Tag Archives: bus rides


A Cambridge bound train near Cringleford in years gone by.

Since Sunday 21 May 2017 there has been a brand new railway station to serve Cambridge Science Park; Cambridge North in the Chesterton area of town. Now we need a similar station to serve Norwich Science Park, and a village just south of Norwich -Cringleford- is the perfect place for it. It is on the Cambridge line, and only a short bike ride from the Science Park. There is a level crossing on Low Road at Cringleford, and that means that if a station were built there it would have no need for an (expensive) footbridge; just a couple of platforms (not three as at Cambridge North). It would not need an expensive station building either.  There looks to be plenty of space nearby for a car park/cycle park, and a bus service could connect the station with the hospital/science park/university. It could continue to the city cente. The station would be roughly half way between Wymondham and Norwich stations.

A short distance up the track is another level crossing on Intwood Road. A station here would be slightly less convenient for Cringleford villagers, but the station would not really intended for them. It has even more space for a car park, and this could be closer to the railway too. Either site would be much cheaper to develop than Cambridge North, although knowing the way new projects like to splash the cash it probably would not done as inexpensively as I like to think. Perhaps now is little soon to start building such a station, but if the Science Park at Colney grows as we all hope it will, it is not too soon to start thinking about it. It has more in favour of it than the proposed station in Thorpe for the Broadland Business Park; at least it is on a line between two major business hubs (Norwich and  Cambridge), unlike the Bittern Line where the Broadland Business Park station would be, which only runs to the seaside at Sheringham.

A new station for Broadland Business Park would cost £6.5 million we are told, which is not a great sum of money as such things go. Cambridge North was projected to cost £44m has in fact cost £50m. My scheme at Cringleford could be done for far less. Nor, unlike the Broadland scheme, do I foresee a requirement to increase the number of trains on the line just to service the new station; with the increased demand for transport links with Stansted Airport and Cambridge I anticipate a more frequent service on the Breckland line anyway, once the Ely junction has been upgraded. However we must think of a better name for the new station. Nobody has a clue where Cringleford is; how about UEA International anyone?  They like impressive titles in Norwich (look at the ‘international’ airport). Perhaps Norwich Science Parkway would be more appropriate. I would of course support both Broadland Business Park and Norwich Science Park stations, whatever they are called.

I don’t expect such an improvement to be built in my lifetime; I would be happy merely to see the reopening of Soham station, which everybody is talking about but nobody is doing anything to advance. The reopening of the Wisbech branch, that still has the track in place – some of it even using modern concrete sleepers, though overgrown with weeds-  would cost no more than Cambridge North Station, £50m. I won’t even mention the promised link from Bedford to Cambridge which would cost hundreds of millions. Opening up the old Varsity line providing the possibility of through trains from Norwich to Oxford is a tantalising prospect. Such enhancements to the railway network are long overdue, but they are long-term projects, so I should be glad the new station in Cambridge is now open. I don’t suppose I will ever use it (not being much of a scientist), but I may see it from the train. It is a small step, but a welcome one.






Before the days of the internal combustion engine it was natural to walk. Especially if you lived in the country, you had to walk miles to do anything. If you were rich enough to own a horse you would ride; otherwise it wasn’t a quadruped, only shanks’s pony. When motor cars first appeared on the roads the maximum speed was limited to 4 mph. In 1894 the speed was raised to 14 mph, and so the man walking in front with a red flag, which was the previous requirement, had to be dispensed with. The powers that be did not expect him to sprint! It was still pretty safe for pedestrians to walk just about anywhere, because even at fourteen miles per hour you had enough time to get out the way of the traffic. After 1903 the speed limit was raised to 20 mph. This made the roads much less safe for walkers, and in any case speed limit was doubtlessly frequently ignored by the increasing fast motor cars.

The growth of the motor bus soon followed, and the habit of walking more than a few hundred yards was soon lost. By the 1950s walking down country lanes was still relatively common, but the main roads were places where you never saw anyone on foot. People would not have lasted long if they had tried to walk. As nobody but the fairly affluent could afford a car, it meant ‘get on your bike’ or ‘wait for the bus’ were the only choices for most people.

This was a huge change in the way the public got around. In about a generation the age-old habit of walking disappeared. Now everyone aspired to owning their own form of motor transport. Before the Second World War a motor car was still out of the question for the vast majority, but a motor cycle wasn’t. All types of folk, from the upper middle class of T. E. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh to the rising working class like my father and my father-in-law travelled round on motorbikes. Unlike today, when a secondhand Superbike can cost considerably more than a new car, a motorbike was a genuinely cheap way to join the motor age. A motorbike was the ideal conveyance for one, but it wasn’t meant as family transport; nevertheless my father-in-law took his entire family on a camping holiday to Devon with his motor cycle and sidecar. His wife rode pillion, and their three little children (and the luggage) squeezed into the sidecar.


In the sixties the nature of the two-wheeled motorist changed from the adventurous but respectable members of society to the immature young  Mods and Rockers. The motor scooter made its appearance; the small wheeled Lambretta was invented to take advantage of all the undercarriages left over from the planes of WW2.

Meanwhile the middle-aged members of society were busy buying their first secondhand car. For most this mean four wheels, but there was a dedicated minority who preferred three.  The principal attraction of the three-wheeler to many was the fact that it attracted a lower rate of road fund tax. The main disadvantage was the undoubted lack of stability that attended only three points of contact with the road. The Reliant and the Bond Minicar were attractive to the working class motorist; the Morgan three-wheeler, which unlike the other two had its third wheel at the back, was the preserve of the upper classes. You can see that class was still very important in the early days of mass motoring.

