Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Barsham.

The Barsham parish is located north of Fakenham and south of the pilgrimage centre of Little Walsingham in North Norfolk. This parish includes several small villages, that of Houghton St Giles, West Barsham, East Barsham and North Barsham. For those who have a liking for such things, the name Barsham means ‘homestead or village of a man called Bar’. We are not sure, but ‘Bar’ may derive from ‘boar’ and may even be a nickname. The Domesday survey itself identifies a man called ‘Toki’ as owning land there prior to 1066 after which, around 1087, a certain ‘Hugh’ owned the land. This area around the Barshams is rich in archaeological finds and contains some particularly splendid churches and monuments related to pilgrimages to nearby Little Walsingham.

Barsham4

The area is also well known for its ‘Barsham Tunnel’, as once was – the only other standard gauge tunnel (apart from the Cromer Tunnel – see previous blog) to be built in Norfolk during the 19th century as part of the rush to lay down railways.

Barsham1
A Fakenham-bound train crosses the trestle viaduct at East Barsham in the mid-1890’s. Beneath, work is in progress to replace the 40 year-old timber structure, embankment and culvert. Picture : Norman Faircloth courtesy of the FCA.

The railway which ran through the Barshams linked Wymondham, Dereham, Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea. The Wymondham to Dereham section opened in February 1847 as the Norfolk Railway. This was followed the following year by a second section that was to run towards Fakenham, but the Company ran out of funds and had to wait until the independent Wells & Fakenham Railway, finally filled the gap in 1857. Just five years later in 1862, all local railway companies merged into one network, named the Great Eastern Railway (GER).

Barsham (Map)
Illustration showing Norfolk railways, both past and present. Photo: Wikipedia.

For just over a century all was well, until road transport began to take passengers and goods away. The M&GN (nick-named the ‘Muddle & Get Nowhere’ railway), which crossed a large part of Norfolk from Gt. Yarmouth to Kings Lynn and beyond, closed in February 1959. Then along came Dr. Beeching and his draconian nationwide closures which, invariably, included many lines in Norfolk. The Wells to Dereham section, on which the Barsham Tunnel was situated, closed in 1964 followed, in 1969, by the Dereham to Wymondham section. Some parts of former routes however still operated as either Heritage or Narrow-Gauge Railways -see map above.

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The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway. Photo: Discover Norfolk.

One of these is today’s 4-mile narrow gauge Wells & Walsingham Light Railway; its line reduced from the former standard 4ft, 8.5inch width to just 10.25inch width. This railway opened to the public in 1982.

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The Barsham Tunnel. Picture: Courtesy of the FCA.

It was towards the Walsingham end of the old Wymondham to Wells-next-the-Sea railway where the track passed through a tunnel – the Barsham Tunnel, which was originally built to pass through Barsham Hill, as indicated on the 1838 first edition 1-inch O.S. map. During construction, and in order to comply with safety regulations, the 200-yard-long and slightly curved Barsham Tunnel had refuges (or portals similar to those of the Cromer Tunnel) cut into its walls for staff to ‘hide’ from passing trains when working in or near the tunnel.

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The open Barsham Cutting where the tunnel once stood. Photo: Owen Stratford. Courtesy of FCA.

However, on 22nd November 1892, the London Gazette advised that conversion of the tunnel into an open cutting with a solid embankment, would follow during the following year; this was because structural problems were discovered and, consequently, the tunnel’s roof was removed, leaving just the base of the walls and an exposed deep cutting instead – as still seen today. The tunnel walls had been built with soft ‘Norfolk Red’ bricks and later clad, in a concrete screed, by British Rail. In 1912, the spoil was taken away and dumped to form an embankment across a nearby valley which had previously been crossed by a trestle viaduct over the River Stiffkey.

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The Wells to Wymondham Branch Line
The branch line was one of the longest lines in East Anglia, running from Wymondham Abbey to Wells next the Sea, through four major Norfolk towns. Here was where the line ran through the area of the former Barsham Tunnel.
© Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Barsham2
Work-in-progress on the trestle viaduct that once carried the Fakenham to Wells railway over the River Skiffkey at East Barsham. The timbers of the viaduct were buried as an embankment was formed. The spoil came from the opening-out of the nearby Barsham Tunnel which, by the mid-1890’s had become unsafe. Picture: Peter Boggis courtesy of FCA.
Barsham4 (Peter Boggis)
A Wells bound goods train left stranded at  North Barsham after the bridge over the River Skiffkey was washed away during the great flood of August 1912. Picture: Peter Boggis, courtesy of the FCA.
Barsham3
The bridge at North Barsham being rebuilt after the original was destroyed in the August 1912 floods. Picture: Courtesy of the FCA.
Barsham (River Skiffkey)
River Stiffkey
The River Stiffkey is a chalk stream running through north Norfolk, from its source near Swanton Novers to flow out into the North Sea on the north Norfolk coast near the town of Stiffkey. The river is 18 miles long.
The river’s source is a small wooded lake just north of the village of Swanton Novers, after which the river passes close to Fulmodeston, then north to pass through the village of Great Snoring. From Great Snoring it runs south past Thorpland Hall, then north-west through East Barsham, North Barsham and Houghton St Giles to the town of Little Walsingham.
From here it flows north past Great Walsingham, then through Wighton and Warham before passing through the village of Stiffkey and out to its estuary on Stiffkey Salt Marshes.
© Copyright N Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

After closing on 5th October 1964. The Walsingham station building was purchased three years later by members of the Russian Orthodox Church and transformed into a small monastic community house, including St. Seraphim’s church. So today, they have timetables of a different kind!

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The Russian Orthodox Church. Photo: Christopher Weston.

FOOTNOTE: On a final note about Norfolk tunnels, there is today a third tunnel to mention – and still used today! However, this was only created in 1990 with the arrival of the Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway that follows the route of another former ‘standard-gauge’ railway line which ran between Hoveton and Aylsham, and beyond – but not anymore. When the Aylsham Bypass was built, the old level crossing was demolished and a short Tunnel passing under the A140 built. So when anyone says that Norfolk is too flat for tunnels – then the answer must be Rubbish!

Bure_Valley_Railway_-_Aylsham_bypass_tunnel-by-Evelyn-Simak
Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway Tunnel. Photo: Evelyn Simak

THE END

Sources:
https://www.facebook.com/Fakenham-and-District-Community-Archive-265910276788551/
disused-stations.org.uk/c/cromer_high/index.shtml
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archive

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Cromer.

Cromer View1
Postcard showing Cromer around the turn of the 19th Century. Picture: Public Domain.

Most people know something about Cromer; a few know quite a lot! It is a seaside town well settled in the English County of Norfolk and once the small inland village of Crowmere, before gaining prominence as a seaside holiday resort in Victorian times. It is said that the writings of Clement Scott, are often attributed as one reason for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century.

Other reasons for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century were largely down to the development of a North Norfolk rail network which began around 1877 to service such places as Cromer – a resort also well-known for Cromer Crabs, Cromer Golf Course, Cromer Hospital, Cromer Lifeboat & Henry Blogg, Cromer Lighthouse and the never-to-be-forgotten Cromer Pier. But in this article, we concentrate on the local railway network, which includes one more hidden gem which will surprise those who believe that the County of Norfolk is completely flat. Cromer, in fact, has a tunnel, which normally would not be necessary if there were no hilly terraine to tackle. That tunnel still exists – although neglected and almost forgotten ever since the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) line, which connected Cromer to Mundesley and North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand and Trimmingham, closed down. However, when this line first opened, it did so in two sections – North Walsham to Mundesley opened in July 1898 and Mundesley to Cromer opened in August 1906 – thus completing the line; this latter section followed an Act on the 7th August 1896 which authorised the M&GJR to build on from Mundesley to Cromer, but passing south of Cromer and curving back to approach the town from the west.

Cromer_Map2
An Illustration of the M&GNJR line, from North Walsham, leaving Overstrand (right) and curving round to approach the then Cromer Beach station from the west. Photo:Wikipedia
Railway Map001
An Illustration of how the Cromer section (top right) fitted into the Norfolk railway system around 1900. Take note of the relatively short section that links Cromer with North Walsham – drawn as a ‘fishbone’.

Cromer once operated up to four railway stations at various times over the years, that of Cromer Beach, Cromer Links Halt, Cromer High and, latterly, Roughton Road – all within an apparent complicated rail system which became simplified when closures took their full effect. Now the town has just two – Cromer (former Cromer Beach) and Roughton Road which opened in 1985, near the site of the former Cromer High station. Roughton Road came into existence following the town’s growth as home for a growing number of Norwich commuters. This particular expansion was, of course, in complete contrast to the 1950’s and 60’s closures which followed the fall in traffic caused by Cromer’s decline in popularity as a holiday destination after World War II. At that time, there were also closures of many other Norfolk railway lines. The knock-on effect of this was that an inevitable early decision was made to concentrate all Cromer passenger traffic towards, and from, a single station. This was to be the former, and centralised Cromer Beach station, built in 1887 for the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR). This station was simply renamed ‘Cromer’.

Cromer_Beach1
The former Cromer Beach Station. Photo: Public Domain.
Cromer (Beach Station)001
Old Postcard Cromer Beach Station and its extensive number of rail tracks at the time. The inclusion of ‘Beach’ in its name was to hightlight the station’s actual position at Cromer. The station became simply ‘Cromer’ in 1969 and today there are just two tracks, one each side of the platform. Dwarfing today’s station is a supmarket, plus other retail outlets.
Cromer_High1
The former Cromer High Station. Photo: Public Domain.

Cromer High lay high on the outskirts of the town, and opened in 1877 as the terminus of the once Great Eastern Railway (GER) main line from London. Cromer High was one casualty when the cuts came, and it closed as a direct result of the rationalisation, despite the station having far better facilities than the more central Cromer Beach station down below. Cromer High was simply inconveniently situated high above and on the edge of the town.

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)1
Cromer Links Halt. Photo: Steven Gorick.

Then there was the Cromer Links Halt railway station, on the M&GNJR, which became yet another casualty when the line closed. Located near to Sidestrand the Halt opened in 1923 to serve a nearby golf course. Costing £170 to build it was located in a wood with the path to the station running up the embankment. The Halt was part of this little-used extension line from Cromer to North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand, Trimmingham and Mundesley.

 

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)2
Sidestrand Station
Much like its counterpart at Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand consisted of a simple wooden platform capable of accommodating one coach. Hidden away at the end of a public footpath, the station did not have any ticket-issuing facilities, and these could only be purchased on the trains. The halt had been opened in an attempt to increase revenues on the line by further exploiting the tourist potential of “Poppyland“, but in the event it only lasted seventeen years and closed along with the section of the line between Cromer and Mundesley in 1953. Photo: Wikipedia.
Cromer (Overstrand Station)001
Overstrand Station
A postcard showing that much of the M&GNJR  line at Overstrand was on an embankment, and the reach the ‘long-island’ platform entry was via a white-tiled sloping subway, in the centre of this view, with its frosted-glass roof.

Overstrand station opened in 1906 and was much used in the summer months by holidaymakers. It closed along with the rest of the line in April 1953.

Cromer (Trimmingham Station)002
Trimingham Station
Here and the Overstrand the stations were built by C.A. Sadler of Sheringham; both stations were of the same brick and terracotta design with the corrugated iron roof extending over the canopy.
Cromer (Mundesley Station)001
Mundesley-On-Sea Station
To cater for the crowds of holiday makers – who, by the way, never materialised – this station was spacious with four platforms, two signal boxes and its own engine shed.
Cromer,_North_Walsham
A 1907 map showing the North Walsham to Cromer section of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (in dotted blue/yellow) and connecting lines

The Cromer Tunnel.

It was along this M&GNJR line at Cromer, and just before Cromer Links Halt, where the ‘Cromer Tunnel’ was built in the late 1880’s. At just 61 yards long, this last remnant of the long-defunct Cromer Beach to North Walsham railway line, once ran beneath the, also defunct, Cromer High to Norwich route. This tunnel is still Norfolk’s only remaining former ‘standard gauge’ railway tunnel which can be seen on the Overstrand side of the main A140 road at the Northrepps. During the Second World War, the local Home Guard set up a spigot mortar base about 70 feet inside the tunnel, should the Germans have ever invaded.

Cromer_Tunnel (Anthony Weeden)2
The Cromer Tunnel today. Photo: Anthony Weeden

Clearly visible in some photographs of the tunnel are posts along the left-hand side which once carried signal cabling, while set into the wall on the right, were two safety shelters, or portals, for anyone working in the tunnel seeking to protect themselves from approaching trains. Both tunnel portals are still open today, but undergrowth and modern housing in the area make access to the tunnel difficult.

Cromer_Roughton2.jpg
Roughton Road Railway Station
Roughton Road railway station is located on Roughton Road in the southern outskirts of Cromer. It is the station between Cromer and Gunton railway stations on the Bittern Line.
  © Copyright G Laird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Nowadays Cromer is served only by the Bittern Line service, which runs from Norwich to Sheringham, stopping at Roughton Road and Cromer stations.

FOOTNOTE: On a final note about Norfolk tunnels, there is today a third tunnel to mention – and still used today! However, this was only created in 1990 with the arrival of the Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway that follows the route of another former ‘standard-gauge’ railway line which ran between Hoveton and Aylsham, and beyond – but not anymore. When the Aylsham Bypass was built, the old level crossing was demolished and a short Tunnel passing under the A140 built. So when anyone says that Norfolk is too flat for tunnels – then the answer must be Rubbish!

Bure_Valley_Railway_-_Aylsham_bypass_tunnel-by-Evelyn-Simak
Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway Tunnel. Photo: Evelyn Simak

THE END

Sources:
Handscomb, M., & Standley, P., Norfolk’s Railways, 1992
Weston, C., Norfolk Archive.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that, at least, any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

2020: The Year of Richard Caister

Richard Caister could be described as a medieval maverick cleric who preached and wrote in the vernacular a century before the Protestant Reformation. However, it is more than likely that not many people today would recognise his name if asked; or be aware of his deeds, character or reputation. Timely therefore that between February and October of this year, 2020, St Stephen’s Church in Norwich (where this late priest and poet was based in the latter part of his life) will celebrate the 600th Anniversary of his life and work through several events hosted by the Church itself, including family craft workshops and musical performances. These events are to be supported by associated historical tours of the city and variously timed lectures at the Forum and the Norfolk Record Office. Not everyone could possibly share in these celebrations, but for those who may still be interested in the man, the period in which he lived and those with whom he associated, here is an adapted summary of his life based (in part) on the information compiled by St Stephens Church.

Richard Caister (St Stephens)
St Stephens Church, Norwich and host for the 600th Anniversary of its late Vicar, Richard Caister. Photo: Jamie (flickr).

We can never be absolutely certain of Richard Caister’s place of birth or the actual date, only that he was born either in Caister St Edmund or Caister-on-Sea sometime around the middle of the 14th century. He was apparently styled ‘master’ but there is no clear evidence that he studied at a university; but it is said that in 1385, possibly on 1 October, a part of his head was ‘tonsured’ – left bare on top by the shaving off of the hair – he had been made a cleric. It was at that moment when he was admitted to Merton Priory in Surrey where he received his education in preparation for an ordained ministry. It is probable that, after being ordained, he spent some 10 years as a monk of the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Certainly, in 1397, he become vicar of St Mary’s Church in Sedgeford, near Kings Lynn, having been presented to the benefice by the Prior of the Norwich Cathedral Priory.  Richard Caister served Sedgeford for five years; its location described by Simon Knott in 2006 thus:

Richard Caister (Sedgeford)
St Mary The Virgin Church at Sedgeford. Photo: Blosslyn.

“Sedgeford is one of those surprisingly secluded villages not far from the Wash, with busy Hunstanton and Sandringham just over the hill. Many East Anglian churches are at the highest point in their parishes, which isn’t saying a lot, but this big church is down in a dip in the valley below the road, and you would never notice it unless you were deliberately looking for it. The nave seems vast with those great clerestory windows, and the round tower appears to grow out of it, the aisles extending westwards to wrap around it.”

In 1402 Richard Caister was transferred to St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, where he remained until his death on April 4, 1420. He was buried in the chancel of the Church; an indication of the high regard he was held at the time. According to Norman P. Tanner:

“Margery Kempe [see below] provides a glowing portrait of him as vicar of St Stephen’s. He was, she indicates, a generous and apostolic parish priest, and a noted and effective preacher. He acted as her confessor in Norwich and supported her against her critics, including the officials of the bishop……… Following his death in 1420, perhaps on 29 March, his reputation for holiness developed into a minor cult. Margery Kempe went to pray at his grave in St Stephen’s Church, to thank him for the recovery of a friend from sickness: between 1429 and 1500 a number of bequests were left in wills for people to make pilgrimages to his grave, or for offerings to be left at it. He appears to have been a radical and evangelical priest, one in a succession as vicars of St Stephen’s parish, though Bale’s claim that he was an enthusiastic Wycliffite, albeit a secret one, seems unfounded……… Books on the ten commandments, the beatitudes, and the meditations of St Bernard, and also some homilies, were attributed to him. His only extant work, however, is the hymn ‘Jesu, lord, that madest me’, which seems to have been very popular, surviving in numerous manuscripts (though eight of its twelve stanzas come from an earlier poem).”

Richard Caistor’s Will was probably written within a few days of his death; it is remarkable, especially for a man who had been incumbent in one of the most valuable livings in Norwich for some eighteen years. The Will is very brief and contains no requests for masses or prayers to be said for his soul. Instead, he seems to have wanted his ‘unspecified wealth’, apart from £10 that was to be spent on buying two antiphonaries for his church, to be given to the poor, with preference being given to those of his parish on the grounds that “the goods of the church, according to canon law, belong to the poor”

Two significant Contemporaries of Caister:
One of Caister’s contemporaries was Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). She is, of course, known for her book The Revelations of Divine Love, which is a masterpiece of 14th century vernacular theology and also the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman.

Richard Caister (Julian of Norwich)
A sculpture giving an imagined depiction of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

There are no documents in existence which says that Richard Caister and Julian of Norwich ever met. However, it seems inconceivable that this was never so, when their geographical proximity of St Julian’s and St Stephen’s Churches were practically next door to each other. Also, having both a mutual friend in Margery Kempe, would strongly suggest that the lives of Julian and Richard may well have overlapped at times. However, more significantly than that suggestion, is the fact that both of them wrote in the vernacular. By doing so, both opened spiritual and theological matters to ordinary lay people, as distinct to only the clergy which believed, certainly in Caister’s time, that the English language was not an appropriate vehicle to consider or broadcast theological matters; such matters needed to be presented in the language of the Church – Latin.

Richard Caister (Margery Kempe)2

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) was another significant contemporary of Caister and the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, which is considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language; she was also a Christian mystic whose work gives a careful spiritual and social commentary of England. Kempe became very close to Caister; in their first meeting, Caister listened to Margery Kempe speak about the love of God and her spiritual experiences. Margery Kempe also recorded that while some considered her to be insane or under the influence of demons, Richard Caister defended her, open to the idea that God may inspire a woman. Caister became Margery Kempe’s confessor and even defended her in a hearing before the formidable Bishop Henry le Despenser. From the website of present-day St Stephen’s Church, we learn that:

“……. after Caister’s death and burial, Margery Kempe writes that she was moved to journey to St Stephen’s to pray for the healing of a priest who was close to her. She writes of a powerful spiritual encounter of the goodness of God during this time of prayer at the chancel of St Stephen’s Church, where Caister was buried. The priest for whom she was praying was healed. It is most likely for this reason that Caister’s burial place became a shrine for pilgrimage throughout the latter half of the 15th century.”

The Character of Caister and his Ministry:
Caister had a reputation for being a man of significant learning who was assiduous in his pastoral duties, particularly in his preaching and in his concern for the poor of his parish. The pilgrim badges that accompanied the shrine of Richard Caister frequently depict him preaching from the pulpit, wearing either clerical or academic dress’.

Richard Caister (Pilgrim Badges)2
A medieval pilgrim badge, worn by someone who would have visited Richard Caister’s burial spot in St Stephen’s Church in Norwich in the 15th century. Photo: Pinterest (Museum of London)

John Pits, (1560 – 17 October 1616) was an English Roman Catholic scholar and writer who was born in Alton, Hampshire. He provides a character sketch of Richard Caister.

“He was a man simple and upright, and no mean scholar. In his sermons he used not so much to attack men’s vices with bitter words, as to deplore them with tears of sympathy, and to exhort all to flee from their sins and to have pity upon their own souls. With the ignorant multitude he willingly adopted a familiar style, and used to mingle with the crowds to hold outdoor meetings. The simplest folk he loved the best, as being most like himself, saying that of such is the kingdom of heaven. He is said to have had the spirit of prophecy, and both during his life and after his death to have been renowned for many miracles”

Then there was Francis Blomefield who, in his History of Norfolk (volume 4), adds to this description that Caister was “a man of greatest learning and what was exceedingly remarkable in those days, a constant preacher of God’s word in English to his parishioners”.

Religious Dissent in the 14th and 15th Centuries:
Caister lived in a turbulent period in the life of the Church in England, for there existed a particular element of non-conformist thought, known of today as “Lollardy“; this movement became increasingly powerful across England in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The book “Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards (1395)” indicates a set of ideas held in common at the time, and strongly criticises clerical practice, the doctrine of transubstantiation, pilgrimage, plus rejecting the necessity of the mediation of God’s forgiveness through the Church via confession of sins to a priest. However, at the heart of Lollardy was the insistence for access to the scriptures in the English language – not Latin.

Richard Caister (Thomas Arundel)
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. Copy of a 15th century portrait. Image: Lambeth Palace.

Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was an English clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Richard II, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death, an outspoken opponent of the Lollards. In 1409 he promulgated a piece of ecclesiastical legislation, called the ‘Constitutions’ which was designed to establish control over religious thought and speech in England; it established controls over access to the scriptures in the English language:

“No one should translate any text of holy scripture on his own authority into the English language or any other under pain of excommunication, until that translation was approved by the local diocesan council”.

