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ALFRED THE GREAT AND EAST ANGLIA

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.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

AYLSHAM

When I was in my thirties I would sometimes spend an evening in Aylsham, playing chamber music in the home of a retired butcher. Butchers are not normally notable for their musical tastes, and this one was no exception; he was a plain, hones, down-to-earth Norfolkman. However, his wife had longings for the more refined side of life, which is why she played the violin. To find a young string player of a similar cultivated background (who had been to a Public School and Oxford no less) obviously impressed her greatly, and so I was invited to her soirées, although my instrument (a double bass) was not the ideal member of a string quartet! Butchering had been kind to the family, and they lived in fine style in a detached house in its own grounds in Aylsham.

I would already have been very familiar with the town, because the road from Norwich to Cromer went right through the middle until the bypass was built the 70s. My first plain memory of Aylsham goes back to middle 1960s, when I attended the wedding of  Sandra, my father’s receptionist at the time. In fact she was only a few years older than I was, although she seemed very mature to me. My father had two receptionists at this period, and the other one, Helen Keller, was even nearer my age. Sandra’s wedding took place at St Michael’s church, which stands  just north of the market place.

My frequent attendance at the Aylsham Sale Yard was mostly in search of second-hand books; Keys, the auctioneers, developed a special line in book sales. However I have bought all sorts of other things there too; everything from musical instruments to rolls of wire netting. I have never bought ‘Three Chairs’ though; this announcement was always made preceding the sale of a lot of these articles of furniture, and it always brought the response from the crowd ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray’. This joke is probably obscure to those unfamiliar with the ‘Broad Norfolk’ dialect.  To let you ‘furriners’ in on the joke, the word ‘cheers’ is pronounced ‘chairs’ in the local tongue.

There is no longer any livestock sold at Aylsham sale yard, but when I first used to go there calves and pigs were still being auctioned every week. This part of the sale ground has now been built on as a housing estate. Live chickens and rabbits lasted rather longer.Now the only bullock you will see there is when they hold a picture sale of eighteenth century livestock.

The fine thatched pump in Aylsham was erected to commemorate John Soame, who died in 1910. He was a farmer from Spratts Green, an area towards Brampton near Marsham, and was undoubted a relative of Soame the steam engine maker from Marsham. We no longer require water to be drawn from a public well, but back in 1911, when it was built,  both horses and people were glad of the artesian bore that was sunk some 50 metres into the subsoil.

There is still a railway station at Aylsham, but this is now the terminus of the narrow gauge tourist line that runs to Wroxham from the town. This follows the route of the standard gauge line that was opened in 1880 and finally closed in the 1980s. Regular passenger services were withdrawn in 1952. This was the GER branch line from Wroxham to County School near North Elmham. Aylsham  had two railways serving the town; Aylsham North was on the M&GN main line from Leicester to Great Yarmouth, and lost its passenger service when the former M&GN closed in 1959.

My most recent visit to Aylsham was during last summer, when I spent a pleasant hour or two in the Black Boys pub on the Market Place. The market is not to be confused with the sale yard; the Market Place is the centre of the town, where the Town Hall and the church look down on the vegetable and flower stalls. A market still take place there. I had known this pub the Black Boys for as long as I can remember, but this was the first time I had been inside. It was already long-established in the 18th century, when it was supplied by William Hardy from his brewery at Letheringsett. The interior has been much altered over the years, but the oak staircase running to the first floor from the bar is as old at the property itself.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

Great Aunt Nellie

Father Charles

Ellen Lydia Mason is something of a shadowy figure. I can for instance show you no pictures of  her or of her husband. She was born in Northamptonshire at a village called Sulgrave. Its main claim to fame is Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington’s family. Since Ellen was born, the Grade 1 listed building has become a museum, and no doubt it gets many visitors from America.

To find out why Ellen (Nellie) was born so far from Norfolk we must try to discover some family history. Ellen’s parents (and my great-grandparents) Rebecca (née Buxton) and Charles Mason had met at the age of 21  in Staffordshire. Rebecca was from Easton in Norfolk, but she had gone to Stoke on Trent for a job in domestic service. The young couple fell in love and Charles travelled to her home village of Easton to marry her; this took place on June 17th 1879. It was difficult for her husband to find employment locally, and at the time their first child was born in Norfolk the boy’s father was working away.

THE DOG,  EASTON

Charles always had an affinity with animals and spent most of his career looking after the cart horses that were used for deliveries from Carrow Works in Norwich. In 1880 he was working as kennelman to a hunt in Kent. Three years later both he and his wife were living in Northamptonshire, no doubt with Charles working in some similar capacity. So it was in Sulgrave that Ellen was born. She was baptised in the church of St James the Less in Sulgrave on March 7th 1883. She did not stay long in Northamptonshire, because by the following year the family was back in Easton for the birth of Will, my grandfather. Rebecca stayed at the Dog Inn for her lying-in.

