Pancake Day always falls on a Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday – and it is followed by Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday this year will fall on my birthday, the 14th of February. This is Valentines Day, I know; how could I not? All my life it has been for me to go out for a meal on my birthday. Even when I can book a table in the crush of loving couples, all the staff would assume my companions and I were in some way romantically attached to each other; so I much prefer to stay at home and have some wine with my dinner.
The trouble is that year Valentines Day will also be the first day of Lent, when I normally give up alcohol. I afraid it is done more for health reasons than for spiritual ones; I am convinced that over a month of abstinence does wonders for my liver. I know ‘dry January’ is the modern agnostic’s way of fasting, but for me the month is so dreary that I could not possibly make it worse by giving up drinking too. A few years ago, when I first decided to give up drinking for Lent, I knew so little about the traditions that I went for the whole of Lent without touching a drop of liquor. I now know that I can take a day off once a week, if I want.
During the years when I was growing up no one in my family ever gave up anything for Lent, as far as I can remember; if they did they kept very quiet about it, which is what they should do I suppose. The fashionable thing to say in those days was that, rather than give up something for Lent, you should instead take up some good cause. When I was at school my good cause was to attend the Lenten Addresses every Wednesday evening in the School Chapel. This was entirely voluntary, but they attracted a fair number of listeners. My friends and I would even discuss what we had heard as we walked back to our house. The fact that the Chapel was only about a hundred yards from our boarding house might explain this apparent keenness to attend. We certainly didn’t have long to finish our deliberations before it was time o do our prep.
Although the birds are already starting to sing heartily, there is no doubt that Lent comes at cold time of year. It was so cold in Dereham church in the nineteenth century (before any kind of heating) that few of the old folk used to attend services during Lent, according to the vicar. How the little birds survive with only feathers to keep them warm is a constant source of wonder to me. I suppose many of them must fall victim to the weather. I think the hibernating animals who get nice and fat in the autumn and then find a warm hole to sleep off the winter months have a much more sensible way to get through the season.
The Lent fast was taken seriously in the middle ages. It fell at the time of year when the foodstuffs that had been hoarded up from the previous harvest were beginning to run out, and fasting could easy turn into famine. With improved storage methods famines were largely a thing of the past by the sixteenth century. With the coming of the Reformation the more moderate Protestant churches continued to observe the Lenten fast, but the hard-line Presbyterians took a different view. All the annual Feast Days were anathema to the Puritans as a form of superstition; even Easer was ignored by the most extreme of them, but over fasting they were more conflicted. Fast days were prescribed in many Puritan jurisdictions, although the term Lent had Popish overtones and tended not to be used. It has never regained its former importance, and in today’s secular world it is ignored by most people; but we still enjoy pancakes.
THE BLOG FOR HISTORY
Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929 with just a week’s notice, but not before my mother had travelled on it as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station (which is still there) and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and even the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.
The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station is proceeding, although the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold.
Sixty years ago the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war). Past the site of Walberswick station and across Walberswick Heath you come to Tinkers Walk. This gives way to the pine trees of the Heronry before reaching Blythburgh, where the fine medieval church dominate the skyline. It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.
As far as Blythburgh we walked along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for the visit was not to see the remains of the railway but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the puritans in the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.
A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. In spite of Hitchens’ experience, we think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.
Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in the circle of Benjamin Britten’s admirers, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father had was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and remained in touch with him afterwards.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Christmas in the 1780’s
Although Norfolk turkey was already a seasonal treat in the seventeenth century, none was served at Weston Longville parsonage on Christmas Day in 1782. During the previous week however Parson Woodforde held a party at which roast turkey (as well boiled mutton) was on the menu. The party food included currant jelly, apple tarts and custard. Custard in those days meant what we now call egg custard.
In the eighteenth century Christmas Dinner was very similar to what we ate when I was a boy, two hundred years later. As we have already seen, turkey was eaten by the wealthy at Christmas time, but on Christmas Day itself the Parson had roast beef. The ‘roast beef of old England’ was clearly the height of luxury to James Woodforde. At home in our modest surroundings at Poringland we sometimes had a leg of beef for Christmas Dinner, but more often it was a roast chicken. Turkey never appeared on our table until the industry started selling the smaller white turkeys – the tradition black Norfolk turkey was just too large to fit in our little oven! Such considerations would not have applied at Weston parsonage. Turkey may have been absent from the Parson’s Christmas table, but plum pudding certainly was on the menu in 1786 in Weston, just as it was in 1986 at Poringland. (Nowadays many people don’t like Christmas pudding and would rather have something lighter and more modern.) Mince pies also featured as part of Woodforde’s Christmas fare, but in the eighteenth century mincemeat was still what it said it was – a concoction of minced mutton, beef or venison.
Woodforde invited twelve old men from the village to join him for Christmas Dinner, and besides the food they each got half a pint of strong beer. The old men’s wives were not invited, but each went home with a shilling that was intended for them. This was at the Parson’s table; at the kitchen table a few days later the squire’s servants arrived from the Hall for an evening’s entertainment, and shared a more homely repast of roast fowl and punch. (This was a drink of liquor with sugar, citrus fruit juice and spices added.)
It was the tradition to extend hospitality to those of a lower station in life at Christmas time. The Hardys of Letheringsett, who owned the local brewery, had their workers over for Christmas Dinner; with the Hardys the workers’ wives were included. (Perhaps the bachelor Parson of Weston Longville felt more comfortable in an all-male gathering.) Unfortunately Mary Hardy (the diarist) was not so interested in those minor details that the Parson recorded, and are so fascinating to us, and did not record what the guests actually ate. I would love to know what their Christmas Dinner consisted of, but it would have been similar to the meal served at Weston.
Christmas, together with Easter and Whit Sunday, were in many parishes the only occasions during the year when communion was celebrated. If Christmas Day fell on a weekday, the sacrament could be delayed until the following Sunday. Having been to communion in Letheringsett in the morning, after Christmas Dinner the Hardy family would walk the mile into Holt for the afternoon service there. The return journey would be undertaken in the gathering dusk. If the snow was falling they would omit this second visit to church. It was not solely for devotional reasons that people attended church; it was also an opportunity to engage in social contact with your friends.
It was colder in the eighteenth century than it is today; frosts could continue into May, and a hard frost or a covering of snow was usual at Christmas time. This meant there was nothing especially Christmasy about a roaring fire; this was a necessity all winter long. Coal was available across the land by the late eighteenth century, but it was expensive; wood fires still heated the homes of the poor, or else they had to wrap themselves up as best they could. At Weston parsonage five chimneys needed sweeping at Christmas time in 1786. Five fires sounds a lot, but that was little enough to keep the whole household warm. The kitchen fire would perhaps have been the only source of warmth for the servants.
Christmas was still very much a religious celebration, and Christmas decorations in the modern sense did not really start until Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree from his native Germany. This was in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The Christmas tree, although a late comer in England, is in fact a reminder of pre-Christian worship, when trees were seen as sacred. Holly, and especially the mysterious mistletoe that grew with no roots in the ground, were other sacred plants. Mistletoe must have played a part in the Christmases of the eighteenth century, but I can find no reference to it in the diaries from the period. Holly however (under its Norfolk dialect name of hulver) occurs in Parson Woodforde’s diary at Christmas time; it has been used as a feature of the winter festival since time immemorial. Dear old Parson Woodforde records the minutest details of his life, but in this instance he only mentions the holly because in that year he got a double supply of it by mistake. The decorations were put up on Christmas Day, not even on Christmas Eve, and certainly not weeks or months in advance.
St Thomas’s day (which then fell on the 21st December, the winter solstice) was the time for the distribution of money or goods to the poor, so they could have some basic Christmas fare (a pound or two of flour was a common gift). The phrase ‘going a-Thomasing’ has long been forgotten, but centuries ago everyone would have known it meant begging by the poor. The 26th of December was the day for giving Christmas gifts (or boxes) to the deserving tradesmen who had supplied the Parson throughout the year: hence Boxing Day. On Boxing Day in 1786 Parson Woodforde provided a gift of a shilling for his maltster’s man and one of sixpence went the blacksmith’ son. There were many other recipients. When I was a postman we got some Christmas tips (though far less than half our customers were generous enough to give us anything); since Boxing Day became a Bank Holiday such gifts are no longer given on that day, and most tipping takes place before Christmas.
During the first week in January Woodforde paid his servants their annual salary, ranging from five guineas for his housemaid to ten pounds for his manservant. His servants were not universally grateful for their pay; his horseman thought he should have got more than eight pounds per annum for his skill. The sums were not very large by modern day standards, even allowing for 250 years of inflation, but you should remember that all their accommodation, most of their food and living expenses were provided by the employer. Woodforde also set out for Norwich in January to settle his accounts with his mercer and coal merchant etc.
The Weston Ringers got half a crown each for their year’s labours. (According to the Office for National Statistics this equates to £20 in today’s money.) As a young lad my son was persuaded to join the bell ringers at Weston Longville, though it had nothing to do with Parson Woodforde; I am sure he had not even heard of him. It is merely the best peal of bells in a nearby church. Anyway, after a few attendances he dropped out – bell ringing was no for him. If they were still so well rewarded at Christmas time he might have stayed! Nowadays bells are rung just for the pleasure they bring. Still it is nice to have this line to connect my family (however tenuously) with the Christmas celebrations of the Parson, a quarter of a millennium ago.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Gaston Martineau was a Frenchman who arrived in Norwich in the year 1686; he was a surgeon from Dieppe. The year before king Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes; this enlightened piece of legislation had been promulgated in France under king Henri IV in 1598. This king had been brought up a protestant himself, but had been forced to convert to Catholicism to inherit the throne of France. The Edict of Nantes allowed French Calvinists (Huguenots) a degree of protection from persecution. The removal of this protection caused many French Protestants, including Gaston Martineau, to emigrate across the English Channel; many ended up in Norwich. There was already a sizeable presence of continental Calvinists in Norwich, principally Flemish weavers, who had been migrating since the 16th century. Flanders was then part of the Spanish Netherlands, and the Spanish court was not as accommodating as the French court had been until 1685.
Well over a quarter of the population of Norwich was made up of these ‘Strangers’ (as the continental Protestants were called) at one time. Many Huguenots worshipped in French in their own church, which had been granted to them by the City Corporation, but the Martineaus soon converted to Unitarianism and some became Anglicans. One of Gaston’s great grandsons was called Philip and he was also a surgeon. Philip Meadows Martineau (1752–1829) it was who bought Bracondale Woods just outside Norwich City Walls, where his elegant residence Bracondale House was built. The House was demolished in the 1960s and County Hall was erected on the site. The connection with the Martineau family is remembered in the name Martineau Lane, now part of Norwich Ring Road. The original lane was just that, a narrow country lane, part of which was left as a tree-lined footpath when the new Ring Road was built to the north. From the lane one used to be able to see Bracondale House displayed against the trees.
Philip’s brother Thomas went into the textile trade as a manufacturer. One of his daughters was Harriet, and although he married in Northumbria she was born in Norwich in 1802. She was a famous 19th century writer. As a young woman she moved to London where she became something of a literary lion. She spent some time in the United States and on her return to England she wrote some critical comments on the American attitude to slavery and the poverty of female education in America. Her writings extended from historical romances to political economy. She moved to the Lake District during the latter part of her life; she supported herself out of the proceeds of her writing, which was highly unusual for a woman of the time. Her philosophical disposition was favourable to the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin; at an earlier period in her life there was even the suggestion that she would marry into the Darwin family. A period of serious illness led her to a life of celibacy instead.
Meanwhile other members of the family had become established in Birmingham. From 1846 five Martineaus have been Lord Mayor of Birmingham, the most recent in 1986. The Martineaus were related by marriage to the Birmingham dynasty of politicians, the Chamberlains. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was one of their number. It was revealed in 2014 that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is descended from the Martineaus. Her ancestor Elizabeth Martineau was elder sister to Harriet, and so Prince George also is directly related Gaston Martineau. The Martineau bloodline has in this way reached the very highest status in the land.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]
When the large parish church at ELSING in Norfolk was built back in the 1340s, what is now a small village was a substantial country town. Maybe it even rivalled EAST DEREHAM in size. A number of stones recording burials are to be seen on the floor of the church, and as late as the eighteenth century one of these still refers to Elsing as a town. The remains of the guildhall are incorporated into a house in the village, but nowadays the evidence of the formerly bustling town is mostly hard to spot, and not much remains of the once thriving district.
