humorous adverts, in-jokes and poems, all produced in appalling conditions. They edited the Wipers Times less than half a mile from the front line. One of the writers for the Wipers Times, who later went on to have a career as an author, was Gilbert Frankau, a novelist and poet. Edward Lound had a copy of the first collected edition among his most prized possessions. For someone who had been right through the war in the trenches it brought back some happier memories, a relief from the darker ones. The fact that it had been produced by his comrades in the same regiment made it especially important to him. Although the Wipers Times is the best known journal from the Great War, it was one of many produced by the various British units operating around Europe and the Middle East.
By the middle of 1916 the High Command had evolved a plan to hit the Germans hard. After 13 months on the Ypres Salient the Foresters marched to Proven on the 2nd August, from whence they entrained for Condas. They arrived at 10 a.m. the next day at Proven, which is a suburb of Poperinghe. They then had a short march to the front, but it was exhausting because of the heat. They relieved a battalion west of Beaumont Hamel. The trenches that they occupied on 5th August were strewn with British corpses and their first task was the distressing one of giving a decent burial to the dead. By the time the Foresters had arrived in the area the Battle of the Somme had already been raging for a month, and the second phase of the battle had begun. This fighting accounts for the many bodies they found. Throughout August they held their lines with regular patrols through no man’s land, but although the Germans replied to any incursions, the time was mostly spent fairly quietly. The third and last phase of the Battle of the Somme did not begin until September 9th. This time the fighting involved our Battalion, and lasted until November 18th. On September 11th the Battalion arrived at Guillemont which is less than 10 miles to the east from their previous position at Beaumont Hamel, but it could not be reached directly, as the front line ran too close for comfort.
The Allies had pushed the Germans back a few miles, but the British were feeling the strain of his modest advance; they need fresh troops. Although most of the fighting was done by the French, British casualties were higher. By the now the number of divisions in the British Army had increase from the original 6 in August 1914 to about 70, but the huge increase in the number of soldiers meant that training them was still incomplete. This ‘citizens’ army’ which had been recruited as a result of Kitchener’s campaign, “Your Country Needs You”, was ill prepared for horrors of the war in France. Even the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters was largely made up of newly recruited men, the bulk of the original unit having been lost as casualties or POWs. The German Army was much larger than the British, and had entered the war with 2 million men. Fortunately this imbalance was partly redressed by Germany having to fight on two fronts, the Western Front against Britain and France and the Eastern Front against Russia.
On the 13th September the Foresters were to attack a strong point on the German lines known as the Quadrilateral. After over a year spent on the flat lands of southern Belgium the terrain here was very different. A deep ravine just to the enemy side of the Quadrilateral held both the road and the railway line, although neither was in use, naturally. The village of Givinchy had been reduced to rubble, being fought over for days in an action involving the French and British, and German counter attacks. By the time the Foresters were brought into action the site of the village had been wrested from the Germans, who had thus lost a valuable observation post. They still held the Quadrilateral itself however.
Three companies of the Foresters were ordered to attack in the evening, but two, “B” and “C” companies, never received the order to advance. Heavily outnumbered“D” Company was almost entirely wiped out. The few men who made it back were attached to “A” Company, which also received Lt Taylor (the mandolin player in quieter moments) as commander, the previous commander having been wounded.
The next day, 15th September, was the start of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which carried on for a week; in the Foresters case an effective attack on the first day was made impossible by heavy machine gun fire coming from the German lines. This battle was the first occasion when the British tanks were used. Out of 49 machines available, 3 were allotted to the 6th Division (of which the Foresters were a part). Two of them broke down before they could be brought into action, and the one remaining tank was blinded by having its periscope shot off. Penetrated by armour-piercing bullets, it returned without achieving anything. In all only 9 tanks made it across no man’s land to the German front. Although the use of tanks had been rushed through before the teething troubles had been ironed out, the lessons learned helped to improve reliability, and later tank attacks were much more effective.
The 6th Division finally took the Quadrilateral on the 18th September. In all the fighting between September 12th and 19th, of the 681 men in the Battalion, 17 officers and 421 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing. The next few days which should have been a time of rest and recuperation from a heavy battle were taken up by reorganizing and incorporating the replacement men into the Battalion.
On 15th October at 5.30 in the morning the Battalion attacked the new German trenches and gun pits. After heavy bombardment by the British, the Foresters took the gun pits but the adjoining trenches were proving more difficult to occupy. Communication trenches needed to be dug in the reverse direction, now the gun pits were in British hands. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hobbs went up to the front line to inspect progress. He had already been wounded a month earlier, and on this occasion he was so severely injured that he died of his wounds shortly afterwards.
With the gun pits secured the Battalion was relieved on the 19th October by the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment. The exhausted Foresters finally settled into billets in Fouquereuil, about 10 miles south-east of St Omer. The Battalion had taken part in three attacks in the Somme valley, two in September and one in October. In the 6 weeks spent on the Somme the Battalion suffered a total of 805 casualties, a larger proportion of its strength than its total number at the start. These losses had led to repeated drafts of men to make up the shortfall. Despite these heavy losses, the total advance during the year 1916 was only a few miles. This led to a rethink among the supreme command, and in future the objectives would be more limited.
The Germans too had been exhausted by the Battle of the Somme, in spite of holding onto most of the ground that they had taken in the early weeks of the war. Consequently they were now very quiet; during November the Sherwood Foresters’ casualty list amounted to just one man wounded. The regiment was not idle despite the lack of fighting, digging trenches for deep underground redoubts, carrying out gas drills and musketry practice. During December the Germans made rather more use of their trench mortars, but the misty conditions made accurate shooting difficult for both sides. Another raid was ordered on the night of the 19th December. Of the two patrols sent out one could not find a gap in the enemy’s wire and returned without exchanging fire, but number two found a small gap to the right. Leaving his men behind him, Sergeant Staples dropped into the German trench; those left behind then saw a figure spring out of the trench and immediately fall back in. Some shots were heard. Grenades forced the men to retire and no more was heard of Sergeant Staples, who was reported missing in action. In addition three others were killed during the month, and ten were wounded.
The Battalion spent Christmas day out of the line in billets. The Y.M.C.A Hut where they were entertained to Christmas dinner could not accommodate the whole Battalion, and the meal was held in relays.
To be continued.