At the age of eleven Nellie lost her mother Rebecca; her father was left with a young family to bring up and soon remarried. By then he had found secure employed with Colmans at Carrow Works and the family was living in Trowse. By the time of the 1901 census she was 18 and already living away from home as cook to a pair of middle-aged spinster ladies at Elham in Kent. It was there that she met her husband to be, Maurice Lawrence.

CONSTABLE’S HAY WAIN, (Willy Lott’s cottage).

Maurice was born in 1877 in Stratford St Mary near the river Stour on the Suffolk/Essex border. The son of a farm worker, after starting as kitchen boy he soon graduated to be an errand boy, delivering goods to houses in the locality. One of the places he visited on a regular basis was Willy Lott’s cottage, well known from the  picture of the Hay Wain by John Constable (1776-1837). By 1900 Maurice was in service to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s mother at her home, Leith Hill Place in Surrey (this house now belongs to the National Trust). A year later he had got a job on the railway and he was working as a porter at Elham station in Kent. He was not there long either, as he was soon promoted to the position of signalman in Folkestone, but not before making the acquaintance of young Nellie Mason.

It was a slow burning romance, because the couple were not married for eight years; then they returned to the bride’s home in Trowse where the ceremony took place in the village church on the 26th of September, 1908.  The couple began married life in Cheriton, a suburb of Folkestone. They lived in a spacious terraced house with a bay window in Dunnett Road in the town. By 1930 he had been promoted from assistant to the signal box at Walmer, a seaside town just outside Dover. They had a house in the centre of town not far from Walmer Station, in Dover Road. Maurice reached retirement age during the Second World War; after twelve years of retirement he was widowed when Nellie died in 1956 aged 73. Maurice lived until 1967, when he died at the age of 90. They had no children.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

 FOR THE STORY OF MASON FAMILY LIFE

MARGERY KEMPE

‘This creature, when Our Lord had forgiven her her sin . . . had a desire to see those places where He was born . . . and where He died . . .’ This passage sums up the Book of Margery Kempe. She is forever seeking forgiveness for her sins, but rather annoyingly she never tells us what those sins were. From her earlier life we may take it that they concerned thoughts of a sexual nature. Once the sins were out of the way, her mind turned to thoughts of travel. It could be to Canterbury, or York,  or further to Rome and Jerusalem. No modern-day tourist could have a more packed itinerary, given the necessary restrictions of the time -the early fifteenth century. For some reason, among all these journeys she undertook, she frequently fell into fits of weeping, though what so seasoned a traveller could have had to weep about is not entirely clear.

As you might have guessed, it is easy to find Margery Kempe a little tiresome at times, but if you step back from her privileged prayerfulness and concentrate on what she reveals of the history of her period, the Book of Margery Kempe is fascinating. Coaches were unsprung affairs in the Middle Ages, and roads were miry and rutted, so travel by wheeled transport was uncomfortable. If you had a heavy load to carry you had to use an ox-cart, but otherwise the poor walked everywhere while the wealthy went on horseback. The distances involved could be staggering.  For the more far-off destinations going by ship was unavoidable, for at least part of the way. This had its advantages as well as its drawbacks; the passengers had no option but to sit back and enjoy the ride (if possible), either in the open air or below decks; on the other hand the waves could make the passage not only rough but perilous, for the small ships then in use. You could easily endure seas sickness, or even end up drowned.

With the choice of going by car or train it is quite a trip for me to go from Norwich to Ipswich, but without such modern means of transport Margery thought nothing of going there to see her daughter-in-law off en route to Germany. Upon bidding her son’s widow farewell and leaving the Suffolk port, Margery had almost reached her home when she was seized by an overwhelming desire to accompany her relative abroad. This volte face she naturally attributed not to herself but to the will of the Holy Ghost. The master of the vessel readily agreed to take her aboard, and only her daughter-in-law, who was looking forward to returning to Danzig, was unimpressed; I wonder why?

Margery Kempe was born around the year 1373 in Bishops Lynn – now called Kings Lynn. Edward III was coming to end of his long reign; his ambitions in France had led to the Hundred Years War, a problem for those wishing to travel in Europe. Margery’s family were rich merchants, and both her father and husband were prominent members of the local Corporation. Wool was providing great riches across East Anglia, and Wool Churches were springing up in villages around Norfolk. Her wealth enabled Margery to travel with an entourage of confessors and hermits, despite having fourteen children; she had plenty of servants to care for the youngsters back home. Her education was fairly basic, and she authored her autobiographical work through dictation.

