THINGS FINALLY COME RIGHT
In 1959, at the age of forty-seven, my father was about to experience a year of great upheaval. His eldest daughter was to marry and emigrate to Canada; she had qualified as schoolteacher but was never to work in that capacity, becoming instead a professor at a transatlantic university; but that was far in the future. Nearer to home his second daughter had also qualified as a teacher, and was to start at Ipswich High School that September. His ten-year old son (me) was just about to begin at boarding school. Most alarmingly, he had to leave the building in Orford Place, as the lease had expired. He was willing to pay the much higher new rent, but none of his fellow tenants were, so his whole business future seemed thrown into doubt. Where would he go? Would his customers follow him to his new premises? Or would the abandon him for other Norwich opticians?
The place he decided to move into was 29 Surrey Street; he had limited options available to him, as most shops in the centre of Norwich were already occupied. The property he decided on was fairly central, but had stood vacant for about a decade. It needed a complete rewiring (it still had a primitive DC system in place) and a complete redecoration too. The walls were covered in centuries of whitewash, which had to be removed before modern paint could be applied. The most problematical aspect from a business point of view was that it was, in appearance, a private dwelling; it had no shop window. It was a large 18th century former residence with, as I subsequently discovered, an impressive history. Most recently it had served as the Angel temperance hotel. Crucially, he would no longer be a tenant; this property he would have to buy.
Very fortunately my father’s patients continued to patronize his practice and within a few years he had paid off the commercial mortgage that he had taken out to pay for the property. In this he was fortuitously aided by the gathering pace of inflation during the 1960s; this was a good time for house buyers in general- a detached house in the city could be bought for well under £1,000! As a result, within a decade-and-a-half of buying the building, its value had increased nearly twentyfold. The initial cost of the property was almost small change by then. As if by accident, he was now a wealthy man for the first time in his life. It was true that he was nearly always overdrawn at the bank, but that was only because his plans for the future always ran a little bit ahead of his current resources. He would never admit to being other than a miserable failure; this was quite untrue, but in comparison to what might have been he had a point. To see what I mean I refer you to the previous post, where his factory appear to be on the brink of success.
In buying 29 Surrey Street he had added the position of commercial landlord to his business interests. He only needed the ground floor for his optical premises; the semi-basement (it had windows to Surrey Street, so it was not a cave) he also occupied. This held a workshop with a lathe, circular saw, bench drill, milling machine, and fly press – in short the whole range of machinery. He even had a printing press! One room was devoted entirely to a model railway; this was nominally mine, but in fact it represented one of my father’s many interests. He was able to let the first floor long-term to an insurance company; Surrey Street is still at the heart of the insurance industry in Norwich, holding as it does the headquarters of the multi-national firm Aviva, still known as Norwich Union in 1959. The upper floors were not so easily let, but a succession of artists, interior designers and marketing companies occupied them.
In 1960 my mother inherited some money and enabled us to buy the family home in Poringland from the landlord Rushmer Howlett, who lived next door. We proceeded to undertake some much-needed improvements; a bedroom for me was included in the plans. Previously I had slept in my parents’ bedroom. Mains drainage was the most radical departure from the only way of life I had known until then; I could now have a bath without boiling kettles and put the tin bath on the hearth-rug. The main sewer had been installed in the road outside a year or two before, and my father no longer had to empty the earth closet or pump out the cess pit. We had rather belatedly joined the 20th century. Until then there was a curious mismatch between our primitive domestic arrangements at our rented home and the palatial facilities (including five water closers) at my father’s workplace that he owned.
A very valuable addition to the house at Surrey Street was a car park at the back, which could hold three cars at a pinch. That alone was worth a huge amount, not merely in financial terms but for convenience. The access belonged to a doctor’s widow who lived four houses along, so my father had to keep her sweet. At a bunch or two of flowers a year it was cheap at the price. It also had a delightful courtyard garden that faced south. There one could sit with a drink by the fountain, within yards of Norwich’s busy bus station; climbing roses scented the air, while all around was the bustle of a busy city. That was luxury indeed. In fifty years my father had progressed from living in a modest terraced house to the be the owner a 20 roomed town mansion; the only trouble was that because of planning restrictions at the time he couldn’t actually live there!
My father was by no means a traditional businessman, always obsessed by balance sheets and bank accounts. Such things interested him not at all. He was at his happiest walking his dog by the riverside or attending meetings of the Nautics, his favourite historical society. As for playing his cello, as a teenager he dreamed of becoming a professional musician; he was certainly good enough, but was warned by Jimmy Pond his music teacher that it would lead to a life of poverty. I am sure that we would never have been as wealthy as an orchestral cellist as he became as an optician. There were several reverses in his career, but he was ultimately a great success in financial terms. He gave me a fantastic childhood, and he provided the best of educations for all his three children.
He thought that the seventeen shillings and sixpence that he was paid by the National Health Service for a sight test was pitifully small, especially compared the much larger sum charged by a garage mechanic for an MOT. Seventeen and six was indeed little enough for a full professional eye examination; he made his money from selling glasses to customers privately. He thought this was the wrong way round, and it would be hard to disagree with him; the glasses were just a consumer product, whereas the sight of a patient (or even his life) could depend on picking up small imperfections in their eyes. I don’t suppose things are very different today; as a pensioner my eyes are tested free, but my glasses cost me a small fortune.
The main developments of his career were effectively over by 1960. For a few years his health remained good, but at the age of 56 he had a coronary, and thereafter numerous infarctions (where parts of the heart muscle are damaged by blood clots) and episodes of tachycardia (heart rhythm malfunction) which led to many stays in hospital. Heart conditions were far less effectively treated in those days. He refused to give up smoking his beloved pipe. Nevertheless he did not die from a heart disease but from another health condition. He was able to retire at the age of 60 to spend the last few years of his life developing an optical instrument which looked set to be a great success by the time he died. In retirement he was able to retain the building in Surrey Street, together with its workshop and car park, which meant that he still went there almost every day. Besides providing him with a comfortable pension he could still develop his model railway and work on his various schemes. Over his lifetime he built two boats, numerous pieces of furniture and as a young man had done wood carvings as a hobby. He was trained by the army as an instrument mechanic which stood him in good stead throughout the rest of his life. Although his health was failing, I was able to ensure both him and my mother had an enjoyable last few years. Looking back on his life with the perspective of forty years, I can now see him for what he was: then he was just my Daddy. Frank Mason was clearly a remarkable man.
You can read more about the history of the house in Surrey Street by clicking HERE. I have written well over ten blogs on the house, and you can access them by entering ‘joemasonspage’ and adding ‘the story of a house’ and a number from 1 to 13 into Google. This should bring up the required result.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
A SLICE of HISTORY in the PAPER INDUSTRY
In 1784 the mill at the Staithe in Bungay was bought by William Mann; until then the mill had been part of the estate of the Duke of Norfolk. Mann let part of it to Joseph Hooper. A native of the coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, Joseph Hooper was a Harvard graduate of the class of 1763, born to a wealthy local family in 1743. Like several other members of the Hooper clan he was a staunch Royalist and following his opposition to the Boston Tea Party he had his property seized. He fled to England in 1775, prior to the Declaration of American Independence. As a refugee he travelled the country before settling in Bungay, where he converted his part of the mill from grinding corn to a mill producing paper. The rest of the mill stayed as a corn mill and was leased separately by William Mann. Hooper produced among other things fine quality writing paper. In 1790 he complained that the people of Ditchingham had opened up Ditchingham Dam and this had diverted the flow of the river Waveney along Chainbridge Beck; this was starving the mill of water and making it hard to produce paper. The problem took two years to resolved, and it was only after the owner William Mann had threatened those responsible with action for damages that the dam was restored.
A year after taking the lease on the Bungay watermill Joseph Hooper had married Susannah Taylor in Grantham, Lincolnshire, her home town. They had two daughters, Emily (who was born in Grantham in 1786) and Harriet (born in Lakenham near Norwich in 1788). Joseph Hooper appears to have been successful in business, being recorded as a man suitable to employ parish apprentices during the 1790s, but with his health failing he died in 1812. His wife took over running the paper mill. She died in 1817 and both she and Joseph are buried in Holy Trinity churchyard in Bungay. With no male heirs to take over the business was transferred to William Betts, Harriet’s husband. He was working the mill in Bungay in 1822, but by 1828 James (probably their son) had taken over. Meanwhile William’s brother Lewis was working at the paper mill in Upper Sheringham. James could not make a success of paper making, and by 1829 both he and Lewis were declared bankrupt. The lease on the mill at Bungay was put up for auction in the Kings Head in the Market Place in 1830, but it did not sell; in 1832 the mill was still vacant.
Meanwhile across the border in Norfolk, in 1810 one John Burgess was the foreman responsible for setting up the first paper making machine in the county. Ten years later Burgess was made a partner in the mill. He was happily working at Taverham while acquiring properties in Costessey across the river, including the White Hart pub which he rebuilt in the modern style. (This was again rebuilt in the 1930’s and is now known as the Harte.) In 1830 the senior partner at Taverham mill retired and transferred his holding to two young men who had their own ideas about running the business. These two eventually drove the formerly prosperous mill into business failure, but by then John Burgess had left Taverham. With his sons he moved to Bungay and reopened the paper mill there. He was already 71 years old, and the work was probably mainly in the hands of his son Charles. Having been pioneers in the technique of modern machine-made paper they had taken a step back into the past to hand-made paper.
The principal user of paper in Bungay was John Childs, the printer who had taken over from Charles Brightly, and whose business would become Richard Clay (still in existence as part of the St Ives Group). In Brightly’ time all paper had been hand made, and no doubt Joseph Hooper built up a prosperous business supplying him with printing paper, but times had changed. By 1830 Childs was the owner of a large business, employing over 100 people, and he specialized in large editions of substantial books such as annotated Bibles. These were not restricted to the printers at Oxford, Cambridge and London as the standard, non-annotated Authorised Version of the Bible was. These substantial works required a lot of paper, but his suppliers were not local. His account book for 1827 shows that he was buying paper from Spicer’s in Cambridgeshire, and in 1834 from Dickinson, whose paper mill was at Apsley in Hertfordshire. I do not know how the paper was transported to Bungay, but I suspect it came by the Grand Union canal (or in the case of Spicer’s paper via the rivers Cam and Great Ouse) to the Wash and then along the coast to Yarmouth. From there it would have gone up the Waveney through Geldeston Lock to the head of the navigation at Bungay. Although this meant three trans-shipments, from narrow boat to coasting vessel at Wisbech or Kings Lynn and then to wherry at Yarmouth, until the coming of the railways water was the only way to carry heavy loads long distances. Both Dickinson and Spicer were making paper by machine, and the mill at Sawston in Cambridgeshire was one of the first to use a Fourdrinier paper making machine in 1809. It was high quality and high volume paper, quite different from the paper being produced at Bungay by Burgess, which although it had no transportation cost, had no other advantages.
However there is evidence that the Burgesses, father and son, did supply paper to Childs. In 1833-36 there are entries for the buying of both brown paper and drab from Charles Burgess, and in 1836 and 1837 for brown paper from John Burgess. Brown paper would have been used merely for packing, but drab was used in the bookbinding process. Although there was also a printing industry in nearby Beccles, it is clear that the majority of Burgess’s custom would have been for wrapping paper, and it would not have been economic to transport it very far. It was not a particularly good position to be in, when all his success had been based on the modern paper-making process, and the enterprise did not last for many years after John Burgess’s death. Paper-making in Bungay finally came to an end in 1864 with a serious fire, after which the mill was rebuilt as corn mill. It had passed out of the Burgess family’s hands in the 1840s. In its final years it was operated by a number of paper makers.
John Burgess died on the 21 May 1838. In his will he lists his properties – the public house and a double cottage in Costessey, and three more cottages in Norwich. His reference to his business is rather downbeat; he instructs his executors to continue his business ‘until such at time as it shall be beneficial to discontinue it.’ The most affectionate mention is for his daughter, Sophia Ann, who is to take her pick of his furniture to the value of £24 (about £4,000 in today’s money), ‘in regard to her kindness & attention toward me’. His executors were Spooner Nash, a paper dealer and stationer of Charing Cross, Norwich, and Henry Barnard, a merchant of Bungay. So ends the story of John Burgess, and paper making in Bungay. The mill itself survived into my lifetime, producing animal fodder under the auspices of Hovis. The mill finally closed in 1955, although it has ceased to use water power some fifty years earlier. The mill building of 1864 is still in commercial use, in 2003 as a consultancy and training centre.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
There was virtually no road building in the 1950s until the M1 was constructed right at the end of the decade; the only improvement I can call to mind was the straightening of a short length of blind bend outside Ditchingham Hall. This was in about 1957; you can still see the lay-by which this created on the Bungay road. The traffic was still relatively light; many of the cars were prewar, and those that were not were all painted black; you were lucky to get a car at all, and the colour wasn’t important. The lorries were of the fixed chassis type – there were no articulated juggernauts then. The country folk who had to go to town went by bus, otherwise they travelled round on their bikes.
In Norfolk the railway network was already beginning to shrink. The lines from Cromer to Mundesley and from Heacham to Wells closed completely in 1952, and the stations at Hellesdon and Whitlingham stopped serving passengers early in the decade. Also in 1952 passenger traffic was ended on the Wroxham to County School branch; however most of the rural branch lines remained open. For a few more years Hunstanton, Holt, Dereham, Watton, Swaffham and Fakenham (all of them substantial country towns) had regular train services that carried passengers as well as goods. Trains stopped crossing Breydon Water en route from Yarmouth Beach station to Lowestoft in 1952; the swing bridge remained in place but permanently open to shipping.
There were still a lot of sea-going freighters threading their way up the river Yare to Norwich. Coal was one their main cargoes, and it was universally used to produce electricity, gas and domestic heating all across Britain. The miners toiled day and nigh to extract this invaluable commodity. Many coal-fired steam drifters tied up along the Yarmouth quayside every autumn herring season, ready for the Scottish fisher girls to pack the fish away in their millions. The London Docks were still at the hub of the nation’s trade in 1950, and Southampton was still the place you went to catch liners for overseas destinations.
As for aircraft, the skies were full of them; not commercial airliners (there were none of these outside London) but fighter jets. Never a day went by without vapour trails appearing among the clouds, and sonic booms were often heard. There were still over a dozen RAF air bases in Norfolk at the beginning of the period, including at Coltishall, St Faiths, Swanton Morley and Marham; there was a major USAF presence at Sculthorpe near Fakenham. All through the decade the RAF held open days to commemorate the Battle of Britain. In the less mean-spirited nature of the times these festivities were free to attend, although the members of the public who flocked to them would support them generously in a voluntary capacity. The threat of Nazi invasion was still a recent memory and those who fell in resisting it were honoured annually.
Norfolk is a sparsely populated county; in a hundred and fifty years the population of Norfolk doubled to stand at around 600,000 by 1961. Even with the huge increase in recent years it is still estimated at under a million, which is tiny for one of the largest counties in the land. It has always been an agricultural economy, specialising in arable crops. All across the country the horse had vanished from the farms by 1950, and everywhere the ploughing and reaping was done by internal combustion engine: the tractor was king. Things are still much the same for now in Norfolk, but the most thriving communities are increasing becoming centred on the digital world. We had no idea what the phrase ‘the digital world’ might mean in the 1950s. The first massive mainframe computer arrived at Norfolk County Hall in the 1960s (it was about the size of a small bungalow), and the data was carried on magnetic tapes between there and Norwich City Hall in a little blue Daf van. Even electric typewriters were almost unknown in the 1950s, and calculations were largely done with pencil and paper; the very advanced firms (like Norwich Union) used mechanical comptometers with their highly trained female operators.
There were young Teddy Boys with Brylcreemed hair, jeans and bomber jackets, and their female counterparts, but many of the working population had been alive when Victoria was Queen. They had been through two World Wars, many of them as combatants in both. National Service was still in force, and this all made for a less effete nation. It was a hard life – for example there was virtually no central heating, and double glazing was completely unknown. The ice would form inside the bedroom windows as you slept. The only insulation was made from asbestos, and that was treated with gay abandon by everyone, but fortunately we seemed to survive without succumbing to the material; visits to the doctor were for other ailments. The GPO phone box was always there for use in emergencies; you pressed button B and heard the money drop into the machine, when you would ask the operator to connect you. There were two visits a day from the postman who rode his red bicycle round the village. The local Bobby rode his black bicycle to keep a beady eye on the world. All these things were common throughout the land; in the 1950s there was a sense of national identity that is largely lacking today. The very idea of Scotland splitting away was almost nowhere on the political agenda back then. It is true that there were voices raised against the new queen’s title. Even a few post boxes with the monogram EIIR on them were blown up in Scotland. This was not from republican motives, but because she should have been called Elizabeth the first in Scotland – it had been an independent country when Good Queen Bess was on the throne!
Hard though it is to believe, in the 1955 General Election the Tories received more than half the popular vote in Scotland. The Tories governed the UK for most of the 1950s, but it was a very different country sixty years ago.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
THE TRIALS OF WAR
In 1938 my father had set up as an independent trader in a shop in the centre of Norwich. Everything must have been going quite well, because he had employed another optician called John Gantlett; but with the outbreak of war in September 1939 everyone’s attention was grasped by the coming conflict. Such mundane considerations as getting one’s eyes tested went out of the window. He had not been in business long enough to build up any financial reserves, and at the age of 28 he was staring bankruptcy in the face.
He was saved by his reaction to an announcement on the wireless that, because of the blackout, in future all bicycles had to display a rear light. It is a sobering thought that until then it had been perfectly legal to ride a bike in the darkness with only a headlight and a reflector at the back. My father correctly thought that all the rear lights in the country would immediately sell out, and that this would provide him with the opportunity to step in. He made a batch of rear lights from copper tube for the battery, a piece of red perspex and a light bulb, and immediately sold them to Norwich shopkeepers. He was quick off the mark – he had to be – and was soon selling them further afield, as it took firms like Ever Ready some time to catch up with demand; by then people had to some extent returned to their prewar concerns and realized that they didn’t see very well. They returned to the optician to get their eyes tested, and bankruptcy was avoided (for now).
Things were still very tight and the family had to give up their bungalow in the country. My father moved in with his parents in their bungalow in Thorpe St Andrew, and my mother returned to her profession of mid-wife. This was her contribution to the war effort; her pay must also have taken a small amount of the financial pressure off my father. She was sent to work in Peterborough, taking her youngest daughter with her, and woman from Sheringham called Ruby Nurse to help with child care. The eldest daughter Christine remained in Norfolk with her father, being cared for by her grandmother. However her Nanny soon tired of looking after her granddaughter and she too was sent to Peterborough where things became very complicated. Ruby Nurse proved to be an agoraphobiac who locked the children in a room in the house. Tiggie, the younger daughter, had made friends with young Johnny Smith next door, but on her arrival in Peterborough the elder daughter came between them. My father had given his children the Red Letter- written in red ink, to be posted to him if things got intolerable in Peterborough. Unfortunately for them this was kept on the mantelpiece, and was quite out of the reach of young hands. Moreover, locked in their room they never saw a post box. Things obviously weren’t working out, and my mother returned to Norfolk.
My family would have been homeless, but they were taken in by the rector of Poringland and Howe, the Rev. Claude Trendell. They were put up in Howe Rectory, and my mother was given the job of teaching the villager First Aid, in preparation for the imminently expected German invasion. My sister Christine was stood on a table while the application of various splints was demonstrated on her limbs by my mother. In Howe church you may see my father’s name on the war memorial; none of the residents of the village were killed in the war, and consequently those who served were remembered instead. Among these was Frank Mason.
The introduction of conscription was to give my father a way out of some these difficulties. As a health worker, he was not compelled to serve in the armed forces, but he volunteered and joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1940. There he was trained as an instrument mechanic, looking after the many kinds of equipment like gunsights that the army required in the 20th century. He was sent to Woolwich Arsenal, just as the Blitz was descending on the East End of London; night after night the sky was lit up by fires as the bombs fell. On one on occasion he went AWOL: he had heard that Norwich had been flattened by bombs and simply took off to see if his family were OK at Howe– of course they were: it was a false alarm. Perhaps it was on this occasion that daughter Christine remembers her Mummy fainting– she probably thought her husband would be court-marshalled. In the event he was just put on fatigues, nothing worse than that. Against all the odds he enjoyed his time in the army. He made many good friends, and found the technical training invaluable in his later life. This branch of the service was transferred to the newly constituted regiment REME (the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) in 1942, but by then he had left the army. After his training, during which time he was a private soldier, he would have been promoted directly to Sergeant Instructor, but he was retired on medical grounds; his flat feet made him unable to march.
Mt father had returned to Norfolk but the family were still living at Howe Rectory. My eldest sister began her schooling at Brooke Primary School while living at Howe, and would have progressed through the State system, had not Claude Trendell remarked to my father that Norwich High School was a better school. My father took him up on this suggestion and transferred Christine to the High School. She had to wear a passed-down uniform. Thereafter all Frank’s children would be privately educated.
When he was recruited into the army his business in Norwich had been left in the hands of his co-worker John Gantlett. When my father returned to Norwich John Gantlett volunteered in the Royal Navy and was at sea for the rest of the war. He was stationed in the Far East. Back in business, my father could again afford the rent on a house, which was just as well because Claude Trendell returned to his home county of Derbyshire. The family moved into a property in Norwich. This was convenient situated for his work, but also for the German bombs which began to rain down on the city almost as soon as he had moved there in 1942. It was time to move once more, and this time the family found an abandoned railway carriage in a field about a couple of miles outside the city in a hamlet called Markshall. This is across the river Tas from Caistor St Edmund, as has been part of that parish since the seventeenth century. The railway carriage had been used by seasonal workers on the local farm before the war, and had no mains services. Oil lamps and a stove provided light and heat, and water had to be brought from the well at a nearby cottage. I suppose for baths they used the nearby river. It could hardly have been more basic, but it was an idyllic way of life for my young sisters in the summer of 1942. The only black cloud on the horizon for the younger of my sisters was the coming onset of education. “Why can’t I stay at home with Mummie?” she would bitterly complain.
When the Blitz abated my family were able to move back into Norwich (Aurania Avenue), and when the Doodle Bugs and V2s began to fall on the country, the completely random nature of the bombardment meant that no avoiding action was possible. The war in Europe came to an end with the death of Hitler, and the Atom bombs falling on Japan ushered in peace on a devastated country.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
The effects of tidal drift can be seen all along the coast, and are especially interesting in Norfolk; at least I find them so. You must forgive me if the subject I am about to discuss is rather technical, but I will not be using technical language. This is principally because it is not a language I understand, but also because I have no wish to blind my readers with science. Some examples of this technical jargon are ‘littoral transplantation’ and ‘distal accretion’; at an academic level the study of tidal drift can be complicated, though I think the jargon makes this worse. I, on the other hand, will be using simple terms and simple concepts.
But what is tidal drift? From studying the tide tables it is evident that in all down the East Coast high water comes earlier in the north than in the south. High tide is about an hour earlier Yarmouth than it is in Lowestoft. This is not merely a matter of timing; the current that is dictated by the tide also flows in a southerly direction. This we call tidal drift or longshore drift, and its effect can be seen wherever there are breakwaters on the beach; on one side the sand builds up, while on the other side it is carved away. So far it is all relatively straightforward, but it now gets more complicated. Somewhere between Bacton and Sheringham the tidal drift divides; past Winterton it continues to the south, but along the North Norfolk coast it goes west.
Let us examine the direction of the sandspits around the East Anglian coast. At Orford Ness there are many miles of sandbank; this spit goes goes from Aldeburgh in the north to Shingle Street in the south. At Blakeney the sandspit goes from Cley in the east to Blakeney Point in the west. This gives the clear indication of the direction of the longshore drift. So far so understandable, but now we come up with a puzzling fact; further along the Norfolk coast, in the north-western extremity of the county, the sand spits run from west to east! Why is this?
To explain this we must go back and examine what has been going on down the the Lincolnshire coast. There the longshore drift has also been continuing in a north to south direction. It then loops through the Wash, where it briefly goes south to north past Heacham; at Hunstanton it turns east. What happens when the drift that has come down the Lincolnshire coast meets the drift along the North Norfolk coast? At Holme Dunes the sandspit runs from west to east, showing that the tidal drift that has been flowing down Lincolnshire is still the dominant force; but when this current comes up against the North Norfolk current it has nowhere to go. This is not a problem for the North Norfolk longshore drift as it just moves off shore and eventually recirculates. The west/east current just stops and dumps the sediment it has been carrying. The result is the island at Scolt Head; this is how I interpret the situation, though experts might pooh-pooh the suggestion. For much of the North Norfolk coast the action of the tides has caused coastal erosion, but in the area between Brancaster and Wells-Next-the-Sea the ebb and flow of the tides have resulted in the opposite effect. The shifting sands do not rigidly stick to a predictable pattern, but over time (hundreds or even thousands of years) this has been the net result.
The tide tables paint a much more complicated picture and one which reflects the complicated currents that swirl around the Wash and other river estuaries. All along the coast of South Lincolnshire the deposition of estuarine mud from the Wash to the south and longshore drift sand from the north have left the ports of Boston and Wainfleet several miles inland. Boston is still a seaport (just), but Wainfleet is now an inland market town with virtually no craft left on the river Steeping; only a sunken hulk holds any memory of busier times. On the Norfolk side of the Wash the village of Snettisham has similarly been the recipient of much silt and the increase in sandbanks continues.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK
The rise and fall of the Pastons would not be so well known were it not for the preservation of a series of letters which chronicle the progress of members of the family through the period in the fifteenth century that we call the Wars of the Roses. This was a family of Norfolk country gentlemen who later rose to the aristocracy. If you know where to look you can still see the remains to show the wealth and power they once possessed. Only the servants’ wing of their one-time home in Oxnead now stands, but even this provides an impressive residence for someone in these slightly more egalitarian times. The imposing tithe barn in the village of that name is a remote memorial of the Pastons. The Paston family originated from the village of Pastonon the North Norfolk coast.
The first two volumes of the letters were published 230 years ago and caused a minor literary sensation at the time. Parson Woodforde passed favourable comment on the letters in his diary, but the fame of them went well beyond Norfolk; they even earned the editor a knighthood from George III. They have been studied ever since, and I recall them being cited by my history tutor at Oxford. This was particularly fascinating for me, as I could picture the places being referred to in the letters. The part played by the Pastons in national affairs was a minor one, but has been rendered important by the records of their daily affairs that have survived.
As I write I am only a mile or two from Drayton Lodge, where Margaret Paston’s men were besieged by the forces of the Duke of Suffolk. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was attacking her retinue at Caister Castle: (Letter from Margaret to her son John, Sept. 12, 1469). “I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister, and lack vitual . . . and the place is sore broken by the guns of the other party; so that, unless they have hasty help, they are like to lose both their lives and the place, to the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman, for every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be so long in such great jeopardy without help or other remedy.”
In the same period James Gresham acted as the family’s land agent in the North Norfolk village of Gresham where he lived and where the Pastons were the landowners. The Gresham family too were upwardly mobile, and (like the Pastons) went from humble beginnings to positions of great wealth. Sir Thomas Gresham founded the Royal Exchange in London and left instructions for the setting up of Gresham College, which remains a uniquely democratic seat of learning. The family crest of the Grasshopper still stands atop the tower at the Royal Exchange. His uncle Sir John left the Holt Grammar School (now known as Gresham’s School) as his legacy to the children of Norfolk. Sir William Paston built the North Walsham Grammar School. This is better known as the Paston School where the young Horace Nelson was the most famous pupil. Although the Holt Grammar School was much closer to Burnham Thorpe where Nelson lived it was not considered suitable by his father; until it was refounded as Gresham’s School in 1900 it was not regarded as more than a minor establishment for local boys. The Paston College is still a feature of North Walsham although now on a different site and a sixth form college in the state sector. Gresham’s also boasts the Grasshopper as its crest. The Paston Coat of Arms is topped by a more conventional heraldic beast, the Gryphon.
Robert Paston was born in 1631 and educated at Westminster School. He was at Cambridge at a difficult time, when many of his contemporaries were staunch Puritans. He spent the years of the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate abroad, much of it in France. He was thus able to avoid the difficulties (including imprisonment and sequestration of their wealth) that befell many Royalists who remained in England. On the Restoration of the monarchy he was elected to Parliament.
During the reign of Charles II Robert Paston (1631-1683) was created Earl of Yarmouth. The oil painting ‘The Paston Treasures’ (now held at the Castle Museum in Norwich) shows the objets d’art collected by Robert Paston during his travels in France and elsewhere. They were held at Oxnead Hall.
Under James II Robert’s son William converted to Catholicism and was created Treasurer of the Household. However, despite returning to the Anglican fold after the Revolution that deposed James II, he fell on hard times under William and Mary. He died heavily indebted and without living heirs in 1732 and the title became extinct.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK
I was 24 in 1973 and that makes it feel very long ago; it was a long time ago, and it represents a different world in many ways.
One thing that hasn’t changed that much though is going up to the capital by train. By 1973 diesel locomotives had hauled the trains for ten years, and it would be another decade before electrification came to the East Anglian mainline. At the beginning of February 1973 I went to London with my father. We were after some special fasteners for an engineering project we were engaged in. After a search we successfully accomplished that in Clerkenwell. Next we went to South Kensington to visit the Science Museum. There we had lunch and looked round the aviation and nautical exhibits. One thing that caught my eye was the original boat that won the first boat race for Oxford in 1829. We got the 4:30 train back to Norwich and were home by early evening. Our young dog Fido was pleased to see us.
This was the year that the village of Attlebridge on the A 1067 road from Norwich was bypassed. I drove along the new road for the first time on March 15th. Until then all the traffic to Fakenham had to cross the narrow medieval bridge across the river Wensum. Bawdeswell too was bypassed at the same time; there has been little improvement to the road since, although the amount of traffic has grown enormously. In spite of the economic woes of the period (some of which I will detail below) the 1970s were a good time for such minor road improvements in East Anglia; a decade later we had major road building projects like the Norwich Southern Bypass (but we are still waiting for the Acle straight to be widened).
The family car at the time was a brown Daf 44. From the family point of view the major drawback was the fact that it only had two doors. This was alright if only two people were in the car, but this was not ideal if there were more. Daf cars were Dutch and they were all automatic. The gear lever was simple; there were just three position; forward, reverse and neutral in the middle. There was of course no clutch. The Variomatic transmission was by two rubber belts, a system unique to Daf cars although they were later bought up by Volvo who produced the 340 series with the same system.
The Daf 44 was fussy at lower speeds and did not really settle down until she was doing 70 mph. Luckily there was little traffic on the roads by modern standards and fewer speed limits, so this speed was frequently achievable. For the first part of the year it was perfectly legal to drive at 70 mph, but the Oil Crisis that began in October caused the government to reduce the national speed limit to 50 mph in December. (In those pre-speed camera days this limit was honoured more in the breach than the observance.) I have hinted at the political and economic troubles we were experiencing at the time; besides the oil crisis we also had in December the Three Day Week. This was introduced because the coal miners were out on strike. Things continued to be difficult throughout the 1970s, culminating in 1978/9 with the Winter of Discontent. This, for those of you too young to remember, was the time when dead bodies went unburied and rubbish piled upon the streets because of industrial unrest.
The Winter of Discontent and the Three Day Week must have made a deep impression on Mrs Thatcher; she was Education Secretary in 1973 and Leader of the Opposition by 1979. To reduce the importance of the coal industry to national life became one of her principal policies once she was in power. Now we distrust coal because it is a dirty fuel, but this had no place in the decision to close down the industry; it was a political matter, the origins of which lay in the strikes of 1973. There is still a huge amount of coal left in under much of Britain, but the future appears to be in renewable energy sources. Shutting down the mines proved to be the way things were going, although many of the redundant miners never worked again. The discovery of gas in the North Sea enabled the country to change the kind of fuel we used. Great Yarmouth power station had been coal-fired; now a gas fuelled one has taken its place. Houses were generally cold and drafty forty years ago, with no doubling glazing or insulation, so we huddled round the fire. In those years we still relied on coal to keep us warm through the chilly months, but I do not recall any problems for us in that regard. Our coal bunkers must have been filled for the winter well before the miners went on strike but this was not the case for the country at large in 1973. Mrs Thatcher made sure she had huge stocks of coal before picking her fight with the miners.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
My great-great-great-grandfather William Rivett was born in a central Norfolk village in 1776. Shipdham is a large village, about half way between Dereham and Watton; and in the mid C9th it had nearly 2000 inhabitants. The Rivetts were a family of local builders; William was the carpenter and his brother John the bricklayer. William’s eldest sister Susan also married into a building family. The village could support quite a few builders and even a building surveyor. William Rivett appears in the 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Norfolk as carpenter and builder in Shipdham. Aged about 70 William retired to the nearby village of Southburgh to deal in pigs. The building business in Shipdham had already been passed on to his son Thomas while William was still living there. Two of his sons were already living in Southburgh, which may have prompted the move by their father. His son Edward was a country wheelwright in Southburgh employing 2 men and his younger brother Francis was apprenticed to the trade. They were a family of successful tradesmen. Other members of his family became the grocer and the post master in Soutburgh (then a more flourishing village than it has since become). Edward’s descendants continued to work as wheelwrights in Southburgh, while Francis set up business in the trade in Shipdham. He retired to Swaffham where he was living in retirement in 1912.
From as early as 1749 there had been a charity school in Shipdham, which taught about a hundred poor children and they had to pay no fees. They got their basic education gratis. In visual terms the village still appears much as it must have done in the 18th century, with the church dominating the High Street. The market which had been established by the Bishop of Ely in Henry III’s reign had been obsolete for centuries, though the name Market Street still remains. By the mid 19th century it had three Non-conformist chapels including both Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist. It had a wide range of shops and tradesmen, butchers, grocers and ironmongers.
William’s son Henry followed his father into the building trade, but by 1870 he had branched out into farming. He had 12 acres, and produced bullocks for the farmers around Shipdham. His farm was in Blackmoor Row in Shipdham, and this had been passed down to him through his aunt Jane Stagg (nee Rivett). She had married a farmer in Blackmoor Row. When her husband James died at the young age of 49 in 1824 his widow Jane had continued to farm in Blackmoor Row in her own right until her death in 1852. Although she had several sons there were no grandchildren to inherit the farm; James Stagg, the son who had inherited the farm married late in life and had no children of his own; one of his brothers emigrated to the USA and one had died as a young man. When James died my great-grandfather Henry became a farmer, and so started a dynasty of Rivett farmers in Norfolk that survives to this day. His son (also called Henry) was a farmer near Mileham in Norfolk; he was my great-grandfather. Several of the next generation were also farmers, but my branch of the family were drapers.
My Great Aunt Hilda (who married farmer Ralph Wace) appears in this photo. She is the baby on her grannie’s knee; she was a great granddaughter of William Rivett with whom I began this story. By the time this photograph was taken this branch of the family had moved a few miles away to Beeston.
I posted the above information on the Shipdham History Group’s Facebook page and got this interesting comment: Thank you so much for all this information. I have a photo of one of the Rivett men in fancy dress in Southburgh in early C20 and will have to look it up. There is a corner in Southburgh still known as Rivett’s corner so we know where they lived there. I believe that it is Edward Rivett who is perhaps remembered best in Southburgh. Will see what else I can find out about the family, particularly the Rivett who married a Stagg and lived in Blackmoor Row. Thanks again – BB
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Barnstaple, Devon 1958. My first long distance trip, starting from Norwich Thorpe as the station was then called, to distinguish it from the other two termini in Norwich. Steam engines ruled the tracks in those days!
Glasgow, Scotland, 1962. With my sister Tiiggie we stopped off at Glasgow en route to Malaig, where we were to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We had gone up to Edinburgh on the night sleeper.
Ostend, Belgium, 1965. School trip to Eastern Europe.We went by train from Waterloo. After catching the ferry to Belgium we caught the train at Ostend. There were no electric trains on the European railways then, but in the capitalist West the expresses were already diesel hauled. In Communist Europe the trains were still steam hauled.
Cologne, Germany, 1965. Our first change of trains at about midnight. The workers were still busy digging up the road outside the cathedral (a dedication to getting the job done unheard of in England in those days, and even today). We had to stop at the border with Czechoslovakia where we were thoroughly checked by the Communist border guards. The border was heavily defended by machine gun-toting soldiers. It was strictly prohibited to photograph near the railway, but I managed to sneak my camera there to take this picture!
Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1965. After an overnight sleep in the couchette car of the train we arrived at Prague, our first destination in the Communist East. In the hotel I experienced my first night under a duvet; such things were then unknown in Britain.
Budapest, Hungary, 1965. We spent several days in Czechoslovakia before going on by train to Hungary. We stopped off at the border to view the Danube Bend. In Budapest we rode the ancient electric underground railway which was then still using the original carriages from the 1890s.
Vienna, Austria, 1965. Our last stop was back in the West, and rather flat in comparison to Communist Europe. It was dire in the East for the inhabitants, but as visitors from the wealthy Capitalist part of the world we were treated very specially indeed, almost like Royalty. They needed our cash!
Montreal, 1969. While visiting my sister in Canada my mother and I caught the train from the suburbs to downtown Montreal. We went with my sister and her children. It was single car train, but it had an observation deck (which I used of course). There was another railway visible from my sister’s house, one with plenty of freight trains going past.
Oxford, 1967. I went to Sheringham from school by bus, to catch the train from the station. This was already the new BR built halt. The North Norfolk Railway had purchased the adjacent former station, but as yet no trains were running and it stood derelict. This was in December for my interview for a place at university. From Norwich I caught the train to Liverpool Street, and from Paddington I went to Oxford on a train full of fellow candidates.
Folkestone, 1977, en route for the Baie de Somme, France. With my friend Bill I went on a day trip to ride the Baie de Somme narrow gauge preserved line. The return trip entailed changing trains after midnight at Shippea Hill of all places!
Aarhus, 1982. In Denmark me and my friend Bill travelled from Aarhus in Jutland to the island of Zealand, which at that time involved the entire train being hauled on the ferry for the sea crossing. (Since then a bridge has been built.) The door at the end of the last carriage on the train had a widow, from which you could watch the track disappearing into the distance.
Copenhagen, 1982. Arriving by train, we spent a few days in the Danish capital, where we did all the usual tourist things like visiting the Little Mermaid. We flew back to Manchester airport from there.
Aldershot, 1986. Stopped off for a haircut en route to my RAMC recruitment assessment.
Ash Vale, 1986. To RAMC HQ at Keogh Barracks for basic training.
Windermere, 1986. Just married, Molly and I went on a special to Lake Windermere in the Lake District; on the way we went over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line. We stopped off at Ribblehead station for a look over the valley.
Bournemouth, 1996. I caught the train down to Bournemouth where I had a week’s training at the Elstead Hotel as rep for the Union of Postal Workers. Saw the QE 2 at Southampton.
Paris, France, 2001. Our first overseas family holiday; Molly, Peter, Polly and I went by Eurostar from London. This was before the high-speed line was built, and we left from Waterloo.
Bruges, Belgium, 2002. With our children we went on a day trip by train to Bruges from the Midi Station in Brussels.
Estoril, 2005. On a family holiday to Portugal (when we flew to Porto) we arrived at our hotel by train from Lisbon.
Cascais, Portugal, 2005. We travelled to the beach for a morning sunbathing at the terminus of the line. Sunbathing is something I almost never do, and this was not a success. The railway line was lovely though, and runs along the sea throughout its length.
Flam, 2011. On our Norwegian cruise we travelled this steep electric railway line from sea level (the fjord) up to the mountainous country. There, despite it being August, there was still some snow about.
Brussels, Belgium, 2015. Molly and I travelled on Eurostar from St Pancras and spent a few days with Peter and Alex in Brussels. It as February, and Peter was due to move back to England later in the month. We went first class (as by then I had suffered from a stroke) and were entertained to a lavish meal as we were whisked through Kent.
Wymondham, Norfolk, 2015. I went solo for the first time since suffering from my stroke.I got on the train at Wymonham and travelled to Cambridge, where I was met by my cousin William. I also returned unaccompanied to Norwich.
I have been on many other railway journeys, mostly to London. Over my lifetime I have been by train to Wales, March in Cambridgeshire, Weymouth, Liverpool Street (all of these in steam days), to name but a few. I have travelled on lines that were axed by Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s. This article includes all my travels abroad.
THE BLOG FOR RAILWAY MEMORIES
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