The Fen Line runs from Cambridge through Norfolk to Kings Lynn. It passes through the Isle of Ely, now part of Cambridgeshire, though previous to 1965 it was a county in its own right. Before 1923 this line was operated by the Great Eastern Railway; from 1923 until 1947 it was part of the London North Eastern Railway and of course during BR days in was part of the Eastern Region. Now most of the Fen Line is operated by Great Northern, which runs trains from Kings Cross to Kings Lynn, although in normal times Greater Anglia trains from Liverpool Street use the line to Kings Lynn at rush hour. These times are far from normal, and this service is currently suspended. Passenger trains from Norwich to Cambridge and from Ipswich to Peterborough run over parts of the line. Likewise trains from Birmingham to Stanstead Airport use the section from Ely to Cambridge.
I have used Kings Lynn railway station, but more years ago than I like to admit. Then you could travel to Hunstanton from Kings Lynn, and through Swaffham to Dereham. These routes have long been closed, although I have myself used both these lines. This was in the late 1950s, when steam was still the main form of motive power, although (as you can see from the photograph) DMUs already took you from Dereham to Lynn. The Hunstanton line was however still steam hauled. In those days the obvious way to travel to Lynn from Norwich was by the direct train, which left Norwich Thorpe on the Cambridge line (now the Breckland Line) and at Wymondham it went north. It reversed at Dereham to continue to Kings Lynn. It was theoretically possible to continue on the Cambridge line and change at Ely, to continue to Lynn. Why anyone would want to go this round-about way is unclear. Now of course anyone who must go to Lynn from Norwich by train must use Ely Station. Before 1952 it would also have been possible to travel north to Wells and then west to Heacham and reach Lynn in that way, but the journey would have taken all day; perhaps more than a day. Before 1959 there was a completely different way to get to Lynn – a wholly unconnected railway system. This was the former M&GN. This took you from north (Cromer), east (Great Yarmouth) or south Norfolk (Norwich) through Melton Constable west to South Lynn station. This was not a quick way of going to Lynn, but at least it was via a direct train from Norwich City Station. The point of describing all these other lines into Lynn Station is to point out that I have never used the remaining line through Downham Market. I have only used the Fen Line as far as Ely.
To return to the Fen Line; Downham Market is one of the principal Stations on the Fen Line. First in importance must come Cambridge, then Kings Lynn. Ely has been a Cathedral City since the 12th century (and was a rich Abbey since Anglo-Saxon times), and it is a major junction on the Fen Line. I have myself got on and off at Ely for the short walk into the City. Downham Market is small town but appears to be a charming one; as I have said, I have never been there. The other stops on the line are just platforms in the open Fens. Some serve substantial passenger numbers, but they are just villages. The whole of the Fen Line was electrified in 1992. I must also mention the carriage of sand from the Lexziate sand pits, which forms a regular freight traffic from Kings Lynn. This uses the stub of the line which used to go to Dereham until 1968.
FOR THE HISTORY OF RAILWAYS
Reportedly the richest man in Britain, SIR JAMES DYSON is said to be worth over sixteen billion pounds. I take such details with a healthy pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that he is a very wealthy man. This is not entirely a story of rags to riches however. His start in life was one of privilege, even if money was tight. He was a boarder at Gresham’s School in Holt, along with his elder brother. His father had died in 1956; he had been a classics teacher at the school, and the headmaster allowed the boys to continue their education at Gresham’s gratis. James Dyson is two years older than me – a detail of no importance, but for the fact that I too was a boarder at Gresham’s from a young age. I remember Dyson and his elder brother to a degree, but I remember his mother far better. Dyson’s nickname was Dilly, and his mother (Ma Dilly) was a part time French teacher at the school.
I was a bit behind at French, because at my previous school French was taught in the afternoon, and I had to leave when the lesson had only just begun. This was to catch the bus home. My smattering of the language was hazy; it included the word for ‘bird’ (oiseau), which I thought was spelt WAZO. As you may tell, I needed extra tuition, and so after school I went into a room with Ma Dilly to try and improve my knowledge of the language.
