Tag Archives: SUFFOLK


Alfred came to the throne of Wessex in 871. He was immediately thrown into the continuing war with the Danes; they were fresh from their victory over the King of East Anglia, which had involved the death of Edmund. Previously the Danes had successfully defeated the Northumbrians at York, so they appeared invincible. King Edmund had been killed by the invading Danes eighteen months before Alfred came to the throne, when his brother was killed in battle with the Danes.

There is no written record of any Anglo-Saxon kings who might have succeeded Edmund in East Anglia, and for many centuries it was assumed that none did, but the names of two kings are now known from the discovery of coins that they issued. The names of these two East Anglian rulers were Oswald and Æthelred. For simplicity’s sake I will restrict my comments  to King Æthelred, and from his coinage we can state a few basic facts. One coin from his reign bears the name of the moneyer (i.e. coin-issuer) Sigered, who had also acted in the same capacity for Edmund. The design is also identical with the coinage that had been issued by Edmund. The coins issued a few years later by the Danes were very different; from this information we can assert that there was continuity between the reigns of Edmund and Æthelred, and the change to Danish rule came after 880.

We know that these coins circulated outside East Anglia, as one example was found in Kent, which by then was part of Wessex. This means that it is impossible that the Wessex court was unaware of the King Æthelred’s existence; in spite of this, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (that work of Wessex propaganda) gives the clear impression that Edmund was the last English king of East Anglia, although (perhaps significantly) they did not explicitly say so. Were the authors of the Chronicle trying to hide something? And if so what?

Knowledge was something that Alfred prized above almost everything else. He was an avid collector of travellers’ tales, and we have the details of what he heard about the far north of Norway, and of Ireland too. If he was that interested in distant lands, how could he not have known the king of an adjacent realm like East Anglia? Surely the Wessex court was not only very interested in what was happening there, but they would also have been very well informed. If the writers of the Chronicle were unforthcoming about the king, it was not because of a lack of knowledge. Why was the Wessex establishment so keen to give the impression to posterity that East Anglia had already fallen under Danish rule in 869, with the death of Edmund?

Between the departure of the Danish army from East Anglia late in the year 870, and the return of this army as settlers in 880, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has nothing to say about what was happening in East Anglia. However, we can be certain that its future was high up on the list of concerns discussed at Wednore, after Alfred’s victory over the Danish army. Alfred had emerged from his low point in hiding at Athelney with a radical solution to the problem posed by the Danes in Wessex. After his defeat of Guthrum’s army Alfred was able to put his plan into effect. Despite his victory, he knew that the best way to protect Wessex from future Danish attacks was to give them somewhere else; if they were occupied in setting up another kingdom, they would have less time to bother Alfred. Northumbria they had already taken over, and Alfred had plans to annex the kingdom of Mercia; that left the kingdom of East Anglia as the place to give Guthrum, and he was duly dispatched thither in 880.

For an English king to impose a Danish monarch on an Anglo-Saxon nation was certainly a betrayal, but if it protected Wessex then Alfred could live with that. What he could not contemplate was to impose a heathen king on a Christian people. That is why it was so important for him to have Guthrum baptised, and anointed as a Christian king. This was achieved in 878, but then there was a long delay.

In 878 -880, with the decision to establish the Danes in East Anglia, we have now reached a period of inactivity on the part of Guthrum and his army. Between his baptism and his eventual arrival in East Anglia there was a period of about 18 months. This posed a problem of provisioning; as the Danish army could no longer forage for itself as predators on the people of Wessex they would have to be provided with food. That difficulty however paled into insignificance compared to that task of keeping so many fit young warriors idle for so long. Eventually they became too much for the people of Wessex to deal with, and they were moved across the border to Cirencester in Mercia. This was not a wholly satisfactory solution, for the advantage of putting a reasonable distance between them and the kingdom of Wessex was offset by the difficulty of supervising and controlling them. The question that must be asked is ‘why were these hungry and impatient Danes not sent straight to East Anglia’? The answer must lie in East Anglia itself.

It is sometimes stated that in 880 Guthrum returned to East Anglia, but this implies he had been there before. However, it is clear from reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that he had never before been to East Anglia. He had not arrived in England until after the Danes had left the despoiled lands of Norfolk and Suffolk for Wessex. The nearest he had got to East Anglia was in 874, which year he spent in Cambridge. This has never been a part of the province of East Anglia, and in any case he was only in Cambridge to muster his troops for a renewed assault on Wessex; all his attention was directed west, not east.

When Alfred was arranging the future of East Anglia with Guthrum in 878, they were dealing with a kingdom that neither leader had any legitimate claim to. Even if King Æthelred of East Anglia was (against all the evidence) a Danish puppet king, he owed his allegiance to the dynasty of Ragnar Lothbrok, members of which family had led the earlier invasion of East Anglia which had led to the death of King Edmund. Æthelred could not have been the puppet of Guthrum under any circumstances; if he had been a puppet, Æthelred’s strings would have been pulled from York, the city Ragnar’s sons had retired to after 870. Guthrum was not a part of this family, and the fact that he could walk into East Anglia suggests to me that York had no influence over East Anglia after 870.

The other party to the arrangement, Alfred, had no authority over East Anglia either. His own view of himself as protector of all Anglo-Saxons would not have been shared by the people of East Anglia, who he was engaged in delivering to the mercies of a foreign king. We may imagine that once Æthelred got wind of the fate that Alfred and Guthrum had cooked up for him frantic representations were made, not only to the West Saxon court but also to anybody else who would listen. We may also imagine that some important people in Wessex itself must have had some serious misgivings about Alfred’s intentions.

The fact that not a word of all this appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is not surprising. Like the silence of the Chronicle on the existence of King Æthelred, the propagandists of Wessex were keen to leave the impression to posterity that nothing stood between Alfred and the smooth implementation of his plan. The long delay gives the lie to this story. We cannot know how this situation was eventually resolved, but it is cannot have been done in a pleasant manner.

There is some evidence that Alfred himself had some conscience about the fate that he was wishing on his fellow Englishmen in Norfolk and Suffolk. For all Guthrum’s apparent conversion to Christianity and his Anglo-Saxon baptismal name of Athelstan, Guthrum had not really changed, and Alfred was aware of this. His new religion was politically expedient, not the result of a heart-felt change in belief. No bishops were allowed to promulgate the faith in the east throughout the period of Danish rule. Guthrum  proved to be as oppressive as everyone had feared. What evidence do we have have for this? The violent and unjust nature of Danish rule can be found in the treaty between Alfred and the Danes known as Guthrum’s Peace. This also demonstrates how Alfred continued to feel responsible for the conditions under which Guthrum’s English subjects lived.

This treaty, which is likely to date from 886, has five articles. Numbers two and three both deal with murder in East Anglia; article two begins “If a man be slain we esteem all equally dear, English and Danish.” This is a strong hint of two things; one is that inter-ethnic violence was rife. If murder were a rare occurrence there would have been no need to refer to it in the treaty.  Secondly, if when it did occur, Danish and English perpetrators were treated equally, there would have been no need for such a clause either. We can therefore be sure that native East Anglians found themselves second class citizens in their own land, as a direct result of Alfred’s intervention. Alfred’s concern for these victims of discrimination has been attributed to his view of himself as the king of all Englishmen. Although it is is certainly true that he saw himself in his way, there is more to it than that. His responsibility was more direct and personal, and reveals perhaps that he felt a sense of guilt for his treatment of the East Anglians. Surely I am not alone seeing Alfred’s queasy conscience at work here?

It is doubtful if Guthrum took these treaty obligations any more seriously than the other oaths he had taken and then reneged upon when it suited him. Alfred certainly wished to improve the conditions under which East Anglians lived, but his ability to do anything about them was severely limited. Ultimately he intended to extend his kingdom into East Anglia, a policy objective which was only accomplished some twenty years after his death. For the time being, and for the remainder of his lifetime, all that Alfred could do was to demonstrate his good intentions by such things as the treaty with Guthrum.

As ruled over by Guthrum East Anglia was more extensive than it had been as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom; it reached into most of Essex and Cambridgeshire, and  into part of Lincolnshire too. Essex was the first part of this kingdom to be lost, becoming part of Alfred’s Wessex before Guthrum’s death in 890. North Norfolk finally fell to the Anglo-Saxons in 917.

This examination of the last period of East Anglia’s existence as an independent kingdom reveals how intimately involved it was with Alfred the Great, despite his having no direct power over the land. He established its last dynasty of Danish rulers, and then plotted to depose them and establish his own rule. He even tried to influence their laws in treaty negotiations with the Danish king. You might think Alfred’s story is all about Wessex; but East Anglia was an abiding concern throughout his life.






Clock face by John Halsey, circa 1730.

Normally when we think of rural industries we turn to things like farming and basket making, and not to a technically developed trade involving advanced skills in metalwork. Watchmaking and clockmaking started in London in a big way in the reign of James I and they spread to the provinces from there. It reached Norfolk in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It wasn’t just the large towns of Norwich, Yarmouth and Kings Lynn that had their own horologists; every market town and even a few rural villages had one or more clockmakers or watchmakers among their citizens. Although certain components could be bought in (like the cast brass spandrels round the face), the majority of the work was done in the clockmaker’s remote workshop; the nature of cutting the escapements and pinions shows the advanced levels of mechanical attainment required.

It was becoming important for people to know the time of day, and for those too poor to afford a clock of their own churches were increasingly displaying the time, inside or out. I remember how hard it was to learn to tell the time as a child, but the common folk must have managed it? Sundials were the most reliable way of telling the time, but they only worked when the sun was out.

One of the earliest clocks known to have been made in Norfolk is dated 1610. In appearance it is very European. As it is engraved on the back ‘Jhone Smyt in Lynne wyt my hand’ its manufacture can be placed in Kings Lynn. This was about the most cosmopolitan town in the country, so the foreign nature of the clock is not surprising. This, and the early date, suggest that the clockmaking art was first introduced to Norfolk from abroad. The next Lynn clock we know was signed by Thomas Tue in 1646. This clock was built in the English tradition. Thomas Tue’s principal occupation was gunsmith, and many of the clocks he supplied and signed may have been bought in from London. Tue had a long life; he was twice churchwarden of St Margaret’s for which church he made the clock in 1681. He died in 1710 at the age of 97.

