The signs of ageing are always taken to be the obvious ones like wrinkles, cataracts or greying hair. I know that for men the social attitudes to these things are different; a craggy brow and sinking jowls can produce a kind of grandeur in the male face that is much harder to replicate in women. In the not too distant future these physical signs of age may eventually be much reduced (or even eliminated) but this will not mean the end of ageing. In a less superficial sense ageing will always be with us.
“You’re as a young as you feel” is the common cry among those who feel that age is creeping up on them, and the unspoken (and rather pathetic) implied continuation of this phrase is “And I feel really young”.
The last thing I would want is to feel young again, even if this were possible. I remember only too well the lack of self confidence, tongue-tied indecision and general misery of being young. Youth has its positive side, but this is seldom apparent to the young themselves. Trying to find one’s place in the world is a fraught business at the best of times, and the problems of youth are many; young people adopt all sorts of absurd ideas; the adolescent whose legs are growing out of kilter with the rest of his body has an ungainly stride; and the embarrassing effects of a breaking voice on the pubescent male are a penance. Who would want to revisit these things? In contrast age brings a certain gravitas to even the most unlikely candidates.
Even if the passing years do not bring great wealth they bring a certain stability to one’s finances. The young always begin with nothing; wealth, influence, or the sense of acceptance at the lack of theses things – they all have to be acquired over the years. To most of us offspring come with the passage of time, and the trials of having a young family fade as one’s own children shake off the insecurities of youth and progress into adulthood.
The undoubted bodily vigour of youth is not something I would wish to retain or return to. This slowing down in physical activity is another sign of ageing that is likely to remain long after most other such indicators have been banished to the past. The middle-aged may retain a youthful appearance in the future, but I very much doubt they will ever run as fast. The sight of an 80 year old running the Marathon may become more common, but such a competitor will always come way down the field at the finishing line. The twenties are the most physically productive age, and I can see no likelihood of this ever changing.
A certain forgetfulness is a general feature of the ageing process, but that does mean we are all irredeemably stupid. Our brain mass may decrease as its age increases, but the number of wrinkles in the brain tissue grows exponentially. As the wrinkles signify knowledge, this produces the wisdom of age. We may forget more things as we age, but we have an awful lot more to forget. The young brain is a huge blank canvas; it has masses of potential but little content. Potential is a wonderful thing, but it would be sad if that was all an old brain had to offer. We have far less space to store new memories, but that is fair enough as we have little time left to acquire them.
Some people lose all their memories, and this seems sad; but if you don’t know that you have forgotten everything there is a certain seemliness about this. Senility has dropped out of the lexicon of ageing, to be replaced by dementia. This is a pity, because senility has a direct correlation with the concept of ageing, coming from the Latin word senex, an old man. Dementia merely means a loss of reason, which can occur at any age. Senility was used where now we would say an old person has Alzheimer’s. Not one in a hundred has any idea what are the precise symptoms of this disease, and the use of the term only obfuscates the condition. The non-specific term senile dementia was far preferable; we all recognise that it affects the old, but this malady is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.
Like it or not, ageing is something we are all going through. Fighting it is a pointless exercise. Rather than hanker after lost youth you should celebrate the signs of ageing; stop regarding yourself as a time-expired old has-been and return to the idea of the wise elder. You still have a lot to offer.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES
SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.
When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.
This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops. At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.
The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.
These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent butchers and bakers in the larger villages. Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.
The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
It is the sheer variety of the English landscape that fascinates me. France and Germany have varied landscapes too, but they are larger countries. We in England have such diversity crowded into our small land.
I contrast the picturesque beauty of Kent (the Garden of England) with the featureless expanses of the French scene just across the English Channel. I regard this division as emblematic of the charm of the English landscape. There are beautiful parts of France, but these do not include the land around Calais.
I am sure you know what I mean, but to demonstrate this let me take you on a virtual tour of the country. We will start near the centre of England, where the Grand Union Canal makes its leisurely way through rural pastures. From there we pass across the verdant Cotswolds, the Malverns and the Mendip Hills to the bleak grandeur of Devon’s Exmoor and Dartmoor. The rocky cliffs of North Cornwall stand against the Atlantic rollers that frequently pound the coast. Returning through Dorset there are the marvellous sweeping green headlands and crumbling Jurassic cliffs that meet the English Channel. The North is a combination of moors and dales where livestock graze the landscape; further south the lower lying fields of Lincolnshire and Norfolk are the bread basket of the country, with acres of arable land punctuated by commons, streams and woodlands. Finally in the North West are the majestic mountains and still waters of the Lake District.
There is little countryside in England that could be described as boring. In contest to the interest of England Canada has vast tracts of snowy wastes to the north; there you experience a brief summer, but the vanishing snow and ice only reveal scrubby grass, firs, myriads of flies and no people. The shifting sands of Arabia consist of dunes and hills but no greenery, apart from the occasional oasis. In England the wide expanses fertile but flat lands where the watery Fens have been reclaimed by ingenious Dutch drainage experts might appear a bit dull, were it not for the towns such as Wisbech and Ely that provide such beautiful relief.
The mountains in England do not provide the spectacular crags that those of Scotland and Wales do, let alone the majesty of the Alpine peaks. Grass rather than snow graces their summits for most of the year. Nature has smiled on us, and the great variety of our geology gave our island people a head start in the push to modernity. All around our shores ports flourished as first canals and then railways connected the inland regions of England with an avid export market.
Coal mines blighted many areas of the landscape, but most of the activity took place underground and out of sight. Lead and tin mines were places of early industrial hardship, but have left behind the picturesque ruins of pumping stations on the Cornish coast. At regular intervals the cathedral cities from Canterbury to York, Wells to Lincoln and Salisbury to Durham provide centres of elegant restraint. The people of England have grown to resemble their landscape; industrious, various but accommodating and friendly; so at least I like to imagine.
Surrounding it all is the sea, that greatest boon to the country. This scenic backdrop to the countryside provides us with a bulwark against foreign invaders, an ocean highway to the wider world, a food resource in the form of fish, a place for the production of green energy from the winds and (maybe) tides.
There is so much to be grateful for in the landscape of England. Let us try to preserve it.
You have only to look through old 19th century Directories to get an idea of what I mean by vanished trades. There are still plenty of shopkeepers, and lawyers will always be with us; newsagents and insurance agents are still a presence on the High Street (or not far off it) but have you come across a silk thrower lately? Or a basket maker? Or even a dressmaker? Silk still gets woven somewhere, and baskets are still made, while women’s clothes are so plentiful they just get thrown away, but I doubt they are made much closer to home than Bangladesh. Nor do I think sackcloth is a big seller in Woodbridge any more, but two hundred years ago it was. Even coal merchants are few and far between nowadays.
Straw bonnet makers are no longer with us, nor are the straw bonnets they once made. Saddlers are not as common as they once were, though people still ride horses and so still require saddles; someone must make them. Horses still need grooming as well, but this tends to be done nowadays by their devoted owners, rather than by professional grooms. Shoemakers are not the common tradesmen they were in the 19th century, but shoe shops have replaced them to some extent. Plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers are as sought after as ever.
The butcher is still a useful tradesman, although supermarkets have taken a lot of the business that once was exclusively in the hands of the small trader. The same is true of the baker, but the hair dresser is still independent, and there are no big chains of barber’s shops. Jewellers are now a mixture of large chains like Samuels and smaller independent shops like Windsor Bishop here in Norwich. The large chains tend to concentrate on the cheaper end of the market, while the independents supply the wealthier customer. Music teachers are still in demand, although they tend not to describe themselves as Professors of Music any longer. Accountants are more prolific than ever, and bookkeepers; so too are bookmakers, although booksellers seem to be struggling.
Among the vanished trades is that of currier; I am not even sure what a currier did. It had nothing to with making curries, that’s for sure. Upon further research I discover that a currier was responsible for dressing leather after the tanner had done with it, applying the dyes, softeners and waterproofing. So now you know. A bird preserver must have been what we would now call a taxidermist; does such a trade still exist, or is it done today exclusively by amateurs? Malting is now done in large processing plants, and the old trade of maltster has gone. There used to be tobacconists when I was young, but although tobacco is still available it is hidden away and never seen. The trade of hosier has gone, the sale of socks and stockings being subsumed into the general clothes retailing sector. You would go a long time before you came across a foreman boiler maker, and even longer before you met wheelwright.
What about the trades that have replaced these old ones? That of garage mechanic springs to mind, and before that the cycle repair man. Typists and telephonists have come and gone between the 19th century and now. Buses have replaced stage coaches and so bus drivers have replaced coachmen, while aeroplanes have appeared out of the clear blue sky, together with their pilots. Shops selling mobile phones and computers were unknown forty years ago. Charity shops did not exist before the Second World War, and nor did health food stores. The Chinese restaurant was the first of the exotic food outlets to appear in town and cities, to be followed by Italian restaurants. Now you can buy virtually any cuisine under the sun in your local high street.
The nature of employment has changed and will continue to change. Automation and robots will increasingly takeover the mundane tasks, but that does not mean the end of work. The reluctance of people to prepare their own meals has led to a huge growth in restaurants and takeaways; once it was just the chippie. Eventually food preparation may be automated, but with more people than ever being employed in this country I can see no evidence that the growth of technology has led to a lower demand for workers. Estate agents shops have flourished while banking branches have declined. Antique shops and garden centres have sprung up in the last 75 years, demonstrating how the increase in wealth and leisure time is changing our shopping habits.
MEMORIES OF OLD TRADES
These little villages within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lie adjacent to each other between Weyborne and Cley. You come into Low Kelling along the coast road, but you would never guess that this is a coastal parish. The village lies in dip in the road, and there is no vehicular access to the beach; you must take a fairly long walk of about a mile to reach the sea. The best way to get your feet wet at Kelling is to tramp along the tide line from Weyborne, where there is at least a car park by the sea. It is a small settlement of less than two hundred souls, but it retains its Victorian village Primary School; the number of pupils actually living in Low Kelling must be tiny, but it gathers other children from the surrounding area to make about a hundred students. There is also a medieval church, and tearoom-cum-bookshop in the former reading room. For a small community it is well supplied with facilities. Away from the main road it is all very peaceful at Low Kelling, although nowadays you will always have a wind farm or two on the horizon to interrupt the tranquility of the scene. High Kelling by contrast takes you to the borders of Holt, and in the past century it has almost become a dormitory development of that town. The village centre of Low Kelling is three miles from Holt town centre.
Continuing to the west you pass the heath on the inland side; this has not been maintained and is now covered with birch trees and scrub. Beyond the undulating country of Kelling you descend to what were once the saltmarshes of Salthouse. The building of a sea wall has made the waters alongside the Coast Road fresh, and ducks swim happily about waiting for tourists to feed them. When the sea breaks through, as happens during tidal surges, the salt waters return. This happened a few years ago but on the most recent occasion the wind dropped at the last moment and a breach was averted. It is a slow process to bring the nature reserve back to health, and with the sea so near it is not easy to maintain it.
The houses of Salthouse village are to the left; they are all made in the local building material of beach pebbles. Unlike at Kelling, there is a road to the beach that leads to a car park near the sea. You may buy fish and chips from a mobile shop on the verge in the summer months. In 2014 an American helicopter from RAF Lakenheath crashed on Salthouse beach, with loss of all four lives on board. The area was used to practise low-level flying, but with a nature reserve adjacent it was only a matter of time before a fatal bird strike occurred.
this The Dun Cow in Salthouse is a popular eatery today; this watercolour of the pub was painted forty years ago or more, and there are now a lot of outdoor tables on the lawn that stretches to the pub sign on the main road. The old black painted wooden shed that obscured the seaward end of the pub has been demolished, but it has been replaced by a bus shelter and this also spoils the view of the pub.
There is fine late medieval church dedicated to St Nicholas on the rising ground above the village. There is much pre-Reformation painting on the rood screen, and neglect has preserved the structure and decorations from Victorian Revival restoration.
These are two very different villages along the North Norfolk coast, where cliffs give way to mudflats. The sound of terns as they guard their eggs makes this a special area.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORFOLK
Expertise is an essential ingredient of successful industry, and indeed of life itself. Who would want a house built by amateur bricklayers and clueless electricians? It wouldn’t just be uncomfortable, it would be positively dangerous. If everybody accepts these experts in manual employment, what is the problem with experts in more intellectual positions?
There clearly is a problem, and to see where it lies one only has to look at the dire warnings from almost all experts of the immediate consequences of a vote to leave the European Union last year. Compare these predictions with the actual result, the pretty even tenor of the economy since June 23rd. Incidentally, it is no good saying that the economy was only saved by the prompt action of the Bank of England in taking emergency measures; the experts should surely have included factors like this before making their predictions.
They clearly got it wrong, but this does not mean that those like the Governor of the Bank of England are not experts. I say this not only because Mark Carney is a member of my old college (and therefore highly intelligent?). If I were by some impossible circumstances responsible for managing a minor branch of a provincial bank I would cause mayhem by my complete lack of expertise in financial affairs. Unlike me, Mark Carney (the Governor) is an expert at managing money, but he is certainly not an expert at predicting the future. Who is? We no longer believe in the prophetic ability of seers and soothsayers, so it is rather perverse to believe in economists’ ability to foresee events.
To take another example; which economists predicted the financial crisis of 2008? They may have produced interesting theories to explain it in retrospect, and that is where their expertise lies. The trouble is that they think they can project their theories into the future. However accurate these theories appear to be, the nature of the subject changes over time. Unlike an expert chemist, who can with absolute certainty make a prediction that a given reaction will produce a given result, this is not true of economists, however much they would like this to be so. In the social sciences like economics this kind of certainty is impossible. People are not chemicals, and will always change in all sorts of unexpected directions.
The problem is the experts’ hubris. They like to think they can do what they can never do, and when they fail they bring experts in general into disrepute. We, the public, are almost as much to blame as the experts; if they had been right about Vote Leave (and they could have been) we would look concerned and say that we should have listened to the experts; but what I have said about predicting the future would still have been true.
There is far too much futurology about today. The newspapers, instead of reporting things which happened yesterday, are full of speculation about what is going to happen tomorrow. When (or sometimes if) the event does happen, these predictions are often hugely wide of the mark. The journalists never learn from their mistakes; they have already moved on the next future event. It would be much more sensible to give due consideration to events that have already occurred.
It is important to recognise what experts can and cannot do. I will leave the expert painter and carpenter to one side for now, and concentrate on the academic expert. Experts are not always right, even when considering the past let alone the future. They may claim a superior understanding over that of non-experts, but they should not assert omniscience. They should above all not claim to be able to predict the course of the future. Some events may be easier to foresee than others, but with anything that is not immutably fixed luck rather than judgement determines the outcome.
Before the days of the internal combustion engine it was natural to walk. Especially if you lived in the country, you had to walk miles to do anything. If you were rich enough to own a horse you would ride; otherwise it wasn’t a quadruped, only shanks’s pony. When motor cars first appeared on the roads the maximum speed was limited to 4 mph. In 1894 the speed was raised to 14 mph, and so the man walking in front with a red flag, which was the previous requirement, had to be dispensed with. The powers that be did not expect him to sprint! It was still pretty safe for pedestrians to walk just about anywhere, because even at fourteen miles per hour you had enough time to get out the way of the traffic. After 1903 the speed limit was raised to 20 mph. This made the roads much less safe for walkers, and in any case speed limit was doubtlessly frequently ignored by the increasing fast motor cars.
The growth of the motor bus soon followed, and the habit of walking more than a few hundred yards was soon lost. By the 1950s walking down country lanes was still relatively common, but the main roads were places where you never saw anyone on foot. People would not have lasted long if they had tried to walk. As nobody but the fairly affluent could afford a car, it meant ‘get on your bike’ or ‘wait for the bus’ were the only choices for most people.
This was a huge change in the way the public got around. In about a generation the age-old habit of walking disappeared. Now everyone aspired to owning their own form of motor transport. Before the Second World War a motor car was still out of the question for the vast majority, but a motor cycle wasn’t. All types of folk, from the upper middle class of T. E. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh to the rising working class like my father and my father-in-law travelled round on motorbikes. Unlike today, when a secondhand Superbike can cost considerably more than a new car, a motorbike was a genuinely cheap way to join the motor age. A motorbike was the ideal conveyance for one, but it wasn’t meant as family transport; nevertheless my father-in-law took his entire family on a camping holiday to Devon with his motor cycle and sidecar. His wife rode pillion, and their three little children (and the luggage) squeezed into the sidecar.
In the sixties the nature of the two-wheeled motorist changed from the adventurous but respectable members of society to the immature young Mods and Rockers. The motor scooter made its appearance; the small wheeled Lambretta was invented to take advantage of all the undercarriages left over from the planes of WW2.
Meanwhile the middle-aged members of society were busy buying their first secondhand car. For most this mean four wheels, but there was a dedicated minority who preferred three. The principal attraction of the three-wheeler to many was the fact that it attracted a lower rate of road fund tax. The main disadvantage was the undoubted lack of stability that attended only three points of contact with the road. The Reliant and the Bond Minicar were attractive to the working class motorist; the Morgan three-wheeler, which unlike the other two had its third wheel at the back, was the preserve of the upper classes. You can see that class was still very important in the early days of mass motoring.
But what about walking home? I did walk the four miles from Norwich to my home in Poringland once, but it was an uncomfortable experience. To walk on the road would have been suicidal, so this meant walking on the verge. There was no footpath, so this meant trudging over the grups and gullies that periodically punctuated my progress. Some years later, when I had moved to the other side of Norwich, I walked a similar distance home. This time I didn’t have to navigate the long grass of the verge because there was a pavement all the way. The presence of a footpath meant that it was theoretically possible for people to walk to work, although none did. A couple of hundred years ago it was not remarkable for a young man to walk from Bury St Edmunds to Norwich in pursuit of a job. This distance puts Poringland to Norwich in the shade, but even the four mile journey is a long walk by todays standards. The athletic young might occasionally run such a distance, but nowadays people have completely lost the habit of walking.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
MILLICENT MASON was my Grandfather Mason’s sister. Both my grandfathers died before I was born, but I met Aunt Millie in 1953 when she was living at Bixley Manor (just outside Norwich) for the birth of Timothy Colman’s first child. She was a highly respected and competent midwife, who had worked in Harley Street earlier in her career. In this way she had established a reputation for excellence among the greatest in the land (the baby she was looking after was a close relative of the Queen Mother). She had worked her way up from very humble beginnings as a housemaid, working at Strangers Hall in Norwich when it was still a private residence. The owner was a solicitor called Leonard Bolingbroke and he gave the house to the city to be turned into a museum of social history.
In 1920 Millicent began her nurse’s training at a hospital in South London. In 1923 she qualified as a midwife and by 1925 she was staff nurse in the maternity ward. It was for her not a job but a vocation, and one she pursued with kindness and humanity. Although the work as night sister was hard, she was able to return home regularly to see her father who was living in a cottage in Trowse, Norfolk. I have a picture of Aunt Millie with my Great-grandfather standing in his allotment, tending his beloved flowers. Great-grandfather was still working as a carter in Colman’s mustard business when she moved to London, but he enjoyed a long retirement which was made possible by Lloyd George’s new Old Age Pension. Colman’s were also good employers, who looked after their old employees.
The outbreak of war in 1939 caused the hospital in central London where she had been working to close, but her fine work around the new-born meant she had no difficulty finding other employment. Working throughout the Second World War presented her with plenty of other difficulties however. She retired to Tunbridge Wells where she died unexpectedly at the age of 70.
ST JAMES’ HOSPITAL
OUSELEY ROAD, BALHAM, SW 12 26th February 1925
It gives me much pleasure to testify to the merits of Miss Millicent M. Mason who came to this Hospital in March 1920 as a probationer nurse and is now leaving us. I have had considerable opportunities of observing her work throughout her stay, first as probationer, then as pupil midwife and latterly as staff nurse in charge of the lying-in ward at night.
She has proved herself highly competent in these various capacities and her wide experience of nursing in its medical, surgical and obstetrical aspects makes her a valuable member of any team. I always found her most pleasant to work with. I am sorry to lose her services.
Wm L. Maccormac, Medical Superintendent
3 UPPER WIMPOLE STREET, CAVENDISH SQUARE, W1
It gives me great pleasure to write a testimonial for Sister Mason. She has been in charge of the Maternity, Children’s and Infant’s wards of the London Local Hospital for nine years. During that long time she has done her work excellently and to the satisfaction of the Board. Personally I do not think anyone could have done the work of this difficult post in a better manner. She is kindness personified.
To: Mr Charles Hughes, a nephew of Aunt Millie:
28th October 1958
Dear Mr Hughes,
I was very sad to hear of the death of my dear friend Millie, & do thank you very much for letting me know. I felt there must be something wrong, not hearing from her for so long, the last I heard from her she was hoping to come to Bournemouth. I have known her since my son was born 34 years ago & she came to his wedding just over three years ago, which was the last time we saw her.
I was hoping she would be coming this month to see my little grandson. She would have been so pleased as she was very fond of my son. We do take the Telegraph every day, but I seldom look in the deaths column.
One thing we do know, she did not suffer, and thank you once more for writing.
Mrs Y. E. Woodbridge
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
I have travelled on lines in Norfolk that have been closed for more than fifty years. North Walsham to Mundesley-on-Sea is one such; that was closed in 1964. I have also travelled Dereham to Kings Lynn, but that has only been closed 49 years, having seen its last passengers in 1968; Cromer to Melton Constable (closed 1964), and Kings Lynn along to Hunstanton (closed 1969) I can also remember.
These lines I went on as a child; steam was still the main form of motive power for freight traffic, although diesels multiple units were already taking over passenger services on rural lines. Quite a few lines had already closed before I began to use the railways. The Wymondham to Forncett spur closed to passenger traffic before I was born, when the Second World War broke out. It closed completely when I was three years old. The line from Cromer through Trimingham to Mundesley was ripped up at the same time, when the first spate of closures occurred as the effect of post-war road traffic began to bite. The route from Wells through Burnham Market to Heacham ended for passengers when I was scarcely more than a toddler, and I would have been too young to remember anything about these railways, even if I had been taken on them.
I do remember going on the train from Norwich to Kings Lynn, mainly because it reversed direction at Dereham; I was convinced I was going back to Norwich! We were on a journey to Snettisham, to visit our relations who had a holiday chalet there. The train from Norwich to Kings Lynn was a dmu, but from Lynn to Snettisham we were steam hauled. Normally we went by road in our old Singer car, but on this occasion it had broken down so we went by train. I like to think we would have done this more often, but it was long walk of at least two miles from Snettishan station to the beach, and my little legs got very tired. For our return home we borrowed my uncle’s car, a Jowett Javelin. How we got it back to West Norfolk when the Singer was repaired I don’t remember; if it entailed another train journey I was not included.
There were lines that I could have gone on but didn’t; I was ten when the M&GN closed, and was old enough to have remembered had I been taken for the ride, although I was a bit too young to have travelled on my own. Dereham to Wells closed in 1964 without my ever experiencing the ride, and the line through Watton to Thetford closed in the same year, untravelled by me. By then I was fifteen, and quite old enough to have gone on the train alone. Yarmouth Southtown to Lowestoft lasted until I was twenty-one, again without my ever having used it. Luckily the age of closures is in the past; reopenings and new lines are already happening in some parts of the country (to Tweedbank in Scotland and the Elizabeth Line – Crossrail), although there is little prospect of any in East Anglia.
Of the lines still in use one I can remember from years ago is the Wherry Line from Norwich to Yarmouth and Lowestoft. (I regard the term Wherry Line as recent brand name, though it has been used for decades.) I remember the line over the swing bridge across the Yare well because I reached that from Yarmouth via the Burney Arms. This is very unusual way to go from Yarmouth to Lowestoft by railway, but it is still possible if you change (as I did) at Reedham. This was part of my trip round the railways of East Anglia in 1982, and is recorded in my post on the Anglia Ranger. I made another Anglia Ranger trip about fifteen years later, with my young family, going from Gunton Road station in North Norfolk to Felixstowe and back.
There were stations that have vanished without trace, though the lines still exist. I remember some of them. The station at Whitlingham I even alighted at; it must have closed to passengers when I was very young, about four, but I remember it because the guard allowed me to start the train by holding up his oil lamp and giving the green light to the engine driver. Most of the stations between Norwich and Diss were closed under Dr Beeching, although Swainsthorpe station had closed to passengers in 1954. Swainsthorpe stayed open for freight for another ten years, and during this period I often used to sit in my father’s car while the London bound express trains thundered over the level crossing which was adjacent to the station. I am sure there was a signal box there too, although all sign of it and the station have long gone. The stations at Flordon, Forncett and Tivetshall all stayed open to passengers until 1966. You flew past so quickly on the express trains that they went by in a flash and you hardly noticed them, but I took the stopping train to Ipswich to see my sister in 1962. I was thirteen, but I recall vivid snatches of the experience; these country stations were not exactly busy and the porters must have had an easy life, but when the train pulled in there were plenty of things going on. The post and papers had to be unloaded and the milk churns put into the brake third coach, and there even might have been a passenger or two.
There is a mainline through Norfolk that I have never travelled on, and this year I hope to repair this omission. This is the line through Downham Market to Kings Lynn. To go there from Norwich means changing at Ely. In Suffolk I have travelled all the existing lines, with two minor exceptions; I have never been on the short section from Bury St Edmund to Ely, and the line to Sudbury, which runs almost entirely in Essex, is another line I would like to experience. There is a fine viaduct of 32 arches at Chappel on the line. This used to run from Marks Tey to Cambridge, serving the town of Haverhill. This is now a large conurbation which would dearly like its rail connection to Cambridge restored, but there is little prospect of this, though the trackbed remains.
The railway I have used most often is the mainline from Norwich to London, and despite all the changes of rolling stock, motive power and so on, the basic experience has not changed much in my lifetime. I can still sit in a comfortable seat as I speed on my way to the capital. Getting on the train at Norwich I use the identical platforms, although Liverpool Street Station had a major makeover some thirty years ago. The speed may be a little faster, but the electric trains of 2017 shave very little off the timings of the Britannia pacifics of sixty years ago. The much hyped ‘Norwich to London in 90 minutes’ is only promised for one or two trains a day, and even this will rely on the closure of a lot of level crossings in Norfolk and Suffolk. This seems a poor kind of ‘improvement’ to transport links in general, to cut many rural communities in two. Over a hundred years ago the Norfolk Coast Express ran non-stop from London to North Walsham; it only had to stop there en route to Cromer to take on more coal. It provided a fast service for holidaymakers from the capital, and all without removing any level crossings. It is unlikely to be equalled in the future.