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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

 

East Anglian Agricultural Gangs of the Past.

By Haydn Brown.

During the first half of the nineteenth century many acres of waste land throughout Norfolk and East Anglia were brought into cultivation as part of a national development which followed in the aftermath of the French wars when the price of grain was high. This was a time of need land owners of light uplands cleared them of gorse, thistles and coarse grass and ploughed them to plant such crops as wheat and barley. Later in the century Fen landowners did something similar by using steam pumping engines to drain hitherto intractable marshlands, such as Deeping Fen a few miles north of Peterborough, and made them fit for cultivation.

Agricultural Gangs (Farmers on a Hillside_STRAFFORD NEWMARCH_Public Domain)2
Painting of an Agricultural gang on a hillside by Strafford Newmarch. Image: Public Domain

However, most of this ‘new’ land was some distance from existing settlements, and farmers working it found themselves short of labour. They were reluctant to build permanent houses for their farm workers, because they feared that the inhabitants might later qualify for poor relief, and so become a burden on the rates. In similar circumstances in the 18th-century, farmers might well have found room in their own homes to accommodate their labourers, but by the middle of the 19th century the social gap between master and worker was far too wide for this to be an acceptable solution. Feelings on the subject were, in 1865, expressed more fully by one particular farmer’s wife whose husband was employing four young labourers:

“It is very objectionable having these men in one’s own house…. it is so bad for the female servants.”

The Establishment of Gangs:
Apparently, this particular wife overcame the problem by making the foreman take in the labourers – but many farmers favoured a more radical solution. They, in fact, dispensed with full time labourers as far as they could, and relied instead on the labour of agricultural ‘gangs’ which were established to satisfy the demand for labour.

Agricultural Gangs (Hoeing Turnips Painting by George Clausen_Public Domain)
Hoeing turnips by George Clausen. Image: Public Domain.

Where local population numbers allowed, some farmers organised their own private gangs by recruiting women and children from the nearest village to be employed at busy times to work for a few days at a time. Others employed so-called ‘gangs’ which were organised by ‘gang-masters’. In many instances these ‘masters’ were usually unemployed farm labourers who recruited between ten and maybe forty women and children to work for them at a fixed rate of pay, after which they contracted with local farmers for their gangs to tackle specific jobs. The gang master had to be able to accurately estimate how long a given job would take. If he overestimated, then he would probably be too expensive to get the contract. On the other hand, if he underestimated, then he would charge too little and he would lose money on the deal.

It was the seasons which dictated the type of work done by the gangs. In winter, when there were few of them, they were employed to clear stones or sort potatoes. In spring, their work became more varied; some cleared such growth as couch grass by hand, whilst others spread muck, hoed, or planted potatoes. In early summer their work increased to include clearing fallow fields, hand-weeding grain and root crops, and helping with the hay harvest. Strangely perhaps, gangs generally disbanded for the main grain harvest in August and September, in favour of whole families coming out to work together. Then, by October, gangs re-formed for the potato harvest. In 1866, it was calculated that some 6,400 people worked in gangs in Norfolk, East Anglia and the East Midlands at some time during the year.

However, agricultural gangs had a bad reputation. Some of the masters were said to be unscrupulous by accepting contracts at rock-bottom prices, and then forcing their gangs to work for long hours to fulfil them. Some were considered immoral by taking, according to many, advantage of their status by demanding sexual favours from the girls and women in their gangs. Many gangs were noisy, unruly and regularly disturbed the peace on their way to and from work. It was also said that they tempted children away from school into what seemed too many to be a totally unsuitable environment.

Legislation:
It was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury KG, who persuaded the Government, in 1865, to order an investigation into agricultural gangs. The Children’s Employment Commission was subsequently formed to take evidence from about 500 witnesses before presenting its report in 1867. In it they condemned the gangs and maintained that most of the masters were ‘men of violent and drinking habits’ whose influence was ‘very pernicious to the moral principles and conduct of the children and young persons of both sexes under their management’. It concluded that the manners of older members of the gangs were ‘coarse and irregular’, and that young people brought into contact with them were ‘hardened by early association with vice’.

Agriculural Gangs (Anthony_Ashley-Cooper,_7th_Earl_of_Shaftesbury)
Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801–1885), 7th Earl of Shaftesbury by Francis Grant (1803–1878). Painting with the Parliamentary Art Collection.

The Commission also found that gangs usually worked about eight hours a day – perhaps an hour more in summer and less in early spring and late autumn. But these hours did not include travelling time and the commissioners quoted the two children, aged eleven and thirteen, who had to walk eight miles to work, labour for eight hours and then walk eight miles back home – all for 7d. a day. At the end of six weeks work they were said to be ‘good for nothing’.

The commissioners’ report also concluded that working in gangs seriously damaged both the physical health and the moral well-being of the children and young people involved, and they proposed various regulations to deal with the situation. A bill based on their recommendations was introduced into Parliament on July 29th, 1867, and given the royal asset on August 20th.

The ‘Agricultural Gangs Act’ sought to eliminate unsuitable gang-masters by setting up a licensing system. It also forbade the employment of all children under the age of eight, prohibited men and women working in the same gang, and made it illegal for even a licensed gang-master to take charge of a female gang unless he was accompanied by a woman license holder.

Agricultural Gangs (Child_labour,_c1885_Science Photo Library)
Gang system of child labour, c1885. Teams of children were formed by a contractor or ‘ganger’ and hired out to farmers as agricultural labour for tasks such as sowing and hoeing. They would be made to worked for 8 or 9 hours a day and often had to walk 3 or 4 miles to and from work. The practice was particularly widespread in East Anglia. In this wood engraving a girl tries to revive a boy who has collapsed, probably from exhaustion, while the rest of the gang continue hoeing around them. (Coloured black and white print). Child Labour. Image: Science Photo Library

However, it may be somewhat surprising that the commissioners had, in some respects, painted a much blacker picture of gang work than was justified by the evidence they had collected, and on which their report was based. Though they were able to point to some cases of brutal or inconsiderate treatment, few witnesses seemed to agree with its assertion that gang work adversely affected the physical health of those involved. The scepticism of the witnesses was backed up by the evidence taken from boys and girls who themselves worked in gangs. For instance: one commissioner interviewed a sixteen-year-old Georgiana Rowan from Great Gressingham in Norfolk; she said that on her return from a day’s work near her home:

“We topped and tailed this morning for one farmer, she said, and forked docks this afternoon for another. We left the ground this afternoon at 5. Tomorrow morning, we shall start at 7. I take dinner with me to work, bread or bread with cheese or butter, but take no drink at this time of the year. [It was autumn] ……I don’t know what kind of work was hardest but we’re used to it now, and don’t mind it”

A Norfolk villager at the time felt that many young workers agreed with such a view, along with others:

“The children often come home wet,’……. but I believe they are fond of the work. They reckon to have some fun.”

Even a local magistrate, who believed that the gang system was ‘attended with much evil’, had to admit that children in gangs usually looked ‘happy and cheerful both in going to and coming from their work’. This positive attitude of many gang children was probably due to the fact that it was usually temporary and they welcomed outdoor gang work as a change from the classroom. Hannah Staff of Downham Market also gave a parent’s view. ‘My girl aged fifteen works in the gang. It is a deal healthier than the flax factory.’

Agricultural Gangs (Child_labour,_c1885_Science Photo Library)2
Gang system of child labour, c1885 from The Sunday at Home, London, 1869. Image: Public Domain.

But when the commissioners asserted that gangs damaged the morale of those who worked in them, they were faithfully reflecting the opinion of the majority of their witnesses. A Norfolk doctor came down to basics by saying:

“It is most indecent with boys and girls of that age out all day always together, and with no hedges or concealment of any kind. Nature must be relieved, and the workers drop out for this, and then the boys laugh at the girls.”

Another witness had reported that during their dinner time girls would take off ‘their petticoats etc’ and hang them up to dry, while a third had seen boys ‘bathing in a pond, while the girls were sitting round on the bank.’ Certainly, the sexual morals of the rural poor seemed unconventional when judged by respectable middle-class standards. One vicar said:

“I seldom marry any of them without being obliged to see the bride to be of larger dimensions than she ought to be.”

Agricultural Gangs (labourer-with-scythe-1900_Public Domain)
Labourer with scythe 1900. Photo: Public Domain.

A more moderate, and perhaps more realistic view, came from several clergymen who probably knew more about the living conditions of the rural poor than did many other witnesses. They felt it was easy to exaggerate the pernicious influence of the gangs compared with other aspects of rural life. For instance, a vicar of Terrington in Norfolk painted a detailed picture of most cottages in his parish having only two or three rooms; where there were three, one was frequently let to a lodger, so that the family had to squeeze into the other two. Some cottages only had one room, and the vicar mentioned a case where one family, consisting of a father, mother, three sons and a grown-up daughter, all living in just a single room. He concluded:

“I fear that much immorality, and certainly much want of a sense of decency among the agricultural labouring classes, are owing to the nature of their homes, and the want of proper room: more so probably to this than to gang or field work.”

Many witnesses were particularly vehement about the bad effect of gang labour on the attitude of the girls involved. ‘They get so bold and know too much’, said one farmer. People seemed to take it for granted that the daughters of the rural poor ought to go into service in some respectable household where they would do useful work, be imbued with a proper sense of respect for their betters, and learn enough domestic skills to be able to keep house for their future husbands. Gang labour did not fit into this scheme of things. Indeed, it disrupted it.

Agricultural Gangs (Farmers on a Hillside_STRAFFORD NEWMARCH_Public Domain)
Painting of an Agricultural gang on a hillside by Strafford Newmarch. Image: Public Domain

The Rector of Stilton certainly had no doubts; he thought gang work was ‘most objectionable’ for girls. ‘It makes them rude, rough and lawless, and consequently makes them unsuitable for domestic duties; this, consequently would disqualify them for a future position as a wife and mother’. A prosperous farmer agreed. ‘Field work renders them unfit for service’, while another remarked that:

“A love for unhealthy liberty sets in, untidy habits arise, they turn aside from service in farm or other houses, know little or nothing of sewing, washing, making or mending, and entering upon marriage are generally untidy, slovenly and bad-managing housekeepers.”

 Overall, it seems that the commissioner’s report did not represent the views of everyone, and certainly not those witnesses who thought gangs were subversive, teaching girls ‘independent habits’, and giving them ‘a love for unhealthy liberty’. Instead, the commissioners preferred to base their case against gangs on the damage they inflicted on the health and welfare of those who worked in them. Thus, their report highlighted parts of the evidence and played down the rest.Most gang workers interviewed did, in fact, present evidence in fact, calm and matter-of-fact manner. Ellen Collishaw of Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, was typical. She told a commissioner:

“I am going on 13. I have worked at weeding. I worked all the year to gleaning (harvest). I have been working since harvest too. I have been singling turnips and weeding turnips. I went with Mr Hutchinson. He is a labourer. I was all the time with him. There were twenty besides me, girls as well as boys. There were many girls younger than me… We worked on Mr Greenham’s on the heath, we weeded wheat and barley. We picked up twitch after harvest. The corn was high when we weeded it. We used to get wet. Our dresses got wet as well as our feet. We got them dry by next morning. We got home about 6. We left the field at 5. When we got home, we washed and changed our clothes. I never caught cold.”

Elizabeth Wilson, a labourer’s wife from Exning, near Newmarket in Norfolk, gave much the same impression:

“Both my girls, now at service, worked in a gang. Sometimes they would be wet from rain or dew, and some girls, I believe, take a great deal of cold from this, but mine didn’t go a deal. There was nothing I minded as to language or anything in the gang for girls, though I would sooner have kept them at school if I had not been obliged to let them go out.”

This is not to say that agricultural gangs needed no regulation. There were abuses, and perhaps the commissioners had to paint a uniformly black picture if Parliament was to be persuaded to do anything to control gangs. Certainly, there is no indication that interested MPs looked beyond the evidence quoted in the report itself – they had left the commissioners to carry out the burdensome task of sifting and assessing the bulk of the evidence. Historians could not afford to be so trusting.

As it was, Gangs gradually faded out towards the end of the 19th century, with two developments hastening their demise. The first was the increasing use of machinery, particularly on light soils, and the other was the spread of compulsory education after 1870 which hit the gangs even harder. In 1870 school boards were given the right to make education compulsory for all children under the age of thirteen in their areas. In 1880 Mundella’s Act made it compulsory to enforce attendance without naming a leaving age. In 1893, however, the minimum leaving age was fixed at eleven, and in 1899 it was raised to twelve, thus bringing the whole country into line with the practice adopted by some boards as early as 1870.

Though many country children still took time off school to work on farms from time to time, compulsory schooling made it impossible for masters to recruit them into gangs without falling foul of the law – as they would say “the game was not worth the candle” and they gave it up. It was then only during school holidays, usually considerately fixed to coincide with busy times on farms, that gangs of women and children went to work in the fields – a tradition which survived almost to the present day.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historytoday.com/archive/agricultural-gangs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_gang
http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/the-return-of-the-gangmaster

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The Norfolk Cleric Who Eventually Made It!

By Haydn Brown

 Robert Potter, was born in 1721 in Podimore, Somerset, the third son of John Potter (1676–1723), Prebendary of Wells. His mother was descended from the Liversedge and Newborough families of Somerset. According to Potter’s own account he was educated by his father, and at Sherborne, before moving on to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in July 1737.

Potter (Portrait)2
Revd. Robert Potter
Potter (Portrait)3
Inscription on the above portrait

Potter took his degree in 1740, and graduated BA in 1742. He was ordained by Bishop Wynne of Bath and Wells, and served briefly as ‘chaplain to a colony of colliers at Ashwick on Mendip’. It was also in 1742 when Potter’s friend, Bishop Richard Hurd, was made fellow of Emmanuel College at Camberidge, and he offered his curacy of Reymerston, Norfolk, to Potter.

Potter (St Peter_Reymerston_Evelyn Simak)
The church of St Peter in Reymerston
St Peter’s church dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries but the arcade piers have survived from the 13th century. The aisle roofs date from the 14th century, the nave roof was installed a century later and might be contemporary with the baptismal font, the bowl of which was carved with the symbols of the four evangelists. The box pews the aisles date from the 15th century also but the pews in the nave are believed to be 17th century copies of older benches. The three-decker pulpit is 17th century (Jacobean). The elaborately carved communion rails, depicting cherubs, with grapes and wheat flanking them, were made in Belgium in about 1700. The east window contains early 16th century Flemish glass. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak
Potter (Richard-Hurd,-Bishop_Gainsborough)
Bishop Richard Hurd by Thomas Gainsborough. Image: Wikipedia.

Hurd also used his influence to secure for Potter the vicarage of Melton Parva, or Little Melton, which lay east of Great Melton and some four miles west by south of Norwich. The Melton Parva parish contained in excess of 300 souls, and 600 acres of land, mostly belonging to the Lombes, Franks, and the Great Hospital in Norwich. The Church of St Mary & All Saints at Little Melton was of a thatched fabric at the time with a square tower and three bells. Its great tithes and 60 acres of rectorial glebe belonged to Emanuel College. All this, together with the patronage of the vicarage, was given by Bishop Hurd to Potter, but it was one of the poorest college livings, providing a combined annual income of less than £50 to Potter. Nevertheless, he took it.

Potter (Melton Parva)
Church of St Mary & All Saints at Little Melton.

Potter married Elizabeth Colman (d. 1786), daughter of a neighbouring clergyman, and the couple had nine children, several of whom survived into adulthood. Much of their life was spent in attempts by Potter to curry favour with the rich and powerful in order to secure a better living so that he could support his ever-growing family. In this, he was only partially successful, obtaining a succession of poverty-stricken livings and falling deeper into debt. It was not until 1788, two years after Elizabeth’s death, that Robert secured financial independence.

In 1754 Potter was presented to the rectory of Crostwight, and in June 1761 also became the master of the Scarning Free School, increasing his income to £90. Potter’s appointment there did cause a riot by the local populace who had favoured another candidate; however, in time he was to achieve considerable local respect. The following year he was also appointed curate of this parish, but had to resign Reymerston. He likewise held two livings in Somerset, but claimed they cost him more than they brought in.

His Literary Achievements:
Potter was to gain a literary reputation among the Norfolk gentry and their patronage to publish his poetry. He also ventured into religious controversy with his sermon ‘On the Pretended Inspiration of the Methodists (1758)’, which attracted sufficient attention to elicit rejoinders by John Wesley and Cornelius Cayley. These he answered in An Appendix to his sermon, but such controversy was not to his taste. He likewise dabbled in politics and took an active part in the unsuccessful re-election campaign of Sir Armine Wodehouse, 5th Baronet in 1768; Wodehouse had been first elected to Parliament in 1737 and held the seat until 1768.

Potter (Buxton)

Potter also wrote ‘A Letter to John Buxton’, one of the many anonymous pamphlets published in Norwich at that time, plus various election squibs, which attracted acrimonious responses. However, in later years he made no mention of such publications, and tried to play down his political activities. In 1775 Potter became involved in a campaign to establish a workhouse in the Mitford & Launditch hundred, and published a graphic account of the plight of the rural poor, which, according to the Norwich Mercury, caused an inquiry to be made into the existing Suffolk and Norfolk houses of industry.

Potter1
Front entrance to the eventual Mitford & Launditch Workhouse, Photo: (c) Peter Higginbotham

Potter however achieved fame through his blank-verse translations of the Greek tragedians. His edition of Aeschylus was published to great acclaim in 1777 and brought him to the notice of London literary society. Elizabeth Montagu befriended the poor curate, and encouraged and financed him to produce a commentary on the plays which was presented to subscribers, and then included within a second edition in 1779. It was in 1779 when Potter assisted Hans Stanley, a British diplomat and politician, with a translation of Pindar’s Odes – in the hope that, in return, Stanley might secure him a more prosperous living. Whilst their collaboration was a success and the task completed, this hope was dashed when Stanley, in a fit of depression, committed suicide. It happened while he was on a visit at Althorp on 12 January 1780; he committed suicide by cutting his throat!

Potter (Elizabeth_Montagu)
Elizabeth Montagu, mezzotint engraving, by John Raphael Smith after a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, published 10 April 1776, 20 x 14 inches. In 1776 the Reynolds original was in possession of her cousin, the Lord Primate of Ireland, Richard Robinson, 1st Baron Rokeby.Now recorded as part of National Trust collection, item NT 592596, mezzotint, Treasurer’s House, York, but not on show. Image: Wikipedia.

Further disappointment followed during 1781 and 1782 when Potter published his translation of Euripides in two volumes – it had to compete with Michael Woodhull’s version. As a result, the work was not a financial success, and despite promises, no preferments were forthcoming from his literary friends. He decided to abandon Greek tragedy, and rather translate one of the Pindaric odes with an accompanying essay on contemporary lyric poetry. Under Mrs Elizabeth Montagu’s influence this work was transformed into one of the chorus of pamphlets attacking Johnson’s ‘Lives of the Poets’ published during 1783, although it was the most thoughtful and well-argued of these. (Potter’s mixed views of Johnson’s work were later elaborated in his The Art of Criticism, 1789.) In 1785 he translated two odes from the book of Isaiah, but it was not long before encouragement was forthcoming for him to complete a new translation of Sophocles. This was published early in 1788 and was moderately well received.

It was shortly afterwards when Potter received an offer from Lord Thurlow of a prebend’s stall at Norwich, with a stipend twice his existing income. He retired from his offices of schoolmaster and curate at Scarning, plus all his other livings, and graduated as MA. In June 1789 Bishop Bagot also presented him with the extremely valuable vicarage of St Margaret’s Church, Lowestoft, where he moved in 1790. His old age was spent in comfort and prosperity. He published two further commemoration sermons, in 1793 and 1802, the first of which attacked Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, and died quietly at the vicarage on 9 August 1804.

Potter (St Margarets)

According to the antiquary Craven Ord, Potter was ‘rather an entertaining and well-behaved gentleman with some singularities of thinking’; his correspondence shows him to have been witty, kind, and thoughtful. Yet his considerable abilities were for many years unrecognized by his contemporaries and his wish to ingratiate himself with the rich and famous sometimes excited their contempt. There are several surviving anecdotes of his having been snubbed or otherwise humiliated by, among others, Dr Johnson and Lord Thurlow. He was however well loved by his parishioners at Lowestoft who subscribed for a mural monument to his memory, placed in the churchyard.

THE END

Principal Source:
https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-22618?rskey=MF7fpa&result=1

The Birth of the Bethel.

By Haydn Brown.

 The complete history of the former Bethel Hospital is too involved to appear here. Instead, today’s blog is confined to its very beginning, prefaced by a summary of the periods which led up to the time when Mary Chapman shared her ideas with her husband, Reverend Samuel Chapman of Thorpe Parish Church. He died before their project was implemented and it was left to Mary to forge ahead – when the time was right!

Preface:
There is evidence to suggest that the site of the Bethel – and that was its original name – had been settled as early as Saxon times. We know this through extensive archaeological excavations which took place on the site of the former Norwich Central Library prior to its construction in 1960; the library then lay almost next door to the ground on which the Bethel was built back in 1713. This pre-1960 excavation unearthed a large collection of finds; significantly, the discovery of Saxon postholes confirmed that the area had been settled well before Norman times, whilst a rare Viking gold ingot, the first of its type found in the UK, could be roughly dated to the Viking occupation of East Anglia in the late ninth century.

During the Medieval period, Over or Upper Newport, as Bethel Street was then known, stretched from St Peter Mancroft to St Giles Gate, or New-port, close to the surviving church of St Giles. The Norfolk historian, Francis Blomefield, wrote in 1768 that this street was:

“the ropery, where the cord and ropemakers formerly dwelt’.

During this period the Bethel site also fell under the shadow of St Mary-in-the-Fields, a chapel and hospice founded by John Le Brun in 1248, the crypt of which survives below the Assembly House grounds, which itself still faces towards the south-west of the earlier Bethel and later renamed Bethel Hospital.

Bethel Hospital5
The diagram shows part foundations of St Mary-in-the-Fields, chapel and hospice, founded by John Le Brun in 1248. Image: The Assembly House.

The Committee House and The Great Blow:
Blomefield also noted that part of the Bethel was located on the site of the former ‘Committee House’, a meeting place and store for the County’s armoury; the house was rented to Norfolk’s County Committee. Significantly, the building’s importance was reflected in the naming of the road outside as Committee Street, which linked Over or Upper Newport Gate (Upper St Giles’) to St Peter’s Street by St Peter Mancroft Church.

Bethel Hospital3
Thomas Cleer’s Map of 1696 showing the ‘vacant’ plot. Image: Norfolk Record Office.

Little is known about the Committee House, but it is recorded as having been the house of Francis Wyndham (1525-1592), who is ‘immortalised’ in a memorial at St Peter Mancroft. He had no children and left his property to his wife, Elizabeth, with the exception of the Committee House, which was valued at £400 and was to be sold to pay his debts.

Bethel Hospital (Francis Wyndham_J. Hannan)
Monument to Sir Francis Wyndham, St Peter Mancroft church. Photo: © Copyright J.Hannan

The Committee House’s demise is recorded in an incident known as the ‘Great Blow’ which took place on 24 April 1648. The background to this incident is that Norwich, on the eve of the Second English Civil War, was a hotbed of dissent. This was exacerbated by high taxes levied by Charles I and objections to the King’s High Anglicanism, which stood in contrast to the Puritan values prevalent in Norfolk at the time. It was said that tensions ran particularly high when a death warrant was apparently placed on the head of the City’s Mayor, John Utting. A crowd of residents, ‘having a strong affection for the Mayor’, attempted to prevent the official’s imminent capture and, to prove their point further, a number of rioters plundered the houses of his suspected enemies.

254876_full
Image: British Army Museum.

It was around 2pm on the same day when crowds converged on the Committee House, a symbol of Parliament’s power over the city, emphasised by it being the arsenal for the County Arms Magazine. The crowd broke through the bolted doors and ascended to the armoury above where Samuel Cawthorne, the armourer, was assaulted for having shot a boy in the scuffle. By 4pm three troops of Colonel Charles Fleetwood’s parliamentarian cavalry regiment converged on Norwich. Riding down the crowd, they sent many of the inhabitants scurrying indoors, while a firefight developed around the Committee House during pouring rain.

The-Great-Blow-front-cover-small-for-publicity-300x453
The Great Blow: Examinations and Informations relating to the Great Blow in Norwich, 1648 was edited by Andrew Hopper, Jean Agnew and Emily Alley (Published October 2018) and is available from the Norfolk Record Society

 Amongst the excitement, the rioters were careless with the gunpowder, ‘one sweeping it from the stairs, another taking a hatful home’! In the midst of the violence and clear confusion, the rioters accidentally detonated ninety-eight barrels of gunpowder. It was reported that around 100 people were killed or seriously injured as a result, along with total destruction of Committee House and adjacent properties. The blast also blew out all the windows of both St Peter Mancroft and St Stephen’s Churches, along with most other glazed buildings in the Market Place. Total damage was later estimated at the colossal sum of £20,000. Subsequently, fragments of glass were “gathered” from the site of the former Committee House and later set in St. Peter Mancroft church’s east window.

Bethel (Great Blow 1648)
There is no contemporary image of Norwich during or following the ‘Great Blow’. However, this view of Delft illustrates the devastation following a similar explosion: Egbert van der Poel, ‘A View of Delft after the Explosion of 1654’ (National Gallery, London).

The Founding of the Bethel:
Given Committee Street’s history, it is not perhaps surprising that in 1712 the Guardians described the site on which the Bethel Hospital was built as a ‘wast peece of ground’. Thomas Cleer’s map, produced in 1696, was the first professionally surveyed scale plan of Norwich; it showed the site of the Bethel, seventeen years before the building was construction. The row of buildings fronting the street were broken by an empty plot. It appears very likely, therefore, that this plot was the site of the former ‘Committee House’ that had been destroyed 50 years earlier. The south side of the site was undeveloped at this point and backed on to a street, to the south of which were gardens adjoining ‘Chapply Field’ – known today as Chapelfield Gardens.

Mental Health Care in the 18th Century:
Before the eighteenth century the only dedicated facility in England for the care of those suffering from mental illness was the Bethlehem Hospital in London, which admitted its first mentally ill patients in 1407. Hence the Bethel, once built, would be the first purpose-built asylum in the country outside London.

Before the Madhouse Act of 1774, treatment of the Insane was generally carried out by non-licensed practitioners, who ran their asylums as a commercial enterprise with little regard for the inmates. With the establishment of the Mad House Act, licensing was required for each property if it was to house mentally ill patients, with yearly inspections of the premises taking place.

As the century progressed, ideas surrounding the treatment of patients changed. One notable Georgian development was the belief that regular bathing in hot and cold water would help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. In 1797 the Master of Bethel was responsible for ‘properly preparing the Bath and bathing of the patients, when ordered by the physicians’, reflecting the adoption of bathing as a medical practice.

The part dereliction of this area of Committee Street does offer an explanation for why the City was willing to lease the land to Mary Chapman for the establishment of her lunatic asylum in 1712. Mary Chapman came from a background of wealth and influence; the daughter of a former Mayor of Norwich and wife of Samuel Chapman, Rector of Thorpe. Although the Bethel was opened 14 years after her husband’s death, Mary’s Will suggests that the project was the joint charitable venture of Mary and her husband, both of whom had experienced the effects of lunacy in their own families. The name ‘Bethel’, meaning ‘House of God’, was apparently chosen by Samuel Chapman for its biblical connotations. His widow reinforced this sentiment by having a quotation from the book of Hebrews inscribed above its eventual door:

‘But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’

Mary Chapman (1647 – 1724):
At this point in the story, a little must be said about the driving force behind the building of the Bethel, Mary Chapman. She was born on 24 of March 1647, during the English Civil War, and was the third daughter of John Mann and Hester nee’ Baron. Her father had made his fortune as a Worstead weaver, before going on to become Sheriff of Norwich in 1649 and Mayor four years later; in 1671 he took up the position of High Sheriff.

Mary Chapman (Bethel St Hospital_Archant)
Mary Chapman (1647 – 1724)
Founder of the Bethel Hospital. Photo Credit: Archant Library.

It was on 10 of May 1682 when, at the age of 35, Mary became the second wife of Rev. Samuel Chapman, Rector of Thorpe St Andrews; however, the marriage was childless. The couple, nevertheless, had the possible compensation of both sharing a concern for the treatment and welfare of the mentally ill. However, only 18 years of marriage passed before Samuel Chapman died, leaving money in his Will for Mary Chapman to build their dream of a house for the ‘habitation of poor lunatics’. In this, Mary was to devote herself to its foundation – somewhere in the city.

It was Mary’s staunch faith that was the driving force behind success in eventually building what became the Bethel in 1713. It was so named in accordance with the ‘advice and desire of Samuel Chapman’. Once founded, Mary Chapman continued to dictate the running of the Bethel; from specifying rules for admittance to carefully appointing her trustees, It was only later when the Bethel, became known as the Bethel Hospital, maintaining ‘several poor lunatics therein at her own expense during the time of her life and at her decease’.

Mary Chapman was a very religious women and in her Will she wrote; ‘First and before all things I humbly dedicate most heavenly devote to God….…’ and requested a plaque with the inscription ‘To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’ from Hebrews 13th chapter and 16th verse. As well as inscribing this quotation above its door, Mary ensured that biblical texts were placed throughout the building, such as “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom” and “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad”. According to Dylan Read:

“Mary Chapman became aware that ‘abuses of several kinds’ were taking place at the Bethel towards the inmates. She devised a system to regulate the abuses and instructions were given to deal with reducing the amount of abuse at the Bethel……”

Mary died in 1724, leaving most of her possessions and her wealth to the Bethel, as well as directions of its future running. It was her intent that, even after her death, the Bethel would continue to serve the purpose for which it was founded. In this, she also left it under the direction of seven trustees; John Hall, William Cockman, Richard Cooke, John Lombe, John Thompson, William Lombe and Timothy Gaming. In her Will, Mary also said that she wanted everyone with lunacy, whether from Norwich or not, to be placed in the Bethel and for the trustees to be paid by the families and friends of those living there. She also requested that a percentage of the earnings would go into the improvement of the charity through the payment of rent, maintenance and the employment of doctors. It was also requested that the trustees elected a treasurer.

newspic
The ruins of the old Parish Church of Thorpe St Andrews. Photo: Thorpe Parish Church.

Mary Chapman’s body was buried in accordance to her Will in the grounds of the Old Parish Church of Thorpe St Andrews, next to her Husband – without disturbing him. She asked for a plain coffin with only the letters M.C and that it would be carried to the by six parish clerks. Her tombstone survives in the chancel of the now ruinous church. It reads,

“She built wholly at her own expense the house in Norwich called Bethel for the reception, maintenance and cure of poor lunatics, to which and other charitable uses she gave all her income while she lived and her estate at her death.”

The Design of the Bethel:
After securing a 1000-year lease on the site of the proposed building at a peppercorn rate, Mary Chapman and her trustees commissioned Carpenter Richard Starling and mason Edward Freeman to build the Bethel, at a total cost of £314 2s. 6d; one trustee, John Morse, was responsible for overseeing the work. The only surviving image of Mary Chapman’s Bethel can be found on the Hospital’s seal, which depicts the building’s north façade and shows a two-storey range with two adjoining wings.

Bethel Hospital (Seal)
The Bethel Hospital Seal from Bateman and Rye, 1906. Norfolk Record Office.

A copy of the original building agreement in Bateman and Rye’s History of the Bethel Hospital sheds further light on the building’s original design. In it, the trustees ordered the construction of a building measuring 89 foot in length with two 27-foot wings, as well as two cellars at the south-east and south-west corners of the main range. Staircases ran from these cellars to the second floor. Internally, the Hospital was to be divided by a passageway running:

“from the dore in the middle of the fore front of the said building to the dore in the midle of the back front of the said house”.

Each side would then be partitioned into three rooms. Every door was to include a six-inch square hole covered by an iron grille and shutter, presumably as a means of ensuring proper ventilation whilst also enabling the observation of patients. Three of these seem to survive in an altered form on the second floor of the western 1753 wing. The agreement specified that ‘good clear glass’ was to be used for all windows except for the cellar and attic windows, which were to be glazed with:

‘quarrell (kwor′el} glass’ – a square of glass placed diagonally – a diamond pane of glass. Windows were also to be fitted with ‘two iron bands of three-quarter inch barrs’.

Whether or not these plans were enacted in their entirety, they nevertheless help to shed light on the building’s function as a place of confinement. Mary Chapman herself stated that:

“those put…into the said House shall be kept close and not suffered to wander abroad during their disorder”.

However, it was the inmates’ care rather than their confinement that was at the forefront of Mary’s vision for the Bethel. In an inscription on the Hospital’s foundation stone, now repositioned at the entrance of the building, Mary laid out the Bethel’s purpose:

“This house was built for the benefit of distress Lunaticks Ano Dom. 1713 and is not to be alienated or employed to any other use or purpose whatsoever. Tis also requir’d that the Master, who shall be chosen from time to time, be a Man that lives in the Fear of God and sets up true protestant Religion in his Family and will have a due Regard as well to souls as bodies as those that are under his care.”

In his history of the Hospital, Bateman describes how the Bethel was “bounded west by a house and east the school house of Bernard Church”. These buildings on either side of Bethel Hospital are shown on Kirkpatrick’s 1723 map of Norwich, with Mary Chapman’s House clearly set back from the street.

Kirkpatrick Map 1723
Kirkpatrick’s Map of 1723. Norfolk Record Office.

Another terrace fronting Theatre Street falls within what is now the south west wing of Little Bethel Court. Produced four years later, James Corbridge’s 1727 map clearly illustrates the U-plan of the Bethel, showing the main range with its two adjoining north wings. Aside from this detail, the area around Committee Street appears relatively unchanged from Kirkpatrick’s map published three years earlier.

Bethel Hospital4
James Corbridge’s 1727 Map of Norwich. Here, it clearly illustrates the U-plan of the Bethel. Norfolk Record Office.

Little is known about the Hospital’s early years, other than that Mary Chapman lived at the Bethel until her death in 1724. In her Will, dated 22 October 1719, Chapman mentions that one Henry Harston was the master of the house at the time. The presumption that Harston was a layman with no medical qualification gives an indication of the type of care provided to those patients at the Bethel during its early years. Chapman’s Will also specified that seven trustees were to be appointed to run the Hospital on the occasion of her death. This wish was enacted in January 1724, when a group of appointed trustees presided over the newly formed public charity for the first time.

Footnote: (Mental Health Reform):
For a century, the Bethel was the sole public facility specifically for the mad or insane in Norwich. Andrew Halliday reported to the 1807 Select Committee that Norwich had 112 ‘lunatics and idiots’, of whom only 27 were detained in poor law or penal institutions. In 1808, the County Asylum Act was passed, which allowed counties to levy a rate in order to fund the building of county asylums. The intention was to remove the insane from the workhouses and provide them with a dedicated care system. Despite this legislation, only 20 county asylums were built around the country.

Bethel (County Asylum 1814)

One such institution was the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1814 with beds for 104 patients. However, the city’s provision of care for the mentally ill was severely inadequate. Of the few patients that were sent to Bethel Hospital, hundreds more were left in workhouses. Until the Lunatics Act of 1845, the number of patients at the Bethel remained between seventy and eighty, while those in the new asylum increased. This was sped up by the transferral of a number of Bethel’s pauper patients to the County Asylum in 1814.

By 1845, the Lunatics Act had brought public asylums into line with each other. It made the provision of accommodation for pauper patients compulsory and required mental healthcare institutions with more than 100 patients to have a medically qualified superintendent at their head. It also took into account the moral treatment pioneered by William Tuke and saw the care of the lunatics being funded by the individual county.

William Tuke

William Tuke (1732 – 1822) was a prominent mental health reformer and philanthropist. Born into a leading Quaker family, Tuke embraced social activism in his youth, campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade. Towards the end of the century Tuke increasingly became involved in mental health reform and raised funds to establish his own Quaker asylum in 1796. The York Retreat was a religious and humane hospital for Quakers suffering with mental illness.

Tuke’s model of moral treatment was adopted by asylums across the country and went on to become one of the most influential practices in 19th century asylums. Chains were removed from inmates, accommodation was improved, and patients were engaged in occupational work as a form of ‘moral therapy’.

Footnote:
For those who have an appetite for more, several documents which relate to Mary Chapman are held at the Norfolk Record Office; NRO, BH21-23 -‘A Short Account of Mrs Mary Chapman and of her founding and embowering the house called Bethel in the city of Norwich’, this includes information on Mary Chapman as well as a copy of her Will. This can also be viewed on the microfilm at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO, NCC will register Lawrence 219). NRO, MC 2018/1, 895X6 is a Work book which contains transcript and notes on Mary Chapman amongst other information on the Bethel Hospital.

THE END

References:

Francis Blomfield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: History, Volume 1. (W Miller: London, 1805), 235

Christopher W Brooks, “‘Wyndham, Francis (d. 1592)’”, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),

Anonymous, The History of The City and County Of Norwich: From The Earliest Accounts To The Present Time, Volume 1 (1768), 267

Sir Frederick Bateman and Walter Rye, The History of the Bethel at Norwich (Gibbs and Waller: Norwich, 1906), 6 and 166.

Sources:
Bethel Hospital Conservation Management Plan
https://norfolkwomeninhistory.com/1500-1699/mary-chapman/?fbclid=IwAR0_mAc-IPls0lP4a2o8Nz00im_RAnxmTySExFVBCgn4uDplAgiVhjp63qQ
https://norfolkrecordsociety.org.uk/the-civil-war-comes-to-norwich/

Some images in this blog are believed to be outside copyright. However, if anyone has any information to the contrary, would they please write via our ‘Contact Us’ page so that matters can be rectified.

Norfolk in Brief: Caister’s Watch House.

By Haydn Brown

Thomas Clowes, solicitor and reputed Lord of the Manor, was a popular Caister resident in the mid-19th-Century. He not only had charitable leanings towards the inmates of Yarmouth gaol, but also built, in 1834, the first purpose-built school in Caister, known as the ‘Fear God School’, along with two small alms houses in Beach Road, known as the ‘Widows Homes – that was in 1856.

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The Clowes Alms Houses today. Photo: Minors & Brady, Caister.

Thomas Clowes also seemed to have had a close relationship with the local beachmen. For instance; in 1846, the beachmen asked for permission to build a new Watch House, Store and Lookout on the sand hills north of The Gap. This was the name given to a low point in the sand hills where the track from the village to the beach, now Beach Road, passed through the hills to reach the beach. This area traditionally belonged to the Manor – and therefore Thomas Clowes. He gave his immediate approval, but with the proviso that he should receive a ‘fortieth’ share of the salvage income from the beach company. Now, salvage income traditionally doled out to beach companies was as ‘fortieth’ shares, in what was something of a complicated and secretive system. Members of the company received one or more shares depending on the part they had played in a particular salvage incident. In the mid-nineteenth century the annual income from a company share was often a considerable sum of money.

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This photograph of the 1880’s show members of the beach company on the steps of the Caister Watch House. Photo: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

As soon as the Lookout and Store had been erected the beachmen bought a 60-foot ship’s mast and erected it next to the new Watch House; the former mast had a small box on the top from where the ‘lookout man’ could keep a watch for shipping in distress during bad weather. In 1864 a writer described the Watch House as:

“the beachmen’s parliament house where the affairs of the nation……… are discussed, accounts settled and business transacted”.

Its ground floor was used as a carpenter’s shop, and it was where a George Vincent made oars, masts and a variety of other items including wooden “goodwives washing tubs”. At the rear of the building, they hung an old ships bell which was used as a call-out signal when the lifeboat was to be launched.

Watch House (Caister)2
This postcard image shows the tall mast with its ‘lookout’ at the top; the call out bell is out of sight at the rear of the building. Image: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

It was said that after Thomas Clowes died his widow, Maria, moved to Yarmouth where, in 1918, she sold the title of Lord of the Manor by auction. The title was bought by a Yarmouth man, Anthony Francis Traynier who, having lived in London for a while returned to live in Gorleston; however, he did not have the same level of interest in Caister as that previously shown by the late Thomas Clowes. By 1924, a beach company’s ‘fortieth’ share of any salvage was almost worthless – nothing more than about £10 per annum. Then there was the fact that in 1924, Caister was fast becoming an established holiday resort, with most of the land at the end of Beach Road, near the Gap, developed.

Watch House (Caister)3
This image is an engraving, from the 1880 London Gazette, of the first floor interior of the  Watch House, Image: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

The old Watch House now stood in the way of any further development and Trainier, in September 1934, gave the beachmen six months’ notice to give up possession of Watch House and Lookout, which they had occupied for some 87 years. The beachmen disputed this Notice, but a subsequent court case decision in April 1935 ruled against them and the beachmen had to move; the building was soon demolished. For his part, Traynier agreed to surrender his claim to any share in future salvage.

Watch House (Caister)5

The former Manor House (above) is believed to have once been owned by Thomas Clowes of this story. It was built around 1793 and was converted into a hotel in 1894 – extended to have 36 bedrooms in the 1920’s. However, around 1941 the building was abandoned because of coastal erosion; it was completely destroyed soon afterwards. Today, only its bricks may be found on the beach.

THE END

(Source: The above is based on an article by Colin Tooke; and the banner heading image above is ‘Caister, Norfolk’ by Reuben Bussey, 1879.)

Norfolk’s Forgotten Cleric!

By Haydn Brown.

Nothing is known with certainty of Revd. John Brooke’s early life and education, only a guess that he was probably born in Norfolk in 1709; however, it is recorded that he died at Colney, near Norwich on 21 January 1789. In between John Brooke was ordained a priest on 17 June 1733, and between 1733 and 1746 he became Rector, or perpetual curate, of five parishes in and around Norwich, England, all but one of which he held until his death.

Brooke (thomas_rowlandson_-_the_preacher)
The Preacher (Thomas Rowlandson)

In 1756 Brooke married Frances Moore, he was 15 years her senior. Frances was his second wife and already a prominent literary figure; they were to have a son and probably a daughter. Brooke was appointed acting chaplain in the British Army in February 1757 and was shipped out to Canada where he served as chaplain at the garrison at Quebec; he was part of the British forces fighting the Seven Years’ War with France, which included the territorial struggle for Canada. Frances, three months pregnant, went to live with her sister Sarah. On the other side of the Atlantic, Revd. Brooke was deputy chaplain in the 22nd Foot. By August 1758 he was garrison chaplain at Louisburg, Cape Breton Island until July 1760, when he went to Quebec.

Brooke (James Murray)
James Murray. Source: Wikipedia.

In December of that year, Quebec’s Governor James Murray, who was a personal friend of Brooke for some 20 years, unofficially appointed him minister of Quebec and chaplain to the garrison. In Quebec, Church of England services, which had been celebrated in the Ursuline chapel from September 1759 until the summer of 1760, were held in the Recollet church following the Roman Catholic service. Neither the newly appointed Revd Brooke nor the Roman Catholic Church appreciated the arrangement; Brooke, in fact, considered it a humiliation for the state religion.  In August 1761 about 100 civil officers and merchants in Quebec petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to appoint Brooke its missionary at Quebec with a French-language assistant. By 28 Oct. 1761, Brooke was formally commissioned garrison chaplain, by which time he was also chaplain to the Royal Americans (60th Foot).

Brooke (Frances Moore)
Frances Brookes, nee’ Moore. Image: Wikipedia

In 1763, with the war over with France, Frances Brooke set sail for Canada to join her husband after a six-and-a-half-year separation. She was accompanied by her sister and her son John Moore [Brookes], born on June 10, 1757, who had yet to meet his father. They arrived on October 4, 1763. In January 1764 he was chosen by the absentee auditor general, Robert Cholmondeley, as his deputy at Quebec. Murray reported to London in October the presence of 144 Protestant householders, Church of England and dissenters, in the town; the following month about 80 people repeated the petition of 1761 to the SPG. Murray officially supported the petition, but unofficially he began to criticise Brooke. To the SPG he regretted that Brooke did not understand French. To Cholmondeley he complained that Brooke:

“cannot govern his tongue and will perpetually interfere with things that do not concern him . . . ; Brookes certainly is an honest man and a man of parts, he is very well informed too and when passion does not interfere is a most agreeable companion [but] his sprightly imagination makes him . . . frequently forget that he wears Black. . . .”

Although Brooke, as garrison chaplain and unofficial minister of the town, was expected by Murray to be a peacemaker in the agitated relations between civilians and the military in the colony, his meddlesome and prickly nature, plus his good relations with the merchants, who were the military’s most persistent critics, provoked the garrison to question his value as a chaplain. Particularly galling was his appearance on behalf of the merchant George Allsopp who, charged with failure to carry a light after dark as required by law, had brought a suit for brutality against the two soldiers responsible for his arrest.

Governor Murray himself was probably angered most by Brooke’s friendship with Allsopp – the Governor’s obstreperous political opponent. Indeed, in July 1765 Murray identified Brooke to the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, as a member of a cabal seeking to have him replaced; this cabal was composed mainly of merchants who, unlike the more patient Governor, sought the colony’s rapid anglicisation and protestantisation in order to facilitate integration into Britain’s political and economic Empire.

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Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, who suceeded Murray as Governor. Image: Wikimedia.

Murray was succeeded in July 1766 by Guy Carleton, who tended at first to sympathise with the merchants. Revd. Brooke became friendly with the new Lieutenant Governor and with his Huguenot attorney general, Francis Maseres who found Brooke “a very sensible and agreeable companion,” at first, but shortly after wrote that, although Brooke was a fine minister, he was also “rather too warm in his Temper which hurries him now and then into indiscreet Expressions.”

Brooke (Frances Maseres)
Francis Maseres. Image: Wikimedia.

Guy Carleton and Maseres soon parted ways as the former came to realise the necessity of James Murray’s policy of conciliation with the Roman Catholic Church while Maseres was strongly anti-Catholic. Brooke was caught in the middle when in the summer of 1767 Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière, a Recollet and parish priest converted to Protestantism, presented himself to the garrison chaplain to take the oath of abjuration, but Brooke refused to administer the oath to Veyssière. But if Veyssière had been temporarily hindered by Brooke, it was the latter whose future was cloudier. The two petitions in favour of Brooke’s appointment as an SPG missionary at Quebec were never granted. Brooke continued his unofficial ministry until 1768, even travelling back and forth between Montreal and Quebec for six months in 1766 until the arrival of David Delisle as Protestant chaplain in Montreal.

In July 1768 Revd Brooke auctioned off the household belongings. Some of these indicate that he and his wife Frances, who had first come to Quebec in 1763, lived comfortably; their home, a former Jesuit mission house at Mount Pleasant in Sillery, had been sublet to them by the merchant John Taylor Bondfield. In August 1768 the Brookes left for England and, despite his permanent absence from Quebec, Revd John Brooke drew full pay as garrison chaplain until his death.

Little is known of Revd John Brooke after his return to England, although he seems to have resumed his Norfolk church positions. In 1769, a year after their return, John’s wife Frances published The history of Emily Montague . . . in London, an epistolary novel, much of which was set in Canada. Émile Castonguay, Canadian author, has speculated that John Brooke actually wrote the letters of one of the novel’s characters, Sir William Fermor. Frances’ dedication of the novel to Guy Carleton, her husband’s patron, as well as John’s vocation and longer experience in the colony, would make it reasonable to speculate that, at the very least, Revd. John Brooke contributed substantially to the book’s comments on religion, politics, and the character of the Canadians which predominated in Fermor’s letters.

Brooke (Frances Moore_Novel)1
The four volumes of Frances Brooke’s novel The history of Emily Montague. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.
Brooke (Frances Moore_Novel)2
The History of Emily Montague, Title Page. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.
Brooke (Frances Moore_Novel)3
The History of Emily Montague, Extract, referring to Revd. John Brooke’s patron. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.

John Brooke died at Colney, near Norwich, Norfolk on 21 Jan. 1789, by which time his son, John Brooke, Jr, was also a minister – in Lincolnshire. Frances had been with her son in his parish ever since late 1788 when she had suddenly fallen ill, thereby missing her husband’s death. Frances died on January 23, 1789, two days after that of her husband’s in Norfolk – one day shy of her 65th birthday.

Booke (St Andrews_Colney)
St Andrew’s Church, Colney, Norfolk. Image: Simon Knott 2019.

As for the Reverend John Brooke; his eight years in Quebec left no lasting impression, and he is now all but forgotten. He represents, however, that group of clergies, all chaplains, who served as a stopgap while the Church of England pondered the best pastoral approach to a colonial population almost entirely French speaking and Roman Catholic, but on to which had been grafted a minuscule but fractious band of British and French Protestant merchants, office-holders, and soldiers. Although his own unclerically febrile temperament and James Murray’s well-placed censures no doubt hurt Brooke’s chances of remaining in Canada, it was the church’s decision that a French-language clergy would best serve its cause which ultimately displaced Brooke and other British chaplains.

THE END

Source:
James H. Lambert  http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brooke_john_4E.html
James H. Lambert, “BROOKE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.
https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brooke-frances-1724-1789

 

Discovery of a Hidden Paston Girl!

By Haydn Brown.

The following story provides extra exposure to a very interesting article which was written by Stuart Anderson and first appeared in the ‘North Norfolk News’ on 9 June, 2019, and subsequently updated on 11 October, 2020. He reported on the previously hidden fate of Anna Paston, was titled ‘Discovery of a Hidden Paston girl…….’. His words, began with a question:

Paston (lady-katherine-paston-oxnead)1
A bust of Lady Katherine Paston at her tomb in Oxnead church. Lady Katherine died in childbirth in 1636 after seven years of marriage to Sir William Paston, only son of Clement Paston. Sir William is considered “the real founder of the Paston family fortunes”. Lady Katherine would have been the grandmother of the previously unknown Anna Paston. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are among the most-studied families from the English later Middle Ages. So how has the story of one Paston girl who died tragically young gone unnoticed for so long?

Paston (anna-paston-brass)2
The brass memorial to Anna Paston, which was recently discovered at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are also one of England’s best-known medieval families, who rose from humble origins to become leading members of the aristocracy, wielding political power and entertaining royalty at their sumptuous mansions. Thanks to the letters and other documents they left behind we know more about the Pastons than virtually any other family of that age. The documents, which chronicle the rise of the family during the War of the Roses, speak volumes of their arguments, gossip, feuds, plotting, private scandals, and even their shopping lists. Now, a recent discovery at Oxnead church in north Norfolk has uncovered evidence of a previously unknown Paston which is literally re-writing what was thought we knew about the family.

Paston (admiral-sir-clement-paston)3
The tomb of Admiral Sir Clement Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

A small medieval memorial brass is dedicated to Anna Paston, who is thought to have died tragically young. The brass was found tucked away between two larger monuments, and reads in abbreviated Latin:

‘Here lies Anna, daughter of John Paston Knight, on whose soul God have mercy, Amen’.

Paston (Oxnead Church)4
Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Historian Helen Castor, author of the bestselling ‘Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century’, said nothing had previously been known about Anna. She said:

“This is an extraordinary find: not only a previously unknown Paston grave, but the grave of a previously unknown Paston. The family’s remarkable letters shine a spotlight on the middle decades of the 15th Century, but a great deal of their story, before and after, remains in shadow.”

Paston (oxnead-church)5
Oxnead Church, where the memorial to Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society said Anna can only have been a daughter of John Paston III. The memorial is believed to have been crafted at the one of the Norwich workshops in the last decade of the 15th Century or the opening years of the 16th Century, and is of the type commonly used to memorialise an unmarried girl.

Archaeologist, Matthew Champion, who came across the memorial whilst investigating the church as part of the ‘600 Paston Footprints’ (-this is a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to shed new light the family). added:

Paston (The Tomb)6
The tomb of Lady Katherine Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

“Some people may be taken aback that one of the best known and most thoroughly researched families in England can still throw up surprises such as this. However, very few of the Paston letters actually survive from the 1490s, so there is likely to be quite a lot more that we have missed. “

It is known that John Paston III had another daughter called Elizabeth, who would have been Anna’s sister. Elizabeth survives to adulthood, and eventually marries, but the surviving documents contain barely a mention of her.”

Paston (oxnead-tombs)8
Oxnead Hall’s tombs. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Paston documents contain no further information about Anna, although it is likely she died in her early teens, given the ages of her siblings. But she may also may have been a scion of John Paston III’s second marriage, which means she would have died an infant.

It was at Oxnead that the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671, and where the medieval Paston letters were discovered mouldering in an attic room half a century later. These documents have been studied by historians in minute detail since they were first published in the late 18th Century, and it was thought that the family held few new surprises for academics.

Paston (oxnead-gardens)9
The gardens at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk, where the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The earliest member of the family that we have any record of is Clement Paston, of the village of Paston in north-east Norfolk. Clement was born in the years immediately after the Black Death swept England in the middle of the 14th Century, and was a miller and small-scale farmer by trade. In the wake of the plague, that killed about a third of the population of the country, Clement made good use of the less regulated land market to buy up small pieces of land in Paston and the neighbouring parishes. He married well, to the sister of a local lawyer, and their son William became a rich lawyer, high court judge, major landowner, and founder of the family fortune.

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The once-great Paston mansion of Oxnead Hall, where the memorial to the previously unknown Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

THE END

The original Stuart Anderson’s article, plus advertisements and other extraneous matter, can be found via the source link below.

Source:
Hidden story of Anna Paston sheds new light on famous medieval family (northnorfolknews.co.uk)

Norfolk in Brief: A Victoria Cross Award.

By Haydn Brown.

Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC, DL was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards_ Royal Collection Trust
William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC of Hardingham Hall, Norfolk. Photo: Royal Collection Trust

Edwards’ Early life:
He was born on 7 May 1855 at Hardingham Hall, in the village of Hardingham, Norfolk; the son and heir of Henry William Bartholomew Edwards, and Caroline Marsh, formerly of Gaynes Park, Epping, Essex. Due to his wealthy upbringing, he was educated privately at Rottingdean, at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree at Cambridge; instead he joined the Army. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant on the Unattached List on 22 March 1876, then in January 1877 joined the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, with the rank of lieutenant.

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Hardingham Hall, Norfolk. Photo: Courtesy of Ivan Barnard.

His Victoria Cross:
Edwards was 27 years old, and serving as a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry during the British occupation of Egypt, when the following deed of his took place and for which he was awarded the Victorious Cross.

It was on 13 September 1882 at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, when Lieutenant Edwards led a party of the Highland Light Infantry which stormed a ‘Redoubt’. He was the one who rushed forward alone and in advance of his party, entered the battery and immediately killed the artillery officer in charge. In the melee, Edwards was knocked down by a a rammer, welded by an enemy gunner and was rescued only by the timely arrival of three men of his regiment. Edwards was severely wounded.

Tel-el-Kebir
Depiction of the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. ImageL Wikipedia.

Edwards’ Later career:
Edwards was promoted to captain on 23 March 1887 and served as adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry from 1 January 1892 and until 1 November 1893; almost two years later, on 4 September 1895, he was promoted to major and retired from the army on 11 November 1896. On 19 February 1899, on the nomination of Lord Belper, he was appointed one of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, and on 13 August 1900 he was commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk.

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St Georges Church, Hardingham. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC died Hardingham Hall, Norfolk on 17 September 1912; he was aged 57 years. He was buried in St George’s Churchyard, Hardingham, Norfolk; an impressive place, sitting as it does on St Georges Mount but somewhat isolated. The mount is, as the name suggests, a rise in the ground which is framed by a sandy track and the large old rectory. Inside the church, is a window in the west wall which commemorates Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards VC. On the north wall is a memorial window to a family descendent, William Bartle Marsh Edwards of the Rifle Brigade, who was killed in action in Tunisia in 1943.

Footnote:
There are three other Norfolk recipients of the Victoria Cross: Cpl Harry Cator (b Drayton), Capt David Jamieson (b Thornham) and Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson (b Swaffham) Hardingham churchyard also contains three CWGC graves. The will form part of a future blog.

THE END

 Source:
http://www.vconline.org.uk/william-m-m-edwards-vc/4586628841

Barnham Broom’s ‘Old Hall’

By Haydn Brown

The Old Hall is a medieval manor house situated on the Honingham Road in Barnham Broom, just south of Norwich in the county of Norfolk – it has quite a history!

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall2
Approach to the Old Hall. Photo: Savilles.

Origins:
Long before the present Old Hall was built, there had been settlements on the Hall’s grounds since prehistoric times. During the Roman period, it is believed that the site was used as a military camp on a conjectured military route from the West to Brancaster, possibly to stem the Iceni uprisings lead by Boudicca. Indeed, many aspects of the moated enclosure in the grounds of the Hall resemble a typical Roman Castra (or camp) – but much of this needs further research. There may also have been a buried Saxon settlement, just to the South of the moat; the site calls out for an excavation for, certainly, some timbers have already been discovered. In medieval times there was also a stockade within the moat boundaries.

Mortirmer Coat of Arms

In the 13th Century, the land was owned by William Mortimer, the then Lord of Attleborough who also had manors at Scoulton, Little Ellingham, Rockland Tofts, Stanford and Little Buckenham in Norfolk; clearly this branch of the ‘Mortimer’s’ were wealthy and powerful land owners in the eastern region. William was to resist King John, along with his father, Robert, in 1205 and 1215, for which both lost their lands – and after which, neither man appeared in the Book of Fees for 1212. However, in 1216-17, the Sheriff of Norfolk was ordered to return the Barnham land to William; then by early 1250, William received Charters for free-warrens in his manors of Attleborough, Barnham Broom and Scoulton. He died soon afterwards – certainly before 29 May 1250.

In 1347, or thereabouts, ‘Barnham Ryske’ – the former name of Barnham Broom, was decimated by the Plague with many cottages, lying between the current Hall and the local church of St. Peter and St. Paul, were abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. This was the time when the land, on which very little stood, may have passed into the ownership of Roger Chamberlayne (b.1380), originally from Gedding in Suffolk. During his ownership, at least a gate house and drawbridge existed on the site, leading to what was probably the timber Great Hall; today, nothing remains of these structures, and it may have been the case that this great wooden hall burned down in the late 14th Century, with the gatehouse finally being demolished in 1849.

Chamberlain Coat of ArmsRoger’s son, Sir Robert Chamberlayne entered the story of the Barnham estate around the time of the Wars of the Roses, circa 1455. He, unfortunately, became embroiled in that war – but chose the wrong (Yorkist) side! He was subsequently tried and convicted for plotting against Henry VII; the charge of high treason ensured that he was executed on Tower Hill in 1491 – forty-four years and sixteen battles after the savage assault against his father at Bury St. Edmunds. In these incidents the Chamberlayne family were pawns in both the opening and closing of a bloody chapter in English history. Robert left the family with very little money or land. On 14 May 1496, Sir Ralph Shelton, as a Commissioner of the Peace in Norfolk, was directed to assay the lordships, lands and manors of the rebel and traitor, Sir Robert Chamberlain. This resulted in the forfeiture of his Estates. It was at this point when his family moved to Barnham Broom, where Sir Robert’s widow, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Fitz Rafe (Ralfe/Ralph), held inherited possessions that had escaped the confiscation. Fifty years later, on the 11 March, 1541 and during the reign of Henry VIII [1509-1547], Sir Robert’s son, Sir Edward Chamberlayn obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without the restitution of any property.

It was this same Edward Chamberlayne, born around 1470, who was eventually in a position to build the present Old Hall on the site of the former Barnham Ryskes Hall; this was made possible by way of his wife, Jane Starkey’s (of West Acre) dowry.  He was neither rich enough, nor influential enough, to profit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries’ and, by the turn of the 17th century, the family fortunes has declined appreciably.

Diaperwork_Brigitte Webster
False ‘Diaper work built into the external walls of the Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The building of the Barnham Old Hall was started in 1510 and completed in 1550; its South wing being completed in 1514 and the porch tower around 1540. The style of the manor, whilst modest in proportions, featured numerous very fashionable elements. For example, the white mortared entrance arch and window pediments were designed to mimic the fashionable marble examples of the Italian Renaissance. The North wing (and crow step gables) were completed in 1614. Again, attempts were made to keep things fashionable with “false” diaper work being applied to most brick walls. Traditional diaper work, that is the dark crosses in the brick work is made from darker, usually burnt bricks. The diaper work here follows the lesser but more common practice of staining select bricks.

Jacobean Ceiling_Brigitte Webster
Plaster relief ceiling in the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

From 1514 until 1663 the Old Hall was the local Manor House with the manorial court held there during this period. Plaster relief in the Jacobean Parlour indicates the manorial court duties. It was during this period that Edward’s mother, Lady Elizabeth FitzRalph – an influential woman in her own right, successfully petitioned King Henry VIII to reverse the attainder of her late husband, Sir Robert Chamberlayne, in 1531; however, Henry did not restore any of the family’s assets and the family never regained any appreciable wealth, missing out in the dissolution of the monasteries.

In 1522 Edward succeeded his brother Sir Francis, who had died without issue, in the possessions of their mother, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, which had escaped the confiscation consequent upon Sir Robert’s attainder; this included the Barnham Broom estate. He was over fifty-two years of age. On the 11 March 1541 Edward obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without restitution of property. He died on the 15th July 1541 and was buried at Barnham Broome in Norfolk. Ultimately the Old Hall was sold to the Wodehouse Family of Kimberley in 1644 who used it as the principle farm house on their extensive estates.

Approaching the Present Day:
By the 19th century, the Tudor South wing of the Old Hall doubled as the village rectory from about 1815 until 1849. Unfortunately, in 1849 the moat’s drawbridge and porter’s lodge were demolished but otherwise very little was remodelled or changed. The current farm house is next door to the Old Hall and is owned and farmed by the Eagle family who also owned the Old Hall from 1923 until 1963. The house and, in particular, the Jacobean parlour were, at this time used for agricultural storage including hay bales and fencing. Many of the windows lacked glass and the increased dampness caused the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour to sag with increasing severity over this period. Luckily the parlour had been subdivided into two rooms with a stud work partition wall across the centre. The ceiling finally came to rest, propped up by this partition wall.

After the Second World War a number of restoration and preservation societies sought buyers for the Old Hall – because to its historic importance. However, due to a combination of the Hall’s sad state of repair, combined with owners’ relative poverty in the form of sweeping death duties, it was not until 1963 when a buyer was found – one who was prepared to invest considerably in the restoration. In the meantime, a number of tenants came and went, including members of the Lincoln family, said to be directly related to the US president, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln family graves are in the neighbouring village of Hingham – for their story see “The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President”

The next owners were the Hawker family who owned the house from 1963 to 1973. They undertook extensive but very sensitive renovation work and, according to Brigitte Webster the present owner, it is thanks to them that so many of the original features were saved. Unfortunately, the octagonal staircase tower on the West facing South wing was beyond repair by this time and had to be dismantled. However, the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour was largely salvageable by the expedience of fitting hundreds of threaded rods to its reverse surface and ever so slowly screwing them up thus jacking the ceiling back into place. An article in the February 23rd, 1967 edition of Country Life magazine details the restoration process.

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Country Life)

In 1973 the house was briefly owned by a Mr. Walwork until 1977, though nothing is known about his tenancy. Then the Hall was purchased by Dr. Hartley Booth (who was related to the founding Booths of the Salvation Army) and his wife Adrianne. Theirs was the start of a 41-year programme of restoration and improvement, which included a long-running battle against death-watch beetle and dry rot. Over time, they rewired and re-plumbed, restored the large, arched, 16th-century window in the dining room, restored a number of other original features such as the Tudor fireplace in the dining room (of original hall) and the Tudor ceiling that lay concealed under a lower (probably) Victorian false ceiling. They also dredged and restored the spring-fed moat, a special feature of the Tudor-themed gardens laid out around the house by Mrs Booth, and they bought more land to protect the setting of the Hall.

John Evelyn Book

In 2001 the Booths also established a John Evelyn (1620-1706) memorial arboretum to the front of the Hall’s East Side. John Evelyn was a founder member of the Royal Society and author of its first ever work being “Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions” published as a paper in 1662 and as a book in 1664. The book, in trying to redress the widespread destruction of natural forests in England (due to the Civil War) catalogued all tree types native to England in the 17th Century; the arboretum comprised only trees that were mentioned in the book.

Then, in late 2018, Tom Webster was searching the internet for a suitable house for a friend of his and, as is so often the case when one is online, found himself going down various “rabbit holes” culminating in him discovering that the Old Hall was ‘For Sale’. Against the will of his wife, Brigitte – who reckoned she was never going to move from Parsonage Farm, their previous abode, an appointment was made to view the property. Approximately 5 minutes after arriving at the front of the house both Tom and Brigitte Webster were convinced that this was the house for them. It took almost 12 months to turn that conviction into a successful purchase.

Present Day:
Today, the Old Hall at Barnham Broom is the home of the Tudor and 17th Century Experience. Its surviving features include:

The Front Porch_Brigitte Webster)
The Front Porch of the Old Hall showing the Italianate Renaissance style of archway. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Front Porch: This leads into the porch tower and displays many interesting period features. For example, the white archway and window surrounds were intended to mimic the Italianate renaissance use of marble and had been made fashionable by Henry VIII. However, the “crows’ steps” at the gable were probably added during Elizabethan times as a fashion, introduced by the Dutch and Flemish protestant immigrants. Inside the porch there are left and right stone benches upon which the property’s tenant cottagers would have waited to pay their rent. One benefit of the large covered porch is that the huge early Tudor linenfold front door has remained remarkably intact with its Tudor rose motif. Though this door is the current front hallway with the Hall’s oldest furniture item, an original French or Flemish oak dressier dating circa 1485.

The Great Hall (Dining Room_Brigitte Webster)
The ‘Great Hall’ Dining Room. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Dining Room: (Great Hall – as the Tudors called such a dining room): This is narrower than when it was built in 1514, the Victorians having added the corridor to the rear. However, it still retains its original oak ceiling mouldings and large inglenook style fire place. The original lintel was largely damaged and now a reproduction frontispiece adorns the original woodwork to give a clearer idea of what it would have looked like. At one time there would have been a minstrel’s gallery at the North end and indeed the original gallery window is still visible on the outside of the house.

View From Library_Brigitte Webster
The view from the Library. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Library: This was also part of the 1514 wing of the house, and was probably the ladies withdrawing room now containing the family antiques, places of interest and history library. The room also features interesting “squint” windows to allow occupants to observe people approaching from the side – it is yet to be discovered their true purpose. All the furniture in the library dates before 1600 and includes some superb Italian Renaissance “Cass bancas” – being an Italian take on the idea of a bench married to a sofa.

The Staircase Tower: To the rear of the entrance hallway is the grand staircase in a tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like it was levelled with a spirit level. It is of a solid oak construction outwardly clad in bricks. One very interesting feature is an original “dog gate” at the foot of the stairs. This was intended to keep the family’s deer hounds downstairs and dates circa 1620?

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Tudor Door)3
Door leading into the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Savilles.

The Great (Jacobean) Parlour: At the top of this staircase is a fine Jacobean door leading into the Great Parlour, dating from 1614. This room sports arguably one of the finest plaster ceilings in all of England! It was once used as the manorial courtroom as the winged angel motif on one of the frieze panels attests. In the centre is an inverted finial with the remains of Jacobean courtiers and wild boar motifs.

Jacobean Parlour_Brigitte Webster
The Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

Sir Robert Chamberlayne Chamber: Through the side door of the Great Parlour is the Sir Robert Chamberlayne ensuite bedroom or chamber (as they referred to bedrooms in Tudor times). The room is named after the patriarch of the family. As already mentioned, Sir Robert was executed for treason by Henry VII in 1491 but his attainment was reversed posthumously by Henry VIII in 1531. In the 17th Century this was the master bedroom and still bears the Chamberlayne crest above the fireplace. This currently houses one of the nicest examples of a 17th century four poster bed to be found. It is largely original and in superb condition. The views from the ensuite bathroom across the water meadow to the river Yare to the West are stupendous!

Tudor Games Room_Brigitte Webster
Tudor Games Room showing rare Tudor wall painting. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster

Tudor Games Room: The other door from the Great Parlour leads to the Tudor Games Room. Dating from the early 16th Century this was originally an oratory where the resident priest would hold mass every day for the family. The original wall recessed bible box is still present. The walls were once all painted and one still retains near perfect original wall painting. This date to circa 1590 and is intended to represent the blood of Christ (possibly remembering the family’s Roman Catholic past in a now protestant England). The room is now used for the Hall’s collection of Tudor board and card games.

Chapel: Leading up from the Games Room is a narrow spiral staircase to the household chapel. This was once the bedroom for the resident priest, the last being Father Richard Chamberlayne who died in 1570. Currently still being restored it is intended that authentic Tudor wedding services will be performed here.

Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber: This is the first bedroom in the South Wing of the Hall and was so named after the man who oversaw the construction of the house from 1510. The bed in this chamber is an original “truckle bed” dating to the early 17th century.

Great Chamber_Brigitte Webster
The Great Chamber. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Great Chamber: This bedroom is also in the South Wing and is so named because it is located directly above the Great Hall below. It is a generously proportioned room and contains an original four poster bed dating to either late Elizabethan or early James I. It boasts fine views to the front of the Hall. This room is the only other room in the house with a lockable bible box set into the wall.

Duke & Duchess Bedroom_Brigitte Webster
Duke an Duchess of Suffolk Chamber. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk Chamber: The final bedroom in the wing is currently the master bedroom, which has the most magnificent panoramic window overlooking the front garden and reproduced early Tudor knot garden. The bed is an original early Tudor four poster bed of modest proportions. The room also boasts a fine heavy beamed fireplace complete with impressive apotropaic fire scorch marks. The furniture in this room is all 16th Century and includes a rare example of a “Dante Chair” and an exquisite Cassone (or chest).

THE END

Norfolk in Brief: Booton’s Archangel!

By Haydn Brown.

Above the north porch of St Michael’s church at Booton in Norfolk is the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel himself, commissioned over 120 years ago by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin.

Reverend_Whitwell_Elwin_Evelyn Simak
Reverend Whitwell Elwin. Photo: (c) Evelyn Simak.

By being placed in front of a niche in the wall, this particular St Michael was intended to be seen both from the front – and from the sides. It is said that this figure was inspired by examples of the pre-Raphaelites, most notably the St George in Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon, which was commissioned in 1866 by Miles Burket Foster for the dining room of his house at Witley, Surrey.

St George _Pinterest
Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon. Photo: Pinterest.

The striking profile of Booton’s St Michael, with ruffled hair and a combination of plate armour worn over chainmail with sheet leggings, does follow Burne-Jones’s St George, with the strikingly textured wings attached to the rear of the breastplate. Here, the dreamlike action of the painting has been replaced by a more heroic stance as St Michael, with a cross hanging from his neck, places both hands on his large sword, looking out purposefully across the fields as he stamps down the dragon under foot.

The name of the sculptor was not recorded, but Ann Compton of the University of Glasgow, has underlined, what she thinks is, its amateur approach – as restated by the RACNS:

“the figure was modelled by someone who had not been trained in working for bronze or, possibly, was deliberately flouting current teaching. My point is that the composition goes against the accepted idea that works cast in bronze should show off the possibilities of the material by incorporating minute definition of draperies and adopting an expansive composition to reflect the self-supporting properties of the final material – whereas the composition here is very contained.”

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James Minns

The Norfolk artist of the time, James Minns (1828-1904), responsible for the wooden angels in the roof, described himself variously as ‘sculptor’ and ‘wood carver’ and could possibly, as again stated by the RACNS, have provided the model for this St Michael.

It seems generally accepted, by many accounts of the Booton church, that the building is extraordinary – the product of one man’s eccentric imagination! The Reverend Whitwell Elwin (rector 1850-1900), said to have been a descendant of Pocahontas of Hiawatha fame, built the church at the end of the 19th century – without the help of an architect. Apparently, he borrowed details from other churches throughout the country, and thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust which investigated Elwin’s sources, it can be stated that the design of the nave windows is taken from those at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, and the west window from St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster. Then there is the west door design, which is that of Glastonbury Abbey, and the curious trefoil window above the chancel arch is from Lichfield Cathedral. It has been suggested that this may have been a homage to Elwin’s passion for Dr Johnson; this may strike some as far-fetched; but then, the whole building is, with its slender twin towers soaring over the wide Norfolk landscape and the central pinnacle looking almost like a minaret; everything seem to have sprung solely from Elwin’s imagination.

Booton Church_Simon Knott
St Michael’s Church, Booton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The dramatic wooden angels that hold up the roof are the work of James Minns, the well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard; he also worked at Ketteringham. But the church’s great glory is its stained-glass windows, by Cox Sons and Buckley from the 1890s, a unique example of a unified scheme of saints, angels and musicians set against imaginative Gothic canopies moving in procession towards the high altar. The colour for the rich red robes and Venetian inspired brocades, which are woven across the windows, are also striking – worn by archetypal willowy pre-Raphaelite ladies. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was:

‘very naughty but built in the right spirit’.

People visiting Booton church may love it – or hate it, but no one would remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity, well bedded down in the Norfolk Landscape – with St Michael standing over and protecting visitors.

THE END

The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President!

By Haydn Brown

Norfolk – The Lincolns in the 16th Century:
Early in the 16th Century there lived in Swanton Morley a Richard Lincoln – or ‘Lincorne’ as it was then spelt. He was born around 1550 in the village and was churchwarden at its All Saint’s Church from 1599 to 1620; that we know. We also know that he was the 6th times Great Grandfather of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA.

The Angel (Richard Lincoln's Home_Paul Bailey_cropped)
The Angel, Swanton Morley, the former home of Richard Lincoln, the ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. Photo: Paul Bailey (cropped).

It appears that Richard Lincoln’s son from his first marriage was Edward, and it was he who expected to benefit from his father’s Will when he passed away – but that was never to happen! In his will, written 3 January 1616, with a codicil in 1619, Richard Lincoln left everything, apart money for his burial and small gifts to the poor, to his wife and the children of his fourth marriage. The original Will, consisting of four sheets of paper, each sealed at the bottom with a red wax seal bearing the device of a hound, is still preserved in the Norfolk Record Office at Norwich.

Clearly then, Edward would not have been too pleased about being cut out of his father Richard’s Will after he had heard the news. In fact, a family squabble ensued as he abandoned his home at Swanton Morley and relocated to some small acreage at Hingham, taking with him his wife, Brigit, nee’ Gilman and his seven children. Amongst these seven children was Samuel. Now, some historians have said that this Samuel, and there have been many over the generations, may never have moved to America had his father not been cut out of Richard’s Will – meaning that the path of the Lincoln family’s history would have changed completely – and Abraham Lincoln would never have become the 16th President of the USA!

St Andrew's Church, Hingham_Simon Knott
St Andrew’s Church, Hingham, where Samuel Lincoln was baptised. Photo: Simon Knott.

Samuel Lincoln was born around 1622 and baptised in St Andrew’s Church, Hingham on August 24 1622. At the age of 15 years, when he was an apprentice weaver in Norwich; he left home and sailed on a ship named John & Dorothy from Great Yarmouth for a new life in the USA. The year was 1637 and ironically, he settled in Hingham, Massachusetts. There, around 1649, Samuel married Martha Lyford from Ireland and bought a house plot so as to provide a permanent home. There, the couple had eleven children, three of whom died in their infancy. Samuel’s eldest son, born 25 August in 1650, was also named Samuel; however, the emigrant Samuel Lincoln’s fourth son was Mordecai, who became a blacksmith, and was the direct ancestor of Abraham Lincoln.

35bf134894a350edd1b6b85683aa6318But on-board ship back in 1637, there were eleven Puritan ministers from Norwich among the passengers; they had been suspended during a purge by Bishop of Norwich Matthew Wren; the solution for these eleven, was to emigrate and seek freedom of worship elsewhere. Also on board, amongst those struggling with the demands of conscience, and maybe family as a result of Wren’s demands, was Francis Lawes, aged 57, a worsted weaver – he was young Samuel’s employer and companion for at least this journey, although it has been suggested that there were also other members of the Lincoln line from Hingham on board. Whatever may have been their reason for emigrating, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Lawes may well have been an influencing factor upon young Samuel’s own decision to place his future overseas. Samuel, in fact, was following in the footsteps of his brothers, Daniel and Thomas who had settled in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635. Thomas, had been granted a house lot by the town and although twice married Thomas had no children. After his death, he left a great deal of his property, including several house lots, to Samuel and his nephews. Samuel was never to return to Norfolk.

It has been said that, despite his young age, religion did influence Samuel Lincoln in his decision to leave Norfolk; it was certainly the case that religion led future American Lincolns to connect with members of the Norfolk Gurney family and to renew a centuries-old link with the Lincoln’s ancestry back in Norfolk.

The Gurney Connection:
One Hundred and Fifty-one years after young Samuel Lincoln had sailed to America, and barely 12 years after the former colony had declared itself to be the ‘United States of America’, on 9 September 1776, Joseph John Gurney was born into the Gurney family in Norwich – the year was 1788. The Gurney family was famous for Banking and were also well known as Quakers. Joseph was one of ten children, which included his equally famous sister, Elizabeth Fry of prison reforming fame. It was with this particular sister that the now 29-year-old Joseph also campaigned for prison conditions to be improved, coupled with a call for the abolition of capital punishment. The year was 1817 and he was now an evangelical minister.

Joseph John Gurney
Joseph John Gurney. Image: Wikipedia.

In his capacity as a prison reformer, Joseph Gurney made trips to the West Indies and the United States, between 1837 and 1840, where he preached and called for an end to slavery. While Gurney was preaching in the United States he caused some controversy that resulted in a split (schism) among Quakers. He was concerned that Friends had so thoroughly accepted the ideas of ‘the inner light’ that they no longer considered the actual text of the Bible and that the New Testament Christ was important enough. He also stressed the traditional Protestant belief that salvation is through faith in Christ. Those who sided with him were called ‘Gurneyite’ Quakers. Those who sided with John Wilbur, his opponent, were called ‘Wilburites’.

Gurney (Elizabeth_Wife_Archant)
Eliza Paul Kirkbride in later life. Photo: Archant.

It was also during his first visit to America in 1837 that he, then 39 years of age, first met Eliza Paul Kirkbride, who was three years his junior. She came from Philadelphia and was able to make quite an impression on Joseph when she presented her extensive briefs on American life to him. It was also during this visit that Joseph had the opportunity to meet with Abraham Lincoln several times, and to address a joint session of Congress; he also exchanged letters with Lincoln, then a young and ambitious member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Was it simply a coincidence then that, in 1837, Lincoln made his first public declaration against slavery?

Friends MeetingHouse
Drawing of the magnificent Gildencroft Quaker Meeting House in Norwich, built in 1698. Image: St Augustines Gallery.

Eliza Kirkbride came to England with Joseph Gurney when he returned home to Norwich; she becoming a Quaker minister in July 1841, and marrying him three months later to become his third wife. For the record – Joseph’s first wife had been Jane Birkbeck, whom he married at the Friends Meeting House at Wells on 10 September 1817; they had at least two children before Jane died in in 1822. His second wife was Mary Fowler whom he married five years later in 1827 at his brother’s (Samuel) Ham House in Essex. It is not generally known that prior to this marriage, Joseph had an admirer in none other than Amelia Opie, the early 19th century Norfolk writer. According to Mrs Fletcher’s Norwich Handbook, 1857:

“In 1825, she [Amelia] was received into the membership of the Society of Friends, perhaps with the hope of becoming the second Mrs Joseph John Gurney. If so, she was disappointed…….” Mary nee’ Fowler died in 1835.

Amelia Opie
Amelia Opie

By all accounts, Eliza and Joseph were a formidable pair in their eloquent pursuit for better and fairer conditions for all. In this capacity they travelled far and wide and became well-connected; it was said that they once urged the French king Louis Philippe to abolish slavery in his Colonies! The two also founded Earlham College, in Indiana – an echo of Earlham Hall – it being the Gurney’s Norfolk family home.

Friends MeetingHouse (Burial Ground)
View of the eastern corner of the Gildencroft Quaker Burial Ground, near the Quaker Meeting House, in Norwich. It was almost completely occupied by the graves of the Gurney family. The grave of the Norwich-born poet and novelist Amelia Opie is there – and still lies in the far left-hand corner. The Georgian-looking houses in the background, once in Pitt Street, have long gone. Image: St Augustines Gallery.

But the good days were not to last; on a winter’s day in 1847, Joseph John Gurney, then 58 years of age, was thrown from his horse and died. He was buried alongside many of his family in the now overgrown Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery in Norwich; his funeral witnessed by many in the city who respected him as one of the Norwich’s great philanthropists. As for Eliza, his widow, she returned to her home country in the USA three years later, settling in an elegant 18th-century mansion at West Hill in Burlington, New Jersey from where, over the next eight years, she travelled extensively.

The_Gurney_Family_Burial_Plot
The Gurney burial plot at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery in Norwich; Joseph John Gurney’s grave is front right. Photo: Wikipedia.
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Entrance to the Guildencroft Burial Ground. Photo: Wikipedia.

Eliza’s Possible Influence on Abraham Lincoln:
Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln continued on his political rise, chosen as the first-ever presidential candidate for the new Republican party in May 1860. His election in November of that year hardened the sharp divisions between North and South over the issue of slavery. Seven slave states in the Deep South left the union and declared their own country, the Confederate States of America. Unsurprisingly, the now President Lincoln, along with the Northern states refused to recognise the new ‘country’, fearing it would lead to towards splinter- groups of ‘petty nations’. Both north and south were on an inevitable collision course. The first shot in the American Civil War came on 12 April 1861.

Gurney (Elizabeth_House_New Jersey_Archant)
The elegant mansion of West Hill, New Jersey in the USA where Eliza Gurney lived until her death in 1881.  Photo credit: Archant

Eliza Gurney, like many others, had to choose sides. Being a Quaker, she was a passionate opponent of war – but also a passionate opponent of slavery. She soon decided that the northern ‘Union’ cause was the more honourable one. In this, she was determined to let Lincoln know of her convictions but her efforts to meet with him towards the end of October 1862, in the company of three other senior Quakers, failed – the Confederate army was waiting only a few miles from the capital city of Washington! But then, on the morning of Sunday 26 October an opportunity arose for Eliza and in her own words ‘the great iron door’ opened. The group was ushered into the President’s private apartments.

It was said that Lincoln rose to greet them, he remembering his old links with Joseph John Gurney, Eliza’s connection with Norfolk by marriage and his ancestral roots at Hingham and Swanton Morley. Eliza spoke to him for fifteen minutes and he listened. Afterwards, Lincoln was deeply moved for it was also said that he grasped her hand, then said: “I am very glad of this interview ……” and Lincoln never forgot Eliza – or her message of support. In fact, the two corresponded during the following two years, until on 4 September 1864, when he wrote to his ‘esteemed friend’ to thank her again for her ‘very impressive visit two years earlier’:

Abraham Lincoln_Wikipedia
Abraham Lincoln. Photo: Wikipedia.

“We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise…… For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience, under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not; and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself, your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.”

Lincoln carried Eliza’s reply to this letter in his breast pocket when he went to the theatre – and was assassinated!

lincoln-letter
A facsimile of Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his ‘esteemed friend’ on September 4 1864. It was Eliza Gurney’s reply to this letter which the President was carrying when he was assassinated six months later. Image credit: Archant

In 2018, Trevor Heaton, writing for the Eastern Daily Press in Norfolk about Eliza’s reply and the closing moments of President Lincoln’s life, stated:

“Five days after the surrender of Confederate general Robert E Lee, Lincoln was enjoying a rare evening away from the crushing burden of his public office. Together with his wife and two guests, they were at the Good Friday performance of the popular comedy ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theatre in the capital. Then around 10.15pm, as the play reached its final stages, on-stage comedy turned to real-life tragedy. John Wilkes Booth, a 26-year-old actor and Confederate sympathiser, took advantage of the temporary absence of Lincoln’s bodyguard to step inside his state box in the theatre’s balcony and fire his Derringer pistol, point-blank, into the back of the President’s head. Lincoln, fatally wounded, died nine hours later. And in his breast pocket, neatly folded, was a treasured letter with a strikingly familiar Norfolk surname on it – Gurney.

The story of how that letter came to be written makes for one of the most moving insights into the character of a man hailed as one of the greatest-ever presidents, the man who finally ended the shame of American slavery. And how curious that Lincoln’s life should be book-ended by Norfolk connections. For his roots were set deep in the county, with family links to Hingham and Swanton Morley. Only a few months later prayers were being said for Lincoln not in support of the great burden of his office but for the comfort of his soul……… And of all the fine things that Eliza Gurney did in her life, probably she rendered no nobler service to humanity than when she gave spiritual comfort to a great president in his hour of need. No wonder, then, that as he lay dying, it was her treasured words that were – literally – the closest to his heart.”

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The 1919 street Celebration for American Ambassador John Davis, who was in Hingham, Norfolk to honour Abraham Lincoln. He presented a bust of Lincoln, which is now in the village church. Image: Picture Norfolk 
Lincoln (Hingham)
The bust of Abraham Lincoln in St Andrew’s Church, Hingham. Photo: Wikipedia.

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