Wherever she went she was able to call on the local vicar, friar or Prior to discuss religious commonplaces with him, which she recounted in her book. No doubt the prospect of a charitable donation made these pleasant chats mutually rewarding. Charity was expected but not demanded of the public. It is revealing to read what Erasmus has to say on the subject; although dating from a hundred years after Margery Kempe’s time, it could be just as true of today’s charitable giving.  He says that people were likely to be more generous if observed in the act, and there were nimble fingered pilgrims who could remove a coin from the altar while apparently depositing one.

Castle Acre, a stop on the way to Walsingham

In all her travels Margery Kempe did not neglect a pilgrimage to nearby Walsingham. Starting from Lynn she would have joined pilgrims from abroad who had landed at the port there, before journeying on to Fakenham; there other pilgrims from Norwich, the Midlands and London all met up before going on to Walsingham. Once there the devout would visit the chapel built as a replica of the House of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The building was draughty, having no doors or glass in the windows. More congenial were the dramas enacted in the Common Place, the market just outside the chapel. Margery went for spiritual solace, but many of the pilgrims were the sick, in search of a miraculous cure. Walsingham is again a place of pilgrimage, the medieval streets drawing tourists from around the rest of the country.  [I am myself due to visit Great Walsingham in the near future, but that is to visit a relative who farms there.]

On her travels in Italy Margery was abandoned by her fellow travellers, who only agreed to let her accompany them  if she stopped talking about God and instead devoted herself too eating, drinking and merry-making. It was in such unaccustomed riotous good company that she arrived in Venice. She stayed there for over three months, getting her spiritual refreshment by attending church every Sunday with a group of nuns. Eventually she could not resist reciting a verse from the Bible, whereupon her friends accused her of breaking her word. For the last six weeks of her stay she dined alone in her bedroom. In spite of Margery Kempe’s own religiosity, it is plain that not everyone was similarly inclined, even in the supposedly devout Middle Ages.

From Venice she took ship to the Holy Land. From the Mediterranean port of Jaffa she travelled inland on a donkey to Jerusalem. During the three weeks she spent  in the Holy Land she visited Bethlehem and the river Jordan, as countless others have done both before and since. She returned to Italy and visited Rome. Once back in Lynn her restless nature soon had her off on her travels once more, this time via Bristol to St James, Compostela, in Spain.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

CLOCKMAKERS IN EAST ANGLIA

A RURAL TRADE?

Clock face by John Halsey, circa 1730.

Normally when we think of rural industries we turn to things like farming and basket making, and not to a technically developed trade involving advanced skills in metalwork. Watchmaking and clockmaking started in London in a big way in the reign of James I and they spread to the provinces from there. It reached Norfolk in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It wasn’t just the large towns of Norwich, Yarmouth and Kings Lynn that had their own horologists; every market town and even a few rural villages had one or more clockmakers or watchmakers among their citizens. Although certain components could be bought in (like the cast brass spandrels round the face), the majority of the work was done in the clockmaker’s remote workshop; the nature of cutting the escapements and pinions shows the advanced levels of mechanical attainment required.

It was becoming important for people to know the time of day, and for those too poor to afford a clock of their own churches were increasingly displaying the time, inside or out. I remember how hard it was to learn to tell the time as a child, but the common folk must have managed it? Sundials were the most reliable way of telling the time, but they only worked when the sun was out.

One of the earliest clocks known to have been made in Norfolk is dated 1610. In appearance it is very European. As it is engraved on the back ‘Jhone Smyt in Lynne wyt my hand’ its manufacture can be placed in Kings Lynn. This was about the most cosmopolitan town in the country, so the foreign nature of the clock is not surprising. This, and the early date, suggest that the clockmaking art was first introduced to Norfolk from abroad. The next Lynn clock we know was signed by Thomas Tue in 1646. This clock was built in the English tradition. Thomas Tue’s principal occupation was gunsmith, and many of the clocks he supplied and signed may have been bought in from London. Tue had a long life; he was twice churchwarden of St Margaret’s for which church he made the clock in 1681. He died in 1710 at the age of 97.

The town of Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border gained its first clockmaker when Benjamin Shuckforth set up in business around the end of the first decade of the 18th century He was an accomplished craftsman who had obviously completed an apprenticeship, although where is unknown. It would not have  been in Diss as there was no clockmaker in the town before Shuckforth. He took on an apprentice in 1730, one John Frost of Bury St Edmunds, who went on ply his trade elsewhere when his apprenticeship was over. Shuckforth ended up a wealthy man, although this had more to do with a fortunate marriage than with clockmaking itself; his spouse Dulicibella Dalton was related to the Longe family of Spixworth Park.  He died in 1760 and his shop was taken over by William Shaw, previously a clockmaker in Botesdale, a large village near Diss but in Suffolk.

By then Samuel Buxton was working in Diss. He was apprenticed to James Smyth in Saxmundham and had completed his apprenticeship in 1756. One of his earliest commissions was to build the turret clock which still gives out the time in St Mary’s church in Diss. He also produced the clock in nearby Banham church, which is dated 1768. His clocks were well made, but aimed at the oak cased clock market rather than at the buyers of high-end mahogany cased clocks. My parents were given a long case clock made by Sam Buxton for their wedding in 1935. They were married Thorpe St Andrew in Norfolk, so the clock had not travelled far from home in nearly two hundred years. It was a standard two-handed model with a chime.

The next clock (illustrated above) is by a much less well-known clockmaker. John Halsey was working in the middle years of the eighteenth century. In Norwich he took on an apprentice clockmaker (William Brightwell) in the summer of 1754; but a John Halsey had taken on an apprentice (John Gilbert of Walsingham) as a surveyor at Wells-Next-the-Sea on the 17th of March 1729. Rather than changing both his occupation and his place of residence during the following twenty years, it is likely that the earlier John Halsey was his father. It is certain that the son was already making clocks while still living in Wells, as this simple one-handed clock has his name and ‘Wells Norfolk’ engraved on the face.  Once established in Norwich he had his business in the St Andrews area of the City. Only the face remains of the clock he made in Wells, the case and movement having been lost many years ago. My mother-in-law left it to my family. She was born in Wells and it now belongs to my wife, who lives only twenty five miles away, and it seems that, like the Sam Buxton timepiece, this clock had not moved far in over 200 years either; indeed until about 75 years ago it had never ventured beyond its home town. It is a moot point whether he or Isaac Nickalls was the first clockmaker in Wells; Nickalls was building the church clock in Holt in the mid 1730s (he charged £36.15sh). He went on to build some very ornate high end longcase clocks. With that sort of competition to contend with a move to Norwich was a wise one.

Another local watchmaker was Johnson Jex of Letheringsett. He was brought up to inherit the family’s blacksmith business, but he was never apprenticed to a watchmaker, and was virtually self-taught. He was born in Billingford, and he played truant from school, preferring to stare through a watchmaker’s window in nearby Foulsham. He was fascinated by the intricate mechanism he saw taking shape before his eyes. As result he left school without learning to read or write, although he became a proficient watchmaker. His illiteracy he had to remedy as an adult, when he learnt not only English but French as well! He began working on watchmaking in the early years of the nineteenth century, when he acquired a state-of-the-art screw cutting lathe. The machine is still in existence. He produced a relatively small number of watches, with highly complicated and advanced mechanisms. Johnson Jex also worked on the Holt church clock (see above) as as a dial plate was discovered in 1995 with his name engraved on it. He never left Norfolk and seldom ventured outside his immediate locality. He died at the age of 74. He never married.

The earliest written reference to a clockmaker in Suffolk is in the will of Robert Sparke, dated 1648. No clock made by this maker is known. He worked in Cockfield, a village not far from Lavenham in central Suffolk. Unlike in Norfolk, the origin of the trade could not have been more rural. There were certainly clockmakers in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich (Francis Colman was making clocks in the latter town by the early years of Charles II’s reign), but the villages of Suffolk were involved in the trade at at a very early date. A lantern clock was made in Bradfield St George (a village between Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham) some time before 1644. For those who wish to learn more I direct them to this essay by Brian Loomes.

For over 300 years the clockmaking trade was an important industry in East Anglia, culminating with the firm of Metamec in East Dereham, which was producing quartz clocks into the final quarter of the 20th century. At its peak the firm was producing 25,000 clocks a week and was the foremost clockmaker in the UK, with 750 employees. With the import of cheaper clocks from the Far East the business declined, going into receivership in 1984, and finally closing ten years later.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

LOW KELLING AND SALTHOUSE

View towards Kelling

These little villages within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lie adjacent to each other between Weyborne and Cley. You come into Low Kelling along the coast road, but you would never guess that this is a coastal parish. The village lies in dip in the road, and there is no vehicular access to the beach; you must take a fairly long walk of about a mile to reach the sea. The best way to get your feet wet at Kelling is to tramp along the tide line from Weyborne, where there is at least a car park by the sea. It is a small settlement of less than two hundred souls, but it retains its Victorian village Primary School; the number of pupils actually living in Low Kelling must be tiny, but it gathers other children from the surrounding area to make about a hundred students. There is also a medieval church, and tearoom-cum-bookshop in the former reading room. For a small community it is well supplied with facilities. Away from the main road it is all very peaceful at Low Kelling, although nowadays you will always have a wind farm or two on the horizon to interrupt the tranquility of the scene. High Kelling by contrast takes you to the borders of Holt, and in the past century it has almost become a dormitory development of that town. The village centre of Low Kelling is three miles from Holt town centre.

Continuing to the west you pass the heath on the inland side; this has not been maintained and is now covered with birch trees and scrub. Beyond the undulating country of Kelling you descend to what were once the saltmarshes of Salthouse.   The building of a sea wall has made the waters alongside the Coast Road fresh, and ducks swim happily about waiting for tourists to feed them. When the sea breaks through, as happens during tidal surges, the salt waters return. This happened a few years ago but on the most recent occasion the wind dropped at the last moment and a breach was averted. It is a slow process to bring the nature reserve back to health, and with the sea so near it is not easy to maintain it.

The houses of Salthouse village are to the left; they are all made in the local building material of beach pebbles. Unlike at Kelling, there is a road to the beach that leads to a car park near the sea.  You may buy fish and chips from a mobile shop on the verge in the summer months. In 2014 an American helicopter from RAF Lakenheath crashed on Salthouse beach, with loss of all four lives on board. The area was used to practise low-level flying, but with a nature reserve adjacent it was only a matter of time before a fatal bird strike occurred.

this The Dun Cow in Salthouse is a popular eatery today; this watercolour of the pub was painted forty years ago or more, and there are now a lot of outdoor tables on the lawn that stretches to the pub sign on the main road. The old black painted wooden shed that obscured the seaward end of the pub has been demolished, but it has been replaced by a bus shelter and this also spoils the view of the pub.

There is fine late medieval church dedicated to St Nicholas on the rising ground above the village. There is much pre-Reformation painting on the rood screen, and neglect has preserved the structure and decorations from Victorian Revival restoration.

These are two very different villages along the North Norfolk coast, where cliffs give way to mudflats. The sound of terns as they guard their eggs makes this a special area.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORFOLK

LONG STANDING INSTITUTIONS in NORWICH

There are fewer links with the past in Norwich with every year that passes, but we can still claim some notable historic establishments.

Bullen’s, London Street, 75 years ago.

A. E. Coe is an old-established name in photography in Norwich. Albert Edward Coe (born 1844) set up the shop in London Street and Castle Meadow.  In 1890 he was advertising his photographic business at 32 London Street; he had qualified as an optician the previous year. I can remember when this shop in London Street was connected by a passageway with that on Castle Meadow. When my father was first established as an optician in the city (in about 1930) the Coe business was being run by his descendant Neville Coe, who also traded as an optician. The businesses have since been organised as separate firms; Coe, Costa and Moore being the optical side, and the photographic business as Barrett and Coe. The photographer’s shop had been well over a hundred years at the same address, but it has recently moved to Thorpe; although the business remains it has relocated. I will therefore cite W. R. Bullen, the jewellers in London Street, as a business that has remained in the same place for 130 years  . . . but both Bullen’s and Coe’s were established but yesterday in the long history of Norwich.

The department store Jarrolds is well over two hundred years old. It was established as a grocers and drapers in the Market Place in the Suffolk Port of Woodbridge in 1770. The founder, John Jarrold I, died early on and his son, John Jarrold II, was too young at first to take part in the operation of the firm. In the early 19th century, as soon as he was old enough, he transferred the business to its current home in Norwich. Once there the shop abandoned the grocery and drapery trades and became a bookseller and stationer. During the century it became a major printing business which (among other books) published Anna Sewell’s best-selling novel Black Beauty in 1878. Jarrold’s publishing activities were greatest before the 20th century, but in printing it went from strength o strength. It was still producing postcards and calendars into the 21st century, but it is now no longer a printer or publisher. It has remained a large retail store in Norwich city centre throughout this period, and has even reintroduced drapery among its lines. Thorns, the hardware shop which is just across Exchange Street from Jarrolds, and is another old-established family firm. It was set up by a merchant who arrived in the city from London in 1835.

Norwich Railway Station was first opened in 1844; although the terminus has been moved a few metres north since then, the original train shed is still used, now as the base for train crews to sign on. Unusually for post-Beeching Britain, the station retains all the lines that ran out of it when the railway network was at its peak, in the 1920s. Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, London and Cambridge all still receive regular services. The other stations in Norwich have not been so lucky; there used to three of them, and now there is only the one.

St Mary, Coslany, half a century ago.

The inns of Britain are among the oldest non-religious institutions in the country. Nottingham has three pubs which all claim to have been drinking holes since the middle ages, but such antiquity means their origins are lost in the mists of the past. As for Norwich, the oldest pub is the Adam and Eve, which was run by Benedictine monks to provide refreshment for the builders who were working on Norwich Cathedral. The first time it was recorded by name was in 1249, and this would make it compete in age with the pubs in Nottingham; however it was rebuilt in the 17 century. The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich may well be oldest continuously occupied hotel in England, being commonly dated to  the 13th century. This hotel is near Norwich Cathedral, which was begun in 1096. Also in near the Cathedral is the Great Hospital; this was established in the first half of the thirteenth century as a refuge for the elderly, which is still its function today. The nature of the inhabitants has changed a but since its inception; until the Reformation this was reserved for decayed clerics, but now it is sheltered housing open to all, of either sex.

Norwich Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest, and was erected at the same time that the Cathedral was started. Its official use as a goal ceased in the 19th century, and with the change of use to the City’s principal museum in the 1890s it cannot really be termed a surviving institution. Even as a museum however it is now quite a venerable institution. The oldest building in Norwich must be St Mary’s Church in Coslany, which has an Anglo-Saxon tower, but it has been redundant as a church for decades now and it is therefore a moot point whether it can be included in this list of surviving institutions. As for the oldest church in Norwich still used as a place of worship I am at something of a loss to determine; St George’s in Tombland still holds services, although nothing about it seems older than the 14th century. Alternatively in may be St Julian’s, although this church was bombed in the war and has been largely rebuilt. On further consideration I think it must the Anglo-Catholic church of St John the Baptist, Timber Hill, as this church also has signs of Anglo-Saxon stonework in its construction.

Thorns, Bullens, the Cathedral, the Great Hospital, the Adam and Eve and the Maids Head Hotel have all retained their original use in the same place for many centuries. Even the railway station has been there for well over a century and a half. All are part of the rich and ancient fabric of the City.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORWICH

GREAT AUNT BESSIE

Sarah Elizabeth Mason

Sarah Elizabeth Mason

WILLIAM MASON

WILLIAM MASON

Great Aunt Bessie (she was born Sarah Elizabeth Mason) was my grandfather William’s youngest full sister; he was five years older than her. Their father was Charles Mason, and he was working for Colman’s, the mustard makers, at the time of her birth. She was born in 1889 in Trowse, a village just outside Norwich. She went to the local school where she received a basic education. By the time Sarah was 21 she was working as parlour maid for a retired Army Officer in Folkestone. There she met a young  clerk who worked for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, Douglas Hughes. He was employed on the Elham Valley Line, a short branch of 14 miles that ran from Canterbury to Folkestone. The cuttings and embankments of this pretty country railway were thick with primroses in the spring. The whole area was a provider of horticultural produce across the South East, and apple blossom gave it the authentic appearance of ‘the Garden of England’; it adjoined the East Kent coal field, but test bores near the line in the last years of the 19th century failed to find significant deposits of coal. It thus remained an agricultural district, free of the mine shafts and winding gear of a coal field. The service on the line was regular but not heavy, with seven passenger trains in each direction every weekday. In 1914 a railmotor – a tank engine with an attached carriage for passengers –  was introduced for local services, while a non-stop train ran through from Canterbury to Folkestone.

Sarah Elizabeth Mason

Sarah Elizabeth Mason

Bessie’s father Charles Mason

When Sarah was 25 the First World War broke out, and things would never be the same again. Douglas and Bessie were married in the church of St Mary the Virgin in  Elham in 1915. (The village was pronounced Eelum.)

Being so near the South Coast there was a strong military presence; with the Great War this only increased. There were for example Canadian soldiers billeted at nearby Shorncliffe. The Royal Train was brought to a siding on the Elham Valley line in 1915, while King George and Lord Kitchener rode off to inspect the troops.

In December 1915 a landslip closed the mainline between Dover and Folkestone; it remained closed for the rest of the war and all the traffic between these two ports was diverted along the Elham Valley line, which therefore became even busier. Red Cross trains carried wounded soldiers from France to hospitals in Canterbury and beyond, while fresh troops were transported to embarkation at Folkestone. Goods trains of materiel destined for the frontline kept the railway busy late into the night. One of the signalmen on the line was recruited into the Army, and his replacement was the first female to be so employed on the SE&CR. Following Grouping in 1923 the SE&CR was taken over by the Southern Railway; meanwhile the motor bus company began to attract passengers from the railway. Slowly the line declined and in 1931 it was reduced to single track. In 1940 the passenger service ended and the line was given over to military use. In 1947 it closed completely and the track was lifted the following year. It was thus never an operational part of British Railways, which was formed in 1948.

DOUGLAS HUGHES, 1927

Back in 1916 Bessie Hughes was pregnant with her first child, and Charles was born in Elham on the 21st of November of that year. He was named after his grandfather Charles Mason (my great-grandfather).  Charles Hughes was his second grandson, the eldest being my father, born in 1911. Douglas and Sarah’s second child was born in 1922; although he was christened Alfred after his paternal grandfather (a tea dealer from Rye in Sussex) he was always called John, his second name. The family was still living in Elham when John was born, and continued to do so for many years thereafter. With two boys the Hughes family was now complete.

The Withams’ wedding at Elham; Douglas & Bessie in attendance; 1938

Bessie’s youngest half-sister was Florence, eighteen years her junior, being born in 1907; their father’s first child had been born in 1880, nearly 30 years earlier.  Florrie was married to Billy Witham in Kent at St Mary’s church in Elham,  although they both came from Norfolk. Florence had lived with her father Charles until his death in April of 1938; she was unable to work, being rather immobile on account of a stiffness in her legs. Without her father’s pension for support she needed some alternative, and quickly too; she was married within a couple of months of her father’s death. She continued to live in the house in Russell Terrace, Trowse,  as Billy’s wife. The properties had been built to house Colman’s workers, but Billy was not employed by them, soan arrangement must have been made.

Travel had been easy for railway worker Douglas Hughes, and his family had made frequent visits to Trowse to see his aged father-in-law Charles Mason – there was even a station a few hundred yards from his house there. A friendship with Florrie must have developed, and perhaps this explains why Kent was chosen for their wedding; this did not please other Norfolk members of the family however, who were not invited! As appears in the photograph, the only sibling to attend the wedding in the 13th century church was Bessie.

BESSIE (left) & son Charles, Folkestone 1933

Before the ultimate closure of the Elham Valley line the Hughes family had moved to Cheriton, a suburb of Folkestone. Cheriton was a halt on the mainline from Tonbridge to Dover, but it was only used by Elham Valley line trains, so that it too closed in 1940.  (Today the site of the Elham Valley line at Cheriton Junction has been obliterated by the huge marshalling yard where lorries and cars are loaded onto Le Shuttle for transport to Calais via Euro Tunnel.) Charlie Hughes had married Eileen Fenwick in Folkestone during the war, and while her husband was away fighting in the Navy Eileen had a daughter Christine. She was born in July 1945. The war ended on September the 2nd; Aunt Bessie was hanging out the washing when her neighbour rushed into the garden shouting ‘The Japanese have surrendered’!

CHARLES HUGHES in retirement

After Aunt Bessie died in 1964 her widower Douglas Hughes moved from Cheriton to Croydon to live with his eldest son Charles and his family. Charlie had begun by following his father into working on the railways, until call-up came early in the war.  After his war service in the Royal Navy he stayed on for peacetime deployment; after finally retiring from the Armed Forces he worked for the Inland Revenue at Somerset House in London. This fine Neoclassical building will be familiar toanyone who has walked along the Strand. Charles died in Croydon in 2001.

NEIL HUGHES

Charles and Eileen’s daughter Christine married a clergyman Frederick Woods in 1968. He had a parish in Colchester where she died in 2003, and her husband remarried. The Rev Woods and Christine had four children. Charlie and Eileen also had a son Neil in 1946; he is my second cousin, although I have never met him, nor indeed any of the people mentioned in this essay. It is only in the past few years that I have even learned of their existence. I have known of Sarah Elizabeth Mason for slightly longer, but initially believed she had died unmarried! It is only through meeting another cousin that I can piece together their story.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF MY RELATIONS

The St EDMUND MEMORIAL COINAGE

CURRENT FROM CIRCA AD 895 – 917

St Ed Mem coin

The date of Edmund’s death was November the 20th 869.

These coins are the first indication we have that Edmund was regarded as a saint. They circulated throughout the northern and eastern part of England for the first two decades of the 10th century. The puzzle about this is that celebration of the saint is that the Danes who introduced this very successful coinage were the children or relatives of the same Vikings who had murdered the king.

A large hoard of St Edmund pennies was dug up in Cuerdale in 1840 by a gang of workmen who were repairing the river bank. Cuerdale is on a bend of the River Ribble near Preston in Lancashire, so you see how widely known the coins were. This hoard of silver, which numbered over 8,000 items (including jewelry and ingots), included 1,8oo St Edmund coins, almost none of them with identical markings on the reverse side. The deposition of the hoard is thought to date from about the year 905, by which time they had been minted for ten years. They continued in production for another decade. It is remarkable that no Danes, either in this country or on the continent, produced any coins until the East Anglians began minting them a few years before the introduction of the Edmund Memorial Coinage. Prior to this the Danes used so-called hack silver as a means of exchange, i.e. any silver jewelry, coinage or plate marked with “hacks” or marks to indicate its weight. Coins were obviously a much more convenient way of paying for goods.

The coinage was the first indication that the late king Edmund was regarded as a holy man in East Anglia, but in official circles in Wessex he was not regarded as a saint. Both Bishop Asser (who wrote the Life of Alfred in 893) and the compilers of the Winchester Chronicle, (the first known copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) although they refer to the death of Edmund, it was as the king of East Anglia. If word of his new status had reached them they did share the belief in him.There was no Papal Canonization of saints until this was introduced by Urban II at the end of the eleventh century, so it was normal for the reputation of a saintly character to spread from area to area.

What was not normal was the administration of the church in East Anglia at the time. When the Edmund Memorial Coinage appeared there were no bishops to regulate religious life. The two bishops who had managed the ecclesiastical affairs of the kingdom were both eliminated at the time of St Edmund’s martyrdom. Although the Dane who took over the East Anglian kingdom ten years later had been baptised by then, he did not bother to institute any new bishop. The church in East Anglia was effectively leaderless for 50 years, and even when a bishop was reintroduced when the Danes were defeated, he operated from London at first.

Why did the Danes make such a big deal of having a saint on their coins? It was an unusual step to take. Unfortunately they did not tell us why, and we have to make our own minds up. I like to think that as Edmund had died fighting a force of foreign invaders, the new king of East Anglia promoted him as a saint against his current enemies, the army of the Anglo-Saxons. The English king who defeated the Danes at the end of the second decade of the tenth century, took no time to replace the coinage with his own. If the king had any respect for the saint, he had none for the coinage. Perhaps this was because it had represented the saint of an independent East Anglia, which he was intent on eradicating.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

EAST ANGLIAN SAINTS

St Julian's Church, Norwich

St Julian’s Church, Norwich

Most EAST ANGLIAN saints can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. St Audrey or St Etheldreda (d.679) was Abbess of Ely, and the tombstone of her steward may still be seen there in the South Aisle of the Cathedral. She was a princess, and many of these early saints were members of the royal family. St Ethelbert was another royal, king of East Anglia, who was martyred in Hereford. He was there wooing his bride to be. The cathedral there is dedicated to SS Mary and Ethelbert.

St Guthlac was not of royal blood, but he was of noble birth. He cannot be called East Anglian as he came from Lincolnshire and lived in Mercia, but as there was cell established in his name at Swaffham I will include him. We know rather more of his life than we do of St Botulph; we can say that he too was not of royal blood, although he was a very popular saint in the middle ages. There are St Botulph churches as far apart as London and Boston in Lincolnshire, but his abbey was on the river Alde in Suffolk.

R C LONDONERS AT ST WALSTAN'S WELL, C1910.

PILGRIMS AT ST WALSTAN’S WELL, c 1910.

St Walstan was reputedly a royal scion, but his time was long after the East Anglian royal family had died out, so it is hard to reconcile this claim with the story of his life. He was born either in Blythburgh in Suffolk or Bawburgh in Norfolk. The similarity of the names of the two villages suggests a degree of confusion, but indications of his cult can be traced to both places. His shrine was certainly established in Bawburgh, where he was buried, and where St Walstan’s Well is again a place of pilgrimage.

St Edmund

St Edmund

The most famous East Anglian saint was undoubtedly another king, shot with arrows while tied to a tree by the Danish invaders. There are many churches dedicated to his name, especially in Norfolk.  St Edmund‘s shine at Bury St Edmunds was one of the major pilgrimage destinations of pre-Reformation England, but Walsingham in Norfolk must rate as slightly more important in this respect. However, as Walsingham related to a vision of the Virgin Mary, not to a local saint, it should cannot feature in this lit of local saints.

All these saints were venerated in the Anglo-Saxon period, and the coming of the Norman kings spelled the end of local saints. This had more to do with the introduction of Papal Canonization by Pope Urban II (1089-99), which largely removed the possibility of the creation of saints on a purely local level. An exception is one Norwich based saint from this latter period. Her name is Mother Julian; she lived in the 14th century, but her reputation as a Divine did not become established until at least three hundred years later. Her writings were not widely known during her lifetime, and so far as they were read at all they seemed heretical to the orthodoxy of the time. In Norfolk she was known and respected as a spiritual guide among the populace. Canonization in the official sense has never been bestowed on her by the Roman Catholic church, although she is accepted as a saint with her official saint’s day.

Although the Reformation produced a fresh crop of martyrs on both sides, the Puritans did not go in for the creation of new saints. This is not true of the Catholic martyrs, and I will end this list of local saints with St Robert Southwell. He was born at Horsham St Faiths, an adjacent parish to Taverham where St Walstan had worked as a farm labourer. It is only a few miles from where I am writing this – now the site of Norwich International Airport! He was executed under Queen Elizabeth I (to whom he nevertheless professed his allegiance). Sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, he was saved from the full horrors of that dreadful death by a bystander, who tugged at his feet while the noose was around his neck. Only his lifeless body remained to be disembowelled. This was in the year 1595.

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JOSEPH MASON