What Shaped Our Understanding of Santa?

Stories from Medieval times have shaped our understanding of this classic Christmas figure.

There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of pop culture, he also has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Santa’s blend of religion and popular culture is, however, not modern at all. Several of Santa’s modern features, such as his generosity, miracle-working, and focus on morality (being “naughty or nice”), were part of his image from the very beginning. Others, like the reindeer, came later.

The original Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) with a reputation for generosity and wonder-working. St Nicholas became an important figure in eighth century Byzantium before hitting pan-European stardom around the 11th century. He became a focus not just for religious devotion, but Medieval dramas and popular festivals – some popular enough to be suppressed during the Reformation.

The Naughty List:
St Nicholas had his own version of the naughty list, including the fourth century “arch-heretic” Arius, whose views annoyed the saint so much he supposedly smacked Arius in the face in front of Emperor Constantine and assembled bishops at Nicaea.

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Portrait of Saint Nicholas of Myra. First half of the 13th century. Image: Wikimedia

An even more surprising listee is the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. In popular Byzantine stories, Nicholas acted like a one-man wrecking crew, personally pulling down her temples, and even demolishing the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s almost a shame, as they probably would have agreed about the importance of reindeer.

The idea of St Nicholas’ conflict with Artemis probably relates to religious change in Anatolia, where the goddess was hugely popular. Historically, the temple was sacked earlier, by a band of Gothic raiders in the 260s, but hagiographers had other ideas. Perhaps these furious northmen even count as Santa’s earliest “helpers”. He was after all (as part of his extensive saintly portfolio) the patron of the Varangians, the Viking bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors.

Fast travelling:
Santa’s greatest miracle is intrinsic to modern Christmases: his ability to reach all the children on Earth in one night. NORAD, the US and Canadian air defence force, has tracked Santa’s sleigh since the 1950s, presumably trying to figure out the secret of his super speed. But really, they just need to check their ancient sources.

St Nicholas had a history of teleporting about on his own — often showing up in the nick of time when people ask for his help. As the patron saint of sailors, he often did this out at sea. In one story, sailors in a wild storm in the eastern Mediterranean cried out for the already-famous wonderworker’s help. With the mast cracking and sails coming loose, a white-bearded man suddenly appeared and helped them haul the ropes, steady the tiller, and brought them safe to shore. Rushing up the hill to the local church to give thanks, the sailors were astonished to see Nicholas was already there, in the middle of saying mass.

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Saint Nicholas saves a ship. Circa 1425. Image: Wikimedia

Suddenly appearing to save people became a favourite trick in accounts of the saint’s life and in folklore. He once saved three innocents from execution, teleporting behind the executioner and grabbing his sword, before upbraiding the judges for taking bribes.

There’s also the tale of Adeodatus, a young boy kidnapped by raiders and made the cupbearer of an eastern potentate. Soon after, St Nicholas appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cupbearer in front of his startled master, and zipped him back home. Artists depicting this story stage the rescue differently, but the Italian artists who have St Nicholas swoop in from the sky, in full episcopal regalia, and grab the boy by the hair are worth special mention.

The flying reindeer:
None of the old tales have Saint Nicholas carrying around stacks of gifts when teleporting, which brings us to the reindeer, who can pull the sleigh full of millions of presents. The popular link between Santa Claus and gifting came through the influence of stores advertising their Christmas shopping in the early 19th century. This advertising drew on the old elf’s increasing popularity, with the use of “live” Santa visits in department stores for children from the late 1800s.

Santa Claus became connected to reindeer largely through the influence of the 1823 anonymous poem, A visit from St Nicholas. In this poem, “Saint Nicholas” arrives with eight tiny reindeer pulling a sleigh full of toys. The reindeer have the miraculous ability to fly.

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The fly agaric, a mushroom which produces toxins that can cause humans to hallucinate. Flickr/Björn, CC BY-SA

The origins of the animals’ flight may link back to the Saami reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Here, the herders were said to feed their reindeer a type of red-and-white mushroom with psychedelic properties, known as fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria). The mushrooms made the reindeer leap about, giving the impression of flying. The herders would then collect and consume the reindeer’s urine, with its toxins made safe by the reindeer’s metabolism. The reindeer herders could then possibly imagine the miraculous flight through the psychedelic properties of the mushroom.

The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was created as part of a promotional campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward by Robert Lewis May in 1939. May himself was a small, frail child, who empathised with underdogs. In May’s story, Rudolph Shines Again (1954), the little reindeer is helped by an angel to save some lost baby rabbits, once again blending Santa’s religious and popular sides.

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Reindeer in Lapland. Photo: Flickr/Steve K, CC BY

And … invisible polar bears:
A number of modern depictions have connected Santa with polar bears, such as the 1994 film The Santa Clause. It seems likely the association grew as Santa’s home became accepted as the North Pole — though in one of the oldest stories, St Nicholas saves three Roman soldiers, one of whom is named Ursus (“Bear” in Latin).

Polar bears are undoubtedly useful companions for secretive Santa, and don’t even need his powers to move about unseen – the special properties of their fur mean they are hidden even from night-vision goggles.

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Polar bears have fur that is invisible to night vision goggles. Photo: Shutterstock

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas (1976), written by the Lord of the Rings’ author to his children, features the (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear. Like St. Nick, the North Polar Bear isn’t shy about getting physical with those he perceives as wrong-doers. In one letter, the North Polar Bear saves Santa, his elves, and Christmas from a murderous group of goblins.

So, with Santa Claus once again coming your way, remember — ancient or modern – it’s better to be on the “nice” side of this teleporting saint and his motley crew of miracle-workers.

THE END

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. See the following ‘Source’ link.

https://theconversation.com/teleporting-and-psychedelic-mushrooms-a-history-of-st-nicholas-santa-and-his-helpers-107884

Tunstall: For Whom The Bells Toll!

Nobody goes to St Peter and St Paul, Tunstall by accident for it stands in a landscape of narrow, high-hedged lanes and a rolling landscape that dips to meet the rivers, the aspect becoming flatter and bleaker the further east one goes. Apart from the little ferry at Reedham, there is no way of crossing the Yare and so this area remains isolated and the visitor really is on the far side of the back of the beyond. The church is a mile from Halvergate, along a straight, narrow lane where there is couple of houses. That’s it, pretty much, except that further east of Tunstall, and for almost five miles, there is nothing but the marshes where there are no roads, houses, people; that is until the river can be crossed, changing from almost quiet and isolated world to the brash and noisy  Great Yarmouth which sits slap bang on the coast.

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Part of the Halvergate Marshes. Photo: NFU.

When this church first built, it served a coastal village which overlooked a great estuary, serving as a beacon for shipping. But the estuary was eventually drained to become grazing land, and the church found itself inland with a tower which has long been a ruin. What remains of it now overlooks an empty and equally shattered nave, open to the elements and a shadow of what it once was in Catholic England before Protestant Reformation asserted itself. What was once a big church soon found out that there would never be enough parishioners to fill it and so it and the parish in which it stood was absorbed into the larger Halvergate and the building here fell into disuse.

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Looking northwest along one of the many drains that traverse the Halvergate marshes, towards Yarmouth. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

We know from a crude plaque above the entrance that the chancel was restored by the Jenkinson family early in the 18th century and that the chapel was extended eastwards and a pretty window added in the 1860s. Since then nothing seems to have been touch and the ruin is, today, maintained by the local community and supported by a charitable trust. Visitors are, of course, welcome but they should expect nothing more than a church interior which is rather dark, gloomy and with little historical interest; the sky taking the place of the roof. But of course, according to Simon Knott:

“that doesn’t matter. You come here for the atmosphere, a sense of the presence of God – out here where the land takes over, the silence, and perhaps, a very rustic feeling of what it might have been like to live in 19th century rural Norfolk.”

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Photo: A commemorative plaque at the church of St Peter & St Paul, Tunstall. It sits above a doorway in the bricked-up chancel wall. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Inevitably perhaps, remote churches are particularly prone to fall victim to ghostly tales and myths by superstitious folk who look for meaning in everything around them. Tunstall church and its past small community were no exception. How many stories might there have been about such a place as Tunstall – no one knows. However, at least two versions of one tale survived the passage of time and these have been told and re-told probably countless times; each teller putting his or her slant on the detail; probably that’s why here we have two versions.  The first goes something like this:

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St Peter and St Paul Church, Tunstall. Photo: ANTONY KELLY

There was once a fierce fire at the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Tunstall. We know not when – but it did. We are told that as the flames brushed close to the stone walls and the church building began to crack and collapse, its parishioners feared that nothing would remain of the church that they loved; a church that had been a beacon for ships on the edge of a long-lost estuary which was replaced by the lonely marshland that now stretches towards Great Yarmouth.

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The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. Photo: Norfolk Churches.

Although the fire ravaged the church its bells were left unscathed, even after falling on to the floor below; some people saw some meaning behind what was to them a minor miracle – their bell actually escaped the blaze. The topic became the re-hot epicentre of a fierce row that erupted between the local Parson and the St Peter & St Paul’s churchwardens; both parties battling over who should have them.

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The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. © Copyright Evelyn Simak.

Now the story goes on to relate that while this argument raged, the Devil took the opportunity settle the matter in his favour. He slipped effortlessly into the still smouldering and red-smoking timbers of the bell chamber and spirited the bells away. But not without the Parson noticing, for he was a godly man. He hastily began to exorcise the Devil as this heathen creature, together with his loot, began to dissolve into the distance: “Stop, in the name of God!” called the Parson, “Curse thee!” cried the Devil as he sank into the earth, towards his underworld. In his wake a boggy pool of water, known nowadays as ‘Hell Hole’, appeared on the surface and remains there to this day. It is still said that in the summertime, ominous bubbles can sometimes be seen rising to the surface; past folk attributed this phenomenon to the stolen bells which they said were still sinking on their endless journey through a bottomless passage to hell.

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The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. Photo: Norfolk Churches.

A second version of the same tale has both the parish priest and the churchwardens planning separately to steal the bells, sell them and pocket the spoils. Turning up at the same time both parties clashed as each tried to take the bells for themselves. Again, as they quarrelled, a gigantic black form materialised, seized the bells and disappeared with them. The priest and the churchwardens immediately forgot their row and joined together to chase whatever this fiend was, but just as they appeared to be gaining on this almost ghostly creature, it vanished into the earth, still clutching the bells. Again, behind it, a dark pool appeared from which bubbles rose for many years thereafter, marking the spot where the bells disappeared and less than a mile west of Tunstall.

Less than a mile west of Tunstall is a long strip of marshy woodland called, in part, ‘Hell Carr’, and near this alder clump was the boggy pool known as ‘Hell Hole’. They do say that sometimes, on quiet nights, the sound of muffled bells can still be heard drifting across the bogs and marshland towards the church from whence they were stolen.

Footnote:

In Roman times the River Bure flowed into a large estuary extending from Acle to present-day Great Yarmouth; Faden’s 1797 map of Norfolk shows the then coastal villages of Tunstall, Halvergate and Wickhampton on a spur of higher ground that was surrounded by Moulton Bog (west), Acle Wet Common (north) and the Halvergate Marshes (east). According to old records the church had fallen into disrepair by 1704; the chancel arch was bricked up in 1705 and a plaque above the doorway into the chancel informs that it was rebuilt by Mrs Elizabeth Jenkinson. More repairs were carried out in 1853. In 1980 the church was declared redundant and a Trust was formed to help repair and maintain what remains of the church: the chancel is still intact and visitors are welcome.

THE END

Sources:
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/tunstall/tunstall.htm
http://www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk/news/weird-norfolk-the-devil-and-the-bells-of-tunstall-church-1-5204927
http://www.geograph.org.uk/
Photos:
https://aeroengland.photodeck.com/media/bf8f7a83-31bf-4da9-bffc-3aa43fc88afc-aerial-photograph-of-st-peter-st-paul-s-church-ruin-tunstal
http://www.geograph.org.uk/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

Dr. Emanuel Cooper: A Norwich ‘Oddity’

Emanuel Cooper was an obstetrician but first and foremost he was an eye specialist. Born in 1803 in Birkby, Huddersfield in Yorkshire and was baptised in its 11th century St Peter’s Church.

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St Peter’s Church, Huddersfield. Photo: Wikipedia.

He went on to study in Yorkshire and eventually was awarded his LSA (Licentiate Society of Apothecaries, London) in 1828 before setting up a practice in Norwich by early 1830s. White’s 1836 Directory lists his occupation as Surgeon and his address at that time was Red Well [now Redwell] Street. According to Piggot’s 1839 Directory, Cooper had purchased and moved into his Tombland home, a house (long since demolished) which stood adjacent to the Erpingham Gate which leads from Tombland into the Cathedral Close. This house was described as having had columns at the front entrance.

Cooper (RH Mottram)
Ralph Hale Mottram (1883-1971) by Bassano Ltd, Bromide print dated 14 June 1939. Photo: National Portrait Gallery (X83807)

Dr Cooper was certainly regarded in Norwich as a generous man, but also one who was quite eccentric. Ralph Hale Mottram, the son and grandson of the principal bankers at Gurney’s Bank, Norwich, described him thus:

“Dr Emanuel Cooper was, even in remote, isolated, provincial Norwich, full of unusual people, a ‘character’ only redeemed from being an ‘oddity’ by a very high professional reputation ….. Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had ……. the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur (obstetrician, gynaecologist) in the Norwich district…..”

In 1862, and seemingly totally in character, Dr Cooper accepted the position of Honorary Assistant to what had been named the 1st Norfolk Mounted Rifle Volunteer Corps when it was first formed during the previous year. At the time of his appointment, in September 1862, the Corp. became known as the 1st Norfolk Light Horse. Nothing more is known about Cooper’s involvement with the military, or his responsibilities as an ‘Honorary Assistant’; and we can only speculate what part he may have played, if any, during the following ‘showpiece’ which took place on Mousehold Heath in March of the following year:

Cooper (Norfolk Light Hourse)
“The mounted Volunteers, who mustered very strongly on this occasion were conspicuous in their scarlet coats and showy helmets.” The Norfolk Chronicle, 14th March, 1863. An attached caption read: “Review of the Norfolk Volunteers on Mousehold Heath. Lady Suffield presenting the prizes won at the Norfolk Rifle Meeting”. Image: Public Domain.

Around 1865-86 Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), born in 1841 at Wreningham, South Norfolk, became Emanuel Cooper’s mistress; she at least twenty years younger than he. Little is known about Anna’s life and she never married Cooper. There were two children born to Anna but there is no evidence that Cooper fathered them and they were born before she moved into 36 Victoria Street, Norwich; a house that Cooper owned but never lived in himself.

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36 Victoria Street, Norwich.
In the 1870s this house was owned by Dr. Emanuel Cooper, an obstetrician and eye specialist, and lived in by his mistress, Anna Julia Pearson and her two children. Dr Cooper, Anna, and Charles Arthur, her son, are buried at the Cooper Mausoleum in Rosary Cemetery. All houses in Victoria Street date from the early 19th century and are Grade 2 listed. Photo:© Copyright Evelyn Simak.

The children were named Charles Arthur (1862 – April 1904), and Ada Nemesis (1864-1956) and were probably not born in Norwich at all. Later legal documents refer to both children as “strangers in blood” to Dr Cooper. Why Anna Julia Pearson came to Norwich and who fathered her two children are not known, neither is whether “Pearson” was her maiden or married name. To his credit, Cooper supported Anna and her children fairly comfortably and left her economically secure for life. The fact that she gave her daughter the middle name of “Nemesis” may indicate that she had not felt nearly so secure at the time of Ada’s birth.

It is said that Cooper formally adopted both children as his own, and in a Will dating from August 1866, when his daughter was only two years old, bequeathed her a fortune. R.H. Mottram, In his biography of John and Ada Galsworthy titled “For Some We Loved” he described Mrs Anna Pearson as ‘a very stately figure, full-bosomed and full-skirted, a fine woman … of yeoman stock’.

Then there was the letter written to Helen Flood by a relative in June 1933 (Norfolk Record Office MC 630/29 784X2) offers a few more glimpses of what was seen as ‘the Coopers’:

“When a boy, P often saw Dr Cooper walking across Tombland with his wife. May I say it without any offence, a Darby & Joan* – he with his black coat and white hair, and her with a crinoline dress. I do not remember her wearing any other. There was a personalus about them which impressed your memory and it would be well if the present-day young folks would follow their example.”

(*Darby & Joan is a proverbial phrase for a married couple living a placid, harmonious life together and are seldom seen apart.)

James Gindin mentions in his book, ‘John Galsworthy’s Life and Art'( © James Gindin 1987) the following:

“A prominent obstetrician in Norwich during the 1860s and 1870s, Dr Cooper was fond of making elaborate wills. He first mentions Ada [his adopted daughter]  in a will dated 24 August 1866, describing her as less than two years’ old and living with her brother, Arthur Charles, two years older than she, and her mother at 36 Victoria Street in Norwich, a house Dr Cooper owned but did not live in. Little is known about the life of Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), Ada’s mother. She never married Dr Cooper and there is no evidence that he fathered her children or knew her at all before 1865 or 1866…….

Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had, by the time of Ada’s birth, the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur in the Norwich district, in which so many remarkable names have been made in the medical world, from the times of Dr Caius and Sir Thomas Browne to the present day …. I can say only that the best known fact of his private life was that he employed his leisure in planning and seeing built a handsome, and I think stylistically correct, Mausoleum, midget in dimension, but in the classic taste, which is still the most conspicuous object in the Rosary Cemetery at Norwich today. Here, on Sunday afternoons, he used to sit, smoking a clay pipe and (possibly) reflecting on our future state …. Called to the bedsides of the titled, landed and what we nowadays feel to have been incredibly privileged classes, to preside over the entry into the world of future lords and ladies, members of Parliament and county hostesses, I fancy he began to think that he was no ordinary mortal. The proof is to be found in the long list of noble names set down to be executors of his Will, not one of whom ever acted in that capacity.”

Emanuel Cooper died, in January 1878 and his death notice stated:

“We regret having to report that the lengthened career of this successful surgeon terminated rather suddenly on Saturday evening at a few minutes to ten o’clock. He made the ‘eye’ his special study and was considered an authority on its treatment. He also took a great interest in the Norwich Blind Institution and devoted much of his time to it. He was the oldest practitioner in Norwich, and died at an advanced age. He will be buried on Tuesday at the Rosary, where under his direction, a mausoleum has been for some years erected.”

The one executor who did serve and who managed the family’s financial affairs was Ralph’s father, James Mottram. When Emanuel Cooper died, his elaborate fifteen page Will, (dated 22 April 1870) left £3,000 for “my adopted daughter Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper”, and the same sum for “my adopted son”. He added the stipulation that no one was to be buried in his mausoleum except his adopted son, adopted daughter, “their mother Anna Julia Pearson”, and his servant, Maria Bayes (the latter two were also left considerable sums).

The mausoleum of Emanuel Cooper.
Photos: © Copyright Evelyn Simak
and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Name plate on the lead coffin containing the remains of Dr Emanuel Cooper in the Cooper Mausoleum. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As for Dr Cooper’s mausoleum – it is the only such structure in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich. The only remains it contains are those of Dr Cooper; a vault situated below the mausoleum does contain the remains of Anna Julia Pearson Cooper, Cooper’s wife, who died in 1913 in Newport, Essex, and of Charles Arthur Pearson Cooper, their son, who died in April 1904 in Kensington, London. The railings surrounding the mausoleum (and perhaps also the ironwork) were made by J Barnes whose foundry was based at Church Street, St Miles, Norwich.

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Mausoleum of Emanuel Cooper (detail)
The railings surrounding the mausoleum and perhaps also the ironwork – were made by J Barnes. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Footnote:
Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper (adopted daughter of Dr Emanual Cooper of Norwich) married the writer John Galsworthy; he based his novel, ‘Jolyon’ on their relationship. His more famous novel was  ‘The Forsyth Saga’ – a story about the vicissitudes of the leading members of a large commercial upper middle class English family – similar to his own – is believed by his biographers and people who knew him to have been based on his own life.

Cooper5 (Ada Galsworthy _Research & Culture Collection)
Portrait of Ada Galsworthy by George Sauter (1866-1937). Oil on canvas, 1897
This portrait depicts Ada Nemesis Pearson Galsworthy (1864-1956), future wife of John Galsworthy, in a fashionable garment. At the time this portrait was painted, Ada was still married to Arthur – John’s cousin – but she had begun her affair with John two years prior. The relationship between Ada and John caused a scandal in London society and the two were ostracised from certain social circles (Gindin, 1987, p. 359). Following the death of John Galsworthy’s father, John Senior, in December 1904, Ada and John lived together publicly at a farm called Wingstone, near Dartmoor. Arthur served Ada with divorce papers and the divorce was finalised two months later. On 23 September 1905, John Galsworthyand Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper married. Photo: Research & Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.

The firm of John Barnes was listed in the 1865 Kelly’s Post Office Directory as “iron and brass founder, Church Street, St Miles” but the foundry was to be known variously as Barnes Ironworks, Barnes and Pye as a partnership (between Jacob Pye [a son?] and John Youngs – dissolved on the latter’s death in 1929) and as a company (Barnes and Pye Ltd from 1962 until dissolved in 2006) and also as the St. Miles Foundary. Their products included joists, beams, columns, manhole covers, standpipes (examples still in Maddermarket and Dereham Road), sturdy fittings for the gates of churchyards and the like – and they supplied the ironwork for Edward Boardman’s new Royal Hotel in Prince of Wales Road, built by John Youngs & Son and completed in late 1897.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/6085879
https://www.flickr.com/photos/researchandculturalcollections/8744376912
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-08530-9_4
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/Norwich/ralph_hale_mottram.htm
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YcevCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=emanuel+cooper+obstetrician+norwich&source=bl&ots=UCJ5SMa0Oo&sig=ACfU3U3qXbc7VcTW7wghWbKzXyAfojtd0Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjH5vb_5cjlAhUPXMAKHXZDA6EQ6AEwAnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=emanuel%20cooper%20obstetrician%20norwich&f=false

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

A Norwich Hospital That Moved On.

This blog was inspired by an essay by J K Edwards back in 1967 when he looked back at the changes that had taken place at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital during the time it was located at its old city centre site on St Stephens Street. However, I was initially thrown by his opening sentence when he wrote: “To understand the matter of the chimney we have to go back 200 years”; but from there on, things began to fall into place with a concluding, but all too brief, explanation at the end.

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The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 1959. Photo Credit: Archant Archives.

He considered that both Norwich and the County of Norfolk prospered during the 18th and early 19th centuries and their peoples increased yearly in numbers; however – and according to modern thinking, living conditions were bad then, even for thrifty working-class people where there was only a small margin between being able to “manage” and being forced to depend on charity. Also, the philosophy of the times was hard:

“God had created the high and the low, work was part of the process of salvation, and only if you were diligent and God-fearing would all be well in this world and the next”.

Unfortunately, accident and disease, along with horse-drawn traffic and squalid living conditions produced plenty of each, either of which could bring even the most deserving family to the verge of starvation:

“What confusion and distress must enter a family when the father is overcome with one of the innumerable accidents and how deplorably wretchedness is increased when sickness visits any member of the family”, wrote one contemporary author.

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The Original Norfolk and Norwich Hospital of 1771-72. Photo: Public Domain.

The first firm proposal for a hospital for Norfolk and Norwich was made at a public meeting called by a Mr. William Fellowes, of Shotesham, in 1770. But even before then, certainly before 1754, Fellowes and a local surgeon by the name of Benjamin Gooch joined forces to set up one of the very first cottage hospitals in the country – and in Fellowes’s his own village of Shotesham by the way! He was, after all, Lord of the Manor and owned almost all the land and houses thereabouts but, at the same time, he did care for the people in his charge.

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William Fellowes of Shotesham (1706-1775) by Joseph Highmore. Original Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo Credit: ArtUK.
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Benjamin Gooch. Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: (c) Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

The idea of a new hospital for Norwich was, in fact, a late-comer in the wave of provincial hospital building, which had begun in the 1730’s. Certainly, by 1744, there was pressure for the City to have one of these new voluntary hospitals, although impetus was lost after 1761 when Thomas Hayter, Bishop of Norwich and a leading advocate, moved to a bishopric in London. Enter William Fellowes who was the one to call this open meeting in 1770, the moment when subscriptions were opened – kick-started by a fund-raising concert in Norwich Cathedral.

Very soon the Norwich City Council came on board when it made the St. Stephen’s site available at only a nominal rent, thus enabling the first steps towards fulfilling a dream. Subsequently, the sentiment towards the scheme was so great that funds of some £13,000 was raised, building plans adopted and the fabric fitted and furnished in little more than two years. In this way, a much improved Norfolk and Norwich Hospital came to the city.

The building was constructed in the form of a great figure ‘H’ and it had many of the characteristic features which, at the time, was considered very satisfying – red brick, beautiful proportions, large well-placed windows and a most imposing front porch and doorway; it “justifiably generated a great deal of local pride”. It therefore followed that when the hospital took its first seven in-patients in November, 1772, the event was marked by a celebration in the city.

Hospital (Edward Colman)
Edward Colman (d.1812), Assistant Surgeon (1790-1812). Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo Credit: ArtUK.

The original rules of the hospital, as outlined by Edwards, threw an interesting light upon charitable attitudes of the times. It would appear that since public subscribers had provided the hospital, donors naturally expected to be able to see that their money was being well spent. A gift of two guineas brought governorship for a year and one of 20 guineas brought the same for life. All governors in turn had to visit the hospital every day for a week and:

Hospital (Jonathan Matchett)
Jonathan Matchett, Physician (1773-1777) by an unknown artist. Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo:  ArtUK.

“walk through the wards with White Wands in their hands and enquire of the patients whether the Physicians, Surgeons, Matron and Nurses had attended them agreeably, and enquiry of the Matron and Nurses whether the patients had all conducted themselves decently.”

Hospital (Gallstones)
Woman suffering the cholic etching by G. Cruikshank, 1819. Photo Credit:  Wellcome Library

One of the main local troubles was “the stone” for which people had to be “cut.” The stones extracted were kept in a special chest-of-drawers and put on public display; and so successful was “cutting” that after 20 years or so the chest was crammed so full that another had to be ordered. In fact, whatever the limitations and dangers, the hospital dealt with 12,000 people by the end of the 18th century and of these “upwards of 7000 have been dismissed in perfect health.”

On this subject, Dr. Benjamin Gooch’s accounts of ‘bladder stones’ are particularly interesting for he, along with John Harmer of Norwich,  were the leading lithotomists of the first half of the 18th century when bladder stones in Norfolk were reputedly to be more common  than anywhere else in the country. The Norwich Gazette, of 14th July 1746 (2071/2) reported one instance of a stone removal operation, which was conducted by John Harmer, with Benjamin Gooch assisting:

“On Sunday last (June 8th) was cut for the stone by Mr John Harmer surgeon in this city, John Howse, a gardener from Poringland aged 48 years, from whom he extracted a stone of prodigious magnitude; measuring 12 inches one way and eight the other and weighed upwards of fourteen and a half ounces; and is said to be the largest ever extracted from any person who recovered the operation, as this man is likely to do, not yet having had a bad symptom” ….. and a week later:

“John Howse …… is in a final way of recovery and is judged to be out of danger. Mr Harmer has cut for the stone upwards of 170 persons, and that with as much success as any man living, but never extracted one so large before.” (Norwich Gazette 21/7/1746).

As an aside:- John Harmer is buried in Stoke Holy Cross churchyard, his monument bears carvings of his lithotomy instruments.

Benjamin Gooch said of the operation:

“It was found impracticable to extract the stone through a wound of common size, which the operator had made, or to break it by the force of the forceps, therefore at his desire I divided the parts occasionally, as he continued gentle extraction. The stone was of hard texture and was covered by a substance like spar of a considerable thickness on many parts of its surface.”

The wound remained in a foul and bad condition and was made worse by the continued wetting of urine which prevented applications from healing it. The poor unhappy sufferer’s secret of how he managed to survive is revealed next. He [the patient] tempted a little favourite dog to lick the parts. It became such a habit for the little dog that whenever his master laid down and uncovered them he [the dog] immediately set to work with his tongue; this gave the sufferer a pleasing sensation; “As long as he lived his dog was his surgeon”, and the wound kept tolerably clean and easy “to his great comfort and satisfaction” as he [John Harmer] often told Gooch.

Hospital (Operation)2
Early 18th century surgeons performing a dissection, circa. 1730. Photo Credit: Wellcome Library

People today often question the effectiveness of medical treatment during years long past and, of course, there were many deficiencies. But it was the 18th century that brought forward many new ideas, like ventilation, sanitation and cleanliness. Equally, there were some people who held advanced views on many things. The then matron of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was judged to be “most unusually able” and as a result the hospital acquired a reputation for being “kept very neat and clean, not crowded with beds and well ventilated.” True, the floors were sanded in exactly the same way and for the same reasons that public-house floors were until comparatively recently, but they were swept daily and entirely washed each week. This by the standard of the times was cleanliness amounting almost to mania. One can doubt, too, the efficiency of medicines and surgery of those days, for drugs were very few and surgery without antiseptics was dangerous. Even so, cold baths, enforced rest, clean living conditions and dieting cannot have failed to be beneficial. As for surgery, the risks were perhaps fewer than we imagine.

The early years did, of course, present their problems. How to advance surgically was always difficult; but it was not unknown for the bodies of executed murderers to be provided for the hospital and doubtless there were other sources too – this helped. But money was always scarce and, in 1788, someone conceived the idea of a ‘Grand Musical Festival’ to help the Hospital’s Fund; this particular event was to be much grander than previous funding raising concerts in aid of the hospital. It proved such an enormous success that it was repeated three years later; after which it was decided to make the festival a permanent function, using St Peter Mancroft Church in the morning and St Andrew’s Hall in the evening. In 1824 the Norfolk & Norwich Triennial was founded. This event, known as the ‘Triennial’ continued for almost one hundred years, presenting a programme of concerts in St Andrew’s Hall. In time, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the Triennial went their separate ways but, importantly, they both continued to flourish.

Hospital2
The Norfolk & Norwich Triennial at St Andrew’s Hall late 19th century. Photo: Public Domain.

If you had walked along St Stephen’s Road in 1967 – going away from the city – you would have seen the then new hospital chimney on the right, “rearing up like a rocket launcher, monstrous, a thing of no beauty”. Clearly, Edwards hated its massiveness and the domination it exercised over that part of the city of Norwich. But, in his opinion, the chimney symbolised progress – in medical science, in humanity and in ideas – but, equally, “one had to weigh-up the balance of advantages”. He concluded that all these developments were “well on the side of progress”.

 

Hospital4 (Fellowes_Plaque)
The large plaque once dominated the first floor of the St Stephens Street side of the then enlarged narrow side of the 1927 rebuilt outpatient building. Fellowes is shown in a bust length portrait in contemporary costume and wig. The bust rests on a ledge with an inscription identifying him set into a classically inspired field. There are no obvious surviving images of Fellowes for the sculptor to have followed. Photo: The Recording Archive.

THE END

Blog based on the following Source:
https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/views/two-centuries-of-progress-in-making-norwich-well-again-1-5300545

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

 

 

An Indefatigable Ghost Hunter!

Peter Underwood was considered by some to have been that ‘indefatigable ghost-hunter’…… Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of the great author and a keen student of the supernatural, once described him as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of psychical research’. Underwood also carried the labels of being an immaculate, urbane, gentlemanly and quite sophisticated sort of person. He was, for many years, a link with the distant past, outliving those investigators and writers who conducted the drama of the Borley Rectory, considered for a time as “Britain’s most haunted house”; he lived to tell the tales right up to 2014.

underwood_3147045b
Peter Underwood

Underwood wrote over 50 books about his pursuit of spooks; many of them gazetteers, collections from around the country of oral history on supposed hauntings. In his book ‘No Common Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost-Hunter’ (1983), he suggested that ninety-eight per cent of these reports had a rational explanation, and were generally put to one side; it was the other two per cent that intrigued him and being worthy of pursuit. Nevertheless, he discarded nothing, allowing readers the option of deciding what was, or was not, a likely story.

nocommontask

Peter Underwood was born on 16 May 1923 into a family of Plymouth Brethren; his home on arrival was at Westholm, Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire. He claimed much later in life that he had his first paranormal experience at the age of nine, apparently seeing an apparition of his father who had died earlier the same day standing at the bottom of his bed. Thereafter, his interest in hauntings was further stimulated by his maternal grandparents, who lived for a time at Rosehall, a 17th century Hertfordshire house in Sarratt, a village considered “a good locality for ghosts – they have more ghosts there than ratepayers!” Rosehall had a haunted reputation, having a particular bedroom in which guests reported seeing the figure of a headless man. Underwood’s interest in hauntings and ghostly phenomena began to take root at this time, and it was said that whenever curious tourists knocked, young Peter would assume the role of tour guide and would regale visitors with tales; he became so fascinated when many shared their own experiences of the paranormal in return that he began to scribble them down.

Rushbrooke Hall (Demolished)
Rushbrooke Hall, Suffolk, where Peter Underwood stayed during his convalescence. The Hall was demolished in 1961. Photo: Public Domain.

At the beginning of World War Two and after a private education, part of which was with a personal tutor, Underwood joined the publishing firm of J M Dent & Sons in Letchworth, working at their printing and binding works at Dunham’s Lane in Letchworth. Later he would move to Dent’s publishing office before being called up for active service with the Suffolk Regiment in 1942. However, his military service was short-lived – after collapsing on a rifle range at Bury St Edmunds with a serious chest ailment which rendered him unfit for active service. Following several months of convalescence at Rushbrooke Hall in Suffolk, Underwood was discharged from the army and returned to Dent’s. During this time Underwood became friendly with Harry Price and wrote to him in connection with his own investigations into the hauntings of Borley Rectory with permission of the owner, James Turner the poet. Price gave Underwood considerable advice on the topic and in 1947 invited him to join Price’s ‘Ghost Club’. Barely a few months later, Harry Price died suddenly from a massive heart attack; that was on Sunday 29 March 1948.

Harry Price
Harry Price

Two particular hauntings spoke the loudest to Underwood during his career. The first was of Borley Rectory; a pitiful building on the barren edge on the Essex/Suffolk. Borley became a media circus in the 1930s, when celebrity ghost hunter Harry Price set out to prove its reputation as a site for scary apparitions. The large Gothic-style house was said to have been haunted since it was built in the 1860s, but things took a more sinister turn in 1928 when the wife of a new rector who was cleaning out a cupboard came across a brown paper package containing the skull of a young woman. Subsequently the family reported strange happenings, including the ringing of servant bells which had been disconnected, lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. As a result, the family fled Borley, but things only seemed to get worse after the arrival of the Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne and daughter Adelaide in 1930. In addition to bell-ringing, there were windows shattering, the throwing of stones and bottles, and mysterious messages on the walls. On one occasion Marianne claimed to have been physically thrown from her bed; on another, Adelaide was attacked by “something horrible” and locked in a room with no key.

BorleyRectory1892
Borley Rectory in 1892. Photo: Wikipedia

The building became known as “the most haunted house in England” after the celebrated psychic researcher Harry Price (who had lived at the rectory for a year in 1937-38) published a book about it in 1940. After Price’s death in 1948, however, members of the Society for Psychical Research investigated his claims and concluded that many of the phenomena he described had been faked, either by Price himself, or by Marianne Foyster (who later admitted, apparently, that she had been having an affair with the lodger and had used paranormal excuses to cover up their trysts).

In the years since Price’s death most of the Borley legend has been debunked, but Underwood, Price’s executor as well as his protégé, remained fiercely loyal to him. He claimed to have traced and personally interviewed almost every living person connected with the rectory, and had concluded that at least some of the phenomena were genuine and fiercely defended Price against accusations of fraud. He even went as far as to dedicate his book on the subject, the 1973 ‘Ghosts of Borley’, which he produced in collaboration with Paul Tabori, to his old friend; it was a gesture that straight away rendered the book as useless according to sceptics.

queens-house-greenwich-visit-the-queens-house-greenwich-greenwich_4074a76d4ea16d4ea41199abab0f3eae
The Queen’s House Museum, Greenwich.
greenwich-tulipstaircase
The Circular Stairs within the Queen’s House Museum, Greenwich.

The second story was known as ‘The Greenwich Ghost’; apparently photographed, by a visiting clergyman in 1967, running up a circular staircase at The Queen’s House Museum. Such a tempting and wonderful image is far too good to be true, particularly when it has never been satisfactorily explained. This was Underwood’s favourite tale, but one where even he would go no further than to call it “puzzling”.

ghostclubseance
Séance held at night by members of The Ghost Club at the Queen’s House on 24th June 1967. Clockwise from the left: Hector McQueen, Margery McQueen, Peter Underwood, Dr Peter Hilton-Rowe, Richard Howard. Back to camera: the sound engineer.

By 1955, Dent’s publishing arm had moved to London and Peter Underwood was living in Twickenham. Through his employers, Underwood was to meet many authors of the day, including Dylan Thomas, and also managed to carry out his own investigations of allegedly haunted places, including the ruins of Minsden Chapel near Stevenage and a house where the owner had requested a reduction in the rates due to it being haunted.

Minsden_Chapel_Hitchin_2016
The ruins of Minsden Chapel

Underwood was to identify nine different varieties of ghost during a life dedicated to investigating ghouls and spooks of all shapes and sizes; these came as elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects. He had a talent for categorisation; for example, ‘Where the Ghosts Walk’, published in 2013, was described as a “definitive guide to the haunted places of Britain”, providing a digest of ghosts grouped by location – including Napoleon searching for somewhere to land his invasion along Lulworth Cove.

Simon Farquhar of the Independent wrote in February 2015:

“Underwood never pedalled mumbo-jumbo, but he was drawn to the idea of a ghost being an “atmospheric photograph”, pondering that all of our actions are perhaps recorded on some sort of eternal tape, and under certain conditions, maybe climactic, occasionally they reappear. I don’t honestly think the figures that are seen represent an afterlife. I think it’s much more likely that it’s some kind of echo of a previous life.”

gazetteer-british-pb

Peter Underwood once claimed that he also had a nose for charlatanry and according to The Telegraph of 2014:

“…… the writer Dennis Wheatley gave a graphic description of a “psychometry” session hosted by Joan Grant, a writer famed for her “far memory” books. During these sessions she would go into a trance and dictate scenes from her past lives. Wheatley described how a stark-naked Joan began to talk in the person of an ancient Egyptian, “glistening and quivering in ecstasy……… writhing and contorting her body sensually in tune with the administration of his hands”. It was said that Wheatley was convinced by her performances – Underwood was not”

Unfortunately, perhaps, Underwood became caught up in some genuinely mysterious goings-on in 1994. Police arrived to question William (Bill) Bellars, a 75-year-old retired naval officer, Loch Ness monster expert and honorary treasurer of the Ghost Club of Britain, founded in 1862, of which Underwood had been president. They were following an anonymous tip-off that club members were really part of an IRA cell. In fact, Bellars had been planning to lead an all-night investigation at a haunted abbey in Hampshire; it took him an afternoon to convince the police that he was up to nothing more sinister than looking for 16th-century Cistercian monks. Eventually, the ghost hunt did go ahead as planned, but the mystery of the tipster’s identity was never solved. Nor did Bellars ever discover the source of abusive calls he claimed he had been receiving. However, it was noted that the previous year Underwood had been ousted from the presidency after 33 years in the post by members who had allegedly become fed up with his “autocratic” ways and who accused him of using the club’s name to help sell his books. “He really ran it to suit his own commercial interests,” Bellars was quoted as saying. Underwood denied any connection to the phone calls or the IRA incident, but Bellars’s description of the final showdown struck an appropriately supernatural note: “I said my piece, then he went purple in the face, just blew a top. Then he vanished.”

underwoodkit_3147085c
Peter Underwood’s ghost hunting kit.

Sadly, towards the end of his own life, internal squabbles shattered the gentlemanly mood of the Ghost Club. The departure of Underwood from the Club caused it to split in two. According to Underwood, Bellars led a rump “Ghost Club” with about 80 per cent of the membership leaving to form a Ghost Club Society with Underwood as life president.

Peter Underwood, author, broadcaster and ghost-hunter died in Bentley, Hampshire on 26 November 2014. Again, according to Simon Farquhar writing in the Independent in February 2015:

“He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a leisurely author, thoughtful rather than gullible; Underwood’s work was “no common task”, as he called his 1983 autobiography; but after a lifetime spent chasing shadows, what he leaves behind is a solid treasury of legends and superstitions which make fine fireside reading, and here and there tell us something about the situations and ideas that perpetually disquiet us: stories that certainly would appear to be immortal.”

THE END

Inspirational Sources:
www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk/Bibliography/bibliography_into.htm
www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk/Profiles/peterunderwood.htm
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11310318/Peter-Underwood-obituary.html
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/peter-underwood-urbane-and-gentlemanly-author-and-ghost-hunter-who-wrote-more-than-50-books-about-10030051.html
https://realparanormalexperiences.com/harry-price-the-ghost-hunter
Banner Heading Image: Copyright Jonathan Stroud 2014

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

Tittleshall: A Gruesome Case of Murder!

Location:
In 1853, Tittleshall-cum-Godwick, to give the parish its correct name, still remained in Central Norfolk, about 5 miles south of the market town of Fakenham and about the same north-west of East Dereham. Godwick itself was once a separate and ancient parish, standing north-east of Tittleshall, but way back in 1630, both Godwick and Wellingham were consolidated with that of Tittleshall. By 1853 the joint benefices were valued at around £871 per annum, with the Earl of Leicester its patron and the Reverend Kenelam Hy Digby B.A, the Rector, supported by the Reverend Robert Sayers, the curate. The parish tithes were set at £681 and it held a Glebe, the size of which was 58 acres, 3 roods, and 8 perch.

Tittleshall Murder (St Mary's)
St Mary the Virgin, at Tittleshall. Photo: Ian Burt

Tittleshall itself was, and still is, compact and set around a three-way junction of lanes leading to Fakenham, Stanfield and Litcham. In 1853 it was considered “a well-built village” of some 615 inhabitants, 124 houses and 3360 acres of land, which included 300 acres of “woods and waste”, nearly all owned by the Earl of Leicester. Those who lived and worked in Tittleshall included every skill that one would expect in a mid-19th Century rural village – from a blacksmith, miller, bricklayer, wheelwright, cooper, baker, saddler and tailor. There were three butchers, eight farmers, two shoemakers, two shopkeepers, plus James Best, a Carrier who plied his services to and from Norwich on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and between Lynn on Mondays and Thursdays.

Tittleshall Murder (Post Mill)
Tittleshall post windmill onced stood to the southwest of the village.  James  Cooper was both a miller and baker with  the baking being done from the mill site.
Tittleshall Murder (Street Scene_late 19th C)
One of the main streets through Tittleshall. Photo: Public Domain.

In 1853, Tittleshall was not the place where anyone would expect a murder to be committed!

Central Characters:
William Thompson (convicted murderer)
: lived and worked in the parish; he was around 21 years of age and a labourer, chiefly employed as a tree-feller. It would appear that neither he not his father, with whom William lived, were what might be termed up-right members of the community. There is no record of the son being baptised in the church of St Marys, although there were a number of ‘Thompsons’ living around who had been baptised there in the past; the menfolk were all, except one, labourers. Whatever, William got up to did included owing money to others – and this must have been a problem for him.

Tittleshall Murder (Watchmaker)
A watchmaker at work. Image: Public Domain.

Lorenz Beha (victim): was, at an earlier time a German Catholic immigrant from Baden-Baden who had settled in St Stephen’s Plain, Norwich, opening a business there and building up to employing two assistants. He was a watchmaker and dealer in jewellery by profession who occasionally travelled throughout Norfolk selling his goods and taking orders for future deliveries. Whenever he travelled, he usually carried his goods in a bag which was tied to the end of a stick that rested on his shoulders. When he was away from his business, he trusted his two assistants to take care of everything back in Norwich.

Tittleshall Murder (Pocket Watch_Lorenz Beha_Norwich 1849
One of Lorenz Beha’s watches made in 1849.

Unfortunate Circumstances:
For an account of what happened, both on Friday, 25 November 1853 and subsequently, we have to rely on the many newspapers accounts which were published in both local and national broadsheets at the time, such was the interest whipped up by the Press. For this account, we take The Leader Newspaper, 26th November 1853, Page 8 and The Household Narrative of 1853 – both almost identical:

It would seem that on that particular Friday in November, Lorenz Beha set out on another of his regular visits to the Tittleshall area; maybe this time to deliver the product of a previous order, probably to collect money owed either as a full payment, or as a further instalment on a watch or piece of jewellery then in the hands of the customer. His trusted account book would be tucked into an inside pocket as he gave instructions to his assistant; then a last-minute check on the contents of his bag and a glance at the weather to judge what it was likely to do over the next few hours or so. When he left, he would not have known that he would not return to his shop in St Stephens.

His means of transport to his first call at Wellingham is not known, but the weather must have been kind for he decided to walk from there to Tittleshall, which was barely two miles distance and not far from Fakenham. This need to walk may have been a habit of his and, undoubtedly, he was a familiar sight in the area with his stick and suspended bag over his shoulder with its contents of jewellery, plus gold and silver watches secured inside. At about one o ‘ clock in the day, he was about mid-way and approaching a plantation; we know this because he was seen by two labourers, the Roper brothers, who were ploughing in an adjoining field. Maybe neither acknowledged the other for both parties could well have been preoccupied with the job in hand; they toiled and he kept walking. From later information obtained from Beha’s assistants back in Norwich, their employer would have been carrying about £30 in cash at the time, usually carried in a double purse which accompanied a few more watches which he was accustomed to carry in his jacket pockets. At this point the story cuts out and for a time we know nothing.

The plantation mentioned above stretched across both sides of the road with one side of the plantation ending at Tittleshall Common. It was certainly after one o’clock, but before three when several persons passed along the road at this spot on their way to Dereham Market; all of them, it seems, observed a quantity of blood in the middle of the road. However, having no suspicion of a murder having been committed, certainly in the middle of the day and on a spot so frequently used, they continued their journey without stopping. It was left to John Robinson, a butcher living in Tittleshall, who at 3.30pm, and having walked from Wellingham, reached the same spot where his attention was directed to the same quantity of blood on the road. He noticed that some portion of the blood had been partially covered by dirt and sand scraped from the road as if to conceal its presence.

Just at that moment of deliberation, the sons of the Reverend Digby of St Mary’s, came riding up on ponies along with two ladies in a gig, they being Mrs Digby and Miss Sheppard. The whole party struck up a conversation as their collective attention was fix on the patches of blood. One of the young gentlemen was sharp enough to notice that there was also a small trail of blood leading from the road to the hedge that separated one side of the planation from the road. This triggered John Robinson to also notice that the trail continued through the fence into a ditch where “a horrible spectacle was presented”.

The body of Mr Lorenz Beha was found with his legs towards the hedge and the coat-collar up, as if the corpse had been dragged by his coat-collar through-the fence. Beside the body lay Mr Beha’s box of jewellery unopened, but taken out of the bag; his stick and umbrella and also a large hatchet, such as is used for felling timber. The blade of the hatchet was covered with blood and hair, and it was evidently the weapon by which the unfortunate man had been murdered. The pockets of his trousers had been turned inside out, and rifled; but the account-book was still to be found in Beha’s pocket, along with his waistcoat pocket-watch, still ticking away:

“His head had been nearly severed from his body by a blow at the back of the neck, and there were four deeply-cut wounds across the temples and face, any one of which would have caused death. The right eye was driven inwards to the depth of nearly an inch; indeed, the poor man appeared to have been felled like an ox, and dragged into the ditch.”

The party of ladies and gentlemen returned to Tittleshall, and gave information of the murder to the Rector, who sent a cart to the spot and, with the assistance of the butcher, John Robinson, and two ploughmen who, apparently, were the same as those seeing Beha walk passed earlier, carried the body to the Griffin Inn, in Tittleshall. At no time then, or well into the evening did anyone suspect who the perpetrator of such a crime may have been. It was not until late into the evening, when another of the village butchers, named William Webster, said that when he was driving in his cart to Wellingham, at about one o ‘ clock earlier in the day, he noticed a man in the plantation adjoining the ditch where the body was found. He added that when he passed by the man stooped down as if to hide himself. Webster mentioned all this at Wellingham and as soon as he had heard of the murder; at the time he did not say who he thought the man may have been. However, at ten o’clock that same night, Webster decided to visit the house of John Hooks, a parish constable, and pass on his belief that the man he had seen in the plantation was William Thompson, a labourer, living with his father at Tittleshall, and who was frequently employed in felling timber.

Tittleshall Murder (Arrest)
An arrest.

Constables Hooks, together with Constable Moore went immediately to Thompson’s house where they found him in bed; they ordered him to get up rise and dress himself. He did so, but putting on different and ‘sloppy’ [dress in an untidy or casual manner] clothing from those he had worn during the day. The constables found on the bed a pair of trousers, the legs of which, together with the left pocket, were soaked with blood. In the lower room they found a pair of ‘highlows’ [boots], with blood on the lace holes. They asked Thompson for his hatchet, but he could not produce it, and he made no statement as an explanation.

Further evidence came to light as a result of police enquiries. A Mr S. Hermann of Lynn and a friend and former partner of Lorenz Beha went to Tittleshall on the Sunday morning knowing that the latter, in the course of his journey that weekend, intended to take a watch to a person in the village. At first, no watch was found during the initial search of the Thompson’s premises, but in view of the evidence received, a more thorough search was made. During the course of that search the police officers opened the oven door to find several pairs of boots. “Oh, that have been searched before.” said the father of William Thompson. However, the officers persisted and a watch was indeed found behind those boots; this watch had the name L. Beha as watchmaker engraved on its back. Then, in the chimney they found another watch by the same maker. In the water closet they found a canvas bag, or purse, containing a Geneva watch, two £5 notes of the Lynn & Lincolnshire Bank, two sovereigns, four half sovereigns and £1 in silver. In the house were found a bunch of watch keys. As a result of all this evidence, William Thompson was arrested and, because there was no police station nearer than Fakenham, was taken to the Griffin Inn [previously the Golden Wyvern], at Tittleshall, the licensee of which was Elizabeth Bacon.

On the following day Webster identified the prisoner as the same man that he had seen in the plantation just before the murder was committed. Then the Roper brothers, who had been working near the plantation and had seen Lorenz Beha earlier, stated that they also met the prisoner coming from the direction of where the body was found – “he seemed to be in great haste, and perspired profusely.” They had asked that person “what o’clock it was. He pulled out, a hunting-watch from his trousers’ pocket, and he said it was half-past one o’clock.” Further damming evidence which tended to confirm the strong suspicion of Thompson’s guilt was also discovered at his house.

Tittleshall Murder 2

There followed the Trial, Sentence, Confession and Execution of William Thompson, the proceedings of which were summarised and printed by Gifford, Printer & Publisher of St Benedicts, Norwich for distribution amongst the public, such was its interest. It went along the following lines:

William Thompson, 21, was charged with wilful murdering Lorenz Beha of Tittleshall on the 18th of November and stealing from him two £5 bank notes, two sovereigns, twenty shillings, a six pence, a four-penny piece, 3 silver watches of the value of £15, twelve watch-keys, sixteen box keys of the value of 3s and one purse, value 6p. [All the property of Lorenz Beha.]

Tittleshall Murder (Court)2

Mr Evans and Mr Bulver appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Cooper for the defence.

The prisoner appeared, on the whole, to be careless and indifferent as to the result of the result of the proceedings against him. The following evidence was then adduced.

Harriet Ewing said: I am the wife of Robert Ewing and live in Wellingham. On November 18th I saw Lorenz Beha, he had a carpet-bag with him. He was in the habit of coming to my house once a month. He generally came at noon on Friday’s. He stayed at my house for about five minutes; on leaving my house he went on Tittleshall road; that road led him past Mr Norton’s plantation.

John Robertson: I live at Tittleshall and am a butcher by trade. Tittleshall is about a mile from Wellingham. When near Mr Norton’s Plantation I observe some blood in the road; this was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I was the right-side of the road. In the ditch I observed a body and saw more blood I procured the assistance of four persons and soon after this the clergyman, Mr Digby, came up. We examined the body; the face was very much cut. The trousers were turned inside out. There was a box lying by and a bag, the box was locked. A stich lain on the right side of the body, and also an umbrella; we also found a hatchet in the ditch, there was a great deal of blood on it, the body was the body of Mr Lorenz Beha. It was removed to the Griffin public house in Tittleshall.

Tittleshall Murder (Court Scene)
A typical 19th century court scene. Image: Public Domain.

Mr J Jump, Surgeon: I am a surgeon and live at Litcham. I was shown the body on the evening of the murder. It was shown me as the body of Belia. On the following Monday I examined it minutely.

William Webster: I am a butcher, residing at Tittleshall. I left my home about half-past eleven on the morning of the day of the murder. I passed the place about a quarter to twelve. I saw Thompson near the plantation. He had a slop and a cap on.

Mr Cooper, counsel for the prisoner, then made a very able defence. The jury, after a very brief deliberation, returned a verdict of GUILTY.

The Clerk of the Arraigns: William Thompson you have been found guilty of the wilful murder of Lorenza Belia. What have you to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you –

The Prisoner’s Defence:
I left my father’s house, Tittleshall, on Friday, November 18th at about half past eleven o’clock in the forenoon and went for a walk up the Wellingham road. When I got up to Mr Riches’ Plantation it was about twelve. I saw a man get up from the bushes in the plantation. He asked me if I knew what time it was; I told him that I thought it was about twelve. I then walked on and saw him either lying or sitting down in the same place. When I got around the corner to Mr Norton’s plantation, which was about one hundred yards from the place where I first saw the man, I got over the fence to ease myself. While I was doing so, William Webster, the butcher, came past, there was a man standing in the ditch by the side of the dead body, he was bent over it. I saw his hand was wet and daubed with blood. I asked him what he was after, ho immediately got out of the ditch and got hold of me round my legs and daubed my trousers with blood; he begged of me not to tell anyone, he said if I did, he would chop me down. I see him take out the purse some money, he then put his hands into his waistcoat pocket he pulled 5 watches, 3 he gave me, I said I would not have them, he said I should, he is a dark person. I never saw him no more till I got to Roper, that is all I can say about it.

Tittleshall Murder (Lord Baron Parke)
The Judge – ‘The Right Honourable Sir James Parke’. Image: Public Domain.

 

The Judge’s Address:
At the time of this trial in 1854 the judge would have been addresses as ‘The Right Honourable Sir James Parke’ As such, he assumed the black cap and proceeded to pass sentence of death:

“Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of wilful murder, upon evidence as clear as conclusive, and decisive as I ever heard in a court of justice – It is now my painful duty to pass the sentence of the court upon you. That you be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body shall be buried in the precincts of the prison.”

Execution:
(Aged 21, William Thompson was executed at Norwich on Saturday, 8 April 1854 for the wilful murder of Lorenz Beha at Tittleshall, Norfolk.)

Tittleshall Murder (hanging)

At an early hour, the space before the Prison was crowded to excess by persons of both sects anxious to witness the execution of the wretched prisoner, which increased to such a degree that a number of people suffered from the pressure. The Sheriff, with their attendants arrived at the prison, they then proceeded to the condemned cell, where they found the Rev Ordinary engaged in prayer with the wretched culprit. After the usual formalities had been observed of demanding the delivery of the body of the prisoner into their custody, he was conducted to the press room where the executioner with his assistants then commenced pinioning his arms. During these awful preparations the unhappy man appeared mentally to suffer severely. All the arrangements having been completed, the prisoner, who then, trembled violently walked with the melancholy procession, preceded by the Rev Ordinary who read aloud and in a distinct tone, the burial service for the dead. Whilst the executioner was adjusting the fatal apparatus of death, the prisoner was deeply absorbed in prayer, the executioner, having drawn the cap over his face, retired from the scaffold and the signal having been given, the bolt was withdrawn and the unhappy man was launched into eternity. He was seen to struggle for a few moments, after which he ceased to exist.

Footnotes:
There have been many murders and villainous exploits in this large County over the years and many of them have become internationally renowned. This event is less well known.

William Thompson made a full confession while lying under the sentence of death.

There was once a story that went around to the effect that Lorenz Beha owed William Thompson some money, Hmm?

There is said to be a tree in Wellingham woods, between Wellingham and Tittleshall that has an axe mark on it with a ‘T’ above it and a ‘B’ underneath = ‘T axed B’!

THE END

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A Church Living on the Edge!

The oldest part of Hellesdon is along Low Road, on the outskirts of Norwich and away from the vast, and all too familiar, Hellesdon housing estates on the other side of the Drayton Road. The village and its parish church lay in the settlement of Lower Hellesdon, beyond the former Hellesdon Hospital; this relatively small area still preserves something of its former rural character, despite its proximity to both the estates and modern Costessey. It is indeed fortunate to be on the fringe of the present-day Hellesdon community; for if it were to be in its centre then the original village would, by now, be suffocated by what must be a case of over development – a continuing trend one would suspect, that can only get worst. On the face of it – and so far, the village and its parish church of St Mary’s are indeed the fortunate ones!

Hellesdon (St Mary's)2
St Mary’s Church, Lower Hellesdon, Norwich. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

St Mary’s is not the grandest or prettiest church to be found in Norfolk, indeed, some might feel that it is somewhat odd – from an architectural point of view that is! St Mary’s is small but tall for its size – if that makes sense? Furthermore, most parts appear disproportionate to the other. Take the southern facing porch for instance; it appears too tall for such a squat Saxon Nave, and with quite small and simple windows which let light enter the very small room over the main porch entrance; this, in turn, allows access into the body of the church. Entry to the small elevated room above the porch is via an external stair turret, as seen to the left of the porch. As for the lead-covered bell turret; well, this struggles in its attempt to look like a spire, above the short ‘stumpy’ Nave which, in turn, is not helped by the addition of a north aisle – all be it having been built way back in the 14th century.

St Mary’s has, in the distance past, been referred to as the ‘church without land’ and is recorded as far back as in the Domesday Book of 1086. It is also believed, by some at least, that the old church or chapel that stood on this site marked the spot where King Edmund was interred and martyred in 869. One version of the story goes like this:

Hellesdon (St Edmund)1
A medieval illumination depicting the death of Edmund the Martyr on 20 November 869 by the Vikings. Photo: Wikipedia.

In 985, Abbo of Fleury, who at Ramsey Abbey (Cambridgeshire) compiled the ‘Life of St Edmund’, in which he writes of hearing the Archbishop relate a story that came from a young man who had heard it from a very old man who claimed to have been King Edmund’s armour bearer at the time of his death. On his capture, Edmund was whipped and tied to a tree, and shot with arrows. He was then beheaded and his head thrown into a bramble thicket in Hegelisdun Wood – hence the association with Hailesduna, present-day Hellesdon? The King’s head was later found, guarded by a wolf, and according to the story, the body was buried in a small chapel built nearby for the purpose. The site of the chapel is believed, again by some, to be where the present church of St Mary’s stands. However, some suggest otherwise, with Lyng (only a few miles away) offered up as one possibility!

Joe Mason wrote a blog back in 2015 when he said: “……..I must outline some of the story concerning the king’s [Edmund] death. This tale was written down by a French monk about a hundred years after the events described took place. In the manuscript [see previous quote] the location that was attacked by the invading Danes was a few miles downstream from Lyng at Hellesdon. This event is commemorated on the village sign at Lower Hellesdon, but for some unfathomable reason it is not believed by any academic historians. I think they must live in their ivory towers and have never got their feet muddy in Norfolk……The monk goes on to say that the King was buried a few miles away from Hellesdon, and a humble chapel was erected over his tomb [at Lyng?]. The king’s body did not stay in Norfolk very long, and well before a century had passed his body was re-interred at the place now known as Bury St Edmunds. The king’s body lay in Norfolk for less than 75 years and to this day everyone is unsure where…..”

Joseph C. W. Mason’s latest book ‘St Edmund and the Vikings 869–1066’ (see the above link) says so much more on the subject.

Not to put too finer a point on it – this story remains one of dispute, depending whether you live in Norfolk or Suffolk. But Hellesdon did stake its claim when images of St Mary’s Church, the dead body of King Edmund, and the wolf that stood guard over Edmund, found their way on to the village sign.

Hellesdon (Village Sign)1
Hellesdon Village Sign
The sign is located in front of the Hellesdon Parish Hall. It depicts St Mary’s church and the body of the martyred King Edmund, guarded by a wolf.
© Copyright Evelyn Simak – – geograph.org.uk/p/850757

It used to be thought that the whole of the present church was 14th century, but now historians recognise that both the Nave and Chancel are much earlier – possibly between 1040 and 1120. The clue lies in the fact that both these parts of the church are built with whole flints laid in mortar, whereas the walls of the 14th century North Aisle are built of ‘knapped’ flints – whole flints having been cut to reveal flat shiny Surfaces.

Hellesdon (St Mary's)2a
St Mary’s from a more south-easterly direction. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

St Mary’s may well have languished in insignificancy, or even faded completely from history, had it not been for a group of 14th century benefactors. One happened to be John de Heylesdon, he being a local man who became a citizen and merchant of London; he was supported by his wife Joan. Then there were John’s parents, Richard de Heylesdon and Beatrice; following close behind was Walter de Berney, yet another local man who also became a citizen and merchant of London – but he reaching the heights of Sheriff there in 1360.

The church might also be grateful to John de Heylesdon for its bell, which is the oldest surviving in Norwich and an item which, along with the contruction of the bellcote and steeple, was probably funded by de Heylesdon. This belief in his generosity is supported by the fact that this solitary bell is inscribed “JOHNES DE HEYLESDON ME FECIT FIERI IN HONORE MATRS CRESTI WILELLMVS DE NORWYCO ME FECIT” – Translated as ‘John de Helesdon caused me to be in honore of the Mother of Christ. William of Norwich made me’. As for its sound; well, this has been familiar to the Hellesdon community for generations, but it is probably very likely that few have ever actually seen it as access to the bellcote is very restricted, and in this day and age deemed perilous.

St Marys (Christopher Codling)
The rear of St Mary’s from a north easterly direction. Photo: Christopher Codling 2018

According to Freda M. Wilkins-Jones, who compiled a very readable booklet, titled ‘Notes on the History of St Mary’s Church, Hellesdon’ (and from which the historical content of this blog is largely based – incidentally, copies of which can be purchased  at the church for a mere £2 donation); also included reference to another incumbent of St Mary’s:

“In 1362/63 the three men [mentioned above] obtained the manor and advowson – the right to present a clergyman to the living. It appears that Richard de Heylesdon had died by 1379 when the other two men presented Richard de Taseburgh to the living. They could have followed the example of other church benefactors and replaced the old building [St Mary’s] with one entirely new. However, it seems they loved the building, which even then, was old and contented themselves by making additions to it.”

Hellesdon (St Mary's_brass)
St Mary’s church – brass
Brass to a former rector, Richard de Thaseburgh (1389), mounted on the north wall having formerly been situated on the floor. The brass lettering is in Latin. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

These additions came in the form of a newly constructed north aisle and, it is believed, a two-storey porch on the south side of the chancel. Credit for these must clearly go to John de Heylesdon and his group of fellow benefactors. The addition to the 14th century north aisle runs the entire length of the church and, in effect, doubles its size. Of course, at the time of construction, little thought could have been given to the aesthetic nature of having an additional wing on only one side of the church, along with a disproportionate sized porch on the opposite south side; these only contribute to the overall ‘odd’ appearance of the present-day building.

Hellesdon (St Mary's)4
A view of St Mary’s showing the west side of the porch on the right, through to the older nave with its bell-tower, then the 14th century north aisle and finally the new 2012 addition on the left. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

On the outside, St Mary’s is pleasantly surrounded on all four sides by a neatly kept churchyard, broken only by one path on the north side which connects the church proper with the church hall, a less than well-kept car park, but a neatly kept churchyard extention beyond. On the south side a path connects the front entrance to a war memorial on the right, a small parking area with graves beyond, and the front porch to the left.

Hellesdon (St Mary's)8b
The porch entrance © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

Into the porch and one is met with a neat, clean and plain looking enclosure which because of its simplicity has something of a calming effect as one prepares to enter into the nave beyond. On the porch ceiling are two bosses of a man and a woman – who are they the visitor might well ask. No one really knows, but one could reasonably speculate that they are perhaps the portraits of John and Joan de Heylesdon who, together with other benefactors, came to the rescue of St Mary’s centuries ago.

Again, according to Freda M. Wilkins-Jones: “the construction of the porch partly obstructed one of the original nave windows which, when viewed from the churchyard shows that part of the window was filled in. What is not so obvious is that the other part of that window still exists, as an alcove in the room over the porch. This small but charming room, with its lovely views of the southern part of the churchyard and the Wensum Valley beyond, its fireplace and chimney with its ‘squint’ (which at one time gave a view of the high altar) is now used by the Sunday School. There can be few Sunday Schools priviledged to have accommodation of such character.”

Hellesdon (St Mary's)8a
Inside the porch © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

Stepping inside, one can see a well-kept interior which, nevertheless, is somewhat austere, given its narrowness and height. It begs the question as to what does this church really need in this day and age? But this question doesn’t detract from some of the attractive aspects of this church. Take the low-sided window in the south wall of the chancel for instance one of around fifty such windows to survive in Norfolk Churches. We are told that in medieval times it would have had a wooden shutter through which, during the daily celebration of Mass, a handbell would be rung so that those working at their tasks in the fields, or their homes, could pause, cross themselves and so take part in the service. Fortunately, this particular window has not been filled in; however, in 1858 when this window was unglazed, thieves entered through it, after which, it was glazed but the shutter and ironwork retained. Sometime thereafter the wooden shutter itself was removed and in 1953 a beautiful stain-glass window was installed, depicting the Virgin Mary and Child; this replaced the window damaged by bombing in 1942. Despite this, in 1987 it was vandalised, but was quickly repaired with an external transparent screen being mounted to prevent further assaults.

Hellesdon (St Mary's)106
Today, the window looks like this. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.
Hellesdon (St Mary's)102
A view from the nave towards the chancel, and a place for quiet contemplation and a read either side of church services! Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

The present two-manual organ on the north side of the church was built by F. Browne and came from St Mary’s Church in Eastwell, Kent in 1949. Initially, the organ console was placed in the north aisle itself so that the organist sat with his back to the congregation. The carved lattace screen depicting the Benedicite was positioned to mask the organ pipes. The console was later moved to its present position so that the organist now sits behind a stone screen with his back to the chancel and the choir. For a while, the Benedicite screen looked somewhat isolated until an oak-sided altar and furnishings were place below the screen in 1970.

Hellesdon (St Mary's)104
A View along the north aisle towards the Benedicite screen which hides the organ and vestry beyond. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

John de Heylesdon was granted his wish to be buried in St Mary’s, alongside the tomb of his parents which was originally situated in what was then the Chantry; it and three other tombstones remained there until 1949 when they were moved into the main north aisle proper in order to make way for the organ. Set in the floor of the north aisle and protected by a blue carpet are the brasses to the memory of John de Heylesdon and Joan his wife; theirs is written in Latin; that of his parents are written in Norman French. 

Hellesdon (St Mary's)111 (2)
The above Brass, depicting Richard de Heylesdon and Beatrice, is written in Norman French. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.
Hellesdon (St Mary's)112
The above Brass, depicting John de Heylesdon and Joan, is written in Latin. Photo: © Copyright Haydn Brown 2019.

Despite what has been said about this church, it remains lovely place for many and, thank goodness, it has a special character of its own which needs preserving; the church is unique and clearly provides an invaluable service to the Hellesdon community – all be it from its fringes. With this in mind, would the thoughts of a visitor be admissible? Such as one who suggests that the powers-to-be may have a mind to consider the replacement of its Victorian pews with ‘flexible’ seating more in keeping with present-day needs.

Those who may feel that this suggestion would be sacrilege should ponder on the fact that many church pews date from just the 19th century before when, churches and their interiors were more open and flexible in their use. It is only over the last 150 years or so that congregations have had to experience rigid pews; this period of time has been but minuscule in the context of the time church worship has been in existence. So, has the time come to get rid of pews? Certainly, with St Mary’s, the present access along the central aisle, together with the amount of space in and around the point where the nave meets the chancel, suggests possible problems for the likes of wedding ceremonies and funerals – heaven forbid that any pall-bearer should ever trip over!

THE END

Sources:
Wilkins-Jones, F.M. ‘Notes on the History of St Mary’s Church, Hellesdon’ – highly recommended to anyone who would like to read a much fuller explanation of St Mary’s history.
http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/hellesdonmary/hellesdonmary.htm
Plus a personal visit and a quick session of note-taking before the expected ‘graffiti hunting’ visitors turned up.
Banner Heading Photo: A Fine Day in February (Hellesdon) (undated) by John Middleton (Norfolk Museums Collections).

 

 

 

 

 

Celia Fiennes: Rides Side Saddle To Norwich!

Celia Fiennes lived at roughly the same time as Daniel Defoe. She was born in 1662 at Newton Toney, Salisbury, the daughter of a Colonel in Cromwell’s army. She is remarkable for the journeys she made throughout nearly every county of England, and the accounts she wrote about each one. She rode side-saddle, accompanied only by two servants. She travelled to improve her health, but also for personal adventure. Her account of her travels seems to have been written after her travels had largely ended, in 1702. She described both the great houses she visited and the developing new industries. She died in 1741.

Celia Fiennes2
Guillaume Blaeu, Map of Great Britain and Ireland (1631), Wikimedia Commons.

As a 17th century English traveller, Celia Fiennes was vulnerable to robbery, getting lost and being swamped, or hedged in on poor English roads. As a woman, Fiennes faced added challenges and prejudices – as reflected in the popular English travel guides of the 16th and 17th centuries which asserted that “women who wandered too far afield were invariably suspicious, dishonest, and unchaste.” Nevertheless, early modern women did travel, and often quite extensively, with no “diminution of their moral fibre”. So we have the autonomous Fiennes, unmarried, travelling without a male companion of her social station, and accompanied only by a small retinue of servants; a woman who would certainly have stood out.

The original text of Fiennes is not divided into chapters and paragraphs are few. I have tried to separate her journey to Norwich into frequent separated paragraphs and brought some of her language and wording more into the modern era in order to assist the reader.

Celia Fiennes Writes:

“……..So to Norwich. Sometimes it was in view then lost again. To Beccles is 8 miles more which in all was 36 miles from Ipswich, but exceedingly long miles……… This is a little market town but it is the third biggest town in the County of Suffolk – Ipswich, Bury St Edmund and Beccles. Here was a good big meeting place of at least 400 hearers and they have a very good minister one Mr Killinghall; he is but a young man but seemed very serious. I was there on the Lords day. Sir Robert Rich is a great supporter of them and Contributed to building the meeting place which is very neat. He has a good house at the end of the town with fine gardens. There are no good buildings, the town being old timber and plaster work except his and one or two more. There is a pretty big market Cross and a great Market there. There is a handsome stone-built Church and a very good public minister whose name is Armstrong: he preaches very well, they say notwithstanding the town, it is a sad Jacobitish town.

Celia Fiennes (Beccles Church)
Beccles Church. Image: Public Domain

This [town]chooses no parliament men. At the town’s end one passes over the river Waveney on a wooden bridge railed with timber and so you enter into Norfolk: it is a low flat ground all here about, so that the least rain they are overflowed by the river and lie under water as they did when I was there, so that the road lay under water which is very unsafe for strangers to pass by reason of the holes and quick sands and loose bottom. The ordinary people both in Suffolk and Norfolk knit much and spin, some with the’ rock and fusoe’ as the French do, others at their wheels out in the street and lanes as one pass. It is from this town to Norwich 12 miles, and it is 10 to Yarmouth where they build some small ships, and is a harbour for them and where they victual them. Also, Harwich about 12 or 14 miles also, but the miles here as long again as about London and pretty deep way, especially after rain: these miles are much longer than most miles in Yorkshire.

Celia Fiennes (St Stephens Gate)
St Stephens Gate, Norwich: Henry Ninham engravings of 1864 copied John Kirkpatrick’s early 18th-century drawings of the outside of the gate. [NCM Todd Collection, vol. II, box 5, page 119]

Norwich opens to view a mile distance by the help of a hill whereon is a little village. As I observe most of the great towns and Cities have about them little villages as attendants or appendix’s to them which are a sort of suburbs, there being straggling houses for the most part all the way between the gates. You pass over a high bridge yet leads on over a high Causey [causeway] of a pretty length which looks somewhat dangerous being fenced with trenches from its banks (pretty deep) that’s on both sides to secure it from the water, and these trenches run in many places round the low grounds to drain them and which are employed to whiten and bleach their woollen stuff is the manufacture of the place. This long Causey brings you to the large stone bridge over the river into which those trenches empty themselves.

Celia Fiennes (City Walls)

Then you proceed to the City which is walled round full of towers Except on the river side which serves for the wall. They seemed the best in repair of any walled City I know though in some places there are little breaches, but the carving and battlements and towers look well. I entered the west gate. There are 12 gates in all and 36 Churches, which is to be seen on a clear day altogether from the Castle walls – I told myself 30 were there. They are built all of flints well headed or cut which makes them look blackish and shining. The streets are all well pitched with small stones and very clean, and many very broad streets: yet I entered in first [which] was very broad for 2 Coaches or carts to pass on either side, and in the middle was a great well house with a wheel to wind up the water for the good of the public. A Little further is a large pond walled up with brick as a man’s height with an entrance on one end. A Little further was a building on which they were at work, designed for a water house to supply ye town by pipes into their houses with water. At a Little distance was another such a pond walled in as I described before. These things fill up the middle of this spacious street which is for use and also ornament, ye spaces each side being so broad.

This brings you into a broad space called the Haymarket which is on a hill, a very steep descent all well pitched as before: this comes to another space for a market to sell hoggs in, and opens farther into divisions of buildings that begins several streets which runs off good lengths and are of a tolerable size. One runs along behind which is all for stalls for the County butchers that bring their meat for the supply of the town, which pay such a rent for them to the town. On the other side are houses of the town’s butchers, the inhabitants. By it is a Large market for fish, which are all at a little distance from the heart of the City, so it is not annoyed with them. There is a very large market place and hall and Cross for fruit and little things every day, and also a place under pillars for the Corn market.

Celia Fiennes (Fish Market)
The Old Fish Market, Norwich by Charles Hodgson (1769–1856) (attributed to) Image: Norfolk Museums Service

The building round here is esteemed, the best and here is the Town Hall, but all their buildings are of an old form, mostly in deep poynts and much tiling as has been observed before, and they plaster on laths which they strike out into squares like broad free stone on the outside, which makes their fronts look pretty well; and some they build high and contract the roofs resembling the London houses, but none of brick except some few beyond the river which are built of some of the rich factors like the London buildings. There is in the middle of the town the Duke of Norfolks house of Brick and stone, with several towers and turrets and balls yet looks well, with large gardens, but the inside is all demolished only the walls stand and a few rooms for offices, but nothing of state or tolerable for use.

Celia Fiennes (Dukes Palace)
The north side of Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, John Kirkpatrick 1710. Image: Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk, and Reggie Unthank.

From the Castle Hill you see the whole City at once, being built round it: it is a vast place and takes up a large tract of ground, it is 6 miles in compass. Here is the County hall and Goal where the assizes are held and the Sessions. Nothing of the Castle remains but a green space, and under it is also a large space for the beast market, and 3 times in the year there is very great faire kept to which resort a vast concourse of people, and wares – a full trade. The whole City looks like what it is, a rich thriving industrious place; Saturday is their great market day. They have beside the town hall a hall distinct which is the scaling hall where their stuffs are all measured, and if they hold their breadths and lengths they are scaled, but if they are defective there is a fine laid on the owner and a private mark on the stuff which shows its deficiency.

There was also the mint which they coined, but since the old money is all new, coined into milled money, that ceases. Here there is a fine large Cathedral and very lofty, but nothing remarkable of monuments or else: by it is 3 hospitals for boys, girls and old people who spin yarn, as does all the town besides for the Crapes, Calamancos and damasks which is the whole business of the place. Indeed, they are arrived to a great perfection in work, so fine and thin and glossy; their pieces are 27 yards in Length and their price is from 30 shillings to 3 pound as they are in fineness. A man can weave 13 yards a day, I saw some weaving; they are all employed in spinning, knitting weaving, dying, scouring or bleaching stuffs. Their hospitals are well provided for; there are 32 women in one as many men in the other, there is also a good free school.

Celia Fiennes (Guild Day)
Guild Day, of which Celia Fiennes refers to below. Image: Courtesy of  Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

There are a great many ceremonies in the choice and swearing in of their mayor: they elect him the first day of May and prepare for his being sworn in on Holy Thursday. They newly wash and plaster their houses within and without which they strike out in squares like free stone. All the street in which is this mayor elect’s house, is very exact in beautifying themselves and hanging up flags of the Councillors’ companies, and dress up pageants and there are players and all sorts of show that day – there is little that is not done at the Lord mayor of London show. Then they have a great feast with fine flags and scenes hung out, music and dancing. I was in the hall where they keep [hold] their feast in and saw some of their preparations for that day; being about a fortnight to it.

The town is a mile and a half from the North to the South gate. Just by one of the Churches there is a wall made of flints that is headed very finely and cut so exactly square and even to shut in one to another that the whole wall is made without cement at all they say, and there appears to be very little, if any, mortar; it looks well, very smooth shining and black. A great many dissenters are in this City. The gentle-woman that was my acquaintance there died 10 days before I came here, so I made no great stay only to see about the town.

Thence I went to Windham [Wymondham], a little market town 5 miles, mostly on a Causey [causeway], the County being low and moorish, and the road on the Causey was in many places full of holes though it is secured by a bar at which passengers pay a penny a horse in order to the mending of the way, for all about is not to be ridden on unless it is a very dry summer. Thence we went mostly through lanes where you meet the ordinary people, knitting 4 or 5 in a company [group] under the hedges. To Attleborough, 5 mile more to a little village, still finding the County full of spinners and knitters: thence to Thetford 6 miles more, which was formerly a large place but now much decayed and the ruins only shows its dimensions. There is a very high hill quite round which stands up on one side of it and can scarcely be ascended so steep. Here I lay, which is still in Norfolk.

Celia Fiennes (Thetford Hill)
Thetford’s Castle Hill © Copyright Colin Park and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Next day I went to Euston Hall which was the Lord Arlington’s and by his only daughters’ marriage with the Duke of Grafton is his sons by her. Two miles from Thetford it stands in a large park, 6 miles about, the house is a Roman H of brick: 4 towers with balls on them; the windows are low and not sashes Else the rooms are of a good size and height, a good staircase full of good pictures, a long gallery hung with pictures at length, on the one side is the Royal family from King Henry 7th by the Scottish race, his Eldest daughter down to the present King William and his queen Mary. The other side are foreign princes from the Emperor of Morocco, the Northern and Southern princes and Emperor of Germany. There is a square in the middle where stands a billiard table, hung with outlandish pictures of Heroes; there is Count Egmont and Horn at the end of the room is the Duke and Duchess of Grafton’s picture at length.

Celia Fiennes (Euston Hall_Ashley Dace)2
Front Entrance of Euston Hall © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Then I entered into the dining and drawing rooms and bed chambers of a very good size and good fret work on the ceiling: in one of the rooms was the Duchess of Cleveland’s picture in a sultaness dress, the Duke of Grafton being King Charles’s seconds base son by her. There was also another picture of ye Royal family. King Charles I’s five children altogether. I have often seen 3 which was King Charles II, King James and the Princess of Orange; but here was also the Lady Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester, a little Infant on a pillow. In another place there is the Queen Mother’s picture the Lady Henrietta drawn large.

Celia Fiennes (Euston Hall_Ashley Dace)
Rear View of Euston Hall © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

There is a fine hall and parlour below, paved with free stone. There are good gardens with fountains and some stone statutes, a Canal by the side, a large court at the entrance with three Iron bar gates which open to the front, divided with stone pillars and balls. The outside Court is walled round and the wall is carried a great length round to the back yards. Within this is another Court with an iron spiked palisade divided every 2 or 3 yards by little stone pillars with balls. There are several rows of trees running the great length through the park; a visto to the front of the house, which looks nobly though, not just of the new modelled way of building. At the back gate I crossed over the river Waveney which is the division of the two County’s and entered Suffolk and passed over perfect downs; champion country, just like Salisbury Plain; and the winds have a pretty power here and blows strongly in the winter and not well to be endured.

Celia Fiennes5
A page from the diaries, with Celia’s signature.

With Celia’s journey over, have a look at the following BBC4’s little snippet at:

https://youtu.be/f32pAm_7Aik

Sources:
www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Fiennes
https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/university-of-nebraska-press/9781496202260/
https://martinevanelk.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/the-intrepid-and-inquiring-celia-fiennes/
Banner Heading Image: Gesina ter Borch, Woman on Horseback in a Landscape (Vrouw te paard in een landschap, 1660). Rijksmuseum, BI-1887-1463-25

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

Norfolk: A Hidden & Forgotten Railway.

Amongst the list of Victorian British railway pioneers you will not find the name of William Betts (1810-1885), principally because he was not a ‘major player’ – today’s terminology! But he was certainly important, around the mid-19th century, as far as the local community that lived and worked in the Scole Parish in Norfolk were concerned. Betts was also the diving force behind the development of his 400-acre market garden business there, together with the design and construction of his very own railway system which serviced that business. His railway, built very much to his design of its route and its waggons, has been referred to as either the ‘Frenze Farm Railway’ and ‘The Scole Railway’ – whichever one prefers perhaps! Either way, we have here a story of William Betts, along with some detail of the geographic structure and layout of the parish community in which he once conducted his business.

Scole Railway (Frenze Beck)
The Ford across the stream leading to Frenze Hall. Photo: © Copyright John Walton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The present-day Scole Parish is in the local government district of South Norfolk. To the south it is bordered by the River Waveney and the neighbouring County of Suffolk, with the town of Diss facing it from the west. This parish now contains not just the village of Scole, but also Billigford, Thelveton and Frenze – not forgetting the deserted village of Thorpe Parva. Indeed, in Betts’s time, the Parish was known as ‘Scole with Thorpe Parva and Frenze’, but reverted to simply ‘Scole’ when in 1935 the parishes of Billingford and Thelveton were abolished and were joined to Scole. The village of Frenze – in earlier times Frense, Frens or Frence and locally pronounced as ‘Fi-renze’ – stands in a picturesque spot on the banks of Frenze, a fast-flowing tributary of the larger river Waveney.

Scole Railway (St Andrews)
The ancient church of St Andrew at Frenze Hall, near Diss in South Norfolk. More info here: www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/frenze/frenze.htm. Photo: Carol Gingell.

William Betts himself, was born in 1810 to parents Thomas Betts (1783-1847) and Sarah (nee’ Smith 1784-1855) who produced a total of eight children. William became a businessman and brick manufacturer and was married to Julia Wildman Sparling on 30 March 1843 at All Saints Church, Colchester. Then, in 1844, he became Lord of the Manor of Frenze, within the parish and patron of St Andrew’s Church and becoming, along with a Mr Browning, the chief landowners at Frenze. Betts also had extended family connections there – along with his dreams!

Scole Railway (Frenze Hall)
Frenze Hall, near Diss in South Norfolk. Built in the early 17th century, the hall and it’s estate was purchased by William Betts in the 1860s and it’s 400 acres of land were converted into vast market gardens supplying London with fresh vegetables. To service the estate, Betts built a standard gauge railway which connected to the mainline at Diss and ran eastwards to Scole and north above Frenze hall, covering around 7 miles in total, with branches leading off in several directions to cover the whole estate. William Betts also owned two brick fields in the area and, in the 1880s, added the brick facade to Frenze Hall using his own wares. Photo: Carol Gingell.

By around 1861, Betts was in the position to buy the Frenze Hall Estate from his uncle Sheldrake Smith – but, apparently, did not live in the Hall itself. Instead, in 1863, he bought ‘The Court’ (see Map, bottom L/H corner) from a William Ellis and this became his home. The Court, once stood between Vince’s Lane and the railway line, but has long been demolished. Concurrent with his property acquisitions ran his ‘master plan’ of transforming the Estate’s 400 acres from agricultural fields into a vast market garden. Large barns and other ancillary buildings were to be built, in conjunction with the building of his railway, a system that would allow him to export his fresh vegetable produce direct to London by way of a connection to the Great Eastern Railway system at Diss station.

Scole Railway (lost-scole-railway-line)2
This track across the fields near Diss, in South Norfolk was once part of the Scole Railway, built by William Betts in the 1860s to service his vast market gardens at the Frenze Hall Estate. The standard gauge rail line ran between the main station at Diss and the Scole Inn to the east, and above Frenze hall to the north. This part of the track ran between Dark Lane, along Millers lane to towards Scole. Photo: Carol Gingell.

The railway would transport his produce to London daily, and to avoid empty runs back to Norfolk, the returning wagons would be filled with fresh manure from the City’s streets and stables; this would be spread on the land. But manure would not necessarily be the only commodity delivered back to the market garden; some train wagons returned filled with coal and delivered direct to the brickworks located just behind Diss station; these brickworks had been created by William Betts to both enhance the value of his line, but also to provide materials for the building of his workers’ houses in and around Scole. As owner of Frenze Hall, he also saw to it that his red bricks encased the 17th century timber-framed Hall with a façade, resulting in the present-day ‘late Victorian’ external appearance protecting its much older oak-framed structure more-or-less intact inside.

Scole Railway (Map_ Carol Gingell)
Map of the Scole Railway which was built by William Betts to service the Frenze Estate in South Norfolk. Photo: Carol Gingell.

As for the railway track itself; this was of standard gauge, which allowed his trains to run straight on and off the Great Eastern line. In total, the length of the Frenze Farm/Scole Railway network reached approximately seven miles, including a number of sidings near the Great Barn on the Frenze Estate, where the produce was sorted and packed. According to Christopher Weston, the route of Betts’s railway began at Diss station, from behind the Jolly Porter’s Inn (closed 25th October, 1973) in Station Road. The line headed east to Dark Lane, where it branched east and north, via a turntable. Then the eastern branch continued to buffers behind the Scole Inn public house, with two more branches leading south to Betts’ brick fields, then north to Nab Barn and several sidings. Here, again was where the produce was sorted and packed. From Dark Lane, the northern branch went to Frenze Hall Farm, before crossing the river and ending at buffers near the Great Eastern line. Yet another branch below Frenze Hall continued to a field known as ‘Scotland’.

 

(Adove Photos) This girder rail bridge crosses the river at Frenze Hall. It was once part of the Scole Railway which was built by William Betts. This northern branch of the railway, from Dark Lane, took the line up to Frenze Hall farm before crossing the river over this bridge and ending at buffers near to the GER line at Diss station. Photos: Carol Gingell.

William Betts owned the Frenze Hall Estate until his death in 1885 and, as his son had already pre-deceased him, the entire property was put under the management by the Court of Chancery while his affairs were sorted out. The manager was a Thomas W. Gaze, auctioneer and land agent who became the tenant of the Estate from 1886. Gaze not only took over the Frenze Estate but closed the market garden and railway, which was said to be under capitalised by then. He also arranged for the line to be pulled up before running the subsequent two-day auction of the entire estate’s equipment, horses, railway track and locomotives. The rail lines were sold for scrap to George Archer of Yarmouth, with some track syphoned off by thieves. The two locomotives, (one a 2-4-0 saddle tank, manufactured by Brotherhoods of Chippenham and the other, an 0-4-OT made by Hughes of Loughborough), raised £20 each and were shipped to India. In 1898 the Frenze Estate was eventually purchased by the neighbouring Thelveton Estate.

Scole Railway (Great Barn)
More evidence of the vast market gardens and the Scole railway established at Frenze Hall  in the 1860s by William Betts. This is marked on contemporary maps as being the “Great Barn” and the rail line ran directly behind it. Given the huge arched doorways, one wonders whether this could possibly have been used as an engine or maintenance shed for the locos? A large water storage tank was housed at the barn, fed by underground pipes which led from a pumping station that Betts built near to the river. Nearby stood the large Lay’s Barn, also built by Betts, and used for sorting and packing of produce from the market gardens. Lay’s Barn is no more, the site on which it stood is now occupied by a handful of 1960s built houses. The Great Barn has been renovated as small office units as Diss Business Centre, run by South Norfolk District Council.Photo: Carol Gingell.
Scole Railway (Farm)
When William Betts purchased the Frenxe Hall estate in the 1860s, he expanded the farm at the hall. This range of barns looks to be contemporary with that expansion and are certainly marked on maps of the time. These were no doubt used in connection with the 400 acres of market gardens established here by Betts. In the background is the small church of St Andrew’s – no longer used regularly but still consecrated and under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.Photo: Carol Gingell.
Scole Railway (Derelic Building)
Another legacy of William Betts ownership of the Frenze Hall Estate in the late 1800s. A sadly derelict barn on the farm. One map of the railway which Betts built to service his market gardens shows that a section of railtrack led directly into this building. The track certainly ran along the rear of the farm, over the river and on up to buffers near to the GER mainline above Diss. Photo: Carol Gingell.

As an aside, the Frenze Hall estate was a RAF Bomber Command ‘Splasher Six’ site during World War II; its transmissions guiding aircraft missions. Radio equipment was installed inside a collection of single-deck buses and huts in one of the fields. The transmissions frequently interfered with local BBC radio, resulting in complaints from the populace. During the war bombs did fall at Frenze but the Hall and St Andrew’s Church were undamaged. Finally, ‘Splashers’, operated by the RAF in the East Anglia area during this period were: Splasher 4 – Louth; Splasher 5 – Mundesley (near Cromer); Splasher 6 – Scole (S of Norwich); Splasher 7 – Braintree; Splasher 10 – Windlesham and Splasher 16 – Brampton Grange.

Scole Railway (Splasher Six)
A derelict building in the grounds of Frenze Hall which is believed to have been one of those built during WW2 when the hall was used as a Splasher Six Beacon site. Frenze Hall was one of a series of transmitting bases along the east coast which helped to guide returning aircraft back to base. The Thorpe Abbots airbase was just up the road. Photo: Carol Gingell.

Today, you would be hard pushed to trace the once busy Scole Railway – unless, of course, you were an archaeologist! Again, according to Christopher Weston, it was back in 2015, that work was scheduled to begin on the construction of a new care home in Diss; however, ahead of this an archaeological dig was permitted, with unbelievable results. As digging progressed, floors, ovens, brick kilns and even traces of railways sidings were found. Then, not too far from today’s Diss mainline station, hidden railway sidings were located. These did not, initially, seem unusual but opinion soon changed when further research revealed that this was only part of something much bigger and it was just the brick kilns, which were thought to have been used for the 19th century’s housing in Diss. The railway sidings discovered were eventually confirmed as being part of the 7-mile private railway network built by William Betts.

Scole Railway (Betts Grave)
The memorial stone over the grave of the Betts family at St Andrew’s Church at Frenze, Diss, in Norfolk. William Betts, born December 1810, died June 1885. Sadly, the memorial shows that William’s wife Julia Wildman Betts, and his two eldest sons, William and Edward, predeceased him. Census returns show that William and Julia also had six daughters and another son. Photo: Carol Gingell.

So, Dr Beeching of the 20th century could not be blamed for the closure of the Scole Railway; although he was certainly responsible for Norfolk losing numerous miles of its railway track and dozens of stations during the early 1960’s. Neither did he have his hand in the closure of numerous ’Light’ or ‘Narrow-Gauge” railways in Norfolk, built to commercially transport goods across estates, through private land, for RAF use and for other industrial purposes. Finding these could be a project for someone interested in discovering evidence of pioneering engineering some of which, like the Scole railway, have long been hidden in the Norfolk landscape.

THE END

Sources:
‘The Scole Railway’ by N.A. Brundell and K.J. Whittaker, published in The Railway Magazine April 1955; ‘Waveney Valley Studies’ by Eric Pursehouse, published by the Diss Publishing Company in 1969. Also, ‘Branches & Byways of East Anglia’ by John Brodribb.
Photos:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/28466597@N04/albums/72157637874175125/
https://www.flickriver.com/photos/28466597@N04/sets/72157637874175125/
www.blennerhassettfamilytree.com/Frenze-Hall,-Norfolk.php

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

1381: The Peasants’ Final Battle!

This article originates via the Wikipedia, free encyclopaedia site and Wikiwand. The original Article, Notes, References and Sources can be accessed (Here) and from the ‘Source’ below. It is reproduced here in mainly unamended form, but without any of the advertising and extraneous content, which detracts from an interesting read. See also the ‘NOTICE’ at the foot of this page:

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The Battle of North Walsham was a medieval battle fought on 25 or 26 June 1381, near the town of North Walsham in the English county of Norfolk, in which a large group of rebellious local peasants was confronted by the heavily armed forces of Henry le Despenser, Bishop of Norwich. The battle is significant for being the last occurrence of any major resistance during the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

Battle_of_North_Walsham (The Fighting Bishop)4
14th-century carving of Henry le Despenser, misericord in a chancel stall in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn

Despenser succeeded in suppressing the rebellion that broke out throughout East Anglia that summer. His force at first consisted of his own retinue, but numbers swelled as aristocrats saw both his victories and the harsh retribution meted out to the rebels. He moved across East Anglia towards Norwich and then onwards to North Walsham to deal with the rebels, led by Geoffrey Litster, the so-called ‘King of the Commons’. At North Walsham the rebels were decisively defeated by Despenser’s men. Medieval chroniclers differ in their accounts of exactly what happened at North Walsham. After the battle, Litster was captured and executed by Despenser, but the records of the time and subsequent histories disagree on the fate of his rebel army.

Background:

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was a major rebellion that spread throughout medieval England during the summer of that year. Its causes are complex. The drop-in population caused by the Black Death, which arrived in England in 1348, resulted in an acute labour shortage and consequently, higher wages. The Statute of Labourers (1351) was a law enacted during the first parliament of Edward III, to make labour laws and their intended enforcement more precise and detailed, and also to allow the government to control wages. It had the effect of making life more difficult for peasants, but more profitable for the wealthy landowners. Further discontent erupted from the behaviour of those nobles who ruled on behalf of the boy-king Richard II, and also from the position of the church; as many priests were ill-educated, and the bishops and abbots themselves were landowners, it was generally hated by the common people. Feelings were stirred up by rebellious priests such as John Ball, who criticised the church wherever the common people flocked to him to listen to his words.

Battle_of_North_Walsham (Peasant's Revolt)3
The Black Death played a key part in producing the conditions for the Peasants’ Revolt. Fragment of a miniature from The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique).

The Revolt began in Essex, following the introduction of a succession of highly unpopular poll taxes levied against the English population. In 1377 the expense of the Hundred Years’ War had caused the government to introduce a poll tax of four pence. By 1380 this had tripled, but as many refused to pay, revenues dropped. The imposition of a third poll tax in 1381 prompted unrest in Essex and Kent, which then spread all over England. According to the Anonimalle Chronicle, the ‘evil actions’ of the commons in both Essex and Kent were ‘because of the exceptionally severe tenths and fifteenths and other subsidies lightly conceded in parliaments and extortionately levied from the poor people’. Most serious of all were events that occurred in London on 13–15 June. During the summer, rebels from Kent and Essex marched to London and, once admitted to the city, managed to capture the Tower of London. King Richard, who had promised to agree to all the demands of the peasants, met the rebels outside the city, where the peasants’ leader, Wat Tyler, was killed and the rebellion was ended. Once they were defeated it became clear to the rebels that they had failed to gain Richard’s support. Whilst the king was at Waltham, in Essex, a proclamation was issued condemning the rebels and denying that he had ever approved of their actions. At Waltham, Richard refused to ratify the promises he made, as he believed they had been extorted by force, adding, “Villeins ye are still, and villeins ye shall remain”, and threatening vengeance upon those who had rebelled.

The rebellions in Essex, Kent and London spread to many other English counties. In Norfolk, the rebellion started on 14 June, when a group of rebels from Suffolk reached the county, and spread westwards towards the Fens and north-eastwards towards Norwich and Yarmouth. As in other parts of the country there was widespread unrest, during which property and official documents were destroyed and several individuals were summarily executed.

The Leaders:

Battle_of_North_Walsham (Blason)2
Arms of Henry le Despenser, Bishop of Norwich: Quarterly 1st & 4th: Argent; 2nd & 3rd: Gules, a fret or, over all a bend sable (Despencer, paternal arms) a bordure argent of bishop’s mitres or (for difference)

Henry le Despenser (c. 1341–1406) was an English nobleman who in his early life had been a soldier in Italy, and who in 1370 became Bishop of Norwich. He obtained a reputation as the ‘Fighting Bishop’ after playing his part in suppressing the Norfolk rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt, and later embarking on an ill-fated enterprise for Pope Urban VI, who in 1382 employed him to lead a crusade in Flanders against the supporters of the anti-pope Clement VII. For his defeat at the siege of Ypres (1383), Despenser was impeached in Parliament, attainted and deprived of his lands. He later regained his lands and favour with King Richard II of England. In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire and the military campaign that followed resulted in Richard’s abdication. Despenser remained true to Richard: he was subsequently imprisoned, but was afterwards reconciled with the new king. Henry le Despenser died in his diocese at North Elmham on 23 August 1406.

Little is known of Geoffrey Litster (also named by medieval chroniclers as Iohanne Lyttestere and Jekke Litster), a moderately wealthy dyer from the village of Felmingham in Norfolk. He is first recorded in the returns made by the collectors of the 1379 poll tax in Norfolk. As peasants, he and his men would have been both untrained and unequipped to fight Despenser’s fully armed and trained force. Geoffrey Litster was captured after the battle and executed soon afterwards at North Walsham.

Events in Norfolk Before the Battle:
During the summer of 1381, insurrection spread from the south-east of the country to other parts of England, including the diocese of Norwich, where the rebellion lasted less than a fortnight. On 14 June a group of rebels reached Thetford, and from there the revolt spread over south-western Norfolk towards the Fens. At the same time the rebels, led by Geoffrey Litster, moved across the north-eastern part of the county and tried to raise support throughout the local area. Over the next few days, the rebels converged on Norwich, Lynn and Swaffham. Norwich, then one of the largest and most important cities in the realm, was taken and occupied by Litster and his followers, who caused considerable damage to the property and possessions of anyone they perceived as an enemy (such as poll tax collectors and important officials) once they managed to enter the city. The Norwich rebels then travelled to Yarmouth, destroying legal records and landowners’ possessions, while other insurgents moving across north-east Norfolk destroyed court rolls and taxation documents. There were numerous incidents of pillage and extortion across the whole county.

The Anonimalle Chronicle gives a clear account of the unrest in East Anglia. On hearing of the rebellion, Henry le Despenser acted swiftly, moving through Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk from his home in Burley, Rutland. His armed force initially consisted of his personal retinue, but ultimately became a much larger force consisting of many knights and other men who had previously not dared to confront the rebels. According to the historian Edgar Powell, Henry Dispenser undertook the task of dealing with the revolt in his diocese and punishing the rebels. He was involved in crushing rebellions at Peterborough and elsewhere, before moving on to suppress the revolts in Cambridge. The authorities were alerted to the call in Norfolk for men to join the revolt in the name of Litster. On 17 June the rebels from the north and east of the county assembled on Mousehold Heath, outside Norwich: shortly afterwards, Sir Robert Salle, who had come out of the city to speak with the commons, was killed. According to Thomas Walsingham, the knight died soon after he was ‘knocked on the head by a rustic who was one of his own serfs’. The rebels then entered Norwich and wreaked havoc, destroying property and killing several prominent citizens. Other houses and church properties within the county (such as at Yarmouth) were attacked by the rebels at this time.

Geoffrey Litster was at Thorpe Market on 21 June and by the next day Despenser had reached nearby Felmingham. Hearing that the rebels were close, Despenser travelled the short distance from Felmingham to North Walsham Heath, where he encountered Litster and his men.

The Battle of North Walsham and its aftermath (1381):
There are no eyewitness accounts of the battle that was fought at North Walsham on 25 or 26 June 1381. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham related that there was a fierce engagement at North Walsham Heath, south of the town, in which “the warlike Bishop” led a successful attack on the rebels’ entrenched position. The Escheators’ Inquisitions for the period that name Litster also included the names of rebels from North Walsham who were killed, giving strong evidence that the rebels suffered a severe defeat.

Battle_of_North_Walsham (Site)1
The site of the Battle, near the town of North Walsham.

According to Thomas Walsingham, the rebels were routed as they fled through woodland and cut down as they were found. Writing in the 19th century, Walter Rye quoted a local man, “They dew say a’mazin’ lot of men are buried in that pightle.” The local belief that the parish church at North Walsham was the scene of a bloodbath after the battle cannot be substantiated using historical documents. According to The Book of Illustrious Henries, written by the 15th-century historian John Capgrave, very little fighting took place. The chronicler related that:

“But by the good management of the Bishop, and of other men who had assembled there, the whole people surrendered, rejoicing that they might withdraw in peace. Jack Litster himself, leaping over a wall, hid himself in a corn-field”.

Inevitably the rebels’ ‘king’ was found. Walsingham and Capgrave agree that after Geoffrey Litster’s capture, he was taken to North Walsham and was there hung, drawn and quartered. According to Capgrave’s chronicle:

“The traitor was sought and found; he was captured and beheaded; and, divided into four parts, he was sent through the country to Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lynn, and to the site of his mansion; that rebels and insurgents against the peace might learn by what end they will finish their career”.

Walsingham wrote an account of the mercy shown by the bishop to Litster during his execution:

“After hearing his confession and absolving him by virtue of his office, he followed him to the gallows, showing, although he had overcome him, a deed of kindness and piety, for he supported his head lest it should be bruised by the ground when he was being drawn to the hanging”.

Litster’s widow Agnes was later pursued by the authorities and was made to settle his outstanding debts (for the sum of 33 shillings and nine pence).[29]

Commemoration of the Battle:

Battle_of_North_Walsham (ancient_cross)6
One of three medieval crosses near the site of the battle.
Battle_of_North_Walsham (modern_sculptue)7
A modern sculpture in the Memorial Park, North Walsham, carved in 1999 by Mark Goldsworthy from the trunk of a 120-year-old oak tree. It commemorates the 1381 Battle of North Walsham and the end of Peasants’ Revolt. Photo: Wikiwand.

The site of the battle is one of only five battlefields in Norfolk that are recognised by Norfolk County Council. The battle was commemorated by three medieval stone crosses: one is on private land; another (now a stump) was relocated by North Walsham Urban District Council in 1932 and can be found near the roadside by the town’s water towers; the third cross was moved and used as a parish boundary marker. It is situated on Toff’s Loke, off Norwich Road.

Battle_of_North_Walsham (Sign)8
North Walsham’s town sign contains a mosaic depicting the Peasants’ Revolt.

THE END

Source:
https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Battle_of_North_Walsham

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.