STEAM ROLLER AT HOLT
I can remember a steam roller at work in 1960; already they were quite rare, and most road rollers were diesel. When the Easter Fair came to Norwich Cattle Market in the 1950s there were several showman’s engines, gently providing the electricity required from the generators above the smokebox. The weight of traction engines was a disadvantage in working the land, and already internal combustion engined tractors had taken over farm work. I can even recall seeing a team of horses pulling a reaper, but never a traction engine, unless it was part of a show. However steam rollers had an advantage in being heavy, and there was a particular occasion when I was up close to a steam roller doing its job.
The year was 1960 or possibly 1961. The road that required resurfacing was Pearson’s Road, which leaves the Cromer Road in Holt just outside Crossways. I should explain that I was at boarding school in Holt, and that Crosways was my House. I was eleven years old. The engine driver must have got up early to light the fire, because by the time I emerged from Crossways after breakfast, to begin my lessons, the steam roller was already rolling the granite chips into the road. I could not watch as long as would have liked because there was a maths lesson to attend. When it was time to return to Crossways to prepare for lunch the steam roller was still there, rolling about ten yards of stones into the tar before reversing.
During the afternoon, while I was having a lesson on the parts of speech, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. This put a stop to the task of resurfacing. Although work recommenced when the shower was over the damage had been done; instead of having a smooth surface the road was patchy with lots of chippings coming away where the rain had fallen on the wet tar. Within a couple of years the council had to return and do the job again, although this time it was with a diesel roller.
At the time the railway still ran to Holt, and every afternoon a steam engine arrived at the other end of Pearson’s Road to collect the goods trucks that had been prepared at the yard. I remember the station adjoined a refuse dump (memorable because the gulls swooped down and dropped chicken bones on our Rugby pitch). I rather think that some rubbish was left behind by this goods train, but after so many years I cannot be sure. Now the bypass takes the A148 road along the old railway line and the original station has completely disappeared. The Heritage Line station at Holt has been moved a mile or so down the line, and the building that formerly stood at Stalham station has been erected. Of the old Holt station only the signal box remains, although that has been relocated to Weybourne Station.
FOR THE HISTORY OF STEAM
The Fen Line runs from Cambridge through Norfolk to Kings Lynn. It passes through the Isle of Ely, now part of Cambridgeshire, though previous to 1965 it was a county in its own right. Before 1923 this line was operated by the Great Eastern Railway; from 1923 until 1947 it was part of the London North Eastern Railway and of course during BR days in was part of the Eastern Region. Now most of the Fen Line is operated by Great Northern, which runs trains from Kings Cross to Kings Lynn, although in normal times Greater Anglia trains from Liverpool Street use the line to Kings Lynn at rush hour. These times are far from normal, and this service is currently suspended. Passenger trains from Norwich to Cambridge and from Ipswich to Peterborough run over parts of the line. Likewise trains from Birmingham to Stanstead Airport use the section from Ely to Cambridge.
I have used Kings Lynn railway station, but more years ago than I like to admit. Then you could travel to Hunstanton from Kings Lynn, and through Swaffham to Dereham. These routes have long been closed, although I have myself used both these lines. This was in the late 1950s, when steam was still the main form of motive power, although (as you can see from the photograph) DMUs already took you from Dereham to Lynn. The Hunstanton line was however still steam hauled. In those days the obvious way to travel to Lynn from Norwich was by the direct train, which left Norwich Thorpe on the Cambridge line (now the Breckland Line) and at Wymondham it went north. It reversed at Dereham to continue to Kings Lynn. It was theoretically possible to continue on the Cambridge line and change at Ely, to continue to Lynn. Why anyone would want to go this round-about way is unclear. Now of course anyone who must go to Lynn from Norwich by train must use Ely Station. Before 1952 it would also have been possible to travel north to Wells and then west to Heacham and reach Lynn in that way, but the journey would have taken all day; perhaps more than a day. Before 1959 there was a completely different way to get to Lynn – a wholly unconnected railway system. This was the former M&GN. This took you from north (Cromer), east (Great Yarmouth) or south Norfolk (Norwich) through Melton Constable west to South Lynn station. This was not a quick way of going to Lynn, but at least it was via a direct train from Norwich City Station. The point of describing all these other lines into Lynn Station is to point out that I have never used the remaining line through Downham Market. I have only used the Fen Line as far as Ely.
To return to the Fen Line; Downham Market is one of the principal Stations on the Fen Line. First in importance must come Cambridge, then Kings Lynn. Ely has been a Cathedral City since the 12th century (and was a rich Abbey since Anglo-Saxon times), and it is a major junction on the Fen Line. I have myself got on and off at Ely for the short walk into the City. Downham Market is small town but appears to be a charming one; as I have said, I have never been there. The other stops on the line are just platforms in the open Fens. Some serve substantial passenger numbers, but they are just villages. The whole of the Fen Line was electrified in 1992. I must also mention the carriage of sand from the Lexziate sand pits, which forms a regular freight traffic from Kings Lynn. This uses the stub of the line which used to go to Dereham until 1968.
FOR THE HISTORY OF RAILWAYS
Reportedly the richest man in Britain, SIR JAMES DYSON is said to be worth over sixteen billion pounds. I take such details with a healthy pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that he is a very wealthy man. This is not entirely a story of rags to riches however. His start in life was one of privilege, even if money was tight. He was a boarder at Gresham’s School in Holt, along with his elder brother. His father had died in 1956; he had been a classics teacher at the school, and the headmaster allowed the boys to continue their education at Gresham’s gratis. James Dyson is two years older than me – a detail of no importance, but for the fact that I too was a boarder at Gresham’s from a young age. I remember Dyson and his elder brother to a degree, but I remember his mother far better. Dyson’s nickname was Dilly, and his mother (Ma Dilly) was a part time French teacher at the school.
I was a bit behind at French, because at my previous school French was taught in the afternoon, and I had to leave when the lesson had only just begun. This was to catch the bus home. My smattering of the language was hazy; it included the word for ‘bird’ (oiseau), which I thought was spelt WAZO. As you may tell, I needed extra tuition, and so after school I went into a room with Ma Dilly to try and improve my knowledge of the language.
James and his brother were in Kenwyn, one of two houses in the Junior School, while I was in Crossways. Although I was in was a different house we did a lot of things together. For instance there were no eating facilities at Crossways, so three times a day we went the few yards over to Kenwyn for meals. After a couple of years James Dyson went into the Senior School, and when I followed it was into a different house. As there was no mixing at meal times in the Senior School (that came in a few years after my time), and as Ma Dilly only taught in the Junior School, I largely lost touch with the Dysons. Not entirely however. James was a first class cross country runner, and I remember watching him come in first at the end of a hard slog across the Holt Lowes. I must say that running did not impress me greatly – perhaps because I was so bad at it myself – but painting was much more to my taste, and at one time I intended to study art after leaving school. James was also an artist. Art was the nearest he got to academic achievement (art is a more practical pursuit). He went on to study art at the Royal College where he concentrated on design; a wise move which opened the way to engineering. I doubt that the graphic arts would have led to successful career for Dyson; as a teenager he was a thoroughly traditional painter, in a way that has not been fashionable for over a century. Even my father was impressed by his canvases that were shown at the Art Exhibition at Speech Day, and he only respected representational painting.
When he left school Dyson passed outside my ken, but his productions did not. I well remember the Ballbarrow, one of his first inventions. That was in 1974; I did not need a wheelbarrow at the time, so although I was slightly intrigued by the clever nature of the ball I never possessed one. I did not discover that it came from his hands until many years later, so I did not give James Dyson another thought until the Dyson vacuum cleaner appeared in this country in the 1990s, and the rest is well known.
After a long period when he concentrated on his inventions, Sir James (he was knighted in 2006) has recently been involved with Gresham’s once again. He has joined the Board of Governors, and is spending £19 million on a new STEAM block at the school. This is small change for him. It will teach the usual STEM subject (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with the addition of art – a nod to his own background. Work on the building has been progressing during lockdown, so it looks as if completion will not be delayed. It is located at Gresham’s School, but Sir James wants the best teaching of these subjects to be made available to other local schools.
FOR THE MEMORIES OF NORFOLK
I have always enjoyed browsing in hardware shops. The large superstores like B & Q I find less enticing. There is something intimate about a hardware shop. About 50 years ago there was a type of shop called a DIY Store; these were all independent outlets; there was a good one here in Norwich in Grove Road, which was not far from our premises in Surrey Street. All these shops have now gone, to be replaced by branches of large national names like Homebase. These are located in retail parks, well outside the town centres. But hardware shops remain, though much fewer in number than used to be the case.
I remember on such shop in St Stephens Street in Norwich; it was called Leach’s. [Loose’s which I put in error, was a china shop in Magdalen Street, as a reader pointed out.] It was only a couple of minutes from my place of work, and I was always calling in to purchase the odd box of screws or a paint brush that I needed for what I was doing. There is still a hardware shop in the centre of the city – Thorns in Exchange Street, but this is about the only one left in Norwich. Another hardware shop was near my fathers’s former consulting rooms in Orford Place. This was Lings in White Lion Street; this too has long since gone. Like me a few years later, he was always going to his local hardware shop to buy a nut or bolt (and to chat with his friends the shop assistants), only in his time the assistants stood behind a counter and wore brown warehouse coats.
My favourite one now is the Hardware Shop in Reepham. Thus is especially unusual being situated in a small country town. As you approach the door of this shop you are met with brooms and bag of sand, which would not be suitable inside; that is where the tins of paint, hammers, garden trowels and plumbing accessories are to be found. Fire irons are less common now that so few people have open fires, but if you want a pair of tongs or a poker, this is place to find these items. A range of padlocks is available, and if you need door latch that is fine. This establishment stocks a range of small electrical appliances such as toasters and kettles, but these are not essential in a hardware shop. Electric garden tools like hedge clippers are perhaps more to the type.
I could go describing the sort of things which go under he description of hardware, but I am sure you are all ware of the sort of goods I mean, even if the shops are now a rarity. Now that things are so well packaged the smell is not so noticeable, but years ago this was nice part of the experience.
THE BLOG FOR THOUGHTS OF NORFOLK
CLARA was our Singer. She was named after Dame Clara Butt, a pre-war concerts singer.
Alderford is a small village on the road between Norwich and Reepham. It used to have a pub (the Bell) on the main road by the bridge over the small stream which gives the village its name; before the bridge was built the river it was crossed by a ford, hence the name Alderford. It is interesting to learn which are the oldest places to get a bridge – Attlebridge, a nearby village on the river Wensum, was already bridged in Anglo-Saxon times, but Lenwade had a ford that you had to wade through (again producing the name). The rivulet at Alderford soon flows into the river Wensum where it passes Morton-on-the-Hill. Upstream from the Alderford stream the next river to join the Wensum is the Blackwater, which retains its name (at least on Ordnance Survey maps) but the corresponding stream, the Whitewater (which joins the Blackwater shortly before its confluence with the Wensum) has lost its former designation. These old river names have mostly disappeared from regular usage, but may still be seen in the names of the local villages. For example the name Whitewater may still be deduced from the name of the village near the river’s source – Whitwell, which means the ‘white water’.
The Bell public house was closed before I remember going that way. In the days of the horse and cart this must have been a popular place of refreshment on the way to and from Reepham, but motor cars rushed past without a second thought; there was nowhere for them to park even if the occupants had wished to stop. It is perhaps remarkable that it stayed open as long as it did – it remained a pub until 1962. In the nineteenth century the pub was also the village post office. Now the nearest pub is probably the Bridge at Lenwade (Lenwade eventually got its bridge!), a pub which was mentioned in the 18th century by the diarist Mary Hardy. The Post Office at Lenwade has now also closed, so the nearest one to Alderford is at Reepham.
The postion of Rector of Alderford was sometimes combined with that of the clergyman at one of the adjoining parishes, such as Swanington. During the early part of the 19th century it was however an idependant parish on its own, and for three years from 1826 the rector was the Revd Francis Howes. He was a writer of poetry who, although completely forgotten today, was so highly regarded for his translations of the Latin masters that his works gain him an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. Besides being a poet he was also a mathematician of some ability, being one of the senior wranglers at Cambridge University. He was related to the Longe family of Spixworth Park of whom I have written in this blog (CLICK HERE).
Near the Bell is Alderford Common. This is now an SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest; in the nineteenth century it was a quarry and the pits where the lime was excavated make for interesting dog walking. The wild ground makes a perfect habitat for rabbits, and my sister’s dog Suki used to love chasing them. This was before it was an SSSI, I hasten to add; I think the powers that be might disapprove of rabbiting there today. Suki was too slow to catch healthy rabbits, but the old an infirm ones would be swift put out of their misery by a well timed bite on the neck.
The main reason for it being made an SSSI is not specifically the rabbits however, but the mixed acid soil and chalk grassland which now covers the old quarry. Lime quarries are common in Norfolk. Nearer to Norwich they were mainly tunnelled out below ground, and the resulting collapse of old and forgotten workings often cause holes to appear suddenly all round the city. These chalk workings at Alderford are of great antiquity according to the Rev John Dixon Wortley. In his book The Charms and Beauty of our Commons and Heaths (1931) he states that artefacts of Roman date have been recovered from the old chalk workings.
At the time the author was writing his book this was still a popular resort for gipsies. “whose picturesque caravans are often to be seen” on Alderford Common, where is to be found “pasture for the horses and ponies to graze”. There are no longer gipsies to be found on Alderford Common, but another resident the Rev John Dixon Wortley remarked on was the rabbit, and he, as we have already said, is still to found there. “It is in fact a veritable rabbit warren.”
Apart from rabbits there is not much going on at Alderford in the 21st century; the population is 43, five less than it was hundred years ago. But there is a farm, where my mother-in-law used to buy her eggs. She did not drive, so my father-in-law would take her. This regular weekly journey went on for many years, and quite a friendship developed between her and the members of the farm worker’s family.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
North East Norfolk
26th June 1971
Dad and I drove to Honing via Wroxham. We saw the “trefoil” bridge over the old M&GN; Dad beat his way through the nettles to get to it.
We tried to find the Wherry Inn in vain (I think we were on a wild goose chase because I can find no reference to a Wherry Inn near Honing) but we did discover three watermills on the North Walsham and Dilham canal. By one there was a dilapidated lock. There was an old dredger on the mill pond; it must have been there since early in the century when the canal was still in use. We had a half pint and a packet of crisps at the Blue Bell in North Walsham.
A very humid day. We had promised ourselves another trip to the North Walsham and Dilham canal. It was our last chance to see the road bridge over the M&GN at Holt as according to the EDP it was due to be demolished tomorrow. (This is now the entrance to the North Norfolk Railway station at Holt; in 19701 the line ended at Weyborne and the line through Kelling was a desolate wasteland.) We went to Bacton first and then to Stalham. This a sparsely populated part of Norfolk; we saw Witton church; this is remote but (in 2019) a well served place with even produce on sale to visitors. The church plainly has Anglo-Saxon elements, and a round tower’ We saw the (disused) school there, but no pubs until we came to Wayford Bridge. Apparently we did not fancy going there and ended up for a drink at the Crown, Smallburgh – this certainly is an attractive building with a thatched roof.
We tried to get to the Tonnage Gate at Dilham, which we felt was the beginning of the canal, but without any luck. This was the site of the M&GN signal box where Dad tested he eyes of the signalman back in the early 1930s! (You can read more on this story HERE.) We went to the places where the road crosses the canal and finally ended up at the delightful Antingham Ponds.
We came home through Felmingham (where we bought some strawberries) and Aylsham. At home again where my cousin David Anderson called – he told us that when his son William starts at Gresham’s in September he will be going into Crossways – my old house. [Crossways is still there but is now a girls’ house – there were no girls at the school back then.]
The canal was opened in August 1826, the only place in Norfolk where a canal was built with locks. Other waterways existed with locks (like the Aylsham Navigation) but this was on a river, while the New Cut was a whole canal but having no locks. Since these tentative explorations of the Dilham canal I have learnt much more about it; this I have detailed in another post on this blog (CLICK HERE to view this post). In 1971 I was something of a pioneer, because few people were interested in the old canal in those days.
FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Walberswick stands across the river Blyth, to the south of Southwold. The village is accessible from Southwold, but not by car – one must either go across the footbridge or, in the summer months, use the rowing boat ferry. If you are determined to go by car it will take you about 20 minutes to go the eight miles, through Reydon and Blythburgh.
My wife Molly and I visited Walberswick on a lovely warm and sunny day in early September 2019. The older children were all back at school, so the only youngsters about were those of under school age. Nowadays Walberswick is entirely a holiday village; and one for the rich too. If 60% of the properties in Southwold are the second homes of the wealthy (as I am informed that they are), I should think in Walberswick it is more like 95%. The woman who operates the ferry must live there, but that would be in the house that her dad lived in decades ago. As she only charges passenger a £1 each to cross the river she could never afford to live there on the proceeds of her rowing boat. The mother-in-law of a friend of mine recently passed away, and they sold her retirement home in Walberswick for a cool million quid. The publican of the Bell must live and work there, but the honest fisherfolk all moor their boats on the Southwold side of the river.
I must say a word or two about this waterway, the Dunwich river. When this was a part of the river Blyth it turned south at Walberswick and continued down to Dunwich, very much as the river Alde turns south at Aldeburgh and eventually flows out to sea at Shingle Street. In both cases the distance between the salty sea and the fresh river water was not much more than a hundred yards (if that). At Dunwich the river estuary formed the town’s harbour, but in 1328 a severe storm broke through to sand bank at Walberswick and transformed the fortunes of both Southwold and Dunwich. Souhwold went from a fishing village to a substantial port, while Dunwich decayed and the sea continued to gobble up the remaining land. You can still trace the course of the river to Dunwich; here in Walberswick the creek is now called the Dunwich river.
The tide was high when we were there, and there was a puddle of water on the seaward side of the footbridge. It was only an inch or two deep, but it meant Wesley would have got his feet wet to go to the beach. Wesley hates water; even to have a drink he has to go to a watering can and drink out of the top of that. That way he cannot see the water, and the drops do not splash his beard. Anyway he stayed on the landward side of the Dunwich River.
THE BLOG FOR THOUGHTS ON EAST ANGLIA
There have been no Network Rail railways reopened in the East, and even reopened stations have scarcely reappeared since the return of Needham Market in the early seventies. We were expecting the reopening of Soham in September 2020, but this must have been delayed by the corona virus. The reopening of railways has been more prolific in the Heritage Line sector.
Boris Johnson promised that railways would feature in this country’s future in the Tory manifesto before the 2019 General Election. The reopening of the Wisbech branch has been promoted by the town council for more than a decae, but there is little idea of when (or even if) this will ever take place. This line still has the track in place – some of it even using modern concrete sleepers, but it is overgrown with weeds of course. This would need at least six level crossings with modern barriers, but I am sure it would cost no more than Cambridge North Station; that racked up a bill of a cool £50 million.
I won’t even mention the promised link from Bedford to Cambridge, which is needed to complete planned reopening of the Varsity Line. Unlike the Wisbech line this would cost billions. Opening up the old Varsity Line (providing the possibility of through trains from Norwich to Oxford) is a tantalising prospect. Such enhancements to the railway network are long overdue, but they are long-term projects, so I should be glad the new station in Cambridge at the Science Park is now open. I don’t suppose I will ever use it (not being much of a scientist), but I may see it from the train. This new Cambridge station is a small step, but a welcome one.
The line from Kings Lynn to Hunstanton is another candidate for reopening. Hunstanton deserves a railway – it is a town that should never have lost its connection – but Hunstanton is not Cambridge, and I do not the this little town generating enough traffic to justify a line of some fifteen miles. This is something you can say about many closed lines; how about Haverhill? This town has grown enormously since it lost its station back in the sixties. It is less than twenty miles from Haverhill to Cambridge, and it is half that distance to the railway line.
Other places have lost their railway; Swaffham could fairly easily be connected to Kings Lynn – their is even a bit of the line left as far as Middleton Towers, serving the sand pit there. There is currently little appetite for this reopened this line (as far as I am aware anyway), but to me it makes as much sense as Haverhill. Another town that lost its regular service is Dereham. As this line is still in use as a Heritage Line there has been talk of sending Anglia trains through to Dereham frm Norwich, but this has not been followed up because their are too many level crossings that would need upgrading.
Holt is another town that in theory still has station, but like Dereham this is on a Heritage Line. There has been no movement to send Network Rail trains back through to Holt. As the nearest access to Network Rail is only seven and a half miles away perhaps this is understandable. I went from Holt to Sheringham to catch the train in 1967, only three years after Holt lost its British Rail service.
There are some places that I do not see ever regaining their railway connections. Mundesley, although the terminus of the branch from North Walsham (after the through service to Cromer was ended in 1952), is not even town, and I do not see its trains being restored. Nor can I foresee that Burnham Market ever having is railway back. Bungay does not look like a place that will ever get its railway back (the old track bed has been gobbled up by the bypass) although the Waveney Valley line also served the town of Harleston. Wells-next-the-Sea and Aylsham each have a narrow gauge line in the Heritage sector. I do not anticipate either being converted back to standard gauge and thus enabling Network Rail trains again to serve these communities.
What does the future hold for railways in this country? We live in extraordinary times, and what the future holds is even more unknown than usual. We must wait and see.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIAN RAILWAYS
St Peter’s church stands remote from all other properties in the parish of Haveingland, between Felthorpe and Cawston. This was part of Swanninngton airfield during the Second World War; the road that approaches the church is plainly a relic of wartime occupation. This was in fact a runway, and Mosquito aircraft approached perilously close to the church tower, which was whitewashed for the lower twelve feet or so, no doubt in a attemot to protect it from straying pilots. The airbase was opened in 1944 – one of the last in the war – and closed three years later in 1947. For those three years the congregation of the church must have increased somewhat. The church has a medieval round tower dating from around the time of the Norman Conquest. A lot of building material dating from Roman times is included in the tower. Financed by the squire, the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1858. The money was left in his will. It is now a fairly large church for a tiny population. There are many panes nineteenth century stained glass.
Molly and I have twice been to Haveringland church recently. In the summer I went to an exhibition of the local history of the area. Before Christmas we attended an Advent Carol Service there; although electricity is available it was all performed by candle light, only the organ used power. Although it was cold it wasn’t as bad as the Carol Service we attended at Worsted a year before; that I had to leave half way through! The village consists of less than 200 inhabitants, and the under one hundred houses are scattered around the three and a half square miles (2000 acres) of the parish. There is a development of modern bungalows in the Hall Park.
In 1840 there were only 30 houses in Haveringland, though the population was 150 souls – the servants who were attached to the Hall must have skewed the total. It was not always so lacking in facilities as it is today. In 1841 a fine new Hall was built in the Grecian style with extensive ornamental grounds and a lake; after wartime requisitioning it was demolished in 1947. In 1848 a school was built in Haveringland, and a wheelwright operated in the village. This place is now bereft of most things that make a village– it has no village hall or pub, although as late as 1956 it still had one that dated back at least to the 18th century. The pub was the Kings Head on the east side of the parish. Obviously it got its main trade from passing travellers on their way to Norwich; there would not have been enough business from those who dwelt there after the Second World War. It has never had post office though; no doubt it was served by postmen from the adjoining village of Cwaston.
If the village has ever had a centre it must have been St Peter’s itself – unless you count village stocks! In the days when there was still a pub this was the main part of the village – the Kings Head was just opposite. Certainly today all the local events take place at the church. It proudly announces that it is open for christenings, funerals and marriages (the stocks make a popular post nuptial venue). There was a display of old tractors and farm machinery at harvest festival, and Remembrance Sunday had a detachment of Norfolk cadets and veterans to mark the occasion. Before the rebuilding of the church the chancel was in ruins and there was only a north aisle. Now the church has chancel, two side aisles and a transept. In many another location the church would be redundant and the village would hardly exist, but because of some dedicated individuals it remains the hub of a much larger community; may that situation long continue.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE