Tag Archives: OXBRIDGE

1968

I was a student in ’68; it was my first term at university and I was inevitably drawn into the protests that erupted across the West during that year. In the circumstances the international disquiet that was seen in many places in Europe and the US inevitably had its effect in the UK. It was inconvenient therefore that we, in this country, had little to protest about. Unlike the Americans, who definitely had something to complain about, we were not involved in the Vietnam war (thanks to Harold Wilson). We hadn’t been tearing up the cobble stones like the students in Paris either. Naturally, as this was France, sexual politics played a large part in these riots in the Latin Quarter, but in England this was not an issue. There were no widespread working class strikes in Britain to show that these protests involved anything other than the gilded youth of the upper middle classes having a bit of fun before taking up well paid jobs in medicine or the law. We were the baby boomers, those with less to protest about than any other generation before or since, but that did not stop us.

This was at Oxford by the way, and by the time that the events of May in Paris had sunk in it was the long vacation, so it was October before the undergraduates reassembled to consider their response. As there was nothing obvious to protest about we had to invent something. The student leadership came up with the demand that the University should no longer keep files on the students. I was dimly aware that some records were kept on us, but on sober reflection I now realise that they probably only included things like our Health Service and National Insurance numbers. I very much doubt that they held anything substantial about our opinions, which is what exercised the student body; there is little of substance to be known about the thoughts of teenagers after all. Nevertheless, I joined in the protests. I can remember standing in the square beyond the Bodleian, voicing our ridiculous demands. Some of us even occupied the main reception area of the Clarendon building. We probably screamed some meaningless slogans. In the supine way that the University Authorities have usually caved in to the junior members ever since, they did their best to accommodate us. With the recent case of the Rhodes statue they were about to defer to the activists yet again (and rewrite history in the process), but the matter was taken out of their hands by the alumni’s threats of withdrawing funding. Money talks louder than the most vocal student.

In 1968 they did what they could to placate the radicals but this is now totally opaque to me. I wish  that I had done something else – anything else – with my time; it would have been so much more productive. Still, for the most part, I got on with my studies and the ordinary activities of daily life. Let me give you a taster of what this entailed. I went down to breakfast while my scout made my bed (honestly), perhaps I attended a lecture, had too much to eat for lunch at the Chinese restaurant in Ship Street, wandered down to the Radcliffe Camera to snooze it off (in theory to browse the history books) and then had a pint or two at the Welsh Pony in George Street. I had dinner in Hall before an evening with Elizabeth Jennings at the Poetry Society. Back in my room I made a cup of coffee on the gas ring before retiring to bed.

As for the financial side of things, don’t forget all this was free; the university fees were paid for us without our being concerned about where the money came from, and even the beer and chop suey were purchased out of our generous maintenance grants. Students today cannot believe what a pampered lot we were. As the autumn turned into to winter it got too cold to go on demonstrations. We returned to our incredibly cosseted lives. We took prelims (the only exams we did in the whole three years before finals) and then went home in early December to prepare for Christmas. Downtrodden? No wonder we protested.

Joe Mason and Bill Wragge, Rimini 1968.

Fortunately it did not take me long to realise how foolish it all was. It was another demo, one involving Enoch Powell, that persuaded me that such direct action was pointless when it was not positively counter productive. Some of my contemporaries (like Peter Hitchens) took far longer to abandon their Trotskyist past, and a few have never done so. While I was not at Oxford I continued with my life’s routines of ordinary affairs, only they weren’t really ordinary at all. I spent the spring on the island of Guernsey (where my sister was working) and then went to Italy for a holiday with my friend Bill. There we  spent a morning going round the railway depot at Rimini (it was still full of steam engines); nobody seemed to mind. It was quite unlike a railway works in Britain – there were geraniums growing between the tracks! In Venice we enjoyed a trip down the Grand Canal in a gondola. Back in England I paddled my canoe on the sea off Lowestoft with my Dad, while catching dabs and plaice. These events were in every way far more real and rewarding than the all the intellectual nonsense of meaningless protests. However I must admit that the graffiti was witty; the walls of the colleges were still black with the grime of centuries of coal smoke (cleaning got underway in the 70s), and were perfect for chalking up cheeky messages . Yes, that was the best part of 1968 as far as Oxford was concerned: the rude epithets.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR HISTORY

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The YOUNG FARMERS CLUB (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 46)

Farming must be in my blood; my great-grandfather was a farmer in Mid-Norfolk. Of course that is non-sense; farming can no more be in my blood than looking after cart horses, catching rabbits or baking bread – the occupations of my other great-grandfathers. Nevertheless, during my schooldays, I was a member of the Young Farmers Club. You might have expected me to have had more academic interests, but at that period it was still possible to study Agriculture at Oxford University; not that I ever contemplated doing so, but my contemporary at school Paul Howell did just that, at St Edmund’s Hall. Unfortunately this route to academic success is no longer available; he later became an MEP, and the European Parliament itself will soon not be a way to political prominence either. Paul was undoubtedly a fellow member of the Young Farmers, but his presence at their meetings has completely escaped my memory.

