St Andrew’s Hall has occupied a central role in the civic life of the City for nearly 500 years, and before it became a secular meeting place it was part of a Dominican friary. Every kind of public event has taken place there; I myself have sung from the choir benches as child (though in what circumstances I forget), and as a thirty year old I played there in the orchestra for the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. In less refined company I have been there with my friends to the Norwich Beer Festival; St Andrew’s Hall, together with the adjacent Blackfriars Hall, constitute the largest non-religious gathering place in the City. There have been calls for a modern hall to be built for the citizens, and maybe this will one day come to pass, but there is no immediate prospect of St Andrew’s Hall giving up its time-honoured rôle. Even if such a modern concert hall were to be built it would not occupy so central a location in the City; there could not be a better place for the citizens of Norwich to meet than St Andrew’s Hall. I should think there is hardly a citizen of Norwich who has not attended some function at St Andrew’s Hall the last half millennium.
The Dominican friars (also called the Blackfriars from their austere form of dress) moved onto the site in 1307, having first set up a friary in Colegate eighty years earlier. The chancel of the friary was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. and it was named St Andrew’s Hall from St Andrew’s Church that stands across the road after the Reformation. In medieval times it became a popular place for the rich an influential members of local society to bequeath large sums of money for the erection of memorials within its walls. These included the Paston family, and Sir Thomas Erpingham; the arms of both are preserved around the building.
With the closure of all religious houses by Henry VIII the City Corporation petition the king to buy the former friary in 1538. The hall with its adjacent conventual buildings has preserved the most intact medieval friary left in the country. The buildings cost the Corporation £81, with an unexpected extra £152 for the lead on the roof; as anyone who inspects the exterior of the hall today will recognise, the roof is nowadays made of copper. A print was made in the seventeenth century which shows St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars Hall with a central tower. This fine structure was demolished at some time, but when is unclear.
This Hall has provided the backdrop for civic occasions ever since the 16th century; the first recorded event to take place there was in 1544, with the Mayor’s inaugural feast. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses in the Hall when he came to crush Kett’s rebellion five years later. When Charles II visited the city in 1671 he was entertained to a lavish feast in St Andrew’s Hall. In 1695 it was used as a mint during the great recoinage of that year. The building was used as the City’s Corn Exchange before a purpose-built Corn Hall was erected in Exchange Street. It was also at one time used as the local Assize Court. In 1824 the first concert of the Norwich Triennial Festival took place in St Andrew’s Hall. A quarter of a century later the opening of the Railway to London was the occasion for a great feast and many speeches. The holding of feasts there seems to have fallen off in recent times, but concert are as popular as ever. When Question Time visits the City the team of broadcasters set up their equipment in the ancient meeting place. There simply is nowhere else in Norwich where such an event could happen.
THE BLOG FOR HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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In the ninth century the English East Coast was at the centre of a wave of invasion and warfare. Danish warriors from across the North Sea were making determined efforts to deprive the Saxons of their gold and silver and then rule the land. Eastern England was colonised by Vikings; York was the seat of Viking power in Northumbria from 867 for nearly 90 yeas, and East Anglia had Viking kings from 880 until 917. For the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period the influence of the Vikings was never far away. The Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard terrorised the country in the first years of the eleventh century; he briefly ruled England, and after his death his son Cnut became king of the land.
In Norfolk we can still trace the evidence of Vikings occupation in words and place-names. They soon intermarried with the local Anglo-Saxons, but they changed our language in the process. The Norfolk dialect includes many Danish words. Staithe is a term unknown in England outside the East Coast (this includes Yorkshire as well as Norfolk); it means wharf and comes from Old Norse. Flegg is the name of the old hundred just outside Great Yarmouth and the word means the yellow flag iris in the Danish language. The area around the upper reaches of the river Wensum is particularly rich in such memorials of a time over a thousand years ago. The village of Elsing takes its name from a Danish chieftain ‘Elesa’. The forest called Normans Burrow Wood near Whissonsett has nothing to do with rabbit burrows; it is a corruption of ‘Norseman’s Barrow”. Further west the village of Grimston takes in name from the pagan god Grim, while further east the second part of the name of the village Newton Flotman comes from the Old Norse word for seaman.
Nor is it only words which remind us of the Vikings. There are many archaeological finds which date from the Viking age. A brooch depicting a Valkyrie was found in Norfolk and may be seen in the collection at Norwich Castle Museum. A silver pendant decorated with Thor’s hammer was discovered by a metal detectorist near the river Wensum and hoards of coins from the period when Norfolk was ruled by Danish kings regularly turn up across the county. It was the Vikings who established Norwich as a major town, and the first reference to the name comes from one of these coins, where the inscription records that the mint was located there. They were fierce and ruthless warriors, but they reinvigorated the sleepy economic life of Norfolk.
It is thought that the huge development of the peat industry (that gave rise to the Norfolk Broads) was a result of the initiative of the Danish community. It is significant that in the past a quarter of the landmass in Denmark consisted of peat bogs, and these have been used as a resource since Neolithic times; there is no direct way of linking the origin of the Broads with the Vikings, but this seems highly likely. Long before the coal mines of the Midlands and the North produced the fuel that powered the industrial revolution, the Norfolk wetlands were a hive of activity. Peat dug out across the marshland and carried by river to Norwich provided the fuel that heated the homes of the city. Within two hundred years of the arrival of the Danes in the small town they called Norvic, Norwich was vying to become the second most populous conurbation in the land. The peat was needed to heat their homes.
The Vikings came into the country and things would never be the same again. History has buried the bloodshed and paganism deep in the realms of the past, but the words we use, the landscape we live in and the blonde gene that remains in our bloodline bear mute testimony to the continuing influence of these fair haired warriors. As the Viking age recedes into the past these things will slowly fade, but they have lasted for over a thousand years; we are still Vikings in many ways.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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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
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More than ten generations ago my ancestor George Peachey was born in Mildenhall in Suffolk. I do not know what his occupation was, but as all his descendants (right down to my great-grandfather Phipp Peachey) were warreners, I think it highly likely that he was too; rabbits were virtually the only crop that could be harvested from the sandy soil around the Brecks, until the 20th century ushered in forestry and provided a substitute in the form of timber. George Peachey was born in 1662 and grew up during ‘Good King Charles’s golden days’. The reason I mention this monarch is that he was a regular visitor to Newmarket to watch the horse racing on the heath. The town is only 16 miles from Mildenhall, and George may well have seen the king as he made his regal progress into the town.
For more than seven generations the Peacheys lived in Mildenhall, or the adjoining parish of Lakenheath. In this sedentary lifestyle they were not unique; indeed such a lack of mobility was commonplace for many centuries. Others members of my ancestors, for example the Jones family who lived as farm workers within a few miles of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire, were equally settled. The Rivetts are buried in Norfolk’s Shipdam parish churchyard from the 17th to the 2oth centuries, and members of the Mason family still live around Stone in Staffordshire. The Rutters appear to have been bakers in Suffolk throughout the 19th century and into the middle of the 20th. The Buxton family were farm labourers in the Norfolk village of Easton, and their relatives were landlords of the village pub (the Dog) for most of the 19th century. A Buxton was servant to the curate in the adjacent village of Weston Longville in Parson Woodforde’s time, and there is no doubt in my mind that he too was a distant relative of mine.
All these bloodlines would never have met had it not been for George Stephenson and the coming of the railways. Even before the first trains ran into the West Country, an ancestor of mine (a young Buckinghamshire man working as a railway navvy) had met and married an orphan in Cornwall. Domestic service also provided opportunities for employment across the land, now that universal education allowed all to read the adverts for servants and the penny post let them write a letter of application in reply. The trains provided the easy and quick access for the servants to travel to their new jobs. Not all travel was by train; this was the norm, but my uncle’s father arrived in Grimsby from Denmark by boat in the nineteenth century. Physical mobility came first, and social mobility soon followed.
All this concerns my own relatives as you might have guessed. Over the last two hundred years I can point to relatives of mine in Dover and St Austell, Stoke on Trent and Stradbroke, Fenny Stratford and Bishop’s Stortford. They have been coal miners and railwaymen, drapers and wheelwrights, pigmen and gardeners, carpenters and bricklayers. There have been no ladies or gentlemen, no clergymen or army officers. They have been ordinary working people in ordinary working class jobs. This was true until the 20th century, when all this began to change. The opportunities for social mobility expanded exponentially, so that by the 21st century the grandson of a fishmonger is a recently retired banker; the granddaughter of a waitress was a university professor. The grandson of a policeman travels around Europe on behalf of British research foundations. Other relatives have worked in the medical and teaching professions; as architects or engineers, actors and musicians.
The study of family history is very popular nowadays and many people must be able to relate similar tales. It is a tribute to the nation that all these changes should have been going on in science and technology as well as society, that enabled the population to spread their wings. Not all have taken advantage of the opportunities on offer, but they are there for the taking; this simply wasn’t true in the past.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE PAST
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
We have no rocks here, except for the carstone of West Norfolk, and that only appears through the topsoil to reveal itself in the stripey red and white cliffs at Hunstanton. The stones found in Norfolk are nearly all flints. I recently had an interesting correspondence with a lady in the US about flint; it is strange to consider that this material which is so pervasive in East Anglia is so rare in North America. Flints are produced over millions of years by the rainwater seeping through the chalk. The quartz-rich sediment is absorbed by fossilised sponges which are normally found in layers in the chalk. The flint grows around these sponges, and if you break one open you will normally find a formerly porous part at the centre. Chalk is formed from the shells of myriads of sea creatures, and the sponges represent an ancient seabed. In the neolithic flint mines of Norfolk known as Grimes Graves the best flints are found in the third layer from the top, which lies about 40 feet below the surface. Two of these ancient mines have been excavated and are open to the public. These stone can grow to 50 cms or more in length, although the stones and pebbles found on the surface are much smaller. Flint is a very hard material, but a sharp blow will shatter it; this process is known as flint knapping. The ancient miners tunnelled along this third layer to extract the flints which they made into tools – axes and spears. The use of flint as a building material came much later, but its appearance in the middle ages gives the landscape much of its distinctive character, particularly in the many churches of Norfolk.
Outside the Lake District there are no mountains in England; you might characterise the flat landscape of Norfolk as dull, but that would not be true. Mudflats are not the most romantic of surroundings, but the profusion of seabirds that gather in huge numbers to search out their food by the water’s edge have a certain grandeur. Inland the remaining expanses of sandy rabbit pastures interspersed by Scots pine, that mark out Breckland, have a bleak charm. The acres of forest around Thetford, that have replaced much of this heathland, stretch for miles; but being Forestry Commission plantations they are not the most interesting of woods. The marshland, heathland and woodland are all typical parts of the Norfolk landscape, but its real beauty lies elsewhere.
There are tree-lined commons, gently rolling hills and copses, and many acres of pleasant cornfields bordered by little becks. Many hedgerows have been grubbed up since the war; I can remember when the large field behind my childhood home was three smaller fields, all divided by hedges. The blackberries and field voles that once lived there had been banished long before it became what it is now; a housing estate. This building activity had been talked about for at least 50 years before it actually happened, so the changes to the landscape are slow in coming. We always moan about new houses, but they is still plenty of land left in Norfolk. However I would far rather see one or two new properties across fifty villages, and not have one community swamped by 100 new houses; that however is not the way things are done nowadays.
I have not yet mentioned the Norfolk Broads. If you like waterways, reedbeds and the wide open sky then this is the landscape for you. The Broads are a phenomenally popular holiday destination, so they must float many people’s boats; a high proportion of the country’s boating holidays are spent on the Norfolk Broads. I think the lack of landing places rather restricts the possibilities of Broadland holiday. The canal system allows you to get out of the barge anywhere you want and walk along the towpath as a companion steers the narrowboat. The Fens are even more of an acquired taste than the Broads. Although some are closed by sluices, many of the waterways are open to boat traffic; the prospect of miles and miles of dead straight drains with high banks that make distant views impossible is a daunting one. These high banks are a necessary part of the landscape, for the water level in the channels is many feet above that of the surrounding countryside. This Fenland landscape is a relatively recent one, having been created in the last three or four hundred years. In those places where the old vistas have been restored you may get a flavour of the old Fenland.
Of all our many landscapes in Norfolk I like the coast the best. I love the cliffs and sand dunes that run for miles and miles around our county. For my holidays give me the seaside at any time of the year. The sandy beaches give way from time to time to pebble banks and mudflats. After the cliffs of Hunstanton the coastline soon changes to creeks and islands that run from Thornham through Brancaster to Burnham Overy. At low tide the sandy expanse of beach at Holkham goes from the pine trees on the dunes to the distant waves. Salt marshes and sand spits suddenly change at Weyborne to the steep glacial hills of the Holt-Cromer Ridge. This in turn gives way to the flat sandy expanses that run down the east coast to the raucous holiday fun of Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile. Whether your delight is bird watching, gathering samfer, cockling, shrimping, digging sand castles or playing on the funfair you may do it here. Roll out the pleasures of the Norfolk landscape!
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
What records would you take to the BBC’s fabled Desert Island? The show was invented by Roy Plomley in 1942 and has been going ever since. Roy himself continued to present the show for over forty years, until his death in 1985. The format is well-known; the guest lists the eight records he would like if he was marooned on a desert island. He or she says a bit about each one, a section of which is then played.
In 1964 one of the first 45s I bought was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, so it was obviously a favourite of mine at one time. That was a long time ago though, and it certainly is not a favourite of mine any longer. My musical tastes soon developed, which makes it puzzling to me that so many 70 year olds still like the music they bought when they were teenagers. None of my 8 Desert Island discs would be pop music now; this fact alone shows why, even if I were a celebrity, I would never get invited on the show. I am afraid my choice of music would be rather indigestible for the anodyne tastes of the general public. If I had to choose a pop record it would be one by Abba or the Carpenters; these are attractive and tuneful songs that are despised by many (as they were by me back then), although they would be perfect for the listeners to Desert Island Discs. Karen Carpenter in particular had such a good voice. I have always maintained that a good song is just that, and its format (whether popular, jazz, classical or art song) is irrelevant; it is the tune that really matters.
It is the almost incessant drumbeat that accompanies nearly every pop song that puts me off them personally, so pop music is definitely out of my list of discs. (How old-fashioned that word is!) Light music however is certainly in. There is such a lot of light music that it is hard to pick just one piece. Nearly everything that Leroy Anderson wrote could make it to my desert island, but there is such a lot of marvellous British music in this genre it would have to be one of our composers. The Dam Busters march is too well-known, so I would go for another march by Eric Coates, Knightsbridge.
One down, seven to go; there is some jazz I like, but not enough to make it onto the list, so it is to the music of Schubert that I go next. Some people say Beethoven is the best ever composer, and some say Mozart, but for me it is J.S.Bach, followed closely by Schubert. There was a lot of music written by Schubert, considering that he died so young, but I am going for The Trout quintet. The ensemble includes a double bass after all, and that was my instrument. The string quintet in C major is a more serious piece, and I really prefer that, but it has two cellos and no bass.
After I had passed through my Rolling Stones phase, my friend Bill did much to educate my musical tastes. Nowadays he listens to lot of Shostakovich and Borodin but these composers, although I can listen to them with pleasure, could make it into my top eight. Elgar comes fairly high up in my list. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are so well known, and so are the Enigma Variations; Salut d’Amour is also pretty well known, but I will go for that. Chopin cannot be omitted either, and both Elgar and Chopin have been favourites for as long as I can remember. I would select Chopin’s 24 Preludes, though if I must restrict myself to only one piece I will go for number one.
Hayden is an underrated composer, and his string quartet are among his best compositions, so my next piece will be his Opus 77, No. 1. Mozart must have a place, and for something a little different I will choose his Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K 330. It is not as powerful as his Requiem Mass, but you do not want to hear a succession of heavy music. If Mozart, then Beethoven too must put in an appearance, although contrary to my opinion of Haydn, I think he is slightly overrated. Like his older German contemporary however, I regard his string quartets as some of his best music; cue the string quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132.
