Tag Archives: youth


The signs of ageing are always taken to be the obvious ones like wrinkles, cataracts or greying hair. I know that for men the social attitudes to these things are different; a craggy brow and sinking jowls can produce a kind of grandeur in the male face that is much harder to replicate in women. In the not too distant future these physical signs of age may eventually be much reduced (or even eliminated) but this will not mean the end of ageing. In a less superficial sense ageing will always be with us.

“You’re as a young as you feel” is the common cry among those who feel that age is creeping up on them, and the unspoken (and rather pathetic) implied continuation of this phrase is “And I feel really young”.

The last thing I would want is to feel young again, even if this were possible. I remember only too well the lack of self confidence, tongue-tied indecision and general misery of being young. Youth has its positive side, but this is seldom apparent to the young themselves. Trying to find one’s place in the world is a fraught business at the best of times, and the problems of youth are many; young people adopt all sorts of absurd ideas; the adolescent whose legs are growing out of kilter with the rest of his body has an ungainly stride; and the embarrassing effects of a breaking voice on the pubescent male are a penance. Who would want to revisit these things? In contrast age brings a certain gravitas to even the most unlikely candidates.

Even if the passing years do not bring great wealth they bring a certain stability to one’s finances. The young always begin with nothing; wealth, influence, or the sense of acceptance at the lack of theses things – they all have to be acquired over the years. To most of us offspring come with the passage of time, and the trials of having a young family fade as one’s own children shake off the insecurities of youth and progress into adulthood.

The undoubted bodily vigour of youth is not something I would wish to retain or return to. This slowing down in physical activity is another sign of ageing that is likely to remain long after most other such indicators have been banished to the past. The middle-aged may retain a youthful appearance in the future, but I very much doubt they will ever run as fast. The sight of an 80 year old running the Marathon may become more common, but such a competitor will always come way down the field at the finishing line. The twenties are the most physically productive age, and I can see no likelihood of this ever changing.

A certain forgetfulness is a general feature of the ageing process, but that does mean we are all irredeemably stupid. Our brain mass may decrease as its age increases, but the number of wrinkles in the brain tissue grows exponentially. As the wrinkles signify knowledge, this produces the wisdom of age. We may forget more things as we age, but we have an awful lot more to forget. The young brain is a huge blank canvas; it has masses of potential but little content. Potential is a wonderful thing, but it would be sad if that was all an old brain had to offer. We have far less space to store new memories, but that is fair enough as we have little time left to acquire them.

Some people lose all their memories, and this seems sad; but if you don’t know that you have forgotten everything there is a certain seemliness about this. Senility has dropped out of the lexicon of ageing, to be replaced by dementia. This is a pity, because senility has a direct correlation with the concept of ageing, coming from the Latin word senex, an old man. Dementia merely means a loss of reason, which can occur at any age. Senility was used where now we would say an old person has Alzheimer’s. Not one in a hundred has any idea what are the precise symptoms of this disease, and the use of the term only obfuscates the condition. The non-specific term senile dementia was far preferable; we all recognise that it affects the old, but this malady is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.

Like it or not, ageing is something we are all going through. Fighting it is a pointless exercise. Rather than hanker after lost youth you should celebrate the signs of ageing; stop regarding yourself as a time-expired old has-been and return to the idea of the wise elder. You still have a lot to offer.







Alfred John Mason was born on January 3rd 1898. He was one of the ten children of Charles Mason who survived beyond infancy. He was the second child (of five) his mother Alice had with Charles; she was his second wife. Alfred grew up at 25 Russell Terrace in Trowse, a village just outside Norwich. Like his brothers and sisters he was educated at the village school. On leaving at the age of fourteen he worked in the mustard mill at Colman’s Carrow Works where his father and eldest brother were also employed.

When the First World War broke out two years later he was too young to enlist, but as soon as he was old enough he enrolled in the army. He was kept in England as in 1915 (aged just seventeen) he was still too young to fight, and so he was trained in the Royal Army Medical Corps. After basic training he was transferred to the Service Corps in 1916 and deployed to France. He finally made it to a front line fighting unit, the 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. This Battalion had been formed in 1914 and after serving in Gallipoli and Egypt they returned to France in July 1916, where Alfred joined them in 1917. After fighting for months in France he had returned to Trowse on leave in September 1918. During his stay he took the opportunity of visiting old friends and colleagues at the mustard mill. His smart military appearance and his concern for the goings on back home made a definite impression on the workers he met.