James and his brother were in Kenwyn, one of two houses in the Junior School, while I was in Crossways. Although I was in was a different house we did a lot of things together. For instance there were no eating facilities at Crossways, so three times a day we went the few yards over to Kenwyn for meals. After a couple of years James Dyson went into the Senior School, and when I followed it was into a different house. As there was no mixing at meal times in the Senior School (that came in a few years after my time), and as Ma Dilly only taught in the Junior School, I largely lost touch with the Dysons. Not entirely however. James was a first class cross country runner, and I remember watching him come in first at the end of a hard slog across the Holt Lowes. I must say that running did not impress me greatly – perhaps because I was so bad at it myself – but painting was much more to my taste, and at one time I intended to study art after leaving school. James was also an artist. Art was the nearest he got to academic achievement (art is a more practical pursuit). He went on to study art at the Royal College where he concentrated on design; a wise move which opened the way to engineering. I doubt that the graphic arts would have led to successful career for Dyson; as a teenager he was a thoroughly traditional painter, in a way that has not been fashionable for over a century. Even my father was impressed by his canvases that were shown at the Art Exhibition at Speech Day, and he only respected representational painting.
When he left school Dyson passed outside my ken, but his productions did not. I well remember the Ballbarrow, one of his first inventions. That was in 1974; I did not need a wheelbarrow at the time, so although I was slightly intrigued by the clever nature of the ball I never possessed one. I did not discover that it came from his hands until many years later, so I did not give James Dyson another thought until the Dyson vacuum cleaner appeared in this country in the 1990s, and the rest is well known.
After a long period when he concentrated on his inventions, Sir James (he was knighted in 2006) has recently been involved with Gresham’s once again. He has joined the Board of Governors, and is spending £19 million on a new STEAM block at the school. This is small change for him. It will teach the usual STEM subject (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with the addition of art – a nod to his own background. Work on the building has been progressing during lockdown, so it looks as if completion will not be delayed. It is located at Gresham’s School, but Sir James wants the best teaching of these subjects to be made available to other local schools.
FOR THE MEMORIES OF NORFOLK
My Grandfather was the sub-postmaster of Cawston in Norfolk before the First World War. It was a general store which sold all manner of goods, both comestibles and clothing. His first child (my mother) was born while he was there. This was before the motor car became a common feature in the country, and to travel about he used a pony and trap. There was a railway station at Cawston, and to get the stock he sold he collected most of it from the Great Eastern Railway station in the village. However some things came by Midland & Great Northern train, and the nearest M&GN station was Bluestone in the adjoining village of Oulton. Sometimes his daughter, aged four or five, would accompany him in the trap.
Here is a picture of his trap outside the Post Office in the High Street. As you can see, he made a special point of selling boots. As you can see, boots were the universal footware in the countryside; even the children are wearing boots. This was a magical time in the history of England; the railways had opened up the country to the wider world. Cawston got its railway station in 1880, as part of the Great Eastern line from County School to Wroxham. In 1897 it was joined by the M&GN line to Great Yarmouth at Bluestone Station in the tiny village of Oulton, a couple of miles beyond Cawston. This station was a late comer to the railway map; the line itself had been opened relatively recently in 1883.
Grandfather Charles left the Post Office in 1916 to fight in the First World War, and the family moved to Wymondham for the duration. When he was de-mobbed in 1919 the family left Norfolk for the town of Wolverton in Buckinghamshire (now part of Milton Keynes). There he opened a draper’s shop – he had been trained in drapery and met his wife-to-be while working in a draper’s shop in Great Yarmouth. His wife was daughter to the baker in Stradbroke in Suffolk, and it was there that he was married in the Baptist Chapel in 1908.
Charles’s eldest child Joan was born in 1910 in Cawston. She grew up to train as a State Registered Nurse in Hastings; while she was living in Sussex her family moved again, back to Norfolk (Kings Lynn). There he ran a successful draper’s, Rivetts of Lynn; this continued under his son Eric and briefly under his grandson. The business closed down in the 1970s.
The second World War was difficult time; Charles’s health was failing, but his son Eric who had been assisting him before the war was on active service in India. Charles died of a heart attack aged 65, on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth, our current Queen. The date was 20th November 1947. My mother and father were due to visit them in Lyn on that day with their two daughters. I was as yet un-thought of, so I never knew my grandfather. However I remember Grandma, his wife Connie, very well. She did not die until 1966 when I was seventeen years old.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
In the Domesday Book the settlement was called Sniterley; that name comes from the same root as Snetisham and according to the experts it signifies a stream, though I am at a loss to say what stream that was. Certainly no stream flows out to sea at Blakeney, now or in the past. In those olden days the place we now know as a village was called a town, perhaps because this was a substantial seaport. Now the former town of Sniterley is known as the village of Blakeney. The first recorder mention of Blakeney as the name of the place was in the mid fourteenth century (i.e about 1350). A House of White Friars dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin stood to the east of the quay; the site is now the Friary Farm Caravan Park, and some medieval stonework may be found at Friary Farmhouse Holiday Home. Flints are found in abundance in the area, and that rather than wood formed the building material of the town. The White Friars or Carmelites already had an establishment in North Norfolk in Burnham Norton as well as at Lynn, Yarmouth and Norwich . The National Trust site that provides a pleasant place for visitors to relax and view the saltmarshes (that were part of the friary) does not allow dogs, so I have no intention of going there myself without Wesley.
John and Thomas Thobury and John and Michael Storm gave 13½ acres of Sniterley to the Carmelites in 1296, and the order proceeded to erect a dwelling place for their members. Storm and Thobury were tenants of the Lord of the Manor Sir William Roos, and Sir William contributed 100 marks towards building the accommodation for the friars, with the proviso that he and his wife (Lady Maud) could stay there whenever they were in town. The site was further extended in the following years.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 the site of the Friary was acquired by the Crown. It was then purchased by William Rede, a mercer from London. What his connection with Blakeney was I do not know, because he transferred it to fellow mercer Sir Richard Gresham less than a month later, so obviously this was the intention from the start, though why Gresham could not have bought it in the first instance is obscure. Sir Richard Gresham was (unlike William Rede) a local man, born in nearby Holt. His son Sir John founded Gresham’s school in the family Manor House in Holt where ‘Old School House’ still houses the infants’ department.
The village of Blakeney became increasingly remote from the sea as the saltmarshes accumulated and Blakeney Point extended to the west. The nearby settlement of Cley became the major port of the eastern part of the North Norfolk coast, eclipsing Blakeney. Although in the diaries of Mary Hardy of Letheringsett (around 1800) vessels were still being laden and unladen at Blakeney, en route to places along he coast and even in Europe, Cley got an impressive Custom House. Perhaps this was because Cley lay on the river Glaven, so it did not dry out completely twice a day as Blakeney does. As the nineteenth century wore on Blakeney became increasingly a port for fishermen rather than cargo ships. In the twentieth century it became concerned with leisure boats using the harbour for their sailing dinghies, and ferries carrying people visiting the seals on Blakeney Point. It is again a much busier place than Cley.
At the time when the railway from Melton Constable was first mooted it was proposed to route it through Blakeney, but in the end it was taken through Holt instead. This would not have affected the village greatly for the whole line lasted less than eighty years.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The de Haviland DH 60 Gipsy Moth biplane
Like the Tiger Moth, the Gypsy Moth (lymantria dispar dispar) is a type of European flying insect. During my teenage years Gispy Moth was the name of a pioneering singlehanded circumnavigational sailing yacht. In the second quarter of the twentieth century however this name was better known as that of the de Havilland biplane, first flown on the 22nd February 1925. The Gipsy Moth I refer to in this blog is the biplane.
Before the Second World War air travel was still a novel, and for most people, a very unusual form of transport. The vast majority of individuals never envisage taking a plane journey anywhere. It was reserved for the adventurous even more than the for rich, though you needed to be pretty wealthy too. Even for this well-off part of population, travel was principally by train (if overland) or by ocean liner (if overseas). Almost nobody went by aeroplane; the airline Imperial Airways was formed in 1924, twenty eventful years after the Wright brothers had initiated powered flight. In 1909 Louis Blériot had been the first to fly across the English Channel. Ten years later, after the great advances brought in by the First World War, Alcock and Brown had been the first to fly across the Atlantic ocean. In these early days the only protection from the elements was a flying jacket and a pair of goggles. In 1930 Imperial Airways introduced the Handley Page Hannibal, a four engined biplane which would carry up to 24 passengers and 4 crew. Thankfully, by then they were all under cover. This plane flew air mail and the bravest travellers; first to Paris, and services were introduced to the nearer parts of the British Empire. As you can see, the numbers were tiny, even amongst those fortunate enough to travel abroad.
My father was one of those few early aviators. He was very interested in flight and aeroplanes from a young age. In October 1934 he went to RAF Mildenhall with thousands of other spectators to witness the competitors taking off for the MacRobertson Trophy Air Race to Melborne, Australia. (RAF Mildenhall had been established in 1930.) How he go there I do not know; he did not own so much as a motorbike at the time, although her borrowed one from his employer Cecil Amey – perhaps that was how her got there. Otherwise Mildenhall was on the national rail network until 1962, so maybe he went by rail. This race was expected to take the best part of a week to accomplish. In fact the last plane to complete the course took several months to do so. The race was won by Grosvenor House, a DH88 Comet that took just under three days of flying time. This wood built twin engined plane was the predecessor of the WWII de Haviland Mosquito light bomber. Besides witnessing the start of the Great Air Race, my father was also a participant in flying. He was Flight Secretary of the Norfolk Gliding Club (see the membership card to the left), but this organisation was severely hampered in its activities by possessing no glider! However he was frequently taken up in a Gipsy Moth from Mousehold Airfield, just north of Norwich. This is now an industrial estate and the site of several retail warehouses.
A Gipsy Moth cost a modest £650 new, but this was infinitely more than my father could afford. However, his friend Henry Stringer (1901-1977), ten years his senior, owned a Gipsy Moth which he flew from Mousehold. This airfield had been established as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome during WW1, becoming RAF Mousehold in 1918 when the Royal Air Force was created. It was used by Boulton and Paul to test fly the aeroplanes that they built not much over a mile away in their city factory. The planes were taken up St James’s Hill to Mousehold Heath on special trucks along an extension to the Norwich tramway system. The route which they took across the heath you can still trace in parts. The Norwich & Norfolk Aero Club had been formed in 1927, and Henry Stringer was an important member. He also belonged to the national organisation, The Royal Aero Club. In 1933 the airfield became the first Norwich Airport, although scheduled flights were not then a regular feature of air travel from Norfolk.
Joan Rivett, later to become Frank Mason’s wife (and in due course my mother ) had trained as a nurse in Hastings, and in about 1933 was working in Brigg in Lincolnshire. There the former workhouse was being used as a cottage hospital. At the time she had fallen out with her boyfriend Frank and had returned his engagement ring to him by post. This breaking off of the engagement he was not prepared to accept, and with Henry Stringer he flew to North Lincolnshire to re-present the ring to her. My mother must have taken it back; perhaps the dramatic way it was presented to her had something to do with it.
On another occasion she was nursing on the Isle of Wight, and my father and Henry flew there from Norwich. All went well, including crossing the Solent, until it came to the landing at Shanklin air strip. In those days there were already plenty of designated airfields (no doubt more than there are today) but they were just grass fields. As Henry touched down the plane instead of coming to rest on its tail skid tipped forwards onto its nose. The wooden propellor had its tips broken off, but otherwise no damage was done to the machine or its occupants. They had to wait on the Isle of Wight while the Aero Club obtained and fitted a new propellor. My father claimed the broken one as a souvenir; this remained in our possession into my time, but it was never mounted with a barometer in the middle as my father always intended. The Moth was of course an open plane, and so you had to wrap up warm.
Marriage in 1935 and subsequent arrival of two daughters interfered with his aeronautical dreams. With the coming of war he might have revived these thoughts had he been drafted into the RAF, but as an optician he was directed into the instrument maintenance branch of the RAOC (later to become REME). By the time I arrived on the scene, ten years after war broke out, such things were distant memories. He didn’t fly again until the 1960s, when my sister was living on Guernsey and the airline age was taking off. Viscounts flew daily from Gatwick, and we used this service many times when visiting her; my father also flew on a 1940s built Dakota to Guernsey from Norwich Airport, once this facility had opened.
CLICK HERE to watch an early film of a Gipsy Moth in flight.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
I am a Norfolk boy, but both on my mother’s and my father’s side of the family there are deep roots in Suffolk. My maternal grandmother was born in Stradbroke, and paternal grandmother was born in Lakenheath – and I can trace my direct ancestors in Mildenhall/Lakenheath back to the first half of the seventeenth century. My family gets even more involved with the county as it continues, because a branch of my wife’s ancestors lived in Southwold! In fact we are as much Suffolkers as Norfolkers.
As I am sure you are aware, in the past people did not tend to move far from their native settlements. I have already mentioned Suffolk, where my ancestors ploughed a furrow that was deep rather than wide. Among my Norfolk ancestors I can trace the Buxtons (one of my paternal great grandmothers was a Buxton), who were living in Easton (a village just west of Norwich) back to middle years of eighteenth century – and probably much longer than that, but the trail goes cold after about 1770. The Rivetts (my mother’s maiden name was Rivett) were dwelling in Shipdam in central Norfolk from at least 1655 until the 20th century. Up to the coming of the railways, which among their other achievements brought new blood into the national population, marriage was almost always a local affair. Sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, had lived not far from one another all their lives; how would brides and grooms ever have met if not from a few miles away? Even events that did prise some members of the population away from home (principally wars) did not lead to inter-marriage to any noticeable degree.
Once this immovability among the lower orders of society began to break down it was not just the people of Norfolk and Suffolk that began to mingle. A young lady who had been born in Evercrech in Somerset married a young man from Suffolk. A generation before that, when the railways were a-building, a young man from Buckinghamshire (a navvy) married a girl from Cornwall. All these people were my direct ancestors.
My wife’s ancestors too took on new blood from Scotland and Devon. It was now a true nation, not a collection of independent localities that hardly mixed from the time of their first arrival in England 1,600 year ago. It looks as if this mixture of peoples is set to continue with next generation; my son has recently got engaged to a Dutch girl, and we hope that issue may result in due course.
What has been the effect of all this miscegenation? It is really too early to say (a mere three or four generations), and the scope of the new families now encompasses the whole world. It is all a long way from the cosy East Anglia of the eighteenth century.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
This is a small village in central Norfolk, just to the west of Dereham. Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago the Rector of Scarning was Augustus Jessopp D.D., a prominent historian of Norfolk. He it was who arranged for the building of Scarning Village Hall which is still the centre of village life. Although he did not provide the funds (which were gifted by a rich benefactress from Wimbledon in London) this was erected in 1902. Jessopp, who was born in Cheshunt (Hertfordshire), was previously the headmaster of what was then known as the Norwich Free Grammar School (now simply the Norwich School). Interestingly he was not the first person connected with the village to teach at the Norwich School; Vincent of Scarning is mentioned as the headmaster in 1240! Jessopp made Norfolk his adoptive home; he referred to Scarning as his arcadia. Among his works is the book of essays “The Coming of the Friars“. Among the books in my library is a copy of an eighteenth century collection of work by the Norfolk writer Richard Gardiner, perhaps better known by his nom de plume Dick Merryfellow. This book was once owned by Augustus Jesopp, whose signature appears on the flyleaf. This all makes me feel very connected with Norfolk’s history and historians.
However I wish to delve rather further into history than a mere 150 years to the time of Dr Jessopp, or even 250 years to the time of Dick Merryfellow in the eighteenth century. Over 400 years ago, in 1604, local landowner and farmer William Seckar died and left his estate towards the founding of a school in Scarning. This was opened in 1645 after the death of William’s widow who had retained a lifetime interest in the farm. Originally the school taught the sons of villagers, but it soon developed a reputation for excellence, and drew a large following among the sons of yeomen farmers from across Norfolk. Obviously these pupils had to board, and they were kept separate from the dayboys as far as possible. Among the most notable pupils at the school was a descendant of the lawyer, writer and musician Roger North, who had purchased an estate at Rougham (West Norfolk) in 1690. (It is still the home of the North family.) Rougham is only ten miles from Scarning – too far for a day boy to travel before the advent of the motor car, but undoubtedly the best school in the vicinity. Many of these richer pupils went on to study at Cambridge.
By the early nineteenth century this widespread importance of Scarning to the yeoman community was over, but the school continued to educate the sons of the local community, at a time when most children were largely unschooled. With the introduction of schooling for all the establishment was opened up to girls as well. In 1850 the school was rebuilt in the form it still retains today. The William Seckar Trust still maintains a system of grants for educational purposes for the inhabitants of Scarning and the adjacent village of Wendling. It also recently made a grant of £150,000 towards the construction of a new classroom for the provision of pre-school arrangements for the children of Scarning, which is not covered by Council spending. This trust is still fulfilling its original purpose, while other endowments, set up in the same period (like Wymondham Grammar and the Pulham Market School), have vanished over the centuries. It is strange how much of the history of the village concerns education.
The village used to be on the A11, but it was bypassed when the road was redirected along the railway line through Wendling station. The village is now once more a peaceful place, with a new housing estate in a separate development to the east of the village. The population is nearly 3,000 and it no longer looks merely to Dereham for employment, but to Wymondham, Norwich and central Norfolk in general. A family who are fiends of ours recently relocated to Scarning, and I was looking forward to visiting them there. However this has naturally been put on hold by the corona virus lockdown. I look forward to the return to normality, when I will enjoy a visit to Scarning.
FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
This line was built by local landowner Colonel George Tomline. Opening in 1877, it was operated for a couple of years very much as the Colonel’s private line – more of a toy. Orwell Park Station (it was closed in 1959) was built principally to serve as the place for Tomline himself to board the train – it was close to his home in Nacton. Derby Road Station, next along the line, provided those living to the east side of Ipswich with a convenient way of travelling to the seaside, and the fact that the station at Felixstowe Beach was a long way from the town did not matter much to these day-trippers.
At the other end of the line, at Westfield, passengers could transfer to the Great Eastern, where the Felixstowe company’s station was adjacent to the East Suffolk line. There was a connection with the GER metals but normally no through trains ran between the two railways. On special occasions through trains would be run right into Liverpool Street station in London. The Felixstowe line remained under Tomline’s ownership for ten years, although the operation of the line was taken over by the Great Eastern Railway after a short period when Tomline tired of his direct involvement. During Tomline’s period of personal control the railway staff were all dressed like his domestic servants; the uniform of a guard for example was based on that of the butler at Nacton. George was not a shy man -one of the engines on the line was named “The Tomline”.
In 1891 under the GER a station was opened at Trimley. The current terminus of the line at Felixstowe Town Station was opened in 1898. Previously the principal Felixstowe station was Felixstowe Beach; the line terminated at Felixstowe Pier Station which closed in 1951. The pier was in fact a jetty, now long gone and the site of Felixstowe Pier Station is now within the Port of Felixstowe area. Beach station was closed in 1967 and the buildings were eventually demolished nearly forty years later. With the possible exception of the current lockdown, the line is now more heavily used than ever; the line to the old per station is one of two railway lines into the container port (the other one diverges at Trimley). Felixstowe docks can trace their operation back to 1886, when Tomiline’s firm, the Felixstowe Pier and Railway Company, inaugurated the service. Wealthy Victorian George Tomline believed that Felixstowe could be developed to rival the port of Harwich on the opposite bank of the Orwell and Stour estuary, and drafted infrastructure plans. In 1966 work began on the New South Quay, which opened on the 1st July on the following year. Now the Port of Felixstowe dwarf the Port of Harwich/
Landguard Container Terminal – as the new facility was called – was the UK’s first purpose-built container port. It has grown to be the largest such port in the UK. Without the traffic generated by the port the line to Felixstowe would have been closed years ago, but now the traffic on the line is almost at capacity. All the penny-pinching economy measures (like the singling of the track along most of the line) have now to be reversed at the cost of many millions of pounds; some economy measure! Eventually the line to Felixstowe will be electrified, although this a long term plan. No date has been given for this advance, but the new ” Bacon Factory” curve (on the junction with the GER mainline), which opened in 2014, was engineered to take into consideration the need for overhead power lines. This curve (of just 1.3 km) cost nearly £60 million.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
Alderford is a small village on the road between Norwich and Reepham. It used to have a pub (the Bell) on the main road by the bridge over the small stream which gives the village its name; before the bridge was built the river it was crossed by a ford, hence the name Alderford. It is interesting to learn which are the oldest places to get a bridge – Attlebridge, a nearby village on the river Wensum, was already bridged in Anglo-Saxon times, but Lenwade had a ford that you had to wade through (again producing the name). The rivulet at Alderford soon flows into the river Wensum where it passes Morton-on-the-Hill. Upstream from the Alderford stream the next river to join the Wensum is the Blackwater, which retains its name (at least on Ordnance Survey maps) but the corresponding stream, the Whitewater (which joins the Blackwater shortly before its confluence with the Wensum) has lost its former designation. These old river names have mostly disappeared from regular usage, but may still be seen in the names of the local villages. For example the name Whitewater may still be deduced from the name of the village near the river’s source – Whitwell, which means the ‘white water’.
The Bell public house was closed before I remember going that way. In the days of the horse and cart this must have been a popular place of refreshment on the way to and from Reepham, but motor cars rushed past without a second thought; there was nowhere for them to park even if the occupants had wished to stop. It is perhaps remarkable that it stayed open as long as it did – it remained a pub until 1962. In the nineteenth century the pub was also the village post office. Now the nearest pub is probably the Bridge at Lenwade (Lenwade eventually got its bridge!), a pub which was mentioned in the 18th century by the diarist Mary Hardy. The Post Office at Lenwade has now also closed, so the nearest one to Alderford is at Reepham.
The postion of Rector of Alderford was sometimes combined with that of the clergyman at one of the adjoining parishes, such as Swanington. During the early part of the 19th century it was however an idependant parish on its own, and for three years from 1826 the rector was the Revd Francis Howes. He was a writer of poetry who, although completely forgotten today, was so highly regarded for his translations of the Latin masters that his works gain him an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. Besides being a poet he was also a mathematician of some ability, being one of the senior wranglers at Cambridge University. He was related to the Longe family of Spixworth Park of whom I have written in this blog (CLICK HERE).
Near the Bell is Alderford Common. This is now an SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest; in the nineteenth century it was a quarry and the pits where the lime was excavated make for interesting dog walking. The wild ground makes a perfect habitat for rabbits, and my sister’s dog Suki used to love chasing them. This was before it was an SSSI, I hasten to add; I think the powers that be might disapprove of rabbiting there today. Suki was too slow to catch healthy rabbits, but the old an infirm ones would be swift put out of their misery by a well timed bite on the neck.
The main reason for it being made an SSSI is not specifically the rabbits however, but the mixed acid soil and chalk grassland which now covers the old quarry. Lime quarries are common in Norfolk. Nearer to Norwich they were mainly tunnelled out below ground, and the resulting collapse of old and forgotten workings often cause holes to appear suddenly all round the city. These chalk workings at Alderford are of great antiquity according to the Rev John Dixon Wortley. In his book The Charms and Beauty of our Commons and Heaths (1931) he states that artefacts of Roman date have been recovered from the old chalk workings.
At the time the author was writing his book this was still a popular resort for gipsies. “whose picturesque caravans are often to be seen” on Alderford Common, where is to be found “pasture for the horses and ponies to graze”. There are no longer gipsies to be found on Alderford Common, but another resident the Rev John Dixon Wortley remarked on was the rabbit, and he, as we have already said, is still to found there. “It is in fact a veritable rabbit warren.”
Apart from rabbits there is not much going on at Alderford in the 21st century; the population is 43, five less than it was hundred years ago. But there is a farm, where my mother-in-law used to buy her eggs. She did not drive, so my father-in-law would take her. This regular weekly journey went on for many years, and quite a friendship developed between her and the members of the farm worker’s family.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
North East Norfolk
26th June 1971
Dad and I drove to Honing via Wroxham. We saw the “trefoil” bridge over the old M&GN; Dad beat his way through the nettles to get to it.
We tried to find the Wherry Inn in vain (I think we were on a wild goose chase because I can find no reference to a Wherry Inn near Honing) but we did discover three watermills on the North Walsham and Dilham canal. By one there was a dilapidated lock. There was an old dredger on the mill pond; it must have been there since early in the century when the canal was still in use. We had a half pint and a packet of crisps at the Blue Bell in North Walsham.
A very humid day. We had promised ourselves another trip to the North Walsham and Dilham canal. It was our last chance to see the road bridge over the M&GN at Holt as according to the EDP it was due to be demolished tomorrow. (This is now the entrance to the North Norfolk Railway station at Holt; in 19701 the line ended at Weyborne and the line through Kelling was a desolate wasteland.) We went to Bacton first and then to Stalham. This a sparsely populated part of Norfolk; we saw Witton church; this is remote but (in 2019) a well served place with even produce on sale to visitors. The church plainly has Anglo-Saxon elements, and a round tower’ We saw the (disused) school there, but no pubs until we came to Wayford Bridge. Apparently we did not fancy going there and ended up for a drink at the Crown, Smallburgh – this certainly is an attractive building with a thatched roof.
We tried to get to the Tonnage Gate at Dilham, which we felt was the beginning of the canal, but without any luck. This was the site of the M&GN signal box where Dad tested he eyes of the signalman back in the early 1930s! (You can read more on this story HERE.) We went to the places where the road crosses the canal and finally ended up at the delightful Antingham Ponds.
We came home through Felmingham (where we bought some strawberries) and Aylsham. At home again where my cousin David Anderson called – he told us that when his son William starts at Gresham’s in September he will be going into Crossways – my old house. [Crossways is still there but is now a girls’ house – there were no girls at the school back then.]
The canal was opened in August 1826, the only place in Norfolk where a canal was built with locks. Other waterways existed with locks (like the Aylsham Navigation) but this was on a river, while the New Cut was a whole canal but having no locks. Since these tentative explorations of the Dilham canal I have learnt much more about it; this I have detailed in another post on this blog (CLICK HERE to view this post). In 1971 I was something of a pioneer, because few people were interested in the old canal in those days.