We now come to the last piece, and this must be by that towering genius Johann Sebastian Bach. I have avoided the most serious of compositions until now, but I will end with his B Minor Mass. I avoided listening to this for many years, perhaps being a bit overawed by its reputation, but when eventually I settled down to hearing it I found it tuneful and delightful, and no at all sombre as I had feared it would be.
Bach will always come out on top, but on another day I might opt for an even older set of composers including Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis and John Dowland. I’m afraid I am really that high brow.
FOR MY MUSIC
The Volkswagen Beetle was the car that our family doctor Heppie – a Scot whose real title was Doctor Hepburn – used to come out to see me when I was very young. I was suffering from those childhood ailments, like whooping-cough, measles and mumps, that have now been largely consigned to the past and banished from our lives. Injections against these diseases were not available when I was a little boy. Although uncomfortable, these illnesses were not regarded as anything other than the necessary adjuncts of growing up, but apparently they were life-threatening. A new black Beetle was a superior motorcar in the early 1950s – the sort of car you would expect your GP to drive in fact.
My earliest experience of riding in a Beetle was on the occasion when my father’s car was out of action for some reason, and he hired a Beetle from Robinson’s. Robinson is still the Norwich VW dealership, but in those days it was located in a garage just opposite Bishops Bridge in Riverside. The garage is still there, now a branch of a tyre fitting company. At one time it was used by a firm called Godfrey’s as a DIY shop. We needed a car because my father had arranged to do an ‘out-test’ (he was an optician and this was his phrase for a domiciliary visit) for Mrs Fakes in Hemsby. Mrs Fakes had kept the village shop in Hemsby when my father had been a regular visitor there before the war. His father (my grandfather) had built a wooden chalet which he erected on the sand dunes. The sands had been under the sea a few years before, so there was no question of buying the land from the previous owner; I think he just bagged it (Poseidon could not be contacted).
What I recall about the car was my discovery of a narrow slot behind the back seat which was meant for luggage. VW Beetles retained this feature to the end; when I first discovered this narrow aperture I was small enough to crouch inside it. I happily rode home there. I did not need to worry about my not wearing a seat belt in the car – they did not exist then. My father, who was quite safety conscious, had one fitted to our Hillman Husky in about 1961. They were very new at the time, and were entirely optional; most people pooh-poohed the very idea. Whatever do you want one of those silly things for? The first seat belts were just a single transverse strap from the pillar by your shoulder to the floor, and my father only had one put in for the front seat passenger; even he thought one unnecessary for the driver; the steering wheel would protect him in the event of a crash. There was no strap across your lap, so in a pile-up you could easily have slipped out it the he belt had not been tightened by hand; when you were closely restrained at all times. The automatic tensioner that locks you in if the car suddenly decelerate was a much later development.
Fast forward over thirty years and the VW Beetle was still going strong; it had been phased out of production in Europe, but it was still being made in South America. My father-in-law-to-be had just bought a new VW Jetta, and he passed on his faithful old red Beetle to Molly, his daughter and my fiancée. He had bought it in 1973 when they were still being made in Germany, and had kept it for a dozen years or so. When I married her about 18 months later I also married her Beetle! My own car was an old Ford Escort estate, and as it had recently failed its MOT. I got rid of it, and we relied on the Beetle as the family car. For personal transport I got myself a moped.
We must have kept the Beetle for almost 10 years, all through our children’s childhood. The place to go for servicing and repairs was by then Woolley’s Garage in Hingham. Mr Wooley specialised in Beetles. Once I had a go at removing the air cooling duct myself, to replace some parts, but the fiddling with endless screws while lying on the ground convinced me to leave this job to the experts in future. It is a journey of 17 miles from Norwich to Hingham, so it was quite a trip there and back. We certainly didn’t wait in Hingham until the work on our Beetle was finished. I cannot remember how we got back home again, but I suppose Mr Wooley lent us a replacement vehicle – another Beetle of course! It was pleasant to have an excuse to look round the small market town (more of a large village) of Hingham. In those days it had a splendid old ironmonger’s shop, and a secondhand emporium that was worth a browse. It was from Hingham that Samuel Lincoln, the ancestor of America President Abraham Lincoln, left for a new life in the New World in the year 1637.
Eventually we sold the Beetle. With two children, almost teenagers, we had outgrown it, and it was over 20 years old by then. It still had some years of life left in it, but it was in need of a thorough overhaul. I last saw it for sale on a garage forecourt in the village of Felthorpe.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
This pretty village has some dark periods in its history. At the time of the Black Death Ringland was used for burying the dead of Norwich; on the way to Costessey, Ringland Lane used to be known as Black Lane and the Woodland behind is still known as Blackhill Woods. The area was a huge charnel pit, where after more than 600 years this grisly memory is kept fresh. The bodies would almost certainly have been brought here by boat, as this part of Ringland lies adjacent to the river Wensum.
The village has a population of 260; in the year 1845 it was half as big again. In 1920 it was a larger village than its neighbour Taverham, where the major paper mill had closed twenty years before and the non-resident squire had yet to sell the land in the village. Now Taverham has a population of over 10,000 and is a dormitory for Norwich. The nature of Ringland has changed too, from a community of poor farming families and tenants to one of wealthy owner-occupiers.
Ringland Hills are unusually steep for Norfolk and were formed as a terminal moraine in the ice age. My earliest memory involves being taken to Ringland Hills in my father’s Singer car. By the time I was 8 he had bought a brand new Hillman Husky, so I can’t have been more than 7 and was probably much younger. Now the grassy slopes where I used to picnic are overgrown with brambles. During the 1930s they were a popular place for holding both motorcycle trials and sports car events. Since then Ringland Hills have fallen into dereliction; even the assault course which at one time used the hills is now no more. Now cars squeeze along the narrow lanes of Ringland and cut up the verges. They use the road as a short cut to the A47; a sign says ‘NO ACCESS TO TAVERHAM’, but however much the authorities would like this to be true it is a lie. There is no law that I know of which only allows residents of Ringland to use the road; it is either a public right of way or it is not, and Ringland Road is a public right of way.
During the First World War my father was brought to Ringland Hills for a Sunday afternoon treat. They are fairly close to the city and so Ringland Hills were a popular place for a stroll from Norwich. In those more energetic days when there were no cars for ordinary folk, a hike for a few miles into the countryside from the city meant a few hours well spent. My grandparents and their two young children walked all the way from the last tram stop on the Dereham Road; I think it must have been too far for the little legs of the boy, who must have got over tired. Anyway, he misbehaved himself, and was rewarded by his father removing the leather strap round his waist and giving his son an almighty belting. Corporal punishment was the norm in those days; nevertheless it must have made a deep impression on my father, as he still remembered it fifty years later, when he used to recount the experience to me.
A hundred years ago, when my father was taken to Ringland Hills, the bridge across the river Wensum was just a flimsy wooden footbridge, as it had been for many years before that. A field was rented out to provide funds for its upkeep. Anything heavier than a pedestrian had to ford the river, and you can still see where the road went across the green opposite the Swan pub. This popular Ringland pub is where we took our daughter Polly for a meal on her 18th birthday. The setting was marvellous, but the meal was disappointing. Then it was Australian themed cuisine called ‘The Taste of OZ’. The owners have since returned to the Antipodes, but the quality of the dining has not improved to any extent.
Recently the church held a medieval festival with an exhibits of some of its ancient records. There was a concert of medieval music, and the church was almost full for the performance on Saturday, which was great. (It was well attended for the medieval Songs of Praise on Sunday evening too.) In the chancel was displayed a piece of the medieval rood screen, severely damaged by the sixteenth century iconoclasts, but still hauntingly beautiful. Also on display was the marriage register from the 1780s, where one may see the signature of James Woodforde, parson of the adjoining parish of Weston Longville. The current marriage register dates back to 1843, and the church warden has recently had to buy a replacement! The church was begun after the Black Death, except for the tower which is slightly earlier in date. Some churches are austere and rather forbidding, but Ringland church is a friendly place. It has a peaceful airy quality and has a high number of original stained glass panels. The glory of St Peter’s church is the wonderful hammerbeam roof, and it has many carved angels looking down on the congregation.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
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.