EAST TO WEST AND BACK
On Tuesday 6th January 1981 I got up when it was still dark and my sister Tig cooked me mushrooms and bacon for breakfast; there would be no more meat on that day, for reasons that will become apparent. It had been snowing the day before, but a thaw had set in overnight. I drove to Aylsham to pick up my friend Laura (not her real name), a middle-aged nurse. She was also a music therapist – it was through a mutual love of music that we first became acquainted. She was moving from Norfolk to Gloucestershire, and as I had a boat trailer I had agreed to take her sailing dinghy to her new home in Tewkesbury. I collected her from the stately home where her job had required her living-in (West Lodge, which belonged to the Cozens Hardy family), and drove to Hickling Broad to collect the boat. I securely lashed it and its launching trolley to the trailer and tied the mast on the roof rack.
We got on the road at 10.20 a.m. and stopped in a lay-by at Wymondham for coffee. After making sure the boat was secure it was non-stop to Bedford. There we had our packed lunch. Laura had provided me with Brie and Stilton in wholemeal rolls, but she is a vegan and had an apple and a banana. Laura was very pale in her complexion, which I am sure was because of her diet. It snowed as we travelled through Buckinghamshire. She told me that she had an osteopathic and homeopathic practice in London in her twenties, but becoming disillusioned with alternative medicine she then trained as a conventional nurse. Becoming slightly more traditional in her medical opinions did not extend to her eating habits however; this was fair enough as far as she was concerned, but when she said she had brought up someone’s baby on soya milk I thought she was being positively barmy. She was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, which rather confirms my point.
Beyond Buckingham the road left my well-travelled route to Oxford, going west through Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold. We got to Tewkesbury at 4.30 and left the trailer at the marina. (I collected it the next day.) We went to her friend Hon’s British Legion flat (she had served as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse on a hospital ship); I must say I met some unusual people on this trip. We had a cup of tea – it was green tea. At 7.20 I left for my room in the Bell Hotel, which had a lovely log fire burning in the hearth; just what I needed after a winter’s day. I walked round town and had a drink before returning to my room to watch some telly. I had a bath before retiring to bed.
Being free (temporarily) of my vegan friend I had sausage and bacon for breakfast. I waited by the log fire for Laura to arrive. We went to have look round the impressive Abbey, where the BBC were preparing to record that day’s Choral Evensong with the Exeter Cathedral Choir. We got chatting to a young man from Ipswich who was repairing the organ. He worked for the 200-year-old firm of Bishop and Sons. Tewkesbury is a charming town, with well restored timber-framed buildings and of course the fine Abbey. We went to the marina, unloaded the boat and hitched up the now empty trailer.
Tewkesbury lies on the confluence of the rivers Avon and Severn, and it is a perilous place in times of flooding. Laura and I left Tewkesbury at 11.30 and had an uneventful journey back through the Cotswolds. From Newmarket we were back on the old A 11; none of the route was dual carriageway in 1981. We talked on the journey, and I heard how she was always moving round the country: before coming to Norfolk she was working with disturbed children in Stroud. I heard more of her unorthodox ideas as we drove along; her friend Hon obviously does not share all these, as she had made me some ham sandwiches for lunch. I took Laura back to Aylsham and drove home to my sister and the dogs; Suki was the only one who heard me coming, which delighted her enormously, as her wildly wagging tail showed. All in all this was an extraordinary round trip of nearly 500 miles.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
For men, long hair: turtle neck sweaters: flared trousers: for women short hair and mini skirts; Cuban heels for both sexes. These were the features of dress that immediately spring to mind – but there was so much more than fashion to the Swinging Sixties. The transistor transformed our listening habits. For the first time we could carry a little radio with us out into the countryside. The Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops (the top twenty) had been essential listening on Sunday afternoons if you were a teenager, but that was a feature of the boring old fifties; the Light Programme had almost gone by the time the Swinging Sixties arrived. Radio One launched in 1967 and consigned the Light Programme to history. As far a telly goes, it is a toss-up between two programmes as to which was the show that epitomised the Swinging Sixties; That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 for short) that aired in 1962/3 or Top of the Pops that launched in 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the top bands of the day whose legacy has endured. You may have your own opinion about the artistic quality of the music, but there is no denying its long-lasting effect; it is a disgrace that it has taken over fifty years for Ringo Starr to get his long-overdue knighthood.
It was a time when all the arts were entering a vibrant period of development. In the graphic arts the stark black and white images of Op Art, often employing optical illusion, demonstrated a sophistication that was a refreshingly refined version of abstract art. In the world of serious music the time represented the high-point of serialism, that atonal music which dominated the Third Programme (the precursor of Radio Three). In literature it was the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and his followers that led the way. Sylvia Plath was already dead by 1964, but Phillip Larkin and John Betjeman were still writing (and much better work than Ginsberg as it happens) but they were yesterday’s men and women. The Sixties were all so different from what had gone before; no wonder the older generation shook their heads in disbelief.
The weather in the sixties is memorable for the big freeze of 1963. For almost three months from January 1st the temperature seldom rose above 32 degrees. If that sounds positively tropical to you, remember that then we still used Farenheit, and that 32° meant freezing point. It is unusual for British children to get their sledges out even for a day, let alone for months on end. At least they were proper wooden sledges, not the little plastic versions which even Amertcan children have to use nowadays, which leave you far too close to the snow.
As far as the means of transport were concerned it was of course the Mini that represented the Swinging Sixties; it was first sold at the beginning of the decade, and went on to embody it in the popular consciousness. The Mods and Rockers came out in force on August Bank holiday – which was still held on the first Monday of the month in the 1960s. The Triumph motor bikes of the bomber jacketed Rockers and the Lambrettas of the Parka-clad Mods formed a new form of transport for the young, who a few years before could scarcely afford even a push bike. Jet airliners, which were scarcely known in 1960, were commonplace ten years later. The QE2 was the last of the transatlantic liners. Their time was really over when she was launched in the late sixties, but her elan was both the last flowering of a vanished age and the epitome of the Swinging Sixties. The steam age finally came to an end with the slow disappearance of the smokey funneled steamers on the water, and on British Rail in 1968.
These obvious features were matched by a similar revolution in social attitudes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel written in the twenties by D. H. Lawrence was published by Penguin in 1960, and homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Recreational drugs, although still illegal, were increasingly used by the young. The sexual revolution was a term and a concept quite unknown in the fifties; all these things were aspects of what came to be called the counterculture, and that too was part of the sixties.
National Service had ended in 1960 and this opened the way for young people to enter into the world of adulthood without any period to instil a sense of discipline. This, together with the postwar boom, produced a heady mix of unheard of wealth and unrestrained hedonism. Maybe it is because I was young then, but the sixties seemed to be an era of exciting new possibilities; in contrast the fifties had been a time when things were much the same as they had been pre-war, while the seventies were a dreadful decade of industrial action and political strife. There were many changes in the 1960s, and many are changes that I now regret, but there is no denying that we are still living in that brave new world that the Swinging Sixties ushered in.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929 with just a week’s notice, but not before my mother had travelled on it as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station (which is still there) and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and even the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.
The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station is proceeding, although the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold.
Sixty years ago the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war). Past the site of Walberswick station and across Walberswick Heath you come to Tinkers Walk. This gives way to the pine trees of the Heronry before reaching Blythburgh, where the fine medieval church dominate the skyline. It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.
As far as Blythburgh we walked along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for the visit was not to see the remains of the railway but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the puritans in the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.
A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. In spite of Hitchens’ experience, we think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.
Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in the circle of Benjamin Britten’s admirers, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father had was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and remained in touch with him afterwards.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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.
THE BLOG FOR HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
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What records would you take to the BBC’s fabled Desert Island? The show was invented by Roy Plomley in 1942 and has been going ever since. Roy himself continued to present the show for over forty years, until his death in 1985. The format is well-known; the guest lists the eight records he would like if he was marooned on a desert island. He or she says a bit about each one, a section of which is then played.
In 1964 one of the first 45s I bought was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, so it was obviously a favourite of mine at one time. That was a long time ago though, and it certainly is not a favourite of mine any longer. My musical tastes soon developed, which makes it puzzling to me that so many 70 year olds still like the music they bought when they were teenagers. None of my 8 Desert Island discs would be pop music now; this fact alone shows why, even if I were a celebrity, I would never get invited on the show. I am afraid my choice of music would be rather indigestible for the anodyne tastes of the general public. If I had to choose a pop record it would be one by Abba or the Carpenters; these are attractive and tuneful songs that are despised by many (as they were by me back then), although they would be perfect for the listeners to Desert Island Discs. Karen Carpenter in particular had such a good voice. I have always maintained that a good song is just that, and its format (whether popular, jazz, classical or art song) is irrelevant; it is the tune that really matters.
It is the almost incessant drumbeat that accompanies nearly every pop song that puts me off them personally, so pop music is definitely out of my list of discs. (How old-fashioned that word is!) Light music however is certainly in. There is such a lot of light music that it is hard to pick just one piece. Nearly everything that Leroy Anderson wrote could make it to my desert island, but there is such a lot of marvellous British music in this genre it would have to be one of our composers. The Dam Busters march is too well-known, so I would go for another march by Eric Coates, Knightsbridge.
One down, seven to go; there is some jazz I like, but not enough to make it onto the list, so it is to the music of Schubert that I go next. Some people say Beethoven is the best ever composer, and some say Mozart, but for me it is J.S.Bach, followed closely by Schubert. There was a lot of music written by Schubert, considering that he died so young, but I am going for The Trout quintet. The ensemble includes a double bass after all, and that was my instrument. The string quintet in C major is a more serious piece, and I really prefer that, but it has two cellos and no bass.
After I had passed through my Rolling Stones phase, my friend Bill did much to educate my musical tastes. Nowadays he listens to lot of Shostakovich and Borodin but these composers, although I can listen to them with pleasure, could make it into my top eight. Elgar comes fairly high up in my list. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are so well known, and so are the Enigma Variations; Salut d’Amour is also pretty well known, but I will go for that. Chopin cannot be omitted either, and both Elgar and Chopin have been favourites for as long as I can remember. I would select Chopin’s 24 Preludes, though if I must restrict myself to only one piece I will go for number one.
Hayden is an underrated composer, and his string quartet are among his best compositions, so my next piece will be his Opus 77, No. 1. Mozart must have a place, and for something a little different I will choose his Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K 330. It is not as powerful as his Requiem Mass, but you do not want to hear a succession of heavy music. If Mozart, then Beethoven too must put in an appearance, although contrary to my opinion of Haydn, I think he is slightly overrated. Like his older German contemporary however, I regard his string quartets as some of his best music; cue the string quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132.
We now come to the last piece, and this must be by that towering genius Johann Sebastian Bach. I have avoided the most serious of compositions until now, but I will end with his B Minor Mass. I avoided listening to this for many years, perhaps being a bit overawed by its reputation, but when eventually I settled down to hearing it I found it tuneful and delightful, and no at all sombre as I had feared it would be.
Bach will always come out on top, but on another day I might opt for an even older set of composers including Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis and John Dowland. I’m afraid I am really that high brow.
FOR MY MUSIC
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AUGUST 30 1887 – AUGUST 25 1958
Further to my earlier account of Aunt Millicent, I have assembled this picture gallery of her life. The first picture is of Millicent aged about ten; her mother Rebecca had died when she was only seven years old.
She was brought up by her step mother; her father needed help to bring up his young family and he soon married his housekeeper Alice Farrow. Alice went on to have five more children with Millie’s father Charles Mason. At the age of twelve Millicent was still at school, but she was just about to embark on her first job.
This photograph is a portrait of Millie sitting at a table. She may have been still working as a parlour maid in Norwich at Strangers Hall, where her employer was Leonard Bolingbroke, the solicitor who gave the house to the City. Her hairstyle does not seem suitable for the nursing profession; it would not fit into the hat that was an essential part of a nurse’s uniform. However she was soon to abandon her work in service and begin her ascent to the very heights of the nursing profession.
This next picture comes from her time as a pupil nurse in South London. In spite of her still youthful appearance she was in her early thirties by then. As a relaxation from her arduous occupation as a nurse she is taking part in an amateur production of the Beggar’s Opera, with the lead female rôle of Polly Peachum. The Beggars Opera, first performed in 1728, had a phenomenal professional revival in London in 1920, with a run of nearly 1,500 performances. This photograph was taken at Christmas time in 1923, shortly after Aunt Millie had qualified as a midwife. She was living in Balham in the Wandsworth area, just south of the river.
Balham is well served by transport links, with both Underground and Overground stations. It was thus fairly easy for her to get on a train to visit her family in Norfolk. The postal service was cheap and efficient in those days, and you could send a postcard for as little as a ha’penny. There were nearly 500 of these ½d coins to a pound, and even if you posted your card late in the day it would arrive at its destination the next morning without fail. Would that this was still true.
Her place of work was St James’ Hospital in Balham where she had been enrolled as a pupil nurse in 1920. (The official title of the Infirmary was indeed St James’ with no final ‘s’, although the nearby street is correctly called St James’s.) It was a large hospital with over 600 beds, which had been opened in 1910 on the site of a former workhouse, and the building included accommodation for nurses. It finally closed after nearly eighty years in 1988. Millie moved to another hospital in 1926 and eventually progressed to working in Harley Street, the top location for medical advice in the country. There she became the favourite midwife of the highest echelons of society.
The picture above shows Aunt Millie in her nurse’s uniform. Always rather short-sighted, she was still wearing rimless glasses, but by the 1930s she had changed to a heavy round black horn rimmed frame, a style that she wore for the rest of her life. Our first picture of her wearing these glasses was taken in 1936 in Trowse, where she had returned for a short break to spend some time with her father who was then in his late seventies. The two are shown here in his garden. She was already becoming well-regarded in her chosen career, and I think you can tell her father was immensely proud of her.
In 1953 Aunt Millie was employed by Timothy Colman at Bixley Manor, his home a short distance to the south of Norwich. He had recently retired as Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was settling down to married life. This was an important appointment as Millicent was to look after his first-born child, a daughter called Sarah, cousin to the new Queen Elizabeth.
Millie took the opportunity of living near Norwich for a few months to visit family members in the vicinity. We went to Bixley Manor to see her from our home in Poringland, and although I was only four I remember clearly what she said to me; perhaps my family reminded me in later years. However I recall her appearance as that of a very old lady, but in fact she was a young looking sixty-something. She also journeyed into Norwich to see the Withams and the Berrys, her half sisters’ families and doubt other family members too; there were plenty of Masons living in the Lakenham area of the city. Unlike today, Council Houses with large gardens were being built in huge numbers after World War I, and the Masons took full advantage of this fact.
For the Christmas of the previous year she had sent out this studio portrait of herself to acquaintances and members of her family. She had made many friends through meeting the parents of new babies, and in spite of being a single woman I get the impression that her retirement in Kent was not a lonely one. She would have chosen this area to retire to because both her brothers who had remained in Norfolk had already passed away, while her two sisters Nellie and Bessie were both living in Kent at the time.
The final picture I have of Millie shows her in the summer of 1953 in the home of her half-sister Edith Berry (née Mason) in Pilling Park, Norwich.
THE BLOG FOR the STORY OF THE MASON FAMILY
When I was in my thirties I would sometimes spend an evening in Aylsham, playing chamber music in the home of a retired butcher. Butchers are not normally notable for their musical tastes, and this one was no exception; he was a plain, hones, down-to-earth Norfolkman. However, his wife had longings for the more refined side of life, which is why she played the violin. To find a young string player of a similar cultivated background (who had been to a Public School and Oxford no less) obviously impressed her greatly, and so I was invited to her soirées, although my instrument (a double bass) was not the ideal member of a string quartet! Butchering had been kind to the family, and they lived in fine style in a detached house in its own grounds in Aylsham.
I would already have been very familiar with the town, because the road from Norwich to Cromer went right through the middle until the bypass was built the 70s. My first plain memory of Aylsham goes back to middle 1960s, when I attended the wedding of Sandra, my father’s receptionist at the time. In fact she was only a few years older than I was, although she seemed very mature to me. My father had two receptionists at this period, and the other one, Helen Keller, was even nearer my age. Sandra’s wedding took place at St Michael’s church, which stands just north of the market place.
My frequent attendance at the Aylsham Sale Yard was mostly in search of second-hand books; Keys, the auctioneers, developed a special line in book sales. However I have bought all sorts of other things there too; everything from musical instruments to rolls of wire netting. I have never bought ‘Three Chairs’ though; this announcement was always made preceding the sale of a lot of these articles of furniture, and it always brought the response from the crowd ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray’. This joke is probably obscure to those unfamiliar with the ‘Broad Norfolk’ dialect. To let you ‘furriners’ in on the joke, the word ‘cheers’ is pronounced ‘chairs’ in the local tongue.
There is no longer any livestock sold at Aylsham sale yard, but when I first used to go there calves and pigs were still being auctioned every week. This part of the sale ground has now been built on as a housing estate. Live chickens and rabbits lasted rather longer.Now the only bullock you will see there is when they hold a picture sale of eighteenth century livestock.
The fine thatched pump in Aylsham was erected to commemorate John Soame, who died in 1910. He was a farmer from Spratts Green, an area towards Brampton near Marsham, and was undoubted a relative of Soame the steam engine maker from Marsham. We no longer require water to be drawn from a public well, but back in 1911, when it was built, both horses and people were glad of the artesian bore that was sunk some 50 metres into the subsoil.
There is still a railway station at Aylsham, but this is now the terminus of the narrow gauge tourist line that runs to Wroxham from the town. This follows the route of the standard gauge line that was opened in 1880 and finally closed in the 1980s. Regular passenger services were withdrawn in 1952. This was the GER branch line from Wroxham to County School near North Elmham. Aylsham had two railways serving the town; Aylsham North was on the M&GN main line from Leicester to Great Yarmouth, and lost its passenger service when the former M&GN closed in 1959.
My most recent visit to Aylsham was during last summer, when I spent a pleasant hour or two in the Black Boys pub on the Market Place. The market is not to be confused with the sale yard; the Market Place is the centre of the town, where the Town Hall and the church look down on the vegetable and flower stalls. A market still take place there. I had known this pub the Black Boys for as long as I can remember, but this was the first time I had been inside. It was already long-established in the 18th century, when it was supplied by William Hardy from his brewery at Letheringsett. The interior has been much altered over the years, but the oak staircase running to the first floor from the bar is as old at the property itself.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Ellen Lydia Mason is something of a shadowy figure. I can for instance show you no pictures of her or of her husband. She was born in Northamptonshire at a village called Sulgrave. Its main claim to fame is Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington’s family. Since Ellen was born, the Grade 1 listed building has become a museum, and no doubt it gets many visitors from America.
To find out why Ellen (Nellie) was born so far from Norfolk we must try to discover some family history. Ellen’s parents (and my great-grandparents) Rebecca (née Buxton) and Charles Mason had met at the age of 21 in Staffordshire. Rebecca was from Easton in Norfolk, but she had gone to Stoke on Trent for a job in domestic service. The young couple fell in love and Charles travelled to her home village of Easton to marry her; this took place on June 17th 1879. It was difficult for her husband to find employment locally, and at the time their first child was born in Norfolk the boy’s father was working away.
Charles always had an affinity with animals and spent most of his career looking after the cart horses that were used for deliveries from Carrow Works in Norwich. In 1880 he was working as kennelman to a hunt in Kent. Three years later both he and his wife were living in Northamptonshire, no doubt with Charles working in some similar capacity. So it was in Sulgrave that Ellen was born. She was baptised in the church of St James the Less in Sulgrave on March 7th 1883. She did not stay long in Northamptonshire, because by the following year the family was back in Easton for the birth of Will, my grandfather. Rebecca stayed at the Dog Inn for her lying-in.
At the age of eleven Nellie lost her mother Rebecca; her father was left with a young family to bring up and soon remarried. By then he had found secure employed with Colmans at Carrow Works and the family was living in Trowse. By the time of the 1901 census she was 18 and already living away from home as cook to a pair of middle-aged spinster ladies at Elham in Kent. It was there that she met her husband to be, Maurice Lawrence.
Maurice was born in 1877 in Stratford St Mary near the river Stour on the Suffolk/Essex border. The son of a farm worker, after starting as kitchen boy he soon graduated to be an errand boy, delivering goods to houses in the locality. One of the places he visited on a regular basis was Willy Lott’s cottage, well known from the picture of the Hay Wain by John Constable (1776-1837). By 1900 Maurice was in service to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s mother at her home, Leith Hill Place in Surrey (this house now belongs to the National Trust). A year later he had got a job on the railway and he was working as a porter at Elham station in Kent. He was not there long either, as he was soon promoted to the position of signalman in Folkestone, but not before making the acquaintance of young Nellie Mason.
It was a slow burning romance, because the couple were not married for eight years; then they returned to the bride’s home in Trowse where the ceremony took place in the village church on the 26th of September, 1908. The couple began married life in Cheriton, a suburb of Folkestone. They lived in a spacious terraced house with a bay window in Dunnett Road in the town. By 1930 he had been promoted from assistant to the signal box at Walmer, a seaside town just outside Dover. They had a house in the centre of town not far from Walmer Station, in Dover Road. Maurice reached retirement age during the Second World War; after twelve years of retirement he was widowed when Nellie died in 1956 aged 73. Maurice lived until 1967, when he died at the age of 90. They had no children.
FOR THE STORY OF MASON FAMILY LIFE
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
Theatre has been preserved in the playwrights’ manuscripts and published dramas. Paintings remain as permanent reminders of the work of artists, and although music may have vanished into the ether the moment it was performed (before the invention of recorded sound), it was transcribed into notes and staves and has been preserved in this way. Unlike these art forms, that of dance was a transient one, until the advent of ciné photography enabled the capture of dance steps in a form intelligible to all. Simple dances like the jig (gigue) may be described in words, but the more extended artistic dances which arose in the 18th century defy such straightforward exposition. The science of choreography had developed a way of recording such dances before the advent of the movie camera, but this was a particularly obscure form of notation, known only to a few specialists.
The history of Dance in Norwich is inseparable from the name Noverre. There were dances performed going back into the mists of time, but no one stood out as a famous name until Augustin Noverre retired to the city in the last years of the 18th century. A Swiss by origin, he had grown up in Paris before he became a prominent teacher of dance in London. He escaped to Norwich when he thought he had killed a man during a performance at Drury Lane; he found in the local Huguenot there a community conducive to hiding him from justice. In fact his adversary was unharmed, and he was able to return to London. He must have found the city to his liking; it was certainly a better place for his retirement than Revolutionary France. He retired to Norwich and although he probably did not give dancing lessons in Norfolk, his son Francis certainly did.
The popular dance at the time was the Minuet; the Waltz became the dance everybody turned to later in the 19th century. The Polonaise was Polish as was the Mazurka, and as piano pieces these were popularised by Chopin. Dance should be separated into at least two genres; the amateur variety, practised to varying degrees of proficiency by the public at large, and professional dance that we generally know as ballet. The amateur type of dance may be further sub-divided into folk dance, ballroom dancing and (since the first quarter of the twentieth century) popular dance.
Many folk dances originated in England, but they have been modified in Ireland and are now almost exclusively associated with that country. The Sailors Hornpipe for example, which in this country is now only heard as a piece of music played at the Last Night of the Proms, was an English dance through and through. It had a range hand movements to go with the steps. These extended from lifting the arm to the forehead (signifying the seaman’s look-out with his eyeglass) to the tugging at his breeches (signify what I hardly dare speculate). In the Irish version all this has gone, and the hands are rigidly held to the dancer’s side. Is this really a feature of Roman Catholic puritanism in Ireland, that discouraged any possibility of bodily contact in dancing? No arm-in-arm dancing there! Tap dancing also makes footwork the basis of dance, though without the complete lack of arm movement that characterises Irish dance.
Unlike the balletomane I am not enthralled by Swan Lake or the Nutcracker as dances; as pieces of music they are OK. Among the popular dance steps, though the music may be rather repetitive, the Lindy hop and the Tango are two favourite dances of mine – strictly as a spectator you understand. The Charleston is another pre-war dance that in many ways typifies the 1920s.
The two twentieth century dance halls in the city of Norwich that I remember were the Samson and Hercules in Tombland and the Lido on Aylsham Road. Both have now closed, and the Samson and Hercules has turned into flats. We need flats I suppose, but what a boring comedown for a dance hall that was opened in the 1924 by the Duchess of York (later known as the Queen Mother).
My own dancing career was brief; I had few lessons in Norwich in the Waltz with Miss Boswell who lived next door to my father’s business in Surrey Street. During my teenage years the craze of the day was the Twist. This was a simple way of moving to music; I will not call it a dance, because the feet remain glued to the ground. The hips gyrated with gusto, and the arms were waved about in general sort of way. Good old Chubby Checker: ” Come n lets dance the Twist, like we did last summer”! I remember a school dance during my last year, when we boys were paired up with young ladies from Runton Hill and Sutherland House in Cromer, two girls’ schools that closed many years ago. I am far too old to be interested in today’s dancing, but I gather the centre for such things has moved to Riverside by the Wensum near the railway station.
MEMORIES OF DANCING