I attended several trips with the Young Farmers. The first was a visit to the Westwick Fruit Farm. Westwick is a small village on the North Walsham Road. It is notable for the two lodges which stand on either side of the main road. They were erected in the early 19th century to provide an impressive Gothick approach to Westwick Hall. In the 1960s the arch between the two lodges still remained. The wooden arch was due to be upgraded to listed building status in 1981, but in the course of repairs it collapsed. At the farm I can remember the boxes of fruit; they were blackcurrants, and at the time I went it was the height of the blackcurrant season. The Fruit Farm is still there, and it is also a general arable farm. I can recall nothing of what I learnt on my visit, but I must have learnt something because I remember going home and telling my father about it.

The Ferguson, a popular tractor in the 1950s.

Another outing was to the Royal Norfolk Show. We youngsters were particularly interested in the tractors and other farm vehicles on display. There were plenty of animals too of course, but what I was most attracted by were the Ford minibuses, trucks and vans. This was on the 30th June 1966, and the Ford Transit had been introduced in the previous October, so it was virtually brand new. Many years later I found myself driving a Mk I Transit minibus round the streets of Wymondham. Although it was old by then, it was easy enough to drive.

Browsing the catalogue for the 1966 Show it is evident how many old names that we once thought were there for good have now long gone: for example Fisons Chemicals. They were there to provide fertiliser for you crops, and to destroy the pests and diseases that attacked them. Based in Ipswich, it was one of the top hundred companies on the London Stock Exchange, but succumbed to financial dealings and was taken over in 1995.  David Brown, the firm behind Aston Martin cars, also made a range of tractors, though these have long since disappeared. Even the old Colman firm, where all the mustard seed (as well as the mint) needed for its products was grown locally, will soon have severed all its connections with Norwich. I wish the Co-operative, which intends to launch Norwich Mustard on Norfolk Day this year, all the best; it deserves to do well.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

The NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY

When I was a lad we always had two papers brought to the front door every morning.

The Times, late 19th century

The Times, 1899; it looked very similar in the 1950s

My mother read The Eastern Daily Press for local news and my father took The Times for national events. He also read the EDP, but my mother never did reverse and read The Times. Her religious principles discouraged her from reading the worldly daily papers, but she could not resist a peep into the EDP. My father enjoyed the columnists in the EDP too – especially Jonathan Mardle, Adrian Bell and EAE (Ted Ellis).

When he thought I was old enough to begin reading a paper he took out a subscription to the Manchester Guardian (as the Guardian was then called). I was about eight years old and of course it was far too grown up for me. I was more interested in the Beano and Dandy; these comics didn’t come within my father’s cognisance, and I had to purchase them surreptitiously in collusion with my older sister Tiggie. I could get quite involved in the Eagle however, which comic was more to my father’s taste and which he purchased for me every week.

Newspapers were improving by leaps and bounds on a technical level in the 1950s. In particular the quality of the press photographs was very good. This was partly from an artistic point of view, and partly because cameras were becoming more compact. They were therefore easier introduce into everyday life. The images themselves were no longer the smudgy products of the pre-war years, as printing machinery and paper-making were upgraded. The quality of press photographs nose-dived when colour was first introduced in the late 1980s. The contrast, colour balance and general appearance of coloured newspaper photographs were awful. Things have improved enormously since then, but the whole newspaper industry has been eclipsed by the growth of the internet. The high point of press photography was the 1960s. Now it all too automated for much individuality in the photographer’s work, with digital cameras that can fire off a continuous flow of images; the nuances of focusing, setting the aperture and controlling the exposure have all been lost. These were not merely technical requirements; the intelligent use of these now redundant features influenced the appearance of the photograph. Even the different speeds of  black and white film affected the end result. So it has not always been a story of uninterrupted progress, and perhaps the golden age of illustrated journalism preceded the advent of photojournalism itself. In the mid nineteenth century The Illustrated London News burst on the scene and opened the eyes of the nation to its beauties and interest; all the pictures had to be engraved and it set an extremely high standard from the very first issue.

In contrast the appearance of The Times remained as it had been at its beginning in the eighteenth century. Even in the 1950s, when I first remember the journal, the front page was the agony column, covered with rows  of personal adverts. It had photographs by then naturally, but these appeared on the inside pages. The crossword on the back page had been started by the journalist Adrian Bell (q.v. above) in 1930 and he was still responsible for many of these when we began to struggle with the cryptic clues during the 1960s. It was seldom that we completed the puzzle, and when we (i.e. my father, sister Tig and I) did it was a red-letter day.

Under pressure from me my father had by 1970 transferred our daily reading to the Telegraph. The Telegraph has always been a Tory newspaper, and although I wasn’t politically conservative myself in those days, the standard of journalism in the paper was so good that I just had to read it. Peter Simple was the best columnist, but they were all exceptionally talented. The Telegraph is now a third-rate journal that I have very little time for.

We were fortunate at both school and university in having all the daily papers laid out for us in the common room. While I was at senior school these did not include the brash tabloids, although bizarrely for the eight year olds in the junior school they did (in this respect we had a very liberal housemaster). The tabloids included the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch. The Sun had not then risen in the journalistic firmament, and when it did it was as Liberal and rather dull newspaper of a format larger than tabloid. It was introduced in 1964 as a replacement for the failing Daily Herald. The Sunday papers included the Sunday Pictorial and the Sunday Mirror, and the News of the World. In the 1960s this paper was still a broadsheet and not a tabloid in format, although it was always this type of journal in content, and remained so until the end. I remember being enthralled reading the stories they printed about Zoe Progl, the ‘Queen of the Underworld’.

I have mentioned that I was not interested in the intellectual content of the Guardian when I was introduced to it as a boy, and nor was I interested in the intellectual content of newspapers in general (articles about Zoe Progl didn’t count as intellectual), but as far as graphic design went it was quite a different matter. Well before I was ten years old I was producing a paper of my own called the Mouse Times. With pencil and paper I laid out the masthead, adverts and headlines that recorded my imaginary adventures as Master Mouse, and those of my mortal enemy the Rat.  My sister Christine joined in the fun with two other mice called Ferocious and Atrocious who she made up stories about. As far as the paper was concerned I was perhaps even more engaged by designing the adverts, and in making up suitable slogans. One that I remember was ‘Soap makes Big Bubbles’. I think that sometime during my adolescence I may have lost some of my early sparkle. Journalism had obviously made some impression on me, and eventually I was to write a daily column in our local paper, but it was nothing like the fun I had enjoyed as editor of the Mouse Times.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE PRESS

THE FALKLANDS WAR

APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982

This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.

We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:

We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.

With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing  against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.

On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been  feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.

On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.

The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.

Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet,  without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt.  It was of course a Tory landslide.

The liner Uganda was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a school cruise ship in September. After just two months she was chartered as a supply ship for the Falkland Islands. When her charter ran out she was taken to Taiwan for breaking up. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire in the summer of 1982) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship. The book was published  twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.

It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read  of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE 1980s

WHO ARE THE EXPERTS?

Expertise is an essential ingredient of successful industry, and indeed of life itself. Who would want a house built by amateur bricklayers and clueless electricians? It wouldn’t just be uncomfortable, it would be positively dangerous. If everybody accepts these experts in manual employment, what is the problem with  experts in more intellectual positions?

There clearly is a problem, and to see where it lies one only has to look at the dire warnings from almost all experts of the immediate consequences of a vote to leave the European Union last year. Compare these predictions with the actual result, the pretty even tenor of the economy since June 23rd. Incidentally, it is no good saying that the economy was only saved by the prompt action of the Bank of England in taking emergency measures; the experts should surely have included factors like this before making their predictions.

They clearly got it wrong, but this does not mean that those like the Governor of the Bank of England are not experts. I say this not only because Mark Carney is a member of my old college (and therefore highly intelligent?). If I were by some impossible circumstances responsible for managing a minor branch of a provincial bank I would cause mayhem by my complete lack of expertise in financial affairs. Unlike me, Mark Carney (the Governor) is an expert at managing money, but he is certainly not an expert at predicting the future. Who is? We no longer believe in the prophetic ability of seers and soothsayers, so it is rather perverse to believe in economists’ ability to foresee events.

To take another example; which economists predicted the financial crisis of 2008? They may have produced interesting theories to explain it in retrospect, and that is where their expertise lies. The trouble is that they think they can project their theories into the future. However accurate these theories appear to be, the nature of the subject changes over time. Unlike an expert chemist, who can with absolute certainty make a prediction that a given reaction will produce a given result, this is not true of economists, however much they would like this to be so. In the social sciences like economics this kind of certainty is impossible. People are not chemicals, and will always change in all sorts of unexpected directions.

The problem is the experts’ hubris. They like to think they can do what they can never do, and when they fail they bring experts in general into disrepute. We, the public, are almost as much to blame as the experts; if they had been right about Vote Leave (and they could have been) we would look concerned and say that we should have listened to the experts; but what I have said about predicting the future would still have been true.

There is far too much futurology about today. The newspapers, instead of reporting things which happened yesterday, are full of speculation about what is going to happen tomorrow. When (or sometimes if) the event does happen, these predictions are often hugely wide of the mark. The journalists never learn from their mistakes; they have already moved on the next future event. It would be much more sensible to give due consideration to events that have already occurred.

It is important to recognise what experts can and cannot do. I will leave the expert painter and carpenter to one side for now, and concentrate on the academic expert. Experts are not always right, even when considering the past let alone the future. They may claim a superior understanding over that of  non-experts, but they should not assert omniscience. They should above all not claim to be able to predict the course of the future. Some events may be easier to foresee than others, but with anything that is not immutably fixed luck rather than judgement determines the outcome.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

RUTH HARDY (née PEACHEY)

My Great Aunt Ruth was born in 1890, to a warrener whose job it was to harvest the rabbits on Jeremiah James Colman’s estate. It was a very ordinary job in which Phipp Peachey, my great-grandfather, disgraced himself by selling rabbits under the counter to the local butcher. This was a serious thing to have done, but he kept his job; however he was no longer allowed to wear the Colman livery. This was apparently a great ignominy for him.

Ruth Hardy

Ruth Hardy

Ruth Peachey was educated at the local village school in Trowse. When she had finished her schooling she was retained as a pupil teacher, which was still how new teachers were trained in the early years of the twentieth century. This was quite a step up for a warreners daughter, but she was not the first of her family to go down this route. Her eldest sister Thurza had already qualified as a teacher. Another Trowse born youngster was called Bertie Hardy, the son of a bricklayer. Three years older than Ruth, he had already qualified as a teacher.

Bertie and Ruth were married in 1912. When the First World War broke out Bertie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private. He went on to become a sergeant. I do not know how good he was at the language when he arrived in France, but he obviously took full advantage of living among foreigners to improve his linguistic skill. After returning from the front he secured a job teaching French at the City of Norwich School. This was established in 1910 by Norwich City Council as a boys’ secondary school, to be built at Eaton on the edge of town. The most intelligent boys from the City’s Primary Schools were awarded scholarships, to be educated until the age of sixteen. The CNS, together with the Blyth School for girls, were in fact Grammar Schools, although most such schools were set up following the 1944 Education Act.

 Mrs Ruth Elsie Hardy in the Mayoral Robes.

Ruth Elsie Hardy as Lord Mayor.

Ruth was very interested in politics and was a member of the Independent Labour Party. She was proud to call herself a Socialist, and once she was elected to the council she rose rapidly through the ranks. During the Second World War she established MAGNA (Mutual Aid Good Neighbour Association), a voluntary group that supported the vulnerable. In 1950 she was appointed Lord Mayor. For her inauguration she revived the Civic Coach, pulled by two dray horses from Steward and Paterson’s brewery. The coach had been in storage since before the war.

As her Lady Mayoress Ruth had her daughter Marion. How Ruth’s husband would have been described had he wished to fill the position I do not know; her predecessors as female Mayors were spinsters, so the problem had not arisen. As it was Bertie was more than happy to remain in the background. An only child, Marion was a graduate of Oxford University. Like her father she had studied French.  All this was a long way from laying bricks and catching rabbits in the Norfolk countryside.

Aunt Ruth retained a great interest in politics, and she lived into the era of Margaret Thatcher. In spite of their very different political backgrounds, she was enchanted by the prospect of a female politician rising to the very highest power in the land. ‘Mark my words,’ she predicted, ‘she will be a great prime minister’.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

BUS TRAVEL

The red “Rumble-Thump” – my father’s name for the bus, from its diesel engine.

A 1950s double-decker

I did most of my travelling by bus when I was really young; from the age of five until I was ten I went to school eleven miles away every day. It is true that often I was taken there in the morning by my father in his car before he went to work, but I came home by bus. Sometimes my mother came to travel home with me (especially when I was five), but mostly I travelled alone (with some school friends). I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a six-year-old being expected to make his way home alone by bus today. Even an eight-year-old would be shepherded home by his mother, even if it was only a street or two away. Yet we saw nothing unusual about this unaccompanied travel in 1955; youngsters were not regarded as being in constant danger from ill-intentioned adults or natural disasters. How things have completely changed in couple of generations, and not wholly for the better. From the age of ten I was at boarding school, so the business of getting to school did not apply; I was already at school when I woke up in the morning.

My next experience of using the bus was as a student at university. In less than a decade the nature of bus travel had changed completely to more or less its modern version. The old kind of buses, as shown the illusration above, had gone; no longer were there bus conductors – only in London, where the Routemaster held sway for decades, were they still employed. Everywhere else, by the end of the 1960s, the front entry  bus allowed the driver to take your fare, so there was no need for a conductor. Also, the entrance was now controlled by a door, which went some way to making winter journeys a warmer experience. On the other hand the corresponding lack of fresh air made coughs and sneezes (those other features of winter journeys ) more infectious.

Apart from these two periods of my life I have done most of my travelling by other means. Once I could ride one, a bicycle was my main means of transport when I was a teenager. After that I was a car driver – railway travel hardly featured; it was not that I did not like trains, but by then they did not go where I was going. All the branch lines that I would have used had closed.

Bus tickets are not cheap, and I feel sorry for those young people (who on account of their youth do not qualify for the minimum wage) who have to spend so much of their meagre pay on the daily commute to work. With the free bus pass it is another matter; it opens up the world to the nation’s old folk. They have to make their way to the bus stop it is true, and they have wait for the bus, but then they can relax. There is no hurry to get to work for the retired, and nothing to pay.  Free bus passes are in fact nothing of the sort; it is just that the ticket is paid for by the local authority rather than by the traveller. It is the bus companies who really benefit; instead of running buses throughout the day nearly empty, they are now filled with pensioners using their bus passes. It was a brilliant idea by somebody, a way of getting something in return for subsiding the bus companies. Few people appreciate that it is these commercial concerns who get the money, not the pensioners. They merely take advantage of off-peak transport. Politicians, who ought to know better, purse their lips at all the wealthy pensioners who are swanning about at other people’s expense. Would they prefer that these bus routes were simply scrapped, or that the subsidies were paid directly to the bus companies with no pensioners benefiting? For they are the only two other alternatives for uneconomic bus routes.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

THE HISTORY OF TAVERHAM, NORFOLK

THE SQUIRES OF TAVERHAM, 1623-1920

Shernborne village sign

Shernborne village sign

I must warn you that there are many convoluted personal relationships in the following article. Do not worry if you are sometimes a little confused about the various people and their family connections involved. Perplexed?  – you are not alone! I hope the eventual picture that emerges is worth it.

The land in Taverham had belonged to the church before the Reformation, partly to the Priory of St Faith in Horsham and part to the Priory of the Holy Cross in Norwich. It was transferred to the Crown under Henry VIII, and in 1563 a 99 year lease was granted to Henry Richers, Lord of the Manor of Swannington, a couple of miles away from Taverham.  The remainder of the lease was granted to Augustine Sotherton in 1623, and he or his descendants converted this to a more secure form of tenure known as copyhold. Copyhold was finally abolished in favour of freehold in 1922. The process of securing land rights has been going on for hundreds of years, and has largely been responsible for creating the legal profession in England.

Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597; some sources place his birth three years earlier. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk.  By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were heavily involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff of Norfolk and as an MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. Upon his death early in the 17th century hi father left £6000 to his son Austin (Augustine). This was a huge sum, equivalent to many millions in today’s money.

The year 1623 was an eventful one for Augustine Sotherton; on May 15th he had married the heiress to the Shernborne family fortunes. She was a young lady called Mary. The wedding took place in St Sepulchre’s church in London, where she had been living since being orphaned twelve years before. The Shernbornes or Sharnbornes could trace their pedigree back to the reign of Edward II and, although not aristocrats, they were truly one of the oldest and most respected families in Norfolk. Aa an only child Mary was the last of the line. Shernborne, which gives the family its name and where they had lived for most of their long history, is a village between Sandringham and Snettisham, just to the east of Ingoldisthorpe. Not only getting married in 1623, Augustine acquired a landed estate in the same year, and on August 8th he was knighted. Perhaps these events are all related; already a rich man, the sudden increase in wealth following his marriage enabled the purchase of the Taverham estate, and maybe the grant of a knighthood was partly in recognition of his wife’s distinguished heritage. Certainly he left the grocery trade behind; from now on this branch of the family would be Country Gentlemen.

We can gather a little more about Mary Shernborne from the marriage register: “15 May 1623. Augustine Sotherton, Esq., Bachelor, 26, his parents dead, & Mary Sherborne, of St Sepulchre’s, London, Spinster, 20, dau. of Francis Sherborne, Esq., decd about 12 years since, since when she hath been trained up & remained with Mrs Mary Colt, Widow, of Colts Hall in Suffolk, her grandmother, who consents, as well as Edward Elrington, Esq., of St Sepulchre’s, in whose custody she now is; at St Bennet’s or St Peter’s, Paul’s Wharf, London.” [She signs the document “Mary Sharnbourn” in a firm hand.] In the Vicar-General’s Book her father is called Francis “of Sherborne, co. Suffolk.” The record is wrong in respect of the county, as Shernborne (or “Sharnbourne”) is in fact in Norfolk, as is her grandmother’s birthplace, Colts Hall.  This is a few miles away in the village of Shouldham. Mary’s paternal grandmother remarried after Mary’s grandfather’s death, to a John Stubbs. He had his right hand cut off for writing a pamphlet criticising Queen Elizabeth’s romantic attachment to the Catholic Duke of Anjou.

Augustine Sotherton had at least two children; Thomas, born sometime after 1625, and Mary, born in 1628. She was baptised at Drayton rather than at Taverham, and as there was probably as yet no Hall in Taveram they mat well have been living in Drayton. Augustine died in 1649, and his son and heir Thomas was, in 1669, married to Elizabeth Barwick, daughter of  a Norwich attorney. According to the Archdeacon’s transcripts from the Taverham parish register (the original now lost) the next Sotherton was another Thomas, born in 1677. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Barwick). This Thomas was married to Elizabeth Branthwait, who was the granddaughter of Francis Bacon, the eminent judge who is buried in a magnificent tomb in St Gregory’s church in Norwich. You may read more of Francis Bacon in my account of the Longe family, to whom he was also related. Elizabeth Branthwait came from a family of family of lawyers who had bought Hethel Hall in the 17th century.

Taverham paper mill 1839

Taverham paper mill 1839

It was in 1701, during the marriage of Thomas Sotherton and Elizabeth Barwick, that the watermill on the river Wensum at Taverham was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) to a paper mill. Thomas must have had prominent businessman friends in Norwich who persuaded him to promote the printing industry locally. This mill was described as ‘producing paper suitable for printing’ when it opened, but as there were no printers working in Norwich in 1700, the city fathers were obviously keen attract some. This they soon achieved, and by 1710 there were several, all using Taverham paper. This proliferation of printers in the city led to the production of the Norwich Post, the first provincial newspaper in England, and this was followed by several other weekly journals.

The last of the Taverham Sothertons, yet another Thomas, was born in 1707 and died in 1778. It was during his lifetime that the Georgian mansion (which survived until 1858) was built. His only child Mary (1732- 1803) married a second cousin named Miles Branthwait  (1728 – 1780) in 1753.

Miles Branthwait had been born at Kettlestone near Fakenham where his father was Rector. Before going up to Cambridge to read law the Rector’s son attended Gresham’s school in Holt. In fact in the eighteenth century the school was not called Gresham’s, but Holt Free Grammar School. He lived most of his married life at a rented property near Melton Constable, Gunthorpe Hall. The current Gunthorpe Hall was built after his time. He only lived in Taverham for two years before he suddenly died, probably of a heart attack. He was a JP, and from what we know of him, he was a rather bristly character; he told James Woodforde not to fish in his river, which went down rather badly with the Parson.

He was succeeded by his son Miles Sotherton Branthwait (born 1756), one of whose first actions was to commission the architect John Soane to design an elegant dining room for the hall. This squire in turn died (without issue) in 1807, aged 51. He had been a keen huntsman until failing health forced him to sell his hounds. Miles Sotherton Branthwait had taken the running of the paper mill into his own hands in the 1780s, employing the former proprietor of the business as his employee manager. He equipped the mill with brand new vats and formes. Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken by the editor of one of the local newspapers, the Norwich Mercury. He was a new broom in the paper trade and he swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper. Instead of these old-fashioned tools, in 1809 he installed a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier. Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and the mill was declared bankrupt in 1816.

Nathaniel Mickletwait 1784-1856

Nathaniel Micklethwait        1784-1856

Im 1807 Miles Sotherton Branthwait was succeeded  by his nephew Nathaniel Micklethwait (1784 – 1856). On 22 Sept 1784 Nathaniel Micklethwait was baptised before dinner at Weston Longville rectory by Parson Woodforde. Of this he records it was a performance ‘I did not much like, but could not tell how to refuse…[the Micklethwaits] are the strangest kind of People I almost ever saw. Old Mrs Branthwait [née Mary Sotherton] was almost as strange and vulgar.’ We must not take Woodforde’s words at face value when there is another contemporary account which takes a very different tone in describing Mary Branthwait. In this passage Richard Gardiner, a local writer of political pamphlets, refers to her as ‘a worthy descendant of one of Norfolk’s most noble and venerable families, the Sharnbrokes’.

This Nathaniel was the first Micklethwait to be squire of Taverham but he was by no means the last. He was the son of Sarah, Miles Branthwait’s and Mary Sotherton’s eldest daughter. Sarah had married a Micklethwait (also called Nathaniel), but he died aged 26 in 1786, when his son was only two years old. Although the young Nathaniel Micklethwait had inherited the estate in 1807, on the death of Miles Sotherton Branthwait, he did not take up residence in Taverham until over 10 years later, when the dowager Elizabeth Branthwait (née Colborne, 1757-1832) moved to the West of England. She had been born in Chippenham and died in Leamington Spa. Even once he had moved from his home in Beeston St Andrew to Taverham he spent much of his time in London. He was twice married, first to a daughter of Lord Waldegrave, and the second time to a daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke. He was moving up in the world, and he sent his son to Eton.

The mill had overcome its earlier difficulties and successfully traded throughout the 1820s,  but the structure was becoming old and dilapidated, and by 1840 part of the roof had fallen in, resulting in the death of one of the workers. By the middle of the following decade production had ceased and the machinery was put up for sale. It was rescued from disaster by the arrival of the railway from London, which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to use Taverham paper to produce the newspaper. The Delane family took over the mill, and the mill was rebuilt and re-equipped, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.