When l visited the church with my wife Molly there was an exhibition of former parishioners who had fought (and in some instances died) in the First World War. This was in 2014, to the mark the centenary of the start of the war. The centenary of the Battle of Waterloo received no such observance (for one thing it fell in the middle of the First World War), but one of the last survivors of that battle is buried in an unmarked grave in Elsing churchyard.
Elsing church was built in the first half of the fourteenth century and has not been materially altered since. The nave has no aisles and is one of the broadest uninterrupted church roofs in the country. It has lost most of the medieval stained glass, and appears very light and open. Despite the loss of its stained glass a lot of pre-Reformation decorative features remain, including a font cover which has been partially restored, to give some idea of the colourful effect.
Our dog Wesley accompanied us, and we met a man from Lincolnshire on a similar church crawl. He was very taken with the fact that a dog with a Methodist name should be inspecting an Anglican church. But (as he observed) the founder of Methodism (John Wesley) remained all his life a member of the Church of England and, as my wife never tires of pointing out, Samuel Wesley the hymn tune composer remained an Anglican until in 1784 he converted to Roman Catholicism! Wesley is certainly an ecumenical name.
It still has pub just across the road from the church. The building dates from the 16th century and it is called the MERMAID. It retains much of its charm, although modern requirements mean a large open-plan bar area rather than the old-fashioned saloon, snug etc. It has a large old fireplace. It is a dog friendly pub, which is a definite plus in my book. However the meal we had there a year or two ago was rather disappointing. Elsing’s economy was always based on agriculture, even when it was a ‘town’, but it is not all fields. The area is surprisingly well wooded. Even today there are many trees among which you can wander with you dog or ride your horse.
The village lies on the river Wensum, which, before the river was interrupted by many watermills, was a major route for trade. The watermill still stands in Elsing, but the last grain was milled for animal feed in 1970. It was water powered until the last. The final miller was one A. H. Forbes. The mill is now a superior style residence. We went to a fête and duck race (that used the mill pond to race the plastic ducks) in the summer of 2017. It was a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon and the surroundings were quite stunning. The mill at Lyng was in the next village downstream, but it has long gone; for a few years in the early 19th century both Lyng watermill and the one upstream at Elsing were paper mills. So too were other mills on the river, notably the ones upstream at Swanton Morley and downstream at Taverham. Not far away were other paper mills at Oxnead on the river Bure at Stoke Holy Cross on the river Tas. At Hellesdon on the Wensum and Bawburgh (on the river Yare) other mills produced pulp for paper. Paper making was big business in Norfolk 200 years ago, supplying the metropolis of Norwich and using rags from the same source.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
Although he was a local man by birth*, the Reverend Benjamin Armstrong travelled down from London to Norwich by train on the 14th of September 1850 to take up his new appointment. He came from Shoreditch station in London via Bishop’s Strortford, Cambridge and Ely by train. He remarked on the view of Ely cathedral; just six years earlier this would have been a much more arduous journey; then the only railway line open in Norfolk had been that from Norwich to Yarmouth. After the ceremony in Norwich cathedral he travelled on to his new living in Dereham, again by train. This town had been reached by railway just three years earlier. The station master was immediately an important person locally, and Armstrong makes a point of recounting his wife’s background on the day when he baptised the family’s daughter. The station master’s wife came of Huguenot stock, and her family had been involved in the shawl trade in Norwich.
With the new method of transport Benjamin Armstrong could make day trips to Kings Lynn or Lowestoft. London was easily accessible. He could travel to Oxford via the varsity line, a journey we can now can only dream about. Great Yarmouth, where he was amazed at the hundreds of fishing smacks, from Holland, France and of course Britain, was another popular destination. In the summer the flat-bottomed Dutch boats could bring tons of plaice, haddock and turbot to the shore; the fish they off-loaded onto horse-drawn carts taken down to the beach through the surf. In October the herrings arrived off Yarmouth and the docks became packed with drifters. Huge quantities of herring were salted for the export trade, and already fish trains were taking the fresh fish around the country. It was another 24 years before Cromer could be reached by train, but as soon as this town was on the railway network he was off with his family to admire the view. Then it was home to Dereham by bedtime. The day trip to the seaside had truly arrived, and the railway company ran weekday excursions with ladies going half fare.
The railway carriages in 1850 (and for decades thereafter) were simple four-wheeled affairs; heating was not at first available, and bogie coaches and corridor trains had to wait until the next century as far as East Anglia was concerned. In 1850 the locomotives were open to the elements (poor train crews!), although they were covered within ten years.
We are definitely in the modern era; in those earliest days of train travel it was slower to go to London than it is today, but not by great deal. Armstrong remarked how he could be in London in the morning and by the afternoon be attending to parish affairs in Dereham. Compare this with just 25 years earlier, when no traveller went faster than a horse could take you. By coach it took all night and half the following day to go from Norwich to the capital. Nor was travel the only way things were suddenly modern; postage stamps had made communication quick and relatively cheap in 1840. The number of letters passing through Dereham Post Office went from 7000 per annum in 1873 to 25,000 just three years later. There was already the electric telegraph to India in the 1850s, and the first local telegraph lines in Dereham appeared at the same time. The first commercial use of the long distance telephone in Britain took place on the 1st November 1878. This was along the 115 mile line from Cannon Street in London to Norwich– where else? This used the telegraph line of the Great Eastern Railway to transmit the human voice. Photography had arrived and soon it was in common use; street lighting was going up in Dereham, and the parson was anxious to install gas in the church.Thomas Cook had begun his excursions, and he took a huge number of the local folk to Dublin and back for 42 shillings each. This wasn’t exactly cheap, but the idea of an overseas holiday for the masses was an incredible innovation. On the sea crossing by steamer there was nothing to eat laid on, but the travellers made do with large quantities of whiskey, cigars and a crust of mouldy bread!
The Revd Benjamin Armstrong had married Anne Duncombe in 1842, and brought up his family of five children in the commodious parsonage in the town. (One daughter died in infancy.) The large gardens made a suitable place to hold meetings, as when the Norfolk Agricultural Show was held in the town. Being in the centre of the county, Dereham was also where Norfolk County Cricket Club held its matches in the 19th century. National sporting events get a mention in Armstrons’s diary, such as the occasion in 1877 when the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race resulted in a dead heat. Mostly his diary is taken up with the daily round of church affairs; visiting the sick, chairing meetings and conducting weddings (he said he preferred funerals). It was a more religious community then than it had been in the previous century (and certainly more devout than it is today), and Armstrong held services every day of the week. Sundays were taken up with multiple church services (two, and he wanted to introduce a third as soon as gas light made this possible). As the choir sang throughout the week the vicar thought they deserved a treat; he took the choirboys on a day’s outing to Lowestoft, and only three of them had ever seen the sea before.
The health of the country was still racked by epidemics of smallpox and cholera, and the advances in medicine were slow to exert their influence on the population; anaesthetics were starting to appear (to begin with in childbirth) and surgery was slowly advancing beyond the ‘cutting for the stone’. This operation (without any anaesthetics) had been the commonest one to begin with, and was attended by some success. The wonder drugs, starting with penicillin, were not to appear until the middle years of the 20th century. In all sorts of ways the speed of change has accelerated in the last two hundred years and it still continues to do so; before 1800 many things scarcely changed from one millennium to the next.
There have been three volumes of selections from the diaries of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong. The first was published in 1949 and the most recent in 2012. These journals are not so well-known as the diaries of Parson Woodforde; Armstrong’s diaries are much more recent in their concerns, in spite of only 15 years separating the lives of the two men. That makes them more understandable but of less historical interest. Look out for further posts mentioning the Reverend Armstrong; there is plenty more of interest in his diaries to digest.
*See the correction in the comments section.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States in 1861. We all know the part he played in the Civil War, but the fact that his ancestor Samuel Lincoln emigrated to America in 1637 in his teens is a slightly less familiar fact. Samuel settled in Hingham Massachusetts, a settlement some 23 miles south of Boston. Samuel had grown up in the village of Hingham in Norfolk, before being apprenticed to Francis Lawes as a weaver in Norwich. This was a time when Puritan feelings were at their height, especially in Norwich, where Matthew Wren (uncle of the architect Christopher Wren) was appointed bishop in 1635. He tried to impose traditional elements of worship on the churches of the diocese, such as bowing at the name of Jesus and the wearing of surplices. These things were anathema to the Puritans, and many of them longed to escape the stifling influence of the Church of England by establishing a simpler form of worship in the New World. Francis Lawes could not tolerate this state of affairs for long, and within two years he and his family – his wife, daughter and servant Samuel Lincoln – had embarked on the ship the John and Dorothy at Yarmouth for the voyage to New England.
