THINGS FINALLY COME RIGHT
In 1959, at the age of forty-seven, my father was about to experience a year of great upheaval. His eldest daughter was to marry and emigrate to Canada; she had qualified as schoolteacher but was never to work in that capacity, becoming instead a professor at a transatlantic university; but that was far in the future. Nearer to home his second daughter had also qualified as a teacher, and was to start at Ipswich High School that September. His ten-year old son (me) was just about to begin at boarding school. Most alarmingly, he had to leave the building in Orford Place, as the lease had expired. He was willing to pay the much higher new rent, but none of his fellow tenants were, so his whole business future seemed thrown into doubt. Where would he go? Would his customers follow him to his new premises? Or would the abandon him for other Norwich opticians?
The place he decided to move into was 29 Surrey Street; he had limited options available to him, as most shops in the centre of Norwich were already occupied. The property he decided on was fairly central, but had stood vacant for about a decade. It needed a complete rewiring (it still had a primitive DC system in place) and a complete redecoration too. The walls were covered in centuries of whitewash, which had to be removed before modern paint could be applied. The most problematical aspect from a business point of view was that it was, in appearance, a private dwelling; it had no shop window. It was a large 18th century former residence with, as I subsequently discovered, an impressive history. Most recently it had served as the Angel temperance hotel. Crucially, he would no longer be a tenant; this property he would have to buy.
Very fortunately my father’s patients continued to patronize his practice and within a few years he had paid off the commercial mortgage that he had taken out to pay for the property. In this he was fortuitously aided by the gathering pace of inflation during the 1960s; this was a good time for house buyers in general- a detached house in the city could be bought for well under £1,000! As a result, within a decade-and-a-half of buying the building, its value had increased nearly twentyfold. The initial cost of the property was almost small change by then. As if by accident, he was now a wealthy man for the first time in his life. It was true that he was nearly always overdrawn at the bank, but that was only because his plans for the future always ran a little bit ahead of his current resources. He would never admit to being other than a miserable failure; this was quite untrue, but in comparison to what might have been he had a point. To see what I mean I refer you to the previous post, where his factory appear to be on the brink of success.
In buying 29 Surrey Street he had added the position of commercial landlord to his business interests. He only needed the ground floor for his optical premises; the semi-basement (it had windows to Surrey Street, so it was not a cave) he also occupied. This held a workshop with a lathe, circular saw, bench drill, milling machine, and fly press – in short the whole range of machinery. He even had a printing press! One room was devoted entirely to a model railway; this was nominally mine, but in fact it represented one of my father’s many interests. He was able to let the first floor long-term to an insurance company; Surrey Street is still at the heart of the insurance industry in Norwich, holding as it does the headquarters of the multi-national firm Aviva, still known as Norwich Union in 1959. The upper floors were not so easily let, but a succession of artists, interior designers and marketing companies occupied them.
In 1960 my mother inherited some money and enabled us to buy the family home in Poringland from the landlord Rushmer Howlett, who lived next door. We proceeded to undertake some much-needed improvements; a bedroom for me was included in the plans. Previously I had slept in my parents’ bedroom. Mains drainage was the most radical departure from the only way of life I had known until then; I could now have a bath without boiling kettles and put the tin bath on the hearth-rug. The main sewer had been installed in the road outside a year or two before, and my father no longer had to empty the earth closet or pump out the cess pit. We had rather belatedly joined the 20th century. Until then there was a curious mismatch between our primitive domestic arrangements at our rented home and the palatial facilities (including five water closers) at my father’s workplace that he owned.
A very valuable addition to the house at Surrey Street was a car park at the back, which could hold three cars at a pinch. That alone was worth a huge amount, not merely in financial terms but for convenience. The access belonged to a doctor’s widow who lived four houses along, so my father had to keep her sweet. At a bunch or two of flowers a year it was cheap at the price. It also had a delightful courtyard garden that faced south. There one could sit with a drink by the fountain, within yards of Norwich’s busy bus station; climbing roses scented the air, while all around was the bustle of a busy city. That was luxury indeed. In fifty years my father had progressed from living in a modest terraced house to the be the owner a 20 roomed town mansion; the only trouble was that because of planning restrictions at the time he couldn’t actually live there!
My father was by no means a traditional businessman, always obsessed by balance sheets and bank accounts. Such things interested him not at all. He was at his happiest walking his dog by the riverside or attending meetings of the Nautics, his favourite historical society. As for playing his cello, as a teenager he dreamed of becoming a professional musician; he was certainly good enough, but was warned by Jimmy Pond his music teacher that it would lead to a life of poverty. I am sure that we would never have been as wealthy as an orchestral cellist as he became as an optician. There were several reverses in his career, but he was ultimately a great success in financial terms. He gave me a fantastic childhood, and he provided the best of educations for all his three children.
He thought that the seventeen shillings and sixpence that he was paid by the National Health Service for a sight test was pitifully small, especially compared the much larger sum charged by a garage mechanic for an MOT. Seventeen and six was indeed little enough for a full professional eye examination; he made his money from selling glasses to customers privately. He thought this was the wrong way round, and it would be hard to disagree with him; the glasses were just a consumer product, whereas the sight of a patient (or even his life) could depend on picking up small imperfections in their eyes. I don’t suppose things are very different today; as a pensioner my eyes are tested free, but my glasses cost me a small fortune.
The main developments of his career were effectively over by 1960. For a few years his health remained good, but at the age of 56 he had a coronary, and thereafter numerous infarctions (where parts of the heart muscle are damaged by blood clots) and episodes of tachycardia (heart rhythm malfunction) which led to many stays in hospital. Heart conditions were far less effectively treated in those days. He refused to give up smoking his beloved pipe. Nevertheless he did not die from a heart disease but from another health condition. He was able to retire at the age of 60 to spend the last few years of his life developing an optical instrument which looked set to be a great success by the time he died. In retirement he was able to retain the building in Surrey Street, together with its workshop and car park, which meant that he still went there almost every day. Besides providing him with a comfortable pension he could still develop his model railway and work on his various schemes. Over his lifetime he built two boats, numerous pieces of furniture and as a young man had done wood carvings as a hobby. He was trained by the army as an instrument mechanic which stood him in good stead throughout the rest of his life. Although his health was failing, I was able to ensure both him and my mother had an enjoyable last few years. Looking back on his life with the perspective of forty years, I can now see him for what he was: then he was just my Daddy. Frank Mason was clearly a remarkable man.
You can read more about the history of the house in Surrey Street by clicking HERE. I have written well over ten blogs on the house, and you can access them by entering ‘joemasonspage’ and adding ‘the story of a house’ and a number from 1 to 13 into Google. This should bring up the required result.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
There was virtually no road building in the 1950s until the M1 was constructed right at the end of the decade; the only improvement I can call to mind was the straightening of a short length of blind bend outside Ditchingham Hall. This was in about 1957; you can still see the lay-by which this created on the Bungay road. The traffic was still relatively light; many of the cars were prewar, and those that were not were all painted black; you were lucky to get a car at all, and the colour wasn’t important. The lorries were of the fixed chassis type – there were no articulated juggernauts then. The country folk who had to go to town went by bus, otherwise they travelled round on their bikes.
In Norfolk the railway network was already beginning to shrink. The lines from Cromer to Mundesley and from Heacham to Wells closed completely in 1952, and the stations at Hellesdon and Whitlingham stopped serving passengers early in the decade. Also in 1952 passenger traffic was ended on the Wroxham to County School branch; however most of the rural branch lines remained open. For a few more years Hunstanton, Holt, Dereham, Watton, Swaffham and Fakenham (all of them substantial country towns) had regular train services that carried passengers as well as goods. Trains stopped crossing Breydon Water en route from Yarmouth Beach station to Lowestoft in 1952; the swing bridge remained in place but permanently open to shipping.
There were still a lot of sea-going freighters threading their way up the river Yare to Norwich. Coal was one their main cargoes, and it was universally used to produce electricity, gas and domestic heating all across Britain. The miners toiled day and nigh to extract this invaluable commodity. Many coal-fired steam drifters tied up along the Yarmouth quayside every autumn herring season, ready for the Scottish fisher girls to pack the fish away in their millions. The London Docks were still at the hub of the nation’s trade in 1950, and Southampton was still the place you went to catch liners for overseas destinations.
As for aircraft, the skies were full of them; not commercial airliners (there were none of these outside London) but fighter jets. Never a day went by without vapour trails appearing among the clouds, and sonic booms were often heard. There were still over a dozen RAF air bases in Norfolk at the beginning of the period, including at Coltishall, St Faiths, Swanton Morley and Marham; there was a major USAF presence at Sculthorpe near Fakenham. All through the decade the RAF held open days to commemorate the Battle of Britain. In the less mean-spirited nature of the times these festivities were free to attend, although the members of the public who flocked to them would support them generously in a voluntary capacity. The threat of Nazi invasion was still a recent memory and those who fell in resisting it were honoured annually.
Norfolk is a sparsely populated county; in a hundred and fifty years the population of Norfolk doubled to stand at around 600,000 by 1961. Even with the huge increase in recent years it is still estimated at under a million, which is tiny for one of the largest counties in the land. It has always been an agricultural economy, specialising in arable crops. All across the country the horse had vanished from the farms by 1950, and everywhere the ploughing and reaping was done by internal combustion engine: the tractor was king. Things are still much the same for now in Norfolk, but the most thriving communities are increasing becoming centred on the digital world. We had no idea what the phrase ‘the digital world’ might mean in the 1950s. The first massive mainframe computer arrived at Norfolk County Hall in the 1960s (it was about the size of a small bungalow), and the data was carried on magnetic tapes between there and Norwich City Hall in a little blue Daf van. Even electric typewriters were almost unknown in the 1950s, and calculations were largely done with pencil and paper; the very advanced firms (like Norwich Union) used mechanical comptometers with their highly trained female operators.
There were young Teddy Boys with Brylcreemed hair, jeans and bomber jackets, and their female counterparts, but many of the working population had been alive when Victoria was Queen. They had been through two World Wars, many of them as combatants in both. National Service was still in force, and this all made for a less effete nation. It was a hard life – for example there was virtually no central heating, and double glazing was completely unknown. The ice would form inside the bedroom windows as you slept. The only insulation was made from asbestos, and that was treated with gay abandon by everyone, but fortunately we seemed to survive without succumbing to the material; visits to the doctor were for other ailments. The GPO phone box was always there for use in emergencies; you pressed button B and heard the money drop into the machine, when you would ask the operator to connect you. There were two visits a day from the postman who rode his red bicycle round the village. The local Bobby rode his black bicycle to keep a beady eye on the world. All these things were common throughout the land; in the 1950s there was a sense of national identity that is largely lacking today. The very idea of Scotland splitting away was almost nowhere on the political agenda back then. It is true that there were voices raised against the new queen’s title. Even a few post boxes with the monogram EIIR on them were blown up in Scotland. This was not from republican motives, but because she should have been called Elizabeth the first in Scotland – it had been an independent country when Good Queen Bess was on the throne!
Hard though it is to believe, in the 1955 General Election the Tories received more than half the popular vote in Scotland. The Tories governed the UK for most of the 1950s, but it was a very different country sixty years ago.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The Royal Observatory was established in 1675 by King Charles II on a site at Greenwich selected by Sir Christopher Wren. From the 17th century the meridian at Greenwich became the basis for astronomical calculations, led by the English Astronomers Royal. As Britain became a great maritime nation through the 18th century this was increasing adopted by other countries as the Prime Meridian. The process culminated with the International Meridian Conference of 1884, held in Washington D.C. (The French continued to use Paris as their prime meridian until 1911.)
We can trace the adoption of Greenwich Mean Time as the effective navigational standard to the award of the prize for an accurate chronometer to John Harrison in 1773. Although GMT may have been important for navigating across the globe, every town across England had its own time. The local clocks were all set to the midday sun by using the sundial. This changed with the coming of railways, which made a nationally agreed time essential for timetabling purposes. When travelling in a north/south direction this made no difference, but the journey from London to Bristol produced a time slip of several minutes. The clock on Bristol Corn Exchange had (and still has) two minute hands, one showing GMT and one showing local time. ‘Railway Time’ (i.e. GMT) was introduced by the by the Great Western Railway in 1840; as you can imagine there was much opposition to this innovation at first. The adoption of GMT as the national standard time was only recognised by Statute in 1880.
Daylight saving, which is the rationale behind British Summer Time, has no relevance for most of the year. In midwinter the hours of daylight are so short that it makes little difference how you fiddle with dial on the clocks; you will rise and retire in darkness anyway. Similarly in summer the nights are so short that the few hours of darkness will not impinge on your daily life. It is only for week or two during the spring and autumn that the correlation between the brightness of the sky and the time on the clock-face has a minor effect on your activities. Yet for this reason we have go through the whole disruptive apparatus of the hour change.
The reason for the clocks changing is all to do with our natural sloth and laziness. If we all got an hour earlier there would be no need for the clocks to change. The government knows it could never tell everybody to get up an hour earlier in the day, so the changing of the clocks is just a clever ploy to get us to do it anyway. The first person to mention that getting up an hour earlier in winter would save money on candles was Benjamin Franklin. This famous American thinker and diplomat was talking about the Parisiens of the eighteenth century.
Germany was the first country to introduce Daylight Saving Time in 1916. The reason was to save coal during wartime, and I suppose it must have worked, though they still lost the war. Their enemy Britain followed suit, and since then Daylight Saving has become widely used across Europe and North America. The countries nearer the equator have little to gain from Daylight Saving Time, as the hours of day and night change but little through the year. The economic argument of saving energy is much less clear-cut today than it was when Daylight Saving was introduced in the First World War. The use of air conditioning, digital equipment and the need for artificial light in modern buildings regardless of the time of day make the the use of electricity less of an issue than it was. The most persuasive argument in favour of the hour changing is the increase in leisure opportunities during the lighter evenings of British Summer Time; but against this must be set the increase in accidents to children while going to school in the darker mornings before the clocks go back. There are arguments for and against the hour change.
Why can’t we just keep GMT (or BST) throughout the year? Do we really gain anything worthwhile from this tinkering with the clock? During the years 1968 – 1971 they didn’t change the clocks and kept BST all year round. For this experimental period British Summer Time was renamed as British Standard Time. There was of course an outcry from the people about losing the hour change, just as there had been when it was first introduced, but I rather liked the slow progression in the seasons, without the sudden onset of winter darkness. Before I retired I used to enjoy the extra hour in bed in the autumn when the clocks went back, but the effect only lasts a day. This must be repaid in the spring anyway, when your sleep is reduced by the same amount. Now that I no longer work on a daily basis the arrival and departure of Greenwich Mean Time doesn’t make much difference to me.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF TIME
I was 24 in 1973 and that makes it feel very long ago; it was a long time ago, and it represents a different world in many ways.
One thing that hasn’t changed that much though is going up to the capital by train. By 1973 diesel locomotives had hauled the trains for ten years, and it would be another decade before electrification came to the East Anglian mainline. At the beginning of February 1973 I went to London with my father. We were after some special fasteners for an engineering project we were engaged in. After a search we successfully accomplished that in Clerkenwell. Next we went to South Kensington to visit the Science Museum. There we had lunch and looked round the aviation and nautical exhibits. One thing that caught my eye was the original boat that won the first boat race for Oxford in 1829. We got the 4:30 train back to Norwich and were home by early evening. Our young dog Fido was pleased to see us.
This was the year that the village of Attlebridge on the A 1067 road from Norwich was bypassed. I drove along the new road for the first time on March 15th. Until then all the traffic to Fakenham had to cross the narrow medieval bridge across the river Wensum. Bawdeswell too was bypassed at the same time; there has been little improvement to the road since, although the amount of traffic has grown enormously. In spite of the economic woes of the period (some of which I will detail below) the 1970s were a good time for such minor road improvements in East Anglia; a decade later we had major road building projects like the Norwich Southern Bypass (but we are still waiting for the Acle straight to be widened).
The family car at the time was a brown Daf 44. From the family point of view the major drawback was the fact that it only had two doors. This was alright if only two people were in the car, but this was not ideal if there were more. Daf cars were Dutch and they were all automatic. The gear lever was simple; there were just three position; forward, reverse and neutral in the middle. There was of course no clutch. The Variomatic transmission was by two rubber belts, a system unique to Daf cars although they were later bought up by Volvo who produced the 340 series with the same system.
The Daf 44 was fussy at lower speeds and did not really settle down until she was doing 70 mph. Luckily there was little traffic on the roads by modern standards and fewer speed limits, so this speed was frequently achievable. For the first part of the year it was perfectly legal to drive at 70 mph, but the Oil Crisis that began in October caused the government to reduce the national speed limit to 50 mph in December. (In those pre-speed camera days this limit was honoured more in the breach than the observance.) I have hinted at the political and economic troubles we were experiencing at the time; besides the oil crisis we also had in December the Three Day Week. This was introduced because the coal miners were out on strike. Things continued to be difficult throughout the 1970s, culminating in 1978/9 with the Winter of Discontent. This, for those of you too young to remember, was the time when dead bodies went unburied and rubbish piled upon the streets because of industrial unrest.
The Winter of Discontent and the Three Day Week must have made a deep impression on Mrs Thatcher; she was Education Secretary in 1973 and Leader of the Opposition by 1979. To reduce the importance of the coal industry to national life became one of her principal policies once she was in power. Now we distrust coal because it is a dirty fuel, but this had no place in the decision to close down the industry; it was a political matter, the origins of which lay in the strikes of 1973. There is still a huge amount of coal left in under much of Britain, but the future appears to be in renewable energy sources. Shutting down the mines proved to be the way things were going, although many of the redundant miners never worked again. The discovery of gas in the North Sea enabled the country to change the kind of fuel we used. Great Yarmouth power station had been coal-fired; now a gas fuelled one has taken its place. Houses were generally cold and drafty forty years ago, with no doubling glazing or insulation, so we huddled round the fire. In those years we still relied on coal to keep us warm through the chilly months, but I do not recall any problems for us in that regard. Our coal bunkers must have been filled for the winter well before the miners went on strike but this was not the case for the country at large in 1973. Mrs Thatcher made sure she had huge stocks of coal before picking her fight with the miners.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
I really should say the delivery officer’s day, because the word postman is definitely sexist, but post person does not roll off the tongue like postman. The job has certainly changed in the last thirty years. For one thing post ladies were very thin on the ground back then.
In the towns delivery officers still walk on their daily postal rounds as they always have done, but the country postmen all drive round in vans today. The red bicycle is a thing of the past. In the 1980s the postman’s bike was still the same as it had been fifty years before. It still had ancient roller lever brakes and no gears, and the bicycle only came up-to-date with modern cable brakes a few years before it passed into history. If you go back a little further to the early years of the last century the rural postman rode a horse to deliver the mail.
The uniform has changed as well as the means of transport. No longer does the postman wear a smart jacket and a military style cap; to be fair he didn’t wear his hat back in the 1980s, but it was still part of the uniform he was issued with. It was the real thing with a shiny peak and brass badge, not a mere baseball cap (though that came later). In fact the uniform was a step back into the past. In the 1970s it had been a neutral grey colour, rather like a businessman’s suit, but in the 1980s it reverted to the traditional dark blue. It no longer had the red piping down the seam of the trousers, but this remained in vestigial form as red piping along the trouser pocket opening. A red and blue tie was provided, and all the postmen had to wear it; over the years the traditional tie that was secure by a knot was replaced by a ready knotted attachment that merely came away when the wearer was grabbed by the neck. This is a sad reflection on the growing violence of the time, and even the postman was subjected to it.
The uniform was blue, but gradually more and more red started to creep into it. At first this was just a panel on the overcoat shoulders, but eventually the whole top the uniform (the shirt) became this colour. The uniform had changed by the twenty-first century to a much more casual appearance. Shorts became general for summer wear, and some hardy souls wear shorts throughout the coldest months of the year. Trainers have replaced sensible black lace-ups for most postmen, and ties have disappeared completely.
At last we can get round to the postman’s day. In general it started much earlier than it does now. It was normal for him to get up at four a.m., even if he lived not far from the delivery office. He would be at work by five, and after receiving the sacks of mail, opening and sorting them, he could be ready to get the ‘all clear’ to go by seven o’clock. Part of the reason for this early start was the fact that many postmen made two deliveries a day. He worked Saturday mornings and this made his working week one of over 40 hours. This made him rather unusual, even among manual workers, by the late twentieth century. In spite of this heavy workload, because of the early start he was home by lunchtime, so the afternoons were free to the garden or go shopping.
Good Friday working ended in about 1990. No postman minded working on Bank Holidays; it was all done on enhanced overtime rate, so the pay was good. Although Saturday deliveries still continue, postmen now work a five-day week and the contracted hours have consequently been reduced. The most fundamental change is that, after half a millennium as a department of state, the Post Office is now a private business. The fact that it is now an ordinary company hardly matters, now that the writing of letters is a lost art; who really cares who delivers the advertising material and official bumf that still pours through our letter boxes? Have these people never heard of email or online communication? Nevertheless I am old-fashioned enough to regret the passing of this Nationalised service. Things which rely on a national network, like the railways, electricity, gas and even the post office need organising on a national basis, and the fad for privatising these things has not resulted in better service in my opinion.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Barnstaple, Devon 1958. My first long distance trip, starting from Norwich Thorpe as the station was then called, to distinguish it from the other two termini in Norwich. Steam engines ruled the tracks in those days!
Glasgow, Scotland, 1962. With my sister Tiiggie we stopped off at Glasgow en route to Malaig, where we were to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We had gone up to Edinburgh on the night sleeper.
Ostend, Belgium, 1965. School trip to Eastern Europe.We went by train from Waterloo. After catching the ferry to Belgium we caught the train at Ostend. There were no electric trains on the European railways then, but in the capitalist West the expresses were already diesel hauled. In Communist Europe the trains were still steam hauled.
Cologne, Germany, 1965. Our first change of trains at about midnight. The workers were still busy digging up the road outside the cathedral (a dedication to getting the job done unheard of in England in those days, and even today). We had to stop at the border with Czechoslovakia where we were thoroughly checked by the Communist border guards. The border was heavily defended by machine gun-toting soldiers. It was strictly prohibited to photograph near the railway, but I managed to sneak my camera there to take this picture!
Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1965. After an overnight sleep in the couchette car of the train we arrived at Prague, our first destination in the Communist East. In the hotel I experienced my first night under a duvet; such things were then unknown in Britain.
Budapest, Hungary, 1965. We spent several days in Czechoslovakia before going on by train to Hungary. We stopped off at the border to view the Danube Bend. In Budapest we rode the ancient electric underground railway which was then still using the original carriages from the 1890s.
Vienna, Austria, 1965. Our last stop was back in the West, and rather flat in comparison to Communist Europe. It was dire in the East for the inhabitants, but as visitors from the wealthy Capitalist part of the world we were treated very specially indeed, almost like Royalty. They needed our cash!
Montreal, 1969. While visiting my sister in Canada my mother and I caught the train from the suburbs to downtown Montreal. We went with my sister and her children. It was single car train, but it had an observation deck (which I used of course). There was another railway visible from my sister’s house, one with plenty of freight trains going past.
Oxford, 1967. I went to Sheringham from school by bus, to catch the train from the station. This was already the new BR built halt. The North Norfolk Railway had purchased the adjacent former station, but as yet no trains were running and it stood derelict. This was in December for my interview for a place at university. From Norwich I caught the train to Liverpool Street, and from Paddington I went to Oxford on a train full of fellow candidates.
Folkestone, 1977, en route for the Baie de Somme, France. With my friend Bill I went on a day trip to ride the Baie de Somme narrow gauge preserved line. The return trip entailed changing trains after midnight at Shippea Hill of all places!
Aarhus, 1982. In Denmark me and my friend Bill travelled from Aarhus in Jutland to the island of Zealand, which at that time involved the entire train being hauled on the ferry for the sea crossing. (Since then a bridge has been built.) The door at the end of the last carriage on the train had a widow, from which you could watch the track disappearing into the distance.
Copenhagen, 1982. Arriving by train, we spent a few days in the Danish capital, where we did all the usual tourist things like visiting the Little Mermaid. We flew back to Manchester airport from there.
Aldershot, 1986. Stopped off for a haircut en route to my RAMC recruitment assessment.
Ash Vale, 1986. To RAMC HQ at Keogh Barracks for basic training.
Windermere, 1986. Just married, Molly and I went on a special to Lake Windermere in the Lake District; on the way we went over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line. We stopped off at Ribblehead station for a look over the valley.
Bournemouth, 1996. I caught the train down to Bournemouth where I had a week’s training at the Elstead Hotel as rep for the Union of Postal Workers. Saw the QE 2 at Southampton.
Paris, France, 2001. Our first overseas family holiday; Molly, Peter, Polly and I went by Eurostar from London. This was before the high-speed line was built, and we left from Waterloo.
Bruges, Belgium, 2002. With our children we went on a day trip by train to Bruges from the Midi Station in Brussels.
Estoril, 2005. On a family holiday to Portugal (when we flew to Porto) we arrived at our hotel by train from Lisbon.
Cascais, Portugal, 2005. We travelled to the beach for a morning sunbathing at the terminus of the line. Sunbathing is something I almost never do, and this was not a success. The railway line was lovely though, and runs along the sea throughout its length.
Flam, 2011. On our Norwegian cruise we travelled this steep electric railway line from sea level (the fjord) up to the mountainous country. There, despite it being August, there was still some snow about.
Brussels, Belgium, 2015. Molly and I travelled on Eurostar from St Pancras and spent a few days with Peter and Alex in Brussels. It as February, and Peter was due to move back to England later in the month. We went first class (as by then I had suffered from a stroke) and were entertained to a lavish meal as we were whisked through Kent.
Wymondham, Norfolk, 2015. I went solo for the first time since suffering from my stroke.I got on the train at Wymonham and travelled to Cambridge, where I was met by my cousin William. I also returned unaccompanied to Norwich.
I have been on many other railway journeys, mostly to London. Over my lifetime I have been by train to Wales, March in Cambridgeshire, Weymouth, Liverpool Street (all of these in steam days), to name but a few. I have travelled on lines that were axed by Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s. This article includes all my travels abroad.
THE BLOG FOR RAILWAY MEMORIES
[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]
St Andrew’s Hall has occupied a central role in the civic life of the City for nearly 500 years, and before it became a secular meeting place it was part of a Dominican friary. Every kind of public event has taken place there; I myself have sung from the choir benches as child (though in what circumstances I forget), and as a thirty year old I played there in the orchestra for the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. In less refined company I have been there with my friends to the Norwich Beer Festival; St Andrew’s Hall, together with the adjacent Blackfriars Hall, constitute the largest non-religious gathering place in the City. There have been calls for a modern hall to be built for the citizens, and maybe this will one day come to pass, but there is no immediate prospect of St Andrew’s Hall giving up its time-honoured rôle. Even if such a modern concert hall were to be built it would not occupy so central a location in the City; there could not be a better place for the citizens of Norwich to meet than St Andrew’s Hall. I should think there is hardly a citizen of Norwich who has not attended some function at St Andrew’s Hall the last half millennium.
The Dominican friars (also called the Blackfriars from their austere form of dress) moved onto the site in 1307, having first set up a friary in Colegate eighty years earlier. The chancel of the friary was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. and it was named St Andrew’s Hall from St Andrew’s Church that stands across the road after the Reformation. In medieval times it became a popular place for the rich an influential members of local society to bequeath large sums of money for the erection of memorials within its walls. These included the Paston family, and Sir Thomas Erpingham; the arms of both are preserved around the building.
With the closure of all religious houses by Henry VIII the City Corporation petition the king to buy the former friary in 1538. The hall with its adjacent conventual buildings has preserved the most intact medieval friary left in the country. The buildings cost the Corporation £81, with an unexpected extra £152 for the lead on the roof; as anyone who inspects the exterior of the hall today will recognise, the roof is nowadays made of copper. A print was made in the seventeenth century which shows St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars Hall with a central tower. This fine structure was demolished at some time, but when is unclear.
This Hall has provided the backdrop for civic occasions ever since the 16th century; the first recorded event to take place there was in 1544, with the Mayor’s inaugural feast. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses in the Hall when he came to crush Kett’s rebellion five years later. When Charles II visited the city in 1671 he was entertained to a lavish feast in St Andrew’s Hall. In 1695 it was used as a mint during the great recoinage of that year. The building was used as the City’s Corn Exchange before a purpose-built Corn Hall was erected in Exchange Street. It was also at one time used as the local Assize Court. In 1824 the first concert of the Norwich Triennial Festival took place in St Andrew’s Hall. A quarter of a century later the opening of the Railway to London was the occasion for a great feast and many speeches. The holding of feasts there seems to have fallen off in recent times, but concert are as popular as ever. When Question Time visits the City the team of broadcasters set up their equipment in the ancient meeting place. There simply is nowhere else in Norwich where such an event could happen.
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More than ten generations ago my ancestor George Peachey was born in Mildenhall in Suffolk. I do not know what his occupation was, but as all his descendants (right down to my great-grandfather Phipp Peachey) were warreners, I think it highly likely that he was too; rabbits were virtually the only crop that could be harvested from the sandy soil around the Brecks, until the 20th century ushered in forestry and provided a substitute in the form of timber. George Peachey was born in 1662 and grew up during ‘Good King Charles’s golden days’. The reason I mention this monarch is that he was a regular visitor to Newmarket to watch the horse racing on the heath. The town is only 16 miles from Mildenhall, and George may well have seen the king as he made his regal progress into the town.
For more than seven generations the Peacheys lived in Mildenhall, or the adjoining parish of Lakenheath. In this sedentary lifestyle they were not unique; indeed such a lack of mobility was commonplace for many centuries. Others members of my ancestors, for example the Jones family who lived as farm workers within a few miles of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire, were equally settled. The Rivetts are buried in Norfolk’s Shipdam parish churchyard from the 17th to the 2oth centuries, and members of the Mason family still live around Stone in Staffordshire. The Rutters appear to have been bakers in Suffolk throughout the 19th century and into the middle of the 20th. The Buxton family were farm labourers in the Norfolk village of Easton, and their relatives were landlords of the village pub (the Dog) for most of the 19th century. A Buxton was servant to the curate in the adjacent village of Weston Longville in Parson Woodforde’s time, and there is no doubt in my mind that he too was a distant relative of mine.
All these bloodlines would never have met had it not been for George Stephenson and the coming of the railways. Even before the first trains ran into the West Country, an ancestor of mine (a young Buckinghamshire man working as a railway navvy) had met and married an orphan in Cornwall. Domestic service also provided opportunities for employment across the land, now that universal education allowed all to read the adverts for servants and the penny post let them write a letter of application in reply. The trains provided the easy and quick access for the servants to travel to their new jobs. Not all travel was by train; this was the norm, but my uncle’s father arrived in Grimsby from Denmark by boat in the nineteenth century. Physical mobility came first, and social mobility soon followed.
All this concerns my own relatives as you might have guessed. Over the last two hundred years I can point to relatives of mine in Dover and St Austell, Stoke on Trent and Stradbroke, Fenny Stratford and Bishop’s Stortford. They have been coal miners and railwaymen, drapers and wheelwrights, pigmen and gardeners, carpenters and bricklayers. There have been no ladies or gentlemen, no clergymen or army officers. They have been ordinary working people in ordinary working class jobs. This was true until the 20th century, when all this began to change. The opportunities for social mobility expanded exponentially, so that by the 21st century the grandson of a fishmonger is a recently retired banker; the granddaughter of a waitress was a university professor. The grandson of a policeman travels around Europe on behalf of British research foundations. Other relatives have worked in the medical and teaching professions; as architects or engineers, actors and musicians.
The study of family history is very popular nowadays and many people must be able to relate similar tales. It is a tribute to the nation that all these changes should have been going on in science and technology as well as society, that enabled the population to spread their wings. Not all have taken advantage of the opportunities on offer, but they are there for the taking; this simply wasn’t true in the past.
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What has happened to style in dress? What has happened to style in general? Now that we could all easily afford to dress well and travel in style, we ignore these niceties of life. Back at the beginning of the last century, when most people were really poor, they comported themselves with dignity. How we laugh at that today, but it was preferable to going round dressed as slobs.
This isn’t about the obesity epidemic, although that is a related problem; it perfectly possible to be fat and stylish, though this is more difficult to achieve than if you are thin. The thing to remember (for women particularly) is that if one is rather overweight you must wear loose clothing. Unfortunately many of these larger ladies seem to have the mistaken notion that tight clothes make them look thin. This untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. Leggings in particular are a bad idea for ladies of ample stature, but they are almost universal these days for all shapes and sizes of women.
For men neckties seem to be on the way out, but nobody has any idea about what should replace them. Merely removing the tie leaves a pointless turn-down collar gaping where the tie once was. A tee-shirt would be more sensible and hardly less stylish. Back in the Swinging Sixties ties were already seen as old-fashioned accessories, but the alternative was the polo necked sweater. This was stylish, but style has been ditched along with neckwear this time round. The veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons made a heartfelt but vain plea recently to replace the necktie with the cravat. This would indeed be a stylish alternative, but the very word reeks of the past. Nicholas Parsons may wear a cravat with style, but nobody younger than him does so.
This picture of my great-grandfather proves how even the poor could still dress well, and he certainly was poor. He worked with animals all his life, latterly as a carter for Colmans mustard. In this picture he is wearing collar and tie, suit and hat with waistcoat and button down collar, all for a stroll in his garden. His father had been a tailor back in the mid 19th century, which might account for some of his dress sense. We might think him rather overdressed for the occasion, but this was the norm in 1920. Everybody wore these clothes – for holidays even more than for work, when a slightly less formal kind of attire or a uniform might be required.
Don’t forget either that the task of laundering clothes was a huge one in those olden days. There were no washing machines or tumble driers. It was still a major undertaking in the mid-20th century, when it took up one day a week (Monday). In earlier centuries it took up a whole week, once a month. I doubt that anything was added to the hot water to help clean the laundry, because soap was a luxury then, taxed throughout the 18th century. Linen sheets and garments would be scrubbed in hot water, left on lines and hedges to dry and bleach in the sun, and then ironed. The laundry maid needed to heat the iron by the fire, so imagine how hot this would make the job in summer. In the winter drying the washing would be the problem, when the short hours of daylight and frequently damp weather made hanging the laundry indoors essential.
You can see the trilby hat my ancestor is wearing. Top hats, bowlers, deerstalkers and flat caps, all had their place in the complicated world social status. You touched your hat to acquaintances, and removed it entirely when greeting your superiors. Hats disappeared from British heads in the early 1960s; now only the baseball cap is worn by some young people (normally back-to-front). This headwear still has things to say about the social status of the wearer; I don’t think we will see Prince William wearing his baseball cap back-to-front any time soon. In this country we ought really to wear cricket caps instead of baseball caps, to put us on a par with our American cousins, but these are never seen except on cricketers on match days. BBC reporters may never appear with any form of head covering apparently; even when speaking outside the Kremlin in the dead of winter, the poor saps must speak to the camera with their heads open to the elements. (No Russian would do anything so foolish.) A warm furry hat with ear flaps would not obscure the reporter’s face, and I am sure they don something like that as soon as they are off camera; otherwise they would rapidly lose their ears to frostbite. What is the dress code that forbids broadcasters from wearing headwear? (Except for the headscarf of course.)