The town of Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border gained its first clockmaker when Benjamin Shuckforth set up in business around the end of the first decade of the 18th century He was an accomplished craftsman who had obviously completed an apprenticeship, although where is unknown. It would not have  been in Diss as there was no clockmaker in the town before Shuckforth. He took on an apprentice in 1730, one John Frost of Bury St Edmunds, who went on ply his trade elsewhere when his apprenticeship was over. Shuckforth ended up a wealthy man, although this had more to do with a fortunate marriage than with clockmaking itself; his spouse Dulicibella Dalton was related to the Longe family of Spixworth Park.  He died in 1760 and his shop was taken over by William Shaw, previously a clockmaker in Botesdale, a large village near Diss but in Suffolk.

By then Samuel Buxton was working in Diss. He was apprenticed to James Smyth in Saxmundham and had completed his apprenticeship in 1756. One of his earliest commissions was to build the turret clock which still gives out the time in St Mary’s church in Diss. He also produced the clock in nearby Banham church, which is dated 1768. His clocks were well made, but aimed at the oak cased clock market rather than at the buyers of high-end mahogany cased clocks. My parents were given a long case clock made by Sam Buxton for their wedding in 1935. They were married Thorpe St Andrew in Norfolk, so the clock had not travelled far from home in nearly two hundred years. It was a standard two-handed model with a chime.

The next clock (illustrated above) is by a much less well-known clockmaker. John Halsey was working in the middle years of the eighteenth century. In Norwich he took on an apprentice clockmaker (William Brightwell) in the summer of 1754; but a John Halsey had taken on an apprentice (John Gilbert of Walsingham) as a surveyor at Wells-Next-the-Sea on the 17th of March 1729. Rather than changing both his occupation and his place of residence during the following twenty years, it is likely that the earlier John Halsey was his father. It is certain that the son was already making clocks while still living in Wells, as this simple one-handed clock has his name and ‘Wells Norfolk’ engraved on the face.  Once established in Norwich he had his business in the St Andrews area of the City. Only the face remains of the clock he made in Wells, the case and movement having been lost many years ago. My mother-in-law left it to my family. She was born in Wells and it now belongs to my wife, who lives only twenty five miles away, and it seems that, like the Sam Buxton timepiece, this clock had not moved far in over 200 years either; indeed until about 75 years ago it had never ventured beyond its home town. It is a moot point whether he or Isaac Nickalls was the first clockmaker in Wells; Nickalls was building the church clock in Holt in the mid 1730s (he charged £36.15sh). He went on to build some very ornate high end longcase clocks. With that sort of competition to contend with a move to Norwich was a wise one.

Another local watchmaker was Johnson Jex of Letheringsett. He was brought up to inherit the family’s blacksmith business, but he was never apprenticed to a watchmaker, and was virtually self-taught. He was born in Billingford, and he played truant from school, preferring to stare through a watchmaker’s window in nearby Foulsham. He was fascinated by the intricate mechanism he saw taking shape before his eyes. As result he left school without learning to read or write, although he became a proficient watchmaker. His illiteracy he had to remedy as an adult, when he learnt not only English but French as well! He began working on watchmaking in the early years of the nineteenth century, when he acquired a state-of-the-art screw cutting lathe. The machine is still in existence. He produced a relatively small number of watches, with highly complicated and advanced mechanisms. Johnson Jex also worked on the Holt church clock (see above) as as a dial plate was discovered in 1995 with his name engraved on it. He never left Norfolk and seldom ventured outside his immediate locality. He died at the age of 74. He never married.

The earliest written reference to a clockmaker in Suffolk is in the will of Robert Sparke, dated 1648. No clock made by this maker is known. He worked in Cockfield, a village not far from Lavenham in central Suffolk. Unlike in Norfolk, the origin of the trade could not have been more rural. There were certainly clockmakers in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich (Francis Colman was making clocks in the latter town by the early years of Charles II’s reign), but the villages of Suffolk were involved in the trade at at a very early date. A lantern clock was made in Bradfield St George (a village between Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham) some time before 1644. For those who wish to learn more I direct them to this essay by Brian Loomes.

For over 300 years the clockmaking trade was an important industry in East Anglia, culminating with the firm of Metamec in East Dereham, which was producing quartz clocks into the final quarter of the 20th century. At its peak the firm was producing 25,000 clocks a week and was the foremost clockmaker in the UK, with 750 employees. With the import of cheaper clocks from the Far East the business declined, going into receivership in 1984, and finally closing ten years later.





St Julian's Church, Norwich

St Julian’s Church, Norwich

Most EAST ANGLIAN saints can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. St Audrey or St Etheldreda (d.679) was Abbess of Ely, and the tombstone of her steward may still be seen there in the South Aisle of the Cathedral. She was a princess, and many of these early saints were members of the royal family. St Ethelbert was another royal, king of East Anglia, who was martyred in Hereford. He was there wooing his bride to be. The cathedral there is dedicated to SS Mary and Ethelbert.

St Guthlac was not of royal blood, but he was of noble birth. He cannot be called East Anglian as he came from Lincolnshire and lived in Mercia, but as there was cell established in his name at Swaffham I will include him. We know rather more of his life than we do of St Botulph; we can say that he too was not of royal blood, although he was a very popular saint in the middle ages. There are St Botulph churches as far apart as London and Boston in Lincolnshire, but his abbey was on the river Alde in Suffolk.



St Walstan was reputedly a royal scion, but his time was long after the East Anglian royal family had died out, so it is hard to reconcile this claim with the story of his life. He was born either in Blythburgh in Suffolk or Bawburgh in Norfolk. The similarity of the names of the two villages suggests a degree of confusion, but indications of his cult can be traced to both places. His shrine was certainly established in Bawburgh, where he was buried, and where St Walstan’s Well is again a place of pilgrimage.

St Edmund

St Edmund

The most famous East Anglian saint was undoubtedly another king, shot with arrows while tied to a tree by the Danish invaders. There are many churches dedicated to his name, especially in Norfolk.  St Edmund‘s shine at Bury St Edmunds was one of the major pilgrimage destinations of pre-Reformation England, but Walsingham in Norfolk must rate as slightly more important in this respect. However, as Walsingham related to a vision of the Virgin Mary, not to a local saint, it should cannot feature in this lit of local saints.

All these saints were venerated in the Anglo-Saxon period, and the coming of the Norman kings spelled the end of local saints. This had more to do with the introduction of Papal Canonization by Pope Urban II (1089-99), which largely removed the possibility of the creation of saints on a purely local level. An exception is one Norwich based saint from this latter period. Her name is Mother Julian; she lived in the 14th century, but her reputation as a Divine did not become established until at least three hundred years later. Her writings were not widely known during her lifetime, and so far as they were read at all they seemed heretical to the orthodoxy of the time. In Norfolk she was known and respected as a spiritual guide among the populace. Canonization in the official sense has never been bestowed on her by the Roman Catholic church, although she is accepted as a saint with her official saint’s day.

Although the Reformation produced a fresh crop of martyrs on both sides, the Puritans did not go in for the creation of new saints. This is not true of the Catholic martyrs, and I will end this list of local saints with St Robert Southwell. He was born at Horsham St Faiths, an adjacent parish to Taverham where St Walstan had worked as a farm labourer. It is only a few miles from where I am writing this – now the site of Norwich International Airport! He was executed under Queen Elizabeth I (to whom he nevertheless professed his allegiance). Sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, he was saved from the full horrors of that dreadful death by a bystander, who tugged at his feet while the noose was around his neck. Only his lifeless body remained to be disembowelled. This was in the year 1595.





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

A 1950s double-decker

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

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

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

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






The Jones family were resident in the Buckinghamshire village of Ludgershall for generations (from at least the 17th century) until the arrival of the Great Western Railway in Oxfordshire opened up the possibility of travel. It was an opportunity that  the working class welcomed with open arms. Prospects of wider horizons and adventurous careers were there for the first time, and no longer would they have to look for spouses in their small home communities. I am sure the new blood that this freedom of movement introduced into the gene pool of the English people has done nothing but good for the nation.

William Jones (born 1817) could now abandon the traditional family job of working on the local farm in Ludgershall. Even before the first trains were runnig, he had joined the band of hard-living and hard-working navvies who were constructing the embankments and cuttings by hand with spades and wheelbarrow. To be fair to him, he may have been the exception, neither drinking nor smoking and not even swearing; I just do not know.  What I do know is that he would certainly have been better paid than his fellows who had remained tied to the land. This travelling lifestyle took him down the line as it progressed into Cornwall. There he spotted a young lady with striking red hair, riding her adoptive father’s horse through the town of St Austell. Young Sally Oliver had already lived through a difficult time; born in 1825, she was orphaned at an early age, and Sarah Greene (her birth name) was adopted by a local clergyman, the Revd Oliver. She joined the rough group of travelling navvies when William Jones married her in 1855. Their eldest child was born in Devon in 1856.

William’s grandfather (also called William) was born in 1770 and worked as a farm labourer until he was over 70 years old. In spite of his humble job on the land, at some stage during his life he had learned to read and write. This we learn from the fact that in old age he was employed as Parish Clerk at St Mary’s church in Ludgershall. If any remuneration accompanied this employment it was but a pittance, and before the Old Age Pension came to the aid of those too old for manual labour times were hard for the poor. Luckily William’s wife Mary (née Silver) could continue to work at home in the local trade of lace making.

William senior’s eldest son John was also a farm labourer, and he was the father of William junior, who became the navvy. Unlike his relatives, who had lived in a small corner of Buckinghamshire their entire lives, William junior moved all over Southern England, following the railways. They were springing into life across the country. After the railway reached its terminus at Penzance he began work on the Somerset and Dorset Railway, where a daughter was born in Evercreech, Somerset, in 1860. By 1869 he had fathered another son and daughter. He was working in Portsmouth, where the railway was being extended to the dockyard to service the Royal Navy ships. His eldest son (aged 15 in 1871) was a locomotive fireman on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, which had been running to Portsmouth since before the young man was born.

LBSC tank engine of the 1870s

LBSC ‘Terrier’ tank of the 1870s; William Jones’s son would have fired these engines.

By the 1880s William was in his late sixties and too old for the strenuous work of railway construction. In any case, by then all the principal routes that we still use today were already in place, and the great age of railway building was drawing to a close. William Jones was working as a general labourer in East Molesey, Surrey, no doubt for the London and South Western Railway who ran a branch line into the suburb at Hampton Court. The whole family was involved in the railways, and by 1890 the former navvy was living in retirement in a railwayman’s cottage in Middle Street, New Bradwell (now called Spencer Street, part of Milton Keynes). His younger son Samuel (b. 1863 in Chard, Somerset) was employed at the Wolverton workshop in the carpentry trade, building railway carriages for the London and North Western Railway.

A few years earlier Susannah, the navvy’s eldest daughter (born, you may recall, in Evergreech), had moved to London to work in service. Railways continue to play a major part in the family history, because in London she met Phipp Peachey who had caught the train down to London from his home in Lakenheath in Suffolk. Like the Joneses, the Peacheys had  for centuries before the arrival of the train lived in their local area, in their case the warren at Lakenheath. They married in Wandsworth in 1883 before Phipp and his wife returned to his home in Suffolk. Phipp and Susannah Peachey were my great-grandparents.

Marjorie Jones

Marjorie Jones

Samuel’s sons had followed him into the carriage works (after 1923 it belonged to the LMS); his two youngest children were Marjorie and Kathleen, who both remained unmarried. Kathleen was a schoolteacher before developing Disseminated Schlorosis; the same age as my mother, she and Kath had become best friends at school together. It was through this friendship that she met my father, one of the Jones descendants.Marjorie was the Matron in charge of the Dr Barnardo’s children’s home in Felixstowe, Suffolk. She was a good pianist.

What became of the railways that allowed my ancestors to meet? The Somerset and Dorset line fell victim to the railway closures of the 1960s, but all the other places mentioned in this post, St Austell, Portsmouth, Hampton Court, Wolverton and even Lakenheath, still have railway stations. Lakenheath only has a handful of passengers a year, and is only served by four trains a week (on Saturdays and Sundays) to allow people to visit the nearby nature reserve. It is too far from the village to draw any custom from the large American airbase that now occupies Lakenheath’s former warren. The line itself, which takes trains from Norwich to Cambridge and Norwich to Liverpool, is increasingly busy however.

My great-aunt Ruth kept in touch with this side of the family; her mother was Susannah Peachey (née Jones).  I have lost contact with these Jones relations, but I have however read some posts online from them, one of which records that only in recent years did the last member of the Jones family to live in Ludgershall pass away. I have never been to Ludgershall, although I must have been near to it on my way to and from Oxford. It is only 16 miles away. John Wycliffe, the 14th century founder of the Lollard movement, was Rector of St Mary’s, Ludgershall, for several years. It was an appointment that allowed him to spend most of the week consulting the libraries and intelligentsia of the University. It would have been no distance for him to travel on a pony.





William Jackson Hooker

William Jackson Hooker

I have already done several blogs mentioning Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1829), the Norwich born botanist. In this blog I am going to consider the career of another famous botanist and native of Norwich, Sir William Jackson Hooker. His education was at the Norwich School in the Cathedral Close; whether it was as a result of his this or not, he emerged with a great interest in natural history. He was wealthy enough to pursue this interest as an adult, and it was a rare moss which set him off on the study of botany. He was twenty years younger than Sir J. E. Smith, but the older man persuaded his younger contemporary to concentrate his mental energies on the study of plants. He had previously been as interested in birds and insects as in botany.

Although William Jackson was born in Norwich, the Hooker family was not a local one; they had been established in Devon for centuries. Richard Hooker, the sixteenth century Divine, and influential theologian, was a distant relative who had been born near Exeter. William’s father Joseph was also born in Exeter, and came to Norwich as a result of his job as a merchant’s clerk. He was an expert in German literature, and also cultivated curious plants; the foreign language seems to left his son cold, but the exotic plants must have awaken his interest.

After leaving his birthplace in Norwich in 1809, William Hooker took up residence in Suffolk for a number of years. At his home in Halesworth he established a famous herbarium, which made him a well-known expert in scientific circles. William Hooker travelled to Iceland with the eminent naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. Although the collection specimens he brought back was lost when a fire broke out on the homeward voyage, he was able write a book on the subject, largely from his memories. Later he went on a European tour where he met many knowledgeable botanists. In 1815 he married the daughter of the Yarmouth banker Dawson Turner, himself a keen student of botany. Turner was something of a polymath; besides his botanical studies he was also a well-known antiquarian and he must have known all about finance. Dawson Turner was a friend and patron of the painter John Sell Cotman, and he wrote a book on the churches of Normandy, which Cotman illustrated. His son-in-law William Hooker and his daughter Maria had five children, including Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), also a famous botanist. The son followed in his father’s footsteps.

In 1820 William Jackson Hooker was invited by the University of Glasgow to be Professor of Botany, a position he held for over 20 years. William Hooker was knighted in 1836 for his pioneering work in developing plant sciences. One of is  achievements was to be the Director of Kew Gardens. This establishment had evolved in the late eighteenth century from being one of the King’s gardens to be the principal horticultural establish of the Royal estate. Hooker was created the institution’s director upon the resignation of William Townsend Aiton in 1841. It had by then become the National Botanical Garden, largely as a result of the actions of the Royal Horticultural Society, of which William Hooker was president.

Following the generation of Sir Joseph Banks, he was the most important British botanist of the second quarter of the nineteen century. In 1865 at the age of eighty he died at Kew, following an infection. He was succeeded as Director of Kew by his son Joseph Dalton Hooker.





The river Waveney at Beccles, 1958

The river Waveney at Beccles on the county boundary.

THE county of Norfolk is defined by the North Sea and  three rivers, so that its borders would be etched in water, if such a fluid element were capable of being so marked. As far as the coastline is concerned there is little that human tampering can do about this. To the north, east and large parts of the west (that stretch along Wash), only the erosion of the beach and the accretion of sandbanks alter the outline of the county. The rivers Waveney and Little Ouse ought to define the southern boundary too, and to a large extent they do; but not entirely so, as will be explained in due course.

South of the Wash Norfolk reaches out beyond the Great Ouse towards the river Nene. At Sutton Bridge the county sign is located almost (but not quite) by the river bridge. As small chunk of Lincolnshire encroaches onto the Norfolk side. Along the A17 Terrington St Clement represents the furthest west Norfolk extends.  Further south the river Nene does indeed form the county boundary, and West Walton is about the furthest west you can go in Norfolk. It is over 75 miles from Great Yarmouth. (It is almost as far from South Norfolk to the outskirts of London, which gives you some idea of the size of the county.) Wisbech is only a mile or so distant from the centre of West Walton village, and Wisbech is now in Cambridgeshire. Historically, and until 1965, Wisbech formed part of the Isle of Ely which was one of the smallest counties in England. Although not a part of Norfolk, the Isle of Ely was always a part of East Anglia, while only the eastern edge of Cambridgeshire was so regarded.

The river Little Ouse forms the county border between Norfolk and Suffolk for most of its length. Only for the last few miles in the west to its confluence with the Great Ouse at Brandon Creek does it flow entirely through Cambridgeshire. This river dividing the two East Anglian counties has its complications; Brandon is in Suffolk, but Brandon Railway Station (being north of the river) is in Norfolk. The town of Thetford extends Norfolk onto both sides of the Little Ouse, rather as Sutton Bridge extends Lincolnshire onto the ‘Norfolk’ side of the Nene. The Little Ouse peters out somewhere beyond Kilverstone, but almost immediately a stream may be discerned running in the opposite direction. This is called the river Waveney, and that formed the country boundary until it joined the Yare at Breydon Water. This was true from time immemorial until 1974, when a ‘land-grab’ by Norfolk County Council extended the northern county to the south of the river. In that year all the parishes south east of the Waveney, from Burgh Castle to Fritton, were transferred from Suffolk to Norfolk. What the justification for this was I am not quite sure; certainly Gorleston (which was also included in this transfer) was integral to Yarmouth Southtown, but equally Hopton-on-Sea was clearly part of Lowestoft. Lowestoft remains in Suffolk, although all its economic connection are with Norwich rather than Ipswich.

Many unnecessary changes arose out of this 1974 Act, some of which have been undone subsequently. Most notably this has occurred with Rutland. This has re-emerged to be again England’s smallest county. However I don’t think there is much chance of restoring Burgh Castle to its rightful place in the county of Suffolk. In spite of this anomaly, on the whole the waterways still denote Norfolk. Water also defines Suffolk too, although to a lesser degree. Once more the North Sea marks its eastern boundary,  and to the north the border with Norfolk has already been examined. To the south the river Stour forms the county boundary until it is reduced a mere trickle near Haverhill,  and no geographical feature exists to take its place. Newmarket has no obvious boundary, and indeed this Suffolk town is almost entirely surrounded by Cambridgeshire. Unlike Burgh Castle it was a prime candidate for boundary realignment in 1974, but for some reason the status quo prevailed and Newmarket is still almost an island. Many of its residents would have preferred to live in Cambridgeshire, but I get the impression that places like Burgh Castle and Fritton felt happy to be in Suffolk.





The natural reaction to the name at the head of this article is KING WHO? King Æthelred of East Anglia is indeed an obscure person, and I would be very surprised if you had ever heard of him. ÆTHELRED the UNREADY you might have heard of, but he was King of England a hundred years after the kingdom of East Anglia had been absorbed. The ÆTHELRED of East Anglia I am taking about appears in no historical documents; he is only known from the inscriptions on a handful of coins that have been found by archaeologists.

The best known king of East Anglia is King Edmund, and he is the only one most people will have heard of. The king (probably) commemorated in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Redwald, runs him a distant second, but apart from those two kings the rulers of East Anglia are a pretty obscure bunch, and Æthelred is one the most obscure. He was the king who came immediately after Edmund. Until recently it was believed universally that Edmund was the last Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia, being followed by a victorious Dane. However it now seems that there were not one but two locally born kings in Norfolk and Suffolk before the Danish king Guthrum came to power after 878. Besides Æthelred the other king was called Oswald, and his existence too is only known from his coinage.

St Edmund and the Vikings, Pickering church, North Yorkshire

St Edmund and the Vikings.                        Pickering church, North Yorkshire.

Very little is known about this period in the history of our part of the world; not that much is known about East Anglia at all before the Norman Conquest. The decade following the death of king Edmund is particularly dark. For all of our knowledge we have to rely on archaeology and particularly on numismatics. To those experts with a deep knowledge of coins those produced by Oswald and Æthelred suggest that they might have been rival kings. The significant differences between the coins of the two monarchs may point in this direction. Especially significant in this regard is the fact that the mint that produced Oswald’s coins concealed its identity – perhaps to avoid reprisals from his rival?

My reason for this suggestion also arises from the confused conditions of the time, which favoured the creation of competing factions. It is generally agreed that king Edmund was still unmarried at the time of his death, and therefore had no son as his obvious heir. Moreover, the Danish army which was camped at Thetford at the time of Edmund’s death was busy laying waste the land, which would also have led to extreme political instability. In other words it was not a time when you could expect a smooth transition to a new king.

It had been usual for historians to assume that upon killing Edmund a Danish king took overall sovereignty of East Anglia, but who would this Dane have been? The natural choice would be Ivar the boneless, the king who was not only the pre-eminent Dane at the time, but also the leader responsible for the death of Edmund. But having killed the king, Ivar seems to have taken no more interest in East Anglia. He left almost immediately and returned to York. This was probably because his modus operandi required a recognised under-king to govern on his behalf and grant him tribute. With Edmund dead there was no one to fill his place; the land almost certainly descended into anarchy, at least for a time.

Almost our only historical source for East Anglia in this period is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and although it states that the Danes ‘laid waste to the country’ it nowhere says they made peace with the Danes. This is significant, as the Chronicle records that both the Northumbrians and Mercians made peace treaties following their defeat at Ivar’s hands. I suggest that following Edmund’s death East Anglia became ungovernable, and that the Danes found no one to negotiate a peace treaty with. Ivar himself went north, and the Danish Army turned their attentions to the south – to Wessex. East Anglia appears to have descended into chaos.

Was there eventually a move to re-establish the monarchy in East Anglia among the natives? There was certainly enough of a functioning government left to produce at least one mint, which could issue a small number of coins; so the position was not utterly desperate. Numismatic experts have suggested the coinage of Oswald in particular has features that suggest the moneyer was unsure how fully he should stand behind the coinage he was issuing. It is this which leads me to suggest that OSWALD was a rival to ÆTHELRED; on the other hand he may just have been Æthelred’s successor. There was a greater similarity between Æthelred’s coinage and that of Edmund than is the case with Oswald, and this would suggest that he was closer both in time and in royal connections with Edmund.

The period of the kingship of these last Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia was brought to an end not by a Dane as you might expect, but by king Alfred. In the Peace of Wedmore he gave the kingdom to the Danish leader Guthrum; never mind that it was not his to give, and that there was already an English ruler in place. No wonder the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that great piece of propaganda produced at Alfred’s behest, does not mention either Æthelred or Oswald. In the eyes of Wessex the Treaty of Wedmore was a triumph; it must have looked very different in East Anglia.





 Forts of the Saxon Shore



These are better known as the Forts of the Saxon Shore. This term we derive from the Notitia Digitatum, a late 4th century document, which give us the Latin version. It lists them, but some Roman forts existed along the coast of East Anglia that do not appear in this document although they obviously made up the Roman defensive system. The forts omitted from this list include Caister-on-Sea and Walton Castle, the latter was near Felixstowe but now lost to the sea.

Although some Roman shore forts existed to the north of East Anglia (at Scarborough for instance), the most northerly of those listed in the Notitia was at Brancaster in North West Norfolk. Although the foundations of the fort there have recently been excavated, nothing now remains to be seen above ground level. This was not true three hundred years ago when the fort stood tall, but the landowner in the eighteenth century thought these old ruins spoilt the view, and he demolished them. The structure was on the usual square Roman plan, and was built of the local carstone.

It is interesting to see why these forts were built where they were. Obviously Brancaster was intended to protect the entrance to the Wash. The necessary adjunct to the shore based fort was  a fleet of warships to venture out, to deter raiders from Northern Europe. Brancaster harbour made a safe anchorage for these vessels. Also the cavalry from the fort would  have been able to ride out along the coast road to Holme and beyond to discourage these raiders from landing. South of that the marshy nature of the Wash coastline did not make ideal territory for possible invasion. The river Great Ouse certainly gave access deep into the heart of the country, and by defending the Wash it was hoped to prevent foreign ships from entering. Brancaster fort would have been directly connected to the Roman road network both around the coast and inland. Peddars Way was a major route which terminated at Holme-next-the-Sea .

Going south round the coast the next fort was at Caister, that lay on the opposite bank of the river Yare to Burgh Castle. Incidentally the name  Yare (or Gare) was used for the river by the Romans, as we can tell from the Latin word for Burgh Castle, Gariannonum. Caister would have been a fortified town, but Gariannonum on the south bank of the river was the main fort; there was no town associated with this southern fortThe accompanying fleet would have been moored along the estuary that now forms Breydon Water.

Brancaster was the first fort to be built in East Anglia, about the year 230. Bradwell-on-Sea was another early fort, probably to defend Camulodum (Colchester), the early capital of Roman Britain, although by then this had moved to Londinium. The first garrison at Brancaster may have been from Aquitane, but during the latter decades of Roman occupation it was held by the Dalmatian Cavalry.  Burgh Castle may also have been held by Dalmatians. This use of troops from across the Empire gave a sense of unity; certainly once they were withdrawn the local militia were quite inadequate for the task of defending the country.

Only very minor waterways like the rivers Stiffkey and Glaven ran out to sea between the Great Ouse and the Yare and did not merit a naval present or fort; nor apparently did the river Alde in Suffolk. The Deben, Orwell and Stour all flow into the North Sea within a few miles of each other; any of these could have held a Roman fleet. The estuary of the Deben was the nearest to the Roman garrison at Walton Castle, and therefore probably was where it was based.

Further south in Essex the fort at Bradwell-on-Sea defended the rivers Colne and Blackwater, and that at Reculver defended the Thames. There were other forts in Kent and two to guard Southampton Water, one on the Isle of Wight. There was a similar series of forts down the coast of Gaul from Calais to Nantes on the river Loire. In Britain these placers were settled by the invading Anglo-Saxons once the Roman legions had been withdrawn. The dire results of invasion may be seen in a recent DNA survey which shows that East Anglian bloodlines are still predominantly Anglo-Saxon; Romano-British Celtic blood is absent. Historians at one time used to suggest that the take-over was relatively peaceful, but modern genetic research suggests this was not so. Hundreds of  years later the Viking raiders sailed with impunity along the Saxon shore, mirroring the invasion of the of their Germanic predecessors four centuries earlier. In spite of leaving great changes in the history a geographical divisions of the country, and even changes to its language, the numbers of the Vikings were too small to affect the overwhelming Anglo-Saxon nature of the population.







I am not a golfer. I used to enjoy a 20 minute round on the putting green at Pakefield; that was a particular favourite of my father’s. This putting green on the front at Lowestoft claims to be over 200 years old, so the turf there must be very ancient indeed.

The putting green at Southwold is rather more recent, but that is another green I used to frequent on summer holidays as a  child. I once went round the Pitch and Putt course at Holt Hall when my own children were young. That was not at all enjoyable, as the grass was long and roughly cut, and swinging a golf club with any accuracy was impossible.

I have never done a round of golf on a real golf course however, and have never wished to either. It is a fine hobby for Scotsmen who invented it, but  this Sassenach can find more interesting things to do on a country walk than to whack a golf ball. That is not to say I am unfamiliar with golf courses. The first one I frequented was Bungay golf course on Outney Common. In 1955 I was a schoolboy at St Mary’s, just a few hundred yards away from the common. For afternoon sports we went down to the Bungay Golf Course Club House to collect the goal posts. Our football pitch wasn’t exactly on the golf course, but it wasn’t far off. We were on good terms with the greenkeeper who we would see as we went into the shed where the goal posts were kept. Of course there was nothing like a net or even a crossbar to erect. In the summer we played cricket by the golf course, but the stumps we took with us. One day we watched in fascination as a controlled burn by Peter Sprake of the gorse on the common got out of hand. Flames spread to the golf course. In the end I had to run for dear life and left my school blazer on the grass. It nearly became a blazer in another sense, but luckily it was retrieved and later restored to me by a fireman.

Golf was a popular hobby among my school friends at Gresham’s, but there wasn’t a course in Holt so it wasn’t a frequent pastime. The nearest courses were at Sheringham, Cromer and the Links at West Runton. Of all these courses that at Cromer I know best, because one crosses it to walk to the lighthouse on the cliffs.

I spent a Sunday afternoon at the Links with a friend and his family n the early 1960s. It was rather boring because we boys sat outside in the car, while the adults were drinking inside in the bar. The car was an elegant Humber Snipe, but even the plush leather seats began to pall after a while. What a disgraceful way to treat youngsters!

The Eaton Golf Course is bordered by Marston Lane which runs from Ipswich Road on the outskirts of Norwich. This lane was once open to traffic but has now been a footpath for over fifty years. I often used to walk my dogs along Marston Lane. I would see the golfers practising their swings. I picked up an enormous number of lost golf balls from the verge as I wandered along the public highway. Unfortunately they are too small and hard for dogs, who much prefer to play with tennis balls.

I was for years a daily visitor to the Wensum Valley golf Course, but that was as their postman. Since retiring I have been an occasional diner at their carvery. The restaurant has a very good view across the first tee to the country beyond. The view in future may be rather spoilt by the northern distributor road, which will terminate in a roundabout in the middle distance.