Tag Archives: norfolk

FRANK MASON (PART FOUR)

THINGS FINALLY COME RIGHT

Frank W. Mason

In 1959, at the age of forty-seven, my father was about to experience a year of great upheaval. His eldest daughter was to marry and emigrate to Canada; she had qualified as schoolteacher but was never to work in that capacity, becoming instead a professor at a transatlantic university; but that was far in the future. Nearer to home his second daughter had also qualified as a teacher, and was to start at Ipswich High School that September. His ten-year old son (me) was just about to begin at boarding school. Most alarmingly, he had to leave the building in Orford Place, as the lease had expired. He was willing to pay the much higher new rent, but none of his fellow tenants were, so his whole business future seemed thrown into doubt. Where would he go? Would his customers follow him to his new premises? Or would the abandon him for other Norwich opticians?

The place he decided to move into was 29 Surrey Street; he had limited options available to him, as most shops in the centre of Norwich were already occupied. The property he decided on was fairly central, but had stood vacant for about a decade. It  needed a complete rewiring (it still had a primitive DC system in place) and a complete redecoration too. The walls were covered in centuries of whitewash, which  had to be removed before modern paint could be applied. The most problematical aspect from a business point of view was that it was, in appearance, a private dwelling; it had no shop window. It was a large 18th century former residence with, as I subsequently discovered, an impressive history. Most recently it had served as the Angel temperance hotel. Crucially, he would no longer be a tenant; this property he would have to buy.

THE FITTING ROOM, 29 SURREY STREET. Both the lyre table and the ‘mushroom’ behind were made by my father to display frames.

Very fortunately my father’s patients continued to patronize his practice and within a few years he had paid off the commercial mortgage that he had taken out to pay for the property. In this he was fortuitously aided by the gathering pace of inflation during the 1960s; this was a good time for house buyers in general- a detached house in the city could be bought for well under £1,000! As a result, within a decade-and-a-half of buying the building, its value had increased nearly twentyfold. The initial cost of the property was almost small change by then. As if by accident, he was now a wealthy man for the first time in his life. It was true that he was nearly always overdrawn at the bank, but that was only because his plans for the future always ran a little bit ahead of his current resources. He would never admit to being other than a miserable failure; this was quite untrue, but in comparison to what might have been he had a point. To see what I mean I refer you to the previous post, where his factory appear to be on the brink of success.

In buying 29 Surrey Street he had added the position of commercial landlord to his business interests. He only needed the ground floor for his optical premises; the semi-basement (it had windows to Surrey Street, so it was not a cave) he also occupied. This held a workshop with a lathe, circular saw, bench drill, milling machine, and fly press – in short the whole range of machinery. He even had a printing press! One room was devoted entirely to a model railway; this was nominally mine, but in fact it represented one of my father’s many interests. He was able to let the first floor long-term to an insurance company; Surrey Street is still at the heart of the insurance industry in Norwich, holding as it does the headquarters of the multi-national firm Aviva, still known as Norwich Union in 1959. The upper floors were not so easily let, but a succession of artists, interior designers and marketing companies occupied them.

In 1960 my mother inherited some money and enabled us to buy the family home in Poringland from the landlord Rushmer Howlett, who lived next door. We proceeded to undertake some much-needed improvements; a bedroom for me was included in the plans. Previously I had slept in my parents’ bedroom. Mains drainage was the most radical departure from the only way of life I had known until then; I could now have a bath without boiling kettles and put the tin bath on the hearth-rug. The main sewer had been installed in the road outside a year or two before, and my father no longer had to empty the earth closet or pump out the cess pit. We had rather belatedly joined the 20th century. Until then there was a curious mismatch between our primitive domestic arrangements at our rented home and the palatial facilities (including five water closers) at my father’s workplace that he owned.

The fountain in the back yard. The building in the background is Norwich bus station (still on the same site but now rebuilt).

A very valuable addition to the house at Surrey Street was a car park at the back, which could hold three cars at a pinch. That alone was worth a huge amount, not merely in financial terms but for convenience. The access belonged to a doctor’s widow who lived four houses along, so my father had to keep her sweet. At a bunch or two of flowers a year it was cheap at the price. It also had a delightful courtyard garden that faced south. There one could sit with a drink by the fountain, within yards of Norwich’s busy bus station; climbing roses scented the air, while all around was the bustle of  a busy city. That was luxury indeed. In fifty years my father had progressed from living in a modest terraced house to the be the owner a 20 roomed town mansion; the only trouble was that because of planning restrictions at the time he couldn’t actually live there!

My father was by no means a traditional businessman, always obsessed by balance sheets and bank accounts. Such things interested him not at all. He was at his happiest walking his dog by the riverside or attending meetings of the Nautics, his favourite historical society. As for playing his cello, as a teenager he dreamed of becoming a professional musician; he was certainly good enough, but was warned by Jimmy Pond his music teacher that it would lead to a life of poverty. I am sure that we would never have been as wealthy as an orchestral cellist as he became as an optician. There were several reverses in his career, but he was ultimately a great success in financial terms. He gave me a fantastic childhood, and he provided the best of educations for all his three children.

Frank Mason with the Minihoe, another of his projects in retirement..

He thought that the seventeen shillings and sixpence that he was paid by the National Health Service for a sight test was pitifully small, especially compared the much larger sum charged by a garage mechanic for an MOT. Seventeen and six was indeed little enough for a full professional eye examination; he made his money from selling glasses to customers privately. He thought this was the wrong way round, and it would be hard to disagree with him; the glasses were just a consumer product, whereas the sight of a patient (or even his life) could depend on picking up small imperfections in their eyes. I don’t suppose things are very different today; as a pensioner my eyes are tested free, but my glasses cost me a small fortune.

The main developments of his career were effectively over by 1960. For a few years his health remained good, but at the age of 56 he had a coronary, and thereafter numerous infarctions (where parts of the heart muscle are damaged by blood clots) and episodes of tachycardia (heart rhythm malfunction) which led to many stays in hospital. Heart conditions were far less effectively treated in those days. He refused to give up smoking his beloved pipe. Nevertheless he did not die from a heart disease but from another health condition. He was able to retire at the age of 60 to spend the last few years of his life developing an optical instrument which looked set to be a great success by the time he died.  In retirement he was able to retain the building in Surrey Street, together with its workshop and car park, which meant that he still went there almost every day. Besides providing him with a comfortable pension he could still develop his model railway and work on his various schemes. Over his lifetime he built two boats, numerous pieces of furniture and as a young man had done wood carvings as a hobby. He was trained by the army as an instrument mechanic which stood him in good stead throughout the rest of his life. Although his health was failing, I was able to ensure both him and my mother had an enjoyable last few years. Looking back on his life with the perspective of forty years, I can now see him for what he was: then he was just my Daddy. Frank Mason was clearly a remarkable man.

The Binocular Magnifier Frank designed

You can read more about the history of the house in Surrey Street by clicking HERE.  I have written well over ten blogs on the house, and you can access them by entering ‘joemasonspage’ and adding ‘the story of a house’ and a number from 1 to 13 into Google. This should bring up the required result.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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NORWICH IN WARTIME

RED LION STREET 1940

I have been informed that the air raid siren had just gone when this picture was snapped. Am I mistaken, or can I see people beginning to hurry towards the air raid shelters? It was a false alarm this time – the real thing would come a couple of years later, with devastating results for this urban scene.  Petrol and meat rationing had already come in, and would lead to nearly 15 years of shortages. On this early wartime day it was certainly sunny. I am sure that the little kiosk was left over from the Norwich tramway service. The triangle of  pavement where it stood was Orford Place itself, and that was the centre where nearly all the tram routes terminated. The conductors could obtain fresh books of tickets from the kiosk if they had run low. The last tram had run just five years earlier when this picture was taken. It was used by bus drivers and conductors after they took over the city’s transport service.

The view that heads this page is looking towards Red Lion Street. This was taken from John Gantlett’s testing room on the second floor of Frank Mason’s opticians shop. The address was 3 Orford Place. The building is still there as a burger joint, after many years as a branch of Pizza Hut, and before that as fashion retailer Fifth Avenue. The internal arrangements have been completely opened up, and the whole building is now one outlet. When my father Frank was there he only occupied the end shop. Here the Air Raid Precautions sign is prominently displayed. This was in 1940; you can tell it is early in the war because Curl’s department store has yet to be destroyed by Nazi bombing; this happened in April 1942. The site where Curls had been was a gaping hole down to basement level, and was used as a car park when I first became aware of my surroundings. During the rest of the war it had been used as a static water tank to provide plenty of water for fire engines in the event of another incendiary bombing raid. The store, which changed its name to Debenhams in 1973, was rebuilt in 1955. This was hailed as the largest department store in East Anglia at the time. Once rebuilt it had lifts to all floors, escalators and even air conditioning – the height of modernity.

Besides Curls another store was fire bombed in the same raid. This was Buntings, and it was not so badly damaged; after being repaired it was used as a NAAFI while the war lasted. After the war it became the city centre branch of Marks and Spencer, which it remains. Also devastated was Bonds of Norwich which included the Thatched Cinema. This store too was rebuilt after the war, and was later bought by John Lewis.  Escaping the destructive fury of the bombing, St Andrews Hall was open every day for off-duty servicemen, both British and American, where they would play billiards, drink tea and eat rock cakes made by the young ladies of the city.

The BOARS HEAD was on the corner of St Stephens and Surrey Street. Destroyed in the Baedeker raid of April 1942.

The wartime bombing in Norwich left much destruction. Some historic buildings were lost, including the Boars head hotel in St Stephens Street, but compared to the postwar redevelopments, that saw Queens Road, Grapes Hill  and Magdalen Street (among others) carved up to make way for the inner link road, it was relatively minor. Now the great dual carriageway, that was planned to cut a swathe right through the city centre to encourage traffic, is now mostly reserved for buses and taxis to discourage people from driving in the city.  The bomb sites have nearly all been filled up with new building – one the last to be restored was in the area round the ruined tower St Benedict’s, the church that was also destroyed in 1942. This now contains a block of flats. The picture below shows the immediate aftermath of the wartime bombing raid.

St Benedicts Gate. War damage.

The car park that had been a temporary measure on the bomb site in Timber Hill has been fenced (in Google Maps) and redevelopment now seems immanent – its about time! (I haven’t been there for a while, and it may even have begun – please tell me if you know.) Ber Street has never regained it bustling character that had existed before the war. Even today the car parks and single storey temporary-looking properties along the north side show the results of the Nazi bombing raids of 75 years ago. It always was a wide street, but the children who played there during the day and the drunks who staggered along it by night were banished when their homes were destroyed by the Germans.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE 1950s

The pub in Drayton. See how little traffic there was!

There was virtually no road building in the 1950s until the M1 was constructed right at the end of the decade; the only improvement I can call to mind was the straightening of a short length of blind bend outside Ditchingham Hall. This was in about 1957; you can still see the lay-by which this created on the Bungay road. The traffic was still relatively light; many of the cars were prewar, and those that were not were all painted black; you were lucky to get a car at all, and the colour wasn’t important. The lorries were of the fixed chassis type – there were no articulated juggernauts then. The country folk who had to go to town went by bus, otherwise they travelled round on their bikes.

In Norfolk the railway network was already beginning to shrink. The lines from Cromer to Mundesley and from Heacham to Wells closed completely in 1952, and the stations at Hellesdon and Whitlingham stopped serving passengers early in the decade.  Also in 1952 passenger traffic was ended on the Wroxham to County School branch; however most of the rural branch lines remained open. For a few more years Hunstanton, Holt, Dereham, Watton, Swaffham and Fakenham (all of them substantial country towns) had regular train services that carried passengers as well as goods. Trains stopped crossing Breydon Water en route from Yarmouth Beach station to Lowestoft in 1952; the swing bridge remained in place but permanently open to shipping.

There were still a lot of sea-going freighters threading their way up the river Yare to Norwich. Coal was one their main cargoes, and it was universally used to produce electricity, gas and domestic heating all across Britain. The miners toiled day and nigh to extract this invaluable commodity. Many coal-fired steam drifters tied up along the Yarmouth quayside every autumn herring season, ready for the Scottish fisher girls to pack the fish away in their millions. The London Docks were still at the hub of the nation’s trade in 1950, and Southampton was still the place you went to catch liners for overseas destinations.

As for aircraft, the skies were full of them; not commercial airliners (there were none of these outside London) but fighter jets. Never a day went by without vapour trails appearing among the clouds, and sonic booms were often heard. There were still over a dozen RAF air bases in Norfolk at the beginning of the period, including at Coltishall, St Faiths, Swanton Morley and Marham; there was a major USAF presence at Sculthorpe near Fakenham. All through the decade the RAF held open days to commemorate the Battle of Britain. In the less mean-spirited nature of the times these festivities were free to attend, although the members of the public who flocked to them would support them generously in a voluntary capacity. The threat of Nazi invasion was still a recent memory and those who fell in resisting it were honoured annually.

Norfolk is a sparsely populated county; in a hundred and fifty years the population of Norfolk doubled to stand at around 600,000 by 1961. Even with the huge increase in recent years it is still estimated at under a million, which is tiny for one of the largest counties in the land. It has always been an agricultural economy, specialising in arable crops. All across the country the horse had vanished from the farms by 1950, and everywhere the ploughing and reaping was done by internal combustion engine: the tractor was king. Things are still much the same for now in Norfolk, but the most thriving communities are increasing becoming centred on the digital world. We had no idea what the phrase ‘the digital world’ might mean in the 1950s. The first massive mainframe computer arrived at Norfolk County Hall in the 1960s (it was about the size of a small bungalow), and the data was carried on magnetic tapes between there and Norwich City Hall in a little blue Daf van. Even electric typewriters were almost unknown in the 1950s, and calculations were largely done with pencil and paper; the very advanced firms (like Norwich Union) used mechanical comptometers with their highly trained female operators.

There were young Teddy Boys with Brylcreemed hair, jeans and bomber jackets, and their female counterparts, but many of the working population had been alive when Victoria was Queen. They had been through two World Wars, many of them as combatants in both. National Service was still in force, and this all made for a less effete nation. It was a hard life – for example there was virtually no central heating, and  double glazing was completely unknown. The ice would form inside the bedroom windows as you slept. The only insulation was made from asbestos, and that was treated with gay abandon by everyone, but fortunately we seemed to survive without succumbing to the material; visits to the doctor were for other ailments.  The GPO phone box was always there for use in emergencies; you pressed button B and heard the money drop into the machine, when you would ask the operator to connect you. There were two visits a day from the postman who rode his red bicycle round the village. The local Bobby rode his black bicycle to keep a beady eye on the world. All these things were common throughout the land; in the 1950s there was a sense of national identity that is largely lacking today. The very idea of Scotland splitting away was almost nowhere on the political agenda back then. It is true that there were voices raised against the new queen’s title. Even a few post boxes with the monogram EIIR on them were blown up in Scotland. This was not from republican motives, but because she should have been called Elizabeth the first in Scotland – it had been an independent country when Good Queen Bess was on the throne!

Hard though it is to believe, in the 1955 General Election the Tories received more than half the popular vote in Scotland. The Tories governed the UK for most of the 1950s, but it was a very different country sixty years ago.

joemasonspage@gmail.com

 JOSEPH MASON

 THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

FRANK MASON (PART TWO)

THE TRIALS OF WAR

Frank as a young man

In 1938 my father had set up as an independent trader in a shop in the centre of Norwich. Everything must have been going quite well, because he had employed another optician called John Gantlett; but with the outbreak of war in September 1939 everyone’s attention was grasped by the coming conflict. Such mundane considerations as getting one’s eyes tested went out of the window. He had not been in business long enough to build up any financial reserves, and at the age of 28 he was staring bankruptcy in the face.

He was saved by his reaction to an announcement on the wireless that, because of the blackout, in future all bicycles had to display a rear light. It is a sobering thought that until then it had been perfectly legal to ride a bike in the darkness with only a headlight and a reflector at the back. My father correctly thought that all the rear lights in the country would immediately sell out, and that this would provide him with the opportunity to step in. He made a batch of rear lights from copper tube for the battery, a piece of red perspex and a light bulb, and immediately sold them to Norwich shopkeepers. He was quick off the mark – he had to be – and was soon selling them further afield, as it took firms like Ever Ready some time to catch up with demand; by then people had to some extent returned to their prewar concerns and realized that they didn’t see very well. They returned to the optician to get their eyes tested, and bankruptcy was avoided (for now).