It was no accident that Samuel Lincoln chose to make his home in Hingham Massachusetts. His elder brother Thomas had emigrated two years earlier in 1635 when the town was incorporated. The settlement had been founded by a number of the better-off citizens of Hingham in Norfolk who, together with their clergy the Reverends Peck and Hobart, had sold their property off cheaply in England to make a new life for themselves in America. The poorer folk who were left behind in Norfolk suffered badly from the loss of so many wealthy inhabitants of the village and petitioned Parliament for aid. Hingham Massachusetts is nothing like Hingham in Norfolk; for a start is a coastal town, whereas the English village is deep in the interior of Norfolk. Until the coming of the railways many Norfolk people could live their whole lives without ever seeing the sea, in spite of the county being almost surrounded by water.
The most famous ship to take emigrants across the Atlantic was the Mayflower. She sailed from Rotherhithe on the Thames to Plymouth in 1620 en route to Massachusetts. She had been built towards the beginning of the 1600s in Harwich in Essex. Although the Pilgrim Fathers came from all over southern England, several of them were from Norfolk and Suffolk.
Many generations separate Samuel Lincoln from his descendant Abraham, and George Washington’s ancestral home in Northamptonshire cannot really be called part of Eastern England, but one of the most influential of political voices of the American War of Independence belonged to a Norfolkman born and bred. Tom Paine was born to a weaver in Thetford (note how the wool trade dominated the lives of East Anglians for centuries) and he was educated at the Grammar School there. You can read more about Thomas Paine in an earlier blog I wrote.
To get an idea of the more general way East Anglians were involved in the earliest settlement of the US look at all the place-names that we now associated with North America, but that originated in Norfolk. Yarmouth in Cape Cod was founded in 1639 and Norwich Connecticut in 1659. Norfolk itself means Norfolk Virginia to anyone from across the pond. Denver Colorado gets it name from James Denver, but indirectly from the fenland village in Norfolk. Of course many other parts of England have left their mark on the map of North America, but Norfolk is up there with the best.
So far I have only mentioned those who travelled westwards to the New World, but in the Second World War more American air force personnel were stationed in Norfolk than anywhere else in the UK. In view of the strong ties we in Norfolk have with North America I think we could do even more to foster tourism from the United States to our county.
THE BLOG FOR STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
PARSON JAMES WOODFORDE (1740-1803) was an unknown character until John Beresford published the first volume of selections from his diary in 1924. This caused something of a literary sensation, and figures such as Max Beerbohm and Virginia Woolf were immediately intrigued and delighted by the details of this eighteenth century cleric’s life. The popularity of the first volume resulted in four more volumes being published in the following years.
Woodforde had been born in the West Country, and after getting a Scholarship at at Winchester College he got his degree at Oxford. He then spent ten years as curate in his father’s parish in Somerset. In 1773 he was presented with the living at Weston Longville in Norfolk. He moved there in 1776 and after becoming established there he soon settled into life in this country parish, about ten miles outside Norwich. The nucleus of Weston included the church, parsonage and the Hart, the public house that supplied Woodforde with port, gin and rum; much of it smuggled!
On horseback, and accompanied by a servant and a friend or relative, he would travel the East Anglian countryside in the summer. Great Yarmouth, Wells-Next-the-Sea, Lowestoft and Southwold were all seaside places he visited; they were not yet the holiday resorts that they would become in the next century. He was less interested in going to inland towns. For longer journeys back to Somerset he would take the coach from the Kings Head in Norwich Market Place and travel via London. Norwich, he said, was the fairest city in the country by far, and as a Norwich born person I may be slightly biased, but I think it has held up well to that description. From the castle to the cathedral to Elm Hill it presents a picturesque face to tourist and local alike.
What the reader of a diary wants are just the sort of everyday details he supplies. Of the great national events we may read full accounts elsewhere, but of Mr Mason of Sparham’s playing on the handbells (for example) we can only learn about in Woodforde’s diary. They may seem mundane events, but it is those very glimpses of the past that become lost as time passes, because no one else has recorded them. In the Parson’s diary we may read of an onion which measured 14 inches in circumference; this was certainly a big onion, but the interest is not so much its size. He seldom mentions the vegetables he has with his roast lamb or shoulder of pork, but onions are obviously one possibility. They have good keeping qualities. ‘Roots’ (probably turnips) he also refers to, and they were available for most of the autumn and winter; asparagus had short season in the spring, but that too appeared on Woodforde’s table.
Much fun was had by ‘the Captain’ – Bill Woodforde, the Parson’s nephew. He had served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence and with demobilisation following the Peace Treaty he stayed at Weston for several months. While there he built a miniature sloop (a type of sailing ship). The baulks of deal from which he constructed the hull he brought from Norwich in Woodforde’s cart, and the lead for the keel he acquired from a glazier in Mattishall. You may get some idea of the size of the vessel, as 25 lbs of lead were needed to balance the keel. Unfortunately he got the balance wrong, and on being launched the vessel listed to starboard and immediately began taking on water. This was a matter of great chagrin to the Captain. Where it took to the water is not revealed, but it may have been in the river Wensum, or else a local pond.
You can appreciate Woodforde in many different ways; you can dip into his dietary life, which is recorded on a daily basis, or chart the weather. Rain, snow and wind are all recorded, and he had a barometer from which he regularly took the pressure. For me the details of the lives of his acquaintances provide endless snippets of information for my researches into local history; although his appeal is nationwide, for me it is truly local. Weston Longville is only separated from where I lived by one other village. I can picture the rivers he fished in, the woods he skirted around and the roads he ventured along, not from the printed page but from my everyday familiarity with the landscape. Even many of the pubs he mentions are still there, in the old buildings Woodforde would have known, still serving their pints of ale to me as they did to him nearly 250 years ago.
THE BLOG FOR EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
This Norfolk village is hidden away in the depths of the countryside. It is twenty five miles south west of Norwich; it is not exceptionally picturesque but pleasant enough. It comes under Breckland District Council. In summer it is surrounded by green hedges and fields of corn. The church of St Michael is set back on a bend in the road and the bell rings the hours; when we were there in June the clock was a quarter of an hour fast. It has a fine display of 15th century Norwich School stained glass and five remaining figures set in brasses on the floor.
The river Wissey passes through Great Cressingham and rises a few miles north at Bradenham. You are a long way from the Norfolk Broads here, and further downstream the Wissey is home to narrow boats that have come to Norfolk from the Midland canal system. It has more in common with the river Severn that the river Bure in boating terms – almost a foreign country!
Molly and I were there to watch our daughter Polly compete in a British Cycling road race. Although this was held in Norfolk the competitors came from far away; several from London and one from Shropshire. The field was therefore a strong one and Polly did well to finish around half way down the field – there were 30 in the women’s race. It was her first road race, previously she had competed in a Mountain Bike contests near Brandon which we had also gone to watch. On that occasion we never even found the venue! This race started at the village hall and there were seven laps of the surrounding roads, each one taking about 20 minutes to complete. Along the Watton Road the villagers had turned out in force to watch. They probably don’t get very much entertainment in the village. My wife could get no signal on her phone – maybe it would be better on another network.
The nearest town is Watton and for ninety years until 1964 that was their nearest railway station, on the Swaffham to Thetford branch. Great Cressingham may have felt a little less cut off before the Second World War because southwards the Stanford Battle Training Area now blocks off Great and Little Cressingham from the Thetford area. In all five villages (plus a deserted medieval settlement) were taken over by the War Office in 1942 and remain out of bounds today. STANTA is used for regular training exercises by the Paras and others, and soldiers from Europe are frequently to be seen there. The former habitations have been wrecked by decades of neglect and gunfire, but the churches have been preserved. The fine church at West Tofts was largely rebuilt in the 19th century by Pugin, at the expense of its millionaire vicar. It is described as one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in the country and so it is doubly sad that it cannot be visited. However occasional services have been held there since the 1980s.
As a civil parish Great Cressingham is combined with Little Cressingham and two villages together had a population off 421 in the last census. The village school close in 1992 and there is no longer a shop, but the 17th century pub (the Olde Windmill) remains. It seems a popular place with a dining room and guest bedrooms as well as wide range of cask ales.