Tag Archives: history



Parson James Woodforde

I have told you before about the antiquity of the pubs in Costessey including the White Hart. The pub has been rebuilt twice since the eighteenth century, though it has retained its name. It was still called the White Hart when I first remember it, though recently the name has been abbreviated to The Harte. In the morning of May 21st 1778 Parson Woodforde and some friends walked to the White Hart in Costessey from Weston Longville (a journey of several miles) to see a famous woman who was staying at the pub. This was Hannah Snell who dressed as a man. While staying at Costessey she was selling laces and haberdashery to provide her with a livelihood, and Woodforde gave her 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) for some buttons worth only 1/4d (just under 8p in modern money). Obviously her celebrity was good for trade! The transaction netted her over £20 by today’s value. But what was her fame? – it was more than just having been a cross-dresser obviously.


Hannah Snell was born in Worcester on 23 April 1723. At the age of 17 she moved to London where she married. Her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant and she later found out he had been hanged for murder. After her young daughter died she enlisted in the Royal Marines in the sloop-of-war HMS Swallow at Portsmouth. She served in the Marines in India, fought and was injured several times (including being shot in the groin according to her account, though this unlikely story is disputed), but in three years she was never discovered. However on her return to England she revealed her true sex to her shipmates. She could no longer serve in the colours but was persuaded to petition the Duke of Cumberland (the head of the Army) to secure a soldier’s pension. This she was granted for wounds received. She became a celebrity having the story of her exploits written in the Gentleman’s Magazine. She undoubtedly embroidered the events of her life, but as related here they seem to be true. A chapbook (i.e. a cheap popular pamphlet) entitled The Female Soldier was published in 1750 and ran to two editions. Her portrait was painted several times and engravings of her in military uniform and aiming her musket were widely published; her fame even reached rural Norfolk!

She appeared in uniform on stage doing military drills and singing appropriate songs; she was also briefly the landlady of a pub in Wapping. She remarried and had two more children who survived; she has descendants living today. Widowed once again she married for a third time. It must have been after her third husband died that she was travelling East Anglia in 1778, selling trinkets. Later her military pension was increased and she was no longer compelled to travel the country profiting from her name. In the 1780s she was living in Stoke Newington (London) with her son who was by then grown up and working as a clerk. By her late sixties she was suffering from dementia and after being admitted to Bedlam she died in 1792. She is buried at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.







St Matthew from Cawston Church rood screen (16th century).

The earliest mention of spectacles known in England dates from 1328, when the will of the Bishop of Exeter mentions ‘spectaculum oculo’ (spectacles for the eyes). They were valued at two shillings (ten pence), which I gather was a considerable sum of money at the time. Although Pliny mentions that the Emperor Nero used an emerald to improve his vision, spectacles as we know them were invented in Northern Italy, as is recorded by a Dominican friar who wrote in 1306: ‘It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses‘. A painting in Cawston church (dating from around 1500) shows St Matthew wearing a pair of glasses. At this period these still had to be held up to the eyes, although an early form of pince-nez that gripped the nose had already been developed. By 1600 we have a picture of a Spanish Cardinal (by El Greco) wearing glasses with sidepieces extending over the ears.

The  WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF SPECTACLE MAKERS is one of the Guilds of the City of London, whose Charter was granted by King Charles I in 1628. They adopted the motto ‘A blessing for the aged’. My father became an optician by studying under the Spectacle Makers Company. He had to go up to London to take the exam, and on qualification he got the letters FSMC (Fellow of the Spectacle Makers Company) after his name. This entitled him to become a Freeman of the City of London. This was superior to being a Freeman of the City of Norwich (which he was not entitled to), and although he never took up the honour he remained proud of the possibility throughout his life. The term ‘Fellow’ did not however mean that he was a ‘Liveryman’ of the Company; that was restricted to a membership 400 (originally just 60) who were prominent London businessmen. Now that all opticians must have a university degree the Spectacle Makers Company is no longer directly involved in education.

Spectacle frame made by Mason and Gantlett.

Most ophthalmic opticians stuck to testing eyes, but my father took this a step further and really did become involved in making spectacles. This side of his business began in the 1940s and continued for the rest of his life. (Sight testing remained his main occupation except for a brief period when had an optical factory.) In spite of the fact that his qualification was from the Spectacle Makers Company it had nothing to do with the actual making of glasses. This skill he had to teach himself. If you wish to learn more of this side of his life I refer you to an earlier blog – FRANK MASON (PART THREE).

Another Norwich man who was entitled to become a Freeman of London was Jeremiah Colman who started his mustard business in 1814. He did take up the honour, in 1838. Although his business skills had nothing to do with spectacle making, it was as a Liveryman of the Spectacle Makers Company that he was enrolled as a Freeman of London. In the nineteenth century the Guilds of London had ceased to have a sole involvement with the industry stated in their title, their ostensible raison d’être.  Already those with no connection with spectacles had begun to be admitted as members, although their interest in the training of opticians shows that some involvement with the industry remained. As far as the choice of Company was concerned, that depended on which one had a vacancy at the time, and in Jeremiah Colman’s case this was the Spectacle Makers. From starting off as just another minor flour miller in Norfolk, Jeremiah had become a very important businessman in London, whither a regular service by horse and cart delivered his product from Stoke mill. A cart-load may not seem very much, but if the amount was two or three cart-loads a week the volume begins to become quite substantial; you didn’t need that much mustard powder to supply Georgian London. Before Jeremiah’s death in 1854 the railway line from Norwich had removed any barriers to trade.

Although things like contact lenses and lazar eye surgery have made spectacles less necessary today, they are still the commonest form of visual aid. Although they had been about for 500 years, glasses did not reach the whole of European society until the 19th century. The earliest type of eyeglasses were for reading. I will not go into the technical difference between these and distance glasses, but these were a later development. By tradition Pope Leo X became the first person to wear distance glasses for short-sightedness in the 16th century. Dr Johnson only had a hazy view of the mountains on his visit to Scotland, and at the theatre in London he could not see the actors’ faces; I assume therefore that distance lenses (i.e concave rather than convex) were still no widely available. This was no doubt because the correction of myopia (the medical term for short sight) requires a sight test and a prescription tailored to the individual, unlike reading glasses. Distance lenses were common enough by the composer Franz Schubert’s time however, because his severe myopia was treated by wearing glasses.



There have only been Lord Mayors of Norwich for just over a century; before then the position was Mayor plain and simple. That was established in 1404 under the Charter of Henry IV. The first Mayor was William Appleyard, a prominent citizen whose house in Bridewell Alley is now the Museum of Norwich. Some famous names have been Mayor down the years. In 1846 for example the founder of the famous mustard business Jeremiah Colman held the position. The first Lord Mayor was Ernest Blyth, whose title was conferred mid-term in 1910. The current Lord Mayor is Martin Schmierer, leader of the Green Party in Norwich since 2016. He was born in Germany but came to Norwich as a seven-year old. Martin is the second member of the Green Party to be Lord Mayor of Norwich. At 31 he is probably the youngest councillor to become Lord Major of Norwich (I don’t think anybody has taken the trouble to research this thoroughly). He attended the Norwich School, where he was a contemporary and friend of my son Peter. Peter has returned from London to attend the Mayoral ceremony on July 7th. After attending the afternoon tea party with Martin he joined the Mayor on his Procession through the City centre. The theme this year was The Circus.

Some other Lord Mayors of Norwich have included the notable author Ralph Mottram, who was appointed for the year 1953/54. Sir Arthur South was another Lord Mayor; he was a prominent Labour Party politician who was also appointed during the 1950s. The South Stand at the Norwich City Football Club has nothing to do with the points of the compass – it is named after Sir Arthur. What is now less well remembered is that he also had a business in the city; it was a shop selling furs. This is now a very non PC business – so much so that such establishments (called furriers) no longer exist. Fake fur may still be purchased, but even this is frowned upon by many. Poor Sir Arthur lived into this period of severe dislike of fur. For some reason people will still tolerate leather goods to a certain extent, but merely to venture a millimetre further to the fur that grows on the animals’ skin is to bring the whole weight of popular disapproval down upon your head. Unless they are vegetarians people will happily eat animals, but are shocked at wearing their fur.

The book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich by Phyllida Scrivens was published earlier this year (2018). It covers the 17 women who have held the position since 1923, when Ethel Colman became the first. She was the second daughter of J. J. Colman, nephew of Jeremiah. He  it was who brought mustard making to Carrow. (She commissioned the pleasure wherry Hathor, which we saw moored outside Howe Hill on the river Ant on the 2nd June 2018.) Ethel Colman was obviously a powerful lady, being one of the first female deacon at Princes’ Street Congregational Church, among other things. She was unmarried, as was the second female Lord Mayor – her name was Mabel Clarkson and she was a member of the Liberal Party like Ethel Colman.

Mrs Ruth Elsie Hardy, Lord Mayor 1950-51.

The third Lady Lord Mayor, Ruth Hardy (née Peachey), was the first to be a married woman. She had risen from the lowest level in society (unlike her two predecessors). Her father earned a living catching rabbits, and she worked her way up from the bottom, beginning as a pupil teacher. She was a forceful character and became a leading light in the Independent Labour Party before the Second World War. I was too young to remember her period of office in 1950, but I met her many times during the twenty-five years thereafter. This is because she was my great-aunt.