Sotherton Micklethwait, Vicar of Hickling,

Sotherton Micklethwait,                          Vicar of Hickling

Nathaniel Micklethwaite died in 1856 and he was briefly succeeded by his eldest son, a Lt-Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He died within months of becoming squire of Taverham, aged 51. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by the next in line, his half brother The Revd John Nathaniel Mickletwait. He had been Lord of the Manor at Coltishall before inheriting Taverham Hall, and although a clergyman he had no parish duties of his own. It was under his auspices that the south aisle of Taverham church was built in 1862. The Revd John Nathaniel Micklethwait was obviously up to date in his reading, a he was in possession of a first edition of an Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This novel has recently been sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering £163,000.

If Squire John Nathaniel Micklethwait is remembered today, it is for building the current Taverham Hall in 1858. His initials appear in many places around the property. He employed the Scottish architect David Brandon. John died in 1877 and the Hall was let to William Waring, a retired railway contractor. He had specialised in civil engineering projects like viaducts. These had been carried out across the world, in Sicily and Uganda, but also in the approaches to St Pancras Station.

One of John Micklethwait’s younger brothers, Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, had distinguished himself by gaining a Cambridge University blue in cricket in 1843. He went on to serve for 40 years as Vicar of Hickling in Norfolk, where his family owned more land and where he received the living which was in his father’s gift. His elder brother, Henry Sharnbroke Nathaniel Micklethwait, who inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Taverham from John Micklethwait in 1877, spent his latter years in London after a career in the Royal Navy. He never lived at the new Taverham Hall. He died in 1894.

He was followed as the owner of the Taverham estate by his brother George, but none of these Micklethwait bothers had any children. Henry died unmarried and neither was George Micklethwait married when he died in 1901. The estate then passed to a grandson of Nathaniel Micklethwait (died 1856). Nathaniel Micklethwait’s daughter Sarah (1813-1869) had married John Mills of Roundwood in Hampshire. They were married in London in 1836, and he was the elder brother of Emma Mills, who became the wife of the Revd John Micklethwait. The son of John Mills and Sarah (neé Micklethwait), the Rev Edward Cecil Mills, inherited the property in Taverham after George’s death.  He was the Rector of Barford in Warwickshire, and he may well not even have visited Norfolk. The Rev Mills died in 1908, when the estate was left to his son John Digby Mills. He used the Hall in Taverham to house his regiment, the Royal Warwickshires, in the First World War. After an army career he lived in Bisterne in the New Forest and became the local Tory MP from 1932 until 1945. The Hall was sold by John Mills in 1920 and was bought by the headmaster of the preparatory school at Roydon near Diss,. He was looking for larger premises for his expanding school. Taverham Hall School is still in possession of the hall.

TAVERHAM HALL

TAVERHAM HALL, designed by the Architect David Brandon.

The Mills family are still in possession of Bisterne Manor in Hampshire.

Those who wish to learn the history of Taverham Hall School are referred to Where Elephants Nest (1996) by Peter Beer. A history of Taverham from early times to 1969 (1969) by Thomas Norgate has much useful much information, but it would be easier to follow if it contained footnotes. A 12 page pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the opening of the village hall in 1957. The Parish Registers, Taverham 1601-1837 (1986) transcribed by Judith Sims and  indexed by Patrick Palgrave-Moore contains much useful information relevant to this article. There are references to the village in other books but as far as I am aware the above mentioned are the only books on Taverham.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

HOTELS

THE ELSTEAD HOTEL, BOURNEMOUTH,

ME & COLLEAGUES, THE ELSTEAD HOTEL, BOURNEMOUTH

Because (for me at least) hotels are visited when I am too far away from home to spend the night in my own bed, the hotels I have visited are far away from East Anglia. As far as possible we try to visit friends or relatives when we go away, or else hire a holiday cottage, but sometimes an hotel is inevitable. The most recent hotel we have been to was in Brussels last year; our visits to Europe have mostly involved hotels, although we rented a charming gîte in Dieppe a few yeas ago. Our trip to Holland last year was unusual in that we were entertained in the family home of our son’s girlfriend, who is Dutch. They have a 1960s house in Hilversum. We slept in their annex, which provided the best of both worlds; independence with close proximity to all facilities.

I cannot remember which hotel I visited first, but it was either in Windsor or in Oxford; in either case it was well before I was ten years old. The hotel in Windsor now goes by the name of the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel, on the grounds it was the home of the great architect; this is nonsense. It is a Georgian building, whig rules it out on at last two counts. Wren was nearly 90 when George the First came to the throne, and even if he had built the house at such an advanced age, his style was Baroque, and not the Palladian that we associate with Georgian architecture. Wren certainly lived for a time in Windsor, but the most you can claim is that the hotel may have replaced Wren’s house. In my day it went by the more modest title of The Old House.

The first Hotel I visited in Oxford is long gone, and I cannot now remember where it was. It went by the name of The Oxenforde, and the staff were all extremely polite (even deferential) and old. Years later my father took me to The Randolph, and this was by far the plushest hotel I have ever patronised. It was very different from the Holiday Inn in Oxford that I went to with my family about ten years ago, but as this was beside the Oxford United F C’s Kassam Stadium it was the best place that we could have chosen, as far as my son was concerned.

I must have visited Blandford Forum in the middle 1960s, with my sister Tiggie. The only thing about this hotel that I remember is eating coquilles St Jacques; they  were delicious, although I don’t think I have ever eaten a scallop again. Coquilles St Jacques are scallops served on their shells with pommes duchesse (i.e mashed potatoes !) pipe round the edge.

Moving on, my first stay on my own at an hotel was when I went down to Weymouth en route to Guernsey. The only thing I remember about that occasion was going to a Church of England service. I must have been at loose end, because I do not usually do anything so religious when on holiday. The sermon was entirely devoted to the repugnance the vicar felt at the prospect of union with the Methodists – something that was then on the cards.

I tended not to stay in hotels in the 1970s because by then I had a dog. Although dogs are allowed in some hotels, they are an added complication when travelling, and that is trustful enough. Instead I tended to stay with friends who could put up with me and my dog. When I got married I no longer had Fido, but we soon had young children, which were even more of a tie. When we were married we stayed at an hotel in Woodbridge for our honeymoon, but after that our first visit as family of four was when we went up to London to see Cats. We spent the night.

I have visited many other hotels in my lifetime; the most exotic was the Hotel Beke in Budapest in 1965, during the height of the Cold War. It is still there under the same name but in very different circumstances. Every meal in Hungary was accompanied by a roll; there is nothing odd about that, but the plate also held a fresh gherkin at breakfast, lunch and dinner. No doubt this is still part of Hungarian cuisine. I also spent a few nights in an hotel in Prague, three years before the Prague Spring. This was the first time I had ever slept under a duvet; these were common in Europe – even Communist Europe – but quite unknown in England at the time.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST

OXFORD WRITERS and BROADCASTERS

J. R. R. Tolkein was still living when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, but he had retired to live in Bournemouth. Tolkien was still teaching at Oxford while my sister was at LMH reading English in the 1950s, but the Eagle and Child had long since ceased to be the meeting place of the Inklings. His youngest son Christopher, who later prepared the Silmarillion for publication, was still lecturing at New College however, and I attended a series of lectures he gave on the Vikings during my first year. Since then I have become very interested in the Vikings, but of course I have entirely forgotten what his lectures were about.

The Tolkien name was already world-famous well before I went up to university; in this article I intend to refer to those people who were then completely unknown to everyone (except to those who were undergraduates at Oxford in 1970), but who have subsequently become household names. Even back in 1969 most of the people I will mention were obviously going to be stars in the world of the media. This was because they were already columnists in the university organs such as Cherwell. There were many university rags at that time, most that lasted only a term or two.

GYLES BRANDRETH

GYLES BRANDRETH

Libby Purves was at St Anne’s in the days before all the colleges became co-educational, as they were by the 21st century when my son went up to the college. Libby was a regular writer in 1970, who we all followed on a weekly basis, and she is still a regular broadcaster nearly 50 years later, together with her husband Paul Heiney; but she came second in importance to Gyles Brandreth. He was a real star from the start. His journal was another long-running university periodical named Isis. He was also President of the Oxford Union in 1970. Gyles has been principally a journalist all his life, but he was for a period in the 1990s a Tory MP. Another even more prominent Tory parliamentarian has been Ann Widdecombe, but although she too was a contemporary of mine I did not come across name her during my Oxford years. She obviously did not write for the student press.

I could write of various youthful indiscretions of these now-famous writers, but on these matters I will remain mute. The children’s poet Michael Rosen was another well-known character during my student days, but more for his politics than for his verse. Whatever out later political affiliations, we were all at the time rather left of centre. I cannot remember Michael Rosen writing in Cherwell or Isis, only for a piece of rather amusing but slightly rude graffiti he chalked on Balliol wall in Broad Street. He may not have written in the student press, but he was certainly written about in it.

Another writer was the late Christopher Hitchens. His politics were very left-wing then and he remained a strong atheist until his death. His 21st century conversion to American Foreign Policy (although not to President Clinton, another Oxford contemporary) was certainly something that I would not have anticipated from his university days. I have never been a Trotskyist as Hitchens was, but my left-wing opinions had been quite marked. I had however already begun to grow out of such juvenile attitudes by the time I left university; it is a puzzle to me how many of my fellow baby-boomers have never abandoned their childish political and musical tastes. Christopher Hitchens was another personality who was obviously going places, even in his student days. I remember squeezing into a pub near the Examination Schools on Oxford High Street during Finals in 1971. He was there with a voluptuous young lady, a fellow-student who was bursting out of her sub-fusc. He was always keen on the delights of the flesh.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

MEMORIES OF OXFORD