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Don’t Take Up Farming, Old Chap!

When well-known Devon writer Henry Williamson (already famous for Tarka the Otter) announced in 1936 that he had bought a farm on the north coast of Norfolk and intended to farm it himself, the universal response was:

‘Don’t do it. Don’t take up farming, old chap. Farming is dead.’

Farming was in deep depression: and although that meant land was supposedly cheap Henry had no capital to draw on – everyone thought he was crazy! The farm he actually bought, Old Hall Farm in the coastal village of Stiffkey, was even more rundown than most and the current farmer, Mr Stratton (whom HW aptly called ’Sidney Strawless’ in subsequent books), was declared bankrupt before the sale was finalised. The over-riding impression is that the only crop grown there was thistles.

1_ early days_Loetitia and HW survey the thistles2
Early Days: Loetitia and Henry Williamson survey the thistles.

Henry had no experience of farming although he claimed farming ancestry. So why did he take this rather perverse step? He tended to say that he had written himself out of Devon, its animals, its characters, its countryside, and needed a new stimulus, and with twenty-one books on the area already published, this was no doubt to some extent true but it was not the full reason. Immediately after Christmas 1935 Henry drove up to London in his Alvis Silver Eagle sports car and went to see his publisher and great friend, Richard (Dick) de la Mare, son of the writer and poet Walter de la Mare. Henry was in a state of considerable turmoil. Dick invited him to spend the New Year with him and his wife at their home in East Runton on the North Norfolk coast.

It is obvious that Henry unburdened his troubled thoughts to his friends into the small hours. It tends to be taken for granted that this turmoil was about problems with a girlfriend. (Although married and with a family, Henry constantly fell for a succession of admiring young women.) But Dick’s suggestion that he should take up farming to solve things seems a little radical for the failure of a current love affair.

Henry had recently returned from a visit to Germany at the invitation of another close friend, John Heygate (heir to a baronetcy and an estate in Ireland), who worked for the German film company UFA. Heygate was far more involved with German politics than was apparent and he arranged with the authorities that Henry should be shown the best of the current achievements: the new autobahn roads, the fast Auto-Union cars, the ‘happy spirit’ of the extensive youth movement, and topping the list, tickets for that year’s Rally at Nürnberg, staged to impress and awe those present.

Henry was indeed impressed. Everything he was shown was efficient and prosperous. He actually had German ancestry through his paternal grandmother. But mainly he had fought throughout the 1914-18 war. His traumatic experiences, and his deep sympathy for soldiers of both sides, made him resolve to do all he could to prevent war ever happening again. He was convinced that Hitler – also an old soldier from the Great War – must surely think the same and so would never start another conflict. But despite that apparent naivety, he was also astute. A staunch patriot, he would have been aware that all was not as it should have been: that possibly the threat of war underlay the panoply. That was what was troubling him and surely what the two men discussed into the small hours. And that makes sense of Dick de la Mare’s suggestion to take up farming. It was an honourable occupation, and one that would be very necessary if war should break out. Henry would be doing his bit for his country. It would also be a haven for his family, especially his eldest son, as farming would be a ‘reserved occupation’ in time of war. Henry had seen far too many of the fine youth of Britain fall in battle.

The very next day they went to look at a nearby farm for sale – Old Hall Farm in Stiffkey. At first hesitant, a second viewing convinced Henry and he returned to Devon to put the project to his wife. The decision was made and a provisional agreement was signed on 6 March 1936. Henry then set about preparing himself for the new venture, reading books and magazines, The Farmer and Stockbreeder being prominent. Knowing he would need help he asked his brother-in-law, Robin Hibbert, who with his brothers had emigrated to Australia not long before, to return to this country and help manage the farm. Robin (‘Sam’ in The Story of a Norfolk Farm) duly arrived in December.

The legal side was far more complicated and frustrating than Henry had envisaged: valuations, dilapidations, tithes, schedules, and taxes all had to be dealt with. Meetings with the various officials went on for several months. However, the Deed of Conveyance and Mortgage was duly signed in mid-August 1936. The cost of 240 acres of farm land and its cottages (Walnut Tree Cottages) was £2,240, way beyond Henry’s means, but his wife Loetitia had recently inherited a little money on the death of her father, and this was used for the initial payments. He intended to subsidise the farm with earnings from writing articles and books, but this was to mean using a tremendous amount of energy and long hours, physical and mental, in meeting the deadlines of both demands.

2_map of the farm on the endpapers of The Story of a Norfolk Farm, drawn by C. F. Tunnicliffe.jpg2
A Map of Old Hall Farm as it appears on the endpapers of Henry Williamson’s book ‘The Story of a Norfolk Farm’. Drawn by C.F. Tunnicliffe.

Henry had only bought the land (not liking the huge Elizabethan manor house, Stiffkey Old Hall, which went with it – which was then sold separately) and, as the farm cottages were occupied, he needed somewhere to live with his family. On a visit in early December 1936 he found that three condemned cottages were for sale in the village, which he bought for £190, planning to do them up for the family home. These ‘Chapel Yard Cottages’ (called ‘Bugg Cottages’ after the previous owner) became Fox, Owl, and South Cottages (today these cottages are very expensive ‘des. res.’).

3_Bugg Cottages before renovation2
Bugg Cottages before renovation.

In January 1937 Henry attended the annual Agricultural Conference at Oxford, enjoying it very much and gaining some confidence that he would be able to cope. In March he resolved that he and Robin should go and camp on the farm and start some basic work on making up the farm roads and the cottages, so that all would be done by the time he actually took over the farm at Michaelmas. To this end he bought a caravan, lorry and trailer, having arranged to lease the use of a gravel pit for the raw material for making up the roads.

On 20 May, after a very difficult time loading the vehicles with all the necessary equipment the two men would need, a little convoy, Alvis Silver Eagle and caravan, lorry and trailer, set off from Devon for the Norfolk Coast. The Shallowford home was vacated: the family were to stay with their former housekeeper, Annie Rawle, until such time as the Norfolk accommodation was ready for them. The journey was as fraught as the packing had been: everything seemed to go wrong and Henry was in a state of extreme nervous tension. All the details can be found in The Story of A Norfolk Farm, published in 1941 and in the farming volumes of the later Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (see the Henry Williamson Society’s website). Henry’s fictional names for local places, and often people, are very easily worked out: ‘Whelk’ being Wells, for example.

As soon as they arrived and had set up the caravan and a tent at Pine Tree Copse (now known as Pine Tree Camp) they started work on the task of making up the farm roads. This was very hard manual labour, shifting gravel from the leased pit, spreading it and firming it all down (and eventually topping off with a chalk layer from their own quarry). The work was slow and exhausting but production increased when ‘One-eyed Jarvis’ (William Jarvis) offered his services and soon after ‘young red-haired [Norman] Jordan’ was also employed. Later Jimmy Sutton, who had worked for ‘Strawless’, was taken on, and his son Bob. Work also began on the rebuilding of the three condemned cottages, an undertaking beset with every difficulty one could imagine. Everything that could go wrong, did so, including Henry’s secretary/mistress Ann Thomas (daughter of the poet Edward Thomas) going down with mumps, causing Henry yet further angst. Two or three difficult journeys were made back to Devon to collect furniture and this was stored in the capacious Old Granary. When the weather got too cold for the caravan they moved down to camp in the Granary where they established a stove to keep the place warm. The main problem was that Henry and his brother-in-law did not get on. Robin was slow and not terribly methodical: Henry impatient, nervous, quick of mind and body. Inevitably, he blamed Robin for all the problems, and by the end of October Robin had left, to take up a job in electrical engineering.

Henry officially took over the farm on old Michaelmas Day – 11 October – recording in his diary:  ‘The farm is mine as occupier noon today.’ Bob Sutton was appointed ‘head-man’. Henry was by then attending all the local auctions in order to buy equipment. He also bought two horses, Blossom and Gilbert. But his pride and joy was a new Ferguson tractor, known as ‘the little grey donkey’.

It wasn’t long before problems arose over the way the men worked. They were all good local farm-workers, who had farmed in the same way all their lives. Henry was a newcomer and had new – to them very odd – ideas about how to do things. He had been a soldier in the 1914–18 war, and as a Transport Officer had particularly been trained how to deal with, and care for, horses and attendant machinery. He had had to be meticulously organised and efficient in his dealings with armaments, provisions, and the men under him. He was of course used to instant obedience to his commands. Taking on the farm seems to have thrown him back into that mode: fighting the difficulties on the farm was fighting a war. A diary entry states: ‘Here were the fruits of years of neglect. I felt like a soldier before zero hour.’ He had never (and never did) get over the trauma of his experiences in the First World War. He was always in a state of nervous energy – and exhaustion. None of this was understood by the local people. He was ‘hare’ to their ‘tortoise’. The men listened to what he had to say – then went off to do things their own old way.

In October 1937 Henry was visited on several occasions by Lady Downe, who had read his articles and heard his broadcasts. Lady Downe lived near King’s Lynn and her mission was to enlist him into the local group of the BUF of which she was organiser. A lot of nonsense has been written over the years about Henry and fascism. He was not a ‘fascist’ as interpreted in modern parlance. Henry was attracted by the agricultural policy proposed by Oswald Mosley. Mosley was also a soldier from the Great War (as it was still then called) who knew that another war would be disastrous.

The family duly arrived on 16 December and after a night or two camping in the Granary were in residence in the Chapel cottages in time for Christmas. After initial difficulties, alleviated by the kindness of the Cafferatas, new owners of the Old Hall, who invited them for Christmas lunch and baths, things settled down. Then with the New Year the hard work on the farm continued with no let up. Henry at the wheel of his ‘little grey donkey’ to prove its worth to the reluctant men, successfully plowed (he always used the old-fashioned spelling) Hilly Piece. He records Bob, finally won over, as saying: ‘Blast, I like that patent.’ But a visit to Norwich Corn Hall to buy barley seed was a sharp learning curve. Everyone had (conflicting) advice to give. Everyone knew Henry was a novice. Chickens had been bought in the autumn, and now he bought in a few turkeys as well – four hens and a stag. It was Loetitia’s task to look after them. Bullocks got sick. The horses were not looked after in the military way he adhered to. After plowing there was drilling, of barley and oats. Bob harrowed in the seed with Blossom and Gilbert. For once Henry felt things were going well – except he was constantly worried about his overdraft, which was mounting up, and had to write articles into the early hours to earn some money to counteract the situation.

In the summer of 1938 Army camps began to appear around the village and airfields began to be built. The local men had the opportunity to earn ‘good money’. The building standing in the western corner of the old chapel yard was a fish and chip shop and the soldiers and locals threw the used newspaper wrapping into Henry’s garden – to his great annoyance. Litter was always one of his greatest bugbears. He spent a great deal of time cleaning years of rubbish out of the little River Stiffkey, hoping it would once again be occupied by trout. He wanted everything to be clean, tidy, ordered. The farm buildings were done up and whitewashed, the yards, a muddy mire when he arrived, were concreted over and with great pride he set his initials in bricks within the concrete.

4_HW's owl and initials set in brick in the yard2
Henry’s owl and initials set in brick in the yard.

In August 1938 Henry garnered, with various difficulties, his first harvest. But the stacks got infested with rats and mice. At the end of his first year he made up the accounts: depressingly, liabilities seem to far outweigh assets. But considering all the complications that had arisen, there was actually evidence of a big improvement. Henry’s methods were working, although he did not realise that himself.

5_Bob & Jimmy Sutton examining head of barley2
Bob and Jimmy Sutton examining a head of barley.

He finally was able to persuade the occupiers of Walnut Tree Cottage (Mr Francis, whom Henry called ‘Napoleon’, and his rather hilariously mad wife) to move and so, once they had got rid of the swarms of fleas living there, the house could be done up and the family moved in, making that the farmhouse.

In optimistic mood, he decided to hold a celebratory party. This took place in the Granary on Saturday, 19 November 1938. The long family oak refectory table was polished, and packing cases put around for seating. Henry records setting out 51 candles around the room. His guests were Loetitia’s vivacious cousin Mary, who had been bridesmaid at their wedding, his friend John Heygate, John Raynor (Features Editor of the Daily Express), Robert Donat, the film actor, then in the middle of making Goodbye, Mr Chips, his most famous role, and another great friend, the artist best known for his horse paintings, Alfred Munnings, currently staying at Brancaster. John Coast, who came to work on the farm for a short while, was also present. Two of the children, John and Margaret, were allowed to stay up (the eldest boy, Bill, was at boarding school). It was a very jolly affair. Henry had a case of Algerian wine and food came from the farm produce, butter, pheasant, and hams being particularly noted. Everyone wore one of Henry’s large selection of what the children called ‘Horkey’ hats, several of which were ‘cotton-pickers’ that he had brought back from an extended visit to Georgia, USA, in 1934. Munnings was in great form as always, and sang a selection of his well-known bawdy songs.

Party over, farm work continued. The barley market crashed, mainly due to cheap imports, and there was a lot of unrest but little came of it. Business interests came first. The winter brought a great storm but the farm survived without anything untoward. Henry’s drainage system and various improvements saved the day. May 1939 brought the second anniversary of the commencement of the hard work on the farm. Things had greatly improved. But by autumn war was looming and Henry was greatly troubled. With his usual quixotic impulse he went to London to see Mosley to see if there was anything he could do to help prevent it; to be told that it was too late. The curtain was down. Henry was devastated by the advent of another war. He realised, as he was to write in the later Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, using the Morning Star as analogy, that Hitler was not the bringer of light he had hoped, but Lucifer, the fallen angel.

On his return to the farm he found Alfred Munnings by the barn painting a scene of the church and Old Hall. There had been an altercation between the artist and Henry’s son Bill, who had discovered Munnings had removed Henry’s trouser-press from the Granary to paint on! There are two versions of this painting currently housed at the Munnings Museum in Dedham.

With war declared, work on the farm continued apace. Henry’s diary records all the details of ploughing, muck-spreading, calves being born, buying of farm machinery etc. Bill did not return to school and began work on the farm (not yet fourteen years old but, as his headmaster stated, not interested in school learning).

6_Young Bill driving the Ferguson tractor2
Young Bill driving the Ferguson tractor.

New wartime regulations came into being and had to be strictly adhered to. The strain on Henry was immense and his relationship with his wife deteriorated. It was decided that she and the younger children should go and stay for a while with her brother, Robin, now working in Bedford. A couple known as the ‘Tranters’ – actually Freddy Tranter and Mrs Hurt – came to do farm-work and housekeep. They are portrayed as Teddy Pinnegar and Yipps Carfax in the Chronicle. They proved to be rather a disaster, and they left at the beginning of January 1940. There were others who came to work on the farm, usually at their own request; but these people were not prepared to do, neither were they suited for, the hard work necessary. Henry’s nerves being at breaking point, he had no patience with them. None of them stayed very long. Once the worst of the winter was over, his wife returned to the farm.

Although Henry had some good local friends, a faction of the locals was very suspicious of him. From the beginning he was a ‘furriner’. They did not like his ways or his opinions. This intensified in 1940 as the war worsened. He had supposedly improved his farm and made the roads up ready for the German invasion, while the skylight on the landing could only have been designed for signalling to the enemy. Local worthy Major Hammond got the village rag-and-bone man, ‘Goitre’ Gidney, to spy on Henry, and filed an official complaint. But stories that Henry was sent to prison are totally without foundation. On the afternoon of Friday, 14 June 1940 police arrived to search the farm premises. Nothing untoward was found, but Henry was taken to the police station at Wells and put into a cell. He recorded how civil they were, allowing him paper and pencil so that he could continue with his writing (of the Norfolk Farm book). When his wife came to visit, he was allowed to sit out in the yard with her. He could only be released on the order of the Chief Constable at Norwich, who was away for the weekend. On Monday morning he was taken by car to Norwich – and duly released without any charge being made. A complaint had been made: the police had had to respond. The Chief Constable warned him to be careful as he had enemies. Henry returned to the farm and continued with the haymaking. Life on the farm continued to be as difficult as ever: always there was some problem or other. The men still tended to do things ‘their way’ and Henry was often absent. Young Bill did not really carry either the experience or the authority to take charge as his father expected.

Problems also arose over the large amount of military activity in the area. Aerodromes were built all around which meant many of the local men were able to earn far more money than doing farm work. Soldiers were camped locally, some on the farm itself. They careered around in army vehicles ruining Henry’s precious farm roads made with such care and hard work. They knocked down walls and gateposts. Someone even shot one of the cows in the udder. Henry was upset and furious. There was supposed to be adequate compensation for such incidents but all that happened was cursory investigation, time-consuming form-filling and miniscule remuneration.

The Story of a Norfolk Farm was published in January 1941, receiving very good reviews that gave rise to brief optimism, but life on the farm was as difficult as ever. After haymaking that summer, Henry had arranged to make a visit to Devon to cut down a small wood he leased, to sell as firewood. He enlisted the help of Eric Perkins, a lorry driver from Wells. Eric’s girlfriend, Polly, accompanied them when they left on 14 July. The hard work involved in cutting and preparing the wood was unrewarded, for despite advertising locally little of it was sold: most of it was left in Henry’s Field, the retreat he had bought with the prize money from Tarka. Henry later wrote up the episode in a charming book, In the Woods.

In the spring of 1942 Henry came across the well-known artist Edward Seago, on leave from his military work (as a camouflage expert), painting a scene from the farm, and invited him back for tea. This began a close friendship between them. Seago’s parents lived just south of Norwich on the Bungay road. Seago painted a portrait of Henry with fishing rod in hand. This was published, together with a very percipient essay in his book Peace in War, where he states:  ‘I have never met a man more so constantly sincere, nor so steadfast in his search for truth.’ The portrait is now housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

Another friend was the farmer and writer Adrian Bell (father of the broadcaster & ex-MP Martin Bell), who lived near Beccles. Indeed, Mrs Bell and Loetitia (who eventually lived in near-by Bungay) remained friends throughout their lives. After a visit Henry noted how hard-pressed Adrian was – a fellow farmer and writer, with a tendency to dreadful migraines. Another farming friend was the pacifist critic and writer Middleton Murry, who lived near Diss and is perhaps best known for the book Community Farm based on his own farming activities. Henry visited the farm, finding it in a rather chaotic state, worked by conscientious objectors who did not really know (or care) what they were doing. Murry edited The Adelphi magazine, for which Henry wrote articles for many years and actually took over for a short time after the war was over.

When war broke out, farming had become of national importance. In order to optimise the potential an official National Farm Survey was set up, known with affectionate humour as ‘The Second Domesday Book’. When Henry took over Old Hall Farm it was of the lowest grade, ‘C’; by the time of the survey in 1941 it was given the top grade of ‘A’. Henry’s hard work and methods had paid off. Interestingly, the official recorder later added a more personal note to the report, and Henry’s whole entry was used as the example in the introductory explanation:

The author, Henry Williamson, farmed in Norfolk from 1937 and throughout the war years. He recounted his struggle to improve the condition of his farm in The Story of a Norfolk Farm, published in 1941. The farm and its inspection for the National Farm Survey is also described in his autobiographical novel ‘Lucifer Before Sunrise’. He was immensely proud of his “A” Classification accorded by “the New Domesday scribe”.

7_ Farm Survey, classed as 'A'
Farm Survey – classed as ‘A’.

It is obvious that Henry was held in considerable esteem. And yes, he was, after initial fears that he had failed, very relieved and pleased at his top placing. Although life continued to be hard and difficult the harvest of 1942 was good and Henry recorded in his diary on 12 September:

‘Today we finished a long harvest … we have gathered fine crops, and in all have 7 stacks. It has been hard work, and much worry and strain for me . . . but I would not have missed it.’

In his various farm writings there are some superb descriptions of the events that mark the farm year, especially threshing, which was a major event in those days with the huge noisy machines going from farm to farm. Here it was Guy Dappling’s outfit with its Burrell engine pulling a drum and elevator. Henry was a good photographer so there is also a picture record of these events. A large selection of these can be found on the Henry Williamson Society’s website – see the page for The Story of a Norfolk Farm.

8_Threshing time2
Threshing time.

In January 1943 Henry employed seventeen-year-old Douglas Jordan, nephew of Norman who had worked on the farm from the start, to be cow-man. Douglas (‘Ackers’ in the Chronicle farm volumes) was a good worker, and immediately cleaned out and white-washed the cowsheds. Henry was greatly relieved.

Shooting has always been an integral part of most farms. Henry did not want to run his own shoot, preferring to wander around on his own to bag a bird or two for family meals. But he arranged to combine with his neighbouring farmer, Cyril Case, who had better resources for organising that side of farm life. In the autumn of 1943 it was arranged that the Picture Post (the prestigious photo-journalistic weekly magazine) would run a feature on a shoot on the farm. Features writer Macdonald Hastings (father of historian & TV personality Max Hastings) was sent to cover the event. The result was a magnificent spread of photographs and text.

9_Picture Post cover, 4 November 19431
Picture Post cover for 4 November 1943.

Mr Cafferata died and his wife moved back to live with her sister in Yorkshire. The Old Hall was taken over by Father Bruno Scott James, who came to Norfolk to convalesce after a severe illness. His personality was almost as odd as that of an earlier rector of Stiffkey, the Reverend Harold Davidson, whose funeral in 1937 Henry had attended in the first months after buying the farm. He shot at, nearly always missing, everything he saw – including a doodle-bug, when out on the marsh. Henry wrote that story up in one of his weekly articles for the London Evening Standard – to the fury of Scott James and his London friends!

To relieve the shortage of labourers on the farm, Italian prisoners of war were used. Their contribution tended to be making a fire to cook up on and very cleverly setting hair snares for song-birds to provide themselves with a snack. Towards the end of the war, for the harvest of 1945 several soldiers were deployed as farm workers. Henry was rather at his wits’ end by then and (expecting otherwise) was very relieved to find they worked well and did a good job.

By the end of the war the strain of the years of constant struggle had taken its toll on his marriage and Henry and Loetitia decided to part; his raison d’être for farming had gone.  The farm was put up for sale and there was a flurry of preparation for the auction on 24 October 1945.

10_Auction catalogue, 19452
Auction Catalogue, 1945.

The family, including Henry to begin with, moved to Bank House in Botesdale near Diss. Here he wrote a novel based on the farm years centred around the fate of a Reeves pheasant, entitled The Phasian Bird. It has some amazing descriptive passages of the wildlife encountered on the farm, and ranks alongside Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon.

11_ cover of The Phasian Bird, 19482
Cover of The Phasian Bird, 1948.

Henry then returned to Devon where he lived for the rest of his life, where he continued writing, including his magnum opus, the 15-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, of which volumes 13 and 14 are based on the farm years. Interestingly, in a broadcast made soon after the end of the war in 1947 (which has only been discovered in February 2020), Henry stated, proving my own premise, that his reason for going into farming was because:

There was a slump in farming, which under conditions then prevailing, could only lead to war. . . . So I undertook, almost by instinct, a completely new life. . . .  I thought I’d do my little bit on a piece of English land that was in a state of decadence.

Years later, in January 1970, he was approached by the well-known film director David Cobham about making a film for the BBC to be entitled The Vanishing Hedgerows. This was to use, as its basis, Henry’s experiences during his farming years in Norfolk, combined with the problems that modern farm practices (of that era) were causing for wildlife and the environment. This involved filming on the Norfolk farm, and so Henry returned, after many years absence, and met up again with his one-time cowman Douglas Jordan. The film is acclaimed today as a flagship film for conservation.

Henry Williamson died in August 1977, while David Cobham was actually filming the death scene of Tarka for the Rank film of Tarka the Otter. That seemed poignantly appropriate.

POSTCRIPT:

In the 1970s Old Hall Farm was bought by Lord Buxton, who in 1961 was one of the co-founders of the World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature), and was also a co-founder and later chief executive and chairman of Anglia Television, being responsible for the long-running ITV natural history series Survival. The water meadows, so painstakingly drained by Henry to grow crops during the war, were returned to wetlands, and they are now a nature reserve. On the formation of the ‘Henry Williamson Society’ in 1980 he was invited to become Patron, and hosted several visits by the Society to the farm. In the Granary, lit by a spotlight, hung C. F. Tunnicliffe’s portrait of Henry, painted in 1934. On his death in September 2009 his role of Patron was taken over by his son James.

Anne Williamson

THE END

Sources:
The above text is copyright © of Anne Williamson 2020 and all images copyright © of the Henry Williamson Literary Estate.

Anne Williamson is Henry’s daughter-in-law, married to his son Richard, and manages Henry Williamson’s Literary Estate.  Brought up in Bungay, Anne was a librarian – working in the north Suffolk area, and then in Norwich City Library (at first in the original ‘Old’ Library).

https://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/
https://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/bibliography/a-lifes-work/the-story-of-a-norfolk-farm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Williamson

 

Darwin Considered Him an Ass!

By Haydn Brown.

ROBERT McCORMICK was a British Royal Navy ship’s surgeon, explorer and naturalist. He was born on 22 July 1800 at Runham, a village near to Great Yarmouth in the County of Norfolk, England. John Marius Wilson’s 19th century ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ described Runham as such:

“RUNHAM, a village and a parish in the Flegg district of Norfolk. The village stands near the river Bure, at the Runham-Swim Ferry, 4½ miles W N W of Yarmouth and was once a market-town. The parish includes a detached portion, called New Runham or Vauxhall, immediately adjoining Yarmouth, and on which fish-offices, manure-works, and the terminus of the Norwich and Yarmouth railway [would be] situated; and it was [to be] re-turned in the Census of 1851 as including also the extra-parochial tract of Nowhere……”

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Robert McCormick was the only son of Robert McCormick, Royal Navy, a ship’s surgeon from Ballyreagh, County Tyrone. Young Robert spent his childhood around Great Yarmouth; he was educated by his mother and sisters. His father had encouraged his son to become a naval executive officer, but the father’s death in the wreck of the HMS ‘Defence’ off the coast of Jutland on 24 December 1811 left Robert junior without the necessary influence and means by which to achieve his father’s desires.

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Two warships, the HMS St. George and the HMS Defence, both part of the British Baltic fleet, ran aground and were lost outside Thorsminde at the west-coast of Jutland on the 24th of December 1811.

It should be said at the outset that Robert McCormick junior was to turn out to be an eccentric and sometimes difficult character. His naval career would disappoint him, and promotion would be slow. Distinction also would elude him for his ambitions were greater than his application to his work. He would regularly invalid himself out of active service and only occasionally seemed to find work that he was keen to undertake. Almost certainly, his ambitions were destined to be thwarted by his own personality, and he was neither to make a great name for himself in the navy nor as a naturalist.

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Sir Astley Paston Cooper from Brooke in Norfolk. Engraved by J.S. Agar from an Drawing by A. Wivell. Image: Public Domain.

Nevertheless, in 1821 young Robert McCormick decided to enter the Royal Navy ‘as the only chance now left me of entering upon a naval life’. He asked to be trained as a surgeon and was accepted as an apprentice by the famous Sir Astley Paston Cooper, also originally from Norfolk. Following his studies in London, namely at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 6 December 1822. The following year, he was assigned to the flagship Queen Charlotte as assistant surgeon.

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Robert McCormick, Age 25 From a portrait drawn on HMS Icarus. McCormick had been invalided out of active service for the first time and was travelling home to England from the West Indies after contracting yellow fever. Source: MacCormick (1884: 2: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

When Robert McCormick entered the navy, the status of a naval surgeon had risen from that of the turn of the 18th century. He always maintained, however, that his father’s death had left him without enough money or influence to join the ‘executive line’ of the navy; also, his medical training in London would have cost perhaps £200 a year, ‘much the same as a young gentleman at Oxford or Cambridge’. However, it was a fact that a surgeon who had good connections in the Admiralty would have been in a far better position to achieve a successful career – for McCormick it was not to be!

Lack of family influences or fortune aside, McCormick seemed to be incapable to make friends in high places, and it has been argued that his lack of promotion came from antagonising the powerful William Burnett (1779-1861). Burnett sat on the Victualling Board from 1822, and became Director-General of the Medical Department upon its creation in 1832. It was said that Burnett ‘despised the spectacular, the second rate, or the ’dilettante’; but Burnett was not a scientist or a literary man, and seldom promoted those whose interests obviously lay more in the field of geology or botany than medicine. Indeed, McCormick did have more enthusiasm for exploration than for medicine, or natural history – maybe, therefore, he was considered by Burnett as both a ’dilettante’ and second rate!

Certainly, McCormick’s love of the spectacular would not have endeared him to Burnett. The sum total of McCormick was that he was a man with the wrong aptitudes in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. His efforts in natural history, intended to distinguish himself on the Navy’s congested personnel list, antagonised the Admiralty’s Medical Department, and alienated those with the power to advance him. Added to this, McCormick seemed neither good at, nor dedicated to, disciplined natural history collecting. To his further detriment, his dabbling came at the time when both natural history and medicine were growing complex networks. As a qualified but unexceptional naturalist, he had limited capacity for otherwise overcoming his lack of connection to London’s scientific elite. His case reveals the tensions inherent in the position of the ordinary naval surgeon in the mid-19th century – in which one individual performed the roles of doctor, scientist and naval officer, and these roles sometimes came into conflict. These tensions were to be amplified by the presence of the young Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle’s second voyage to South America in 1831.

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Robert McCormick, oil portrait by Stephen Pearce, 1856 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

But first, McCormick’s served in the Caribbean where, in 1825, he contracted yellow fever and was invalided home. He then spent two years as medical officer to shore stations. Then, in 1827, he gained his first experience in the Arctic with William Edward Parry aboard the HMS ‘Hecla’ to Spitsbergen. Although he was not a member of Parry’s unsuccessful polar sledge party, he did contribute significantly to the expedition by keeping the crew healthy and by studying the plants, animals, and geology of Spitsbergen. Following this expedition, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon and then spent a year on half pay, after which he was assigned to the HMS Hyacinth and Caribbean duty, only to be invalided home again in 1830. By May 1831 Francis Beaufort was looking for suitable personnel for a survey expedition to South America. McCormick appeared well qualified, and was recruited as ship’s surgeon for the second voyage of HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy.

While the preparations of the Beagle progressed in late October, McCormick met Charles Darwin who had been given an unofficial place on board as a self-funded gentleman naturalist who would be a companion to Captain FitzRoy. Darwin wrote telling his university tutor John Stevens Henslow about McCormick:

“My friend the Doctor is an ass, but we jog on very amicably: at present he is in great tribulation, whether his cabin shall be painted French Grey or a dead white— I hear little except this subject from him”.

Robert McCormick (HMS Beagle)
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan. Image: Wikipedia.

When the voyage got under way, their first landfall was at St. Jago in the Cape Verde Islands in January 1832. McCormick and Darwin walked into the countryside together, and Darwin, influenced by Charles Lyell’s ideas on geology, found the surgeon’s approach old-fashioned:

“He was a philosopher of rather an antient date; at St Jago by his own account, he made general remarks during the first fortnight and collected particular facts during the last.”

McCormick became increasingly frustrated when FitzRoy took Darwin onshore, leaving McCormick behind and thereby denying him an opportunity for collecting. The last straw came at Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, when FitzRoy arranged for McCormick ‘s collection to be packaged and sent back to England. McCormick was also invalided home; he recalled in his memoirs of 1884:

“Having found myself in a false position on board a small and very uncomfortable vessel, and very much disappointed in my expectations of carrying out my natural history pursuits, every obstacle having been placed in the way of my getting on shore and making collections, I got permission from the admiral in command of the station here to be superseded and allowed a passage home in H.M.S. Tyne.”

McCormick’s upcoming return to England on 29 April 1832 gave Darwin the chance to send post home. He began a letter to his sister, Caroline, where he referred to McCormick, his former colleague:

“I take the opportunity of Maccormick [sic] returning to England, being invalided, ie. being disagreeable to the Captain & Wickham. – He is no loss.”

When HMS Tyne sailed, McCormick was unaware that he was conveying home not only Darwin’s letter, but also his opinion of him. Probably comfortable in his ignorance of Darwin’s words, McCormick settled into yet another ‘sabbatical’ before being posted once more to the Caribbean; only to suffer a further attack of yellow fever, for which he was sent home in 1834. For the next four years he was unattached except for one month aboard the HMS Terror in relief of ice-bound whalers.

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HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic ice pack, from A Voyage of Discovery and Research, by James Clark Ross, engraving, 1847 (Linda Hall Library)

In 1839 McCormick successfully applied for duty with the expedition of James Clark Ross to the Antarctic as surgeon and zoologist aboard HMS Terror. The expedition lasted from September 1839 until September 1843; during this time, it managed to undertake much important work in all branches of science from the Antarctic, through to Australia and New Zealand. The large collections of zoological materials obtained were catalogued later – but not by McCormick! The task was undertaken by John Edward Gray and Sir John Richardson, on orders from the Admiralty following the discovery that the task had been left undone after the expedition.

Here was another example of McCormick’s apparent lack of drive and skills; also, the scientific ability, to cope with such a massive collection. Small wonder then when he did gain some recognition with his election, in 1844, as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons – a different field of course. Then, during the following year, McCormick received what he thought was a life-time appointment; that of surgeon to the yacht William and Mary. To his dismay, however, the commission was changed and he was assigned to the Woolwich Dockyard, east of London; but even in this post he was to be disappointed when, in 1849, he was superseded.

It seems not generally known that Robert McCormick was a proponent of the search for Sir John Franklin, and he was one of the first to lay detailed plans for such an expedition before the Admiralty and the House of Commons. He advocated the use of small boats and sledges to explore Wellington Channel, the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island. However, whilst his suggestions, were well based on Arctic and Antarctic experience, they were ‘unofficial’, coming as they did from a medical officer and not a line officer; inevitably, they were rejected! It was left to Francis Leopold McClintock to later demonstrate and prove that McCormick was correct!

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In 1851 McCormick was appointed surgeon on the North Star in the search fleet of Sir Edward Belcher . At last, his life-long ambition was realised: for during this expedition, he became officer in command of a party. In August and September 1852, he explored the Wellington Channel, in a boat named Forlorn Hope, covering 240 statute miles. He did not find any trace of Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, but did map the east side of the channel and establish the probability of a connection between Baring Bay and Jones Sound, virtually proving that Franklin had proceeded westward from Beechey Island.

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Robert McCormick, Age 52, in Full Dress Uniform. McCormick seems to have had a lifelong interest in his appearance. His diary entry for 3 June 1832, while returning to England on HMS Tyne, reads: ‘Mustered in blue trousers’. Years later, in his early eighties, he was seen by RB Sharpe at the British Museum dressed like someone from a ‘bygone age’, in a ‘swallow-tail coat… with gilt buttons and trousers of a ‘pronounced shepherd’s plaid. Source: McCormick (1884: 1: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

McCormick was awarded the Arctic Medal in 1857 and then, in 1859, he was finally promoted to Deputy Inspector-General. This was his last rise in rank and he was placed on the retired list in 1865, and in 1876 received a Greenwich Hospital pension of £80 per annum through the good offices of his friend, the medical director-general, Sir Alexander Armstrong, himself an old Arctic hand. In 1884 McCormick published his ‘Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and Round the World’. Despite excellent illustrations, sound scholarship, and an interesting narrative, it came too late to arouse much interest – most of the information was already well known and the incidents were too remote for acclamation.

McCormick, in fact, spent the last 20 years of his life in relative obscurity. He had failed either to reach the top in the naval medical service or to become a distinguished biologist. He displayed stamina and competence in exploration but had little opportunity to engage in it except, perhaps, during the North Star expedition. His troubles in the Admiralty have been attributed to a lack of tact and a strong individualism which resulted in frequent disagreements with each of the medical directors-general of his time, especially Sir William Burnett. The yellow fever he contracted and his dislike of small ships led him to avoid assignments to the Caribbean, even to the point of insubordination. However, these characteristics do not explain his scientific failure. McCormick was on good terms with many influential scientists of the day, including Sir John Barrow, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Sir Charles Lyell, and had opportunities to make his mark, but he did not display the single-mindedness, patience, and learning.

McCormick’s only claim to fame was that his name was given to several natural features: in the Antarctic, to Cape McCormick by Ross; in the Arctic, to McCormick Bay by Beaufort and McCormick Inlet by McClintock; and in northwest Greenland, to a valley. McCormick was proud of having his portrait painted in 1853 by Stephen Pearce, one of a series planned on the commanders in the Franklin search. He thought it a harbinger of a distinguished future, but, in the event, the Forlorn Hope was his first, last, and only command.

In his last years, McCormick lived in a Wimbledon house he named Hecla Villa, after the ship on which he sailed with Parry, and the class of ships that included the HMS Erebus. His living companions included a duck named ‘the Duchess’, and a sparrow named Polly. McCormick died at Hecla Villa on 28 October 1890 – He never achieved the desired rank of Inspector-General.

THE END

 Sources Include:
Biography – McCORMICK, ROBERT – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
bshs_monograph_14_9780906450185_Steel_2011.pdf

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Augustine Steward House and the Lady in Grey!

By Haydn Brown.

The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story – for the House is reputed to have a ghost! The original tale may have been widely held, despite probably being false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have been a truth at sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

The Story:
As the plague of 1578 overwhelmed the city, Augustine Steward House found it could offer no resistance and, one by one the family living inside fell victim to it. Deciding that everyone inside the house was dead the bailiffs ordered it to be locked, bolted and boarded up from the outside. Some weeks later when they returned with the house was reopened to allow the bodies to be taken out. It was then the true horror of what had happened within the house was revealed.

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Augustine Steward House, 14 Tombland.

This is Tombland Alley which forms part of the ancient trackway that crossed the city from west to east along Dereham Road, St Benedict’s, Princes Street, Tombland Alley, under the north aisle of the Cathedral and over Bishop Bridge. When he was a pupil at the Norwich School in the 1760s, Horatio Nelson is thought to have lived in the alley. It was also the site of the first synagogue in Norwich after Cromwell invited Jews back to England in the mid-17th century. Furthermore, the alley forms the edge of a medieval plague pit where 5,000 bodies were found. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Dragging out first the bodies of the mother and father some unusual marks were noticed on their legs. Upon closer inspection these were discovered to be teeth marks and pieces of flesh appeared to have been bitten away from the limbs. The horror increased when it became clear that these marks were not the work of the rats that often fed from the limbs of plague victims but from something much larger. They were in fact human teeth marks!

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The entrance to Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: Elliott Brown.

As the ‘pitmen’ cautiously removed the rest of the bodies from the house the full extent of what had happened became clear. Inside the mouth and throat of one of the daughters in the house were bits and pieces of dead human flesh. It seemed that the bailiffs had been a little premature when they locked up the house and she had, in fact, still been alive at the time. To be locked in a house with the dead bodies of the rest of her family with no food or water would have been bad enough, but to have to have made the decision to try and survive by feasting on their plague-ridden limbs is beyond comprehension.

Ever since that date the young girl has been reputed to haunt Augustine Steward House along with Tombland Alley. She always appears dressed in fading and ragged grey clothes and has, for that reason become known as the ‘Lady In Grey’. Many occupants of the house, which has enjoyed a number of uses over the years, claim to have either seen or felt the presence of the young girl. Constantly moving objects around at night time seems to be her favourite pastime whilst she has also been known to open and close doors causing a breeze at the most inconvenient of times.

Augustine Steward House (A Lady in London)
Almost the full length of Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: A Lady in London.

Others claim to have spotted her wandering up and down Tombland Alley and she has even been known to enjoy a dance from time to time. When Samson and Hercules House was known as Ritzys, a local DJ went upstairs one evening to investigate noises he heard coming from one of the toilets. A private party was being held at the club and it was not unknown for youngsters to try and gain access to the dance hall via the toilets and then join the party, pretending to be a ‘friend’ of a guest. When the DJ made his way to the toilets, he saw a young woman leaving one of the cubicles. Dressed all in grey she didn’t look like the usual visitor to the club so he went to challenge her. Ignoring him completely the young woman walked straight past him without a word. As he turned to see where she was going, he was horrified to see that she appeared to have no feet and was simply ‘floating’ down the corridor. In something of a panic, he reported what he had seen to the manager to be warned that if he wished to keep his job, he would not repeat the story to anybody else. The manager obviously felt that a ghost was bad for business!

THE END

The above text is an adaptation of a version written by Alice Cooper in November 2006 – many other versions exist. One example is the following YouTube adaption by Edward L. Norfolk, which you may like to view via the following link:
https://youtu.be/rkNUBr4qcdk

Heading Banner: A Painting of Tombland Alley by John Rees. Image: Tudor Galleries

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.
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Cresswell: A Naval Officer Who Delivered Good News!

By Haydn Brown.

Introduction:
The era of the ‘Pax Britannic’ was the period of relative peace between the Great Powers, during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a “global policeman”. However, the period was anything but peaceful for many Royal Navy Officers, and few saw as much active service as Samuel Gurney Cresswell of Kings Lynn, Norfolk. It was he who contrived to fight in the Baltic campaign of the ‘Crimean War’ – the first-time whole battle fleets maneuvered and fought under steam power. He then achieved fame as an Arctic explorer (being credited with being the first to traverse the much sought-after North West Passage, as the result of a truly epic sledging trip form the trapped HMS Investigator in 1853).

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Samuel Gurney Cresswell

As his career advanced, Cresswell rose to sea-going command, and played his part in the imperial coercion of China, which included amphibious operations and the suppression of piracy in the South China Sea. Throughout his action-packed service, he always found time to keep journals and to correspond with his family. He was an acute observer of the closed world of the Victorian navy, as well as the exotic climes he was privileged to visit. His lively first-hand accounts form the raw material for subsequent books. Like other contemporary sailors, he could also express his observations in competent drawings and watercolours, but with a skill of a higher order. Indeed, he was to be summoned to the Palace to present his Arctic sketches to Queen Victoria, and they were eventually issued as lithographs. However, most were never published at the time.

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An elaborate map of the British Empire in 1886, marked in pink, the traditional colour for Imperial British Dominions on maps. Wikipedia.

In the Beginning:
Overlooking King’s Staithe Square and the Great Ouse River at King’s Lynn is Bank House, a glorious Georgian townhouse built by a wealthy wine merchant who shipped imported wine downriver to the Cambridge colleges and the Bishops of Ely. It was here in the 1780s that Joseph Gurney, later a founder of the present-day Barclays Bank, set up his first bank. Bank House was also where Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell, the Arctic Explorer, was born on 25 Sept 1827 (1827-1867). The house was built on the former site of the 16the Century Port Tollbooth.

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Bank House (left) where Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born.

Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born on 25 September 1827, the third son of Francis Cresswell Esq. (Banker, born 1789) and Rachel Elizabeth Fry (born 1803, London, Middlesex), daughter of Elizabeth Fry, née Gurney, the distinguished philanthropist and prison reformer. Samuel Cresswell had two older brothers (Frank Joseph and Addison John), three who were younger (William Edward, Gerard Oswin, and Oswald) and one sister, (Harriet France Elizabeth). The Cresswell’s’ circle in Norfolk included the Gurneys as well as Sir Edward Parry.

Cresswell’s Life and Career Thereafter:
From his childhood, Samuel Gurney Cresswell expressed a keen desire to go to sea rather than pursue a formal education at Harrow as his older brothers had done. His parents, having sought the advice of Sir William Edward Parry, an intimate family friend “in whose judgement…… [they] had perfect confidence,” decided that Samuel, aged 14, would enter the Royal Navy. This he did, first to serve as a midshipman on board ‘HMS Agincourt’ under Sir Thomas John Cochrane, Commander-in-Chief of the East India and China station. During this period, which was between 1845 and 1847 Cresswell distinguished himself in several actions against pirates in Borneo and Brunei; a further promotion followed in September 1847.

Thomas-john-cochrane
Sir Thomas John Cochrane

While Cresswell was serving in the far-east, Sir John Franklin was leading an expedition in search of the North-West Passage, a navigable route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Franklin had sailed from Greenhithe on 19 May 1845 with 129 officers and men aboard the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ – both fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment. Franklin’s ships passed from the Atlantic through the Davis Strait into Baffin Bay and were last seen on 26 July at the entrance to Lancaster sound, moored to an iceberg.

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Sir John Franklin. Image: National Portrait Gallery.

Back at Portsmouth, England and serving on ‘HMS Excellent’, Cresswell was next promoted to 6th Mate on April 1848; one month later, in May 1848 he was transferred to ‘HMS Investigator’ to take part in Sir James Clark Ross’s Arctic expedition in search of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin’s expedition ships which remained missing. During the search, on 10 Sept. 1849 to be exact, Cresswell was promoted to 2nd lieutenant; then, within three weeks of his return to England in November 1849, he voluntarily re-joined ‘HMS Investigator’ as a member of Robert John Le Mesurier McClure’s Arctic expedition, both in the continuing search for the Northwest Passage and also as part of the second Franklin search expedition. The search would be attempted from the Pacific coast of America and travelling eastwards via the Bering Strait. Little did McClure know when he set out that nearly four years would elapse of fruitless searching.

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Robert John Le Mesurier McClure.

McClure’s expedition actually set sail in January 1850 and encountered the first ice west of Barrow Point in the August of that same year. Having entered the North-West Passage from the Bering Strait it attempted to sail further eastwards but the ship became trapped in pack ice in the autumn of 1851. Come the 26 October and a travelling party from McClure’s ship was held fast off Banks Land but manage to establish that the Prince of Wales Strait did connect to Viscount Melville Sound. Melville Island itself, first discovered 34 years earlier by Parry who had approached from the opposite direction, was clearly seen by the members of McClure’s party from their elevated position; it lay across the entrance to Prince of Wales Strait. It was this that gave indisputable proof of the existence of the Northwest Passage:

“The highway to England from ocean to ocean lay before us”!

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This is one in a Series of Eight Sketches in Colour of the Voyage of H.M.S. Investigator (Captain M’Clure), during the Discovery of the North-West Passage. Image: Day and Son and Ackermann and Co., London, 1854.

As thing were at the time, the excessive heavy ice conditions during the summers of 1851 and 1852 prevented McClure’s expedition from making any further progress eastward, and it was forced to winter throughout 1851–1853 at the Bay of Mercy. It was at this point, when McClure’s ship was finally abandoned, and although the events of that period were fully documented, the location of the HMS Investigator wreck was not known for over 150 years; it would be in July 2010 when it was found, at a depth of 8 metres, just off Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea.

Back in 1853, the expedition was faced with the prospect of starvation but was located on 6 April that year by a sledge party sent by Captain Henry Kellett, commander of ‘HMS Resolute’, which was also on the Franklin search expedition under Captain Sir Edward Belcher. Cresswell, along with 24 invalids, followed McClure on the 170-mile trek to Kellett’s winter camp at Dealy Island, located off Melville Island. Arriving in good health, Cresswell volunteered to continue overland for about 300 miles to Beechey Island in the hope of meeting a ship.

By an incredible stroke of luck, he encountered the ‘HMS Phoenix’ under the command of Captain Inglefield, who had arrived on 2 August 1853. It was on this ship that Lieut. Cresswell set sail for home, via Scotland, on the 23 August. Understandably, he triumphantly had in his possession McClure’s dispatches to the Admiralty which established him, Cresswell and his party, as the living proof of not only the discovery of the long-sought for Northwest Passage by Sir Franklin, but also his own success of being the first to traverse this passage. In 1854 Captain McClure was awarded a knighthood for his leadership throughout.

On 26 October 1853, a public dinner was held in his honour at the Kings Lynn Assembly Rooms, organised by his native townsmen; tickets were 1 guinea each. It was after a lavish banquet when the Town Clerk read out a ‘Congratulatory Address’ and the Mayor, Lionel Self, presented Lieut. Cresswell with a copy on an illuminated scroll of vellum to which the Corporate seal was attached by a golden cord. Lieut. As tradition dictated, Cresswell returned the compliment by thanking his audience and regaling them with some of the hardships which he had suffered whilst leading his sledging party across the ice:

‘We used to travel all night, about 10 hours, and then encamp, light our spirits of wine, put our small kettle on it to thaw the snow water, and after we had our supper – just a piece of pemmican and a glass of water – we were very glad to get in, after smoking our pipes (“Bravo,” and laughter). The first thing we did after pitching the tent was to lay a sort of Macintosh cloth over the snow. On this would be a piece of buffalo robe stretched. Each man and officer had a blanket sewed up in the form of a bag, and this we used to jump into, much the same as you may see a boy in a sack (laughter). We lay down, head and feet, the next person having his feet to my head, and his head to my feet, just the same as herrings in a barrel (laughter). After this we covered ourselves with skins over the whole of us, and the closer we got the better, as there was more warmth (laughter).’

Coincidentally, it was noted that the public dinner actually took place on the third anniversary of the discovery of the North-West Passage. It was also fitting at this celebratory dinner that a tribute was paid by Rear-Admiral Parry to Cresswell; Parry being the person who had been influential in Cresswell’s career and felt a personal responsibility for his safety.

On the mystery of Sir Franklin’s disappearance, the Government of the day gave up the search for him and his ships in 1855 when it was discovered that a few survivors had attempted to reach the Hudson’s Bay Company’s settlement. However, Lady Franklin was not satisfied and organised another search, which proved to also be unsuccessful. The fate of the Franklin’s expedition (but not the location of the two ships) was finally revealed in the Spring of 1859. As it was, the Captains and crews had all but completed the navigation of the North-West passage and, for this reason, Sir Franklin was given the honour of its discovery.

As for the ship’s crew, they were last seen on King William Island but would never return to England. Their apparent disappearance at the time, prompted a massive search that continued unsuccessfully for nearly 170 years. In September 2014, an expedition led by Parks Canada did, finally, discover the wreck of ‘HMS Erebus, and two years later, the wreck of ’HMS Terror’ was located. Historical research, local knowledge and the support of others made these discoveries possible. Now Parks Canada are working manage this fascinating National Historic Site. Public access to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is not yet allowed.

Subsequently, and until his promotion to Commander on 21 October 1854, Cresswell served on HMS Archer in the Baltic during the Russian War. It was while he was stationed in the China Seas in 1857-58 as commander of ‘HMS Surprise’, that he was promoted to Captain; that was on 17 September 1858. It was during this posting that Cresswell met with ill health from which he never fully recovered. It seems his years in the Arctic wastes had ruined his health and he retired in February 1867, dying, unmarried on 14 August 1867 at Bank House, his mother’s home in Kings Lynn, aged only 39 years.

Cresswell’s Artistic Talents:
Cresswell, while on the Ross and McClure expeditions, executed numerous water-colours which today provide a valuable pictorial record of the crews’ activities and Arctic terrain. Some of his sketches, suitably ironed flat from their rolled-up state and placed in an album, were presented personally to Queen Victoria with a request for permission to dedicate a volume of lithographic views after the drawings to her Majesty. The resulting folio volume, published in 1854 in London, was entitled A series of eight sketches in colour ……… of the voyage of ‘H.M.S. Investigator’. His drawings were also used to illustrate the discovery of the North-West Passage by H.M.S. Investigator, edited by Sherard Osborn and published in London in 1856.

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First discovery of land by HMS Investigator, September 6th 1850. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Sledge-party leaving HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay, under command of Lieutenant Gurney.  Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Critical position of HMS Investigator on the north-coast of Baring Island, August. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.

THE END  

Sources: Included amongst the sources used are the following:
Biography – CRESSWELL, SAMUEL GURNEY – Volume IX (1861-1870) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Glimpses – Samuel Gurney Cresswell (thornburypump.co.uk)

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A Wandering Soldier’s Legacy.

By Haydn Brown.

Who in Norfolk has not heard of George (Henry) Borrow (5 July 1803 – 26 July 1881), the Georgian writer, linguist, traveller (horse-whisperer!) and one of the more idiosyncratic of many Victorian men of genius? He was the person who, it was said, conjured up the term ‘Norwich A Fine City’; now on local road signs and prominently in evidence when entering the City. However, how many know anything about his father, Captain Thomas Borrow (1759-1824)?

Well, Thomas Borrow was an eighth and youngest son and was born in 1758 of a yeoman family at an old homestead known as Tredinnick, in the parish of St. Cleer near Liskeard in Cornwall. He became a patriotic, pugnacious, but God-fearing Cornishman, as were his forbears who had settled in the kingdom well back before the 17th century – and possibly earlier.  His family:

“feared God, honoured the King, and believed in ‘Piskies’ and Holy Wells!”

Thomas Borrow (The Fancy)

Thomas Borrow was handsome, tall and muscular; helped no doubt by having worked for some time on his brother’s farm. He was also very adept in the athletic sports for which Cornwall was famous, including boxing in which he displayed particular prowess.  When, come the future, he was to have a family of two sons his youngest, George, became somewhat in awe of his father’s pugilistic reputation, and in later life, young George Borrow was to become an ardent admirer of “The Fancy”. He would be asked:

“What is the best way to get through life quietly?”

George would reply:

“Learn to box, and keep a civil tongue in your head.”

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But now back to Thomas Borrow. In 1778, when nineteen years of age, Thomas was articled for five years to a maltster; but, just as that period ended, an argument occurred at the Menheniot Fair between two groups of lads, one of which included Thomas. His group triumphed over the other, at which point the local constabulary appeared and were promptly felled by the brawny Borrow. To crown this misdeed, he also knocked over the ‘head-borough’, who happened to be his maltster master! He wisely fled, and shortly afterwards enlisted as a private soldier in the Coldstream Guards, to be soon quartered in London. By 1789, and now a sergeant, he was transferred to the West Norfolk Regiment of Militia, with headquarters at East Dereham in Norfolk.

Thomas Borrow3

It was in that year when a company of theatre players from Norwich’s Theatre Royal, made one of its frequent visited that nice little town of Dereham; included as a supernumerary was an Ann Perfrement; she was the pretty daughter of a farmer of Dumpling Green (see image above), on the outskirts of the town, and of Huguenot descent. On this particular occasion Ann, a handsome dark-eyed young lady, was in the cast of a performance held in a barn which was next to the Kings Head Hotel – we do not know the name of the Play!

Thomas Borrow4
The Kings Head Hotel in Dereham as it is today.

Although Ann had a small part. Sergeant Thomas Borrow, a smart figure in scarlet and yellow, now responsible for Recruiting new soldiers, not only noticed her, but was attracted to this young and attractive lady. Somehow, and it is amazing how smitten young men find ways, he managed to not only find out who she was but also managed an introduction. The Cornish soldier’s fascination was quickly enveloped in a shared love and the two were married at Dereham Church on 11 February 1793.

Thomas Borrow (19th-century-engraving-of-dereham-church)
A 19th century engraving of Dereham parish church, Norfolk. Photographed from a book titled ‘English Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil’ published in London circa. 1870. Copyright has expired on this artwork. Digitally restored.

No sooner had the ink dried in the Church’s Register when Sergeant Thomas’s regiment began a wandering course over the highways of England – first to Colchester, then back to Norfolk before periods at Sheerness, Sandgate, and Dover, then to Colchester once more; in Kent; Essex again. During these wanderings, in 1800 to be exact, Thomas and Ann’s first child arrived; it was a boy and they named him John Thomas. It was said that he was “a beautiful child of rosy, angelic face, blue eyes and light chestnut hair,” John was to be his father’s favourite, entering the army, when of age, and becoming a lieutenant; but also, and especially after the end of the war, an artist, studying under B. R. Haydon and ‘Old Crome’.

Almost three more years of his father’s wanderings were to follow before the Regiment and the Borrow family were back at East Dereham. It was here, on 5 July 1803 and in the house belonging to his mother’s parents, where Thomas and Ann’s second son was born; his name would be George Henry. On 17 July young George Henry Borrow was baptised ; his given names being that of the King and of the eldest brother of the now ‘Captain’ Thomas Borrow.

Thomas Borrow2

NB: Whilst this account is aimed at being about what is now ‘Captain’ Thomas Borrow, it cannot be exclusively so since there remains little doubt that the father’s hands were full trying to contend with young George Borrow – of future fame! Nevertheless, further mention of him here will remain restricted to only such detail as is necessary to further reflect the experiences of his father. There is much written elsewhere about George Borrow; suffice to say at this point is that, as an infant, George was gloomy and fond of solitude, and in his own future words:

“ever conscious of a peculiar heaviness within me, and at times of a strange sensation of fear, which occasionally amounted to horror, and for which I could assign no real cause whatever.”

A maidservant thought him a little wrong in the head, but a Jew pedlar rebuked her for saying so!

Captain Thomas Borrow’s regiment travelled along the Sussex and Kent coast during the next four years.  They were at both Pett and Hythe in 1806 where young George claimed he’d seen “the skulls of the Danes”.  They were at Canterbury in 1807 but by 1809 and 1810 they were back at Dereham. By then, George had “increased rapidly in size and in strength,” but not in mind, and could read only imperfectly until “Robinson Crusoe” drew him out.

It was whilst living in East Dereham, that the Borrow’s attended the fine parish church twice every Sunday, There, from a corner of a spacious pew, they could all fix their eyes on the dignified High-Church rector, the Rev. F. J. H. Wollaston, B.D. no less:

“from whose lips would roll many a portentous word descriptive of the wondrous works of the Highest.”

Also, at East Dereham, the family would see, and no doubt pay their respects to:

“that exquisite old gentlewoman, Lady Fenn, widow of Sir John Fenn, editor of the Paston Letters, as she passed to and fro from her mansion on some errand of bounty or of mercy, leaning on her gold-headed cane, whilst the sleek old footman walked at a respectful distance behind.”

Leaving Dereham in April, 1810, Captain Borrow and his family were transferred to Norman Cross, in the parish of Yaxley, some four miles from Peterborough, to guard a large number of French prisoners in sixteen long casernes, or barracks within the prison there.  It was somewhere around Yaxley where little George, now seven years old, made a friend, “quite to his liking, in a wild sequestered spot which was his favourite haunt for a time”; this was where he first became associated with gypsies and met with Ambrose Smith—the Jasper Petulengro of George’s future writings.

Thomas Borrow (Norman_Cross_Prison)
A painting of Norman Cross Prison circa 1797.

Between July, 1811 and July, 1814, the Borrows continue to lead a nomadic military life, yet at each place of residence, Captain Borrow made sure that his two sons, John Thomas and George, attended the best schools available. Early in 1813 the Borrow family were in Edinburgh, where the boys were sent to the celebrated High School and young and wild George willingly joined the faction fights between the old and the New Town.

Thomas Borrow5
A musician of the West Norfolk Militia, and the only known image of a West Norfolk Militia uniform in the public domain By Unknown – Antique print. Photo: Wikipedia.

Even better than this, he made friends with just such a wild character as he. This was a David Haggart, son of a gamekeeper and guilty of nearly every crime in the Statute Book under various aliases—John Wilson, John Morrison, John McColgan, David O’Brien, and “The Switcher.” Haggart later enlisted as a drummer-boy in Captain Borrow’s recruiting-party at the Leith Races in the July of 1813; he was just barely twelve years old. Soon, however, Haggart tired of discipline and scanty pay and obtained his discharge, thereafter embarking on a career of crime which culminated in his hanging at Edinburgh in 1821 – at the age of twenty.

In June, 1814, the West Norfolk Regiment was ordered south; some went by sea and some by land.  Captain Borrow chose the latter, and on 18 July his Division entered Norwich, and the Earl of Orford, Colonel of the regiment, entertained the officers and their friends at the Maid’s Head Hotel.

Thomas Borrow (Maids Head)

At this time Captain Borrow and his family went to lodge at the Crown and Angel, an ancient hostelry in St. Stephen’s Street.  From that convenient center, the recruiting -parties under Captain Borrow were very successful in obtaining men, by ‘beat of drum’ instead of by ballot, as had previously been the practice.

Thomas Borrow1

It was during this short interval in Norwich, when the family was lodging in St Stephens, that George went to the Norwich Grammar School, next to the Cathedral. However, having had all those wild experiences of the past, it was small wonder that this lad was not very adaptable, but he managed – at least on this occasion!

But troubles arose in Ireland, and in August, 1815, the West Norfolk’s were again on the move.  They found themselves at Cork early in September, and marched on to Clonmel. Captain Borrow commanded a Division there, and George walked by his side, holding the stirrup-leather of his horse, while his brother, John Thomas Borrow, gazetted ensign in May and lieutenant in December, was also in his place in the regiment.  At Clonmel the Borrows lodged with a handsome athletic man and his wife, who enthusiastically welcomed them:

“I have made bold to bring up a bottle of claret,” said the Orangeman, “. . . and when your honour and your family have dined, I will make bold to bring up Mistress Hyne from Londonderry, to introduce to your honour’s – a lady, and then we’ll drink to the health of King George, God bless him; to the ‘glorious and immortal’—to Boyne water—to your honour’s speedy promotion to be Lord-Lieutenant.”

In January, 1816, the regiment was moved on to Templemore, a charming town in mid-Tipperary, where the Borrows remained for a short time before returning to Norwich on 13 May, again staying at the Crown and Angel, until they settled at the historic little house in King’s Court, Willow Lane, which they leased from a builder named Thomas King. This is the time when the old soldier, with his pension of eight shillings a day, and his excellent and devoted wife, settled down with their two sons.

Thomas Borrow6a

Thomas Borrow (Norwich House today)
The former Burrow’s home in Willow Lane, Norwich today.

Now comfortably settled in Norwich, John Thomas and George were again sent to the Grammar School; George, still conditioned by his past wild experiences was to face new difficulties when he came under the rule of the Rev. Edward Valpy; “a severe master” …… “a martinet” ……whose principal claims to fame were his severity, his flogging – and his destruction of the School Records of Admission, which dated back to the sixteenth century!

Six years later, on Monday, 11 February 1822, Captain Borrow made his Will; and perhaps the date was not a mere coincidence – for it was on a Monday, 11 February in 1793 when he married his beloved Ann at East Dereham. Now, he bequeathed all that he had to her, his forthcoming widow, but with something for the maintenance and education of George during his minority.

Yes, the old soldier thought well of Ann as he wrote his Will; and clearly, he also thought about his son George, and it was not for the first time that the Captain had done so; his particular concern this time was for the fate of his son once he was out of his articles. It seems that the Captain had remained distinctly disheartened, ever since he was told about the young lawyer’s acquisition of the Armenian language, obtained from a book presented to him by a clergyman’s widow. She had taken a fancy to young George Burrow, and even drew his portrait – “his expression putting her in mind of Alfieri’s Saul”!

Thomas Borrow (St Giles)

The worthy Captain died 28 February 1824, and was buried in St. Giles’s churchyard, Norwich on 4 March. In an obituary notice in the Norwich Mercury of 6 March 1824, Captain Borrow’s passing was described thus:

“He rose from his bed about four, apparently as well as he has usually been in the winter time; returned to it without the least assistance, and in less than a quarter of an hour was a corpse in the arms of his sons, leaving those who knew his worth and deeply lament his loss.”

Thereafter, Thomas’s sons went their separate ways, pursuing futures that were distinctly different; the youngest, George, eventually achieved fame as a writer, whilst John Thomas, as early as 1826, would depart for Mexico in the service of a mining company – only to die there in 1834.

Footnote:
There never appeared to have been any memorial stone to Captain Thomas Borrow at St Giles; now it is impossible to locate the exact position of his grave there. More so because some 50 years, or more, after his death, a corner of the St Giles’s churchyard was cut away, under the City of Norwich Act of 1867; the aim was to widen the road and to remove a dangerous corner. As a result of this work, it is highly probable that the Captain’s remains now rest either under the roadway itself, or the section of pavement that adjoins the perimeter wall of the surviving churchyard. So maybe, you should tread with thought as you pass by the church; you could be walking over Thomas’s grave!

0 T
St Gile’s Church, Norwich and the ‘improved’ corner – but where is Thomas’s grave? Photo: Picture Norfolk.

THE END

Sources:
‘Souvenir of the George Borrow Celebration’, Norwich, 5 July 1913 by
James Hooper. Published by Jarrold & Sons, London & Norwich.

‘George Borrow, The Man and his Books’, by Edward Thomas. Chapman & Hall Ltd, London, 1912.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.
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The Tale of a Publican and a King!

This is the story of non-other than Mucky Porter, the Fenland publican who saved King Charles 1 on one occasion. It was written originally by Gordon Phillips, who based it on different tales contained in the books “Tales from the Fens” and “More Tales from the Fens”, written by Walter Barrett, with illustrations by Percy Garrod; the stories were edited by Enid Porter.  Walter, or Jack as most locals knew him as, grew up in Brandon Creek and most of his tales were adapted from those told by the legendary fen man and storyteller, Chafer Legge. This story, by Gordon Phillips, previously appeared on the Enid Porter Project website. Read on:

In the fens of the past there was a secret brotherhood and sisterhood of the Grey Goose Feather. True fen landers would carry a feather from the fowl who overwintered in the watery places and when in need they only had to produce the feather and all true fen landers would help them.

Mucky Porter (Goose Feather)1
A Goose Feather.

At the time of the English Civil War there lived in the village of Southery, on the Norfolk border of the great wilderness, a publican by the name of Mucky Porter. One evening he was counting out his money, his takings for the day of which there was very little, when there came a knock at the Inn door. Mucky Porter looked outside and saw two very fine-looking gentlemen with two extremely beautiful thoroughbred horses outside in his yard. He wondered what such affluent looking folk could want with him and hurried to the door.

Mucky Porter1
The Old White Bell at Southery, formerly ‘The Silver Fleece’ where Mucky Porter was landlord.

“Are you the man they call Mucky Porter?” They asked. “I might be, it depends on who wants to know”, he replied letting them into the pub parlour. The strangers sat down and quickly came to the point.

“Mr. Porter could you tell us what you think of Old Noll?” – This, by the way, is an epithet applied to Oliver Cromwell by his Royalist contemporaries.

“Well, I don’t think much about him except he’s the reason that my takings have been rather low recently. Nearly all my regulars have gone to fight in his army as he says that he’ll put an end to the draining of the fen and interfering with their way of life,” he replied.

“And what about the King, Mr. Porter?”
“Well, I don’t think much about him neither.”
“Would you be prepared to help the King Mr. Porter?”
“Well, it depends what was in it for me.”

At this one of the strangers took out of his pocket a bag of gold coins. Mucky Porter’s eyes lit up. The strangers continued:

“Mr. Porter we have heard that you are one of the few people who know the way across these accursed marshes and bogs. The King has been pursued across Norfolk by Oliver Cromwell’s men and needs to get to Huntingdon where his forces are waiting to escort him to Oxford. If you could guide him across you would be rewarded with this bag of gold.”

Mucky Porter (Charles I)
Portrait of Charles I of England by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1628. Photo: Wikipedia

It took Mucky Porter at least three seconds to decide and later that night he was brought before the King himself at Snore Hall near Downham Market, where he was being hidden. Some of the King’s attendants were dubious that this raggedy looking local could be trusted with the fate of the monarch and Mucky was asked for some proof that he was trustworthy. At that Mucky Porter drew from his pocket a grey goose feather. He took out his knife and cut the feather in half.

“Your lordships,” said Mucky Porter with all the dignity he could muster, “I am a fen lander, a true fen lander. All true folk of this area carry this token and if in need are sworn to help, unto even their own death, another who carries a grey goose feather.” He put one half feather in his pocket and handed the other to the King. “Now, by my honour, I can do nothing but aid His Majesty.”

This seemed to satisfy the members of the court and the following morning Mucky Porter of Southery and King Charles 1st of England set out across the last great wilderness of Southern Britain. At first, they passed through populous areas and Mucky Porter was concerned that their presence was being noted by those they came across.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “I am worried that these great huge horses make us stand out. I think we need to take a detour.”

Mucky Porter (Southery_Oliver Dixon)
Common Drove, Southery
A bend in the Drove, alongside a drain. Photo: © Copyright Oliver Dixon

The detour took them to Southery and the inn where they stabled the thoroughbreds they were riding and took to two sturdy fenland ponies instead. Mucky Porter also got a couple of old sacks to put over their clothes and as they passed out through the village streets, they went unnoticed.

Mucky Porter was indeed an expert at finding his way through the fen and they passed through areas that few knew and even fewer dared themselves to visit. Thus, they came eventually to the other side, to the ford in the river just outside Huntingdon. There, however, their hearts sank as it was strongly manned by Roundhead troops.

“Halt, who goes there?” called the sentries.

At this Mucky Porter put his hand into his pocket, took out the split grey goose feather and held it aloft. The troops turned their gaze on the King who put his hand in his pocket and did the same.

“Quick, come across, and then away with you”, said the guards who were, of course, themselves true fen landers. There Mucky Porter handed the King over eventually to his own men and returned by his secret route towards the pub. In his pocket, which he kept tapping, was the bag filled with gold coins and in his stable back at the pub were the two fine horses, the like of which had never been seen in Southery.”

Mucky Porter (Bag of Gold)

And that might have been the end of the story for Mucky Porter, but not, of course, as we know for King Charles. Eventually the forces of Oliver Cromwell were victorious and Charles was forced to stand trial. As is well known, he was found guilty and was sentenced to death. It is said in the fens that on the night before the execution, Cromwell was sitting with the rest of his generals near to the place of execution when there came an emissary from the King. He stood before the generals and said,

“The King does not ask for pardon for he is God’s anointed monarch and knows that the Parliament has no authority to do what they intend to do to him. All that His Majesty asks is that he is afforded that due to one who holds this token.”

At that the courtier drew from his pocket the split grey goose feather and placed it on the table before Cromwell. Cromwell’s face went white and he dismissed all those who were gathered with him. Long he sat into the night, staring at the feather. For Cromwell too was a fen lander and knew what he should do. But when morning came, he did not intervene and Charles 1st was beheaded. It is said that when they heard about this the fenland members of his army refused to follow him. They threw their goose feathers at his feet and returned to their homes.”

Mucky Porter Execution)
Execution of Charles I. Illustration for Young Folk’s History of England (McCarthy, c 1890). Credit: Look & Learn.

And what of Mucky Porter, back in the inn at Southery? Perhaps he shed a tear when he heard of the execution of the King, we do not know. He was still landlord many years later when he heard of the death of ‘Old Noll’ and it unlikely that he was very upset at that. One day, when Mucky Porter was getting very old but still landlord at the pub there came a knock at his door in the early morning. He went to the window and saw a number of fine-looking gentlemen out in the yard. He went outside and greeted them.

“Are you Mucky Porter?” one of the fine gentlemen asked. “I might be, it depends who’s asking”, was his reply. “I am looking for a man called Mucky Porter”, said the most flamboyantly dressed visitor. “When I was young, I heard many times the story of how a publican of that name helped my father to escape from Cromwell’s men across the wilderness. I have always wanted to reward him for the deed.”

Mucky Porter very quickly realised who the visitor was and within a few minutes had agreed to accompany Charles 2nd and his courtiers out into the newly drained lands. The company was amazed when the old fen lander emerged from his stable riding a fine thoroughbred horse, the descendent of the two horses he had obtained all those years ago.

Mucky Porter (Charles II)
Charles II. Photo: Wikipedia.

They rode out on to the fen where the newly drained land shone with fecundity in the bright fenland sunlight. After they had ridden for a while Charles said to Mucky Porter, “Well here we are Mr. Porter. You can have, as a reward for the service that you gave to my father, as much of the land as you would like. Come now, specify the boundaries of your new domain.” Mucky Porter stared around him.

“Well, Your Majesty”, he said, “I think I’ll have from that barn over there, to that ditch right over there, to that tree in the distance. How much do you think I’ve got?”

“Mr. Porter, I think that you must have several acres there.”

And ever since that day the land on Methwold Fen has been called the Methwold Severals which, ever since, has been farmed by a Porter.

Mucky Porter (Methwold Severals)
Neat rows of young salad crops destined for supermarkets on fertile peat fenland soil. Photo:© Copyright Rodney Burton

THE END

Source:
Enid Porter Project | Bringing folk traditions to life in five Cambridgeshire villages

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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The Diaries of a Parson Woodforde.

By Haydn Brown.

 In the winter of 1932, Charles David Abbott observed that it is “Through the diaries of Parson Woodforde, that readers are given the opportunity to not only increase their knowledge of a departed age, but also to live among the fields and hedgerows and cottages of Georgian England.”

Woodforde (Portrait by Samuel Woodforde_Wikipedia)
Portrait of James Woodforde 1806 by Samuel Woodforde. Image: Wikipedia.

He does not say that his comment rings particularly true to those living in Norfolk where much of his diary was based. However, he does tell us that Woodforde’s 18th century was never poor in having literary memorials: London exists forever in the pages of Boswell; the upper circles will always gossip and there is much intrigue in Walpole’s letters; Cowper, would have succeeded in giving us the reality of country life, had he been able to keep his own too interesting personality and his poetic bent more in the background. But thanks to Parson Woodforde, we have ‘what Cowper was too great to produce’. The Parson paints a life as it actually was in hundreds of rural parishes throughout England.

Woodforde1

The Parson Woodforde Diaries begin on 21 July, 1759 – when, at the age of nineteen years, he records being made a Scholar of New College – readers immediately plunged into an Oxford of ‘unregenerate’ days.

“Hooke, Boteler and myself went to Welch’s of Wadham College, where we designed to sup and spend the evening, but our entertainment was thus, one Lobster of a Pound, a half-pennyworth of Bread, and the same of Cheese, half of an old Bottle of Ale, half a Bottle of Wine, and a Bottle of Lisbon, and then we were desired to retreat, which was immediately obeyed……”

Woodforde (Wadham College)
Wadham College, Oxford.

On another eventful occasion, the evidence was more lavish:

“Baker and Croucher both of Merton Coll: spent their evening in the B.C.R. [Bachelor’s Common Room]. Croucher was devilish drunk indeed, and made great noise there, but we carried him away to Peckham’s Bed in Triumph. Baker laid with me.”

Abbott, in his own words, goes on to say that James Woodforde was the normal undergraduate, by no means averse to the delights of collegiate existence but, at the same time, not unoccupied with the duty of preparing himself for the priesthood. His career was like that of the majority of university-bred men of his period – four years at Oxford, ten years of curacies in his native Somerset, followed by a year or two of residence as Fellow of New College and as University Proctor, all before he is finally presented to the college living of Weston Longeville in Norfolk. By the time he goes permanently to Weston in 1776, we are thoroughly acquainted with him.

Woodforde (All Saints Church)
All Saints at Weston Longeville, Norfolk where James ‘Parson’ Woodforde spent some twenty-six years as its incumbent. New College Oxford held the living for the church. Photo: Simon Knott.

He remains the same innocent fellow who in his first term at Oxford gave away his snuffbox “to a Particular Friend” and went “to see the man ride upon three Horses.” No breath of scepticism touched him. He has no doubt of Anglican doctrine, and he looks upon the church, in so far as he thinks about it at all, as the natural home for men of his sort. He questions none of the duties, dislikes none of them. They do not interfere with his simple pleasures, which consist largely of living comfortably in a rural retreat, where food is plentiful, the cellar spacious and well-stocked, and the neighbours sociable. He loves sport so long as it is not too strenuous—the coursing of a hare before dinner or the dragging of a pond. There is no chance of his ever growing bored with the life that he knows, from the carefully recorded daily breakfast to the evening rubbers of whist. He loves it all, and it is all a part of his simple nature. Everywhere he shows himself the wholesome, generous, affectionate, lovable gentleman who, we like to believe, is the typical country clergyman. We may therefore be amazed that so much good-nature never brought him a wife, but we soon grow accustomed to his continued state of bachelorhood.

Woodforde (Weston House)2
View of Weston House, home of John Custance (1749–1822) and friend of Woodforde. Photo: Courtesy of Picture Norfolk – taken about 1946.

It was on the question of Woodforde’s love life that Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) had a particular view, as expressed in The Common Reader, Second Series:

“The Parson’s love affair, however, was nothing very tremendous. Once when he was a young man in Somerset, he liked to walk over to Shepton and to visit a certain “sweet tempered” Betsy White who lived there. He had a great mind “to make a bold stroke” and ask her to marry him. He went so far, indeed, as to propose marriage “when opportunity served”, and Betsy was willing. But he delayed; time passed; four years passed indeed, and Betsy went to Devonshire, met a Mr. Webster, who had five hundred pounds a year, and married him. When James Woodforde met them in the turnpike road, he could say little, “being shy”, but to his diary he remarked — and this no doubt was his private version of the affair ever after:

“she has proved herself to me a mere jilt”.

But he was a young man then, and as time went on, we cannot help suspecting that he was glad to consider the question of marriage shelved once and for all so that he might settle down with his niece Nancy at Weston Longeville, and give himself simply and solely, every day and all day, to the great business of living. Again, what else to call it we do not know.”

Such was the Parson’s disposition when he arrived at his parsonage of Weston Longeville in 1776, and remained there, in spite of the later irritations of poor health, during a twenty-six-year incumbency. At Weston Longeville, we come to know it intimately, as if we had been part of the Parson’s household. The local and domestic events are all chronicled, quite without any attempt to dramatise them:

“My great Pond full of large toads, I never saw such a quantity in my life and so large, was most of the morning in killing of them, I daresay I killed one hundred, which made no shew of being missed, in the evening more again than there were, I suppose there are thousands of them there, and no frogs…….”

Woodforde (John Custance 1749-1822 of Weston House_Norfolk Museum Service)
John Custance (1749–1822), of Weston House, by Henry Walton (1746–1813). Norfolk Museums Service

The neighbours begin to call, particularly the Custances from Weston House, the great family of the parish, and soon the Parson is happily involved in the social life of the community. Dinner succeeds dinner, each duly recorded as to partakers and menu.

“We had for dinner, the first Course, some Fish, Pike, a fine large piece of boiled Beef, Peas Soup, stewed Mutton, Goose Giblets, stewed, etc. Second Course, a brace of Partridges, a Turkey rosted, baked Pudding, Lobster, scalloped Oysters, and Tartlets. The desert black and white Grapes, Walnuts and small Nutts, Almonds and Raisins, Damson Cheese and Golden Pippins. Madeira, Lisbon, and Port Wines to drink…..”

It is small wonder that, after so many dinners of these proportions, the good parson was to suffer later with a variety of internal complaints.

Regularly every summer, for many years, the Parson returns for a long visit with his family in Somerset, where his daily routine is unaltered, except that there are no clerical duties. We renew acquaintance with the various members of the family, particularly with Brother John, whose conduct does not always conform to the Parson’s notions of propriety. The Woodforde family is exhibited without any restraint on truth – we see them with all their jealousies, their humorous conceits, their pride and their affections, completely unadulterated. Woodforde has an innocent way of quite unconsciously laying bare the characters of his relations:

“Sister Clarke and Nancy had a few words at breakfast. My sister can’t bear to hear anyone praised more than herself in anything, but that she does the best of all.”

In such entries we are presented with the real materials that lie behind the artistry of Jane Austen. Finally, in 1779, Nancy Woodforde, a niece, leaves Somerset and comes to live at Weston with her uncle, whose comforts and trials she continues to share until his death.

Life, of course, goes placidly on in the Weston Parsonage, amid the round of dinners and the unceasing charity to the poor. The tithe-audit regularly takes place, and the Parson regularly entertains the tithe-payers at his “Frolick.” There are mild winters and cold winters, “such Weather with so much Snow I never knew before.” Some springs are merely moist and hence productive, others “so wet that Farmers cannot plow their lands for their barley.” The world of great events seems more than a few miles away.

Distant rumblings, of course, are heard from America and the Parson is occasionally aghast at the lawlessness of French mobs. As England becomes more and more involved in continental entanglements, even the Parson feels the shock of increased taxes. But such matters do not seriously interfere with his ways – including those of Nancy. His appetite remains unimpaired, and he is far more vexed by his niece’s chronic sauciness than by any affairs of the outside world!

Woodforde (Smugglers)
Not all of Woodforde’s suppliers of brandy and gin were as happy to show their faces as those that he names in his diaries. On at least one occasion he describes how a knock took him to the front door, and he discovered a couple of kegs waiting there: by the time he peered out into the night, whoever delivered them had melted away! Image: Public Domain.

Abbott wonders why the Parson’s unflagging repetition of daily small beer does not grow tiresome, and perhaps we are hoodwinked into thinking that our hunger for knowledge of a remote time is insatiable; but this is not the real reason, for we read the Diaries and are disappointed that there is not more, because Parson Woodforde in his unthinking, artless way has reproduced real life. He never repeats a conversation, and yet each individual from mere reiteration emerges as a definite personality. We learn to know every guest at every dinner, so frequently do they reappear; and, though we hear none of the conversation, we know pretty well from a hundred previous clues what was said. We become inevitably absorbed in all the details, just as if they were details of our own lives.

Finally, Abbott concludes by saying that everything is put down in the parson’s quaint fashion, unconscious of grammar and consistency, fact after fact, never any feelings other than mere bodily ones. But we know the emotions well enough; they lie between the lines, and as for the Parson, we are devoted to him. He has become an old friend, and when in the course of the last volume he begins to fail, and the daily routine is interrupted by long illnesses and seasons in bed, we grow sad because we know that the diary will come to an end and that with Parson Woodforde, we shall have lost the whole of his company of friends. And when he is gone, we can only echo the words of his last entry in his diary, and the grief of the one entry from Nancy’s diary’:

“17 October 1802: We breakfasted, dined, Very weak this Morning, scarce able to put on my Cloaths and with great difficulty, get down Stairs with help – Mr. Dade read Prayers & Preached this Morning at Weston Church – Nancy at Church – Mr. and Mrs. Custance & Lady Bacon at Church – Dinner today Rost Beef & Lamb.”

“January 1, [1803]. Saturday. Weston. Norfolk. This morning about a quarter after Ten o’clock died my ever-dear Uncle James Woodforde whose loss I shall lament all the days of my life…….”

THE END

Reference Sources:
A full written text by Charles David Abbott, available at:
https://www.vqronline.org/woodforde-diary
Other Norfolk detail from:
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2020/11/15/parson-woodforde-goes-to-market/
and
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91c2/chapter9.html

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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The Locker-Lampson’s and Cromer.

By Haydn Brown.

 This is a brief account of a family’s links, not only to numerous historical personalities, but also with the seaside resort of Cromer in Norfolk. It pays particular attention to two members of the family line who, despite leading different and extraordinary lives, both had a special and direct link with the town of Cromer.

But we begin by mentioning Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson, who was an American-born self-made millionaire who became a British citizen and was made a baronet in 1866. This reference to him is brief and refers only to his death, on his Sussex estate at Rowfant near Crawley Down in 1885, and the fact that he was succeeded, as a hereditary knight, by eldest son George – who, again, has no relevance to this particular story. Our real starting point is with Sir Curtis Lampson’s only daughter, Hannah Jane, and her husband, Frederick Locker; it was these two who kicked off a fascinating story of the ‘Locker-Lampson’s.

Rowfant-House
Rowfant House, formerly on the Locker-Lampson Sussex Estate.
After the Second World War, the Latvian Lutheran Church in London started to lease the empty Rowfant House from the Locker-Lampson family. Latvian people had fled their country before its occupation by the Soviet Union and were living in Germany as displaced persons. Volunteers revamped the property and then it was used for living in and community events. In 1962 the Latvian Church bought the property from the Locker-Lampson family and Rowfant House Ltd was set up.

Captain William Locker:
Things will become clearer; but at this point, mention must be made of Frederick Locker’s line and his paternal grandfather – Captain William Locker, He was somewhat famed for being in charge of HMS ‘Lowestoffe’ in the latter part of the 18th century which, on its 1777 voyage to the West Indies, included a very young and newly promoted Lieutenant Horatio Nelson – later to become Admiral Lord Nelson. It would appear that Locker’s influence on young Nelson was immense because, on 9 February 1799, the then Lord Nelson wrote the following to his old captain:

“I have been your scholar; it is you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct when in the Experiment; it is you who always told me ‘Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him’, and my only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life, but you have always been too partial to me.”

Nelson was also staying with William Locker at Greenwich in 1797 when, at Locker’s behest, Lemuel Francis Abbott came down to make the oil study on which all his Nelson portraits were based. These eventually numbered over forty. William Locker was a noted patron of the arts, having a number of portraits painted. He was also the driving force behind the creation of a National Gallery of Maritime Art; he suggesting the Greenwich hospital:

“…should be appropriated to the service of a National Gallery of Marine Paintings, to commemorate the eminent services of the Royal Navy of England.”

He died before his vision could be realised, but it was subsequently put into effect by his son, Edward Hawke Locker.

Frederick Locker:
Frederick Locker was born in Greenwich Hospital in 1821, the son of Edward Hawke Locker. Frederick would always be poor in health, but he did mature into a distinguished man of letters and poetry. His first marriage, in 1850, was to Lady Charlotte Bruce, daughter of Lord Elgar, the man who famously brought the marbles to England from Athens. The couple had a single child, Eleanor, who later married Lionel Tennyson, a son of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was Alfred, the poet laureate, who had been a good friend of Sir Curtis Lampson (see above) and it is likely that, through this connection, that Frederick Locker met Hannah Jane Lampson. In 1874 these two married and took on the family surname of ‘Locker-Lampson’. This double-barrelled appellation was the wish of Sir Curtis in his Will, and it enabled the couple to live at Rowfant and to be an integral part of the line’s inheritance. It was on the ‘Rowfant’ estate where Frederick Locker and Hannah Jane produced four children.

Frederick Locker-Lampson
Frederick Locker-Lampson

Frederick Locker-Lampson, as he now was, became somewhat of a minor figure in the Victorian literary field, but he did publish “London Lyrics” in 1857 – his first book of poetry. However, being well regarded as a convivial host and raconteur, he did become well acquainted with all the big literary names of the age, including Charles Dickens, the Brownings, Thackery and Trollope. One of his observations was: “The world is as ugly as sin – and almost as delightful.” In 1886 he produced “The Rowfant Library”, a catalogue of his much-lauded collection of rare books; then in 1892, this work inspired the founding of the Rowfant Club in Cleveland, USA, for people “interested in the critical study of books to please the mind of man”. Frederick Locker-Lampson died at Rowfant in 1895. Following his death, his youngest son, Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson inherited the likes of Newhaven Court in Cromer, Norfolk, and was to lead a quite different life from his father, but equally an extraordinary one. – here we come to the crux of this blog.

Newhaven Court, Cromer and Oliver Locker-Lampson:
Newhaven Court at Cromer was built in 1884 by Oliver’s father, Frederick as the family’s summer holiday home. In its time, under the Locker-Lampson’s ownership, Newhaven Court played host to many eminent visitors; they included Oscar Wilde, the King of Greece, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Prince Philip (who, as a boy, stayed in a chalet in the grounds) and, of course, Albert Einstein. It was to become an hotel later in the 20th century, but before it was destroyed by fire on 23 January 1963.

147258813_1057106121459603_9063225423363916165_n
Newhaven Court in Cromer, Norfolk

It was Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson who ended up as a Commander with the awards of CMG and a DSO to his name. But as a young man, he first became a journalist. Then in 1910, at the age of 30 years, he became a Conservative MP. War broke out in 1914 and in the December of that year he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant Commander; this was a post vouched for by Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty. It was Churchill who asked Locker-Lampson to establish an armoured car unit for the Royal Naval Air Service. Following training, Oliver’s No. 15 Squadron went to France but stalemate in the trenches negated the unit’s potential for mobile warfare. Then in 1916, in a show of support for Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his hard-pressed army, Locker-Lampson sailed with his squadron of armoured cars to the arctic port of Murmansk. From there his vehicles ranged as far south as the Caucasus Mountains skirmishing with the invading Germans.

Oliver Locker-Lampson
Lieutenant Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson (HU 124255) Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson MP CMG. Unit: Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Death: 8 October 1954. Copyright: © IWM.

Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, always the self-promotional sort of figure, never denied talk of his involvement in the Russian court’s plots and schemes – and even of being implicated in the murder of the “mad monk” Rasputin who wielded a malign influence over the Tsarina. Apparently, he also proposed a plan to spirit the Royal Family out of Russia following the Tsar’s abdication in March 1917! Post-war, and as an MP, he warned of communist meddling in Britain’s home affairs – that still rings a bell in recent times! In 1931 he formed the Blue Shirts movement with the intention to “peacefully fight Bolshevism and clear out the Reds”. Their motto was his own family motto: “Fear God! Fear Naught!” In 1932 the Nazi Alfred Rosenberg visited Britain and was introduced to Oliver who was truly shocked to learn that Hitler believed the Blue Shirts to be fellow fascists.

The Locker-Lampson’s always had several houses but their principal home was still ’Rowfant’ in West Sussex; and it was following the death of Oliver’s mother, Hannah, in 1915 when Frederick’s eldest son, Godfrey Locker-Lampson, inherited Rowfant, whilst the younger Oliver, inherited Newhaven Court in Cromer. He married twice; his first wife was Californian Bianca Jacqueline Paget in 1923. Their wedding saw the couple dragged through the streets of Cromer in a car by members of his old armoured car squadron of World War 1 – only for her to die on Christmas day in 1929. His second wife was Barbara Goodall, whom he married in 1935 – it was she who was in his company, as one of the secretaries who guarded the physicist Albert Einstein when he was in residence on Roughton Heath in 1933. Oliver had given refuge to Einstein after the latter had received death threats while living in Belgium; he even took Einstein to meet Winston Churchill. In Norfolk, Oliver is probably only remembered as the person who gave refuge to Albert Einstein – and was the resident of Newhaven Court.

147502554_1057106544792894_4303430389101080251_n
Albert Einstein pictured with Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson’s party. In 1933, Lampson invited the German-born physicist to England to evade persecution by the Nazis.
Oliver Locker-Lampson (is left) with Albert Einstein (centre), then Barbara Goodall his future wife and the gamekeeper and guard (right). Image Credit EDP.

Overall, Oliver Locker-Lampson’s life in Cromer, between 1909 and 1936, was relatively genteel – if one ignores his exploits during the First World War, Russia in particular and his later ‘crusading’ as an MP. In Cromer, he helped to raise funds for an X-ray unit at the local Hospital, and opened a gymkhana to raise funds for lifeboat families who had lost crewmen at sea. It was in August 1925 when Oliver, ‘the commander’ and some of his ‘guests’, whom he used to collect into his ‘celebrity culture group’, organised a fete on Cromer Pier, with stalls, bunting, 500 lights and fancy dress – this was the forerunner of today’s annual carnival in the town.

During his time as an MP, Oliver Locker-Lampson assisted Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie find sanctuary in Sussex and evade the clutches of Mussolini. He also helped scores of ordinary Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany. Then in the Second World War he joined the Home Guard and gave his full parliamentary support to Prime Minister Churchill. He retired from politics at the 1945 General Election and died in 1954. He is buried along with his father and other family members in Worth churchyard, West Sussex. Unfortunately, he missed the boat to becoming famous himself; and, given his life-long efforts and achievements, he never did receive the recognition that he probably deserved.

Footnote:
On 23 January 1963 Cromer’s Newhaven Court Hotel, formerly ‘Newhaven Court’ was destroyed by fire; more than a century of Locker-Lampson holidays and heritage ended in fierce flames and billowing smoke. The fire was tackled by 40 firemen, who battled through the night, trying to confine the flames to the first floor, but:

‘Flames and sparks leapt high into the night from the roof, 50ft above the ground. Fire gained a good hold till the whole roof was ablaze.’

Gone also were its tennis courts, said to have been the best in England and used by some professional players of the time. Prior to the fire, the hotel was run by Mr and Mrs Donald Stevenson, who had leased it from local building firm A.G. Brown. It was said at the time that Donald Stevenson and his 15-year-old son, ran upstairs to fight the blaze, but were beaten back by smoke. The building was never restored, and was demolished to make way for homes and flats at Newhaven Close and Court Drive.

THE END

Sources: Various but includes:
https://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/opinion/familys-links-nelson-rasputin-and-king-farouk-1158565

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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A Champion of the Agricultural Labourer.

By Haydn Brown.

Joseph Arch was not born and bred in Norfolk, but he did play a key role in unionising agricultural workers of the County and championing their welfare, along with becoming the Liberal MP for the North West of the County in 1885.

Joseph Arch (Spy-cartoon)
Arch caricatured by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1886. Image: Public Domain.

Joseph Arch, in fact, came from the Warwickshire village of Barford where he was born on 10 November 1826. His ancestors were also Barford bred and for three generations, at least, had owned and lived in their own cottage there since the 18th century. After only three years of schooling, he started work as a labourer at the age of nine and his first job was as a bird-scarer, working 12 hours a day for a wage of 4d per day – so, he knew from bitter experience, the problems that faced the poorly-paid, ill-educated rural labourer of the time. From being a bird-scarer, he progressed to become a plough-boy, then a skilled hedge cutter before mastering just about any other farming skill one could find on the land. Such qualifications enabled him, in time at least, to move around the Midlands and South Wales, earning quite a reasonable wage in the process. At the same time, he could not fail to observe the terrible conditions in which the majority of his agricultural labouring colleagues lived. These were later described by the Countess of Warwick in the introduction she wrote to his eventual 1898 autobiography:

“Bread was dear, and wages down to starvation point; the labourers were uneducated, under-fed, underpaid; their cottages were often unfit for human habitation, the sleeping and sanitary arrangements were appalling …… In many a country village the condition of the labourer and his family was but little removed from that of the cattle they tended.”

Joseph Arch (Countess of Warwick)
Countess of Warwich

Following his return home to his Warwickshire village from his travels, Joseph Arch married in 1847 and, over time, had seven children. He also became a Primitive Methodist preacher which, apparently, did not go down well with the village parson and his wife who discriminated against the Arch’s’ as a result – there again, Joseph’s family had always been at odds with the parson. Nevertheless, during this period, Joseph also managed to educate himself politically by reading old newspapers and, in time, became a supporter of Liberalism.

Joseph Arch (Portrait_Elliott & Fry)
Joseph Arch (1826 – 1919) Agricultural Campaigner. Photo: Wikipedia.

It was therefore to him, as a well-respected and experienced agricultural worker, that his destitute fellow workers turned for help in their fight for a living wage. Called to address an initial meeting held on 7 February 1872, in the Stag’s Head public house in Wellesbourne, Joseph expected an attendance of fewer than thirty. Instead, he found on his arrival that over 2,000 agricultural labourers from all the surrounding area had arrived to hear him speak. The meeting was therefore held under a large chestnut tree opposite on a dark, wet, winter night, with the labourers holding flickering lanterns on bean poles to illuminate the proceedings.

Joseph Arch (The Square_Wellesbourne_chestnut,_1905)
The Wellesbourne  Chestnut Tree in 1905 (see below). Photo: Public Domain.

The right man in the right place at the right time:
From this initial gathering, further meetings were called and from one of these a committee was elected which met at John Lewis’s old farmhouse in Wellesbourne. Its endeavours eventually resulted in farm workers, from all parts of South Warwickshire, meeting in Leamington on Good Friday, 29 March 1872, to form the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union. From this, and in light of much agitation up and down the country, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was established, and Joseph Arch was elected as its President. The Union’s first action was to withdraw their labour, and farmers and landowners soon found out that the reprisals they tried to apply were ineffective; the result was, for a time, a temporary rise in the workers’ wages. This seemed to satisfy the Union members to the point where they ceased to organise themselves further. Inevitably, farm owners fought back and came to ‘locking-out’ union members, an action which became so widespread that the Union finally collapsed in 1896. It would, however, be replaced a decade later by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906.

Joseph Arch (Union Banner)
Image : Spartacas Educational.

But this was the time when Joseph Arch became identified with what was clearly a very popular cause.  He travelled all over England, speaking in stirring language at countless village meetings; inspired no doubt by his deep faith in his cause. Rural workers everywhere welcomed him as one of their own and from the walls of many small cottages’, portraits of his strong bearded face looked encouragingly down. He also became the subject of such rallying songs as:

Joe Arch he raised his voice,
’twas for the working men,
Then let us all rejoice and say,
We’ll all be union men.

Joseph Arch (Ham Hill demo)
Joseph Arch (standing centre) addressing the sixth annual demonstration of agriculural labourers at Ham Hill, Yeovil on, Whit Monday 1877. Photo: Public Domain.

In 1873 the Canadian government invited him over to examined the suitability of the country for British emigration. Impressed by his report, his Union helped over 40,000 farm labourers and their families to emigrate both there and to Australia over the next few years.

Joseph Arch also turned to agitating for the widening of the voting franchise, which until then only included property owners, and this resulted in the passing of the 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act. In the ensuing 1885 General Election, he was elected as the Liberal MP for North West Norfolk, the first agricultural labourer to enter the House of Commons. He did lose his seat when William Gladstone was defeated in June 1886; however, Arch was re-elected to the same constituency in Norfolk in 1892, when he was one of twelve working-class MPs in parliament. Though he was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor in 1893, he seldom spoke and his former supporters came to perceive him as pompous and out of touch. Now they sang about him

Joseph Arch he stole a march,
Upon a spotted cow.
He scampered off to Parliament,
But where is Joseph now?

Then, on 25 July 1894, the Norfolk Chronicle reported:

“Mr. Joseph Arch, M.P., at a meeting held at New Buckenham, delivered to the agricultural labourers his famous address which was quoted throughout the country for some time afterwards.  “You poor, craven milk-and-water fools,” said the hon. member for North-west Norfolk, “why, you button up your pockets at the thought of paying 2¼d. a week when you are told by a lot of lying scampery and scandalism that I have run away with your money. . . .  Professor Rogers once said when speaking of the tenant farmers, that their heads were as soft as the mangolds they grew.  I think some of the labourers’ heads are as soft as the mangolds they hoe.”

In 1898, Arch published what was considered to be ‘a pugnacious and opinionated autobiography’, upon which The Spectator newspaper commented at the start of its long review that:

“One cannot help wishing that this book was more of an autobiography, and less of a polemic against Mr. Arch’s adversaries, political and social.”

Joseph Arch (Signed Photo_1900)
Joseph Arch autographed photograph 1900 . Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Retiring from Parliament before the 1900 General Election, Arch returned to spend the last years of his long life in his tiny cottage in Barford; the place where he had been born. He died there on 12 February 1919 at the age of 92 years.

Joseph Arch (outside-cottage)
Joseph Arch as an old man outside his cottage. Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Footnote – The Legacy:

(1) The Wellesbourne Tree: This tree died in 1948 but the spot was marked by a commemorative stone at the old meeting place, now renamed Chestnut Square. In 1952, the National Union of Agricultural Workers erected a bus shelter there and set up inside it a commemorative plaque which still remains. A replacement tree was also planted where every year union representatives once gathered on 7 February and then went on to Barford to lay a wreath upon Arch’s grave. The unions do not, apparently, do this anymore, but the Wellesbourne Action Group organises a walk from Barford to Wellesbourne in June each year, along the footpath known as the Joseph Arch Way. There is now also a Joseph Arch Road in the village which runs off the A439 roundabout, while in Barford the old coaching inn has been renamed the Joseph Arch pub.

(2) The Joseph Arch Inn:

Joseph Arch (Pub_Barford)
The Joseph Arch Inn at Barford. The pub is named after Barford’s most famous son. Photo: © Philip Halling

(3) Plaster Casts:

Joseph Arch (Hands)

The Museum of English Rural Life has a Joseph archive; included in which are curious plaster casts of his hands and wrists. Unfortunately, nothing is known about these plaster casts, except that they were made during the last quarter of the 19th century when Joseph Arch was no longer a practising agricultural labourer – else, they would be heavy, calloused and weather-beaten. Also, the exact reason why the casts were made is unknown. Maybe they were part of a statue; even though no other parts of the statue have been found. Another possibility is that such plaster casts were created because, during the 19th century, they were used to improve art and for teaching and research purposes. However, there seems to be no written record which could explain exactly why these casts were created – only speculation remains.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Arch
https://www.barfordheritage.org.uk/content/people/joseph-arch/joseph-arch-1826-1919

Banner Heading: ‘The Mowers’ by George Clausen, 1892. Painting: Usher Gallery, London

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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Spitfire X4593

By Haydn Brown.

On 22 November, 1940 Spitfire X4593 of 266 Squadron crashed near Holme Lode Farm, Holme in Cambridgeshire. At the controls for what was intended to be a routine training flight was Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh. During a battle climb to a high altitude with two other Spitfires, he was seen to break formation entering a dive from which unfortunately he failed to fully recover. Witnesses stated that his aircraft partially recovered at around 2000ft but immediately re-entered a dive and struck the ground vertically.

Spitfire X4593 2
Spitfire X4593. Photo: Public Domain.

Pilot Officer Penketh was not able to use his parachute and was killed in the resulting crash. Although he was a new pilot with 266 Squadron, based nearby at Wittering, with only some 13 hours experience on Spitfires, his Station Commanding Officer stated that he could fly it quite well and was fully conversant with the oxygen system. It was assumed that his oxygen system was working as he had reached 28,000ft without any apparent problem. Investigation concluded that either a failure of the oxygen system or a physical failure had occurred.

Spitfire X4593 (Harold Penketh)
Pilot Officer Harold Penketh. Photo: Aviva Group archive

Harold Penketh’s body was recovered from the wreck of his Spitfire and returned to his home town of Brighton where he had previously worked for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation. His obituary in the staff magazine ended: “He was of a charming disposition and his loss was keenly felt by his family and those who knew him.” His name is recorded on a memorial at Brighton’s Woodvale Crematorium and Cemetery; he died aged only 20.

Spitfire X4593 (Excavation Finds)

In 2016 the decision was taken to excavate Spitfire X4593. The dig was a collaboration between the Great Fen Project, Oxford Archaeology and Operation Nightingale. Personal items belonging to Mr Penketh, including his initialled cigarette case and watch, were found, along with some skeletal remains that had not been recovered in 1940.

Spitfire X4593 (Memorial)
Memorial

The Plane:
The Spitfire’s registration number was X4593; it was built at Eastleigh, Hants as a Mark 1A Spitfire with a Merlin III engine. The plane flew in the Battle of Britain and is credited with destroying at least one German plane, believed to be a Heinkel. It was a presentation Spitfire paid for/named by the Madras Mail (English language daily evening paper, published 1868-1981), the first in a trio of Mark 1s named by their readers. The plane was called ‘Kerala’ (after the SW Indian state) and allocated to 266 Squadron, a Rhodesian squadron. The other two planes were X4594 ANDHRADESA and X4595 TOMILAND.

Spitfire X4593 (266 Squadron)

No. 266 Squadron:
Number 266 Squadron had been formed on 27 September 1918 from Nos 437 and 438 Flights at the seaplane station at Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, for anti-submarine patrols over the Aegean. On 30 October 1939, the Squadron was reformed at Sutton Bridge Lincolnshire, intended to be a Blenheim squadron. None were received and after training with Battles, it began to receive Spitfires in January 1940. The Squadron became a Rhodesian fighter squadron within Fighter Command and went on to establish a fine reputation in the skies over Western Europe. The squadron moved to Martlesham Heath near Ipswich in March 1940, then to Wittering in May 1940, having been re-equipped with Spitfires. These planes went into action for the first time on 2 June over Dunkirk, and flew coastal patrols and convoy escorts until fighting in the Battle of Britain in August and September 1940. During August they were based in south-east England and then returned to Wittering. Sqn 266 began an intensive operational training programme in September for the many new pilots, when patrols over the Thames Estuary permitted. The Squadron’s crest has a motto: Hlabezulu, meaning ‘The stabber of the sky’.

THE END

Principal Source:
https://www.greatfen.org.uk/about-great-fen/heritage/spitfire-excavation

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The Unfortunate Demise of Tomkins.

By Haydn Brown.

Oliver Fellows Tomkins, to give him his full name, was born in Great Yarmouth in 1873, the fourth son of the Daniel Tomkins.  His formal education began in his father’s school in the town before travelling to Switzerland for a short time to complete it. He then spent five years working in business in Norwich, during which time he joined Dr George Barrett’s Congregational Church in Princes Street. Later, Tomkins become a student at Dr Henry Grattan Guinness’ Training College in London where he took a medical course.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_Wikipedia)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

The original Princes Street Congregational Church was opened in 1819 with John Alexander becoming its “Founder and First Pastor”, and one of the most popular ministers in and around Norwich from 1819 to 1866 at what is now the United Reformed Church. Dr George Barrett took over the church reigns following the death of Revd John Alexander.

Princes Street Church_EDP
United Reformed Church in Princes Street, Norwich.
The site on which the original Princes Street Congregational Church was built used to be a yard of densely populated tenement houses grouped around a central courtyard. However, within a short time, the roof was found to be unsafe and alterations were made in 1828 with some buildings situated behind the church modified and incorporated into the subsequent Church Rooms. The church was further altered and partially rebuilt in 1881 by Edward Boardman, a Deacon of the Church, and its present facade dates from this time. The roof was raised and a plasterwork ceiling installed. In 1927 the traditional box pews were replaced by the present pine pews with umbrella racks. Photo: EDP.

Tomkins was clearly smitten with evangelism for during college holidays and half-terms, he would preach to the North Sea fishermen and volunteer for mission work in English country villages, travelling to each in a caravan, whilst camping at night. He was therefore delighted when, eventually he was appointed to work as a missionary in the Torres Straits of New Guinea. Half of his financial support for this mission was paid for by members of the Home Magazine Missionary Band which helped to pay enthusiastic bearers of ‘God’s word’ to go to many far-flung places in the world.

Tomkins sailed with the Reverend Albert Pearse in December 1899; they were to join the Scottish-born missionary James Chalmers in New Guinea, the territory where Chalmers himself was to ignore calls from his friends to leave and return to England when his second wife died. His refusal, along with the arrival of Tomkins was to have consequences for both of them some sixteen months later.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_James-Chalmers-1887)
James Chalmers. Photo: Public Domain.

But for the moment, Chalmers was pleased with the arrival of Tomkins, who would share the burden of his large district. According to Chalmers:

“Throughout Mrs. Chalmers’s last illness, Tomkins [was] “a great help and a great comfort.” No son could have treated me kindlier than he did.”

In his young colleague Tomkins, Chalmers saw reasons for hoping that he might have more time to return to his pioneer work. A few months after Tomkins’s arrival, Chalmers again sent a brief message to the Mission House regarding Tomkins: “He will do”; and that opinion was confirmed again, and again in the months that followed. Dr. William George Lawes  was to call them, “the intrepid Paul and the beloved Timothy.”

But we move on – to 7 April 1901 to be exact. This was when Tomkins and Chalmers were on board the ‘Niue’ and had arrived at the Aird River at Kisk Point on Goaribari Island. The last entry in Tomkins’ diary indicates what happened next:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_EDP Library)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

“In the afternoon we were having a short service with the crew, when about twenty canoes were seen approaching ……. They hesitated as they got nearer to us, till we were able to assure them that we meant peace. Gradually one or two of the more daring ones came closer, and then alongside, till at last one ventured on board. Then, in a very few minutes, we were surrounded by canoes, and our vessel was covered with them …… On this, our first visit, we were able to do really nothing more than establish friendly relations with the people. They stayed on board about three hours, examining everything, from the ship’s rigging to our shirt buttons. They tried hard to persuade us to come ashore in their canoes, but we preferred to spend the night afloat, and promised we would visit their village in the morning.”

Neither of the Niue two missionaries, nor the twelve native Christians who accompanied them were seen after this visit to the natives. What really happened was only ascertained a month later, when George Le Hunte, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, visited the Aird River with a punitive expedition, and heard the story from a captured prisoner. This was quoted from an account supplied by the Rev Archibald Ernest Hunt, who accompanied the Lieutenant-Governor:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Native)2
Natives of New Guinea. Image: Public Domain.

“The Niue anchored off Kisk Point on 7 April and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset, ‘Tamate’ [the native name for John Chalmers] gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away, and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning, a great crowd of natives came off and crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so, Tamate gave Bob, the captain, orders to give them presents. Still, they refused to move, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins to remain on board. The latter declined, and went ashore with Tamate, followed by a large number of canoes. When they got ashore, the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing etc. distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten, Tomkins being eaten at the village of Dopima, where they were all killed.”

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Memorial Plot_Jamie Honeywood)
Memorial to Oliver Fellows Tomkins at the Great Yarmouth Minster. Photo: Jamie Honeywood

But just like most stories aimed at a reading public; the writers kept to the old adage ‘don’t let the facts spoil a good story’! One suggested that the ships party was invited back to the native’s village and into a newly constructed ‘Dubu’ for refreshments; clearly, if this was true, the two did not recognise the significance of entering such a communal house – which was for fighting men and could not be used without consecration by a human sacrifice! Tomkins and Chalmers were clearly ‘taken in’ by the welcome; neither could they have seen any meaning behind the piles of human skulls nestled around the crude wooden idols in the corner of the hut, a picture of stark contrast!

True or false, it was the case that other fellow missionaries had already reported similar sights elsewhere; of smoke-blackened human jaw bones dangling from the rafters of village huts, smoke-dried human flesh and notches in trees which denoted the number of humans who had been cooked and eaten in a community. So, some may have thought, what on earth were the two men thinking, when clearly it was common knowledge that there were cannibalistic traditions in the region, a place where the missionaries were trying to bring the word of God!

But for Tomkins and Chalmers it would be too late; no sooner had they taken their places, seated at ground level along one side of the large laid-out spread, when each was clubbed from behind and killed. It was also said that their bodies were prepared and cooked with a variety of sago dishes, cooked with shell-fish, boiled with bananas, roasted on stones, baked in the ashes and tied up in leaves, – to be served as the main course, a feast that had been promised to the victims! Afterwards, their bones were kept on display and seemingly, the native’s ‘Dubu’ house had been suitably blessed by their preferred Gods!

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Plaque)
Memorial Plaque in Princes Street URC. Photo: Simon Knott.

Back home, relatives and friends undoubtedly mourned the loss of Oliver Tomkins and the church he once worshiped in, the Princes Street Congregational Church, held a memorial service for Tomkins. Members afterwards subscribed to a plaque which they placed inside the church building in his memory; it remains there to this day.

THE END

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