Tag Archives: history

LOWESTOFT TRAMS

The appearance of the electric tram on the streets of Britain exploded as the twentieth century dawned; the large towns of East Norfolk and Suffolk all had a tram service by 1905, but within 35 years they had all gone. Only a century later are trams making a gradual comeback in the land. Trams in Lowestoft began running in 1903 and were discontinued in May 1931. The last tram was driven by the oldest driver employed by the Corporation, who as a young man had driven on the first day of operation 28 years before. We are fortunate that a double-decked tramcar (number 14) is still in existence.  It is part of the collection at the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville near Lowestoft, where it was the first item to be acquired.  It has not strayed far from original working route, having been used as a summer-house at Gunton until 1962. All the tramcars were built far to the west in Birkenhead; the company, originally called Starbuck & Co., had been set up in 1871 as the first business in Britain devoted to the building of trams. At the outset these were horse-drawn, but under the ownership of G. F. Milne over 700 electric trams were built at the peak of business in 1901.

The Lowestoft Corporation Tramways fleet consisting of four single decked vehicles (unique in East Anglia in having bogies) fifteen double deckers and a works car. The service ran for about four miles through Lowestoft to Pakefield.  The tramway was built to a gauge of 3’6″ which suited the narrow streets. Lowestoft Corporation Transport continued to run buses until the 1970s, and used the same maroon and cream livery that had first been used on the trams seventy years before. There was a branch westwards to the tram shed in Rotterdam Road; the building was used as the bus depot until the Corporation Transport was taken over by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company. It still stands, and is currently used as a warehouse by a firm supplying teachers’ resources.

The Mason family on Lowestoft  beach, August 1928

The trams ran from Lowestoft North station on the line from Great Yarmouth Beach that was opened in  the same year (1903), past Lowestoft Central station, the harbour and South Pier. The trams were fully integrated into the transport system, and were well used by the tourists who poured into the town from Yarmouth, 10 miles to the north. Although not quite so popular as the Norfolk resort – it had no Fun Fair for example – the town developed a brisk holiday trade during the first half of the 20th century.

Such was the demand for tram rails in England it proved impossible to obtain them in this country, and they were brought across the North Sea from Antwerp in a barge. The first batch arrived in the early hours of 10th March and after unloading, on the 11th the first rail was laid to much celebration. The Mayor was anxious to get the tramway operational by the summer season, and as a result work continued day and night. The tramway was formally opened on July 22nd. The universal fare for a journey was a penny and you could expect a tram every seven minutes. There was a clock on each tram and drivers who did not observe strict time keeping were disciplined by being laid off for a week without pay; the frequent opening of the harbour swing bridge must have provided them with a good excuse. After a short time during the early months of operation there was no regular service to the depot, but passengers could ride any tram that was going to  or from Rotterdam Road.

The total cost of construction had been £90,000 and in the first fortnight of operation the revenue was £800.  In 1910 the cost of a through journey was increased to 2d, with the North Parade to Pier Terrace and Pakefield to Central Station being 1d each way. In 1913 the cost of a journey from North Parade to Pakefield rose to 3d, but this remained the price until 1945, long after the tram line had been lifted.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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PANCAKE DAY

Pancake Day always falls on a Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday – and it is followed by Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday this year will fall on my birthday, the 14th of February. This is Valentines Day, I know; how could I not? All my life it has been for me to go out for a meal on my birthday. Even when I can book a table in the crush of loving couples, all the staff would assume my companions and I were in some way romantically attached to each other; so I much prefer to stay at home and have some wine with my dinner.

The trouble is that year Valentines Day will also be the first day of Lent, when I normally give up alcohol. I afraid it is done more for health reasons than for spiritual ones; I am convinced that over a month of abstinence does wonders for my liver. I know ‘dry January’ is the modern agnostic’s way of fasting, but for me the month is so dreary that I could not possibly make it worse by giving up drinking too. A few years ago, when I first decided to give up drinking for Lent, I knew so little about the traditions that I went for the whole  of Lent without touching a drop of liquor. I now know that I can take a day off once a week, if I want.

During the years when I was growing up no one in my family ever gave up anything for Lent, as far as I can remember; if they did they kept very quiet about it, which is what they should do I suppose. The fashionable thing to say in those days was that, rather than give up something for Lent, you should instead take up some good cause. When I was at school my good cause was to attend the Lenten Addresses every Wednesday evening in the School Chapel. This was entirely voluntary, but they attracted a fair number of listeners. My friends and I would even discuss what we had heard as we walked back to our house. The fact that the Chapel was only about a hundred yards from our boarding house might explain this apparent keenness to attend. We certainly didn’t have long to finish our deliberations before it was time o do our prep.

Although the birds are already starting to sing heartily, there is no doubt that Lent comes at cold time of year. It was so cold in Dereham church in the nineteenth century (before any kind of heating) that few of the old folk used to attend services during Lent, according to the vicar. How the little birds survive with only feathers to keep them warm is a constant source of wonder to me. I suppose many of them must fall victim to the weather. I think the hibernating animals who get nice and fat in the autumn and then find a warm hole to sleep off the winter months have a much more sensible way to get through the season.

The Lent fast was taken seriously in the middle ages. It fell at the time of year when the foodstuffs that had been hoarded up from the previous harvest were beginning to run out, and fasting could easy turn into famine. With improved storage methods famines were largely a thing of the past by the sixteenth century. With the coming of the Reformation the more moderate Protestant churches continued to observe the Lenten fast, but the hard-line Presbyterians took a different view. All the annual Feast Days were anathema to the Puritans as a form of superstition; even Easer was ignored by the most extreme of them, but over fasting they were more conflicted. Fast days were prescribed in many Puritan jurisdictions, although the term Lent had Popish overtones and tended not to be used. It has never regained its former importance, and in today’s secular world it is ignored by most people; but we still enjoy pancakes.

JOSEPH MASON

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RAILWAYS in FICTION

Many people will immediately identify E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children as the most famous piece of fiction involving railways. This children’s story was first published over a hundred years ago, and has proved an enduring favourite. The story is one of a false accusation of espionage set in a political situation far removed from the present day; its popularity must rest with Nesbit’s ability to tell a story. I saw the 1970 film version shortly after it came out, and most people these days know the story from its film or television adaptations. But there had already been several film versions before 1970, from 1951 onwards. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, the railway setting is thought to have been inspired by the railway that runs through Chelsfield in South East London, near Nesbit’s home.

Perhaps as famous as The Railway Children is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; this uses the backdrop of the broken down train to provide the enclosed environment in which the typically involved Christie plot is played out, but otherwise the railway does not feature largely in the story. Both The Railway Children and Murder on the Orient Express first appeared in book form, although they have long been adapted for the screen.  The Titfield Thunderbolt must be the most famous work of fiction that appeared as a film from the start.  Its plot is about railways, whereas the works so far mentioned only incidentally involve this form of transport. It is one of the Ealing Comedies, released in 1953. The Titfield Thunderbolt celebrated the first Heritage Railway (although the term had not then been invented), the Talyllyn narrow gauge line in Wales, which had been taken over by volunteers three years earlier.

A whole series of books by the Rev W. Awdry has been a runaway success. The first book in the series, The Three Railway Engines, was published in 1945, and Thomas the Tank Engine, the most famous locomotive,  had to wait until the second book was published in 1946 to be introduced to the world. The anthropomorphic locomotive and his railway engine friends exhibit all the human frailties that you meet in life, and the stories all have a strong moral tone, in keeping with the author’s clerical background. It is a pity that the illustrator Reginald Payne has not received more credit for his iconic work.

Wilbert Awdry was  among the first undergraduates to study at the newly created St Peter’s Hall in Oxford. This was founded by the Bishop of Liverpool to provide a Low Church environment to instruct the clergy of the Church of England, in contrast to the High Church Keble College. From the start the Hall was fully integrated into the intellectual life of the University, and a broad range of subjects was studied, though railway engineering was not one of them! The Reverend Awdry first composed the railway stories to amuse and educate his young son Christopher, and was encouraged to publish them by his wife Margaret.

Ivor the Engine should also be mentioned in the context of children’s stories on a railway theme. These are a series of stop motion animated films for television, produced from 1959 by Oliver Postgate. The subject concerned a Welsh railway, though not a narrow gauge one. Ivor has no face, unlike Thomas, but has other human characteristics; he is for example a member of the local Male Voice Choir.

I should mention among other works of fiction with railways at their heart The Signal-Man, an 1866 short story by Charles Dickens. This is a horror story and is centred round a railway tunnel. Tunnels are pretty spooky places at the best of times. Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar is one that author’s best known books, but it does not count in this list as it is not a work of fiction. The non-fiction books written on railways form a subject in themselves.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY of RAILWAYS

THE NINETEEN SEVENTIES

From a personal point of view this decade exactly encompassed my twenties. For most people today this is perhaps the most momentous time in their lives. This is the period when you finally leave education behind and embark on your career. In the not too distant past this change took place much earlier in life. My grandmother for instance left school at the age of ten. The school leaving-age was only raised to fifteen by the 1944 Education Act. It rose to sixteen in 1972.

When there was still lots of rail freight; Norwich station in the 1970s.

Nowadays one’s twenties are for most people a very stressful time. Nearly half of young people go on to higher education, and only start looking for employment at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two. In 1970 it was still common for youngsters to start their working lives in their mid teens, but things were already beginning to change. For me, although the seventies were certainly a time of change, the eighties were even more eventful. But enough of my personal memories – I want to concentrate on the spirit of the age. What was it like to live through the 1970s?

The decade began with the Premiership of Harold Wilson (the politician we associate with the sixties) and ended with Margaret Thatcher, the guiding light of the eighties. It wasn’t an easy time to enter into the adult world.  With an unemployment rate averaging 4% employment was still easy to get, but it was a time of political strife nonetheless. This was at its most violent in Northern Ireland, but it inevitably spread into England. Until 1970 terrorism was something which happened elsewhere – not in good old Blighty; since then it has never gone away, though the nature of the threat and its perpetrators have changed. The industrial action which affected the whole of the UK began with the Three Day Week and ended with the Winter of Discontent; it rumbled on throughout the decade. It wasn’t just in the UK that things were unravelling; the oil crisis gave a shock to the entire global economy. Here we were going through a particularly difficult time. In the circumstances the joining of the Common Market – as we then called the EU – provided us with a little reassurance that we were not completely on our own in the big bad world. That is why the referendum (another unfortunate development in British politics of the 1970s) produced such a resounding ‘Yes’ in 1975.

Outside politics it is hard to point to any feature that represented the 1970s apart from a general feeling of decline. In East Anglia the long overdue road improvements at last got underway, but in a very half-hearted manner. All the towns and villages on the A11 that were bypassed in the 1970s had to bypassed again within a few years with a proper dual carriageway; if this had been done properly in the first place we would have saved a lot of money. Short-sightedness on the part of the government and a chronic shortage of money were the reasons. The motor industry in Britain, which had been flourishing in the sixties, was merged into the inefficient mammoth BLMC. A few years later it effectively went bust, and had to be nationalised in 1975. We expected things to continue to go downhill, and with good reason. We had no idea of the phenomenal growth in house prices that was to come; the corresponding growth in many people’s wealth is seldom acknowledged. In 1970 the price of a terraced house in Norwich was around £1,000; it is now approaching 200 times as much. If house prices had merely increase with inflation, a house today would cost under £20,000! In contrast rent controls made the ownership of property to let utterly unattractive to investors. No wonder the 1970s saw a high point in home ownership in Britain.

Why it was such a problematical decade I cannot say. No one has ever explained it to me. I do not want to make too much of these troubles; they just formed the backdrop to our lives.  Occasionally they came to the fore, such as the inconvenience of the left luggage offices being closed at London railway stations (for fear of bombs) or the power cuts that were imposed to save energy, but for the most part things continued as normal. The sun rose every morning, and we got on with daily tasks. The computer age was not even a cloud on the horizon; these exotic electronic monsters existed, but they were still enormous and enormously expensive machines in 1970. They could never enter our everyday lives, could they? The personal computer was yet to be invented.

The weather in the 1970s was notable for the long hot summer of 1976. The sun shone down on us relentlessly, and it never rained. The reservoirs dried up and hosepipe bans were imposed everywhere. Recycling bath water was the only possible way of watering the garden, but any hint of beautiful flowerbeds caused the public to look on you askance. The crops died in the fields, but for most people the sunshine was a delight. What could be better than endless sunny days? Suntans were still fine as far as most people were concerned, and risk of skin cancer was not ever mentioned.

People who had grown up under Queen Victoria were still around in 1970, and veterans of the First World War still walked the streets. Shoemaking was still a major industry in Norwich and there were at least two major printing firms in the city. You could still smoke almost anywhere you liked – on the London Underground, in aircraft and even in restaurants. Sitcoms like Porridge and Fawlty Towers represent a high point in British humour; they showed that we could still laugh at ourselves, whatever our political differences. The 1970s were a world away from today’s politically correct environment.

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 JOSEPH MASON

ANCESTRAL CONNECTIONS with TROWSE

The row of terrace houses along White Horse Lane in Trowse Newton is called Russell Terrace. The terrace was built in about 1880 by the Colman family who developed Trowse as a model village to house their workforce from nearby Carrow Works. It was named after Russell Colman, born 1861, the grandfather of the current head of the family Sir Timothy Colman. The view from the front room looks out over the common; the land had been given to the parish by Jeremiah Colman (Russell’s father) in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Until then this land had been an area of slum dwellings. The Post Office was only a short distance from Russell Terrace, and a baker’s shop used to be on the corner of White Horse Lane. It is now a vegetarian café.

Whitlingham became part of Trowse parish 400 years ago when the church was abandoned.

The house where Charles Mason (my great-grandfather) lived was number 25 Russell Terrace. It could hardly have been more conveniently situated in those pre-motor transport days. A short walk would have brought Charles’s and his family to Trowse railway station, and from the beginning of the 20th century, the tram stop was adjacent to the railway station.  A short bike ride would take Charles to his place of work at Carrow, where he was a carter at the mustard mill. A Sunday afternoon stroll down White Horse Lane would have brought them to the ancient walled Roman town at Caistor St Edmunds, while travelling a similar distance in the opposite direction would have brought Charles to the river Yare at Whitlingham staithe. This was still a place of great industrial activity in 1880; a short tramway ran from the kiln to the riverside to transport lime to the wherries at the staithe, from where it was carried to the Norwich builders. A rowing boat ferry service was on hand to transport workers from Thorpe St Andrew, across the river.

Terraced houses in Trowse

Trowse Newton was a country village in spite of its proximity to the City, and it was quite possible to get lost in the woods around. Charles Mason did just that, and was eventually found by a local who heard his desperate cries of “Lost! Lost!” This gave him his nickname, and forever after he was called “Lorst” Mason by his friends. Charles Mason always spoke in his native Staffordshire accent, and I cannot tell you how they pronounce the word ‘lost’ over there, but in East Anglia it is always said like this: “lorst”.

During the First World War two Scottish soldiers (twins) were billeted on the Masons at Russell Terrace. Sixteen year old Edith, one of Charles’s daughters, took quite a shine to one of the brothers! At the start of the war there were still several children living in the three bedroomed house; it must have been a bit cramped with the soldiers sleeping there too. However it was all part of the war effort, and the extra rent must have come in handy for the family.

Charles Mason’s family of ten children were all brought up at 25 Russell Terrace.  The eldest children had moved out by 1921, but his two youngest daughters remained there with their aged father. After the foundation of the BBC in 1922 (with Norfolk educated Scotsman John Reith at its head) Charles Mason acquired a crystal set. These early wireless sets required no mains or battery current to power them, and were operated merely by the radio waves themselves. It would however have required a long aerial in the back garden, to pick up the signal. As a consequence of the low power there was no loudspeaker and they had to be listened to using headphones, so wireless listening was not at first a group activity. The broadcasts were initially limited to an hour a day, but radio grew with incredible speed, and before Charles Mason’s death in 1938 an experimental television service was being broadcast in London.

CHARLES MASON

Charles Mason belonged to a fortunate generation; unlike his forebears he was literate and well housed. He was able to retire in his mid-sixties. Only a few years before most people had faced the prospect of working until they dropped, or starving in their old age. The great reform had come shortly before the First World War, when people were able to retire at the age of 70 without having acquired any savings first. This happy period of a pension for life from the age of 65 lasted less than a century, and now the age of retirement is creeping up again, and inevitably will again reach seventy at least. Charles was able to enjoy a long retirement at Russell Terrace, and after his death his daughter Florence (and her husband Billy) carried on the tenancy.  During his years of leisure in retirement Charles spent much of his time in his beloved garden and allotment in Trowse. While virtually all of his fellow gardeners used their allotments to simply to grow vegetables, he used his to grow flowers as well. This puzzled and amused his contemporaries.

Summer holidays were family affairs, going to one of the local coastal resorts on the train. Compared to his father or sons (who died in their sixties or earlier), he enjoyed a long retirement of nearly fifteen years. I have no reason to believe it was not a happy one, but there had been tragedy too in his life; his twin sons John and Joseph had died as infants in 1892, and son Alfred had been killed on the Western Front less than a week before the Armistice in November 1918. Charles’s first wife had died aged only 38, and his second wife before she was sixty years old.

JOSEPH MASON

THE STORY OF NORFOLK

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THE GORLESTON AND YARMOUTH TRAMS

Tram outside Great Yarmouth Town Hall

Yarmouth was a major naval base in the age of sail, before becoming a thriving fishing port on the Yare estuary; with the growth of tourism it was the principal holiday resort for Londoners on the East Coast. It was not by accident therefore that it was the first place in East Anglia (not just in Norfolk) to get a train service in 1844, and following this Gorleston was the first place in East Anglia to get a tram service. After four years of work this was opened in 1875, and it used horse-drawn vehicles. A grand scheme for a tramway to link the towns of Lowestoft, Southwold and Halesworth with Gorleston did not see the light of day, and only the Gorleston part was realised. Southwold and Halesworth were linked by a narrow gauge railway in 1879 and Lowestoft got a separate tramway in 1903. With frequent stops the horse-drawn double-decker tramcars in Gorleston could take over two hours to complete the journey from Yarmouth South Town railway station to the area near the pier. At first it ran on a standard gauge track of 4’8″, but this was reduced to 3’6″ after a few years, in 1882.

The Haven Bridge which joins the two towns was not suitable for tramlines, so Yarmouth and Gorleston had two separate systems. Yarmouth was slower off the mark to install tram tracks. It had a horse-drawn omnibus service, but the intention to provide tramlines for an electrified service had to be delayed in 1899 because the price of steel, needed in large quantities for the project, was rapidly running out of control. It peaked at £10 a ton, but by 1901 the price had dropped to under £6 and the Yarmouth tramway was hastily completed and opened in 1902. The Gorleston tramway was electrified three years in 1905. The Yarmouth tramway was extended to Caister in 1907; this completed the network.

The tramcars were all double deckers and were painted in a livery of maroon and cream. (You can see one in the hand-coloured postcard illustration which accompanies this article.) Telephone wires were run along the tram poles, and with regular contact points the driver was able ring up the control centre to report any problems he encountered on the line. This use of up-to-date technology shows that Yarmouth was still a place of innovation, as it had been throughout the previous century. The town has since fallen on hard times, with the loss of its Royal Naval presence, the disappearance of the fishing industry, the closure of two of its three railway termini and the growth in popularity of overseas holidays. It is now one of the most deprived areas on the East Coast. The growth of North Sea gas gave the port some business, but even this has declined in recent years; there was hope that the offshore wind turbines might bring prosperity back to the port, but this business is due to go down the coast to Lowestoft.

The period before the First World War marked the high point of the Yarmouth and Gorleston tramways. In these yeas the Corporation purchased a pleasure steamer to run trips that commenced with a tram ride and culminated with a return journey to Norwich,  all for the price of sixpence. In 1920 the Corporation purchased its first motor buses and the trams were progressively withdrawn from 1924. The Great Yarmouth section was closed in 1930 and the Gorleston section three years later. Some of the tramcars ended up as holiday chalets at Caister holiday camp.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

AS KEEN AS MUSTARD

The loss of Colman’s mustard to the city of Norwich finally ends a tradition that goes back two hundred years, but it has been inevitable since the company of Reckitt and Colman sold out to a faceless multi-national. One of the first things the new owners did was to sell off the collection of silver mustard pots that the Colman family had built up over many decades, and which should have been left to the Castle Museum. The amount raised by the sale was insignificant in comparison to the company’s annual turnover, but it showed that only money mattered to Unilever. I for one will be glad to see the back of them in Norwich. I wonder what Sir Timothy Colman makes of it? In spite of his directorship, the family had no real control over the company that bore his name by the time the end came in 1995.

COLMAN’S OMNIBUS, JUNE 1977, at the Royal Norfolk Show.

It is sad for the remaining workers at Carrow, but the factory is but a shadow of its former self. In the seventies I knew a manager at Carrow and he showed me round the works. Mustard was but a detail of what they then produced at the site. Besides mint and horseradish sauce they had Robison’s fruit squashes, made from juices imported from South America and brought to their doorstep by freighter up the river Yare. Tonic wine was a major product at the site. That was after the company had acquired the similar sounding Coleman’s, of Barn Road Norwich in 1968, makers of Wincarnis.

Before 1862 the mustard had been made at Stoke Holy Cross, the village a few miles outside Norwich. Before the arrival of the railway at nearby Swainsthorpe station in 1847, the mustard was taken to London by a fleet of five horse-drawn wagons. Tins were first introduced in 1851, and until then smaller quantities were supplied in bottles; larger amounts were sent in casks. The growth of the company to such importance could never have occurred without the railway. The sidings to Carrow Works from Trowse station, with their bright yellow mustard wagons, started the journey that spread the condiment throughout the British Empire. It was a brilliant business strategy; the milling of corn produced just flour for bread making, but the pounding of mustard corns produced a powder that could be sold for many times more.  How did such a strong flavour become the essential addition to the roast beef of old England? The phrase “keen as mustard” is recorded in the seventeenth century, so the condiment was appearing on our tables long before the Colmans started milling it. Before the Colmans started selling the powder, it was a  difficult sauce to make. Even if the plant was available locally, it was used in such small quantities that I can’t see that it was worth your local windmill producing it it. Perhaps you pounded up mustard seeds as part of the preparations for Sunday dinner. That was of course roast beef by tradition, if not always in fact.

Unilever have made a sort of’ promise to retain a mustard milling facility in Norfolk. This is put forward as a sop to local opinion, but it cuts no ice with me. Without Carrow Works at its heart, there is no mustard in Norwich. In fact when I first remember mustard it was always mustard powder, and this we are told will remain a local product; it was mixed fresh for every meal, and then thrown away. Hence the saying that Mr Colman was made rich by the mustard we left on our plates. I don’t think the way of preserving mustard ready mixed had even been invented in the fifties.

I wonder what my ancestors would make of the news that mustard was to desert the city? My great-grandfather spent most of his working life at Carrow, and his eldest and youngest sons followed him into the mill. It had an important part in my ancestral past, but times move on. Mustard making is but a quirk of history, like shoemaking, silk weaving and woollen cloth making, trades that once defined the city but are now no more. We still have an insurance industry, but even that may pass into history.

At least I will feel no compulsion to buy Colman mustard ever again. In future I can use the French variety which I actually prefer. English mustard is just hot, but Dijon mustard has subtle flavours.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

JARROLDS, A NORWICH INSTITUTION

John Jarrold II, 1773-1853

The department store that looks out over Norwich Market Place represents a business that is well over two hundred years old. It was established as a grocer’s and draper’s shop in Church Street in the Suffolk town of Woodbridge in 1770. It is thought that the family arrived in England from Holland in 1688 with William of Orange. The founder of the business was John Jarrold I, a grandson of Samuel Jarrold (also a grocer) who was the Mayor of Colchester in 1723. John Jarrold I died at the age of thirty in 1775. His son, John Jarrold II, was much too young to take any part in the operation of the firm, which was carried out on his behalf by trustees until he attained his majority in 1794. In 1800 John Jarrold II married Hannah Hill in Bungay at the age of twenty-seven. After running the grocery and drapery business for ten years he sold it in 1805 and took up residence at Moat Farm in the village of Dallinghoo just north of the town.

The weaving of sackcloth was a local industry in the Woodbridge area, and John Jarrold went into partnership with Richard Bidwell to deal in the sacks that were required in large numbers by the traders in the East Anglian capital of Norwich. The sacks were made in Suffolk but sold in Norwich; were they taken there by sea from Woodbridge harbour on the river Deben to Yarmouth, and then by wherry to Norwich?  In 1811 the partnership was dissolved and from then the sack-making business was carried on by Bidwell alone, while Jarrold turned his attention full-time to farming. All went well while the Napoleonic Wars were continuing and agricultural prices remained high, but with the coming of peace in 1815 Europe again began exporting its produce to this country. Agricultural prices in Britain, which had been high for a generation, collapsed.

To make ends meet John Jarrold installed a printing press in the granary in  his farm at Dallinghoo. With his brother-in-law Benjamin Smith, and using the stereotyping process developed in Bungay, he was printing various books of an instructional or devotional nature, such as Footsteps to Natural History, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Wesley’s Hymns. Smith had premises in Church Street, Woodbridge, and John would travel around Suffolk selling these works which were especially valued in the country schools.  However a farmyard in rural Suffolk was not really the place to grow a thriving printing office, and in 1823 he left the farm in the hands of a steward and moved the business to its current home in Norwich. He was certainly adaptable; by the age of fifty he had been a grocer, draper, dealer in sacks, farmer, printer and bookseller.

Jarrold’s Store

The Norwich printing office (which also sold stationery and books) was established at 3 Cockey Lane. This street’s name was changed in 1829 to the more respectable sounding one of London Street, and Jarrold’s store is still located there, just across the road, where it moved in 1840. John Jarrold retired to Coltishall in 1844 and died there in 1852. Of his four sons, who were all employed in the business, John III had died at the age of forty, and Samuel, the next oldest, became head of he firm. The Jarrolds were all prominent members of the Non-conformist community and played a leading rôle in the campaign to abolish slavery in the British Caribbean. They pioneered the Temperance movement in Norwich and were among the first to take the Pledge.

During the 19th century Jarrold’s was a large publishing house and they produced many titles of national repute, including Anna Sewell’s best-selling novel Black Beauty in 1878. Jarrold’s publishing activities were greatest before the dawn of the 20th century, but in printing it went from strength to strength. It was still producing postcards, calendars and many books and magazines into the 21st century. The management however saw the writing was on the wall; although the digital publishing revoluntion was then still in its infancy, the environment was changing. Jarrolds discontinued its printing office in 2004; just in time too, because the new firm that was carry on the business went bust two years later. There is no longer a printer or publisher in Whitefriars, only the John Jarrold Printing Museum.

Jarrold’s has retained its large retail store in Norwich city centre, and has even reintroduced drapery among its lines! This is a throwback to the kind of shop that John Jarrold I opened in Woodbridge 250 years ago. There used to be several large stores in the city with local owners – Bunting’s, Garland’s, Bond’s and Curl’s; the last two remain under new ownership as John Lewis and Debenham’s, but only Jarrold’s is left as a family business.

JOSEPH MASON
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THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

RAILWAY SAFETY

Network Rail places a high safety requirement on all its operations, and as a consequence our railways are the safest in the world. When you consider that last year alone there were 1.7 billion railway journeys undertaken in the UK, the safety record of rail travel is amazing. There have been only FOUR train accidents that resulted in fatalities in the last ten years.  Compare that with the almost daily toll on Britain’s roads, in which around two thousand fatalities occur every year. In the circumstances which method of transport ought you to prefer? There is nothing recent about this aspect of British railways either. As the first railway system in the world, we had to find out all the dangerous pitfalls implicit in the iron road for ourselves, but the safety of railways has always been of the highest priority. Our railways are the only ones in the world that must be fenced off from the surrounding countryside; it is rather worrying to our eyes to see trains speeding past lineside houses in France with nothing between them and the railway. These miles of fencing have been required in the UK from the very start. They not only make trespass on the line by humans more difficult, they also keep farm animals away from the trains.

The first widely reported railway accident occurred at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in September 1830. George Stephenson developed his steam engine The Rocket to operate this, the first real passenger railway. The MP William Huskisson was among the guests who came to witness this major event, but unfortunately he fell onto the track as the Rocket was approaching; his leg was crushed, and with the primitive medical aid available at the time this proved fatal. Railway accidents were common at first; on a journey from East Dereham to Oxford (one that it is no longer possible to make) the Revd Benjamin Armstrong relates how he was delayed for an hour at Winslow station when the locomotive’s boiler blew up. No one was injured on that occasion, but in an entry in his diary in 1855 he mentions that four people were killed in a collision near Attleborough.

Single line working tablet

One of the major railway disasters occurred on the Norwich to Yarmouth line just outside Brundall in 1874. Twenty five people were killed when two trains collided on a single track section of the line. This accident which is known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster led to the introduction of the tablet system, where an interlocking token must be secured before a train may proceed along a single track. This system is still in use, although the disappearance of the semaphore signal, and with that the closure of many signal boxes (where the tokens used to be exchanged) means that an electronic system of token exchange is now widely employed.

The safety record of the railways is based on the fail-safe principle. It was the proud boast of the M&GN Railway (that ran almost entirely in the county of Norfolk) that during the 80 years in which it was in operation it never killed a passenger.

The use of modern technology makes keeping the railways safe much easier than it used to be. The entire network is regularly checked by a special train that examine the track by ultra-sound for cracked rails, which could fail and cause a derailment. With high-definition cameras they can check the line from the air, and thermal imaging equipment reveals hotspots in the cables on electrified lines that suggest problems with the system. Engineers are then dispatched to the exact location to remedy the problem. It all adds to the safety of the railways.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

WENHASTON STATION, SUFFOLK

The Heronry

The Heronry at Blythburgh

Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929 with just a week’s notice, but not before my mother had travelled on it as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station (which is still there) and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and even the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.

The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station is proceeding, although the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold.

Sixty years ago the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war). Past the site of Walberswick station and across Walberswick Heath you come to Tinkers Walk. This gives way to the pine trees of the Heronry before reaching Blythburgh, where the fine medieval church dominate the skyline.  It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.

As far as Blythburgh we walked along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for the visit was not to see the remains of the railway but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the puritans in the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.

A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. In spite of Hitchens’ experience, we think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.

Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in the circle of Benjamin Britten’s admirers, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father had was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and remained in touch with him afterwards.

JOSEPH MASON
joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA