Tag Archives: norfolk

H. RIDER HAGGARD

Henry Rider Haggard was a solitary figure; a man of little or no small talk, he was at his most relaxed when discussing agricultural matters with the workers on his Ditchingham estate; then he would open up. He would perambulate the fields with his walking stick, finished off with an iron ‘spud’ made by the local blacksmith on the corner of Drapers Lane. He had few acquaintances, and his  closest friends (like Andrew Lang and Rudyard Kipling) he seldom met, being immersed in rural Norfolk life. His task as the author of many tales of high adventure he kept to the privacy of his study, and to Ida Hector his secretary.

The eighth of ten children, he was born in 1856 at West Bradenham near Dereham in central Norfolk. His family was of the Norfolk gentry class, but with a hint of the exotic; the Haggard family derived its name from the founder’s Danish origins, and Henry’s grandmother was a Russian who his grandfather had met in St Petersburg during his banking career.

West Bradenham was only three miles from Wendling railway station on the Kings Lynn line, which had opened in 1848. It was not much further to Holme Hale, on the branch line from Swaffham to Thetford, which took its first passengers when he was thirteen. These lines opened up the whole railway network, with Thetford providing trains to London, Peterborough and the North. The Varsity Line ran from Cambridge and gave him easy access to Oxfords and the country rectory where he was schooled by a family friend. The education of so many sons was a considerable strain on his father’s resources however, and Henry was not a bright scholar; he was the only one of his brothers not to receive a Public School education. His father transferred the boy to Ipswich Grammar School, and thence to a crammer in London to finish his studies. It was intended that he should apply to enter the Foreign Office.

Ditchingham House c 1910. 

As it was far from certain that Henry would pas the exam, his father William instead packed his 19-year-old son off to Africa to serve as secretary to the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer of Heydon Hall in North Norfolk. Once there he ventured into the Transvaal, where the Boers, Zulus and British were vying for supremacy, leading to bloody warfare. The experiences of these years provided him with much of the raw material for his later work. Already in childhood he had picked up the names of acquaintances that would feature in his novels.

He returned to England in 1879 to give official reports on events in Africa. At home in Bradeneham Hall he was introduced to a school friend of his sister Mary. Within a week he was engaged to Louie Margitson; as an orphaned only child she was to inherit the estate when she came of age in October of that year. After determined opposition from some of her relatives the couple were married in Ditchingham church in 1880.  They began their honeymoon by travelling to Norwich in a coach and four. They passed the Kings Head in Brooke and Poringland’s Dove before transferring to a train which took them to the Lake District. They returned to South Africa later in the year. Henry’s African adventure was curtailed by the success of the Boers, which led to the return of the Transvaal to the Dutch.

Henry Rider Haggard returned with his wife to Norfolk to live.  Her family were long established at Ditchinham House; they had acquired the property in 1817. At this stage the future course of Henry’s career was still uncertain, but he already possessed (through his wife) a fine mansion which would remain his home for the rest of his life. He studied the law, intending make his way in the legal profession. In his leisure moments he began some writing, but with little success. The enormous popularity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1885) showed him the direction his future writing should take. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines was written in six weeks and published in the same year, 1885. It was an immediate run away success. He was thereafter a prolific author and became perhaps the world’s best-selling writer of the late nineteenth century. Although some of his hand written manuscripts are preserved in the Norfolk Record Office, he preferred to dictate to his secretary rather than write his novels down himself. His lifelong interest in farming led to several non-fiction books on agriculture.

He travelled widely, going to Europe, the Americas, Egypt, New Zealand and of course South Africa. He had one son, Arthur John (Jock), who died as a boy of nine while his father was abroad. Although this dead son was never mentioned, this devastating loss overshadowed the rest of Rider Haggard’s life. He also had three daughters, among whom was the youngest, Lilias Rider Haggard, who was born after Jock’s death. She herself was the author of local books, including Norfolk Life (1943) and Norfolk Notebook (1947).

Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain novels must have enthralled me when I read them over 50 yeas ago. I have of course utterly forgotten their plots, but I have no wish to reread them. They belong to a period of my life so distant that the author himself was but a recent memory at the time. His daughters were then still living in Ditchingham. My wife’s relatives in nearby Bedingham used to work for him in the ‘Mustard Pot’, as the locals referred to Ditchingham House. For them he was ‘the master’ for whom they washed the linen and prepared the meals, not the best-selling writer.

It was a complete change from the peaceful round of changing seasons in South Norfolk to the primeval grandeur of the South African Veldt and the proud and warlike Zulu tribesemen, yet Ride Haggard’s life encompassed them both. He was made a Knight of the British Empire by King George V in the New Year’s Honours List for 1912. He died in 1925 and his remains are interred in Ditchingham church, where he was for decades the regular reader of the lesson every Sunday.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

GREAT UNCLE ALFRED

PRIVATE MASON No. 49919

ALFRED MASON

Alfred John Mason was born on January 3rd 1898. He was one of the ten children of Charles Mason who survived beyond infancy. He was the second child (of five) his mother Alice had with Charles; she was his second wife. Alfred grew up at 25 Russell Terrace in Trowse, a village just outside Norwich. Like his brothers and sisters he was educated at the village school. On leaving at the age of fourteen he worked in the mustard mill at Colman’s Carrow Works where his father and eldest brother were also employed.

When the First World War broke out two years later he was too young to enlist, but as soon as he was old enough he enrolled in the army. He was kept in England as in 1915 (aged just seventeen) he was still too young to fight, and so he was trained in the Royal Army Medical Corps. After basic training he was transferred to the Service Corps in 1916 and deployed to France. He finally made it to a front line fighting unit, the 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. This Battalion had been formed in 1914 and after serving in Gallipoli and Egypt they returned to France in July 1916, where Alfred joined them in 1917. After fighting for months in France he had returned to Trowse on leave in September 1918. During his stay he took the opportunity of visiting old friends and colleagues at the mustard mill. His smart military appearance and his concern for the goings on back home made a definite impression on the workers he met.

In Northern France, at the end of October 1918 his Battalion were in training at

mason-grave-trowse1-e1495317328600.jpg

Trowse chuchyard

Valenciennes, but with just two hours notice they were ordered to the front line. On the 1st of November their fellow combatants in the 9th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters were ordered into battle, with Alfred and his unit held in reserve. On the 4th the Foresters made a successful attack on the hill at Sebourg with the Lincolnshires in support. On the sixth the Lincolnshires experienced some resistance from the enemy, but on the seventh the Germans were forced back; they were in retreat and disarray, and the war was rapidly coming to an end. However Alfred Mason had already been hit by shrapnel, and on the 3rd of November 1918 he had died of his wounds. By a cruel irony he was the only member of his Regiment to be injured by that shell blast. A week later the Armistice was signed on the 11th November to general rejoicing back home in Norwich, and many people thronged the market place. Alfred’s sister Edith met her future husband on that happy occasion. At the family home in Trowse this delight turned to despair three days later when the news of Alfred’s death arrived. His oldest brother was 38 and his youngest sister was only 11 at the time of his death. It was a very cruel circumstance that he so nearly survived the war.

He was buried at the St Vaast cemetery near Cambrai. There are 45 graves of British soldiers in this military extension to the communal cemetery; for much of the war this village was in German hands. Compiègne were the Armistice was signed is about half way between Valenciennes, where Alfred died, and Paris. Cambrai, where his body lies, is between Valenciennes and Compiègne. In 2014 on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War a display was mounted in Trowse church, with details of the twenty one villagers who gave their lives in the conflict. A photograph of Alfred Mason was among them, and two of his nieces attended the exhibition.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR the STORY OF THE MASON FAMILY

ALFRED THE GREAT AND EAST ANGLIA

Alfred came to the throne of Wessex in 871. He was immediately thrown into the continuing war with the Danes; they were fresh from their victory over the King of East Anglia, which had involved the death of Edmund. Previously the Danes had successfully defeated the Northumbrians at York, so they appeared invincible. King Edmund had been killed by the invading Danes eighteen months before Alfred came to the throne, when his brother was killed in battle with the Danes.

There is no written record of any Anglo-Saxon kings who might have succeeded Edmund in East Anglia, and for many centuries it was assumed that none did, but the names of two kings are now known from the discovery of coins that they issued. The names of these two East Anglian rulers were Oswald and Æthelred. For simplicity’s sake I will restrict my comments  to King Æthelred, and from his coinage we can state a few basic facts. One coin from his reign bears the name of the moneyer (i.e. coin-issuer) Sigered, who had also acted in the same capacity for Edmund. The design is also identical with the coinage that had been issued by Edmund. The coins issued a few years later by the Danes were very different; from this information we can assert that there was continuity between the reigns of Edmund and Æthelred, and the change to Danish rule came after 880.

We know that these coins circulated outside East Anglia, as one example was found in Kent, which by then was part of Wessex. This means that it is impossible that the Wessex court was unaware of the King Æthelred’s existence; in spite of this, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (that work of Wessex propaganda) gives the clear impression that Edmund was the last English king of East Anglia, although (perhaps significantly) they did not explicitly say so. Were the authors of the Chronicle trying to hide something? And if so what?

Knowledge was something that Alfred prized above almost everything else. He was an avid collector of travellers’ tales, and we have the details of what he heard about the far north of Norway, and of Ireland too. If he was that interested in distant lands, how could he not have known the king of an adjacent realm like East Anglia? Surely the Wessex court was not only very interested in what was happening there, but they would also have been very well informed. If the writers of the Chronicle were unforthcoming about the king, it was not because of a lack of knowledge. Why was the Wessex establishment so keen to give the impression to posterity that East Anglia had already fallen under Danish rule in 869, with the death of Edmund?

Between the departure of the Danish army from East Anglia late in the year 870, and the return of this army as settlers in 880, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has nothing to say about what was happening in East Anglia. However, we can be certain that its future was high up on the list of concerns discussed at Wednore, after Alfred’s victory over the Danish army. Alfred had emerged from his low point in hiding at Athelney with a radical solution to the problem posed by the Danes in Wessex. After his defeat of Guthrum’s army Alfred was able to put his plan into effect. Despite his victory, he knew that the best way to protect Wessex from future Danish attacks was to give them somewhere else; if they were occupied in setting up another kingdom, they would have less time to bother Alfred. Northumbria they had already taken over, and Alfred had plans to annex the kingdom of Mercia; that left the kingdom of East Anglia as the place to give Guthrum, and he was duly dispatched thither in 880.

For an English king to impose a Danish monarch on an Anglo-Saxon nation was certainly a betrayal, but if it protected Wessex then Alfred could live with that. What he could not contemplate was to impose a heathen king on a Christian people. That is why it was so important for him to have Guthrum baptised, and anointed as a Christian king. This was achieved in 878, but then there was a long delay.

In 878 -880, with the decision to establish the Danes in East Anglia, we have now reached a period of inactivity on the part of Guthrum and his army. Between his baptism and his eventual arrival in East Anglia there was a period of about 18 months. This posed a problem of provisioning; as the Danish army could no longer forage for itself as predators on the people of Wessex they would have to be provided with food. That difficulty however paled into insignificance compared to that task of keeping so many fit young warriors idle for so long. Eventually they became too much for the people of Wessex to deal with, and they were moved across the border to Cirencester in Mercia. This was not a wholly satisfactory solution, for the advantage of putting a reasonable distance between them and the kingdom of Wessex was offset by the difficulty of supervising and controlling them. The question that must be asked is ‘why were these hungry and impatient Danes not sent straight to East Anglia’? The answer must lie in East Anglia itself.

It is sometimes stated that in 880 Guthrum returned to East Anglia, but this implies he had been there before. However, it is clear from reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that he had never before been to East Anglia. He had not arrived in England until after the Danes had left the despoiled lands of Norfolk and Suffolk for Wessex. The nearest he had got to East Anglia was in 874, which year he spent in Cambridge. This has never been a part of the province of East Anglia, and in any case he was only in Cambridge to muster his troops for a renewed assault on Wessex; all his attention was directed west, not east.

When Alfred was arranging the future of East Anglia with Guthrum in 878, they were dealing with a kingdom that neither leader had any legitimate claim to. Even if King Æthelred of East Anglia was (against all the evidence) a Danish puppet king, he owed his allegiance to the dynasty of Ragnar Lothbrok, members of which family had led the earlier invasion of East Anglia which had led to the death of King Edmund. Æthelred could not have been the puppet of Guthrum under any circumstances; if he had been a puppet, Æthelred’s strings would have been pulled from York, the city Ragnar’s sons had retired to after 870. Guthrum was not a part of this family, and the fact that he could walk into East Anglia suggests to me that York had no influence over East Anglia after 870.

The other party to the arrangement, Alfred, had no authority over East Anglia either. His own view of himself as protector of all Anglo-Saxons would not have been shared by the people of East Anglia, who he was engaged in delivering to the mercies of a foreign king. We may imagine that once Æthelred got wind of the fate that Alfred and Guthrum had cooked up for him frantic representations were made, not only to the West Saxon court but also to anybody else who would listen. We may also imagine that some important people in Wessex itself must have had some serious misgivings about Alfred’s intentions.

The fact that not a word of all this appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is not surprising. Like the silence of the Chronicle on the existence of King Æthelred, the propagandists of Wessex were keen to leave the impression to posterity that nothing stood between Alfred and the smooth implementation of his plan. The long delay gives the lie to this story. We cannot know how this situation was eventually resolved, but it is cannot have been done in a pleasant manner.

There is some evidence that Alfred himself had some conscience about the fate that he was wishing on his fellow Englishmen in Norfolk and Suffolk. For all Guthrum’s apparent conversion to Christianity and his Anglo-Saxon baptismal name of Athelstan, Guthrum had not really changed, and Alfred was aware of this. His new religion was politically expedient, not the result of a heart-felt change in belief. No bishops were allowed to promulgate the faith in the east throughout the period of Danish rule. Guthrum  proved to be as oppressive as everyone had feared. What evidence do we have have for this? The violent and unjust nature of Danish rule can be found in the treaty between Alfred and the Danes known as Guthrum’s Peace. This also demonstrates how Alfred continued to feel responsible for the conditions under which Guthrum’s English subjects lived.

This treaty, which is likely to date from 886, has five articles. Numbers two and three both deal with murder in East Anglia; article two begins “If a man be slain we esteem all equally dear, English and Danish.” This is a strong hint of two things; one is that inter-ethnic violence was rife. If murder were a rare occurrence there would have been no need to refer to it in the treaty.  Secondly, if when it did occur, Danish and English perpetrators were treated equally, there would have been no need for such a clause either. We can therefore be sure that native East Anglians found themselves second class citizens in their own land, as a direct result of Alfred’s intervention. Alfred’s concern for these victims of discrimination has been attributed to his view of himself as the king of all Englishmen. Although it is is certainly true that he saw himself in his way, there is more to it than that. His responsibility was more direct and personal, and reveals perhaps that he felt a sense of guilt for his treatment of the East Anglians. Surely I am not alone seeing Alfred’s queasy conscience at work here?

It is doubtful if Guthrum took these treaty obligations any more seriously than the other oaths he had taken and then reneged upon when it suited him. Alfred certainly wished to improve the conditions under which East Anglians lived, but his ability to do anything about them was severely limited. Ultimately he intended to extend his kingdom into East Anglia, a policy objective which was only accomplished some twenty years after his death. For the time being, and for the remainder of his lifetime, all that Alfred could do was to demonstrate his good intentions by such things as the treaty with Guthrum.

As ruled over by Guthrum East Anglia was more extensive than it had been as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom; it reached into most of Essex and Cambridgeshire, and  into part of Lincolnshire too. Essex was the first part of this kingdom to be lost, becoming part of Alfred’s Wessex before Guthrum’s death in 890. North Norfolk finally fell to the Anglo-Saxons in 917.

This examination of the last period of East Anglia’s existence as an independent kingdom reveals how intimately involved it was with Alfred the Great, despite his having no direct power over the land. He established its last dynasty of Danish rulers, and then plotted to depose them and establish his own rule. He even tried to influence their laws in treaty negotiations with the Danish king. You might think Alfred’s story is all about Wessex; but East Anglia was an abiding concern throughout his life.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

SUPERMARKETS

SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.

When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.

This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops.  At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.

The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.

These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent  butchers and bakers in the larger villages.  Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.

The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

MARGERY KEMPE

‘This creature, when Our Lord had forgiven her her sin . . . had a desire to see those places where He was born . . . and where He died . . .’ This passage sums up the Book of Margery Kempe. She is forever seeking forgiveness for her sins, but rather annoyingly she never tells us what those sins were. From her earlier life we may take it that they concerned thoughts of a sexual nature. Once the sins were out of the way, her mind turned to thoughts of travel. It could be to Canterbury, or York,  or further to Rome and Jerusalem. No modern-day tourist could have a more packed itinerary, given the necessary restrictions of the time -the early fifteenth century. For some reason, among all these journeys she undertook, she frequently fell into fits of weeping, though what so seasoned a traveller could have had to weep about is not entirely clear.

As you might have guessed, it is easy to find Margery Kempe a little tiresome at times, but if you step back from her privileged prayerfulness and concentrate on what she reveals of the history of her period, the Book of Margery Kempe is fascinating. Coaches were unsprung affairs in the Middle Ages, and roads were miry and rutted, so travel by wheeled transport was uncomfortable. If you had a heavy load to carry you had to use an ox-cart, but otherwise the poor walked everywhere while the wealthy went on horseback. The distances involved could be staggering.  For the more far-off destinations going by ship was unavoidable, for at least part of the way. This had its advantages as well as its drawbacks; the passengers had no option but to sit back and enjoy the ride (if possible), either in the open air or below decks; on the other hand the waves could make the passage not only rough but perilous, for the small ships then in use. You could easily endure seas sickness, or even end up drowned.

With the choice of going by car or train it is quite a trip for me to go from Norwich to Ipswich, but without such modern means of transport Margery thought nothing of going there to see her daughter-in-law off en route to Germany. Upon bidding her son’s widow farewell and leaving the Suffolk port, Margery had almost reached her home when she was seized by an overwhelming desire to accompany her relative abroad. This volte face she naturally attributed not to herself but to the will of the Holy Ghost. The master of the vessel readily agreed to take her aboard, and only her daughter-in-law, who was looking forward to returning to Danzig, was unimpressed; I wonder why?

Margery Kempe was born around the year 1373 in Bishops Lynn – now called Kings Lynn. Edward III was coming to end of his long reign; his ambitions in France had led to the Hundred Years War, a problem for those wishing to travel in Europe. Margery’s family were rich merchants, and both her father and husband were prominent members of the local Corporation. Wool was providing great riches across East Anglia, and Wool Churches were springing up in villages around Norfolk. Her wealth enabled Margery to travel with an entourage of confessors and hermits, despite having fourteen children; she had plenty of servants to care for the youngsters back home. Her education was fairly basic, and she authored her autobiographical work through dictation.

Wherever she went she was able to call on the local vicar, friar or Prior to discuss religious commonplaces with him, which she recounted in her book. No doubt the prospect of a charitable donation made these pleasant chats mutually rewarding. Charity was expected but not demanded of the public. It is revealing to read what Erasmus has to say on the subject; although dating from a hundred years after Margery Kempe’s time, it could be just as true of today’s charitable giving.  He says that people were likely to be more generous if observed in the act, and there were nimble fingered pilgrims who could remove a coin from the altar while apparently depositing one.

Castle Acre, a stop on the way to Walsingham

In all her travels Margery Kempe did not neglect a pilgrimage to nearby Walsingham. Starting from Lynn she would have joined pilgrims from abroad who had landed at the port there, before journeying on to Fakenham; there other pilgrims from Norwich, the Midlands and London all met up before going on to Walsingham. Once there the devout would visit the chapel built as a replica of the House of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The building was draughty, having no doors or glass in the windows. More congenial were the dramas enacted in the Common Place, the market just outside the chapel. Margery went for spiritual solace, but many of the pilgrims were the sick, in search of a miraculous cure. Walsingham is again a place of pilgrimage, the medieval streets drawing tourists from around the rest of the country.  [I am myself due to visit Great Walsingham in the near future, but that is to visit a relative who farms there.]

On her travels in Italy Margery was abandoned by her fellow travellers, who only agreed to let her accompany them  if she stopped talking about God and instead devoted herself too eating, drinking and merry-making. It was in such unaccustomed riotous good company that she arrived in Venice. She stayed there for over three months, getting her spiritual refreshment by attending church every Sunday with a group of nuns. Eventually she could not resist reciting a verse from the Bible, whereupon her friends accused her of breaking her word. For the last six weeks of her stay she dined alone in her bedroom. In spite of Margery Kempe’s own religiosity, it is plain that not everyone was similarly inclined, even in the supposedly devout Middle Ages.

From Venice she took ship to the Holy Land. From the Mediterranean port of Jaffa she travelled inland on a donkey to Jerusalem. During the three weeks she spent  in the Holy Land she visited Bethlehem and the river Jordan, as countless others have done both before and since. She returned to Italy and visited Rome. Once back in Lynn her restless nature soon had her off on her travels once more, this time via Bristol to St James, Compostela, in Spain.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

CLOCKMAKERS IN EAST ANGLIA

A RURAL TRADE?

Clock face by John Halsey, circa 1730.

Normally when we think of rural industries we turn to things like farming and basket making, and not to a technically developed trade involving advanced skills in metalwork. Watchmaking and clockmaking started in London in a big way in the reign of James I and they spread to the provinces from there. It reached Norfolk in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It wasn’t just the large towns of Norwich, Yarmouth and Kings Lynn that had their own horologists; every market town and even a few rural villages had one or more clockmakers or watchmakers among their citizens. Although certain components could be bought in (like the cast brass spandrels round the face), the majority of the work was done in the clockmaker’s remote workshop; the nature of cutting the escapements and pinions shows the advanced levels of mechanical attainment required.

It was becoming important for people to know the time of day, and for those too poor to afford a clock of their own churches were increasingly displaying the time, inside or out. I remember how hard it was to learn to tell the time as a child, but the common folk must have managed it? Sundials were the most reliable way of telling the time, but they only worked when the sun was out.

One of the earliest clocks known to have been made in Norfolk is dated 1610. In appearance it is very European. As it is engraved on the back ‘Jhone Smyt in Lynne wyt my hand’ its manufacture can be placed in Kings Lynn. This was about the most cosmopolitan town in the country, so the foreign nature of the clock is not surprising. This, and the early date, suggest that the clockmaking art was first introduced to Norfolk from abroad. The next Lynn clock we know was signed by Thomas Tue in 1646. This clock was built in the English tradition. Thomas Tue’s principal occupation was gunsmith, and many of the clocks he supplied and signed may have been bought in from London. Tue had a long life; he was twice churchwarden of St Margaret’s for which church he made the clock in 1681. He died in 1710 at the age of 97.

The town of Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border gained its first clockmaker when Benjamin Shuckforth set up in business around the end of the first decade of the 18th century He was an accomplished craftsman who had obviously completed an apprenticeship, although where is unknown. It would not have  been in Diss as there was no clockmaker in the town before Shuckforth. He took on an apprentice in 1730, one John Frost of Bury St Edmunds, who went on ply his trade elsewhere when his apprenticeship was over. Shuckforth ended up a wealthy man, although this had more to do with a fortunate marriage than with clockmaking itself; his spouse Dulicibella Dalton was related to the Longe family of Spixworth Park.  He died in 1760 and his shop was taken over by William Shaw, previously a clockmaker in Botesdale, a large village near Diss but in Suffolk.

By then Samuel Buxton was working in Diss. He was apprenticed to James Smyth in Saxmundham and had completed his apprenticeship in 1756. One of his earliest commissions was to build the turret clock which still gives out the time in St Mary’s church in Diss. He also produced the clock in nearby Banham church, which is dated 1768. His clocks were well made, but aimed at the oak cased clock market rather than at the buyers of high-end mahogany cased clocks. My parents were given a long case clock made by Sam Buxton for their wedding in 1935. They were married Thorpe St Andrew in Norfolk, so the clock had not travelled far from home in nearly two hundred years. It was a standard two-handed model with a chime.

The next clock (illustrated above) is by a much less well-known clockmaker. John Halsey was working in the middle years of the eighteenth century. In Norwich he took on an apprentice clockmaker (William Brightwell) in the summer of 1754; but a John Halsey had taken on an apprentice (John Gilbert of Walsingham) as a surveyor at Wells-Next-the-Sea on the 17th of March 1729. Rather than changing both his occupation and his place of residence during the following twenty years, it is likely that the earlier John Halsey was his father. It is certain that the son was already making clocks while still living in Wells, as this simple one-handed clock has his name and ‘Wells Norfolk’ engraved on the face.  Once established in Norwich he had his business in the St Andrews area of the City. Only the face remains of the clock he made in Wells, the case and movement having been lost many years ago. My mother-in-law left it to my family. She was born in Wells and it now belongs to my wife, who lives only twenty five miles away, and it seems that, like the Sam Buxton timepiece, this clock had not moved far in over 200 years either; indeed until about 75 years ago it had never ventured beyond its home town. It is a moot point whether he or Isaac Nickalls was the first clockmaker in Wells; Nickalls was building the church clock in Holt in the mid 1730s (he charged £36.15sh). He went on to build some very ornate high end longcase clocks. With that sort of competition to contend with a move to Norwich was a wise one.

Another local watchmaker was Johnson Jex of Letheringsett. He was brought up to inherit the family’s blacksmith business, but he was never apprenticed to a watchmaker, and was virtually self-taught. He was born in Billingford, and he played truant from school, preferring to stare through a watchmaker’s window in nearby Foulsham. He was fascinated by the intricate mechanism he saw taking shape before his eyes. As result he left school without learning to read or write, although he became a proficient watchmaker. His illiteracy he had to remedy as an adult, when he learnt not only English but French as well! He began working on watchmaking in the early years of the nineteenth century, when he acquired a state-of-the-art screw cutting lathe. The machine is still in existence. He produced a relatively small number of watches, with highly complicated and advanced mechanisms. Johnson Jex also worked on the Holt church clock (see above) as as a dial plate was discovered in 1995 with his name engraved on it. He never left Norfolk and seldom ventured outside his immediate locality. He died at the age of 74. He never married.

The earliest written reference to a clockmaker in Suffolk is in the will of Robert Sparke, dated 1648. No clock made by this maker is known. He worked in Cockfield, a village not far from Lavenham in central Suffolk. Unlike in Norfolk, the origin of the trade could not have been more rural. There were certainly clockmakers in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich (Francis Colman was making clocks in the latter town by the early years of Charles II’s reign), but the villages of Suffolk were involved in the trade at at a very early date. A lantern clock was made in Bradfield St George (a village between Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham) some time before 1644. For those who wish to learn more I direct them to this essay by Brian Loomes.

For over 300 years the clockmaking trade was an important industry in East Anglia, culminating with the firm of Metamec in East Dereham, which was producing quartz clocks into the final quarter of the 20th century. At its peak the firm was producing 25,000 clocks a week and was the foremost clockmaker in the UK, with 750 employees. With the import of cheaper clocks from the Far East the business declined, going into receivership in 1984, and finally closing ten years later.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

LOW KELLING AND SALTHOUSE

View towards Kelling

These little villages within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lie adjacent to each other between Weyborne and Cley. You come into Low Kelling along the coast road, but you would never guess that this is a coastal parish. The village lies in dip in the road, and there is no vehicular access to the beach; you must take a fairly long walk of about a mile to reach the sea. The best way to get your feet wet at Kelling is to tramp along the tide line from Weyborne, where there is at least a car park by the sea. It is a small settlement of less than two hundred souls, but it retains its Victorian village Primary School; the number of pupils actually living in Low Kelling must be tiny, but it gathers other children from the surrounding area to make about a hundred students. There is also a medieval church, and tearoom-cum-bookshop in the former reading room. For a small community it is well supplied with facilities. Away from the main road it is all very peaceful at Low Kelling, although nowadays you will always have a wind farm or two on the horizon to interrupt the tranquility of the scene. High Kelling by contrast takes you to the borders of Holt, and in the past century it has almost become a dormitory development of that town. The village centre of Low Kelling is three miles from Holt town centre.

Continuing to the west you pass the heath on the inland side; this has not been maintained and is now covered with birch trees and scrub. Beyond the undulating country of Kelling you descend to what were once the saltmarshes of Salthouse.   The building of a sea wall has made the waters alongside the Coast Road fresh, and ducks swim happily about waiting for tourists to feed them. When the sea breaks through, as happens during tidal surges, the salt waters return. This happened a few years ago but on the most recent occasion the wind dropped at the last moment and a breach was averted. It is a slow process to bring the nature reserve back to health, and with the sea so near it is not easy to maintain it.

The houses of Salthouse village are to the left; they are all made in the local building material of beach pebbles. Unlike at Kelling, there is a road to the beach that leads to a car park near the sea.  You may buy fish and chips from a mobile shop on the verge in the summer months. In 2014 an American helicopter from RAF Lakenheath crashed on Salthouse beach, with loss of all four lives on board. The area was used to practise low-level flying, but with a nature reserve adjacent it was only a matter of time before a fatal bird strike occurred.

this The Dun Cow in Salthouse is a popular eatery today; this watercolour of the pub was painted forty years ago or more, and there are now a lot of outdoor tables on the lawn that stretches to the pub sign on the main road. The old black painted wooden shed that obscured the seaward end of the pub has been demolished, but it has been replaced by a bus shelter and this also spoils the view of the pub.

There is fine late medieval church dedicated to St Nicholas on the rising ground above the village. There is much pre-Reformation painting on the rood screen, and neglect has preserved the structure and decorations from Victorian Revival restoration.

These are two very different villages along the North Norfolk coast, where cliffs give way to mudflats. The sound of terns as they guard their eggs makes this a special area.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORFOLK

LONG STANDING INSTITUTIONS in NORWICH

There are fewer links with the past in Norwich with every year that passes, but we can still claim some notable historic establishments.

Bullen’s, London Street, 75 years ago.

A. E. Coe is an old-established name in photography in Norwich. Albert Edward Coe (born 1844) set up the shop in London Street and Castle Meadow.  In 1890 he was advertising his photographic business at 32 London Street; he had qualified as an optician the previous year. I can remember when this shop in London Street was connected by a passageway with that on Castle Meadow. When my father was first established as an optician in the city (in about 1930) the Coe business was being run by his descendant Neville Coe, who also traded as an optician. The businesses have since been organised as separate firms; Coe, Costa and Moore being the optical side, and the photographic business as Barrett and Coe. The photographer’s shop had been well over a hundred years at the same address, but it has recently moved to Thorpe; although the business remains it has relocated. I will therefore cite W. R. Bullen, the jewellers in London Street, as a business that has remained in the same place for 130 years  . . . but both Bullen’s and Coe’s were established but yesterday in the long history of Norwich.

The department store Jarrolds is well over two hundred years old. It was established as a grocers and drapers in the Market Place in the Suffolk Port of Woodbridge in 1770. The founder, John Jarrold I, died early on and his son, John Jarrold II, was too young at first to take part in the operation of the firm. In the early 19th century, as soon as he was old enough, he transferred the business to its current home in Norwich. Once there the shop abandoned the grocery and drapery trades and became a bookseller and stationer. During the century it became a major printing business which (among other books) published Anna Sewell’s best-selling novel Black Beauty in 1878. Jarrold’s publishing activities were greatest before the 20th century, but in printing it went from strength o strength. It was still producing postcards and calendars into the 21st century, but it is now no longer a printer or publisher. It has remained a large retail store in Norwich city centre throughout this period, and has even reintroduced drapery among its lines. Thorns, the hardware shop which is just across Exchange Street from Jarrolds, and is another old-established family firm. It was set up by a merchant who arrived in the city from London in 1835.

Norwich Railway Station was first opened in 1844; although the terminus has been moved a few metres north since then, the original train shed is still used, now as the base for train crews to sign on. Unusually for post-Beeching Britain, the station retains all the lines that ran out of it when the railway network was at its peak, in the 1920s. Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, London and Cambridge all still receive regular services. The other stations in Norwich have not been so lucky; there used to three of them, and now there is only the one.

St Mary, Coslany, half a century ago.

The inns of Britain are among the oldest non-religious institutions in the country. Nottingham has three pubs which all claim to have been drinking holes since the middle ages, but such antiquity means their origins are lost in the mists of the past. As for Norwich, the oldest pub is the Adam and Eve, which was run by Benedictine monks to provide refreshment for the builders who were working on Norwich Cathedral. The first time it was recorded by name was in 1249, and this would make it compete in age with the pubs in Nottingham; however it was rebuilt in the 17 century. The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich may well be oldest continuously occupied hotel in England, being commonly dated to  the 13th century. This hotel is near Norwich Cathedral, which was begun in 1096. Also in near the Cathedral is the Great Hospital; this was established in the first half of the thirteenth century as a refuge for the elderly, which is still its function today. The nature of the inhabitants has changed a but since its inception; until the Reformation this was reserved for decayed clerics, but now it is sheltered housing open to all, of either sex.

Norwich Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest, and was erected at the same time that the Cathedral was started. Its official use as a goal ceased in the 19th century, and with the change of use to the City’s principal museum in the 1890s it cannot really be termed a surviving institution. Even as a museum however it is now quite a venerable institution. The oldest building in Norwich must be St Mary’s Church in Coslany, which has an Anglo-Saxon tower, but it has been redundant as a church for decades now and it is therefore a moot point whether it can be included in this list of surviving institutions. As for the oldest church in Norwich still used as a place of worship I am at something of a loss to determine; St George’s in Tombland still holds services, although nothing about it seems older than the 14th century. Alternatively in may be St Julian’s, although this church was bombed in the war and has been largely rebuilt. On further consideration I think it must the Anglo-Catholic church of St John the Baptist, Timber Hill, as this church also has signs of Anglo-Saxon stonework in its construction.

Thorns, Bullens, the Cathedral, the Great Hospital, the Adam and Eve and the Maids Head Hotel have all retained their original use in the same place for many centuries. Even the railway station has been there for well over a century and a half. All are part of the rich and ancient fabric of the City.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORWICH

EAST ANGLIAN RIVERS

The Medieval bridge over the RIVER WENSUM at Attlebridge

The Medieval bridge over the RIVER WENSUM at Attlebridge

RIVER YARE at LAKENHAM

RIVER YARE at LAKENHAM

Old Bridge over the river Wensum at Taverham.

Old Bridge over the river Wensum at Taverham circa 1915.

Canoe RED SQUIRREL on the WENSUM

Canoe RED SQUIRREL on the WENSUM

The river Waveney on the Norfolk border

The river Waveney on the Norfolk border 1958

Dragon on the Blyth

The Blyth at Southwold

Loading scrap metal at Wensum Wharf Norwich, c 1978

Loading scrap metal at Wensum Wharf Norwich, c 1978

 A yacht passing a dredger, on the river Yare c1970


A yacht passing a dredger, on the river Yare c1970

River Glaven at Glandford

River Glaven at Glandford

Pull's Ferry on the Wensun, 1950.

Pull’s Ferry on the Wensun at Norwich, 1950.

The river Chet burst its banks.

The river Chet burst its banks.

Joe Mason and Enterprise, 1963 on the river Thurne

Joe Mason 1963 on the river Thurne with his Enterprise dinghy

The Beck at Shotesham All Saints from the common

The Beck at Shotesham All Saints from the common

Yacht on Wroxham Broad, river Bure

Yacht on Wroxham Broad, river Bure

A Dutch coaster in the Short-Sea Port of Kings Lynn, Alexandra Dock on the Great Ouse.

A Dutch coaster in the Short-Sea Port of Kings Lynn, Alexandra Dock on the Great Ouse.

THE QUEEN OF THE BROADS on the River Yare at Yarmouth

THE QUEEN OF THE BROADS on the River Yare at Yarmouth

THE STEAMER YARMOUTH on the River DebenTHE RIVER DEBEN AT WOODBRIDGE. (The Steamer is still in existence, sadly as a virtual wreck.)

THE HERONRY, BLYTHBURGH ON THE RIVER BLYTH

THE HERONRY, BLYTHBURGH ON THE RIVER BLYTH IN SUFFOLK

REEDHAM FERRY ON THE RIVER YARE

REEDHAM FERRY ON THE RIVER YARE

LODDON MILL, RIVER CHET

LODDON MILL and the end of navigation on the RIVER CHET

 THE URE

THE BURE

In the flattie

In a flattie on the Bure

 

 

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)                                                                                                                     THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA    

 

 

MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

 

 

 

GREAT AUNT MILLIE

MILLICENT MASON was my Grandfather Mason’s sister. Both my grandfathers died before I was born, but I met Aunt Millie in 1953 when she was living at Bixley Manor (just outside Norwich) for the birth of Timothy Colman’s first child. She was a highly respected and competent midwife, who had worked in Harley Street earlier in her career. In this way she had established a reputation for excellence among the greatest in the land (the baby she was looking after was a close relative of the Queen Mother). She had worked her way up from very humble beginnings as a housemaid, working at Strangers Hall in Norwich when it was still a private residence. The owner was a solicitor called Leonard Bolingbroke and he gave the house to the city to be turned into a museum of social history.

Millicent Mason

In 1920 Millicent began her nurse’s training at a hospital in South London. In 1923 she qualified as a midwife and by 1925 she was staff nurse in the maternity ward. It was for her not a job but a vocation, and one she pursued with kindness and humanity. Although the work as night sister was hard, she was able to return home regularly to see her father who was living in a cottage in Trowse, Norfolk. I have a picture of Aunt Millie with my Great-grandfather standing in his allotment, tending his beloved flowers. Great-grandfather was still working as a carter in Colman’s mustard business when she moved to London, but he enjoyed a long retirement which was made possible by Lloyd George’s new Old Age Pension. Colman’s were also good employers, who looked after their old employees.

The outbreak of war in 1939 caused the hospital in central London where she had been working to close, but her fine work around the new-born meant she had no difficulty finding other employment. Working throughout the Second World War presented her with plenty of other difficulties however. She retired to Tunbridge Wells where she died unexpectedly at the age of 70.

TESTIMONIALS

ST JAMES’ HOSPITAL

OUSELEY ROAD, BALHAM, SW 12   26th February 1925

It gives me much pleasure to testify to the merits of Miss Millicent M. Mason who came to this Hospital in March 1920 as a probationer nurse and is now leaving us. I have had considerable opportunities of observing her work throughout her stay, first as probationer, then as pupil midwife and latterly as staff nurse in charge of the lying-in ward at night.

She has proved herself highly competent in these various capacities and her wide experience of nursing in its medical, surgical and obstetrical aspects makes her a valuable member of any team. I always found her most pleasant to work with. I am sorry to lose her services.

Wm L. Maccormac, Medical Superintendent

3 UPPER WIMPOLE STREET, CAVENDISH SQUARE, W1

OCT 18/39

It gives me great pleasure to write a testimonial for Sister Mason. She has been in charge of the Maternity, Children’s and Infant’s wards of the London Local Hospital for nine years. During that long time she has done her work excellently and to the satisfaction of the Board. Personally I do not think anyone could have done the work of this difficult post in a better manner. She is kindness personified.

AGNES SIBBS

To: Mr Charles Hughes, a nephew of Aunt Millie:

28th October 1958

Dear Mr Hughes,

I was very sad to hear of the death of my dear friend Millie, & do thank you very much for letting me know.  I felt there must be something wrong, not hearing from her for so long, the last I heard from her she was hoping to come to Bournemouth. I have known her since my son was born 34 years ago & she came to his wedding just over three years ago, which was the last time we saw her.

I was hoping she would be coming this month to see my little grandson. She would have been so pleased as she was very fond of my son. We do take the Telegraph every day, but I seldom look in the deaths column.

One thing we do know, she did not suffer, and thank you once more for writing.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Y. E. Woodbridge

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE