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Don’t Take Up Farming, Old Chap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3_Bugg Cottages before renovation2
Bugg Cottages before renovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_Threshing time2
Threshing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_Auction catalogue, 19452
Auction Catalogue, 1945.

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTCRIPT:

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

Anne Williamson

THE END

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

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

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

 

Two Men into Tobacco, Cigars and Snuff!

By Haydn Brown.

The Norwich firm of James Newbegin & Son, tobacco and cigar manufacturers, was well established in the city when the owner’s son, George James Newbegin, was born in 1845 – and a certain Daniel Adcock joined the company two years later. These two men were destined to work together before George, the son of the owner, retired and Daniel, who previously had looked after the manufacturing side of the business, secured joint ownership of the business, renaming it Adcock & Denham. The two men were quite different in character and best treated separately for the purposes of biography.

Priory

George Newbegin was educated in the Priory School, or Norwich Grammar School. he grew up to be a quiet and somewhat reserved in manner; someone who indulged in walking and solving chess problems. He also had inherited a love for all things scientific from his father, which was satisfied when he was to specialise in astronomy. On the way to indulging in the more serious aspects of life and work, he also had sporting instincts which were to lead him into yachting.

Immediately after schooling, George became apprenticed to a firm of booksellers and stationers in Tunbridge Wells. From there he later returned to Norwich to assist his father, James, in his tobacco business, and to which he succeeded in 1871 at the age of 26 years. His love of things scientific and particularly astronomy led him, in 1875 to erect his first 5-inch equatorial telescope in the quadrangle of his factory in Norwich. The difficulties he had in doing this was because the factory quadrangle was not only 35 feet square but was surrounded by walls that were 30 feet high, and admitted only a very limited horizon. Not to be put off, however, he built his telescope on a high pillar and so overcame, to some extent, the difficulties of the situation. At the same time, it appears not to have been documented just how easy, or difficult, it was for him to look through the lens – but apparently, he did – and was happy!

We know nothing more about George, particularly his handling of his tobacco business, only that by 1882, eleven years after taking over the business from his father, he found himself in a position where he was able to retire. This opportunity seems to have arisen when he agreed to sell his business to Daniel Adcock, employee, and his partner, a Mr S Denham – see below. As for George, he moved to a private dwelling named the Town House on the Yarmouth Road in Thorpe St Andrew – today, its address is 18-22 Yarmouth Road and is the Town House Hotel. There he re-erected his telescope in more spacious surroundings at the rear of the house, a somewhat grand house that overlooked the Old Reach of the River Yare; there the railway and “New Cut” had created Thorpe Island with Jenner’s basin visible on the opposite bank.

Although not part of this story, it may be of interest to some readers that for many years during the turn of the 18th century and into the early years of the 19th, George’s house was the home of Edmund Cotman, a silk merchant. More importantly, however, is that Edmund was the father of John Sell Cotman, the famous artist who, amongst many other paintings, produce “View from my Father’s House”, probably from the very spot where George had his telescope many years later. That painting is now housed in the Norwich Castle Museum.

The Town House was subsequently inhabited by John Sell’s (left images above) two sons –  Miles Edmunds (centre image above) and John Joseph (right image above). Our subject, George Newbegin was to follow.

In 1888, the same year when George Newbegin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, he added considerably to his equipment at Thorpe and went on, over the next 16 years to study the sun and contribute to the knowledge of luminary by spectroscopic observations, and also by photography of sunspots. For many years his observatories at Thorpe were opened to the public every Easter Monday, and many people owed their first acquaintance with the heavens to George’s public spirit. On one occasion 241 persons came to his door.

But it was in the autumn of 1904 when George Newbegin left Norwich for Sutton in Surrey; there he re-erected his then 9-inch telescope and mounted the photographic lens alongside, and for the remaining years of his life spent his entire time observing and publishing his results annually in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Journal. He died on 4 April 1919.

As for Daniel Adcock, his life took quite a different path before arriving at James Newbegin & Son in Norwich in 1847. He was born in 1805 and when barely two years old his parents sailed for a new life in America. However, their journey was interrupted somewhat when the family, and others, were taken prisoner by Spaniards and taken to Spain. They did, however, eventually arrived in New York, where his father became involved with the manufacture of cigars – and here lies the clue to what followed as far as Daniel was concerned. The family were to return to settle in London before Daniel, at least, ventured back to Norwich in 1847. It was at this point when he became employed by James Newbegin & Son, tobacco and cigar manufacturers; he responsible for looking after the manufacturing side of the business; a business that was spread about the city in such locations as Queen Street, Bridewell Alley and the Market Place.

5
Mr S Denham, partner of Daniel Adcock. Photo: Credit Archant

At some point thereafter, Daniel Adcock teamed up with a Mr S. Denham and, in 1882 it seems, took over the Newbegin business, changing its name to Adcock & Denham – the moment when George Newbegin had decided to retire. When that happened, there was a clear opportunity for the new owners to expand the business and the partners did so by opening a larger factory and stores, something that was probably just what the old business needed; it grew into a thriving business, employing many more employees.

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Making tobacco products at Adcocks & Denham, Norwich over a century ago. Photo:Credit: Archant

Adcock & Denham continued to produce large quantities of cigarettes, cigars, tobacco and snuff at a time when these products were popular and in high demand. It was said that around 40 staff of men and women were engaged solely on producing the company’s ‘Sure Shot’ cigar; apparently, they made an average of 2 million every year which were shipped around the world.

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Same department making tobacco products. Photo: Credit Archant.

The business flourished further when Daniel’s son, Ernest, took over. The company moving to new and bigger premises in Pottergate Street, and a central depot was opened on Exchange Street and there were also shops in the Back of the Inns and even at King’s Lynn. The raw material necessary to make the firm’s products arriving regularly in Norwich from across the world in hogsheads, tierces or bales; the supplying countries included America, Cuba, Borneo, Java, Turkey, Sumatra, China and Japan.

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Sure Shot cigars, plus other tobacco products, on cart at the ‘Bess of Bedlam’ public house stables in Oak Street, Norwich. Photo 1895: Credit Archant.

But such was the type of business that it regularly attracted the attention of an Excise Officer who would arrive at the factory every day to:

‘Take care that the proper contribution is paid to the State for the privilege of manufacturing tobaccos.’

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Daniel Adcock who arrived in Norwich  in 1847 and eventually took over the old firm of James Newbegin & Son, tobacco and cigar manufacturers. Photo: Credit Archant.

Alongside production and inspection of goods, it was also clear that Adcock & Denham was not only well run, but also had the well-being of its employees at heart. One report in 1904 stated:

‘Cigarette making is proceeding at full swing. Nimble hands, and the turn-out at the time of our visit appears to be sufficient to supply a very large army of smokers.’ They added: ‘The rooms are bright, airy and warm throughout, and the workers are cheerful, clean and tidy in appearance and evidently suffer no inconvenience or injury to health from the trade in which they are engaged.’

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Ernest Adcock, son of Daniel, who died in 1936 aged 81 – said to have been one of the first people in Norwich to own a motor car. Photo: Credit Archant.

In 1936, the then head of the family firm, Ernest Daniel Adcock, died at his home at Glenhurst, in Eaton; he was aged 81 years. An artist, he showed his work at the Woodpecker Club, he had been one of the original members of Eaton Golf Club and among the first people in Norwich to own a motor car. His first was a Wolseley in 1903 – before the days of compulsory number plates.

THE END

Sources:
Men Who Have Made Norwich by Edward & Wilfred Burgess, 1903/4.
https://britastro.org/sites/default/files/Newbegin%20George%20James-13_organized.pdf
https://www.edp24.co.uk/lifestyle/from-a-spanish-prison-to-an-empire-built-on-cigars-1067442

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

By Haydn Brown.

His name was Allison Davie and it was said that he was born on 4 May 1796; presumably at Great Yarmouth because, as one biography stated, he was “baptised privately the next day at Great Yarmouth, England”. Confusingly however, another source stated that he was born in Scotland! Solely on the basis that it would not have been possible for a barely one-day old baby to be carried from 18th century Scotland to Norfolk in one day, this blog will continue with the following:

Allison Davie (Portrait_Wikimedia Commons)
Former Captain Allison Davie. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Allison Davie was the son of a Captain Allison Davie who, by the way, was buried at Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth in 1818; his mother was Elizabeth Cock. Apparently, young Allison Davie came from an old English family line that can be traced back to 1603 when an ancestor, William Davie lived in Stanfield, in Norfolk. Allison was to be the eldest of eight children, four boys and four girls.

It was during the Napoleonic Wars (18 May 1803 to 20 November 1815 – some 12 years, 5 months and 4 weeks) and while still young, Davie entered the service of the East India Company and took part in transporting British troops in the Mediterranean before transferring to the Atlantic route; he had gradually risen in rank. It was whilst he was on a trip to Quebec as a Captain, in early 1825, when he met Elizabeth Johnson Taylor; she was the only daughter of George Taylor, a shipbuilder, and Elizabeth his wife.

Daughter Elizabeth had been born at North Shields, England in 1803 and had left her native land aboard the clipper, Three Brothers – “The largest sailing ship in the world” – with her parents on 27 May 1811, reaching Quebec on 9 August that year. There, her father had immediately opened a shipyard on the southwest shore of Île d’Orléans at a place known as St Patrick’s Hole. Just over twelve months later, in December 1812, the war with the United States caused George Taylor to suspend his activities at St Patrick’s Hole and go with other sailors and carpenters to build ships in Upper Canada. On returning to Île d’Orléans after hostilities had ended, he resumed his original business operations.

1200px-Clipper_shipAllison Davie (Three_Brothers_Wikipedia)

Taylor’s yard prospered, and was still doing so in 1825 when Allison Davie from Norfolk, England, by then a 300-pound “giant” of a man and with an excellent reputation as a sea captain, landed at Quebec. He immediately fell in love with young Elizabeth Taylor – how and when exactly we do not know but events with this relationship flowered at pace. Her father, George, very soon agreed to his daughter’s marriage with Davie – but on two conditions: (1) that he abandon sailing and settle down as heir to the Taylor business and, (2) that he would give his future children the Taylor name. Davie agreed, and the marriage was performed by the Reverend James Harkness on 16 April 1825; this is according to the records of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at Quebec – which made the formalisation of the couple’s marriage swift indeed!

Allison Davie (Dalhousie_Library and Archives Canada)
The Governor of Quebec, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay. Image: Library & Archives Canada.

Two years later, on 14 May 1827, the Taylor enterprise, in which Davie was now an established partner, launched the King Fisher, a 221-ton, 16-gun, brigantine which was built for the Colonial Government. This launching turned out to be a major event with the Governor, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay and many other notable guests in attendance. It was Dalhousie himself who presented George Taylor with a silver cup, engraved with the Governor’s Coat of Arms surmounted by a unicorn, the ship’s figurehead which had been produced by the silversmith Laurent Amiot, a man conscious of his standing as a creative artist. As for the boatyard, it may appear strange that shortly after this even, it was shut down.

Allison Davie (Brigatine_Royal Museums Greenwich)
An example of an early 19th century Brigantine, similar to the ‘Kingfisher’ launched by the Taylor-Davie enterprise in 1827.

On 2 December 1829 Davie bought a waterfront property at the foot of the cliff at Pointe-Lévy on the south shore of the St Lawrence with a view to setting up his enterprise there. He purchased another site on 28 December the following year. On these lots he put up the facilities needed for repairing ships. But, as the Quebec Gazette reported on 5 March 1832, during the violent spring break-up “the large wharf” of his shipyard, “after being thrown over by the ice, was carried down the river.” At the same time, the shipbuilding market was weak but, undaunted by both the disaster and the market situation, Davie re- started from scratch, with such energy that by the autumn he had moved the family across the St Lawrence River to Pointe-Lévy where he had also bought a beach property and had set up his own ship repair yard, equipped with a “Patent Slip” or marine railway. Since there was only one other dry-docking facility in the port of Quebec at the time, the Canada Floating Dock at Cape Cove, Davie’s business prospered further.

Of all the qualities that contemporaries recognised in Davie, ingenuity was the one most stressed. For example, according to the Quebec Gazette of 29 Oct. 1832, he was the first person in the Canadas to employ a system invented in England that allowed ships to be repaired without being put into dry dock. For this purpose, he had an inclined marine railway built. The vessels, taken at high water, were hauled out of the river on a cradle which moved on iron rollers and drawn up by an iron chain. “We believe this is the first establishment of the kind formed in British America,” the newspaper added.

The ingenious Captain Davie was not destined, however, to live long after this achievement. Joseph-Edmond Roy, editor, notary, politician and historian, recounts:

“One evening in the month of June 1836, as he was moving in a rowboat past a ship anchored in mid-stream, the captain of the ship threw him a package, which fell into the sea instead of into the rowboat. In leaning overboard to catch the package, Davie fell in himself. He went under and did not come up.”

On 20 June the Le Canadien reported that Davie’s body, with:

“his gold watch, some money, and the keys he had on him, had been found at Saint-Pierre, Île d’Orléans, the preceding afternoon…. a few days after the accident in the roads.”

Twelve days after the accident, Allison Davie was buried at Quebec.

Allison Davie (Joseph Roy)
Joseph-Edmond Roy. Image: Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec

Elizabeth Davie, widowed at age 33 with seven children and pregnant with an eighth, took charge of the business in order to safeguard the family’s inheritance. The first woman to head a shipbuilding firm in Canada, she ran the yard and soon made a reputation for herself as a talented builder with a keen eye for which trees to cut down. On occasion she sought help from her father, who had retired but lived until 1861.

Around 1850 Elizabeth handed over the running of the company to her eldest son, George Taylor Davie, who had been apprenticed in John Munn’s shipyards in the faubourg Saint-Roch at Quebec. It was clear that training under Munn was a privilege, and several of his apprentices made their mark, George Taylor Davie was amongst them; his inherited business becoming the sole 19th century shipbuilder to survive to the present day.

Allison Davie’s son, George Taylor Davie, gradually bought up his sibling’s shares, with the result that on 28 May 1885 all of his father’s heirs declared him sole owner of the family business. His mother, Elizabeth Davie had died in 1860, at the age of 57 years. Thanks to George’s business sense and professional skill, the operation prospered and grew through the purchase of a site at Saint-Joseph (Lévis), where he founded the Davie Shipbuilding and Repairing Company Limited. Despite his short and modest career Allison Davie, a ship’s captain from Norfolk, England, had laid the foundation of an enterprise which, through his successors and name changes, won an enviable place in the shipbuilding and ship repairfield. It finally closed in 1989.

Allison Davie (Memorial Stone)
An existing plaque at 100 Quai Saint-André, Québec.
“During the Napoleonic Wars, rapidly growing British markets for Canadian timber created a demand for vessels to transport it, stimulating construction at Québec, the major timber port. At the peak of the trade about mid-century (1850) over 25 shipyards at the Port of Québec employed about 5,000 men and launched some 50 ocean-going wooden ships a year. After carrying a cargo of timber to Great Britain, most of these ships were sold to become a significant part of the British merchant navy on all the oceans of the world.”

THE END

Sources:
Biography – DAVIE, ALLISON – Volume VII (1836-1850) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Biography – DAVIE, GEORGE TAYLOR – Volume XIII (1901-1910) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Biography – ROY, JOSEPH-EDMOND – Volume XIV (1911-1920) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)

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

By Haydn Brown,

Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak!

At Fishley Hall there is such a story; firstly, it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused; however, there exists an estate map of the same year which provides such evidence. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe, or just bringing provisions for the Hall, farm and the estate?

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This more modern map shows the dyke from the River Bure leading up to Fishley Hall; in fact, it had its own turning basin so that boats could unload, or load, a cargo and turn round and go back to the river. Image: Ordnance Survey, licence CC BY SA 4.0.

A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and had lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did in 1712, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London.

By 1724, William Luson, was also the owner of the much larger Gunton Hall and its estate near Lowestoft, making him the lord of the manor of Gunton. This ancient title also gave salvage rights to the owner to anything washed ashore from sea wrecks which, over the centuries, were numerous. Is there a link here with the then William Luson and his Fishley Hall mooring facility?

In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed everything, including both estates to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling continued to live at Gunton Hall in Suffolk, with the same entitlements. It was during his period there when he is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was said to have been used later in the making of the famous Lowestoft Porcelain.

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A portrait of Hewling Luson (of Gunton, near Lowestoft) at an approximate age of 11 years, dated 1723. Painted by John Theodore Heins (1697-1756). Public Domain.

The story goes, according to the Suffolk historian Gillingwater, that the Lowestoft factory that was later established, came about under remarkable and somewhat romantic circumstances. It began when, around 1756, Hewling Luson befriended a shipwrecked Dutch mariner and provided him with accommodation at Gunton Hall until such time as the sailor was able to return to his own country.

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Teabowl and saucer, c. 1770, with a version of the “Redgrave” pattern. Images: Wikipedia.

On walking over his estate one day with the sailor, the latter noticed some clay which had been newly turned up, and remarked to his host:

“They make Delft-ware of that in my country.”

Acting upon this comment, Hewling was said to have taken the first steps towards experimenting with actually making porcelain. Gillingwater’s account also stated that Hewling’s pottery experiment seemed to have been reasonably accurate, but there was no actual indication of the whereabouts of the clay deposit used, or indeed whether this was the source actually used later by the Lowestoft Porcelain factory. Nevertheless, the account forms the basis of our knowledge of events today.

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Lowestoft Porcelain Teapot, c. 1770. Wikipedia.

A year later, around 1757, the Lowestoft Porcelain Factory was founded by the partnership of Messrs. Walker, Aldred, Richman, and Brown; it did not include Hewling Luson, although he clearly knew his tenant, the above Philip Walker, who became the principal of the new company. As for Hewling thereafter; by the October of 1761 he became bankrupt and his Gunton Hall estate and the Fishley estate in Norfolk was sold to Sir Charles Saunders.

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Sir Charles Saunders by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Wikipedia.

Hewling Luson remained in Lowestoft until at least 1765 when the Manor Roll records that:

“Robert Luson was admitted to the Fish Houses in the occupation of Hewling Luson, late of Gunton and now of Lowestoft” and, according to Gillingwater was “one of the town’s herring boat owners.” By 1777 Hewling had moved to Bethnal Green in London and died there.

THE END.

Sources Include:
https://norfolktalesmyths.com/2020/11/07/fishley-a-story-of-an-estate
https://archive.org/stream/historyantiquiti02suck/historyantiquiti02suck_djvu.txthttps://www.ornaverum.org/family/stewart-smith/hewling-luson.htmlhttps://chestofbooks.com/food/household/Woman-Encyclopaedia-2/The-Romance-Of-Old-China-Real-Lowestoft-Porcelain.html#VaKepRDbLGI

 

Old Scole, its White Hart and Sign!

By Haydn Brown.

Crossing the River Waveney from the south, through a flat landscape, the old Norwich Road entered Norfolk at Scole, or “Schoale,” as the name was often spelled in old times. To the west, Scole was bordered by the parish and town of Diss. This parish nowadays contains not just the village of Scole, but also Billingford, Thelveton, Frenze, and the deserted village of Thorpe Parva. Indeed, in the 19th century the parish was known as ‘Scole with Thorpe Parva and Frenze’, before reverting to simply ‘Scole’ when in 1935 the parishes of Billingford and Thelveton were abolished and joined to Scole. Scole was also recorded as Osmondeston in the Domesday Book. The name ‘Osmodeston’ derives from the Old English for Osmond’s enclosure or farm.

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The White Hart at Scole. Charles Harper 1901.

In years past, when coming over the little bridge which once straddled the Waveney, the village could be seen huddled together on either side of a very narrow road, which rose as it continued north. Both the village and its church were dominated by a large building of mellow red brick, its panelled chimney-stacks and long row of beautiful gables giving the impression of an historic mansion having, by some mysterious chance, been lifted from a nobleman’s estate and placed beside the highway. This is the White Hart which, at no time, was a private residence, but built as an inn; and an inn it remained for well over two-and-a-half centuries.

Scole itself, was quite a celebrated place in the days when the Inn flourished. Then, every traveller in Eastern England had either seen or heard of the “Scole White Hart” and its famous sign that stretched completely across the road. Because a great many coaches halted at the inn for teams to be changed, passengers had plenty of time to examine what Sir Thomas Browne thought to be:

“the noblest sighne-post in England.”

Both Inn and sign were built in 1655, for James Peck, described as a “Norwich merchant,” whose initials, together with the date, were seldom noticeable on the centre gable. The elaborate sign alone cost £1057 to make and erect. It was of gigantic size and loaded in excess of twenty-five carved figures of classic deities. As explained by a Charles Harper, in 1901, there was:

“Chaste Diana, with bow and arrow and two hounds; she had a place on the cross-beam, in company with Time in the act of devouring an infant; there was also Actæon and his dogs, a huntsman, and a White Hart couchant. On a pediment above the White Hart, supported by Justice and Temperance, was the effigy of an astronomer ‘Seated on a Circumferenter,’ who by some Chymical Preparation is so affected that in fine weather he faces the north and against bad weather he faces that quarter from whence it is about to come.

On either side of the astronomer were figures of ‘Fortitude’ and ‘Prudence’, a position hardly suitable for the first-named of those two virtues, but certainly too perilous for the second. Further suggestions of Olympus, with references to Hades and Biblical history, adorned the other portions of this extraordinary sign. Cerberus clawed one side of the supporting post, while Charon dragged a witch to Hell on the other; and Neptune bestriding a dolphin, and Bacchic figures seated across casks alternated with the arms of twelve East Anglian noble and landed families.

Two angels supported respectively the arms of Mr Peck, his lady and two lions – those of Norwich and Yarmouth. On the side nearest the inn appeared a huge carving of Jonah coming out of the whale’s mouth, while, suspended in mid-air, and surrounded by a wreath, was another White Hart.”

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The Old White Hart Sign.
This old view of the gigantic sign shows one of the peculiar basket coaches of the second half of the 18th century, on its way to London. Joshua Kirby depicted the White Hart in one of his earliest known works. John Fossey engraved Kirby’s depiction and the prints were issued in 1740.  The engraving measured 17.5″x22″ and included detailed representation of the sign with all its figures at a scale of half an inch to a foot. After Kirby’s death, the engraving was reprinted in Volume 2 of M.J. Armstrong’s 10-volume History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk (1781).

Although Sir Thomas Browne had been impressed with this work, an early 19th-century tourist, apparently, dismissed it as “a pompous sign, with ridiculous ornaments”. Shortly afterwards, the sign was taken down, for no other reason than “it cost the landlord more to keep it in repair than the trade of the house permitted.”

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Staircase inside the White Hart. Charles Harper 1901.

Together with this, the once celebrated ‘Great Bed of the White Hart’ also disappeared. It was a round bed and said to be capable of holding twenty couples and, therefore, a good deal larger than the famous Great Bed of Ware [see below]. Perhaps it was because guests did not relish this co-operative method of sleeping together, or maybe because sheets, blankets and coverlets of sufficient size were not easily available, that the Scole Great Bed was chopped up for firewood. Why on earth did anyone suppose that beds of this size and capacity would ever be desirable?

5
The famous Great Bed of Ware.

The “Scole White Hart” must have been among the very finest of inns and posting-houses in its day. Its wide staircases, its large rooms and fine panelled doors, its great stone-flagged kitchen, all proclaiming how great its old prosperity must have been. Even the wide-spreading yard at the rear of the Inn, together with its outbuildings, would have given some hint of how heavy the traffic must have once been, positioned as the Inn was, at the junction of the Lowestoft, Bungay, Diss and Thetford Road with that from London to Norwich. However, a gradual shrinking trade was to cause parts of the inn to be let; whilst the stone and wooden porches, seen in the old print, disappeared. The coach entrance was blocked up to become the bar, and the window mullions gave way to sashes. Nevertheless, the building still retained a noble architectural character which, perhaps, appears more interesting today.

Little or nothing is found in contemporary records of “Scole White Hart”; only that of its later years, when indignant would-be coach passengers stood at the door on a day in October 1822 and saw the drivers of the “Norwich Times” and “Gurney’s Original Day Coach,” fired by rivalry, and recklessness in their long race from Whitechapel, came pounding furiously up the road and over the bridge, passing the White Hart without stopping, and disappearing in clouds of dust in the direction of Norwich. It was said that Thorogood was driving the “Times” and both coaches started from London at 5.30 a.m. The “Day” coach reached Norwich at 5.20 p.m., and the “Times” ten minutes later, neither having stopped for changing horses during the last twenty-five miles. This was a “record” for that period, the usual time being fourteen hours.

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An illustration of an 18th century stagecoach, similar to those on the Norwich Road between London and Norwich.

Probably these ‘disappointed’ passengers stayed the night; a prospect which surely no one would have complained about? Guests at the “White Hart,” seem to enjoy being ‘coaxed’ into a feeling that they were living in another era; a feeling that would have grown as each wandered upstairs to bed, almost lost along the roomy corridors. After they had closed the nail-studded doors of their bedrooms and crept into the generous embrace of a damask-hung four-poster bed and gazed reflectively around their panelled room and up to the curiously coffered ceilings, they would have dropped soundly off to sleep. Old times would live again, faded flowers blossoming once more, forgotten footsteps echoing along the passages of time, post-chaises clattering up to the door, its noise consciously telling the sleeper that the sound is only that of a jolting rustic tumbril going down the road in the early morning. However, this is the twenty-first century, and the “White Hart” survives – from the back edges of life.

6
The Present-day White Hart at Scole, Norfolk.

Besides the “White Hart,” there remains little else at Scole. The plain flint tower of the church still stands by the roadside, on the ascent that leads from the village. Two or three inns, a few rustic shops, cottages, and a private residence of the past also helped make up this tale. Scole, in fact, has not grown greatly since it was a Roman station, and when the Roman soldiers whose remains have been found near the river occupied the military post on the long road to Venta Icenorum.

THE END

 

The Removal of the Attleburgh Slough.

By Haydn Brown.

From Thetford to Wymondham on the A11, which is approximately 21 miles between the two, there is a flat six miles near Attleborough. In the midst of this level tract of country, that used to have few villages and houses is the Attleborough by-pass. Today, alongside this modern thoroughfare is an increasing dilapidated stone which, to many, looks like a milestone; but when it was in its original position, long before the by-pass was on any drawing-board, it sat only three-quarters of a mile beyond the sixteenth mile-stone stone from Thetford. Clearly, it is, or was, something else other than a mile-stone.

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The Dial Stone, near Attleborough, Norfolk. Photo: flickr, Sleeptmyf.

In fact, it is called ‘The Dial’ stone, erected as a memorial to a donation by Sir Edwin Rich, which allowed the reconstruction of a six-mile section of the old road in 1695. It was one of the first three turnpikes to be authorised in Britain and the second to be built, predated only by the Great North Road. This old pillar used to be crowned by a sundial, though this no longer survives – and has not done so since just after 1730. As for the inscription, it just about says: –

‘This pillar was erected by order of the sessions of the peace of Norfolk as a grateful remembrance of the charity of /Sir Edwin Rich K/ who freely gave ye sum of two hundred pounds towards the repair of ye highway between Wymondham and Attleborough/AD 1675’.

3
The inscription on the Dial Stone, Photo: flickr, Sleeptmyf.

This inscription was restored in 1888 but is now partly illegible again. When the Attleborough bypass was opened in 1984 the Dial was restored and reset on the far side of the new road.

So, who was this Sir Edwin Rich, whose charity was so necessary to the upkeep of these six miles of road between Attleborough and Wymondham? Well, he was a distinguished lawyer, a native of Thetford and born in 1594. His monument in the church of Mulbarton, three miles from Wymondham, is rich in moral reflections and surmounted by a large hour-glass, and further adorned with eulogistic verse which was written by himself about himself! It quaintly tells us the circumstances of his birth and breeding:—

“Our Lyef is like an Hower Glasse, and our Riches are like Sand in it, which runs with us but the time of our Continuance here, and then must be turned up by another.

To speak to God, as if men heard you talk,
To live with men, as if God saw you walk.
When thou art young, to live well thou must strive;
When thou art old, to dye well then contryve;

Thetford gave me breath, and Norwich Breeding,
Trinity College in Cambridge Learning.
Lincoln’s Inne did teach me Law and Equity.
Reports I have made in the Courts of Chancery,

And though I cannot skill in Rhymes, yet know it,
In my Life I was my own Death’s Poet;
For he who leaves his work to other’s Trust
May be deceived when he lies in the Dust.

And, now I have travell’d thro’ all these ways,
Here I conclude the Story of my Days;
And here my Rhymes I end, then ask no more,
Here lies Sir Edwin Rich, who lov’d the poor.”

He died in 1675, at the age of eighty-one, and not only left those £200 towards the repair of the road, but made a curious bequest to the poor of Thetford of the annual sum of £20, to be distributed for 500 years, on 24 December every year for bread or clothing. Why he should have limited his charity to a mere five centuries it does not say, nor was it clearly understood what was to become of the property of Rose Hill Farm, Beccles, whence the income was derived. Perhaps he thought the end of the world would come by 2175!

It is said that Sir Edwin was a prudent as well as a pious man. No doubt wishing for some recognition of his excellent traits and achievements, he judged it best to write his epitaph himself: and a very curious mixture of humility and pride it is. There were sufficient reasons for him leaving a bequest for the maintenance of this road, which was in his time an open track, going unfenced the whole 31 miles between Thetford and Norwich, but plunging, in the 14 miles between Larlingford and Wymondham, into successive bogs and water-logged flats.

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The frontispiece of Ogilby’s  1675 “Britannia,” Image: Wikipedia.

If anyone consulted a large map of Norfolk of the time and scanned this district well, it would have been seen that on descending from the uplands of Thetford Heath to the Thet at Larlingford the road traversed a considerable area, veined like the leaf of a tree with the aimless wanderings of many streams, and dotted here and there with meres, or marshy lakes, as those of Scoulton and Hingham.

In Charles Harper’s words of 1904:

“It was then a veritable piece of fenland, where the bitterns boomed among the reeds, the corncrakes creaked, the great horned owls hooted, and the gulls screamed in unstudied orchestration. The last bittern— “bog-bumpers” the country-folks called them—long years ago was gathered into the natural history collections of rare birds, and the bass-viol bellowing’s of his voice are no longer heard after sundown. The great horned owls, too, are no more; but lesser owls still tu-whoo in the woods, and the screaming gulls of Scoulton yet startle the stranger as they rise, voiceful, in their many thousands from the mere.”

8
An example of a fenland ‘slough’ or ‘meer’. Photo: Mat Fascione

In 1675, when Ogilby’s “Britannia,” was published, this spot was pictured on his sketch-plan of the road as “Attleburgh Meer,” and was apparently something between a bog and a lake. It stretched across the road, and to a considerable distance on either side. This was in the very year of Sir Edwin Rich’s death, when his bequest became available and this hindrance to travellers was abolished. Very shortly afterwards, the Dial commemorating Rich’s liberality was erected, on the very spot where that “slough had once been.”

THE END

 

Norfolk’s George Townshend: Army Officer and Caricaturist.

By Haydn Brown.

 George Townshend was born on 28 February 1723/24, the eldest son of Charles (3rd Viscount Townshend) and his wife Audrey Harrison. The Townshend family-owned extensive estates in Norfolk and elsewhere, but their ancestral home was Raynham Hall in Norfolk.

Townsend (Raynham Hall)
Raynham Hall, Norfolk. © Historic Houses.

George was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, leaving there in 1742 to become a volunteer to the British Army in Germany, attached to the staff of Lord Dunmore, one of the general officers. He was present at the battle of Dettingen (16 June 1743) and also apparently at that of Fontenoy (30 April 1745), though a letter of Horace Walpole’s says that he was too late for any action!

Townsend (Battle of Dettingen_NAM)
The Battle of Dettingen was fought during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) in the area which is now southern Germany. When his retreat was cut off, King George II (1683-1760) successfully led a multinational force of British, Hanoverians, Dutch and Austrians against the French under the Duc de Noailles, inflicting heavy losses.
This was the last occasion when a reigning British monarch led his troops in person on the battlefield. As Duke of Cambridge, the King had already fought under Marlborough’s command at the Battle of Oudenarde in 1708. Although he displayed great personal courage, the King had little flair for higher military command and wisely left the conduct of the campaign to his generals. His victory at Dettingen brought him much popularity at home.

In May 1745 Townshend was appointed a captain in Bligh’s Regiment (later the 20th Foot). On the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion in that year he returned to Britain, joined his regiment, which fought at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746; during this battle, the Bligh’s casualties were 4 killed and 17 wounded. Afterwards, Townshend went back to the Continent, having been appointed an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. In this capacity he was present at the battle of Laffeldt on 21 June 1747 and carried Cumberland’s dispatch back to England. Then on 25 February 1748, he was appointed to a captaincy in the 1st Foot Guards, which carried with it the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Townshend (Duke-of-Cumberland-1745)
Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden 16th April 1746: Image: David Morier

When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, Townshend returned to England and became a MP in the House of Commons for the County of Norfolk – which he continued to represent until he succeeded his father as 4th Viscount in 1764. But before that, he famously fell out with the Duke of Cumberland; attacking him in parliament, and making him a victim of his notable powers as a caricaturist.

Townsend (Cumberland)
Duke of Cumberland 1750s by George Townshend. © National Portrait Gallery, London

George Townshend, you see, had a mercurial personality that did not suffer fools gladly and was never shy about criticising those whose competence he questioned. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was the reason which led to the open hostility between Townshend and his military superior. At the end of 1750 Townshend resigned from the army and identified himself with the cause of militia reform; largely as a result of his efforts an effective new militia act was passed in 1757.

Townshend had always exhibited a knack for drawing, and during his military tenure used it effectively to sketch topography, fortifications, and maps. But beginning around 1750, he began to draw caricature sketches of people–officers, clergy, fashionable women. He was soon covering every scrap of available paper with caricature portraits of friends and enemies and circulating them among his friends and correspondents. But it was in 1756-57 that Townshend began embedding his portrait caricatures into dramatic and narrative frames to make a political point, and thereby creating the prototype for satiric political caricature that would later be followed by others. The Recruiting Sergeant, for example shows Fox acting as a sergeant gathering a pathetic group of recruits to create a new ministry while the Duke of Cumberland (for whom the ministry would be formed) appears ironically exalted in the Temple of Fame.

Townsend (The Recruiting Sargeant)
The Recruiting Sergeant 1757 by George Townshend. © Trustees of the British Museum

In the same year Cumberland ceased to be Commander-in-Chief, being succeeded by Sir John Ligonier. Townshend now returned to the service, being commissioned as Colonel on 6 May 1758 – but without a regiment, a point which prompted him to write to William Pitt asking for active employment against the French. In December he was summoned to London and appointed to command a brigade in the expedition under James Wolfe which was being organized to attack Quebec by way of the St Lawrence.

This appointment displeased Wolfe very much; he had asked Ligonier to let him choose his own subordinates – and he had not asked for Townshend! The “Proposals for the expedition to Quebec” in Pitt’s papers suggest that the three brigadiers were Robert Monckton, James Murray, and Ralph Burton. Unfortunately, Burton, a particular friend of Wolfe’s, was squeezed out to make room for Townshend – a man with more influence! Wolfe wrote Townshend a welcoming letter in which he said:

“Your name was mentioned to me by [Ligonier] and my answer was, that such an example in a person of your rank and character could not but have the best effects upon the troops in America; and I took the freedom to add that what might be wanting in experience was amply made up, in an extent of capacity and activity of mind, that would find nothing difficult in our business.”

This reflects the feelings of a hard-working middle-class career officer confronted with the heir to a viscountcy who has always had things made easy for him. It would be strange if Townshend did not resent the reference to inexperience, especially as he had seen a good deal of active service. Here perhaps is the origin of later trouble!

Townshend, junior to Monckton but senior to Murray, was third in command of the expedition. He crossed the Atlantic with Wolfe in Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders*’s flagship Neptune. It may have been during the voyage that he made the water-colour drawing of Wolfe which the general’s biographer Robert Wright called “the most convincing portrait of Wolfe I have ever seen”; it is certainly the best portrait extant. In the last week of June 1759, the British fleet and army arrived before Quebec, and Wolfe began his long struggle with the problem of bringing the Marquis de Montcalm to battle.

Townshend (Fleet Landing Wolde's Troops)
Drawing by a soldier of Wolfe’s army depicting the fleet, under Saunders’ command, disembarking Wolfe’s soldiers. This 1797 engraving is based on a sketch made by Hervey Smyth (1734-1811), General Wolfe’s aide-de-camp during the siege of Quebec. A view of the taking of Quebec, 13th September 1759. Library of the Canadian Department of National Defence

During 9 and 10 of July, Townshend’s and Murray’s brigades landed on the north shore of the St Lawrence, below Montmorency Falls, and entrenched themselves there. By this time Wolfe’s relations with his brigadiers, and particularly Townshend, had deteriorated. On 7 July Wolfe had written in his journal:

“Some difference of opinion upon a point termed slight & insignificant & the Commander in Chief is threatened with a Parliamentary Inquiry into his Conduct for not consulting an inferior Officer & seeming to disregard his Sentiments!”

The “inferior Officer” was presumably George Townshend; and matters got worse after the unsuccessful Montmorency attack on 31 July, an operation which the brigadiers had disliked. On 6 September Townshend wrote the rather famous letter to his wife in which he said, “General Wolf’s Health is but very bad. His Generalship in my poor opinion – is not a bit better; this is only between us.” Townshend’s wickedly clever caricatures of Wolfe which have survived tell a great deal about their relationship.

Townsend (Wolfe)
Image: George Townshend’s caricatures of Wolfe. © McCord Museum, Montreal.

On or about 27 August Wolfe, then recovering from a severe illness, consulted the brigadiers formally for the first time. He sent them a memorandum begging them to consult together as to the best method of attacking the enemy. He himself suggested three possible lines of attack, all variants of the Montmorency operation which had already failed. After discussion with Admiral Saunders, the brigadiers politely rejected the Commander-in-Chief’s suggestions and recommended a quite different line of operation, bringing the troops away from Montmorency and landing above Quebec:

“When we establish ourselves on the North Shore, the French General must fight us on our own Terms; We shall be betwixt him and his provisions, and betwixt him and their Army opposing General [Jeffery Amherst] [on Lake Champlain].”

For the first time, the essential strategic weakness of the French position was pointed out and exploited: Quebec, and the French army outside Quebec, were dependent on provisions brought down the river, and if this supply line were cut, Montcalm would have no choice but to fight to open it. Wolfe accepted the brigadiers’ recommendation, and thereby made possible the victory on the Plains of Abraham; though the decision to take the risk of landing at the Anse au Foulon, close to the town, was Wolfe’s own. The brigadiers had favoured landing further up the river.

In the battle of the Plains, Townshend commanded the British left wing. Wolfe was mortally wounded and Monckton disabled, and Townshend unexpectedly found himself commanding the army. In these circumstances it is not surprising that his direction of the last phase of the action and its aftermath was not particularly effective. His first task was to deal with Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville’s belated intervention from up the river; this was easily done. But the beaten French field army made good its escape to the west. Townshend prepared to besiege and bombard Quebec, bringing large numbers of guns up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham. But the city surrendered to him on 18 September and in return was offered relatively lenient terms in order to get possession of the town as soon as possible.

Townsend (Quebec)
The surrender of Quebec on 18 September 1759.

Townshend returned to England before the winter and was rewarded with the colonelcy of the 28th Foot and the thanks of Parliament. On 6 March 1761 he was made a Major-General, and took command of a brigade in the British contingent of the allied army in Germany. The following year he was sent to Portugal with the local rank of Lieutenant-General, and took command of a division of the Anglo-Portuguese army which was protecting Portugal against the forces of France and Spain. No important operations took place here before the conclusion of peace.

In 1767 Townshend was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and held this post until 1772. Traditionally, Townshend in Ireland has been remembered chiefly as a person who was adept at manipulating the Irish parliament by corrupt means and was considerably disliked. Later research, however, reveals him as an effective and resolute administrator whose financial measures broke the power of the local oligarchy and transferred it to a party in parliament controlled by the government in Dublin Castle.

From 1772 to 1782, and again for some months in 1783, Townshend was master general of the Board of Ordnance. He was promoted general in 1782 and field marshal in 1796. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1792, and also held the office of governor of Jersey. In 1787 he was made a marquess.

Although Townshend had been so bitter against Wolfe in 1759, time softened his feelings, and in 1774 he discouraged Murray from making an attack on the memory of the dauntless hero. Townshend and his fellow brigadiers have been much abused by Wolfe’s admirers; but there is not the slightest doubt that they gave him sound advice at a moment when he was floundering badly, and that it was they, with the support of Saunders, who set Wolfe’s feet on the path to victory. Townshend had important artistic abilities; he has been called “the first great English caricaturist.” An obituary in the Times said, “In his private character he was lively, unaffected, and convivial.” His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and by Thomas Hudson.

Townshend was one of the favoured people who in July 1767 received 20,000-acre grants in St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, being awarded Lot 56 in the east end of the Island. In 1770, embarrassed by his Irish expenses, he was trying unsuccessfully to sell this land. Like so many of the absentee proprietors, he seems to have done nothing to settle or develop his grant. In 1784, however, he gave up one-quarter of it to “American Loyalists and disbanded troops,” and some settlement then took place.

Footnote:
On the domestic front, and away from all the awards during an illustrious career, George Townshend married Charlotte Compton in 1751; she was Baroness Ferrers of Chartley in her own right. By her, four sons and four daughters were said to have been delivered before she died in 1770. Three years later he married Anne, daughter of Sir James William Montgomery; this marriage is said to have produced six children.

George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, army officer and caricaturist died at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England on 14 Sept. 1807.

THE END

Sources include:
P. Stacey “TOWNSHEND, GEORGE, 4th Viscount 1st Marquess TOWNSHEND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 6, 2021, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/townshend_george_5E.html.

James Gillray: Caricaturist: George Townshend (james-gillray.org)

Heading Image: George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, attributed to Gilbert Stuart, circa. 1785 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mr Marten Visits Norfolk!

By Haydn Brown

This blog revises and adds to a previous blog, titled: Mr Marten Pays a Visit to Norwich!

Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.

Mr Marten (Steam Packet )1
An illustration of a typical steam packet that plied its trade along the east coast of England, bringing on at least one occasion, a certain Mr Marten to Norfolk.

Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.

Mr Marten (Family Gathering)
An English family at Tea by Van Aken. Painting and Image: Tate Britain

The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson.  The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.

He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business,  he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.

Mr Marten (Home Plaistow)
Mr Marten’s  ‘Broadway House’ at Plaistow. Image: Credit Elizabeth Larby/Sarah Murden

By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.

When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children.  It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth)2
Yarmouth Jetty after 1823; a view that Mr Marten would have recognised. By John Constable. Image: Tate Gallery.

Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth from Gorleston_William Daniells_Tate)
Yarmouth from Gorleston by William Daniell 1769–1837. Tate Gallery T02936.

On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.

Mr Marten ( Yarmouth Steam Packet)
The steam packet departing Yarmouth for Norwich by John Crome. Picture: Archant Archives

It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.

Mr Marten (Foundary Bridge)2
Foundry Bridge in the 1820’s, the point of Mr Marten’s arrival in Norwich. Painted by Robert Ladbooke (1768 – 1842) . Norfolk Museums Service.

Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.

Mr Marten ( Princes Street Independant)1
Princes Street Independent Chapel, built 1819.
Mr Marten ( St Marys Baptist)1
The present-day ‘Norwich Central Baptist Church’ (formerly St Mary’s Baptist Church). Photo: Evelyn Simak.

Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:

“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”

Mr Marten (Norwich cathedral)
Sillett, James; Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk; Norfolk Museums Service;

Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:

“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”

Mr Marten (Joseph_Kinghorn)
Joseph Kinghorn, Preacher.
Mr Marten (Old Meeting House)1
The Old Meeting House, Colgate, Norwich. Photos: (c) George Plunkett.

On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:

“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.

Mr Marten (Norwich)1
View of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. By John Walker after Charles Catton junior, Norwich. Engraving from The Itinerant, published 1 March 1792
British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum.

However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.

“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”

Mr Marten (Silk Weaving)1
Female silk weavers at work in 1893. The industry in Norwich was founded by Huguenot refugees – ‘Strangers’  ( Getty Images )

“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”

Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:

“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.

Mr Marten (Flint_st-miles-coslany)
Flint work in and around a replica window motif at St Michael (Miles) Coslany, Norwich. Photo: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:

“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”

Mr Marten (Norwich Prison)1
The former Norwich Prison; under construction during Mr Marten’s visit to the city in 1825.

Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:

“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”

Norfolk Hotel (c1820)

Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:

“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”

THE END

Sources:
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office. 
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/01/15/pleasure-gardens/
Photo (Feature Heading): The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich. circa 1806 by John Crome.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
Robert Humphrey Marten | Morgan Web Site (morganfourman.com)
https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/a-georgian-tourist-the-1825-travel-diary-of-robert-humphrey-marten-revealed/

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‘Bad’ King John’s Lost Treasure!

By Haydn Brown

In school we were told that King John lost his jewels in the Wash; fact they said- and we believed it for we were not in a position to think or judge otherwise! Now it’s a case of thinking ‘Maybe he did, – maybe he didn’t’; certainly there has been much speculation and probably arguments for generations ever since – with no sign of the debate ending in the foreseeable future!

For the purposes of this blog, let’s keep things calm and simple by starting with The Wash, the place which played host to this interesting and somewhat speculative incident in our history. Then we will combine this with the year of 1216, when King John was said to have lost England’s Crown Jewels somewhere in the murky waters of quite a sizable estuary which is still fed by the rivers Witham, Well, Steeping, Nene and the Great Ouse at the point where they enter the Wash.

Even a cursory look at a map will show that the Wash is a large bay on the East coast of England; lying as it continues to do, between the Counties of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The Wash collects somewhere around 15% of Great Britain’s water and is host to the Country’s second largest inter-tidal mudflats, clearly in evidence when the tide is out.

King John (sutton-bridge)5

People have lived on the surrounding fertile land for centuries and it was this stretch of water that the Vikings used as a major route to invade East Anglia between 865 and the start of the Norman Conquest. Schools also continue to tell children that The Wash was given the name of Metaris Aestuarium, (meaning the reaping/mowing/cutting off estuary) during the first century, by the Roman astrologer and mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy. Also, that the Romans built large embankments that protected the land and prevented flooding, but they had all but disappeared by the end of the fifth century. However, in 1631, a Dutch engineer, by the name of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden (1595 – 1677), began a large-scale land reclamation to drain the Fens of East Anglia with the building of the Horseshoe Sluice on the tidal river at Wisbech……. So much for today’s geography and history lessons; we must proceed with the circumstances surrounding ‘Bad’ King John and the apparent loss of his Crown Jewels.

King John (Crown)

In a nutshell, King John was not popular – probably still an understatement. Nevertheless, previous to this, his latest of unfortunate ‘incidents’ in his life, he had the misfortune of losing much of England’s lands in France; he’d  been excommunicated and maybe worst of all, he was forced to sign the Magna Carta. However, the following year John, being John, broke his word; this action was the starting point of the First Barons’ War. John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing a two-month siege of Rochester Castle. Later he retreated north from the French invasion, taking a safe route by circumventing the marshy area of the Wash and thus avoiding that rebel held area of East Anglia. It is known, for example, that on 2 October John travelled to Grimsby, apparently to arrange for military equipment and stores to be shipped to Bishop’s Lynn – now King’s Lynn. Originally, the town was known as `Linn’, and it is thought that the name derived from the Celtic word for a lake or pool, and it is recorded that a large tidal lake originally covered that particular area.

King John (Kings Lynn)

King John also went to Spalding before possibly using one of the Sutton Wash crossing points to arrive back in Bishop’s Lynn on 9 October. It was in Lynn where he finally succumbed to dysentery and had no option but to stay awhile in order to recover; it may have been somewhat fortunate that Bishop’s Lynn happened to be a town where the King was well liked – in view of the fact that he had previously granted the place a Royal Charter. He was still in Lynn on October 11. According to Kings Lynn’s Borough Council records, the King stayed until the 12 of October 1216 when he left, taking a different route to his baggage.

King John (Will Nickless)
Image: Will Nickless.

We are told that he sent it, together with the jewels, on what he thought was a quicker route across one or other of the rivers thereabout. On this, there is a problem for today’s speculation and argument is about the place where the treasure was actually lost. We know that the Wash was much wider centuries ago, and the sea then reached as far as Wisbech and the inland town of Long Sutton was a port on the coast. But it is much more than that; journalist, Bruce Robinson, as recently as 2014 speculated:

“…… Was it near Fosdyke, close to the mouth of the river Welland, as some modern revisionists have suggested; or as most Long Suttonians have long believed, on the Sutton Wash estuary of the river Nene? And what was the treasure? Gold and silver, or ancient books and legal documents? Or was there never any ‘treasure’ in the first place, as some have speculated, because the King was largely bankrupt?

There are more questions than answers for the precise details of John’s daily movements are unknown, and there has been much speculation as to how the schedule was achieved. John may have gone directly from Lynn to Wisbech, crossing the Nene by the town bridge before heading for Spalding and then to Swineshead Abbey. Or he may have crossed the estuary and ridden to Wisbech before awaiting the arrival of his baggage train. It was all, without doubt, a hard schedule for a very sick man. Understandably, it is the movement of the baggage train which has excited most curiosity, for its attempted crossing of the estuary using the Cross Keys to Sutton route apparently at a time when the tide was about to turn can only suggest either that the baggage train was in a desperate hurry, or that someone must have ignored or over-ruled the advice of local guides. Either way – and it might have been both – and assuming the event did take place here and not Fosdyke, it was a foolhardy decision.”

King John (sutton-bridge)4

We are told that up to three thousand of the King’s entourage were carrying the royal wardrobe and the whole of the kingdom’s treasury. At low tide the conditions of any causeway would have been so wet and muddy that the wagons would have moved slowly, with the inevitable result that they would have sunk into the mud, thus engulfing the King’s most valuable possessions. The men of the train would certainly have struggled with the trunks, whilst others equally struggled with the horses in an attempt to encourage movement – but with no avail;  everything would have been eventually covered by the incoming tide!

King John 1

As for the King; he continued to Swineshead Abby, near Boston in Lincolnshire, where his health deteriorated once again. Here we have yet another legend about the loss of the treasure. This one tells us that he was poisoned by a monk called Brother Simon, who stole the jewels and made his way out of England, his destination was somewhere in Europe – and the stories did not stop there. Another interesting take is that the treasure was not lost at all! – instead, the John used its value as security, arranging for its ‘loss’ before they would have arrived at their destination, using the Wash as a ruse. But, there appears to be no written proof to give credence to these two tales – so they remain as possible myths!

In the end, however, we are led to believe that a story which began with the King’s run from the Barons came to a head with the loss of the kingdom’s ‘treasury’, and may well have been the last straw with the John’s health and possibly his state of mind. But, apparently, he was not to hear about his ‘loss’ until after he had left Sleaford Castle for Newark Castle. It was here where the so-called ‘Bad’ King John died – either the 18 or 19 of October 1216 – and we are all here to pick up the pieces!

King John (Newark_Castle,_2008_David Ingham)
Newark Castle today. Photo: Wikipedia.

Epilogue:
John was an English king who has suffered from bad press over the centuries. He was no hero, he was vengeful and untrusting; is it any wonder when we are told that, as a child he received no support from warring parents, he received no support from a self obsessed brother and, as King, he saw little or no support from his people so, what chance did he have?  W L Warren, in his book ‘King John’, seems to sum up fairly accurately the cause of John’s troubled reign.

“talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted.  His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the half-heartedness with which his vassals supported him—and the energy with which some of them opposed him.”

King John 5

There are also two contemporary accounts, one by Roger of Wendover, an English chronicler who died in 1236 and one by Ralph of Coggeshall, an English monk and chronicler who died in 1227. Both were writing at the time of the loss. Roger of Wendover writes rather melodramatically and calls it a major disaster, he writes:

 “…….the ground opened up in the midst of the waves, and bottomless whirlpools sucked in everything”

Ralph of Coggeshall, on the other hand, refers to it as more of a ‘misadventure’, stating that it was not the whole of the royal baggage train that was lost but the vanguard that carried household items, church and holy relics. However, and on balance, it seems pretty certain that some valuable items belonging to King John did get lost in the Wash, but not a treasure trove as we would imagine it to be. There was no large chest overflowing with coins, necklaces and gold goblets, only kitchen equipment and finery collected from churches. As Coggeshall suggested, maybe the real treasure was in a second train that never began its journey across the Wash, but ended its days thrown in amongst the new King Henry III’s treasury?

Two final myths: Firstly, in the mid-14th century a certain local Norfolk gentleman,  by the name of Robert Tiptoft, became suddenly very wealthy; according to folklore this was because he found the Kings treasure – but did not hand it back to the Crown!

The other is, again, from journalist, Bruce Robinson:

“The whole King John episode has sparked some odd investigations over the decades, none stranger than one shortly before the Second World War when an ‘expedition’ to find the jewels excited interest and suspicion, so much so that years later……. a story was still current that the searchers were not archaeological experts looking for treasure but ‘Nazi spies’ mapping the fieldscapes in preparation for later landings by paratroopers……..Interestingly, in 1940 and 1941, during the ‘invasion scare’ period, defensive preparations for enemy paratroop landings were high on the list of local military priorities.”

There lies further stories!

THE END

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He Witnessed ‘Proclamation Day’!

John Michael Skipper was born on 12 July 1815 at Norwich in the County of Norfolk, England, the eldest son of John and Jane Skipper; his father was a solicitor in the city and his mother, Jane, was the sister of James Stark the artist and a member of the acclaimed Norwich School of Landscape Painting.

John Skipper (norwich-grammar-school)

John Skipper was educated at the Norwich Grammar School where he did well at classics and modern languages. It had always been intended that he would enter the law in some capacity or other, but he was more interested in art and was keenly encouraged to pursue this path by his uncle, James Stark. In time, further distractions caused him to abandoned his studies to become a midshipman with the East India Company; and in 1833 at the age of 18 years, he joined the Company’s sailing ship ‘Sherbourne’ outward bound for Calcutta. By the time he returned to English shores some months later, he had decided to emigrate to Australia.

John Skipper (Charles Mann)
Charles Mann (1799-1860), by unknown artist. Image: State Library of South Australia.

As part of his plans to settle on the other side of the world, Skipper arranged to be articled to Suffolk-born Charles Mann, the newly appointed South Australian Advocate-General who, at the time was still in London, having not yet taken up his appointment; he was to do so when he sailed in the Coromandel to Australia in the latter half of 1836 where he arrived at Holdfast Bay on 12 January 1837. John Skipper had already sailed to the new Colony in the barque Africaine, along with 99 other passengers of mixed circumstances, having arrived at Holdfast Bay on 6 November 1836. During the voyage, he sketched and painted scenes both on board and beyond.

John Skipper (Africaine)
The ‘Africaine’

The ‘Africaine’:
This three-masted barque of 317 tons, was the First Fleet’s seventh settler ship to drop anchor in the new Colony and the first to disembark emigrants at Holdfast Bay (Glenelg). The ship was a fairly new vessel having been built in 1832 in Newcastle, England and was originally destined to sail to Canada. It was also the first privately owned ship to bring fare-paying settlers to South Australia from the United Kingdom and was chartered by the South Australian Company, leaving London in June 1836. The ship’s newly married skipper, Captain Duff, joined her at Deal on 1 July together with his bride. This made 99 souls on board – within four months the number would total 100. Amongst this number were two government officials, Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger, Emigration Agent John Brown and his wife, plus the 58 fare-paying ‘new settler’ individuals, some of whom with wives and children. The ship was however plagued by controversy, drama and loss of life not usually associated with such a voyage.

John Skipper (Robert_Thomas)
Portrait of Robert Thomas, (newspaper proprietor). Wikipedia.

Besides carrying passengers, provisions, bricks and building materials, the Africaine also carried a Stanhope Invenit No. 200 printing press which belonged one of the passengers, a Welsh newspaper proprietor and printer  Robert Thomas (More of him and Skipper’s relationship with his family later). Suffice to say here that Thomas was to establish South Australia’s first newspaper, the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register; to do this, he had not only brought along the essential printing press, but also the necessary staff to operate his proposed business; his employees included Robert Fisher, aged 21 years, printer; Joseph Augustus Hill, aged 16, printer; E W Osborne, 19, printer; Frederick Whitman, 17, printer; Andrew Jacobs, 29, labourer; James Windebank, labourer; and Mary Littlewhite, 21, servant.

John Skipper (first-stanhope-press)
A Stanhope Invenit No. 200 printing press, similar to the one which Welsh newspaper proprietor and printer, Robert Thomas, took to Australia – the first printing press to be used on the continent. Public Domain.

As for living facilities for the duration of the voyage, the Barque Africaine did offer some comfortable accommodation. The best cabins, above the deck at the stern, were for the Captain John Duff, (the ship’s joint owner along with Thomas Finlay), and Robert Gouger and wife Harriet. Forward of them, with less headroom, were the intermediate passengers’ cabins. An open area with tiers of bunks was for assisted emigrants in third class. It is not known where John Skipper was accommodated but, given his family’s circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that he was a fare-paying passengers – and thus reasonably near to Robert Thomas and his family.

John Skipper (Francis Amelia Thomas)
Sketch of Frances Amelia Skipper (nee’ Thomas) as appeared in the book ‘Hints on Self-Examination’ by the Rev. Hugh Stowell. Artist: John Michael Skipper 1842.

It was this particular one-way voyage for Skipper which brought him into the company of the Thomas’s for the first time; they were a family whom he never knew before the Africaine set sail, but it was with them that he was to cement a close relationship – and particularly with one daughter, Frances Amelia. Those of the Thomas’s on board comprised of Robert Thomas, his wife Mary (nee’ Harris) a poet and Diarist and their eldest daughter, Frances Amelia – whom Skipper was to marry on 28 December 1839 – the third anniversary of the colony’s ‘Proclamation Day’ – more of that later. There were also the Thomas’s younger children of Mary and William Kiffin Thomas; his name ‘Kiffin’ originated from a place name in Wales; a Welsh word “cyffin” also means “limit” or “confine.”

John Skipper (africaine-2)
Life aboard the Africaine on its voyage to South Australia in 1836, depicted by John Michael Skipper, heading to the colony to be articled to its first advocate general and crown solicitor Charles Mann.
Images courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia and State Library of South Australia

It was both John Skipper and Mrs Mary Thomas who were to document life on board the Africaine, including the conflicts which broke out from time to time, plus one particular tragedy that happened on arrival; Mary wrote in her Diary and Skipper sketched. It was from Mary that we are aware that she clashed with the ship’s surgeon, Dr Charles Everard; on the other hand, she was ‘much taken’ with the treatment received from “kind-hearted” Irish doctor, John Slater. We discover however that this man was prone to outbursts of temper. One day on board he shut himself up in his cabin with a loaded pistol, threatening to shoot anyone who disturbed him. Robert Thomas’s printer apprentice E.W. Osborne, managed to calm Slater on this and other occasions throughout the voyage.

John Skipper (Africaine)2
Illustration of the ‘Africaine’ in the Indian Ocean on 12 October 1836 on its voyage to South Australia as part of the First Fleet. By John Michael Skipper.

One wonders what sort of relationship Osborne and Slater had, for it was these two who died together! It happened thus: When the Africaine arrived at Cape Borda on the Kangaroo Island’s north side on 4 November 1836, and after 133 days at sea, Thomas’s apprentice, Osborne and Dr Slater, along with Charles Nantes, John Bagg, Richards and Richard Warren, set out to walk south and meet the Africaine at Kingscote. This trek was despite Captain Duff’s reservations – but with Robert Gouger’s blessing. In fact, it was Gouger who actively encouraged both young Osborne and Slater to join this escapade. Unfortunately, as events turned out, all six men became lost in the Bush and, after several days of having used all their food and water and worn through their boots, only Nantes, Bagg, Warren and Richards reached the settlement – Osborne and Slater were never seen again and their bodies were never recovered!

The Africaine then sailed via Kingscote and Rapid Bay to arrive, in bad weather, at Holdfast Bay on 8 November 1836. The rough weather delayed the landing and small boats belonging to the ‘Cygnet’ had to get passengers off the Africaine and to the sand bar closest to the shore. From there, women and children were carried on the sailors’ shoulders to the beach. These difficulties in landing the first immigrants were to influence Colonel Light’s proposal for a jetty. It was passenger, Robert Fisher, in a letter he was to publish in the newly established newspaper later that:

” Captain Duff had no right whatever to land the passengers the way he did, much less to have treated us with the cool inhumanity he did after our safe arrival. Nor ought Mr Robert Gouger have urged such a mad-headed project, then be the first to decline to be carried on sailor’s shoulders to the beach”.

John Skipper (Tents)
The Settler’s were first housed in tents and reed huts as depicted by John Michael Skipper in 1836.

Once on shore, all the settlers were housed in tents and some built reed huts; also, many were not without health problems. Some years after they had disembarked from the Africaine, a daughter of Robert Thomas, named Mary after her mother, wrote:

“…. our eyes became affected with ‘ophthalmia’ [conjunctivitis] (prevalent amongst many of the settlers, natives and dogs).”

Her own son, William became totally blind on Sunday while attending Devine Service in the open air and was led back to their tent by his brother. Mary, herself was nearly blind for the next three days and could scarcely find her way about.

As for the 317 ton three-masted barque Africaine, the First Fleet’s seventh settler ship to drop anchor in the new Colony, well, she was wrecked in a storm at Cape St Lawrence in 1843 with the loss of two of her crew. She was on a voyage from South Shields, County Durham to Quebec, Canada.

John Skipper had witnessed much during his journey from his home in Norwich, Norfolk to his arrival near to where Adelaide would be established. He too lived in a tent as he began the long journey to establish new roots; presumably he also experienced the same deprivations as with every other new settler during this time. One may also wonder if he ever assisted Robert Thomas in setting up accommodation in which his printing press would be housed. Thomas’s wife Mary enlightens us on this point by way of ‘The Diary of Mary Thomas, which she would publish later. In it is the following extract which says:

“About 20 December 1836, we built a rush hut a short distance from our tents for the better accommodation of part of our family…… and in this place (about 12 feet square) the first printing in South Australia was produced.”

No mention is made of John Skipper but it would have been surprising if he had not been near at hand, particularly if Frances Amelia was present.

Proclamation Day:
Speed was of the essence when it came to getting Southern Australia’s early printing press up-and-running; it would be needed in the preparations for the Colony’s inaugural ‘Proclamation Day! – which happened barely 7 weeks from the 8 November 1836 when John Skipper and the rest of the new settlers first set foot on land.

John Skipper (The_Proclamation_of_South_Australia_1836)
The Proclamation of South Australia, 1836 by Charles Hill, , Art Gallery of South Australia

Proclamation Day in South Australia celebrates the establishment of government in South Australia as a British province – by the way, this process did not come about in just one day. The province itself was officially created and proclaimed back in 1834 when the British Parliament passed the South Australia Act, which empowered King William IV to create South Australia as a British province and to provide for its colonisation and government. It was ratified on 19 February 1836 when King William issued Letters Patent establishing the province.

John Skipper (OLd Oak Tree)

The Proclamation announcing the establishment of Government, and of which we now speak, was made by Captain John Hindmarsh beside The Old Gum Tree at the present-day suburb of Glenelg North on 28 December 1836 and in the presence of all the new settlers, including John Skipper who painted the scene which shows The Old Gum Tree and Gouger’s tent and hut, supporting the view that the bent tree is the genuine site of the ceremony. Interestingly, the proclamation document had been drafted aboard HMS Buffalo by Hindmarsh’s private secretary, George Stevenson and, unsurprisingly, it was printed by non-other than Robert Thomas on his newly imported Stanhope printing press, housed in a 12 x 12-foot reed hut. It may no doubt be surmised that, from the quilled text of the final proclamation text provided to him by the officials, it was Thomas himself who made a more striking layout for print and the public.

Within the legal field in which John Skipper found useful employment he continued to maintain his association with Charles Mann and also with E. C. Gwynne, particularly during the years 1836-43. In March 1840, maybe with the support of these two gentlemen, he was admitted as an attorney and proctor of the South Australian Supreme Court, practising between 1843 and 1851; he then joined the rush to the Victorian goldfields and returned in 1852 with many sketches – but little gold. In 1852-72 he was clerk of the court at Port Adelaide. After the death of his wife, Frances Amelia, he married her younger sister Mary on 28 April 1856.

Chiefly remembered as an artist, Skipper combined a lively mind with acute observation and a natural and cultivated skill with some aesthetic sensibility. His sketches and paintings of the landscape, the flora, fauna and Aboriginals of South Australia, and of the streets, buildings, people, way of life and notable events of Adelaide are of some artistic quality, but great historical interest. Most of his drawings and paintings are small, though his oil on canvas, ‘Corroboree’, painted in 1840 measures 106 by 152 cm. He illustrated records of some of Charles Sturt‘s expeditions from descriptive notes lent him by the explorer. He also illustrated copies of journals of his voyages and of South Australian almanacs, embroidering margins with drawings of minute delicacy. Most remarkable is his illustration of his personal copy of G. B. Wilkinson’s South Australia with about 360 tiny marginal sketches, including personal comments, reminiscences and puns.

John Skipper (Almanac)
Skipper’s personal copy of the 1841 South Australian almanac including his own drawings, with very brief notes and captions in the margins. State Library of South Australia.

John Skipper retired in 1872 and lived on a small pension on his farm at Kent Town, now an inner urban suburb of Adelaide, where he died on 7 December 1883. Surprisingly, for a man with a legal background, he never made a Will. He was survived by three sons and four daughters; his eldest son, Spencer John Skipper (1848-1903), was a journalist and satirist in Adelaide.

John Skipper (Spencer_John_Skipper)
Spencer John Skipper (1848-1903),

THE END

Sources:
https://adb.anu.edu.au/
BOUND FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA – by DIANE CUMMINGS (slsa.sa.gov.au)
AdelaideAZ
Proclamation Day 28th December ppt download (slideplayer.com)
Proclamation Day – Wikipedia

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
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The Not So Perfect Prior Catton!

By Haydn Brown.

 Robert Catton [otherwise known as Bronde], was Prior of Norwich before becoming Abbot of St Albans. His exact date of birth is not known, although it has been said that he was probably born sometime in the 1470’s and died between 25 April 1552 and 7 July 1552.

According to Francis Blomefield, he was the son of John and Agnes Bronde of Catton, a manor some 3 miles north-east of Norwich which John held and which his son retained during his prelacy. The Brondes were also prominent in Norwich, where the Cathedral’s Trinity altar was popularly named for them. Robert Bronde, whose name in religion links him with his likely parish of origin, entered the Cathedral Priory as a novice at the beginning of the 1490s. He is first identified in its records in October 1492 during an episcopal visitation; positioned forty-fourth in seniority in a convent of forty-six.

Robert Catton (Priory & Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Priory in 1150. This picture is computer generated and based on historical records and drawings. The Cathedral and the Priory buildings, also known as a monastery, are joined together. Image: Norwich Cathedral.

He was sent to study at Cambridge University in 1494–5, and was supported there for the next seven academic years, from around 1495 to 1502. Such an unbroken period at university was unusual for a monk and may reflect a particular aptitude for advanced study, although there is scant evidence of a commitment to learning in Catton’s later career. His Will refers to only a single book—a copy of an unspecified work of Archbishop Antonius of Florence. Other surviving manuscripts inscribed with the name Robert Catton have been connected with another Norwich monk of the same era.

In March 1499, Robert Catton returned to the Priory in Norwich to be presented for ordination and remained there to participate in an ‘episcopal visitation’; this is the Bishop’s official pastoral visit to the congregation of the diocese. Canon law requires every diocesan bishop to visit every congregation in his or her diocese at least once every three years. The canonical purposes of a visitation is for the bishop to examine the condition of the congregation, oversee the clergy, preach, confirm, preside at the eucharist, and examine parochial records. This also assumes that the bishop’s visitation will be an occasion for baptism, and that the bishop will preside.

By now Catton was thirty-sixth in seniority. He was elected Prior at an unrecorded date after 29 September 1504, without having held any other office. But like many superiors of this period, during his administration he arrogated to himself the rights, and presumably also the responsibilities, of a number of conventual offices. He took the office of sacrist on no fewer than five occasions around 1504, 1511, 1517, 1522 and 1525. He also held the ‘Mastership of the Cellar’ four times, retaining it for six months after he had vacated the priorate in 1530, presumably as a means of support during his hiatus in office! For a decade from 1512 he was also Prior of the dependent cell of St Leonard’s Priory, on the northern edge of the city.

Robert Catton (Pulls Ferry with St Lenards Priory )
Pull’s Ferry with St Leonard’s Priory in the distance. By Charles Catton. Norfolk Museums Service.

A candid portrait of Catton’s rule is evident in the ‘episcopal visitation’ of 1514 which reported abuses in governance, such as the misuse of the conventual seal, and the neglect of the annual audit of the accounts of the obedientiary officers. Their accounts of conventual life complain of numerous infringements of regular discipline, including the inappropriate dress of the brethren, incompetence in the performance of the offices, and incontinence. At the visitation of 1526, in Catton’s third decade as Prior, there were further reports of indiscipline: some brethren were allegedly living independently in the precincts and enjoying complete freedom of movement in Norwich, others were said to cultivate luxurious lay habits of dress, while Prior Catton himself was condemned for his grandeur, requiring to be addressed as ‘my lord’ rather than ‘father Prior’. None the less, one monk told the Bishop that all was now well in matters of religion because of a reformation effected by the Prior!

Notwithstanding his mixed record, Catton’s status as the scion of an old Norwich family ensured a close affinity with the city of Norwich. A significant settlement over mutual rights was achieved in 1524–5, and he was one of only two Priors to be welcomed into the prestigious Guild of St George.

Robert Catton (St George )
St George and the Dragon, after Vittore Carpaccio.
 The Guild of St George was founded in 1385; its aims were religious, charitable and social: to honour St. George, to keep his feast day, to pray for its members past and present and to offer alms to the poor and needy within the Guild. The principal event for the Guild was the feast day ceremony held annually on 23 April which began as a simple religious celebration of the feast day of St. George. The Guild lasted until 1731. Image: Public Domain.

Prior Catton was also remembered for his investment in Norwich Cathedral and conventual buildings. During his term the Prior’s Hall was extended; an elaborate wrought iron lock on the door of the south transept bears panels embossed with the letters (R C P N (‘Robert Catton, Prior of Norwich’). Catton is thought to have provided four panels of stained glass for the east window of the parish church of St Margaret at his family manor of Catton.

Robert Catton (St Margarets_Simon Knott)
St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The glass panels depict St John and St Agnes in commemoration of his parents, and two figures of Benedictine monks, one depicting St Cuthbert, the other apparently intended as a self-portrait; the glass was later removed to St Michael’s, Plumstead, about 20 miles north of Norwich, where it is preserved.

Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_Simon Knott)
St Michael’s Church, Plumstead. Photo: Simon Knott.
Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_St Agnus_Old Catton Society)
St Michael’s Church Glass, late of St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Old Catton Society.

In spite of the internal state of the convent, during his priorate Prior Catton won significant favours from the governors of the church, not least from a royal administration that was increasingly involved in the affairs of major foundations. He secured dispensations to hold a number of benefices; from 1526 to 1528 he held the vicarage of St Mary in the Marsh, in Norwich Cathedral Close, where a now lost effigy dated 1528 was said to have stood before the east window. The church itself no longer exists but the walls of its Chancel still survive in the cellars of No 12 Lower Close. In 1519 Prior Catton received the privilege of the mitre.

This decade-long pattern of patronage and preferment culminated in 1531 in the Crown’s recommendation that Prior Catton should succeed Cardinal Wolsey as Abbot of the prestigious royal foundation of St Albans. It appears there was a delay between the promise of the appointment and its fulfilment, since Catton resigned the priorate of Norwich in November 1529 but was not confirmed as Abbot of St Albans until 16 March 1530. He was represented as having been freely elected by the Prior and convent, but in reality, the nomination was forced upon the monks.

During the vacancy that followed Wolsey’s fall, Henry VIII had sought to secure the abbey’s manor at More as accommodation for his estranged queen, Katherine of Aragon, during their divorce proceedings. The leaderless monks resisted, and at the same time expressed their own preference for their Prior, Andrew Ramridge, as Abbot. The King rejected their choice, and in a letter of January 1530 threatened unspecified penalties should they persist in their refusal to surrender More. Catton’s election was affected less than two months later, and on 5 September he conveyed More and other properties to the Crown. Three months later he received bowls, cups, goblets, and other plate as new year’s gifts from the king.

In the years that followed, Prior Catton cultivated his royal connections. In September 1533 he was among the clergy invited to officiate at the baptism of the Lady Elizabeth. In 1534 he presented a fulsome dedicatory prayer to Queen Anne:

‘lovynge lady dere … indowed with grace and vertu without pere’ in the abbey’s imprint of John Lydgate’s life of St Alban: Here begynnethe the glorious lyfe and passion of seint Albon prothomartyr of Englande, and also the lyfe and passion of saint Amphabel whiche converted saint Albon to the fayth of Christe (St Albans, 1534, STC 2nd edn, 256).

In October 1537 he was present at the ‘obsequies’ for Queen Jane. He was also welcome at Thomas Cromwell’s table, dining with him on one occasion at Norwich:

Robert Catton (Cromwell)
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540).
‘with gret chere [and] with alle musyke plesant’.
Image: Wikipedia

As the crown’s interventions in monastic affairs gathered pace in 1535, with first the Valor Survey and then the nationwide visitation organised by Cromwell, Catton’s personal ties to the court and to the vicegerent exacerbated tensions between himself and his brethren. Eighteen St Albans monks, led by Prior Ramridge, petitioned Sir Francis Bryan in November 1535, complaining of Catton’s maladministration. Bryan’s response is not recorded, and probably no action followed, since the monks made a further petition in April 1536, maintaining that ‘the monasterye is sorely damaged above 800 marks’ and requesting the appointment of an:

‘assistaunte and coadjutore without whome [Catton] might do notynge, neither destroy, nor waste nor brynge oure monasterye in dett nore doo any other unlawghfull act’.

Catton’s response was to seek the support of his patrons. He complained of his ‘uncourteous’ brethren in January 1536, while in the following October he appears to have sought release from his office and the support of a benefice. On 14 December 1537 John Husee reported St Albans as one of the monasteries that would ‘go down’, with the consent of its Abbot. But Catton’s persistent hope of consolatory preferment appears to have weakened his position, and by the turn of the year it was reported that the King wished to remove him. On 15 January 1538 the convent received confirmation of its right to elect a successor to Catton, ‘lately deprived’.

At this point Catton’s former convent of Norwich appears to have come to his aid, for although there is no record of his being granted a faculty to take the habit of a secular, by 20 April 1538 he had been presented to the vicarage of Bawburgh, Norfolk, a living in the gift of Norwich Priory; he was also granted a dispensation to absent himself for two years. Later, presumably at the dissolution of St Albans, Catton acquired the abbey living of All Saints, Campton, Bedfordshire. Despite his deprivation, moreover, he was named among the St Albans pensioners, receiving the substantial portion of £80 per annum.

The terms of his final bequests suggest that Catton passed his remaining years variously at Campton, Norwich, and St Albans. He died between 25 April 1552, when he added a codicil to the Will he had drafted on 26 October of the previous year, and 7 July 1552, when probate was granted. He had requested burial either at his church at Campton, or at St Albans, ‘where I was sometimes abbote’, but no location is recorded.

THE END

Source:
https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-105481/version/0

Banner Heading Image: Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk. James Sillett (1764–1840) Norfolk Museums Service

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