Tag Archives: norfolk


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

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

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

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

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






In the distant past nearly all our energy was sourced from renewables in the form of wind and water power (sailing ships, windmills and watermills). In the long-term the burning of fossil fuels may be seen as just a blip in the history of power consumption, but for a couple of centuries coal was the principal source of energy in this country; it pumped out the mines, provided the motive power for the transport network, heated people’s homes and cooked their food. Later gas and electricity were added to the energy mix, but these too were ultimately derived from coal. It was mined virtually everywhere in Britain; there were even coalfields in the Garden of England, Kent, but none in East Anglia. Things have changed and, for the first time, during 2016 less electricity was generated from coal than from wind and solar energy; however fossil fuels (mostly natural gas) still account for about half the electricity generated in the UK.

Coastal power; Yarmouth power station was fired by coal in 1978.

The East Coast is now the energy hub of the country. North Sea Gas has been piped ashore at Bacton in north-east Norfolk for over forty years, but is with clean and sustainable energy sources that the future lies. Does the nuclear power generating facility at Sizewell in Suffolk fall into this category? Yes and no is the answer. The nuclear fuel that powers the plant is not renewable like the wind or sunlight, and it is only clean if rigorous precautions are taken. The infrastructure is mind-bogglingly expensive, but it has the ability to produce huge amounts of electricity for many years, while contributing no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. You know all this, but I find it helpful to write it down. You can then weigh up the pros and cons for yourself. The Sizewell A power station was commissioned in 1966 and shut down in 2006, by which time Sizewell B had been generating electricity for ten years. There are other coasts round Britain that have nuclear power stations, either decommissioned, in operation or (at Hincley Point) with preliminary works being built, but Sizewll B is the UK’s only pressurised water reactor.

It is in wind energy that the East Coast predominates. The southern North Sea is shallow, and this makes it ideal for off shore wind turbines; these have relatively little environmental impact compared to on shore turbines.  The area produces the greatest output of wind generated megawatts off shore in the world. The port of Lowestoft, that was once such a centre of the fishing industry, had fallen into decline for many years, but is now being revived to service the wind energy sector. The construction of the German wind turbines will be centred on Lowestoft, while the routine upkeep of them once built will be undertaken by other local ports as well. The Outer Harbour of Wells-next-the-Sea already sends smaller vessels out to the Sheringham Shoals wind farm, to carry out planned maintenance. Great Yarmouth also has a future in the servicing of wind farms. This multi-billion pound industry has the potential to produce many high-tech jobs for local people, providing the right education is made available.

The are plans to bring two cables ashore on the Norfolk coast, brining power from the North Sea wind farms. One will reach land at Happisburgh and the other at Weyborne; that will be routed via Reepham to the substation south of Norwich. Although this is technically in the village of Swardeston, it is nearer to the hamlet of Dunston, and I used to walk my dog there, along the footpath that goes to the ancient location of the Humbleyard hundred moot (meeting place). This substation is a major hub on the National Grid where several power lines meet. It was constructed in the 1970s. The other cable will be taken to Necton in central Norfolk.

What are the potential drawbacks of wind energy? Well the obvious one is the fact that when there is no wind there is no energy produced. This is less of a problem at sea, but there are still days of flat calm. Wind power alone is not enough; nor is solar energy, as that is not produced in hours of darkness. Battery technology is also coming on by leaps and bounds, but we need a reliable source of power generation. I think tidal energy and wave power need more attention put into them; the tide’s energy is not affected at all by the wind, and even the waves, which are, continue in some way. Sir Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the Hovercraft, spent his later years researching wave energy. This is not so much something for East Anglian coast however; this form of energy is more effective on the West Coast, where the height of the tides tend to be of a greater range, and the Atlantic swell produces much greater waves.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

Terraced houses in Trowse

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

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

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


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

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






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.

The Abbey

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 splendor falls on castle walls


Sutherland House Hotel, Suffolk, to the left. (Photograph by the author)


The River Glaven and St Martin’s church, Glandford, North Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

A Norfolk heath

KELLING HEATH near Holt, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

Looking towards the Woods End, early 19th century, (Norwich School).

River Yare at BRAMERTON; Woods End Inn, far left. (Norwich School, early 19th century)






RIVER YARE at LAKENHAM near NORWICH. (Photograph by the author)

Norwich cattle market.

Norwich cattle market. Painted by Frederick Bacon Barwell, 1871. (Norwich Castle Museum)

Woodbridge tide mill

Woodbridge tide mill in SUFFOLK, pictured in 1971. (Photograph by the author)


Heydon, Norfolk. (Postcard illustration)



NORWICH CATHEDRAL from ST JAMES’S HILL. (Photograph by the author)


FRENCH CHURCH FARM, CAISTOR ST EDMUNDS – now a housing estate! (Photograph by the author)

The stooks of corn

STOOKS OF CORN in NORFOLK. (Photograph by the author)





The main path through the Lowes

Path through the Lowes, HOLT, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)


BRAMERTON COMMON, 1970. (Photograph by the author)

Shepherd at Costessey, c1910

Shepherd at Costessey, c1910. (Photograph by Frank Welch)

Blythburgh, SUFFOLK. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)

Autumn 1958, Trowse.

Autumn 1958, Trowse Millgate. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)


BLAKENEY CREEK. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth, c 1978, former oil-powered electricity generating station to the right.

Bawburgh mill

Bawburgh mill, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

Turkey Oak at Spixworth

Turkey Oak in the former Spixworth Park. (Photograph by the author)

Caister Castle

Caister Castle, NORFOLK. (Photograph by the author)

POSTWICH GROVE Woods near Norwich. (John Crome)





Tram outside Great Yarmouth Town Hall

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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





John Jarrold II, 1773-1853

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

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

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

Jarrold’s Store

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

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

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




Christmas in the 1780’s

Parson James Woodforde

Although Norfolk turkey was already a seasonal treat in the seventeenth century, none was served at Weston Longville parsonage on Christmas Day in 1782. During the previous week however Parson Woodforde held a party at which roast turkey (as well boiled mutton) was on the menu. The party food included currant jelly, apple tarts and custard. Custard in those days meant what we now call egg custard.

In the eighteenth century Christmas Dinner was very similar to what we ate when I was a boy, two hundred years later. As we have already seen, turkey was eaten by the wealthy at Christmas time, but on Christmas Day itself the Parson had roast beef. The ‘roast beef of old England’ was clearly the height of luxury to James Woodforde. At home in our modest surroundings at Poringland we sometimes had a leg of beef for Christmas Dinner, but more often it was a roast chicken. Turkey never appeared on our table until the industry started selling the smaller white turkeys – the tradition black Norfolk turkey was just too large to fit in our little oven! Such considerations would not have applied at Weston parsonage. Turkey may have been absent from the Parson’s Christmas table, but plum pudding certainly was on the menu in 1786 in Weston, just as it was in 1986 at Poringland. (Nowadays many people don’t like Christmas pudding and would rather have something lighter and more modern.) Mince pies also featured as part of Woodforde’s Christmas fare, but in the eighteenth century mincemeat was still what it said it was – a concoction of minced mutton, beef or venison.

Woodforde invited twelve old men from the village to join him for Christmas Dinner, and besides the food they each got half a pint of strong beer. The old men’s wives were not invited, but each went home with a shilling that was intended for them. This was at the Parson’s table; at the kitchen table a few days later the squire’s servants arrived  from the Hall for an evening’s entertainment, and shared a more homely repast of roast fowl and punch. (This was a drink of liquor with sugar, citrus fruit juice and spices added.)

It was the tradition to extend hospitality to those of a lower station in life at Christmas time. The Hardys of Letheringsett, who owned the local brewery,  had their workers over for Christmas Dinner; with the Hardys the workers’ wives were included. (Perhaps the bachelor Parson of Weston Longville felt more comfortable in an all-male gathering.) Unfortunately Mary Hardy (the diarist) was not so interested in those minor details that the Parson recorded, and are so fascinating to us, and did not record what the guests actually ate. I would love to know what their Christmas Dinner consisted of, but it would have been similar to the meal served at Weston.

Christmas, together with Easter and Whit Sunday, were in many parishes the only occasions during the year when communion was celebrated. If Christmas Day fell on a weekday, the sacrament could be delayed until the following Sunday. Having been to communion in Letheringsett in the morning, after Christmas Dinner the Hardy family would walk the mile into Holt for the afternoon service there. The return journey would be undertaken in the gathering dusk. If the snow was falling they would omit this second visit to church. It was not solely for devotional reasons that people attended church; it was also an opportunity to engage in social contact with your friends.

It was colder in the eighteenth century than it is today; frosts could continue into May, and a hard frost or a covering of snow was usual at Christmas time. This meant there was nothing especially Christmasy about a roaring fire; this was a necessity all winter long. Coal was available across the land by the late eighteenth century, but it was expensive; wood fires still heated the homes of the poor, or else they had to wrap themselves up as best they could. At Weston parsonage five chimneys needed sweeping at Christmas time in 1786. Five fires sounds a lot, but that was little enough to keep the whole household warm. The kitchen fire would perhaps have been the only source of warmth for the servants.

Hulver in dialect, from ON hulfr,  holly.         An age-old Christmas decoration.

Christmas was still  very much a religious celebration, and Christmas decorations in the modern sense did not really start until Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree from his native Germany. This was in the middle years of the nineteenth century.  The Christmas tree, although a late comer in England, is in fact a reminder of pre-Christian worship, when trees were seen as sacred. Holly, and especially the mysterious mistletoe that grew with no roots in the ground, were other sacred plants. Mistletoe must have played a part in the Christmases of the eighteenth century, but I can find no reference to it in the diaries from the period. Holly however (under its Norfolk dialect name of hulver) occurs in Parson Woodforde’s diary at Christmas time; it has been used as a feature of the winter festival since time immemorial. Dear old Parson Woodforde records the minutest details of his life, but in this instance he only mentions the holly because in that year he got a double supply of it by mistake. The decorations were put up on Christmas Day, not even on Christmas Eve, and certainly not weeks or months in advance.

St Thomas’s day (which then fell on the 21st December, the winter solstice) was the time for the distribution of money or goods to the poor, so they could have some basic Christmas fare (a pound or two of flour was a common gift). The phrase ‘going a-Thomasing’ has long been forgotten, but centuries ago everyone would have known it meant begging by the poor. The 26th of December was the day for giving Christmas gifts (or boxes) to the deserving tradesmen who had supplied the Parson throughout the year: hence Boxing Day. On Boxing Day in 1786 Parson Woodforde provided a gift of a shilling for his maltster’s man and one of sixpence went the blacksmith’ son. There were many other recipients. When I was a postman we got some Christmas tips (though far less than half our customers were generous enough  to give us anything); since Boxing Day became a Bank Holiday such gifts are no longer given on that day, and most tipping takes place before Christmas.

During the first week in January Woodforde paid his servants their annual salary, ranging from five guineas for his housemaid to ten pounds for his manservant. His servants were not universally grateful for their pay; his horseman thought he should have got more than eight pounds per annum for his skill. The sums were not very large by modern day standards, even allowing for 250 years of inflation, but you should remember that all their accommodation, most of their food and living expenses were provided by the employer. Woodforde also set out for Norwich in January to settle his accounts with his mercer and coal merchant etc.

The Weston Ringers got half a crown each for their year’s labours. (According to the Office for National Statistics this equates to £20 in today’s money.) As a young lad my son was persuaded to join the bell ringers at Weston Longville, though it had nothing to do with Parson Woodforde; I am sure he had not even heard of him. It is merely the best peal of bells in a nearby church. Anyway, after a few attendances he dropped out – bell ringing was no for him. If they were still so well rewarded at Christmas time he might have stayed! Nowadays bells are rung just for the pleasure they bring. Still it is nice to have this line to connect my family (however tenuously) with the Christmas celebrations of the Parson, a quarter of a millennium ago.