Things were still very tight and the family had to give up their bungalow in the country. My father moved in with his parents in their bungalow in Thorpe St Andrew, and my mother returned to her profession of mid-wife. This was her contribution to the war effort; her pay must also have taken a small amount of the financial pressure off my father. She was sent to work in Peterborough, taking her youngest daughter with her, and woman from Sheringham called Ruby Nurse to help with child care. The eldest daughter Christine remained in Norfolk with her father, being cared for by her grandmother. However her Nanny soon tired of looking after her granddaughter and she too was sent to Peterborough where things became very complicated. Ruby Nurse proved to be an agoraphobiac who locked the children in a room in the house. Tiggie, the younger daughter, had made friends with young Johnny Smith next door, but  on her arrival in Peterborough the elder daughter came between them. My father had given his children the Red Letter- written in red ink, to be posted to him if things got intolerable in Peterborough. Unfortunately for them this was kept on the mantelpiece, and was quite out of the reach of young hands. Moreover, locked in their room they never saw a post box. Things obviously weren’t working out, and my mother returned to Norfolk.

My family would have been homeless, but they were taken in by the rector of Poringland and Howe, the Rev. Claude Trendell. They were put up in Howe Rectory, and my mother was given the job of teaching the villager First Aid, in preparation for the imminently expected German invasion. My sister Christine was stood on a table while the application of various splints was demonstrated on her limbs by my mother. In Howe church you may see my father’s name on the war memorial; none of the residents of the village were killed in the war, and consequently those who served were remembered instead. Among these was Frank Mason.

Illustration from Frank’s RAOC notebook

The introduction of conscription was to give my father a way out of some these difficulties. As a health worker, he was not compelled to serve in the armed forces, but he volunteered and joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1940. There he was trained as an instrument mechanic, looking after the many kinds of equipment like gunsights that the army required in the 20th century. He was sent to Woolwich Arsenal, just as the Blitz was descending on the East End of London; night after night the sky was lit up by fires as the bombs fell. On one on occasion he went  AWOL: he had heard that Norwich had been flattened by bombs and simply took off to see if his family were OK at Howe– of course they were: it was a false alarm. Perhaps it was on this occasion that daughter Christine remembers her Mummy fainting– she probably thought her husband would be court-marshalled. In the event he was just put on fatigues, nothing worse than that. Against all the odds he enjoyed his time in the army. He made many good friends, and found the technical training invaluable in his later life. This branch of the service was transferred to the newly constituted regiment REME (the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) in 1942, but by then he had left the army. After his training, during which time he was a private soldier, he would have been promoted directly to Sergeant Instructor, but he was retired on medical grounds; his flat feet made him unable to march.

Mt father had returned to Norfolk but the family were still living at Howe Rectory. My eldest sister began her schooling at Brooke Primary School while living at Howe, and would have progressed through the State system, had not Claude Trendell remarked to my father that Norwich High School was a better school. My father took him up on this suggestion and transferred Christine to the High School. She had to wear a passed-down uniform. Thereafter all Frank’s children would be privately educated.

When he was recruited into the army his business in Norwich had been left in the hands of his co-worker John Gantlett. When my father returned to Norwich John Gantlett volunteered in the Royal Navy and was at sea for the rest of the war. He was stationed in the Far East. Back in business, my father could again afford the rent on a house, which was just as well because Claude Trendell returned to his home county of Derbyshire. The family moved into a property in Norwich. This was convenient situated for his work, but also for the German bombs which began to rain down on the city almost as soon as he had moved there in 1942. It was time to move once more, and this time the family found an abandoned railway carriage in a field about a couple of miles outside the city in a hamlet called Markshall. This is across the river Tas from Caistor St Edmund, as has been part of that parish since the seventeenth century. The railway carriage had been used by seasonal workers on the local farm before the war, and had no mains services. Oil lamps and a stove provided light and heat, and water had to be brought from the well at a nearby cottage. I suppose for baths they used the nearby river. It could hardly have been more basic, but it was an idyllic way of life for my young sisters in the summer of 1942. The only black cloud on the horizon for the younger of my sisters was the coming onset of education. “Why can’t I stay at home with Mummie?” she would bitterly complain.

NORWICH in WARTIME: Orford Hill from the optician’s shop

When the Blitz abated my family were able to move back into Norwich (Aurania Avenue), and when the Doodle Bugs and V2s began to fall on the country, the completely random nature of the bombardment meant that no avoiding action was possible. The war in Europe came to an end with the death of Hitler, and the Atom bombs falling on Japan ushered in peace on a devastated country.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

FRANK MASON (Part one)

My grandfather William Mason and family 1911.

YOUTH and EARLY ADULTHOOD

Frank was my father; he didn’t like the name and (to be frank) neither do I. We do not choose our names, and we have to stick with what we are given. I cannot find another Frank or even a Francis among his ancestors. (I, by contrast, can find several Josephs in the family tree going way back to the early years of the 19th century.) Frank was born on September 21st 1911, the second and youngest child of his parents William and Emily. His father spent his life making packing cases for the electric equipment manufacturer Laurence (and) Scott. They were a working class family, but (especially Emily my grandmother) they were ambitious for their children.  The family portrait above shows Frank as an infant on his mother’s knee.

When he was nearly three the Great War broke out, and this affected his earliest years, not always for the worse. Because the school he would have attended (Lakenham Council School) was requisitioned for treating the war wounded he was sent instead to Carrow School. This had been set up by the Colman family as part of their paternalistic care for their employees. My grandfather was not a member of the staff at Carrow Works but non”etheless his son was able to benefit from a rather higher standard of education than would have been available in the Council School. He remembered his earliest teacher ‘Olo’ with respect and gratitude; his name was Mr Olorenshaw.

FRANK MASON AGED 4

When the war ended he did indeed go to Lakenham School, before winning a scholarship to the recently opened Grammar School, the CNS (City of Norwich School). He remained disappointed throughout his life that Latin was not on the curriculum at the CNS; this made it very difficult to apply to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, which required the language in those days, although one of his friends managed to teach himself Latin and went on to Cambridge and a distinguished academic career in America. His parents must have made great sacrifices to support their children beyond the normal school leaving age. Frank did very well for himself when he left Grammar School. Aged 16 he got a job as an apprentice optician. Now the training for such a health professional demands a university degree, but then it was all done on the job. His ability as an optician would certainly be regarded as university level today. His employer was Cecil Amey, a man not many years older than my father. It is a name which survives in the Norwich optical business community. My father was well treated by Cecil Amey, who let him ride around Norfolk on his BSA motorbike in his spare time.

Father (left) in his teens.

Frank had to go to London to be examined by the Spectacle Makers Company, one of the historic Livery Companies of the City. He was awarded a fellowship of the company (FSMC), though this did not qualify him for membership; that was reserved for the most influential businessmen. It did however entitle him to be elected Freeman of the City of London, an something he was rather proud of although he never took the honour up. By the time he was twenty one he had qualified in  the profession. He worked for a time in Stamford in Lincolnshire and back in Norwich he was employed by the firm of D. R. Grey. D. R. Grey (in spite of his style as ‘Dr Grey’) was not himself a qualified optician, and had to employ those like my father who were to carry out the sight tests. The firm specialised in going out into the countryside seeking business; my father hated going unannounced from door to door like this. He called it ‘going on the knocker’ and regarded it as very unprofessional, but it did give him reason to drive around in a Morris car.

The pastime which Dad loved the most of all was flying; remember that this was less than thirty years after the invention of powered flight; it was not the everyday experience that it has since become. He did not fly as the pilot; he would take the controls in flight but not in take-off or landing. His companion was his friend Henry Stringer, who owned a two-seater de Haviland Gipsy Moth. They would take off from Mousehold Heath (the City’s first airport) and fly to places like the Isle of Wight and the River Humber.

The wedding at Thorpe St Andrew, 4 June 1935.

We have nearly forty more years of his life to record, and already it had been an eventful one. He had married in 1935 and by 1938 he was living in a bungalow in Poringland with two young daughters. My parents had been forced to leave the Old Hall in Alpington where they had first set up as a married couple; in spite of the elegant environment it was infested with fleas, which proved immune to all attempts to eradicate them. With £300 from his father in law he had established himself as a self-employed optician in 1938. In his shop in Orford Place he was a successful professional with a growing business, and all this before he was thirty years old.

The next part of the Frank Mason story will cover the wartime years and the difficulties of that time.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

TIDAL DRIFT ROUND THE NORFOLK COAST

The effects of tidal drift can be seen all along the coast, and are especially interesting in Norfolk; at least I find them so. You must forgive me if the subject I am about to discuss is rather technical, but I will not be using technical language. This is principally because it is not a language I understand, but also because I have no wish to blind my readers with science. Some examples of this technical jargon are ‘littoral transplantation’ and ‘distal accretion’; at an academic level the study of tidal drift can be complicated, though I think the jargon makes this worse. I, on the other hand, will be using simple terms and simple concepts.

Blakeney harbour

But what is tidal drift? From studying the tide tables it is evident that in all down the East Coast high water comes earlier in the north than in the south. High tide is about an hour earlier Yarmouth than it is in Lowestoft. This is not merely a matter of timing; the current that is dictated by the tide also flows in a southerly direction.  This we call tidal drift or longshore drift, and its effect can be seen wherever there are breakwaters on the beach; on one side the sand builds up, while on the other side it is carved away. So far it is all relatively straightforward, but it now gets more complicated. Somewhere between Bacton and Sheringham the tidal drift divides; past Winterton it continues to the south, but along the North Norfolk coast it goes west.

Let us examine the direction of the sandspits around the East Anglian coast. At Orford Ness there are many miles of sandbank; this spit goes goes from Aldeburgh in the north to Shingle Street in the south. At Blakeney the sandspit goes from Cley in the east to Blakeney Point in the west. This gives the clear indication of the direction of the longshore drift. So far so understandable, but now we come up with a puzzling fact; further along the Norfolk coast, in the north-western extremity of the county, the sand spits run from west to east! Why is this?

To explain this we must go back and examine what has been going on down the the Lincolnshire coast. There the longshore drift has also been continuing in a north to south direction. It then loops through the Wash, where it briefly goes south to north past Heacham; at Hunstanton it turns east. What happens when the drift that has come down the Lincolnshire coast meets the drift along the North Norfolk coast? At Holme Dunes the sandspit runs from west to east, showing that the tidal drift that has been flowing down Lincolnshire is still the dominant force; but when this current comes up against the North Norfolk current it has nowhere to go. This is not a problem for the North Norfolk longshore drift as it just moves off shore and eventually recirculates. The west/east current just stops and dumps the sediment it has been carrying. The result is the island at Scolt Head; this is how I interpret the situation, though experts might pooh-pooh the suggestion. For much of the North Norfolk coast the action of the tides has caused coastal erosion, but in the area between Brancaster and Wells-Next-the-Sea the ebb and flow of the tides have resulted in the opposite effect. The shifting sands do not rigidly stick to a predictable pattern, but over time (hundreds or even thousands of years) this has been the net result.

Snettisham on the Wash

The tide tables paint a much more complicated picture and one which reflects the complicated currents that swirl around the Wash and other river estuaries. All along the coast of South Lincolnshire the deposition of estuarine mud from the Wash to the south and longshore drift sand from the north have left the ports of Boston and Wainfleet several miles inland. Boston is still a seaport (just), but Wainfleet is now an inland market town with virtually no craft left on the river Steeping; only a sunken hulk holds any memory of busier times. On the Norfolk side of the Wash the village of Snettisham has similarly been the recipient of much silt and the increase in sandbanks continues.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE PASTON FAMILY

Caister Castle

The rise and fall of the Pastons would not be so well known were it not for the preservation of a series of letters which chronicle the progress of members of the family through the period in the fifteenth century that we call the Wars of the Roses. This was a family of Norfolk country gentlemen who later rose to the aristocracy. If you know where to look you can still see the remains to show the wealth and power they once possessed. Only the servants’ wing of their one-time home in Oxnead now stands, but even this provides an impressive residence for someone in these slightly more egalitarian times. The imposing tithe barn in the village of that name is a remote memorial of the Pastons. The Paston family originated from the village of Pastonon the North Norfolk coast.

OLD LODGE, DRAYTON, NORFOLK

The first two volumes of the letters were published 230 years ago and caused a minor literary sensation at the time. Parson Woodforde passed favourable comment on the letters in his diary, but the fame of them went well beyond Norfolk; they even earned the editor a knighthood from George III. They have been studied ever since, and I recall them being cited by my history tutor at Oxford. This was particularly fascinating for me, as I could picture the places being referred to in the letters. The part played by the Pastons in national affairs was a minor one, but has been rendered important by the records of their daily affairs that have survived.

Paston Tithe Barn built by Sir William Paston in 1581

As I write I am only a mile or two from Drayton Lodge, where Margaret Paston’s men were besieged by the forces of the Duke of Suffolk. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was attacking her retinue at Caister Castle: (Letter from Margaret to her son John, Sept. 12, 1469). “I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister, and lack vitual . . . and the place is sore broken by the guns of the other party; so that, unless they have hasty help, they are like to lose both their lives and the place, to the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman, for every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be so long in such great jeopardy without help or other remedy.”

SIR JOHN GRESHAM

In the same period James Gresham acted as the family’s land agent in the North Norfolk village of Gresham where he lived and where the Pastons were the landowners. The Gresham family too were upwardly mobile, and (like the Pastons) went from humble beginnings  to positions of great wealth. Sir Thomas Gresham founded the Royal Exchange in London and left instructions for the setting up of Gresham College, which remains a uniquely democratic seat of learning. The family crest of the Grasshopper still stands atop the tower at the Royal Exchange. His uncle Sir John left the Holt Grammar School (now known as Gresham’s School) as his legacy to the children of Norfolk. Sir William Paston built the North Walsham Grammar School. This is better known as the Paston School where the young Horace Nelson was the most famous  pupil. Although the Holt Grammar School was much closer to Burnham Thorpe where Nelson lived it was not considered suitable by his father; until it was refounded as Gresham’s School in 1900 it was not regarded as more than a minor establishment for local boys. The Paston College is still a feature of North Walsham although now on a different site and a sixth form college in the state sector. Gresham’s also boasts the Grasshopper as its crest. The Paston Coat of Arms is topped by a more conventional heraldic beast, the Gryphon.

Robert Paston was born in 1631 and educated at Westminster School. He was at Cambridge at a difficult time, when many of his contemporaries were staunch Puritans. He spent the years of the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate abroad, much of it in France. He was thus able to avoid the difficulties (including imprisonment and sequestration of their wealth) that befell many Royalists who remained in England. On the Restoration of the monarchy he was elected to Parliament.

OXNEAD HALL as it was

During the reign of Charles II Robert Paston (1631-1683) was created Earl of Yarmouth. The oil painting ‘The Paston Treasures’ (now held at the Castle Museum in Norwich) shows the objets d’art collected by Robert Paston during his travels in France and elsewhere. They were held at Oxnead Hall.

Under James II Robert’s son William converted to Catholicism and was created Treasurer of the Household. However, despite returning to the Anglican fold after the Revolution that deposed James II, he fell on hard times under William and Mary. He died heavily indebted and without living heirs in 1732 and the title became extinct.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK

joemasonspage@gmail.com

1973

BAWDESWELL CHURCH, bypassed in 1973

I was 24 in 1973 and that makes it feel very long ago; it was a long time ago, and it represents a different world in many ways.

One thing that hasn’t changed that much though is going up to the capital by train. By 1973 diesel locomotives had hauled the trains for ten years, and it would be another decade before electrification came to the East Anglian mainline. At the beginning of February 1973 I went to London with my father. We were after some special fasteners for an engineering project we were engaged in. After a search we successfully accomplished that in Clerkenwell. Next we went to South Kensington to visit the Science Museum. There we had lunch and looked round the aviation and nautical exhibits. One thing that caught my eye was the original boat that won the first boat race for Oxford in 1829. We got the 4:30 train back to Norwich and were home by early evening. Our young dog Fido was pleased to see us.

This was the year that the village of Attlebridge on the A 1067 road from Norwich was bypassed. I drove along the new road for the first time on March 15th. Until then all the traffic to Fakenham had to cross the narrow medieval bridge across the river Wensum. Bawdeswell too was bypassed at the same time; there has been little improvement to the road since, although the amount of traffic has grown enormously. In spite of the economic woes of the period (some of which I will detail below) the 1970s were a good time for such minor road improvements in East Anglia; a decade later we had major road building projects like the Norwich Southern Bypass (but we are still waiting for the Acle straight to be widened).

Our brown Daf 44 -“Tabby”.

The family car at the time was a brown Daf 44. From the family point of view the major drawback was the fact that it only had two doors. This was alright if only two people were in the car, but this was not ideal if there were more. Daf cars were Dutch and they were all automatic. The gear lever was simple; there were just three position; forward, reverse and neutral in the middle. There was of course no clutch.  The Variomatic transmission was by two rubber belts, a system unique to Daf cars although they were later bought up by Volvo who produced the 340 series with the same system.

The Daf  44 was fussy at lower speeds and did not really settle down until she was doing 70 mph. Luckily there was little traffic on the roads by modern standards and fewer speed limits, so this speed was frequently achievable. For the first part of the year it was perfectly legal to drive at 70 mph, but the Oil Crisis that began in October caused the government to reduce the national speed limit to 50 mph in December. (In those pre-speed camera days this limit was honoured more in the breach than the observance.) I have hinted at the political and economic troubles we were experiencing at the time; besides the oil crisis we also had in December the Three Day Week. This was introduced because the coal miners were out on strike. Things continued to be difficult throughout the 1970s, culminating in 1978/9 with the Winter of Discontent. This, for those of you too young to remember, was the time when dead bodies went unburied and rubbish piled upon the streets because of industrial unrest.

The Winter of Discontent and the Three Day Week must have made a deep impression on Mrs Thatcher; she was Education Secretary in 1973 and Leader of the Opposition by 1979. To reduce the importance of the coal industry to national life became one of her principal policies once she was in power. Now we distrust coal because it is a dirty fuel, but this had no place in the decision to close down the industry; it was a political matter, the origins of which lay in the strikes of 1973. There is still a huge amount of coal left in under much of Britain, but the future appears to be in renewable energy sources. Shutting down the mines proved to be the way things were going, although many of the redundant miners never worked again. The discovery of gas in the North Sea enabled the country to change the kind of fuel we used. Great Yarmouth power station had been coal-fired; now a gas fuelled one has taken its place. Houses were generally cold and drafty forty years ago, with no doubling glazing or insulation, so we huddled round the fire. In those years we still relied on coal to keep us warm through the chilly months, but I do not recall any problems for us in that regard. Our coal bunkers must have been filled for the winter well before the miners went on strike but this was  not the case for the country at large in 1973. Mrs Thatcher made sure she had huge stocks of coal before picking her fight with the miners.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

joemasonspage@gmail.com

WILLIAM and HENRY RIVETT

My great-great-great-grandfather William Rivett was born in a central Norfolk village in 1776. Shipdham is a large village, about half way between Dereham and Watton; and in the mid C9th it had nearly 2000 inhabitants. The Rivetts were a family of local builders; William was the carpenter and his brother John the bricklayer. William’s eldest sister Susan also married into a building family. The village could support quite a few builders and even a building surveyor. William Rivett appears in the 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Norfolk as carpenter and builder in Shipdham. Aged about 70 William retired to the nearby village of Southburgh to deal in pigs. The building business in Shipdham had already been passed on to his son Thomas while William was still living there. Two of his sons were already living in Southburgh, which may have prompted the move by their father. His son Edward was a country wheelwright in Southburgh employing 2 men and his younger brother Francis was apprenticed to the trade. They were a  family of successful tradesmen. Other members of his family became the grocer and the post master in Soutburgh (then a more flourishing village than it has since become). Edward’s descendants continued to work as wheelwrights in Southburgh, while Francis set up business in the trade in Shipdham. He retired to Swaffham where he was living in retirement in 1912.

From as early as 1749 there had been a charity school in Shipdham, which taught about a hundred poor children and they had to pay no fees.  They got their basic education gratis. In visual terms  the village still appears much as it must have done in the 18th century, with the church dominating the High Street. The market which had been established by the Bishop of Ely in Henry III’s reign had been obsolete for centuries, though the name Market Street still remains. By the mid 19th century it had three Non-conformist chapels including both Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist. It had a wide range of shops and tradesmen, butchers, grocers and ironmongers.

Hilda Rivett on Grandma’s knee, late C19th

William’s son Henry followed his father into the building trade, but by 1870 he had branched out into farming. He had 12 acres, and produced bullocks for the farmers around Shipdham. His farm was in Blackmoor Row in Shipdham, and this had been passed down to him through his aunt Jane Stagg (nee Rivett). She had married a farmer in Blackmoor Row. When her husband James died at the young age of 49 in 1824 his widow Jane had continued to farm in Blackmoor Row in her own right until her death in 1852. Although she had several sons there were no grandchildren to inherit the farm; James Stagg, the son who had inherited the farm married late in life and had no children of his own; one of his brothers emigrated to the USA and one had died as a young man. When James died my great-grandfather Henry became a farmer, and so started a dynasty of Rivett farmers in Norfolk that survives to this day. His son (also called Henry) was a farmer near Mileham in Norfolk; he was my great-grandfather. Several of the next generation were also farmers, but my branch of the family were drapers.

My Great Aunt Hilda (who married farmer Ralph Wace) appears in this photo. She is the baby on her grannie’s knee; she was a great granddaughter of William Rivett with whom I began this story. By the time this photograph was taken this branch of the family had moved a few miles away to Beeston.

I posted the above information on the Shipdham History Group’s Facebook page and got this interesting comment: Thank you so much for all this information. I have a photo of one of the Rivett men in fancy dress in Southburgh in early C20 and will have to look it up. There is a corner in Southburgh still known as Rivett’s corner so we know where they lived there. I believe that it is Edward Rivett who is perhaps remembered best in Southburgh. Will see what else I can find out about the family, particularly the Rivett who married a Stagg and lived in Blackmoor Row. Thanks again – BB

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

SOME NORFOLK CHURCHES AND CHAPELS

MORTON CHURCH before the tower fell IN 1959.

MORTON-on-the-Hill is a small village near Ringland. This view of the CHURCH was taken before the tower fell in 1959. After nearly twenty years of dereliction, the remains of the nave and the chancel were restored. It is now a private chapel at which public services are occasionally held.

St Edmund's Chapel,Lyng Eastaugh.

St Edmund’s Chapel, Lyng Eastaugh. It has been abandoned for over 500 years, but was once a popular place where St Edmund was invoked to heal the sick and injured. Many miracles are recorded as happening there.

The Slipper Chapel in WALSINGHAM

The Slipper Chapel in Houghton St Giles next to WALSINGHAM. Walsingham was visited by King Henry VIII on a pilgrimage to give thanks for the birth of his eldest daughter Mary; but when he later fell out with the Pope he confiscated all the monastic lands and sold them. The Slipper Chapel lay abandoned as a farmer’s barn until 1934, when it became the National Shrine of Our Lady for the Roman Catholic Church. This view was taken in the 1930s, before the surrounding buildings associated with the shrine were erected fifty years later.

St Peter's church, Spixworth

St Peter’s church, Spixworth. This was associated with the Longe family for centuries. They were baptised, married and buried here, and several relatives were Rectors of the church. Before the Longes the Peck family were Lords of the Manor, and an impressive monument to James Peck  may be seen inside the nave.

SPARHAM CHURCH

SPARHAM CHURCH. This large church stands in the centre of the village of Sparham. A small but vigorous community keep the  church alive, and the ringers sound the church bells yearly on New Year’s Eve. The church retains a full length picture of St Walstan, once part of the medieval rood screen. Walstan was the local patron saint of farm workers; he died in 1016. His shrine at Bawburgh is once again the site of an annual pilgrimage in May.

 

St MARY'S CHURCH, Kirby Bedon

St MARY’S CHURCH, Kirby Bedon. This ruined Saxon church stands just across the road from that of St Andrew, which is still in use. St Mary’s church survived the Reformation, but was abandoned in the 17th century.  Kirby means ‘the settlement round the church’, and the Danish name dates back to the ninth or tenth century. It obviously had a church back then.

North Runcton Church.

All Saints’ Church, North Runcton. It is unusual for Norfolk in being of an early 18th century date. This elegant classical style church was built in 1713, the previous church having been destroyed when the tower fell twelve years before. It was designed by the architect Henry Bell, whose most famous building is the Custom House in Kings Lynn. Bell was Lord of the Manor of North Runcton.

East end of SWANNINGTON church.

East end of the church of St Margaret, SWANNINGTON. In the 17th century the Rector was an acquaintance of George Herbert, and when the poet died it was he who rescued his manuscripts and delivered them to the Cambridge University Press for publication. His spiritual verse has been popular ever since.

TAVERHAM CHURCH

ST EDMUND’S CHURCH, TAVERHAM. In its earliest remaining parts (illustrate here) this old church dates from the mid eleventh century. Taverham has an interesting past, and the nearby paper-mill  (now demolished) produced much of the paper used for printing the Times in the 19th century. Many paper makers are buried in the churchyard.

Glandford church and ford

Glandford church and the ford. This church appears at first glance to be of medieval date, but was in fact built in the first years of the 20th century. It was erected by the last squire of Glandford in memory of his mother. It was rebuilt on the site of the ruined medieval church of St Martin, which had not been used since the Reformation.

Cley church,

Adjacent to the village of Glandford is Cley-next-the-Sea, and the church is dedicated to St Margret of Antioch. It is a large church that reflects the fact that Cley used to be a major port on the North Norfolk coast. In the middle ages the church used to be even bigger than it is today, with north and south transepts. In an area of more modest church building than Norfolk it could almost be seen as a cathedral.

ST EDMUND'S COSTESSEY

ST EDMUND’S CHURCH COSTESSEY. This church has the distinction in that two people whose lives are recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography are buried here. They were pioneers in their respective fields of music journalism and literary editing. No only that, they were contemporaries; R. M Bacon and his friend Simon Wilkin; the latter’s tomb is to be seen south of the tower. It is surmounted by an urn and surrounded by iron railings (these succumbed to the scrap drive of the Second World War).

The Civic Coach outside St Peter Mancroft.

The City Coach outside St Peter Mancroft in 1951. This church, together with City Hall, dominates the Market Place of the city. It vyes with the cathedral as the centre of Civic worship. The Library, Guildhall, Assembly House and the principal shopping street all crowd into the shadow of St Peter Mancroft. The word Mancroft cones from the Latin Magna Croft – a large open space (i.e. the market).

The Octagon Chapel in Colegate.

The Octagon Chapel in Colegate, NORWICH. This was built for the non-Conformist community of the city and remains the centre of Unitarianism. It is popular for concerts. It was built by the local architect Thomas Ivory in the middle years of the 18th century.

CAISTOR CHURCH

CAISTOR CHURCH, dedicated to St Edmund, and built within the walls of Caistor Camp, the Roman regional capital Venta Icenorum. In Caistor the priest Richard of Caistor was born in the 14th century. He was a prominent spiritual mentor from his establishment at St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, and he too has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

 

MODEL OF WORSTED CHURCH

MODEL OF WORSTEAD CHURCH; the background is not an authentic Norfolk countryside scene; the church is in fact several miles  from the sea. The model was made by me over forty years ago.  This is a ‘Wool Church’ without a doubt, and Worsted is still the name given to a type of cloth.

Hellesdon Village sign showing St Edmund's body and the wolf.

Hellesdon Village sign showing the church. It is dedicated St Mary. Tradition has it that St Edmund was martyred in the parish over a thousand years ago, and the sign illustrates his dead body.  It was found by a friendly wolf, according to the legend.

Drayton church before rebuilding. Encraved by Robert Ladbrooke.

Drayton church before rebuilding in the middle 19th century. The engraving is by local artist Robert Ladbrooke. 

DRAYTON church in the late 19th century, after rebuilding.

DRAYTON church in the late 19th century, after rebuilding. It still looks very similar today.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA