Tag Archives: places



Parson James Woodforde

I have told you before about the antiquity of the pubs in Costessey including the White Hart. The pub has been rebuilt twice since the eighteenth century, though it has retained its name. It was still called the White Hart when I first remember it, though recently the name has been abbreviated to The Harte. In the morning of May 21st 1778 Parson Woodforde and some friends walked to the White Hart in Costessey from Weston Longville (a journey of several miles) to see a famous woman who was staying at the pub. This was Hannah Snell who dressed as a man. While staying at Costessey she was selling laces and haberdashery to provide her with a livelihood, and Woodforde gave her 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) for some buttons worth only 1/4d (just under 8p in modern money). Obviously her celebrity was good for trade! The transaction netted her over £20 by today’s value. But what was her fame? – it was more than just having been a cross-dresser obviously.


Hannah Snell was born in Worcester on 23 April 1723. At the age of 17 she moved to London where she married. Her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant and she later found out he had been hanged for murder. After her young daughter died she enlisted in the Royal Marines in the sloop-of-war HMS Swallow at Portsmouth. She served in the Marines in India, fought and was injured several times (including being shot in the groin according to her account, though this unlikely story is disputed), but in three years she was never discovered. However on her return to England she revealed her true sex to her shipmates. She could no longer serve in the colours but was persuaded to petition the Duke of Cumberland (the head of the Army) to secure a soldier’s pension. This she was granted for wounds received. She became a celebrity having the story of her exploits written in the Gentleman’s Magazine. She undoubtedly embroidered the events of her life, but as related here they seem to be true. A chapbook (i.e. a cheap popular pamphlet) entitled The Female Soldier was published in 1750 and ran to two editions. Her portrait was painted several times and engravings of her in military uniform and aiming her musket were widely published; her fame even reached rural Norfolk!

She appeared in uniform on stage doing military drills and singing appropriate songs; she was also briefly the landlady of a pub in Wapping. She remarried and had two more children who survived; she has descendants living today. Widowed once again she married for a third time. It must have been after her third husband died that she was travelling East Anglia in 1778, selling trinkets. Later her military pension was increased and she was no longer compelled to travel the country profiting from her name. In the 1780s she was living in Stoke Newington (London) with her son who was by then grown up and working as a clerk. By her late sixties she was suffering from dementia and after being admitted to Bedlam she died in 1792. She is buried at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.






WATERMILLS, WINDMILLS; none illustrated here are now in a derelict condition. Some have been restored, some have been demolished and some have been burnt down by accident. 

Old Buckenham Mill, 1970, before restoration.


Jeremiah James Colman purchased the tower mill at Old Buckenham in 1862. This was the year that the firm left the site at Stoke Holy Cross. The production of mustard was transferred to Carrow Works in Norwich, and Old Buckenham was used to produce starch. It was an astute business practice to use his mills to produce high value commodities like mustard powder and laundry starch. These could be sold at a far higher mark-up than bread flour, although the process of milling it was very similar. The railway network enabled Colmans to sell these specialised products across the country. The nearest station to Old Buckenham was Attleborough, three miles away. By 1877 the starch business had been transferred to Carrow, so all the firm’s activities were concentrated on one site.

COSTESSEY MILL before it burnt down in the 1920s.

Simon Wilkin

In 1810 the mill at Costessey – a previous building to that shown above – was owned by Simon Wilkin. He lived in the mill house in Costessey, but he was not himself involved in the dusty business of milling corn. His interests were much more intellectual. He travelled widely, and had a private tutor to teach him Greek! He should have been a student at Cambridge, but as a Baptist he was then ineligible to attend. He lost the mill at Costessey when some incautious investments had him declared bankrupt. He restored his finances through setting up a printing business that was still going in Norwich in the 1970s. He established the Norwich Museum in his house in the city centre; it moved to Norwich Castle later in the century. While still a fairly young man he retired to Hamstead to edit the first edition of the collected works of Sir Thomas Browne. As I said, he was an intellectual.

Taverham paper mill 1839


Richard Mackenzie Bacon owned the paper milling business at Taverham for about ten years at the beginning of the 19th century. He was a journalist all his life, and continued to edit the local weekly throughout the period he was trying to establish the first machine-made paper business in Norfolk. He was not himself a hands-on paper maker, but he worked very hard in the business organisation. When his efforts failed he turned his full attention back to journalism. Besides continuing to edit the Norwich Mercury he published the first music magazine in London. He was also instrumental in setting up the Norwich Festival.

TAVERHAM PAPER MIL circa 1898. It produced paper for the Times.

Taverham mill went on to successful operation after Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s doomed efforts. When the railway opened from London to Norwich it became possible to supply paper to the capital. The editor of the Times’s father bought the mill at Taverham (which had again fallen on hard times) and the Norfolk village went on to produce much of the paper used to print the journal for over fifty years. The mill was made uneconomic by the development of wood pulp as the raw material for paper. The  problem with wood had been the chemicals used to bleach the pulp. When this difficulty was solved the whole industry went into a period of change; because the wood was sourced in Scandinavia the import made coastal paper mills the way forward. Taverham mill was a casualty of this change.

Bawburgh mill,

J. H. F. WALTER, owner of the Taverham paper making business from 1884.

J. H. F. Walter was a cousin of the owner of the Times newspaper. He inherited the paper mill at Taverham in 1884 and acquired the mill at Bawburgh to produced pulp for Taveham. The existing structure was built for Walter in 1886, the previous mill having burnt down some years earlier.

Bawburgh mill had ground flour for most of its existence. The first record of a mill there comes from the Domesday Book. In the early years of the 19th century it was occupied by the Colman family in the days before they began producing mustard. After the paper business ceased in 1899 the mill reverted to grinding flour, and continued making animal feed until 1967. Water power had been supplemented by steam engines since the 19th century, and latterly it was replaced entirely by the internal combustion engine.

Horsey mill was in fact a wind pump. One of many on the Broads, it belongs to the National Trust. It has recently been renovated.

HELLESDON MILL (from a postcard of about 1910). This was also at one time a pulp mill for Taverham. It later reverted to flour milling. It was demolished after WW1.

Cley mill.

Hindringham mill

Hindringham mill; this tower mill was built in the middle of the 19th century to replace a tower mill on the same site.  At five stories tall it stands high in this North Norfolk village. The mill was severely damaged in a storm in 1860, and this appears to have led to the bankruptcy of the miller. By 1937 it was derelict. The mill was restored for residential use in the late 20th century. This picture shows the mill in the early 1990s when my wife and children spent a summer holiday there with her parents. The mill is no longer available for short-term lets.

Oxnead mill.

The mill at Oxnead was a paper mill in the early 19th century. It never converted to machine-made paper  and by the late 19th century it was milling corn. The mill was by-passed by the Upper Bure navigation, which gave wherries access to Aylsham. This waterway was made impassable by the floods of 1912.

SAXTED mill, 1962. This preserved mill is in Suffolk.

HEMPSTEAD MILL, 1963. At that time it was still operated occasionally as saw mill.

On entering Mundesley from Bacton on the coast road, this mill is the first thing you see.

LODDON MILL, at the head of navigation on the RIVER CHET. In the 1980s the mill was a restaurant and I took my fiancee there for a meal.

Woodbridge tide mill. It had been working commercially until a few years earlier, and was being preserved in 1971 when I took this picture.

Reydon mill near Southwold in Suffolk, before restoration. It has a brief career as a wind pump before a gale put it out of action permanently.






I am showing my age when I say that it all seems like yesterday, though 1980 was nearly forty years ago. In political terms in the UK you can sum up the ten years in just one word: ‘Thatcher’.  She was PM throughout the decade. Although she was a constant feature in parliament, in my personal affairs it was a time of great upheaval; in 1980 I was living in the home I had always known, happily walking my dog every morning and hoeing my flower beds before I went to work. It was a solitary and uneventful life, and my sole source of income was the family firm that I had inherited. By 1990 my world had changed; I was a semi-professional musician, a medic in the Territorial Army and had become a freelance journalist. I even had a Union Card! I was shortly to work as a researcher on programmes for Anglia Television. At the end of the decade I wasn’t living in my old family home anymore, but in my current house. No longer a confirmed bachelor, I was married with two young children. You might say that it was a completely different lifestyle, and you would be right.

I had a couple of canal holidays in the ’80s

The Swinging Sixties or the Dire Seventies were eras that had a certain unity of direction, but can you place any theme on the 1980s? Maybe you can, but I can’t. That is not to say that nothing happened during the period, but the events appeared to be unrelated and came out of the blue. Take the deep recession and the doubling of VAT that marked the first years of the decade; the family business, which had been doing quite well until then, never really recovered from the shock. Then, while I and many others were licking our financial wounds and vowing never to vote for that Thatcher woman again, we were plunged into a war thousands of miles away. The resolute precision with which the Task Force was assembled and dispatched to do the job of recapturing the Falkland Islands produced a deep sense of pride among the nation. After that Mrs Thatcher could do no wrong. Even the deeply divisive Miners’ Strike could not shake our faith in Mrs Thatcher. The effective destruction of our coal industry seemed terrible at the time, but who would now support the widespread use of this dirty and carbon rich fuel? Things have moved on and now we are told that renewables are the future of energy production. Mrs T never lost an election, and her downfall was a result of Tory party in-fighting; the Poll Tax was widely regarded as a debacle, but the tax was abandoned without ever being put to the people in an election. Her attitude to the European Union was broadly supportive, but increasingly reluctantly so. She clearly had major doubts about its ultimate destination.

In  weather terms the memorable event of the eighties was the great gale of the 15/16th October 1987. We were living in a flat in Norwich that was close to a copse of trees, but luckily we did not experience too much damage. Others were not so fortunate. Every decade seems to produce its exception meteorological event; in the fifties it was the East Coast Flood, in the sixties it was the Big Freeze and in the seventies it was the Long Hot Summer of ’76.

In terms of culture this was the decade when the cinema enjoyed a renaissance. The musical became the dominant theatrical experience, largely through the popularity of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The hold of atonal music on Radio Three was loosened, and the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, which had been regularly performed, are now almost never heard. The 80s saw the beginning of this trend. In the graphic arts postmodernism continued to spread its baleful influence. The food we ate at restaurants  grew in international diversity, but the price could be high and the quality mediocre, at least when contrasted with my wife’s excellent cooking. Literature may have developed in all sorts of important ways, but if so it passed me by. You must forgive me; as you can tell, it was a busy decade for me.





This booklet of road maps was printed circa 1930, sometime between the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925 and George V’s passing inRAC 1936. I can tell this from the Royal Warrants on the advert for Southgates Ltd, the ‘motor specialists’ of Fakenham. No doubt they got Royal approval from servicing the cars at Sandringham. The booklet is a treasure trove of information. From it I learn that the road through Lyng crossed the river by a ford, the bridge that I assumed had been in place for centuries is in fact only about 80 years old. The lane to Ringland had another ford, to be used if you were driving, though pedestrians could use the wooden footbridge from Taverham that had been there since the 19th century. I wonder how often those early cars stalled mid-river through getting water on the sparking plugs while making this perilous crossing? Deeper waterways required other methods of traversing them; there was a car ferry between Plumstead and Surlingham on the river Yare, and another one between Horning and Woodbastwick on the Bure.

There were four toll bridges in Norfolk; that at Hilgay near the river Great Ouse cost you 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence) –  there was no option but to pay if you wanted to go to the railway station there. Hilgay station closed in 1963, although tolls had ended long before. If you were driving between Dereham and Holt the bridge at Guist only cost you fourpence, or threepence in a motorcycle with sidecar. There were no toll bridges in Suffolk, and just two car ferries; those at Walberswick and Bawdsey. These two ferries still ply the rivers Blyth and Deben, but now the largest thing you can take across is a bicycle.

Being a map for touring motorists the booklet does not include railways, but their ghostly presence can be discerned by the roads they crossed, where the level crossings are shown on the map.  It mentions attractions and sights along the way; bathing at Cromer, yachting at Wroxham and angling at these and other places. The flint knapping workshops at Brandon were still operational and were well worth a visit, according to the Royal Automobile Club. It draws the map reader’s attention to the rood screen at West Tofts church. This marvellous church is not now available for visitors, being part of the STANTA Battle Area. If you are determined to see it there is normally an annual carol service held there, but arrive in good time if you want a seat! It is very popular, and deservedly so.

This copy of the book appears almost brand new, apart from the rusty staples. I had originally bought the book of maps to remind me of the routes taken by motorists before any bypasses were built, but I have discovered so much more. There is a gazetteer which has much of interest in itself; Yarmouth is the ‘premier herring port of the British Isles’, while the Quay is ‘one of the largest and finest in Europe’. Some of the information is wrong though; Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard was not born at Horsham St Faiths, in spite of what the book says. She was probably born in the Duke of Norfolk’s home in Lambeth South London, and when she moved as a young child it was certainly to Horsham, but the one in Sussex, not that in Norfolk.

Best of all are the adverts. It is quite remarkable how many hotels are still in existence, about 90 years later. The hotel which is annually take over by the Fishmongers of London (the governing body) for Speech Day at Gresham’s School, the Blakeney Hotel; The Crown at Woodbridge, where I had lunch as a nine-year old and The Cliff Hotel at Gorleston where we went last year for my cousin’s 80th birthday were all advertised in the book. Other hotels like the Bell in Norwich and the White Lion in Eye have closed long ago, but are still remembered with affection. The illustrations, like that of the steam launch carrying tourists on Oulton Broad, or the elegant motor car that appears on the Potter Heigham Garage advert are quite rare among the pages of adverts, but are all the more welcome for that.





POSTWICK GROVE. Woods near Norwich/ (John Crome)


THE FIRST ROTARY PRESS 1814; in Norwich.

BRAMERTON. Looking towards the Woods End, early 19th century, (Norwich School).

The Medieval bridge over the RIVER WENSUM at Attlebridge

Taverham paper mill 1839

Norwich cattle market, 1871.

Yarmouth sailimg smack

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)

CANARIES were a Norwich speciality

Whitlingham church, 18th century print

Stoke Holy Cross Church, by Ladbrooke.

SANDLIN’S FERRY, the site is now known as PULLS FERRY

Costessey Park by John Thirtle, 1814

OXNEAD HALL as it was in the Paston family’s time

Boulton and Paul’s factory in Rose Lane, Norwich, circa 1890


This old town mansion is a fortunate survival in the city. Built over 600 years ago, there are now only a handful of places like it left. The Music House in King Street is one, although it is even older; Dragon House (also in historic King Street) is an impressive late medieval merchant’s home and warehouse; the Curat House is hidden behind a modern facade in the Haymarket and dates from 1501. Strangers Hall is compact and hidden from view. All you see as you walk down Charing Cross is an unimpressive shop window, and the surrounding building is not only unremarkable but quite without merit. The glory of Stangers Hall lies in its interiors. It had fallen into dereliction and would have been demolished had it not been saved in the 1890s by a local solicitor with an interest in history. He was to use it as his home for the last twenty-five years of his life, but it took some time to restore and he did not move into it until early in the 20th century.

MILLIE (28/5/1911) was working at Strangers Hall.

Millicent Mason was one of my great-aunts. In 1900 she was still at school, but she was about to embark on her first job. This portrait of Millie was taken while she was housekeeper at Strangers Hall. Her employer was 51-year-old solicitor Leonard Bolingbroke, who lived there with his wife and children. There were two other members of staff, a cook and a nurse (a member of the family must have had health problems). Leonard Bolingbroke it was who bequeathed the house to the council when he died in 1927. It became a pioneering museum of social history, one of the first in the country. Millie had moved on well before the creation of the museum and had begun her lifetime career as a midwife. While she was still working at Strangers Hall my father used to visit his aunt Millie in her living quarters. He was astonished when the same room was later on display as part of the museum. ‘This isn’t to be view by members of the public’ was his immediate reaction; ‘It was my auntie’s home!’

St Mary the Less is a church near Strangers Hall in the centre of the city. You can easily miss it among all the shops, unless you raise your eyes to roof level; there the tower may still be seen. The church was originally closed in 1544, but in 1565 it was given by the City Corporation to the Dutch refugees who were already being driven out of the Netherlands by religious persecution. The Dutch were highly valued for their weaving skills which found a ready market in East Anglia. They appear to have used the church for selling cloth rather than as a place of worship, holding their religious services in the Dutch language in Blackfriar’s Hall, a tradition which continued into living memory, finally ending in 1929. In 1637 the church of St Mary the Less was transferred to the Huguenot community, the French-speaking Calvinist refugees; prior to that the congregation had worshipped in the Bishop’s chapel in the Cathedral Close. They continued to hold services in French in St Mary the Less until 1832.

How is all this connected with Strangers Hall? The house acquired its current name from these incomers or ‘Strangers’ who settled in Norwich, particularly in that area of the city around Strangers Hall. This term ‘Stranger’ included both Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. These immigrants may have accounted for as many as a third of the population of Norwich at their height, but by the end of the 16th century an outbreak of plague, prompted by their poor living conditions, reduced their numbers to about a quarter of the population. Even this was a huge proportion of the city’s residents.

They had a huge influence on the city. Many of the novelties introduce by these Protestant immigrants from Northern Europe resonate down the centuries, almost to the present day. It was for instance the Strangers who first brought the canary to Norwich, a bird which remained popular into the 20th century, when it gave its name to the local football team. The Florist’s Feasts were competitions held among local horticulturists in the local inns. These were a feature of Norwich life from the 1630s for two hundred years, and these too were an immigrants’ innovation. Anthony de Solempne, a Dutch refugee, became the first printer in Norwich in the mid 16 century and was a successful trader; he was made a Freeman of the city. In the brewing industry the introduction of hops led to the production of beer rather than the English unhopped ale; this was also down to the Strangers.

Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597. 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 deeply involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff  and 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. In 1623 Augustine was knighted and bought the estate in Taverham, moving from a trader to a member of the landed gentry. It was during his father Thomas’s time that Strangers Hall got its name. His grandfather (also Thomas) was the first person to invite the Dutch to Norwich, and provided lodgings for them at his home in Strangers Hall..





This container traffic from the port of Felixstowe has grown from nothing in 1960 to the huge operation it is today. Fifty years ago just a handful of containers left Suffolk for Harwich, which was the major freight terminal in the district; one or two trains a day were assembled there for onward distribution. Now Felixstowe takes 40% of all the containers that are imported into the UK and the port is the largest in the country for this kind of traffic.

Dr Beeching had thoughts of closing the line from Ipswich to Lowestoft, but the track would have remained as far as Leiston to carry nuclear waste from Sizewell power station. (I wonder why this hazardous substance always goes by the safe and reliable railway?!) Anyway, that would probably have preserved the goods line to Felixstowe too. In view of today’s pivot role of the port complex in the freight infrastructure of the country, the fact that it retained a rail connection is just as well. Felixstowe Pier station was the original passenger terminal in the town, on the site now occupied by Felixstowe Port. It had opened in 1877 and closed to passengers in 1951. Goods traffic continued in very small quantities.

Of course a lot of containers go by road along the A12 and A14; these highways have had money spent on them, but they are still pitifully inadequate for the 21st century. There is no motorway running into Suffolk, which shows how little priority is given to East Anglia’s transport needs. This is even more true of rail; think how many heavy lorries would be taken off these congested highways by an increase in rail capacity. The line to Felixstowe is single track for nearly its entire length – this was not the case in 1959, although traffic was much lighter then. The work of redoubling the track is not expected to be finished until 2030 moreover, and even then it will not be complete. It is hard to understand why it has taken so long to begin to return the line to its former importance, let alone why it has taken so long to start to upgrade it.

The construction the short (1.2 km) stretch of line between the East Suffolk Line and the Great Eastern main Line (technically known as a chord) means that trains no longer have to pass through Ipswich and reverse on their way to Nuneaton, where many of them terminate. The chord opened in 2014 and was constructed at a cost of £59m, but this is only a small part of the investment needed on the line to the midlands. Trains on this route are expected to more than double in the next ten years as track improvements make this feasible, but as this is one of the premier freight lines in Britain it seems impossibly slow progress.  The result will still be an inferior service. From Suffolk County Council’s point of view the port generates over 10,000 jobs and (in my opinion) much greater investment is needed to preserve Felixstowe’s attractiveness. Other ports are trying to take a share of the business, in particular the new London Gateway port on the river Thames. This will take some of this traffic in the future, but hopefully the increasing trade in the UK will be enough for both ports to prosper.

The redoubling of the line through Soham and the redesign of Ely junction are just two of the improvements urgently required on this line. Unfortunately many of these upgrades will merely be the reinstatement of track that existed in the past, until ‘rationalisation’ took place. At least we have stopped singling these lines now, but it is a pity that this was ever done in the first place. The taking up of track is not done without cost, and the relaying of it is even more expensive. The restoration of two-way working on these few miles to Ely has thrown up so many problems that the project has been abandoned for now, which means that the reintroduction of a station at Soham has also been put on hold. Even the improvements to Ely junction proved too expensive for Network Rail’s current budget and have been delayed until some future time.

The other route by rail through Ipswich to Stratford in East London at present still takes most of the containers from Felixstowe, although this is a pinch point. As more trains run on the Elizabeth Line through Stratford more goods traffic will be routed through Bury St Edmunds instead. The chord in Ipswich will go some way to make this transfer possible. The chord was planned as a freight only line, but this has been upgraded to dual use to include passenger traffic. I can understand specials being directed this way, carrying those wanting to experience the new route, but I am at a loss to envisage any regular passenger services wishing to avoid Ipswich station. The chord has the infrastructure already in place for eventual electrification, although there is no date suggested for when this might be done. It would require the electrification of a mainly freight line, and Network Rail are having difficulties even in electrifying the main line to Bristol. I do not see this electrification to Felixstowe happening any time soon.

It is not generally realised that another chord was introduced on this line nearly one hundred years ago, which created the direct line from Ipswich to Peterborough. Although the term chord was not used then, this short length of track connected the Ely to Newmarket line with the Ipswich to Cambridge line just to the west of Kennett station. The original line from Ely to Newmarket has been returned to agricultural use, but it can still be traced on Google Maps’ satellite view. Before the Soham/Kennett chord was constructed there was not a direct route from Bury St Edmunds to Ely, but a few trains a day went this way by reverse at Newmarket – quite a performance with the locomotive hauled trains of the time.

Things were very different then; there was no Bury to Ely line, but there were lines from Bury to Thetford  and Long Melford, besides the lines to Ipswich and Cambridge. Bury was then a hub for local trains; goods wagons were loaded and unloaded at virtually every station on the network, while the idea of long distance freight traffic from Felixstowe to the midlands had not entered railway planners’ minds. Now Bury is a station where freight traffic is a heavy user of the line, but obviously these trains do not stop there. It is on a long distance route that did not even exist in the heyday of steam.

Another chord was recently proposed at Reedham in Norfolk, this time reinstating the line of 1847 which connected Yarmouth and Lowestoft directly. This link was made redundant by the opening of Yarmouth South Town station in 1859. This chord would reopen the  direct service from Yarmouth to Ipswich (and perhaps eventually Liverpool Street) via the East Suffolk Line, but this proposal from Network Rail got a dusty answer from the not-very-impressive local MP. He merely said it was a pity the railways had been so drastically cut in the 1960s. Indeed it is, but what is the point of regretting the past? I can do it in a blog like this, but a politician should be looking to the future. It is true that the railway through the Berney Arms halt would need improvement to bring the speed limit up from the current snail’s pace, but this would only be a plus.

Will it ever happen? With the pace of progress with the vital container traffic on the Felixstowe line and the lack of local support I doubt it.






           St Edmund and the Vikings                    869–1066

Joseph C. W. Mason

Now Available!
Paperback, 234×156 mm, 168 pp. With 7 maps, 27 colour and 7 b/w illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-9997752-1-6


King Edmund’s short reign over the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia was marred by invasion by Vikings from Denmark. Edmund himself was killed by them. He won no great battle. But he became the most celebrated of all Anglo-Saxon royal saints: dedicatee of dozens of churches, whose relics were the object of great pilgrimages, and regarded for some time as the national saint of England.

The author signs a copy for a customer at the launch on the 19th April.

As his cult grew, it became impossible to draw a line between the truth and its embellishment by hagiographers with their own messages to promote. Was Edmund the chaste, peace-loving man whom Abbo of Fleury depicted, or was he rather a powerful warrior? And why did the Vikings later play a large part in fostering his legend?

Joseph Mason roots his account in the Viking period: the last days of the life of the real man, and the first decades of the development of his cult. He focuses on the Vikings and Edmund’s interaction with them, both before and after his death, and he draws on unconventional sources of information: the pattern of church dedications to Edmund, place names, and the archaeological record. Mason argues that these traces, albeit sparse, provide valuable evidence that suggests how and where the Vikings travelled, where the impact of their invasion was greatest, and where the source of his subjects’ gratitude to Edmund – which was surely the main factor in his acclamation as a saint – is really to be located. The book concludes with a gazetteer of churches dedicated to St Edmund, in East Anglia ad beyond.

Joe Mason read history at Oxford and worked as a freelance journalist for many years. His blog on memories of East Anglia has recorded 200,000 hits.

Available from bookshops and online sellers, or order direct from the publisher: visit www.lassepress.com

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When considering the French in Norfolk we naturally think first of those Huguenots who flooded into Norwich in the 17th century to escape religious persecution. The most famous of these Protestant émigrés were the Martineaus, whose name is preserved in Martineau Lane on the city’s ring road. The father of this dynasty was Gaston Martineau, a surgeon who arrived in Norwich in 1686 from Dieppe. The Huguenots are the subject of an earlier post in this blog, and this time I will concentrate on other Frenchmen who have played a part in the history of the county.

One such was John Dusautoy, son of Pierre François du Sautoy. Pierre François was born in the Ardennes in 1728 and came to Scotland as a seventeen year old, where he arrived in a French warship to accompany Bonnie Prince Charlie in his doomed attempt to seize the crown. Following the defeat of his army at Culloden in April 1746, the prince escaped back to France but du Sautoy was captured and imprisoned. Upon his release he remained in this country, and in 1757 he married an English girl in Basingstoke; he had by then changed his name to the English sounding Peter Francis Dusautoy. The youngest son of this marriage was John Abbott, who was born near the South Downs in 1764. As a young man he learnt the paper trade at Romsey in Hampshire, but in 1804 he became proprietor of the paper-mill at Lyng in Norfolk. He remained there for fifteen years, during which time he raised his family. His eldest son Shenton (also a paper maker) married a girl from Norfolk in 1820. John Abbot Dusautoy became influential in the paper industry by publishing a pioneering book on cost accounting in the business. Members of the family have been influential the army, publishing and education. A descendant of Pierre François is Marcus du Sautoy, the current Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. (Charles Simonyi, who endowed the post, was born in Hungary in 1948 and is the computer programmer behind Microsoft Office Word and Excel.)

Turning from a paper maker to a dancer, I will next examine the career of Augustin Noverre. The Noverre family was Swiss but moved to Paris when the children were little. There Augustin and his brother became highly accomplished in the art of ballet. Before the development of the art form by Augustin, and particularly by his brother Jean-Georges, ballet was meaningless succession of unrelated dances, performed in a stereotypical and wooden manner. The Noverres invented the ballet d’action, the first stage in the progression to the modern classical ballet. Jean-Georges wrote an influential book of essays on the dance while performing at Drury Lane in London with his troupe. This was in 1755/6; this coincided with the start of the Seven Years War between England and France, and although the Noverres stressed their Swiss nationality this led to hostility in the capital. While Augustin was descending from the stage, having finished his performance, he was jumped upon by a number of men who drew their swords. Defending himself with his own sword, Augustin believed he had killed one of his attackers; he escaped to Norwich, that most French of English cities, where the community of Huguenots provided him with complete anonymity. To this day nobody knows where he was holed up in the city.


His victim was not seriously injured and when this became apparent Augustin returned to London. Jean-Georges returned to Paris after the engagement in London was over, but Augustin stayed in this country where he had a successful practice as teacher of dance. He stayed in London for thirty years and when he became too old to continue dancing it was not to France but to Norwich that he retired. His son Francis became a prominent citizen in the local social scene, where he taught dancing to the wealthy young men and women, and in business, where he became a director of the Norwich Union Insurance Society. The Noverre name became well known in the city and remained so into the twentieth century; there was a cinema called the Noverre in Norwich until the 1980s.

Almost a thousand years ago the French-speaking natives of Normandy were busy imposing their will on the people of Norfolk. A Frenchman who had a major impact over here was Ralph le Staller, who was Earl of East Anglia until 1075. That was the year in which he led a rebellion against William the Conqueror, and his wife seized the newly built castle in Norwich. As you will realise, even if you have never heard of Ralph le Staller, the rebellion was unsuccessful. The Earl however was able to escape to his other home in Burgundy, where he remained.

Switzerland, Burgundy and Flanders; French-speaking incomers from these lands have, over the years, had their effect on the gentle hills of Norfolk. We may think that foreigners have had little to do with rural East Anglia, but perhaps we should think again.




THE GRIEF FAMILY (and other relatives)

Robert Grief was born in Trowse in 1802 and lived all his life there. Until he was over forty he worked as a labourer, but once the railway was opened through the village he got the responsible job of signalman at Trowse signal box. It was not up to the management to look for workers with experience; this was a novel kind of employment, and all comers were welcome if suitable; apparently Robert was. His grandson James was born in 1853, and as a teenager he was grinding corn at the local watermill in Trowse. He later transferred to another watermill further upstream on the river Yare at Marlingford.


Elizabeth Buxton was an elder sister of my great-grandmother Rebecca. The Buxton family lived in Easton, the next village to Marlingford. She met James Grief there and married him at Marlinford church in 1874, and her first child was born in the village. James Grief moved back to Trowse when he got a job grinding mustard at the mill at Carrow. His uncle Hamlet Grief was already working at the starch mill there. Once established James progressed to become a fireman at the works, a job that was combined with the position of police officer. It is amazing what a complete community existed at Carrow works; besides its own fire brigade and police force it had a staff canteen, a school, medical facilities, musical societies, sports teams and even an illustrated magazine. No other employer in Norwich came anywhere close to Colman’s as far as looking after its workers went.  The Colmans were such good employers that a job there was highly sought after.

 Rebecca’s husband was Charles Mason, a native of Staffordshire, who had met his wife-to-be while she was working there in service. They came to Easton to get married, but Charles (my great-grandfather) was earning a precarious living; the family was living in Northamptonshire when their eldest child was born. His strong point was working with animals, but that hardly led to secure employment; he was a kennel-man while his first children were born. It must have been James Grief who heard that Carrow works had a position for someone to look after the carthorses, and following his recommendation his brother-in-law Charles Mason secured employment as a carter there.


It was while Rebecca his wife was living at her mother’s that her son William was born. (William Mason was my grandfather.) At the time Charles Mason was working far away with the hounds belonging to a hunt in Kent. Once Charles had a secure job as carter with Colman’s mustard the family moved to Trowse. There the connections between the Mason and Grief families continued. As a schoolboy William would have been taught by his cousin Florence Grief, a 15-year-old pupil teacher and eldest daughter of James and Elizabeth. It seems as if Trowse school was almost entirely staffed by members of my family over a hundred years ago. Sisters Thirza and Ruth Peachey were my great aunts on my grandmother’s side of the family, and they were both teachers at Trowse school in the early years of the 20th century. Bertie Hardy (who went on to marry Ruth) was another pupil teacher at the school.

After teaching for twenty years Florence married a widower with a young daughter. Having been born in Bombay of a German father he was a newsagent in Colchester. His shop has been redeveloped, but the area is still a flourishing centre of retail trade. Florence had no family connections in Essex, and when her husband died she moved back to Norwich where there were many cousins. Her mother Elizabeth had four daughters, of whom Florence was the eldest. Another was Edith who married a young man from Ipswich. He had risen from shop assistant to tailor’s cutter at the time of their marriage, and ended up as the designer of clothing patterns. Although Edith had children, all her siblings were sisters, so the Grief name died out with her generation.