But what about walking home? I did walk the four miles from Norwich to my home in Poringland once, but it was an uncomfortable experience. To walk on the road would have been suicidal, so this meant walking on the verge. There was no footpath, so this meant trudging over the grups and gullies that periodically punctuated my progress. Some years later, when I had moved to the other side of Norwich, I walked a similar distance home. This time I didn’t have to navigate the long grass of the verge because there was a pavement all the way. The presence of a footpath meant that it was theoretically possible for people to walk to work, although none did. A couple of hundred years ago it was not remarkable for a young man to walk from Bury St Edmunds to Norwich in pursuit of a job. This distance puts Poringland to Norwich in the shade, but even the four mile journey is a long walk by todays standards. The athletic young might occasionally run such a distance, but nowadays people have completely lost the habit of walking.





The red “Rumble-Thump” – my father’s name for the bus, from its diesel engine.

A 1950s double-decker

I did most of my travelling by bus when I was really young; from the age of five until I was ten I went to school eleven miles away every day. It is true that often I was taken there in the morning by my father in his car before he went to work, but I came home by bus. Sometimes my mother came to travel home with me (especially when I was five), but mostly I travelled alone (with some school friends). I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a six-year-old being expected to make his way home alone by bus today. Even an eight-year-old would be shepherded home by his mother, even if it was only a street or two away. Yet we saw nothing unusual about this unaccompanied travel in 1955; youngsters were not regarded as being in constant danger from ill-intentioned adults or natural disasters. How things have completely changed in couple of generations, and not wholly for the better. From the age of ten I was at boarding school, so the business of getting to school did not apply; I was already at school when I woke up in the morning.

My next experience of using the bus was as a student at university. In less than a decade the nature of bus travel had changed completely to more or less its modern version. The old kind of buses, as shown the illusration above, had gone; no longer were there bus conductors – only in London, where the Routemaster held sway for decades, were they still employed. Everywhere else, by the end of the 1960s, the front entry  bus allowed the driver to take your fare, so there was no need for a conductor. Also, the entrance was now controlled by a door, which went some way to making winter journeys a warmer experience. On the other hand the corresponding lack of fresh air made coughs and sneezes (those other features of winter journeys ) more infectious.

Apart from these two periods of my life I have done most of my travelling by other means. Once I could ride one, a bicycle was my main means of transport when I was a teenager. After that I was a car driver – railway travel hardly featured; it was not that I did not like trains, but by then they did not go where I was going. All the branch lines that I would have used had closed.

Bus tickets are not cheap, and I feel sorry for those young people (who on account of their youth do not qualify for the minimum wage) who have to spend so much of their meagre pay on the daily commute to work. With the free bus pass it is another matter; it opens up the world to the nation’s old folk. They have to make their way to the bus stop it is true, and they have wait for the bus, but then they can relax. There is no hurry to get to work for the retired, and nothing to pay.  Free bus passes are in fact nothing of the sort; it is just that the ticket is paid for by the local authority rather than by the traveller. It is the bus companies who really benefit; instead of running buses throughout the day nearly empty, they are now filled with pensioners using their bus passes. It was a brilliant idea by somebody, a way of getting something in return for subsiding the bus companies. Few people appreciate that it is these commercial concerns who get the money, not the pensioners. They merely take advantage of off-peak transport. Politicians, who ought to know better, purse their lips at all the wealthy pensioners who are swanning about at other people’s expense. Would they prefer that these bus routes were simply scrapped, or that the subsidies were paid directly to the bus companies with no pensioners benefiting? For they are the only two other alternatives for uneconomic bus routes.





MICKEY: the car we had when I was born.

‘MICKEY’: the car we had when I was born.

There were a million cars on the road in the UK in 1950, and today there are 30 million; I heard this recently on the radio and I have no reason to doubt it. This period neatly encompasses my lifetime. I was fortunate to belong to one of those families that possessed a car in 1950. I was very much in the minority then. It was four years after the war and new cars were almost unobtainable; if you were lucky enough to get one they were incredibly expensive. Our car wasn’t a new one therefor; it was a pre-war Morris Minor illustrated to the right.

In 1950 most people did not travel so far as they do today, and when they did it was by public transport. The draughty old double-decker buses had a platform at the back that was open to the elements. There was no heating in the winter, although in the summer you could open a narrow pane at the top of the window and let the breeze waft in.

For those who were fortunate enough to have a railway station nearby there was always the train. The railway network was almost at its maximum extent in 1950, although a very few branch lines (like that to Hadleigh in Suffolk) had already lost their passenger service before the war. Remote settlements like Hindolveston and North Elmham had passenger trains; however these trains although regular were not frequent.

East Norfolk's railways

East Norfolk railways map  in 1923 when they at their greatest .

By contrast with the buses all passenger trains were provided with heating by 1950. The heat came from copious amounts of steam; the engine could easily spare a little from its boiler to pass along the train. It made railway travel much more commodious than most other forms of transport; air liners were still in their infancy. Ocean liners.were well appointed but the sea could be rough which made travel uncomfortable. Even cars were not fitted with heating 70 years ago, although the hot engine was only inches away from the passenger cabin. About 1955 we had bought a small heater which did hardly anything to melt the ice on the inside of the windows; it was powered by the 12 volt car battery, so it couldn’t do much without running it down.

As you can tell, there wasn’t much traffic on the roads in 1950. Even ten years later they were nearly deserted. As you walked the country lanes the occasional car would pass by, but when it did it could be doing a high speed. Although 65 mph was about the maximum you could get out of a normal 1960 car, there was no national speed limit. If you could wind your motor up to 80 mph you could legally drive at that speed. Only where a 30 mph limit existed was this not allowed, and these limits were only applied in built-up areas. Otherwise it was only the relative feebleness of the engine which prevented more accidents.

The road network was all covered with tarmacadam by 1950, but its narrow twists and turns were still as they had been when the horse and cart was the fastest mode of transport. Country road junctions had no right of way; there was little need to give way as you swung round the corner as there was seldom another car in vicinity. The junctions were not protected by white lines. In the city the narrow streets seemed to be full of traffic, but this was because there were few parking restrictions and no pedestrianised roads; traffic lights were few but Belisha beacons were relatively common. Such  developments as dual carriageways and roundabouts were almost unknown. About the only stretch of dual carriageway I can remember in Norfolk was Prince of Wales Road in Norwich. This arrangement was not to separate the lines of traffic but to allow a fine avenue of pleached lime trees to grow down the middle of the street; of course these have long been felled, victims of the motor car.

Granddad at the wheel of a Bullnose Morris; it was all for show. He could not drive at the time, although later he learned.

The Kybird family on an outing c 1930

Road widening and the straightening of dangerous bends did not get underway until the 1960s. It was the 1970s before any towns were bypassed. There were no Motorways in Great Britain until 1959, and there are still none in Norfolk. Kings Lynn was one of first to have a new road to relieve traffic in the town centre. It was single carriageway but had three lanes. This deadly arrangement allowed cars travelling in opposite directions to pull out simultaneously with fatal results. Even now much could be done to make the road network fit for purpose in the 21st century. Far too many of the roads are still much as they were in the 18th or even in the 16th century.

I am rather dubious about the self driving cars they blithely say are soon coming to our streets. They might be fine for the modern highways of North America, or even for the car parks of Milton Keynes; but the roads of rural England are another matter. When you meet a car coming the other way on a narrow lane in North Norfolk one of you has got to drive up the muddy bank for you to pass. Choosing just where to go requires a fine sense of the car’s adhesion and the depth of the mud on the verge. I don’t think Google are anywhere near that yet.





This unusual view of Blackwells in Broad Street was taken from the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre. The block cottages to the left, which appear to be ancient, had recently been completely rebuilt.

Broad Street, Oxford, 1970

The bike I had used throughout my teenage years was stolen during my first year at university. I wasn’t too distressed at this theft, because by then I had my little car, a Fiat 500.  When I moved out of college into digs I was able to drive in the City. This included the centre of Oxford, where all the streets were open to traffic! Strange as it may seem, it was still possible in 1970 to drive past Martyrs Memorial, down the Cornmarket, past the buses at Carfax and into Queen Street. One could even park by the roadside, if you were lucky enough to find a space. There were no parking meters outside London, so most parking was free. These roads in central Oxford have been closed to traffic for decades, and even pedestrians have a struggle to pass the crowds of tourists as they walk the major thoroughfares. To drive anywhere in Oxford is not advisable today, although ten years ago the delivering of my son to his college for his first term required this feat; it was not without its problems.

As a student I was not supposed to have a car in the City without the express permission of the Proctors (i.e. the University authorities), which I omitted to obtain; I would not have been granted leave to have a car, even if I had asked. In fact, because it was quite hard to park in Oxford even in those distant days, I mostly travelled into the centre from Summertown (where I was living) by bus. I found the car most useful for driving out into the surrounding countryside, to visit my friend Bill. He was studying for an English degree at Buckland House, in what is now Oxfordshire but was then part of Berkshire. I also drove out to such places Coventry. We went to the village of Long Compton to see the Rollright Stones. This Neolithic stone circle should not be confused with the Rolling Stones who were very popular at the time. These trips I did with a fellow Oxford undergraduate and not with Bill.

For travelling to Cowley a bike was quite useful, but I didn’t often venture into this industrial quarter. All the colleges were within walking distance, and I could go from reading in the Radcliffe Camera to a seminar at All Souls and then to the covered market for a sandwich, all within the area of a cricket ground. Consequently all of my travels round central Oxford were done on foot; even before my bike was stolen it did not make sense to use it. There were no cycle racks to spoil the view outside the Bodleian Library, and to walk from the nearest available one was almost as far as to walk from college.

Oliver Cromwell in storage at March sheds ! January 1964

Steam in Cambridgeshire, before the Varsity Line was closed

For travel home during my first year I took the train up to London. The other rail station in Oxford had closed im 1951- it would be over half a century before Oxford was again to have a second station. The one remaining station was a desolate place, built of wood; this old building would soon be replaced, and it was not worth repainting the peeling exterior.

These years saw the nadir of train travel in Britain, and branch lines were being axed in all areas; even mainlines like the Varsity Line from Oxford to Cambridge were closed. The Varsity Line had just been extensive improved as a major freight route, before freight itself was largely removed from the rail network. The line was severed, and the section between Bedford and Cambridge was built over.

Steam engines had been replaced by Diesels on British Rail; the last one had run only a few months before I went up to Oxford. This modernisation of the railway’s motive power went hand in hand with the rationalisation of the railway network. Consequently branch lines that were equipped with brand new DMUs were then closed only a few years later; this happened time after time all over the country, and it was sheer madness! Could not the virtually pristine steam engines that had been built less than ten years earlier, in the 1950s, have operated the branches that were due for closure anyway? Why would you introduce all this new equipment on a doomed line? This utter lack of joined up thinking was hugely damaging for the railways, and for the country as a whole. Today, with record numbers of rail passengers on a reduced network, we are still paying the cost of so many line closures.

How we could do with many of these lines now! Not least the Varsity Line; there are firm plans to reopen this as far as Bedford, but that will take years and many millions of pounds. Even the newly opened link of the first part of the Varsity Line to London’s Marylebone terminus, which only required a few metres of new track to connect it at Bicester, was hailed as a major undertaking. Who knows when or even if the new Varsity Line will finally reach Cambridge again? I won’t happen in my lifetime I think, but the prospect of through trains from Norwich to Oxford is a tantalising one.

Elsewhere in Cambridgeshire thee seven miles of branch line from March to Wisbech, which would put a substantial market town back on the rail network, is still only a pipe dream. The prospect is as distant as that of Jeremy  Corbyn (a supporter of the scheme) becoming Prime Minister. Of course it would not be a new railway, as even the track is still in place; though after years of shameful neglect and dereliction it would all need renewing. The demand for rail transport is buoyant, but the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure we once had is prohibitive.  The most we can expect is years of planning committees examining the case for funding. The Victorians managed it, but we appear to seized by inertia. The Scots do things rather better, if the reopened of the thirty miles of line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank can  be taken as an example, although that too is a reopened line. If only these lines had not been closed in the first place!





scalesI have done a post on old money (pounds shillings and pence) and the Imperial units of measurement were even more complicated than the old monetary units; and whereas £sd has completely disappeared, some Imperial units remain in official use.

There were so many divisions to remember; in weight you went from ounces to pounds and thence to stones, hundredweights and tons. Sixteen ounces made a pound, and fourteen pounds made a stone. There was a long and a short hundredweight; the long hundredweight had become the norm by the time I was learning my measurements. There were 112 pounds to a long hundredweight and that equates to eight stones. A hundredweight had however got its name from the short hundredweight of 100 lbs.  The hundredweight was abbreviated to cwt, which is itself a mixture of Latin and English (‘c’ for centum, a hundred, plus ‘wt’ for weight).  Following on there were 20 cwt to the ton; long or short tons, depending on the number of pounds to the hundredweight.

Then there were the smaller units of weight, 16 drams to the ounce and almost (but not exactly) 44 grains to the ounce. A pound is represented by the abbreviation lb which stands for the Latin word libra or librum in the singular. An ounce is abbreviated to oz, but how did the zed get there? Feet were abbreviated to ‘, and inches to “. A bushel was normally a measure of dry volume, but it equated to the liquid measure of 8 gallons.

It was a complicated system, but things are now even more complicated; we are officially on the metric system, but stones are still commonly used for body weights (particularly among the older generation who ‘put on a stone or two’) and babies are normally announced to the world as weighing so may pound, rather than kilos. When I go to hospital my height and weight are given in metric measurements, but otherwise I stick to the old terminology. I can understand what it is to be six feet tall, but I am still rather puzzled by a height of 182.88 cms. A one foot ruler is no longer used in school, but a 30 cm one has taken its place, which it the same length to all intents and purposes.

The widths of domestic water pipes are still measured in inches, and the threads are still the old tpi (threads per inch); if we went over to metric we would have to replace the entire country’s water supply. We still measure speeds in miles per hour, not in kilometres. Even road signs still announce the miles from London to Cambridge. In measuring length kilometres now ought to follow on from centimetres and metres, but for some reason they don’t. In Great Britain MPG (miles per gallon) is still a commonly used term, although it ought to be KPL (kilometres per litre) exclusively. When I go into a pub I still buy a pint of beer, although I may well get a half litre of lager at the supermarket; a 440 ml can is a common size, and that equates nearly exactly to a pint.  Milk is sold in pints or litres without any apparent rhyme or reason. On the other hand it is illegal to sell a pound of apples, and at one time shopkeepers were actually prosecuted for doing so. I feel sorry for the youth of today who are only taught the metric system at school. When they enter the real world the must attempt to learn elements of the old Imperial system too.

The metric system was invented by the French at the time of the Revolution. Out went all the old measurements in favour of the new, based on the number ten. There was an attempt to unify all measurements, so that (for example) a litre of water weighed a kilogramme, only they didn’t get their calculations quite right. They even tried to introduce the metric system to the measurement of time; however the ten day week proved to be an innovation a step too far and the Revolutionary calendar lasted under twenty years. I do not remember what was proposed for minutes and seconds, but the metric system did not stick and the sixty minute hour and the 24 hour day remain universal.

Acres have been replaced by hectares as a system of area measurement, but the basic unit of an ‘are’ is completely unknown, although it exists in theory. There are 10,000 square metres to a hectare; square metres are the normal measure of area for smaller units.

The Americans still use the old units in most circumstances, but in many cases this differs from the Imperial system. Feet and inches are the same, but the US gallon is significantly smaller than the Imperial gallon, and the pint (which is 1/8th of a gallon in both systems) is also smaller in America. This retention of the old system by America (arguably the most important nation on earth) has its odd moments. There was that occasion when a space programme went wrong because the Americans were using feet and inches while their European comrades were using millimetres and metres. That most modern piece of equipment, the computer, will have its screen size stated in old-fashioned inches. Although the metric system is not widely used in the US, the American spelling of meter rather than metre is becoming increasingly common in this country.

Is considering all these measurements making your head spin yet? Mine is, so I will stop.





During the early 1970s my cousin David Anderson was the R.E. teacher and Chaplain at Wymondham College. For those unfamiliar with Norfolk this is a state-run co-educational boarding school. David was asked to do a series of Talks on the BBC – THOUGHT FOR THE DAY. This was before Radio Norfolk went on air, but there was a local element on Radio Four. In the morning in particular there was quite a lot of East Anglian content, broadcast from the BBC studios at St Catherine’s House in Norwich. This is the script of one of David’s talks.

“I think that’s very nice.”

Mabel was standing by the font in Booton church. We were on an ecumenical Victorian church crawl across central Norfolk to look at the architectural remains of the Methodist Revival and the Oxford Movement.

“Yes, I think that’s very nice,” repeated Mabel; she wasn’t referring to the font, but to card propped up nearby.

“Whoever though art” it began, and went on to urge us to pray for ourselves and the members of the local church before we moved on.

“The quietness makes you want to pray, and cards like that help you” she explained, as we braved the danger of falling masonry on our way back to the minibus.

Our route inevitably took us to Walsingham, to pay homage to the nineteenth century martyr of ritualism, Arthur Tooth. We took it in turns to sit in the chair bearing his name, in the chapel of the Guild he formed, in the grounds of the Anglican shrine. But what the pupils most wanted to see was the Garden Tomb. The last time I had visited this corner of the shrine with a school party the effect of the tomb had been quite harrowing on one or two of them, so I thought it diplomatic to warn them of the realism they would find inside. But this time the audience was different.

“Looks like a tool shed” said one the girls as we filed into the darkness.

“Anyone got a light?” I asked without thinking. An embarrassed pause followed my stupid question; everyone knows fourth year pupils don’t smoke. Mumbling some excuse I scrambled out of the tomb and abandoned them to their own initiative. A few minutes later they filed out with sheepish grins, having solved their illumination problem.

“It’s a swizz!” exclaimed Mick. “The coffin has nothing in it. No shroud, no wax figure, nothing; just an empty bath.”

“We are of course many weeks after Easter,” I countered in the tone of a conjurer who had lost his white rabbit.

“I’d like to have another look inside the chapel where all the candles are burning” announced Mabel, unintentionally coming to my rescue.

“We’ll meet at the minibus in fifteen minute” I replied. Before we reassembled, I undertook a final sweep of the area of the shrine to see what further acts of sacrilege we were promoting. Some were tasting the holy water and complaining it was stale. Mabel was standing in the central chapel, staring at the candles. She sensed I was there, and half turned.

“I want to buy a candle” she whispered. “Can you change 10p?” She unwound a purse from her pocket and emptied some of her money into my hands, and some onto the floor. A woman kneeling at the rail surfaced from her devotions, and contemplated us with clear indication that we were not on the list of those being prayed for. I frowned at Mabel as significantly as I could.

“What size shall I buy?” she demanded.

“Five pence would buy a candle that would go on burning throughout the night, while you are asleep.”

The money went into the box, and I found a taper. Carefully the candle was lit and Mabel glowed. Gingerly she placed it in a rack and stood back. The ritual was not quite complete, and Mabel sensed it.

“What shall I do now?” she asked.

“What about saying that prayer you saw in Booton church?” I suggested.

“Ah yes, of course.” And she turned at once to face her candle.

I stood back for a moment to make sure I was needed no longer. For the second time that day it was brought home to me that pupils often do so much better when they are left to themselves.

David Anderson



Almost every village had a blacksmith at the beginning of the 20th century. Many would have closed in the natural course of events, as the growth of motor transport made shoeing of horses redundant, but were reprieved by the advent of the Second World War. The difficulty of importing petrol made the horse again an important part of the nation’s transport needs. Grass and locally grown oats or carrots were the only fuel the horse required, not oil from across the dangerous seas with their lurking U-boats. The blacksmith’s coal came from Britain, and there were still plenty of carts that could be dragged out of the farmer’s barn and be put back to use. Animals which would have been sent to the knacker’s yard were kept for few more years of work. Near my home in the village of Caistor the milk was delivered by horse and cart throughout the war; the the smith (Mr Cogman) was kept busy shoeing horses. He did not retire until 1944 when he was nearly 70.



Whissonsett kept its smithy until 1972, and I went to the sale of the forge. In 1845 even the tiny hamlet of Arminghall (population 79) had its blacksmith, Robert Sand. It had no boot and shoemaker, shopkeeper or Post Office, but it had a smithy. Forty years later the population had increased to 105 but the village still had no shops. It still had a smith, named Robert Saul. This blacksmith must have closed in the late nineteenth century; it was located in the north east corner of the farm yard of Manor Farm, on the opposite side of the road. I know where the Taverham blacksmith was too, on the corner of Sandy Lane and The Street; until 1899 he was kept busy making equipment for the paper mill. Drayton smithy was in Taverham Lane, and he used the old gasometer from the mill as the smith’s workshop once the mill had closed.

I can remember the site of the of the blacksmith in Framingham Earl but it was closed after the war, like many others. Poringland kept its smith into the 1950s, as part of a larger business that included carpentry and a garage. The smith at Heydon only closed about 5 years ago; it must have been one of the last traditional smithies in Norfolk. There are still some forges, mostly producing architectural ironwork and sculptures. There is a regular demand for farriers to shoe horses, but nowadays these tend to travel round to  stables, rather than the horses travelling to the nearest blacksmith as formerly.

I particularly remember the forge at Ditchingham which was right on the main road, by the bus stop. Horses were sometimes brought in to be shod, but this was a few years after the war when everybody wanted a car and nobody wanted a horse. The main trade concerned the mending of farm machinery and this involved electric welding rather than old-fashioned welding on the forge. You could tell all these operational forges because when you went past there were iron bars scattered about outside the blacksmith’s forge.

The village blacksmith

The village blacksmith at Booke

This view of a blacksmith’s forge in Brooke, Norfolk, was photographed in the 1970s. The forge is lit and  a horse is being led to be shod.

My father was very keen on all these old crafts, and not just as spectator. He never had the opportunity to try thatching for example, and bricklaying was rather rough on the hands for his tastes, but metal working, pattern making and optical instrument making were all skills that he not only possessed but was good at. He was as good with his hands as was with his brain. He was keen for me to follow his example and set me up with an anvil and forge, hammer and tongs, and had me making wrought iron pokers and other decorative ironwork. It was all pretty basic as far blacksmithing goes, but I don’t suppose many university students would spend their vacations bent over a forge!

For a list of Norfolk blacksmiths  CLICK HERE to visit the relevant web page of the Blacksmiths’ Index..





Summer holiday over 30 years ago

SISTER Tig and I left Norwich on Wednesday August 20th and drove via Kings Lynn to Newark. I had to stop on the way to tighten the clutch cable on the Fiat 127 as the garage that fitted the new one had not done a very good job. (Tig was very annoyed about this.) We had ice creams in Pickering and stopped at Eller Beck on the Moors so that the dogs could have a run and a dip. There was a nice little campsite with tents around a fire. The heather was in full bloom.

We got to Sleights and thence to Bill’s bungalow in Iburndale by late afternoon. Fido was so pleased to recognise the place that he barked with delight and anticipation. Most of the food we had brought with us had survived the journey, but the crab apple jelly tart had got squashed when Tig’s dog Suki stood on it. Later Bill plied us with drinks, Tig with sherry and me with beer (Old Peculier – Theakston’s is a Yorkshire brewery!).

The next morning Tig was up and gone to the Top Shop before Bill or I were awake.

(Top Shop was not then the name of a national chain of fashion retailers and the name merely meant the village shop at the top of the hill.) She bought bacon which we had for breakfast and picked up a leaflet on a walk across the moors, which we decided to do that morning. Tig drove us to Glaisdale; we parked near the station and as the other end of the walk was also near Egton Bridge station we could return by train if we were too tired to continue. This was on British Railways and the service was not as infrequent as it has since become; the line was still double track and the goods yard at Sleights was still used, for coal trucks at least. In the event we did not need to use the line. The walk was mostly through woods and it took us about a hour to get to the Postgate Inn at Egton Bridge. We walked back by another path; this took us throough a field of bullocks which chased Suki and frightened Tiggie. Back at Glaisdale we walked over the Packhorse Bridge that was built in 1619. We then drove to Lealholm where we picnicked on the green by the river Esk and then browsed the secondhand bookshop. Tig discovered a copy of John Knowlittle’s Broadland by Sail and Motor which I bought for £2.

Class K1 at the North Yorkshire Moors Rai;way.

Class K1 at the North Yorkshire Moors Rai;way.

After we got back to Bill’s we changed cars and he drove us over the new bridge in Whitby. We all went shopping and the returned for supper. Bill dug a root of potatoes from his garden and we had them with haddock and cauliflower. Tig and I took the dogs for a walk along the Beck before nightfall and then we watched The King and Mrs Simpson on TV.

The next day we decided to go south across the Moors to Pickering. We went to the trout farm there and purchased three fish. We walked the dogs through the wood and went round the castle where the entrance fee was 30p each.  Tig and I duly paid but Bill walked round without paying. This is typical Bill – Tig was of course very cross with him for this. We went to Hutton le Hole for a drink. After a footpath walk we went round the Rye Dale Folk Museum. It is a large 2 acre site with lots of buildings and rural craft exhibits. We had a picnic of sausage rolls, then went round Nunnington Hall (National Trust), a 16th century house in its oldest parts. There are lots of oak panelled rooms but not a lot of artefacts or paintings. Back across the moors we went to Rosedale abbey and Castletown where we did some shopping.

Back at Iburndale Bill’s deputy called with the hospital keys. Bill thought he had to go Scarborough this evening on Rotary Club business, but a phone call revealed that this was not the case and he stayed with us and had lamb chops. He did go to a Rotary meeting in Whitby later in the evening, and while he was away we took the dogs to Sandsend for a walk along the beach. The waves were big and looked rather cold. We had a drink at the Hart. My bedtime reading was rather high-brow – the Lays of Marie de France (12th century poems of courtly love).

Bill got out the vacuum cleaner and started to clean the carpets on Saturday morning, which was another thing that annoyed Tig. We drove to Guisborough getting the car filled up on the way. Up here you can get ICI petrol. I paid £5 and Tig contributed the 40p! We went on to Roseberry Topping. We picnicked by the gate before climbing the hill. A schoolmaster had a party of children up there already (they must have been on a holiday trip) and a dog was of their party too. The dogs had all got rather hot on the way up and enjoyed wallowing in a pool they found on top of the hill. Then they rolled about on the ground and nearly began rolling down the slope. I  had a ginger beer at the Fox when we had descended.

Bill and Joe have dinner on the train, 1980

Bill and Joe have dinner on the train, 1980

We walked back to Grosmont via the former inclined railway line. It was all down hill but the stiles along the way had no dog holes at the base. We had to lift Fido and Suki over them, and Suki ended up like Alexander Beetle, on her back waving her legs in the air. She was an old dog by then, at least 13, and she did well to keep up with all the walking we did. She was no longer as agile as she used to be, however. After that we had to look for other routes for the dogs where they could scramble underneath fences when we came to a stile. We happened upon a Gymkhana with horse races and a Donkey Derby. Tig was in here element. I thought Fido could have won the dog show as the “Dog with the Most Interesting Expression”. When we got back to Bill’s house he go out the lawn mower and cut the grass. My improving bedtime reading continued with a book of Donne’s poetry.

On Monday morning we were again in Grosmont, this time walking along the Monk’s Path from Aislaby. We had an interesting time going along Murk Beck Slack – where do they get these names from? (It is a tributary of the river Esk.) We drove the short distance to Egton to have a drink in the Wheatsheaf – Ian Carmichael the actor (who lived nearby) was also in the bar. Bill was pleased to have laid on a celebrity for us. We found a patch of heather where we had our ham and chicken sandwiches.  Then off to Ormesby Hall where the police horses were kept in the stables (this branch of the Yorkshire Constabulary was disbanded in 2013). Although the last of the Pennyman baronets had died as long ago as 1852 Mrs Ruth Pennyman was still living in the house when we visited it. When one of us need the loo we had to go and get the key. The hall later passed to the National Trust. As with many eighteenth century properties in private hands there were some concerning maintenance issues (as we knew only too well). These included cracked ceilings and peeling paintwork.

Tuesday, our last full day’s holiday, we spent at Robin Hoods Bay. We parked on the site of the old railway station. From there we walked down the steep path to the beach and across the rocks and pools to Boggle Hole. This cave is where the smugglers hid their contraband, so it is said. It was rather misty at first, although the sun got out later. The Mill Beck there provides several fresh water pools where the dogs could have a drink. We walked back to the village by the cliff top path, a section of the Cleveland Way. Seeing both a fish and chip shop and a pub we resolved to stay there for lunch. We sat on the steps while a Mercedes truck unloaded a packing case at the Marine Laboratory. Later we found the truck still there, stuck on the hill and needing a tractor to pull it out. After leaving Robin Hoods Bay we drove the Langdale Forest Drive. This takes one through the large and densely planted modern Forestry Commission Dalby Forest.





(The following piece was written in 1967 [apart from the notes in square brackets], which accounts for a slightly immature style. The photo I took from the cupola on  top of the Sheldonian Theatre during my last term at Oxford. It was a different age; single sex colleges and 11 o’clock lock down for a start. Nearly all undergraduates were minors, as in 1967 the age of majority was still 21. Nobody had to pay a penny; your grant covered all your living expenses as well as university fees and left you some pocket-money too. Because we were so well provided for we did not have to think of money at all. There was none of this concentration on future earning potential that you get today, which I regard as a regrettable feature of modern university life. The Oxbridge entrance exam was still the way into those two universities. They ignored your A level results almost entirely. The entrance exam was held in late November which is why interviews were held just before Christmas.

Oxford and Cambridge were more socially diverse then than they have subsequently become. My best friend at college was the son of a welder from Runcorn, and you couldn’t get more working class than that. The dominance of the privately educated in the elite universities is a fact, despite their best efforts to redress the balance,  but it is not the universities’  fault. It has been brought about by the destruction of the grammar schools. The undoubted social inclusiveness of the comprehensive system has been bought at the expense of the bright state educated children who have found it much harder to do well. )

This unusual view of Blackwells in Broad Street was taken from the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre. The block cottages to the left, which appear to be ancient, had recently been completely rebuilt.

This unusual view of Blackwells in Broad Street was taken from the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre. The block of cottages to the left, which appear to be ancient, had recently been completely rebuilt.



Wednesday Dec 13th, 1967. Caught the bus from outside Farfield about 8.20.  Reached Sheringham to find that the next train to Norwich left at 10.25, so I went to see the sea. There were men with adzes -I think that they were adzes-  were chopping away at piles for the sea defences, the groynes or breakwaters. The tide was out and there was a morning mist. At the new train station in Sheringham there was a distressing number of turds on the track.

I had a peep or two at the at the North Norfolk Railway’s stock in the old station. All of it was there, the B12, the two diesel railcars (they looked in very good condition) the J 15 and Gresley Quads. The J15 has had the cladding replaced and has an undercoat of blue on. There is lot still to be done before anything is open to the public. In Sheringham I bought Trevellyan’s Short History of England at Bertram Watts’ bookshop and had breakfast (which I had missed at school) of sausage egg and chips at the Go-Go café.

I left on the warm train and chugged into Norwich at 11.15. I booked a three-day return to London and got on the mainline train. I considered the Times crossword and got 2 clues. Also The Spectator (articles about foot and mouth etc) and got 3 clues in that crossword. I had a snack in the buffet car between Colchester and London. We arrived about 20 minutes to 2.  I thought that the train from Paddington left at 2.15. I got on what  thought was the Circle line but it was the Metropolitan, going south! Then got on the Circle going in the right direction.

Got to Paddington to find the train was leaving at 3.15, an hour later.  I booked a 3 day return to Oxford. Had lunch. I boarded the train, which was leaving from platform 4 not 2 as I had been told, and was lucky to get what must have been about the last free seat. All around me were ex-schoolboys reading books with titles like ‘The Practice of History’. Opposite me was an Etonian, rather a floppy sort of character and heavily accented but a very fluent speaker; a lanky fingered, bejowled and spotty caricature of an Eton boy I decided.

Arrived in Oxford at 4.28 and had time to buy this book after having found Pot Hall [St Peter’s College]. I went off to buy this note-book among other things and was met outside Woolworths (where this book came from) by Sinclair, Keyworth and Lees. [Keyworth and Lees were up with me for interview; Sinclair was a former Gresham’s pupil who was doing post-graduate work at Nuffield College. Now Emeritus Professor of Economics at Birmingham University.] Sinclair was taking them to tea at the Oxford Union and he invited me too. We talked there until half past five, when I had to leave to check in at college.

Dinner was at 7, not much of an improvement on school dinners but it had an extra course. Tomato soup; pork with apple sauce and roast ’taters, Brussels sprouts; trifle. Then went out for drinks. Had many ‘memorable thoughts’ which escape me! I phoned Mum and Dad and got into confusion unlimited with the operator. I gathered enough change to phone Jonny [Jonathan Royds-Jones], and Roger and Charles [the Marshall twins; all three my friends at Farfield] were there too. When I got back the college door was closed but not locked, so I did not have to climb in – though that would have been an experience. (This was at 10.40.) I saw lots of colleges in the dark; tomorrow in daylight? Tomorrow I get an interview at 10.30. I hope I will wake up in time for breakfast at 8.15. It now 11.15 p.m. the previous night. There was more, much more that I intended to record like the drops of moisture on the roof of the gents, the hot dog costing 1/4d for which I handed the fellow only 1d; the nature of J. E Corran (my room holder); the multitude of student magazines -ISIS, OXY-MORON, THE OXFORD FREE PRESS, COVER- to name only the readily memorable.

I had intended to comment on my next door neighbour, the fencer; the porter; my phone call which cost 2/6 – but I have already commented on that, haven’t I? And various travelling thoughts like the maintenance of cottages, the shabby state of the railways, the ban on racing because of foot and mouth and the restrictions we should be prepared to face because of such like disasters. Other interesting things – Britain’s trade gap; seems very unimportant.

Thursday December 14th

Awoken at 7.30, got up at 7.45, breakfast at 8.15 (egg, beans and bacon), snoozed till 10.20. Went for interview (should have been 10.30 but was 10.45), Very pleasant – had Eric Smith (History Tutor) and the Master [Thornton-Duesbury –T.-D.- the Master from 1940, after C. M. Chavasse, the college’s first master; it was his final year]. The room was warm. Then went Christmas shopping in lots of lovely bookshops; Oxford’s the place for books. Now there is lunch at 1 o’clock in Hall, it is upstairs, oak panelled. The residents rooms are furnished, doored, skirting boarded and picture railed in light oak.

We had sausage and mash, cauliflower cheese and ginger pudding. In the corridor I heard two dons discussing wines for dinner. Did I say I had bought books for Christmas presents? I am beginning to wonder about suitability – they’re books I like but will sister Tig like Archy and Mehitabel or my cousin Jill the Wonderful O? In the afternoon I sat by the fire in the JCR  till past 3. It is early closing day in Oxford and I couldn’t get any Aspros for my headache. I had no more to eat till dinner (at 7). It was vegetable soup, steak and kidney pie with carrots and mash and cold caramel. I can definitely say that tonight’s meal was the best yet.

I rang home at 10.30. I am leaving tomorrow. Parkhurst from Mill Hill school said that he has to stay for a further interview. Hard luck on him – he won’t leave London for Southampton till 7 p.m. Still I am off now. It’s been quite a long stay in Oxford for under ten minutes of interview and I wouldn’t want to wait any longer. TD the Master with his bald head and white frieze of hair, dog collar and benign look is just right for the part. The poor old dons are kept busy at interview time – busier at least than I have been.

I am going to be very tired tomorrow when we are going to Bernard Sankey in Hunworth for dinner [i.e back in Norfolk]. Bernard Sankey was our housemaster at Farfield when we first arrived and wants to entertain the leavers. Well that’s about that for today. At least I know now, and didn’t yesterday, that I will be woken up for breakfast. I think otherwise I would never wake up at all. What will it be like to be back at school for another two nights after this? The old path to the Sanatorium [where my friend was Prefect in charge of Farfield’s annexe] and seeing Bill again, and W.O.T.       [W. O. Thomas, the housemaster who followed Bernard Sankey].

After these last few days, essentially post-school days, it will be like going back into the past. The pubs, the ex-schoolboy comrades, and other things have all conspired to make me no longer a schoolboy at heart. I act as if I am never going back. But I am.

In one way though school is freer than life here (my short life here). I can go out and come back well after 12 and think nothing of it. Here the door is locked at 11. I’m leaving school. I couldn’t go back for two more terms, although I think [tutor] Smith would like it if I were to learn some Latin. If I could say that it would improve my chances I feel sure I would take lessons. I am confused at the moment as to whether I want to come here or not. Last night I had this vision of a lighted entrance to a tower, dark buildings a romantic setting and I thought ‘Yes’. But now would I rather go to L.S.E.? [I already had a place at L.S.E.] I’d like it there I’m sure, although in London yesterday I swore that I would always remain a provincial.

Does J. E. Corran [the resident of the room I was in] keep an animal in that locked cupboard? For two nights I have heard scratchings there. I wonder. The Bronco paper in the lavatories is pink at St Peter’s. WHY did they put pegs on the OUTSIDE of the door? This little pad reminds me of one I kept in Czechoslovakia. These memorable periods of life need to be recorded – the memory needs to be jogged. Anyway I have been making myself remember St Peter’s in case I ever come here again. In the past I have always found one’s first impression of a place is unrecognizable by the time of the second. Am I grown up enough now for this to have changed? Surely three days is long enough to get to know one staircase, two trees, some tufty grass and an old Georgian gate house?

St Peter’s College is next door to a girls school, a fact that caused me some concern when I was trying to find the place. The girls have a blue painted bike sheds and there is a lot of weaving on looms going on, the girls shuttling about like nobody’ business. I almost walked into the building on Wednesday thinking it was St Peter’s –it is a stone building and looks rather university-like and the lights were out. Today I can see the weavers at their looms. [Now in 2014 it really IS a part of St Peter’s College.]

If I do get in I will look on these jottings with a charmed but derisory affection – but how will I look at them if I don’t?

Friday December 15th.

Woken later – 7.40, up at 8 o’clock, breakfast at 8.15 of porridge, scrambled egg. I went to the buttery to pay for my drinks at the bar. I had already packed. I walked to the station and got on the train at 8.55. I got to the station as the train did, and got on about 30 seconds before it left. I didn’t hurry, the train and I just happened to coincide. I got in to Paddington about 10, took the tube straight to Liverpool Street where a train to Norwich was standing at the station. I got straight on and it left at 10.30; this time there was about 5 minutes to spare. What a day – everything going right so far, though it could have been a two-hour train; as it is we on a 2½ hr train – we’re an hour out of London and still only at Colchester. I haven’t had a chance to buy a paper yet but I have plenty to read and this to write. Two and a half hours ago I was in Oxford – not bad.

I have just been for a snack at the buffet car. Archy’s Life of Mehitabel is a bit repetitive.