In Northern France, at the end of October 1918 his Battalion were in training at


Trowse chuchyard

Valenciennes, but with just two hours notice they were ordered to the front line. On the 1st of November their fellow combatants in the 9th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters were ordered into battle, with Alfred and his unit held in reserve. On the 4th the Foresters made a successful attack on the hill at Sebourg with the Lincolnshires in support. On the sixth the Lincolnshires experienced some resistance from the enemy, but on the seventh the Germans were forced back; they were in retreat and disarray, and the war was rapidly coming to an end. However Alfred Mason had already been hit by shrapnel, and on the 3rd of November 1918 he had died of his wounds. By a cruel irony he was the only member of his Regiment to be injured by that shell blast. A week later the Armistice was signed on the 11th November to general rejoicing back home in Norwich, and many people thronged the market place. Alfred’s sister Edith met her future husband on that happy occasion. At the family home in Trowse this delight turned to despair three days later when the news of Alfred’s death arrived. His oldest brother was 38 and his youngest sister was only 11 at the time of his death. It was a very cruel circumstance that he so nearly survived the war.

He was buried at the St Vaast cemetery near Cambrai. There are 45 graves of British soldiers in this military extension to the communal cemetery; for much of the war this village was in German hands. Compiègne were the Armistice was signed is about half way between Valenciennes, where Alfred died, and Paris. Cambrai, where his body lies, is between Valenciennes and Compiègne. In 2014 on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War a display was mounted in Trowse church, with details of the twenty one villagers who gave their lives in the conflict. A photograph of Alfred Mason was among them, and two of his nieces attended the exhibition.





SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.

When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.

This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops.  At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.

The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.

These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent  butchers and bakers in the larger villages.  Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.

The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.





Neville Jones was a Junior School teacher  at Gresham’s throughout his career. I remember his dwelling in the living quarters attached to Old Kenwyn, a block of classrooms by my time. I was taught by him during my time at Crossways, one of the two junior school houses. I cannot remember anything about his lessons. I can picture him very clearly; you will have look at the photo to the left.  He was married with a young family – a few years younger than me – when I arrived at the school in 1959.

Mushy Hughes wasn’t a Junior School teacher, at first anyway; however, the term after I moved on to the senior school he took over as housemaster at Crossways. Thereafter he was naturally very involved with the junior school, but he still taught Classics to the seniors. He taught Greek to my friend James Oxley-Brennan. James was a very good Greek scholar, but by the mid sixties he was the only pupil who still studied the subject; when he left after taking his ‘O’ levels it was dropped from the curriculum. It was no longer taught at the school and, as far as I am aware, it has never been revived. James has become a leading light among learned circles in Norfolk, but his subject has nothing to do with speaking Greek; rather he is the editor of the local Industrial Archaeology journal. Even when he was at school his passion was steam engines.

I cannot remember being taught by Mr Hughes; I can only remember being taught Latin by ‘Gosso’ Mosley. That was because his lessons were an opportunity for him to produce puns, an activity in which I too participated. I was good fun, but not perhaps conducive to learning fourth declension nouns. At the time I was in the top set for Latin, but at the end of the year I was demoted to a lower set, when I may very well have been taught by Mushy. Unlike Mr Jones, Mr Hughes was unmarried, and remained so throughout my time at school. He died within the past few years, and I am sure that he remained a bachelor to the end. I need hardly explain that Mushy was his nickname; his real name was (I think) Michael. I am sorry if you feel that I am getting rather forgetful as the years pass.

Communist guard

Communist Europe; plenty of armed guards.

My lasting memory of Mushy was his taking a group of us teenagers on holiday to Eastern Europe in 1965. He was not entirely single-handed in this enterprise, having as his deputy another young master, a teacher of mathematics called Graham Smithers. Nonetheless it was a formidable undertaking, going behind the Iron Curtain with more than a dozen schoolboys.

I discovered that I had lost my travel card (with which those of us without passports were issued) when the train pulled up at the Czechoslovakian border crossing. With his tall frame and rather snooty look – his nose was permanently in the air – he was nevertheless imperturbable. In due course I found my card – I had left it as a bookmark in the history book I was reading – but when I told him he was equally calm. Incidentally this haughty appearance was misleading; it did not represent his character, which had no hint of arrogance about it.

Somehow he seemed to have enjoyed the sightseeing on the holiday, and with a Czech acquaintance he even organised a visit to the opera for us. He cannot have been pleased when several of us absented ourselves from the second half of the performance, but only a slight frown crossed his brow when we informed him of out intention to leave. The good boys remained to listen to act two of Verdi, while we naughty youngsters were planning a trip to the Prague nightclubs, where I discovered the delights of a gin fizz. In Communist Europe we could get away with almost anything; they needed our hard currency. Back in the West, in Austria, we were put firmly in our place. There was no alcohol for sixteen year olds there.

You will not associate a vibrant nightlife with the dark austerity of the Soviet Bloc, and you would be right, as far as the local population was concerned at least. But for overseas visitors there were establishments reminiscent of what I imagine 1930s London was like. There was no music on the night I remember, but on Saturdays there might have been a small Jazz band playing in the background. Shady ladies would entertain their clientele at the bar. It was a bad thing that I did, but I am glad I went there instead of listening to Aida; that delight is still available to me, should I want it, but the Communist era and its drinking dens are lost in the distant past.

All this is only obliquely relevant to Mushy Hughes. I continued to study Latin, even after leaving school at university, but our paths did not cross after that Easter. As our party pulled into Waterloo we left Mushy and Graham Smithers and rushed off to our various homes with scarcely a goodbye.






‘WOT’ Thomas was the housemaster who took over Farfield from Bernard Sankey about halfway through my time there. W. O. T.  were his initials; William Thomas, though always called Bill (though not of course to his face). He had jolly manner but he was also a firm disciplinarian – you didn’t bait WOT. Bill Thomas was always addresses as ‘Sir’, but so were all the masters. He walked with a slight limp, the result of a war injury, something he never mentioned.

WOT Thomas

In spite of his disability he was a keen sportsman, especially fond of cricket; although I can never remember him actually playing the game, but maybe this is just a gap in my memory. He kept a set of Wisden Annuals in his study, and I remember the yellow covers to this day. He was of medium height; during my time at school he had a young family, having married the headmaster’s secretary about the time I arrived in the Junior School.  He drove around in a Rover 90, a car that was made from 1953 until 1959.

He took us for English in the third form and he laid the foundations of a love of the subject that almost saw me reading English instead of History at University. I read an enormous number of works from Chaucer to Scott, Dickens to George Orwell, Shakespeare to Evelyn Waugh, nearly all of it outside the official school curriculum. How I had the time to do so much reading just for pleasure astonished me now; with all the other work I had to do – like evening prep, taking part in sport in the afternoons, playing in the school orchestra and painting all those pictures – I wonder where I found the time.



John Rayner was also an English teacher. WOT had taken me in Big School in the third form, but when I began my ‘O’ level course in the fourth form I moved into Mr Rayner’s room in the Thatched Buildings. This room had been the biology room until Michaelmas term 1963, when new biology labs were opened in a building newly constructed near Farfield. There was still a hint of formalin about the form room as I sat learning the Pardoner’s Tale. We had done the basics of English grammar with Egg Taylor while still in the junior school, and from now on it was all about literature. The only grammar we still learnt was French, and particularly Latin grammar.  These subjects imparted some useful knowledge that was applicable to English, like the pluperfect tense, but it mostly concerned noun and verb endings that change in many languages, but which stay the same in most English grammar. John Rayner was an inspirational teacher, but as I was a natural English student I am not in a position to say quite how he affected my ‘O’ level results. It was a year with a particularly harsh marker in charge, and only eight candidates from our year got a pass. I am gratified to say that one of them was me!

I had yet another English teacher, Mr Coleridge. He was a keen golfer and spent much of his retirement playing the  game on Fakenham Golf Course. I believe he was a very distant relation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The poets I was taught by Coleridge included Wordsworth, Keats and Browning, but I also ploughed my own furrow with  names who were then still living; T. S. Eliot, Auden, Betjeman and other younger poets. Poetry became my passion, and I taught myself all the styles and the difference between a Shakespearean and a Miltonian sonnet; I learnt where to put the caesura in a line of verse. You may be able tell from all this that I was not a great enthusiast for free verse.

We studied Shakespeare in drama lessons, and playwrights such as Terence Rattigan when doing House Plays, but as an individual I read all Bernard Shaw’s plays – and dare I say, I preferred them to Shakespeare? (I don’t any more.) John Rayner directed the school plays that I participated in. The first was Timon of Athens, not one of the Bard’s better known plays, with good reason. In it I had one of the smaller parts, that of the clown. Naturally my contributions were meant to be funny, but I had the greatest difficulty in even raising a smile in the audience. I don’t think it was all my fault. We did Coriolanus a year later; it is a much better play and I had a much bigger part in it, one which required lots of learning long speeches. What with house plays I was always acting (something I have not done since). I was also heavily involved as chairman of the Debating Society. Debating is another activity that fell by the wayside in adulthood; who knows where it might have taken me had I continued? It was organised by one of the history masters, Steve Benson. I was seldom taught by him, and only current affairs, never history. He has a tremendous bass voice, which he still uses to good effect.

‘JOCK’ Melville was a chemistry teacher. He was a bearded Scot, but not a large person – rather slight in stature. There were dark rumours that the beard hid a wartime scar, but this was merely speculation by his impressionable young pupils. He was a good teacher but not an exceptional one, unlike Dick Copas, who arrived  as a young and enthusiastic teacher as I was beginning my ‘O’ level chemistry course. Whether it was merely Dick’s youth that made him so keen on his subject I do not know, but I doubt it; I am by no means a natural chemist, but his inspired teaching got me through chemistry ‘O’ level. Dick was just one of a number of young masters who arrived at the school at about the time I moved into the senior school and they were nearly all inspiration teachers.

Olly Barnes

Olly Barnes

There were three divisions in the fourth form; Science, Languages, and General. I was General Studies for me; my aptitude for languages was questionable and I was definitely not a scientist, except for biology. Biology did not require any mathematical ability (at ‘O’ level at least) and so was a subject that I enjoyed and was really good at. My teacher was Olly Barnes, and I lapped up all he told us. The circulation of the blood or photosynthesis were grist to my mental mill. Once a week we had a period doing dissection, but this only involved cutting up a tomato or some other inanimate vegetable. Once we ventured into the animal kingdom and had to dissect a ragworm – already dead of course, and preserved in formaldehyde.









I am not referring to the tube but to the cultural movement that began in the late 1960s. It was (to begin with at least) restricted to the capital of England, Swinging London. However it had none of the jolly inclusiveness of that fashionable time. The Underground was the esoteric underbelly of the Swinging Sixties, dark, intellectual and middle class (although they would never have admitted that). In the early days I was as involved in all this as anyone could be who was living outside London. I read Oz and the International  Times and listened to Radio One. The only DJ who was remotely interested in the Underground was John Peel, and his programme, which came on late at night, was my daily fare. I lapped it all up.

I was an enthusiast of the late David Bowie when he was part of the Underground; this preceded his first album which came out in 1967. It was before most of his fans were even born, and several years before he became a main stream pop star. With a school friend of similar tastes I also followed the avant-garde poets of the day, although that French term was not used either of or by them. William Blake was the historical figure all these poets looked up to, but browsing their names fifty years later there is no one among them who approaches him in stature. The Underground even permeated my painting, as you can see above. Drugs were an essential part of the Underground, and I joined in by smoking banana skins which (I was reliably informed) were a sure way to psychedelia. It was certainly a revolting experience. I know what I am talking about when I refer to the Underground.

I became disillusioned with the Underground well before 1970. The first rift came with John Peel himself. On 20th August 1968  Russian tanks rolled into Prague. It was a city I felt deeply about, having been there myself three years earlier. I listened intently to John Peel, desperately waiting for him to mention the outrage. Nothing other than his vapid sayings on incompetent guitar bands passed his lips.  I gave up listening to John Peel in disgust. Compared to the awful things that were happening in Europe the self-regarding activities of a bunch of mediocre artists and musicians seemed irrelevant.

I was very young and I soon grew out of my infatuation with the Underground. What puzzles me is that so much of today’s culture still looks back to many of the trends that began in the febrile atmosphere of the Chalk Farm Roundhouse. Pop Music acquired an elevated status that it never merited and performers like David Bowie even have arrangements of their banal songs played on Classic FM. The popular music of the 1930s had no such pretentions, but (in my opinion) is much more listenable than Ziggy Stardust. What we now call Post Modern Art can be traced back to the 1960s and the Underground. In much the same way that many elderly men and women have never abandoned their youthful politics, their cultural aspirations have been preserved in aspic.

Not everything that came out of the Underground can be classified as bad, though I cannot point to any great masterpieces either. The real advances in art and entertainment have occurred elsewhere; compare the fuzzy black and white images of television in 1967 with today’s digital flat screens. The technologists have been advancing by great leaps while the art establishment seem stuck in the past. But maybe I am just being an old fogey and there really is art among the winners of the Turner Prize that is comparable with that of J. M. W. Turner. Or perhaps not.






Dr Andrews

Dr Andrews

I will start with the letter A, and so I will begin with Dr Andrews. When I arrived in 1959 he had already given up the position of  school chaplain – apparently due to a crisis of conscience (as I learnt much later). He was housemaster of Woodlands throughout my school career, and he was succeeded in that post by Steve Benson, who arrived during my time in the 6th form. I was taken to task by Dr Andrews for disposing of a black goldfish I had bought at the Holt pet shop in the Woodlands house pond. Apparently it was spotted by Andrews and caused quite a stir; how did  it suddenly appear in the pond? How he found out it was me I still do not know; somebody must have snitched on me.

He taught history, so I came into contact with him quite a lot, being a budding historian myself.  His manner was precise and rather formal, and he did not make the subject come alive as David Gregory did for  me. Neither Benson not Gregory had yet arrived at the school in 1963, so I will say no more about these masters in this article.

Dan Frampton

Dan Frampton

Because it was my poorest subject, my father arranged for me to have extra maths lessons with Dan Frampton. I used to go round to his house in Woodlands Close, where he had a surprisingly elegant study at the back of his large garage. There he would attempt to teach me Pythagoras’s Theorem, long division and such like. He must have been successful, because I passed my ‘O’ level in the subject. Dan developed cancer while I was still at school, although I did not learn the detail of this until after I had left. Although he returned to work following treatment, he died before very many years were up. Before he became ill he was the C.O of the CCF, following Colonel Williams. During my short career in the CCF (I joined in 1963 and left in 1966) I had three C.O.s. Two I have mentioned already, and the third was ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, who had been in a pilot in the air force during the war. (He was not of course the real ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham,  who was a night fighter ace during WWII.) The other two leaders of the CCF were army men.

Bernard Sankey was my housemaster when I went into Farfield in 1963. In that year he was also my physics master. I might have passed my physics ‘O’ level had he remained my teacher, but instead we had a man who could not keep discipline among us 15-year-old boys. Almost the entire form failed, so it wasn’t just me who played him up so cruelly. I can remember sitting in the physics lab doing experiments with Bernard Sankey. One involved collapsing a tin in which boiling water had been sealed, and then allowing it to cool. To demonstrate that all objects would fall at the same rate he went up to the top of one of the towers that adorn the Big School building, and dropped a stone and a feather from the top. Of course they didn’t fall at the same rate, as he knew the wouldn’t, and he explained why. Another involved the use of mercury, and this got spilt of the desk in front of me. We chased the little globules of liquid metal across the woodwork with our fingers. This relaxed attitude to such a poisonous element would horrify today’s teachers, but in 1964 the phrase ‘Health and Safety’ had not then entered our physics vocabulary.  Nor had it in chemistry; although we wore white lab coats to protect out clothes from spitting acid, we wore no goggles to protect our eyes. This worried my father, who was a little more advanced in his ideas, and he was glad I wore glasses which protected them to some extent.


Bernard Sankey

Mrs Sankey, his wife, was already becoming ill by 1964 – also with cancer –  and Bernard had retired from Farfield by 1966. He went to live in a restored cottage in the nearby village of Hunworth. He invited those of his former Farfield boys who were leaving the Upper Sixth to a meal in his cottage at Christmas 1966. This was a memorable occasion. After leaving Farfield I did not see Bernard again for over 15 years, when in 1984 I and Molly (my wife to be) attended the unveiling of the Gurney Clock in Chapelfiel Gardens in Norwich. This was a replica of John Harrison’s chronometer, and this was just up Bernard’s street. He was an old man by then, but he was as delighted as a young boy by the clock. He seemed to remember me.





The King Edward VI Free Grammar School (as it used to be called) is an ancient institution. Although it was founded in the reign of Henry VIII’s son Edward VI (who gave it its name) it grew out of the monastic school that was part of the Norwich Cathedral Priory before the Reformation. This could trace its origins back to 1190, which makes Norwich School one of the oldest educational establishments in the country. It is older than Cambridge University, about contemporary with Oxford although younger than another East Anglian school, Kings at Ely, which goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.



During the centuries Norwich School has had many eminent pupils, the most famous of whom must be Horatio Nelson. Unfortunately he did not remain long at the school; he finished his education at the age of twelve, and by then he was a pupil at the Paston school in North Walsham. Many of the the young people from Norfolk who went on to national fame were educated at the school.

To mention a few of these former pupils; John Sell Cotman the painter was a pupil there in the closing years of the eighteenth century. A contemporary was Sir William Jackson Hooker, the famous botanist who was an early Director of Kew Gardens. George Borrow is a writer whose works have the distinction of never having been out of print since his time in the nineteenth century. James Brooke, who became the Rajah of Sarawak (also in the nineteenth century) was briefly a pupil at the school but he soon ran away! The landscape gardener Humphry Repton was at school there in the middle eighteenth century. Sir Edward Coke, the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, was a pupil during the 1560s. John Caius was the sixteenth century physician who re-founded Gonville College in Cambridge. He attended the earlier monastic school.

In more recent times Lt Colonel Derek Seagrim was in 1943 posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his distinguished courage in action during the North Africa campaign. The multi-talented athlete Emma Pooley represents the women who have recently been fully integrated into the school. The school no longer takes boarders; Lord Ashcroft, the Tory party politician, was one of the final generation to live in. Because of its urban location it has always been predominantly a day school.

William Jackson Hooker

William Jackson Hooker

I can claim some connection with the school in the person of our son Peter who had his secondary schooling there. He left in 2005 and went on to Oxford and Sheffield Universities and Natolin in Warsaw. He is currently working on the negotiations to secure university funding for research post Brexit. Although based in London this involves meetings with the authorities in Brussels. As you may be aware, the school has one of the best academic records in the country. As far as sporting achievements go, Peter’s greatest success was winning the Yare Cup for rowing in 2003.

The campus of the school is mainly located within the Cathedral Close in Norwich. Most of the events I attended as a parent were held in the refectory which, in spite of its reassuringly archaic name (for a dining hall), is in fact a disappointingly modern utilitarian building. Nevertheless it has a pleasant view from the windows towards the north face of the cathedral.







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

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

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

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

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

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

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





SWANNINGTON is a village some 9 miles north-west of Norwich. Its centre is off the Norwich to Reepham Road, and there is little through traffic; it is a peaceful place. The name has nothing to do with swans and comes from an Anglo-Saxon personal name  – the place where Swein’s family lived.

Until the practice of ecclesiastical appointments being allocated by some local worthy or institution was abolished in the 20th century, Swannington was in the gift of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. The church at nearby Weston Longville was in the gift of New College Oxford, and James Woodforde who was appointed Parson of Weston in 1773 was a scholar of that college. Similarly at Swannington many of the clergy who occupied the position of Rector were Cambridge men of Trinity Hall.



In the Autumn of 1616 John Copeman married Alice Bunnett in St Margaret’s church in Swannington. The Rector Miles Knollys, who officiated at the ceremony, had only recently been appointed. The church was in a dilapidated state of repair; birds flew through holes in the roof and the missing panes in the West Window meant it had been boarded up. The condition of the Rectory was not much better.

When Alice was a young girl her uncle Edward had got into trouble for not standing during the reading of the Gospel at Swannington church. At least these passages were in the vernacular by 1598, when this misdemeanor was recorded; this was before the Authorised Version, and it would have been readings from Henry VIII’s Great Bible that Edward Bennett sat through. A couple of generations earlier the Gospels were only available in Latin, which was entirely unintelligible to the vast mass of the people.  Alice’s father George was more respectful, and stood at the appropriate time. Attendance at church services was compulsory in the 16th century, but there was apparently some reluctance among the parishioners to do so. Joan Thomson of the same village was admonished a few years later for non-attendance at Sunday service; she replied that she was sick and so unable to attend. The fact that her actions came to the notice of the Rector suggests there is some question over how genuine her illness was.

In 1630, after the death of Miles Knollys, the Rev. Edmund Duncon (a Suffolk born graduate of Trinity Hall) was appointed Rector of Swannington. He married his wife in the village eight years later. One of his early acts was to rebuild the Rectory, which was in the last stages of decay. The Old Rectory is a large building in the 17th century style, that was still the residence of the Rev. John Dixon Wortley in 1950; he had been appointed in 1917. He was the last Rector to live in the Old Rectory, and the last graduate of Trinity Hall to receive the living in the old way. The Rev. Edmund Duncon did not remain for many years in the parish of Swannington, for in 1643 he was sequestered (i.e.removed) by Parliament, along with many of his fellow priests in Norfolk. He was replaced by an ‘Intruder’, a local preacher named Robert Cronshaye. Cronshaye was still active in Watton after the Restoration, where he obtained a licence to preach in 1662. The Puritans discouraged outward ceremony, and no doubt the whole congregation was compelled to sit during Scripture readings. In the 1650s Duncon was appointed Curate to the Chaplain of the Beaumont family, who were living in Suffolk. As this was a private arrangement, the harsh requirements of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate were to a certain extent avoided. The Prayer Book, for example, that had been banned in all acts of public worship would have continued in use in the Beauchamp household. With the Restoration of the monarchy, the Rev. Edmund Duncon was again installed as Rector of Swannington, before resigning two years later and moving to his final appointment in Friern Barnet, Middlesex. There he died in 1672 at the age of 73.

Swannington rectory

The Rectory

Alice and John Copeman moved to the village of Whitwell after their marriage. This is a few miles north of Swannington, and there they had their family. Alice was some years older than her husband, and when the last son was born she was approaching 40 years of age. In 1628 her pregnancy went badly, and she died shortly after giving birth to George. George however survived.  John Copeman was plunged into great difficulties with the death of his wife; he was left with five children under the age of ten to bring up. He did not remarry, so members of his extended family must have stepped in to look after the children while he went out to work. Despite the best efforts of his relatives, all three sons died in 1630, and a daughter, Alice, did not survive into adulthood. Only Catherine, aged just two at the time of her mother’s death, lived through all obstacles to have a family of her own. It was unsurprising if, in these tragic circumstances, John turned to drink.

Former Kings Head

Former Kings Head

The Kings Head was the pub in Swannington at this time, and to judge by its appearance it had been built at least 100 years before that. Why John Copeman had returned to Swannington from Whitwell is unclear, but not content with a pint of two at the Kings Head, he became thoroughly inebriated, to such an extent that he abused his fellows and got into fights. His behaviour came to the attention of the local constable. Not to be put off alcohol so easily he continued to make a nuisance of himself, and he was taken to court in Norwich in 1632. There he was fined five shillings; this was a huge amount that of course he could not pay, so failing that he was placed for six hours in the stocks in Norwich Market Place. After his punishment he continued his rowdy drink-fuelled behaviour, and before 1635 he was again arraigned before the Justices. John Copeman beinge accused for many horrible misdemeanors doth first Confesse that he was drunken And he was also accused for swearinge & diverse other disorders, hee is ordered to be punished at the post, & then to be sett on worke in Bridwell.  The post was where miscreants were whipped.  This was an experience that finally seems to have cured him of his drinking problem; certainly he does not again appear in the court records.

My interest in these years in the history of Swannington is twofold. The Rev. Edmund Duncon was, in 1633, instrumental in the publication of George Herbert’s seminal book of devotional verse, The Temple. Edmund Duncon was a friend of Nicholas Ferrar, one of the saintly founders of the Anglican community at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire; Duncon was visiting his friend at Little Gidding when word came of the serious illness of another of Ferrar’s friends, George Herbert. Duncon was immediately dispatched to Wiltshire. We often think travel was impossibly difficult before the age of railways, but Duncon was able to go to George Herbert’s parish of Bemerton (now a suburb of Salisbury) without delay. Having met the 39-year-old priest on his deathbed, he was was entrusted with the volume of manuscripts to be brought back to Little Gidding; if they were deemed worthless, he was to burn them. On the contrary, all who read the poems on his return to Huntingdonshire were immediately impressed by their value.

East end of the church.

East end of the church

As well as an early form of ‘concrete poetry’, where the shape of the verses is an important part of the effect, he wrote several compositions that are perfect for setting to music. Hymns are not as popular as they once were, but Herbert’s “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing” and “Teach me, my God and King” may be familiar to those who listen to Songs of Praise. He took the poems together with an introduction by Ferrar to the printer in Cambridge, and later legend reports that it was the wealth generated by The Temple which enabled Duncon to rebuild Swannington Rectory on such a grand scale. It went through many editions during Duncon’s lifetime. In case you should doubt this connection between the great poet and this sleepy Norfolk village, the part played by Duncon in this story is recorded by Isaac Walton in his 1670 biography of the poet.

My interest in the rather less elevated career of John Copeman is more personal; he was my wife Molly’s 16 times great-grandfather. George Bunnett was her ancestor a generation before that. It may seem that her family has not moved very far in nearly half a millennium- after all, Swannington is only a couple of miles away from our current home. That is a co-incidence however; John Copeman’s daughter Catherine moved away, and others of her ancestors lived in London, Scotland and  Devon.

My first visit to Swanninton occurred some three hundred years after Edmund Duncon’s return to Swanninton Rectory at the Restoration. After a Summer Sunday visit to the Broads, all the boarders from our school house (all 25 of us, aged from eight to thirteen) were taken in the coach to spend the evening in the garden of Upgate House in Swanington. This was a large 1930s style house, in splendid grounds that were much older than the house. It was the family home of two of our companions, the Barratt boys.  We had a great time playing childish games as the July sun drained from the sky.

The head of the family, John Legh Barratt, was a veteran of the Second World War, having been captured by the Japanese in Singapore as an officer of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. John Barratt was the head of the old-established Norwich stockbroking firm of Barratt and Cooke, that had been established in the 19th century by his father Legh. John’s younger son Charles has been for many years the Chairman of the firm.



Charlie Barratt was almost my exact contemporary, being just six months younger. I should really call the bothers David and Charles, but they will always be remembered by me as Dave and Charlie.  They had a sister too, who was sadly killed when she was knocked off her moped in London in 1973.

Charlie and I referred to ourselves as the two CWs, because our parents had wisely named us Charles William and not vice versa, which would have made us the two WCs! We went into different houses in the Senior School and consequently lost touch. About five years ago Charles William Legh Barratt was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk, and later Deputy Lieutenant of the county. As you may have guessed, David and Charles Barratt come from a distinguished family with aristocratic connections. The high offices of state still retain their social elevation, even in the supposedly egalitarian 21st century.

I returned to Upgate House in Swannington 30 years after my first visit, when my own children were young. Old Mr Barratt, the father of David and Charles, was still living there and was holding a summer Fête to raise funds for St Margaret’s church. I still have some books by Dr Seuss I bought there on his lawn at the Fête. John Barratt’s widow died in 2014 at the ripe old age of 99, and John himself had died 12 years earlier. The Barratt gates to the churchyard at St Margaret’s are a memorial to members of the family and the church now has a new heating system thanks in part to a donation from the Barratt family’s Charitable Trust.

My neighbour owns a field in Swannington, where she was born at about the time of my first visit to the parish; as a child she sang in the choir at St Margaret’s church. The field is under an acre, but it is ample for her to grow all the fruit and vegetables she need to supply jams and chutneys to all the local Fairs and Fêtes. The presence of so much food attracts wildlife; mice and crows forage for seeds, and even the occasional adder suns himself among the marrows. We were given our raspberry canes by our neighbours, and they had been grown in Swannington. Every year they produce all the raspberries we need to freeze for the year. Now, as I eat some delicious fruit from these Swannington raspberry canes, I will end this brief account of the village.