Alongside this, the Constitutions outlawed the criticism of clergy in the context of sermons and limited the topics upon which clergy could educate their parishioners. In a very influential essay Nicholas Watson argued that the goal of Arundel’s Constitutions was to restrict the development of religious thought in the English language; this led to the ‘watering-down’ of a growing and creative tradition of vernacular theology in England, as represented by Julian of Norwich.

Richard Caister (Love's Mirror)2
The ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus. This version printed by William Caxton, Westminster: circa. 1490. Image: University of Glasgow.

Then there was the 15th century Nicholas Love; the Carthusian prior of Mount Grace Priory. He translated and adapted Pseudo-Bonaventure’s ‘Meditations on the Life of Christ’ into English and named it ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus (1410)’. His was not merely a translation of one of the most popular Latin works of Franciscan devotion on the life and passion of Christ, but an expanded version with additions against the John Wycliffite (Lollard). Specifically, Love argued that Latin was the true language of theological thought and spiritual devotion. As such, the lay person remained in an unchangeable state of dependency on the Latin-speaking clergy. His version was submitted to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 1410 for approval. This submission was in accordance with strictures that forbade any new biblical translation written since the time of John Wycliffe, “in any form whatsoever, unless the translation was submitted to the local bishop for approval.” Arundel not merely approved the ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus’, but commanded its propagation; the work survives in sixty-four manuscripts; nineteen of these contain a note of Arundel’s official approval along with a note that this work is a “confutation of heretics or lollards”. Love’s work appears to have been the most popular new piece of literature in 15th-century England and was published at least ten times between 1484 and 1606. It provides an instructive insight into the character of the Church at the time, in contrast to which Richard Caister’s own ‘Metrical Prayer’ can be better understood. In short, it is a fascinating document written at that turbulent time and does, arguably, contains some themes consistent with Lollardy.

Richard Caister (Henry_le_Despenser)
Henry le Despenser (c.1341-1406) a 14th-century carving of him on a misericord in a chancel stall in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn. Photo: Wikipedia.

Lollardy was particularly influential in Norfolk at the turn of the 15th century. The Bishop of Norwich, the then Henry le Despenser, was also a fierce an opponent of Lollardy. According to Thomas Walsingham, (Rolls Series, Vol. ii., p.188):

“He swore, and did not repent, that if any of that perverse sect [Lollards] should presume to preach in his diocese, he should either be given to the flames or deprived of his head”.

The Legacy of Richard Caister:
Richard Caister was closely associated with the linguist, philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe who was an important influence on Lollardy and is thought of as a forerunner of Protestantism in England. Then there was Bishop John Bale (himself a man with strong protestant sympathies) who, in his work ‘Illustrious Writers of Great Britain’ (printed c1549-1559), wrote:

Richard Caister (John Bale)
John ‘Bilious’ Bale. Image: Wikipedia.

“Richard Caister, of the County of Norfolk, and coming from near Norwich itself, a man learned and pious for his age, and Vicar at the Church of St Stephen in that City, [he was] called ‘the Good’, lead an apostolic and innocent life in great simplicity of spirit. Miracles are narrated of this man, but many are void of all truth. Nevertheless, he was distinguished for remarkable sanctity and a prophetic spirit. He favoured the Wycliffite (or rather the Christian) doctrine strongly, but secretly, for fear of the Papists, having had experience of their tyranny in others.  The scandalous example of the clergy he deplored with humble reproof in sermons, since otherwise he was not able to cure it. Many other proofs of piety did the good man display, and amongst other things he wrote in his native tongue”.

Richard Caister (John Wycliffe)
John Wycliffe. Image: Wikimedia.

Whether or not Richard Caister really held Wycliffite views is not clear. In the case of Bishop Bale, (who was quite partisan towards Protestantism and could stretch his views of people towards his own ways of thinking), Richard Caister’s own Metrical Prayer does indicate, at least, some sympathy with ideas associated with Wycliffe and Lollardy; but, of course, did not suffer the same fate as others in the Diocese of Norwich who were more explicitly loyal to Wycliffe’s thought, such as William Sawtrey, and payed the price!

Richard Caister (William Sawtre)

FOOTNOTE:
The Richard Caister Project, hosted by St Stephen’s Church, Norwich, sets out to tell the story of Richard Caister. At the forefront of this story is the suitability of all (not just the professionally religious) for spiritual and theological discourse, a commitment which is still at the core of the ministry of Christ at St Stephen’s today. There will be an exhibition in the Church building, workshops for young people and series of talks throughout 2020 – ‘The Caister Talks’, delivered by a diverse range of experts, including Professor Richard Rex (Cambridge University), Laura Varnam (Oxford University) and prolific local historian Frank Meeres. There will be performances over the year including an evening of poetry with the internationally renowned poet and priest Reverend Dr Malcolm Guite. To close the year, there will be a celebration service at St Stephen’s Church, at which Bishop Graham Usher will preach.

Two planned lectures on “Richard Caister are:

16 January 2020, at The Auditorium in the Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich NR2 1TF and hosted by the Norwich Society. 

6 May 2020, at The Green Room, Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ and hosted by the Norfolk Record Office

THE END

Sources on which this Blog is based:
https://www.ststephensnorwich.org

The Story of Richard Caister


https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4349
https://www.juliancentre.org/about/about-julian-of-norwich.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe#Pilgrimage
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lollardy
https://philpapers.org/rec/WATCAC-4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bale
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sawtrey
https://www.networknorwich.co.uk/Articles/558444/Network_Norwich_and_Norfolk/Regional_News/Norwich/Events_mark_6th_centenary_of_Norwich_medieval.aspx

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The Corsbies — A Family of Clerks!

Charles Dickens, writing in April 1835, describes running into a fellow office clerk:

“He was a tall, thin, pale person, in a black coat. He had an umbrella in his hand – not for use, for the day was fine – but, evidently, because he always carried one to the office in the morning.”

This particular story would not have been written without the help of a professional archivist, someone who proved instrumental in bringing together information about the somewhat obscure Corsbies’. Never heard of them? Well, that would not be at all surprising since theirs is not a house-hold name. In fact, they would have remained within the sphere obscurity had not this diligent archivist brought them back into the light. Up until that point, the name Corsbie lay hidden in time-worn files, scrap books, photograph albums – company magazines and board minutes; most detail having been kept for a very long time in dusty draws before digitisation came along. Theirs is a simple story which offers a glimpse into what office life of the past was like, particularly for the generations of Corsbies who all worked, at some point, as humble clerks before rising up their own particular career ladder. However, they did have one thing in common – apart from the surname; they all had the distinction of having worked for one of the most famous and greatest Insurance companies ever to have once existed – Norwich Union.

“In 1792, Thomas Bignold helped in the creation of ‘Norwich General Assurance Company’ and was appointed its secretary. He left there in 1797 to found the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society with support from local shopkeepers and in 1808 he founded the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. After 1815 the post war recession began to bite and claims against the Society increased; initially he resisted many of those claims – some legitimately but some not so. Eventually his sons collaborated with the other directors to force him to retire. In retirement he became increasing eccentric forming a business to make shoes with revolving heels: this venture pushed him into bankruptcy and he eventually into prison. He died in 1835. It was in 1821 when the companies founded by Thomas Bignold, and which had operated in competition, merged under the Norwich Union name.”

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Samuel Bignold in 1852.
Born in Norwich in 1791, Samuel Bignold was the third and youngest son of Thomas Bignold and his wife Sarah, widow of Julius Long. He was educated at schools in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds.
From 1814, he worked as secretary for the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Company and from 1818 had the same office at Bignold House for the Norwich Union Life Assurance Society; both companies founded by his father, Thomas Bignold. The Bignold’s and their office staff used Bignold House as the companies’ head office when they merged. Samuel died at Bignold House in 1875 and was buried at St Margaret, Old Catton.

The Corsbie family were from Norwich and several generations of them worked for the Norwich Union for well over a century. Our archivist’s research discovered that the Corsbie family, from Joseph Clarke Corsbie downwards, amassed more than 370 years of combined service for the Company. Joseph himself joined the Norwich General Assurance Company in 1810. and when company moved to its Surrey Street office in Norwich, Joseph went went with it. He joined the rest of the office staff who would then work in Bignold House, the actual family home of Samuel Bignold, the then Secretary of the Company.

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Bignold House Surrey Street, c1897

In November 1819 Samuel Bignold wrote a set of rules for his clerks which would have been in force when Joseph Corsbie arrived in Surrey Street. According to those rules, office hours were from 9 o’clock till half past one, and from half past two to 6pm. Staff who were late in the morning or after lunch were fined 2d for each 5 minutes they were late. Clerks were also fined for tending the office fire:

“The office fire to be attended to by Mr Driver, or the junior Clerk, and any Clerk who may assume his duty shall be fined 3d. Clerks are permitted to warm themselves at the Fire in Office hours, but only one at a time to be at the fire and no Clerk is expected to remain there longer than may be sufficient for Warming himself.”

Clearly Samuel suspected that without such a rule his clerks would spend too much time chatting while warming themselves at the fire. Despite these strict rules it seems that clerks at Norwich Union were generally content with their lot, and most spent their entire working lives with the company. When Samuel Bignold was knighted in 1854 he took the clerks from the Norwich Union Fire and Life Societies out for a meal to celebrate and at least half of the forty clerks who attended had reached more than 26 years’ service with one or other of the companies.

During following year of 1855, Joseph Corsbie presided over a meal of Norwich Union clerks to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday and by that date he was the oldest clerk in the establishment. Joseph spent 50 years working for Norwich General and Norwich Union and was granted his retirement by the Directors in January 1860, when he was awarded an annuity ‘in consideration of his long service’. He received £130 per annum, the equivalent of around £130,000 in today’s terms. According to the Board’s minutes, Joseph had not been fully able to attend to his duties for two years before he retired, and he died in September 1861 after a long and painful illness.

Joseph was not the only Corsbie to be working in Surrey Street in 1821. In June of that year his nephew, Dennis Tooke Corsbie, took a position with the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. According to a staff list, Dennis retired in August 1874 as managing or chief clerk, having clocked up an impressive 53 years’ service with the Society. During his time with the Norwich Union he would have been involved in the take-over of the Amicable Society, the world’s oldest mutual life insurer, which happened in 1866. Dennis may also have been responsible for starting an Easter tradition which was carried on by his successor as chief clerk, George Holmes. According to the memoires of another staff member, Henry Butler, Mr Holmes would call all the staff together at noon on the Thursday before Good Friday and give them each a glass of sherry and brown and white biscuits known as ‘fair buttons’. At one o’clock the office would close and all the clerks would go to the fair at Tombland.

The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union arrived in the 1850s. His name was Henry Webster Corsbie, son of Joseph; he joined the Fire Society in 1852 but left in 1865. Henry had been involved in a court case in 1857 after he was ‘struck’ in the face by a certain William Tuck who was angry that other Norwich Union clerks had cancelled the periodicals they usually purchased from him. During the case, Tuck claimed that the clerks, who followed the Conservative political views of Sir Samuel, had turned against him after he had voted for the Whigs in the local elections.

In 1853, Henry’s brother, Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society and went on to work for the Life Society for 38 years’, retiring 1891 and by which time he was earning £350 a year. Presenting him with an inscribed timepiece from the Directors, Mr Forrester said:

“…… throughout your forty years’ service you have born an unblemished character, distinguished by integrity of purpose, devotion to your duties, courtesy to the higher officials and kindness and sympathy toward the other members of staff”.

In his response Horace thanked the directors for the gift and the generous provision for his retirement and said he ‘could look back upon nothing but kindness during his long connection with the society, both from those now in office and those who have been long in their graves’.

The 1850s also saw Henry John Abs Corsbie and his brother Charles James Abs Corsbie, sons of Dennis Corsbie, join the Norwich Union Life Society in 1854 and 1856 respectively. There would have been five Corsbies in the employment of the two societies in May 1862 when each clerk was given £5 by the management to go and visit the Great Exhibition at Kensington which was also insured by the Fire Society.

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The Great Exhibition of 1862 at Kensington, London. Image: Wikipedia.
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Reproduction of Great Exhibition Policy, c1863.

In 1871 the names of the four Corsbies then working for the Life Society featured in an illustrated letter which was presented to Sir Samuel Bignold to mark his 80th birthday.

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Illustrated letter to Samuel Bignold on this 80th birthday, 1871
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Close-up view of life clerk names on  the 1871 letter.

The names of Horace, Henry John, and Charles also appear on a list of staff who attended Sir Samuel’s funeral in January 1875. Samuel Bignold died in the Surrey Street office which was also his family home and, according to contemporary newspapers, on the morning of the funeral hundreds of people filled the pavements of Surrey Street wanting to pay their respects:

‘As the time announced for the starting of the procession arrived, the Market-Place and approaches to Surrey Street became almost impassable by reason of the thousands who had there congregated.’

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Norwich Market Place, 1890s

Twenty-five carriages were included in the funeral procession which followed a route along Rampant Horse Street, the Market Place, London Street and Queen Street, through Tombland and along Magdalen Street to the family vault at Catton. All Norwich Union staff attended the funeral and they were allocated places in the carriages in order of seniority of service. Charles Corsbie should have been in coach three with his brother and cousin but instead watched proceedings from the window on the office stairs as he was too ill to attend. The staff list notes that he died the following month.

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List of clerks attending Samual Bignold’s funeral, 1875

Charles Corsbie was only 34 when he died and had still spent nearly twenty years working for Norwich Union. As for his brother, Henry John Abs Corsbie, he was first appointed an inspector for the South Eastern Region in October 1884, at which point his salary was raised to £225 pa with 2nd class rail travel and an allowance of 12s 6d for each day he was away from Norwich. Henry is the first of the Corsbies to be clearly identified in a photograph (see below) which was taken in around 1900. Apparently, he was still working for Norwich Union when he died, aged 73, in 1909 and the notice of his funeral refers to ‘upwards of 55 years’ service’ with the Society.

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Norwich Union inspectors, c1900.
Henry John Abs Corsbie sits second from the left in the centre row.

The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union were the grandsons of Joseph Corsbie. In total, five of his grandsons began work for the company between 1877 and 1889. The first was Arthur Benjamin Corsbie who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in May 1877 and died in service just over two years later. In January 1882, Horace Frank Corsbie, the eldest son of Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society on a princely salary of £20 per annum. His time with Norwich Union coincided with the introduction of a Thursday half-holiday for clerks and the arrival of the office telephone, but he left in December 1891, eventually working as a municipal clerk. Next to join was Horace Frank’s younger brother, Ernest Benjamin Corsbie, who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in April 1883. The notice of his death in the staff magazine records that he also worked for the Loss Department, Accounts Department and Secretarial Department before being appointed head of the Marine Department. He moved to London with the department and died in service there in July 1917. Ernest also contributed to the social life of the office, he was auditor for the staff football club and wrote articles for the staff magazine, which is probably why his photograph appears in the magazine’s photograph album.

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Ernest Corsbie, c1900.
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Ernest Corsbie at his desk, c1900.

Also joining in 1883 was their cousin Walter Lewis Corsbie, who’s application letter he sent asking to join the Fire Society still exists in the archive collection. He was 22 years of age when he applied and had already served out his apprenticeship with Dexter & Moll the ‘old established family linen warehouse’ based in Upper Market Norwich. By the time he applied to join Norwich Union Walter was working at Henry Snowdon’s Drapery in Bridge Street, Norwich and, according to his letter, was looking for employment with a shorter working day. As seems to have been standard in application letters to the Society, he made it clear that he was not looking for a particularly high salary.

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Walter Lewis Corsbie’s application letter, 1883.

By the time Walter joined, Norwich Union Fire had already established a compulsory staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had opened the previous year. Each member of staff contributed 2% of his salary to the scheme and in return received a guaranteed pension and guaranteed payments to his widow and children if he died in service. The fund also provided medical attendance for each member of staff. This benefited the company by helping reduce time off for sickness and benefited the members of staff who could have access to a doctor, which might otherwise have proved too expensive in a time when there was no National Health Service.

It also provided an unanticipated benefit for future archivists as detailed reports were made each year about which staff had been attended by the doctor and these were recorded in the fund minutes. The reports contain fascinating information about staff who were working for Norwich Union during this period and what illnesses or injuries led to them having time off work. According to the reports, Walter was attacked with influenza on 3rd Feb 1890 and suffered with severe inflammation of the lungs but recovered sufficiently to return to the office on 31 March. However, he had suffered from symptoms of heart disease for several years which became rapidly progressive after this and ‘he was obliged to give up work on June 25 and finally succumbed on 8 August.’

The last of the third generation of Corsbies to work for Norwich Union was Louis Frederick Corsbie, the brother of Ernest Benjamin and Horace Frank. He had initially ignored family tradition and taken a position in April 1886 with Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association, a company which was later absorbed by Norwich Union. He obviously saw the error of his ways and in July 1889 left Norwich and London Accident and started work for Norwich Union Fire. According to the staff magazine, he spent the first ten years of his service in the Fire Policy Department before moving to the Fire Loss Department where he remained until he retired in 1930. He was known as ‘Uncle Louis’ to many of his contemporaries and was described as ‘a man of equable and genial temperament and popular with his colleagues’. He was an enthusiastic bowls player, secretary and librarian of the orchestral society from 1896, and played second violin in the office orchestra. His name appears in many concert programmes for the orchestral society and he was photographed with the orchestra in around 1902.

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Norwich Union Orchestra, c1902.
Louis Corsbie sits at the extreme right of the front row with the violin bow facing downwards between his legs.

Both Louis and Ernest were working for the Fire Society when it celebrated its centenary in 1897 and the staff received a 10% bonus, double that handed out a decade earlier to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Ernest can be found in this staff photograph taken for the centenary but for some reason Louis is missing.

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Norwich Union clerks at the anniversary garden party in 1897. Ernest Corsbie stands at the extreme right of the fourth row from the front.
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Norwich Union staff group photograph from around 1905. Ernest Corsbie is standing left of centre of the front row.
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Norwich Union staff outing, c1910.
Louis Corsbie sits third from the right on the back row

Both the names of Ernest and Louis Corsbie also appear in a booklet presented to George Oliver Clark on his retirement in 1905.

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George Clark’s retirement album, 1905
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A page from George Clark’s retirement album showing  the signatures od Ernest and Louis, 1905

A fourth generation of Corsbies started at Norwich Union when Harold Gordon Corsbie joined the Life Society in March 1900. A great grandson of Joseph Corsbie he appears in this group photograph of Life Society staff, looking much younger than his 18 years.

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Norwich Union life clerks, c1900
Harold Gordon Corsbie sits extreme right of front row.

Harold Gordon Corsbie can also be identified in two cartoons produced to mark the move of the Life Society into its new offices in Surrey House in 1904. Here he is moving with his typewriter across the road to his new abode.

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New Exodus cartoon showing move to Surrey House in 1904. H.G. Corsbie is the sixth image from the left carrying his typewriter. The unidentified cartoonist has exaggerated Harold’s small stature.

Harold stayed with the company until at least 1914 and cashed in his company life policy in 1924 before emigrating with his family to Australia the following year.

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H.G. Corsbie is in this photograph of staff taken in the Surrey House garden around 1910. He stands on the extreme right.

Harold was still with Norwich Union when these decorations were put up in Surrey Street to mark the coronation of George V in June 1911. The banner spanned the street between the head offices of the two societies and Harold probably had to pass under it to get to work.

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Surrey Street decorations for the coronation of George V, 1911.

It is also likely that he is somewhere in this photograph of life office staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House at around the same date.

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Staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House, c1911

By 1911 another Corsbie had joined the Fire Society across the road in Bignold House; her name was Elsie Gertrude Corsbie who joined the society in 1911 as a typist in the fledgling typing section. The Fire Society had first employed women in the Norwich head office in 1906 and the board minutes of 7th February that year record the decision to form a Typing Department:

“consisting of six lady typists with a member of the current staff to be appointed superintendent to act as an intermediary between the typists and the departments.”

The staff member chosen was Percy Noverre whose family had a long association with Norwich Union and who had come to insurance late in life having been a dancing master in Norwich (the family was well known in dancing and the Noverre ballroom in the Norwich Assembly Rooms was named after them). This photograph shows Percy and the lady staff, including Elsie, in around 1914.

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Norwich Union typing department, c1914
Elsie Corsbie stands at the extreme right of the back row. Percy Noverre sits front centre.

According to the memoires of another long-serving member of staff, Geoff Hart, Percy Noverre’s role was to prevent fraternisation between the clerks and the lady typists.

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Geoffrey Hart’s reminiscences from a staff magazine of 1938.

Elsie was Joseph’s great granddaughter, the daughter of Ernest Corsbie, and she moved to London with her father and the rest of the Marine Department during the First World War. The war may well have been the reason Elsie never married. When war ended, she returned to Norwich to the Secretarial Department where she spent some time as personal secretary to Sir Robert Bignold, the 5th generation and last of the Bignolds to run Norwich Union. She remained with the department until 1948 when she retired after 37 years’ service. Elsie was the last Corsbie to work for Norwich Union and her retirement ended an unbroken 138 years of family service.

There was, however, another descendant of Joseph Corsbie who worked for Norwich Union. His name was Geoffrey William Cecil Corsbie who joined Norwich Union Fire in April 1935, and was the 5th generation of Corsbies to join the society – and the great-great grandson of Joseph Corsbie. Geoffrey worked in the Workmen’s Compensation Department and died in 1944 at the early age of 28. The notice of his death in the staff magazine indicates that he was never physically very fit and remembers his skill on the piano accordion and his ability to mend all things mechanical, especially watches and clocks.

THE END

Source:
Gratitude and thanks to Anna Stone of Heritage.Aviva who made this blog possible. She contributed most of the information and supporting images contained herein; exceptions are annotated otherwise.