Local government has a long history in Norwich. It has developed, particularly in the 20th century, first in the title of the senior member of the council, and then by including people of both genders in that role. The payment of expenses is a relatively recent feature. The 19th century mayors had no need of remuneration, being such people as brewers, architects and insurance magnates. Those of a humbler station in life (such as my great aunt) had more need of financial support. Although in her time she was granted few expenses, there were other subtler ways of gaining from the position. Until the end of her life I continued to benefit from Marks and Spencers’ shirts which she passed on to me. These were returns from which the labels had been removed, but were otherwise perfectly serviceable. It wasn’t much, but this was one of the perks of having been Lord Mayor! No doubt there were others.





WATERMILLS, WINDMILLS; none illustrated here are now in a derelict condition. Some have been restored, some have been demolished and some have been burnt down by accident. 

Old Buckenham Mill, 1970, before restoration.


Jeremiah James Colman purchased the tower mill at Old Buckenham in 1862. This was the year that the firm left the site at Stoke Holy Cross. The production of mustard was transferred to Carrow Works in Norwich, and Old Buckenham was used to produce starch. It was an astute business practice to use his mills to produce high value commodities like mustard powder and laundry starch. These could be sold at a far higher mark-up than bread flour, although the process of milling it was very similar. The railway network enabled Colmans to sell these specialised products across the country. The nearest station to Old Buckenham was Attleborough, three miles away. By 1877 the starch business had been transferred to Carrow, so all the firm’s activities were concentrated on one site.

COSTESSEY MILL before it burnt down in the 1920s.

Simon Wilkin

In 1810 the mill at Costessey – a previous building to that shown above – was owned by Simon Wilkin. He lived in the mill house in Costessey, but he was not himself involved in the dusty business of milling corn. His interests were much more intellectual. He travelled widely, and had a private tutor to teach him Greek! He should have been a student at Cambridge, but as a Baptist he was then ineligible to attend. He lost the mill at Costessey when some incautious investments had him declared bankrupt. He restored his finances through setting up a printing business that was still going in Norwich in the 1970s. He established the Norwich Museum in his house in the city centre; it moved to Norwich Castle later in the century. While still a fairly young man he retired to Hamstead to edit the first edition of the collected works of Sir Thomas Browne. As I said, he was an intellectual.

Taverham paper mill 1839


Richard Mackenzie Bacon owned the paper milling business at Taverham for about ten years at the beginning of the 19th century. He was a journalist all his life, and continued to edit the local weekly throughout the period he was trying to establish the first machine-made paper business in Norfolk. He was not himself a hands-on paper maker, but he worked very hard in the business organisation. When his efforts failed he turned his full attention back to journalism. Besides continuing to edit the Norwich Mercury he published the first music magazine in London. He was also instrumental in setting up the Norwich Festival.

TAVERHAM PAPER MIL circa 1898. It produced paper for the Times.

Taverham mill went on to successful operation after Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s doomed efforts. When the railway opened from London to Norwich it became possible to supply paper to the capital. The editor of the Times’s father bought the mill at Taverham (which had again fallen on hard times) and the Norfolk village went on to produce much of the paper used to print the journal for over fifty years. The mill was made uneconomic by the development of wood pulp as the raw material for paper. The  problem with wood had been the chemicals used to bleach the pulp. When this difficulty was solved the whole industry went into a period of change; because the wood was sourced in Scandinavia the import made coastal paper mills the way forward. Taverham mill was a casualty of this change.

Bawburgh mill,

J. H. F. WALTER, owner of the Taverham paper making business from 1884.

J. H. F. Walter was a cousin of the owner of the Times newspaper. He inherited the paper mill at Taverham in 1884 and acquired the mill at Bawburgh to produced pulp for Taveham. The existing structure was built for Walter in 1886, the previous mill having burnt down some years earlier.

Bawburgh mill had ground flour for most of its existence. The first record of a mill there comes from the Domesday Book. In the early years of the 19th century it was occupied by the Colman family in the days before they began producing mustard. After the paper business ceased in 1899 the mill reverted to grinding flour, and continued making animal feed until 1967. Water power had been supplemented by steam engines since the 19th century, and latterly it was replaced entirely by the internal combustion engine.

Horsey mill was in fact a wind pump. One of many on the Broads, it belongs to the National Trust. It has recently been renovated.

HELLESDON MILL (from a postcard of about 1910). This was also at one time a pulp mill for Taverham. It later reverted to flour milling. It was demolished after WW1.

Cley mill.

Hindringham mill

Hindringham mill; this tower mill was built in the middle of the 19th century to replace a tower mill on the same site.  At five stories tall it stands high in this North Norfolk village. The mill was severely damaged in a storm in 1860, and this appears to have led to the bankruptcy of the miller. By 1937 it was derelict. The mill was restored for residential use in the late 20th century. This picture shows the mill in the early 1990s when my wife and children spent a summer holiday there with her parents. The mill is no longer available for short-term lets.

Oxnead mill.

The mill at Oxnead was a paper mill in the early 19th century. It never converted to machine-made paper  and by the late 19th century it was milling corn. The mill was by-passed by the Upper Bure navigation, which gave wherries access to Aylsham. This waterway was made impassable by the floods of 1912.

SAXTED mill, 1962. This preserved mill is in Suffolk.

HEMPSTEAD MILL, 1963. At that time it was still operated occasionally as saw mill.

On entering Mundesley from Bacton on the coast road, this mill is the first thing you see.

LODDON MILL, at the head of navigation on the RIVER CHET. In the 1980s the mill was a restaurant and I took my fiancee there for a meal.

Woodbridge tide mill. It had been working commercially until a few years earlier, and was being preserved in 1971 when I took this picture.

Reydon mill near Southwold in Suffolk, before restoration. It has a brief career as a wind pump before a gale put it out of action permanently.






The stock on the railways includes the fixed assets like the permanent way, bridges and buildings. Rolling stock covers all the wheeled vehicles. More specifically the term is often used to distinguish the stock that must be moved around the system from the locomotives that provided the motive power. In modern times the use of coaching stock that is integral with the power source has removed this distinction from passenger traffic.

Modern train in the country where it all began

In its most basic form the rolling stock of a railway at first consisted of trucks alone. These were operated by gravity, so no locomotive was required; these trucks included the wagons that were used to carry the slate down from the mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales to the harbour at Porthmadog. Workers had to perch precariously on the wagons as they began their long descent, to apply the brakes. When the train was eventually brought to a halt and the slates had been transferred to the waiting ships the empty wagons had to be returned uphill. This was done by a horse, who had also made the perilous journey down in a truck at the back of the train.

Puffing Billy was one of the first locomotive to haul trains in 1815, and the rolling stock was exclusively mineral wagons. Richard Trevithick’s Catch Me Who Can steam engine ran round a circuit of track in Euston Square in London during 1808, and the rolling stock on that ‘Steam Circus’ was for passengers. The first paying passengers to be carried on a railway line were loaded into coal trucks, which may (or may not) have been modified by the provision of seating. The earliest railway coaches made to carry people looked very much like the stage coaches that travelled the roads. These were for First Class passengers, and Third Class travellers were still squeezed into open wagons. This ended in the 1840s, as public outrage at transporting the poor in such uncomfortable conditions grew too loud to ignore. Passenger carriages were all more or less the same, with only the level of internal luxury distinguishing them; that is once the lowest class of passengers got a roof over their heads. Originally there were three classes of passenger, but the Midland Railway abolished Second Class in 1872, and the other companies soon followed. First and Third classes remained until 1956, but by then standard of Third Class carriages was amazing good. I well remember the compartments where all the seats had antimacassars (which were regularly changed). There were pictures behind every seat – coloured reproductions of  paintings, photographs of beauty spots along the line – or else mirrors. They were all kept spotlessly clean by the army of railway workers that were then employed – modern rail companies please note.

Freight demanded numerous different kinds of wagon. As the working of the railways rapidly progressed all kinds of traffic developed their own specific kind of wagon – horse boxes, oil tankers and bolster cars, to name but three. With the modernisation of the railways in the 1960s this variety was simplified somewhat; the mixed freight trains disappeared and livestock was no longer carried on the railways. Short wheel-based four-wheeled rolling stock was replaced, and long wheelbase container flats became the main goods rolling stock. This container traffic predominates in East Anglia, carrying import from the docks at Felixstowe, although there are trains of open wagons for sand from Kings Lynn, and tanker wagons from North Walsham for North Sea gas distillate. Many lines now carry no regular freight services; there is for instance no goods service from Norwich to Ely. In the mid twentieth century freight was still a massive user of the railways. This transfer to carrying people is the major change on the railways, which were originally built to carry freight with passengers as an awkward afterthought. The track maintenance trains for leaf cleaning and line replacement, and the special technical vehicles that carry out the checking of the line are another kind of rolling stock. Naturally these are used over the whole network.

Wheels are what makes rolling stock roll, and I can remember the railwayman walking along a train with a long-handled hammer and banging it on the wheels as he passed. This was to check for any flaws, as a cracked wheel would not make the same ringing sound. This is far too unscientific a process to be used today, but it was undoubtedly effective.

That is my overview of railway rolling stock, from the earliest primitive trucks of the eighteenth century tramways to the sophisticated carriages of today. Everything has changed, but rolling stock still needs wheels. Eventually, if magnetic levitation ever moves from the drawing board to practical use, we will have to adopt a new terminology. Until then we will continue to refer to rolling stock.





This booklet of road maps was printed circa 1930, sometime between the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925 and George V’s passing inRAC 1936. I can tell this from the Royal Warrants on the advert for Southgates Ltd, the ‘motor specialists’ of Fakenham. No doubt they got Royal approval from servicing the cars at Sandringham. The booklet is a treasure trove of information. From it I learn that the road through Lyng crossed the river by a ford, the bridge that I assumed had been in place for centuries is in fact only about 80 years old. The lane to Ringland had another ford, to be used if you were driving, though pedestrians could use the wooden footbridge from Taverham that had been there since the 19th century. I wonder how often those early cars stalled mid-river through getting water on the sparking plugs while making this perilous crossing? Deeper waterways required other methods of traversing them; there was a car ferry between Plumstead and Surlingham on the river Yare, and another one between Horning and Woodbastwick on the Bure.

There were four toll bridges in Norfolk; that at Hilgay near the river Great Ouse cost you 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence) –  there was no option but to pay if you wanted to go to the railway station there. Hilgay station closed in 1963, although tolls had ended long before. If you were driving between Dereham and Holt the bridge at Guist only cost you fourpence, or threepence in a motorcycle with sidecar. There were no toll bridges in Suffolk, and just two car ferries; those at Walberswick and Bawdsey. These two ferries still ply the rivers Blyth and Deben, but now the largest thing you can take across is a bicycle.

Being a map for touring motorists the booklet does not include railways, but their ghostly presence can be discerned by the roads they crossed, where the level crossings are shown on the map.  It mentions attractions and sights along the way; bathing at Cromer, yachting at Wroxham and angling at these and other places. The flint knapping workshops at Brandon were still operational and were well worth a visit, according to the Royal Automobile Club. It draws the map reader’s attention to the rood screen at West Tofts church. This marvellous church is not now available for visitors, being part of the STANTA Battle Area. If you are determined to see it there is normally an annual carol service held there, but arrive in good time if you want a seat! It is very popular, and deservedly so.

This copy of the book appears almost brand new, apart from the rusty staples. I had originally bought the book of maps to remind me of the routes taken by motorists before any bypasses were built, but I have discovered so much more. There is a gazetteer which has much of interest in itself; Yarmouth is the ‘premier herring port of the British Isles’, while the Quay is ‘one of the largest and finest in Europe’. Some of the information is wrong though; Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard was not born at Horsham St Faiths, in spite of what the book says. She was probably born in the Duke of Norfolk’s home in Lambeth South London, and when she moved as a young child it was certainly to Horsham, but the one in Sussex, not that in Norfolk.

Best of all are the adverts. It is quite remarkable how many hotels are still in existence, about 90 years later. The hotel which is annually take over by the Fishmongers of London (the governing body) for Speech Day at Gresham’s School, the Blakeney Hotel; The Crown at Woodbridge, where I had lunch as a nine-year old and The Cliff Hotel at Gorleston where we went last year for my cousin’s 80th birthday were all advertised in the book. Other hotels like the Bell in Norwich and the White Lion in Eye have closed long ago, but are still remembered with affection. The illustrations, like that of the steam launch carrying tourists on Oulton Broad, or the elegant motor car that appears on the Potter Heigham Garage advert are quite rare among the pages of adverts, but are all the more welcome for that.





West (or Little) Poringland was pronounced ‘West Pauling’ or ‘Little Porland’ in the days when it existed as a separate medieval parish. It lay between East Poringland and Shotesham. The church of St Michael had fallen into dereliction before the Reformation. It had formerly been administered under a curacy and in 1540 the spiritual needs of the small population were taken over by the Rector of Howe, although the church of All Saints in East Poringland was in fact slightly nearer. The poor of the parish were looked after by East Poringland, who also took care of the roads. The hamlet of West Poringland remained as a churchless parish for over three hundred years.

The site of St Michael’s church is in a farmyard off Shotesham Road, the only remaining vestige of the ancient West Poringland village. I imagine that the large pond and meadow between the farm and the road are what remains of the village green. All traces of the church have now been lost, but the walls still stood at just over shoulder-height in 1800. It was at this time that the land in the village was enclosed, and no doubt that was when the village green was incorporated into the local farm. In 1845 the village had a population of 57, compared with 520 in East Poringland. In 1840 there were four tenanted farms in West Poringland, all owned by the Lord of the Manor.

All the principal buildings and businesses were located in East Poringland – pubs, two windmills and a National School, set up in 1841 and still taking pupils a hundred and twenty years later when I was a lad. In the nineteenth century the surnames of Minns and Tubby were already known in the village, and both families were distant relatives of mine. My connection with Poringland arose from my parents moving there shortly before I was born, and the fact that it was also the home to these relations is coincidental.


Leafy Oak Lane was a popular dog walking place for me and my sister nearly fifty years ago. This is in West Poringland. Dove Lane, which leads off it, and eventually ends up at the Dove Public House, was a green lane (i.e.not made up) and so no traffic passed that way; it was perfectly safe for our dogs who would happily run and sniff along the lane. Leafy Oak Lane is a lovely name, but most of the oak trees must have been felled a hundred years ago or more, and the fields now do not even have hedges. It is near where the Poringland Oak is said to have been, and as there is a pond where Dove Lane meets Leafy Oak Lane this may have been the exact spot where Crome painted his famous picture.

Unfortunately the local farmer had taken to dumping farm effluent in the pond some forty years ago, and the result was not pleasant. Luckily nature soon recovers, and although I have not been there for many years I am sure that the scene is again tranquil and serene.





This old town mansion is a fortunate survival in the city. Built over 600 years ago, there are now only a handful of places like it left. The Music House in King Street is one, although it is even older; Dragon House (also in historic King Street) is an impressive late medieval merchant’s home and warehouse; the Curat House is hidden behind a modern facade in the Haymarket and dates from 1501. Strangers Hall is compact and hidden from view. All you see as you walk down Charing Cross is an unimpressive shop window, and the surrounding building is not only unremarkable but quite without merit. The glory of Stangers Hall lies in its interiors. It had fallen into dereliction and would have been demolished had it not been saved in the 1890s by a local solicitor with an interest in history. He was to use it as his home for the last twenty-five years of his life, but it took some time to restore and he did not move into it until early in the 20th century.

MILLIE (28/5/1911) was working at Strangers Hall.

Millicent Mason was one of my great-aunts. In 1900 she was still at school, but she was about to embark on her first job. This portrait of Millie was taken while she was housekeeper at Strangers Hall. Her employer was 51-year-old solicitor Leonard Bolingbroke, who lived there with his wife and children. There were two other members of staff, a cook and a nurse (a member of the family must have had health problems). Leonard Bolingbroke it was who bequeathed the house to the council when he died in 1927. It became a pioneering museum of social history, one of the first in the country. Millie had moved on well before the creation of the museum and had begun her lifetime career as a midwife. While she was still working at Strangers Hall my father used to visit his aunt Millie in her living quarters. He was astonished when the same room was later on display as part of the museum. ‘This isn’t to be view by members of the public’ was his immediate reaction; ‘It was my auntie’s home!’

St Mary the Less is a church near Strangers Hall in the centre of the city. You can easily miss it among all the shops, unless you raise your eyes to roof level; there the tower may still be seen. The church was originally closed in 1544, but in 1565 it was given by the City Corporation to the Dutch refugees who were already being driven out of the Netherlands by religious persecution. The Dutch were highly valued for their weaving skills which found a ready market in East Anglia. They appear to have used the church for selling cloth rather than as a place of worship, holding their religious services in the Dutch language in Blackfriar’s Hall, a tradition which continued into living memory, finally ending in 1929. In 1637 the church of St Mary the Less was transferred to the Huguenot community, the French-speaking Calvinist refugees; prior to that the congregation had worshipped in the Bishop’s chapel in the Cathedral Close. They continued to hold services in French in St Mary the Less until 1832.

How is all this connected with Strangers Hall? The house acquired its current name from these incomers or ‘Strangers’ who settled in Norwich, particularly in that area of the city around Strangers Hall. This term ‘Stranger’ included both Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. These immigrants may have accounted for as many as a third of the population of Norwich at their height, but by the end of the 16th century an outbreak of plague, prompted by their poor living conditions, reduced their numbers to about a quarter of the population. Even this was a huge proportion of the city’s residents.

They had a huge influence on the city. Many of the novelties introduce by these Protestant immigrants from Northern Europe resonate down the centuries, almost to the present day. It was for instance the Strangers who first brought the canary to Norwich, a bird which remained popular into the 20th century, when it gave its name to the local football team. The Florist’s Feasts were competitions held among local horticulturists in the local inns. These were a feature of Norwich life from the 1630s for two hundred years, and these too were an immigrants’ innovation. Anthony de Solempne, a Dutch refugee, became the first printer in Norwich in the mid 16 century and was a successful trader; he was made a Freeman of the city. In the brewing industry the introduction of hops led to the production of beer rather than the English unhopped ale; this was also down to the Strangers.

Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were deeply involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff  and MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. In 1623 Augustine was knighted and bought the estate in Taverham, moving from a trader to a member of the landed gentry. It was during his father Thomas’s time that Strangers Hall got its name. His grandfather (also Thomas) was the first person to invite the Dutch to Norwich, and provided lodgings for them at his home in Strangers Hall..






Emily Peachey (b. 1887)

A coney, in case you are unfamiliar with the word, was the medieval term for a rabbit. The area of the country around the town of Mildenhall in Suffolk was a great centre for coney catching, from their introduction less than two thousand years ago until the 20th century. Emily Peachey my grandmother was born in Lakenheath near Mildenhall; so too was her sister Ruth, who became Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1950. The Peacheys came of a long line of warreners in Lakenheath; I can trace my direct lineage back to George Peachey, born in 1662 in the early years of the reign of Charles II. I do not know for sure that he was catching rabbits as long ago as that, but as there was precious little else to do on the sandy soil this is highly likely.

In 1520 the annual rent of Lakenheath Warren was 250 rabbits (payable to Ely Priory) and the catch was 20,000 animals per year, which were worth fourpence a head. I have little doubt that the Peachey family were catching them 600 years ago; perhaps my ancestors in Lakenheath were coney catchers back in 1304, when it is on record that 4,500 rabbits were culled in that year.

The Peachey siblings whom I wish to write about were the children of Robert Peachey (1829-1917) and his wife Amelia (née Phipp, 1841-1918). The children of this couple spread their wings from the confines of rural Suffolk. After hundreds of years when the horizons of the family were circumscribed by the boundaries of this village, this was the generation that left it all behind. It was a feat made possible by the coming of the railway to Lakenheath station in 1845. (The station is still in use, but it only sees one or two passengers a week – a far cry from 1883 when it was a busy place that had its own station master, Robert Souter.) Although they all left Suffolk, not all the members of the family stopped hunting for rabbits. Nor did they all travel very far – at least two of them followed the life of netting rabbits just a few stations down the line in the adjoining county of Norfolk. For example Phipp Peachey, the second of the siblings and father of Emily, worked as a warrener in Arminghall near Norwich.

Phipp (1861-1929) was the eldest male child among the Peachey siblings. He went to London as a young man; there were not many wild rabbits in the capital and he must have tried his hand at some other labouring jobs. He met his wife in Wandsworth; she was from Buckinghamshire where her family had also lived for centuries. Their first child was born in London, before he returned to Lakenheath and a life of rabbiting. His second daughter was born in Lakenheath in 1886, and she was baptised Emily. Besides Ruth and Emily, Phipp had three other daughters and three sons. He was lucky to secure a position with Russell Colman, the boss of the mustard firm and an exemplary employer. Phipp moved to Norfolk in 1900. His job was to harvest the rabbits on the Crown Point Estate, which he was meant to pass on to the Colman family. They no doubt distributed them to their numerous employees. Phipp however sold some to the local butcher, an under-the-counter enterprise that was strictly forbidden. On being discovered there was a great commotion; in the end he was allowed to keep his job, but was banned from wearing the Colman livery. My father remembered being told by Phipp to go and hit a rabbit over the head; it must have been shot by Phipp but only injured. My Dad, who was about 11 at the time, could not do this. It was a bit of city-bred squeamishness which annoyed his countryman granddad.


The eldest child, Kate Peachey (b. 1858), married Thomas Reeve in 1886. He was from the adjoining village of Eriswell. He was working there as a warrener in 1890, and later moved to West Wretham near Thetford. Kate died aged 48, but Thomas lived sixty years a widower, dying aged one hundred in 1967. Thomas was not a Peachey, but his brother-in-law Ebenezer was; when the census was taken in 1911 he also was a warrener in West Wretham. Brother Alfred Peachey was working as a farm labourer, also in West Wretham, and no doubt they had both moved there through their connections with elder sister Kate; she was fifteen years Alfred’s senior and twenty years older than Ebenezer, and had already passed away in 1906. She had three daughters and three sons who lived to adulthood, and one daughter who died in infancy.

From the occasional flight by balloon for the few to the jet airliner for the masses; from the penny post to the electronic computer; from horse and cart to the modern motorway; what changes Thomas Reeve had seen! It was the transition from a way of life that had not changed much since the middle ages to the modern world in one lifetime. It is true that many of these aspects of modernity had not then reached East Anglia (and some cases have yet to do so), but the landscape had already altered drastically. The western half of Lakenheath Warren has been obliterated by a huge USAF airbase (one of the largest in Europe), and access to West Wretham is prohibited to the public as part of the infantry training area STANTA. The military have replaced the warreners, and today rabbits may hop unmolested through the undergrowth as jets and bullets whistle overhead. These changes had already taken place while Thomas was still alive.

Kate’s sister Emma moved to London as a teenager to work in service to printer George Judd. There, in the poshest part of West London, she met cheesemonger William Theobald. They married and he went on to become the grocer in a shop in Sutherland Street, Pimlico, next to the pub The White Ferry House (the name hints at the river Tyburn that runs below). The premises where William Theobald lived and sold cheese are still there, now occupied by a surveyor’s office. They had one daughter called Mabel. Emma’s sister Lavinia and her mother were staying with Emma and her family in Pimlico at the time of the 1901 census. Lavinia married Harry Graham in Fulham in 1906; he was a clerk. They had no children. Amelia was another sister who married a Londoner, Henry Coleman. He was a postman in Highgate at the time that their son Horace was born in 1890. By 1911 Henry was working as a time-keeper on the tube, on what is now part of the Central Line.


The most adventurous of the Peachey siblings was Arthur. After marrying a lock-keeper’s daughter he had met on the river Thames, he emigrated to Canada aged 28 in 1908. He ended up running a pool hall and ice cream parlour in Silverton, a mining settlement in the wilds of BC, and there his family grew up. To learn more of his interesting life read my story of Arthur Peachey (click on the link). He was joined in his Canadian adventures by his twin brother Jesse, but in this case the migrant’s life was not a great success. He was working in Eastern Canada mixing concrete in 1914 when war broke out. After serving with the Canadian Army in France he returned to England when the war was over. Jesse had two sons.

Arthur and Jesse were the youngest of the children, and both lived into my lifetime, though they were a world apart from me (literally so in the case of Arthur). Jesse died in 1958 aged 78 and was the last surviving member of the siblings. He ended up in Stratford-upon-Avon; I wonder why he was living in that middle class shrine, Shakespeare’s birthplace? It was a far cry from his origins hunting rabbits in the Suffolk countryside.

In spite of the many changes in the last hundred years, some things in Suffolk seem immutable. My immediate Peachey relatives all left the area in the nineteenth century with the generation described here, but the Peachey name is still common around Lakenheath. For example, the local undertaking firm is G. R. Peachey Ltd.  Known too in Lakeheath is the name Phipp; Stan Phipp passed away some years ago, but his grandchildren still live there. The Phipps must all be related to my three-times great-grandfather Ebenezer Phipp who moved from Bishops Stortford to Lakenheath in 1856. He was a dairy farmer and warrener and also had a business carrying parcels to Bury St Edmunds. The church of St Mary the Virgin in Lakenheath has a number of interesting medieval features, although my ancestors would have attended one of the Nonconformist chapels. Although I have been by train through Lakenheath station, that is two miles outside the village, which I have never been to; considering its significance in the distant (and not so distant) past of my forebears perhaps I should.





           St Edmund and the Vikings                    869–1066

Joseph C. W. Mason

Now Available!
Paperback, 234×156 mm, 168 pp. With 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 b/w illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6


King Edmund’s short reign over the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia was marred by invasion by Vikings from Denmark. Edmund himself was killed by them. He won no great battle. But he became the most celebrated of all Anglo-Saxon royal saints: dedicatee of dozens of churches, whose relics were the object of great pilgrimages, and regarded for some time as the national saint of England.

The author signs a copy for a customer at the launch on the 19th April.

As his cult grew, it became impossible to draw a line between the truth and its embellishment by hagiographers with their own messages to promote. Was Edmund the chaste, peace-loving man whom Abbo of Fleury depicted, or was he rather a powerful warrior? And why did the Vikings later play a large part in fostering his legend?

Joseph Mason roots his account in the Viking period: the last days of the life of the real man, and the first decades of the development of his cult. He focuses on the Vikings and Edmund’s interaction with them, both before and after his death, and he draws on unconventional sources of information: the pattern of church dedications to Edmund, place names, and the archaeological record. Mason argues that these traces, albeit sparse, provide valuable evidence that suggests how and where the Vikings travelled, where the impact of their invasion was greatest, and where the source of his subjects’ gratitude to Edmund – which was surely the main factor in his acclamation as a saint – is really to be located. The book concludes with a gazetteer of churches dedicated to St Edmund, in East Anglia ad beyond.

Joe Mason read history at Oxford and worked as a freelance journalist for many years. His blog on memories of East Anglia has recorded 200,000 hits.

Available from bookshops and online sellers, or order direct from the publisher: visit www.lassepress.com

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