Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC, DL was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Edwards’ Early life: He was born on 7 May 1855 at Hardingham Hall, in the village of Hardingham, Norfolk; the son and heir of Henry William Bartholomew Edwards, and Caroline Marsh, formerly of Gaynes Park, Epping, Essex. Due to his wealthy upbringing, he was educated privately at Rottingdean, at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree at Cambridge; instead he joined the Army. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant on the Unattached List on 22 March 1876, then in January 1877 joined the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, with the rank of lieutenant.
His Victoria Cross: Edwards was 27 years old, and serving as a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry during the British occupation of Egypt, when the following deed of his took place and for which he was awarded the Victorious Cross.
It was on 13 September 1882 at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, when Lieutenant Edwards led a party of the Highland Light Infantry which stormed a ‘Redoubt’. He was the one who rushed forward alone and in advance of his party, entered the battery and immediately killed the artillery officer in charge. In the melee, Edwards was knocked down by a a rammer, welded by an enemy gunner and was rescued only by the timely arrival of three men of his regiment. Edwards was severely wounded.
Edwards’ Later career: Edwards was promoted to captain on 23 March 1887 and served as adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry from 1 January 1892 and until 1 November 1893; almost two years later, on 4 September 1895, he was promoted to major and retired from the army on 11 November 1896. On 19 February 1899, on the nomination of Lord Belper, he was appointed one of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, and on 13 August 1900 he was commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk.
Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC died Hardingham Hall, Norfolk on 17 September 1912; he was aged 57 years. He was buried in St George’s Churchyard, Hardingham, Norfolk; an impressive place, sitting as it does on St Georges Mount but somewhat isolated. The mount is, as the name suggests, a rise in the ground which is framed by a sandy track and the large old rectory. Inside the church, is a window in the west wall which commemorates Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards VC. On the north wall is a memorial window to a family descendent, William Bartle Marsh Edwards of the Rifle Brigade, who was killed in action in Tunisia in 1943.
Grave of Major Edwards VC in St George’s Churchyard, Norfolk.
Memorial window to Major Edwards in St George’s Church, Hardingham.
Footnote: There are three other Norfolk recipients of the Victoria Cross: Cpl Harry Cator (b Drayton), Capt David Jamieson (b Thornham) and Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson (b Swaffham) Hardingham churchyard also contains three CWGC graves. The will form part of a future blog.
Above the north porch of St Michael’s church at Booton in Norfolk is the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel himself, commissioned over 120 years ago by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin.
By being placed in front of a niche in the wall, this particular St Michael was intended to be seen both from the front – and from the sides. It is said that this figure was inspired by examples of the pre-Raphaelites, most notably the St George in Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon, which was commissioned in 1866 by Miles Burket Foster for the dining room of his house at Witley, Surrey.
The striking profile of Booton’s St Michael, with ruffled hair and a combination of plate armour worn over chainmail with sheet leggings, does follow Burne-Jones’s St George, with the strikingly textured wings attached to the rear of the breastplate. Here, the dreamlike action of the painting has been replaced by a more heroic stance as St Michael, with a cross hanging from his neck, places both hands on his large sword, looking out purposefully across the fields as he stamps down the dragon under foot.
The name of the sculptor was not recorded, but Ann Compton of the University of Glasgow, has underlined, what she thinks is, its amateur approach – as restated by the RACNS:
“the figure was modelled by someone who had not been trained in working for bronze or, possibly, was deliberately flouting current teaching. My point is that the composition goes against the accepted idea that works cast in bronze should show off the possibilities of the material by incorporating minute definition of draperies and adopting an expansive composition to reflect the self-supporting properties of the final material – whereas the composition here is very contained.”
The Norfolk artist of the time, James Minns (1828-1904), responsible for the wooden angels in the roof, described himself variously as ‘sculptor’ and ‘wood carver’ and could possibly, as again stated by the RACNS, have provided the model for this St Michael.
It seems generally accepted, by many accounts of the Booton church, that the building is extraordinary – the product of one man’s eccentric imagination! The Reverend Whitwell Elwin (rector 1850-1900), said to have been a descendant of Pocahontas of Hiawatha fame, built the church at the end of the 19th century – without the help of an architect. Apparently, he borrowed details from other churches throughout the country, and thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust which investigated Elwin’s sources, it can be stated that the design of the nave windows is taken from those at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, and the west window from St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster. Then there is the west door design, which is that of Glastonbury Abbey, and the curious trefoil window above the chancel arch is from Lichfield Cathedral. It has been suggested that this may have been a homage to Elwin’s passion for Dr Johnson; this may strike some as far-fetched; but then, the whole building is, with its slender twin towers soaring over the wide Norfolk landscape and the central pinnacle looking almost like a minaret; everything seem to have sprung solely from Elwin’s imagination.
The dramatic wooden angels that hold up the roof are the work of James Minns, the well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard; he also worked at Ketteringham. But the church’s great glory is its stained-glass windows, by Cox Sons and Buckley from the 1890s, a unique example of a unified scheme of saints, angels and musicians set against imaginative Gothic canopies moving in procession towards the high altar. The colour for the rich red robes and Venetian inspired brocades, which are woven across the windows, are also striking – worn by archetypal willowy pre-Raphaelite ladies. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was:
‘very naughty but built in the right spirit’.
People visiting Booton church may love it – or hate it, but no one would remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity, well bedded down in the Norfolk Landscape – with St Michael standing over and protecting visitors.
In the days of stage coaches, the ‘Unicorn’ plied its services between Norwich and Cromer. It was said that the coach set out twice a day from the Coach Office in Lobster Lane, Norwich and travelled via North Walsham to Cromer. What the “Unicorn” was like we may see from Pollard’s picture. It was something between an omnibus and a hearse, and was drawn by a “unicorn” team—i.e., three horses; hence the official name of the coach; it was also called the Lobster Coach after its destination – Cromer!
Then in 1907 yet another Lobster Coach hit the headlines! It was designed by a Thomas Cook, father of Lieut. Colonel Sir Thomas Cook, J.P. In the beginning, it was run as a road coach from the Grand Hotel, Cromer, to the Maids Head Hotel, Norwich – and back. In the summer of 1909, it offered a daily service and, again, was known as the ‘Lobster’ – for the same reason as previous coaches – its association with Cromer.
Its route involved three intermediate ‘halts’, each with a change of four horses – The New Inn at Roughton, the Black Boys in Aylsham, and “The Crown” at Newton St. Faiths. The teams were comprised of different coloured horses for each of the four lengths, with five changes – skew balls, bays, blacks, browns and greys. On entering Aylsham from Cromer; a fifth horse, known as a ‘Cock Horse’, was provided to pull the coach up the hill past the Church.
The Lobster arrived at Norwich in time for lunch, calling at Aylsham for tea on the return journey to Cromer. There were two grooms stationed throughout the season at each ‘halt’, with additional staff at the main stables in Cromer. The professional driver was a Mr. Harry Milton, a well-known Park Lane, London, horse dealer, father of Harry Milton the film actor so they say. The horn blower, known as the Guard, was a Mr. T. Manley; he also won a number of National blowing competitions.
Subsequently, the Lobster took part in International Horse Shows at Olympia, right up to the outbreak of the first World War. These competitions included a marathon race from Ranleigh, finishing up round the arena at Olympia. The coach was also used for private purposes from Sennowe, up until the sale of the horses in 1915. It was dragged annually to Fakenham Races by a team of Suffolk’s, until the outbreak of the second World War in 1939. It survives today in the Coach House at Sennowe Hall (see below), together with another coach, 14 other carriages and a large collection of harness, all of approximately the same age.
Sennowe Hall (also known as Sennowe Park) is a large country house and estate located near the village of Guist in Norfolk, England. The clock tower, the house and the stables, all located in a beautiful landscape park, are Grade II* listed buildings. The Hall was originally a Georgian house built in 1774 and owned by Edmond Wodehouse MP. It was subsequently owned by the Morse-Boycott family, who had it re-built by Decimus Burton. It then passed into ownership of the lighting engineer Bernard Le Neve Foster.
The Estate was bought in 1898 by Thomas Albert Cook grandson of Thomas Cook founder of the firm of travel agents called Thomas Cook and Son (now Thomas Cook plc). He commissioned the Norwich architect George Skipper to remodel and considerably enlarge the existing house. The house and its surrounding estate is still owned by his descendants. The Hall was the main filming location for The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor, an episode of the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
The’ Mountain’ dynasty was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
Their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne , in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jacob’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain senior (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who had purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
But it was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jacob Mountain Junior, and a second blog about Jacob’s older brother, Jehosaphat Mountain.
Jacob Mountain junior was the youngest to be born at Thwaite Hall; he arrived on 1 December 1749. Three years later in 1752, when the family had settled almost at the other side of Norfolk in West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road, his father died on the hunting field. Seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jacob Mountain’s uncle, from where Jacob and his elder brother, Jehosaphat, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school. Sometime later, Jacob was sent to Scarning School near East Dereham where he became a favourite pupil of the master, the illustrious classical scholar Reverend Robert Potter (1721–1804). It would seem that Mrs Ann Mountain, who was to die in 1776, was careful with the education of her sons.
Jacob was to try his hand at a counting-house business but showed no aptitude for it; then, on 8 Oct. 1769 he was admitted as a pensioner to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. There he gained his BA (senior optima) and by 1774, had been elected junior fellow of the College and ordained deacon by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr George Horne. Three years later he took a further degree, followed by an honorary degree when he was made a Bishop himself, in 1793. But before then, on 17 Dec. 1780 to be exact, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Peterborough in a ceremony which took place in the chapel of Trinity College.
Jacob married Elizabeth Mildred Wale Kentish on 18 October 1783, in Little Bardfield Church of St Katherine, Essex and would produce seven children. It was immediately following his marriage that he relinquished his Cambridge fellowship, to be appointed perpetual curate of St Andrew’s Church in Norwich, a post he was to hold for seven years. Then from 1788 to 1790 he was Castor Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, and from 1790 to 1793 he became the examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, George Pretyman Tomline, whose acquaintance he had made at Cambridge. He was also vicar of Buckden, Cambridgeshire from 1790 to 1793, and for the same period he held in plurality the vicarage of Holbeach. It would appear that a bright future lay ahead for Jacob Mountain in the English church!
Back in London, Letters Patent were issued on 28 June 1793 which created the See of Quebec; this embraced both Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). On the same day, Jacob Mountain was appointed to the newly created ‘See’ after his name had been drawn to the attention of Prime Minister, William Pitt, by George Pretyman Tomline, who at Cambridge had been Pitt’s tutor and mentor and had since become his intimate friend and chief adviser on ecclesiastical matters. Jacob Mountain was consecrated Bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace on 7 July 1793.
Very shortly after his consecration, Jacob and his family sailed to Lower Canada on 13 August 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’; its passengers included Bishop Jacob, his wife and their four small children. Also in the party was Jacob’s brother Jehosaphat, his wife and their three children, including Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23 year old son who had just been made Deacon. To complete the Mountain family on board were Jacob’s two maiden sisters. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793, after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs.
When Mountain arrived late in 1793, he found that the Canadian diocese clergy consisted of only nine priests of the Church of England; Quebec itself had no ecclesiastical edifice, no Episcopal residence, and no rectory. The three ordained ‘Mountains’ should have brought the number to 12, but of the three ‘old’ bilingual priests already in residence – who, by the way, had failed to attract Canadians to the church – two had already been placed in semi-retirement by Bishop Inglis and the third was immediately retired by Jacob Mountain. During the thirty-two years that were to elapse before his death, Bishop Jacob was to raise the church to a flourishing condition; the original nine clergy became 61 in number, he promoted the formation of missions, and also the erection of church edifices – including the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City.
But the ecclesiastical situation that faced Bishop Jacob on his arrival was that his diocese was huge and complex! Yet from the very beginning of his appointment he set out to transplant ecclesiastical traditions developed in England on to Lower and Upper Canada. For him the most important of these was the establishment of the Church of England as the state church in the colony. Such a measure, he felt, would heighten the status of the church and encourage dissenters and Roman Catholics to attach themselves to it, thus unifying the population under an institution that was bound to support the government. Jacob’s other purpose was to place his church on a more secure foundation by extending its privileges and reducing the power and independence of its Roman Catholic rival.
In accordance with the British practice of having Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, Mountain’s membership in the legislative councils of Upper and Lower Canada as Lord Bishop of Quebec had been arranged before he left England so, shortly after his arrival at Quebec, he requested a seat on each executive council as well, they being the real colonial influence on the provinces’ administrators. Once he was installed, the work of the councils occupied much of his time and most of his duties were unrelated to his episcopal office. His decision to play it fully was determined by his belief that only through the councils could he hope to counter the influence exercised by the Roman Catholic Bishop. Thus, in the 1790s and early 1800s he was to use the weight of his council seats to block the erection of Roman Catholic parishes, and to support the prohibition of refugees into the colony, including royalist clergy from revolutionary France. However, Mountain was also faced with the situation whereby, as head of the church for which he claimed establishment, he had less authority to place clergy than his Roman Catholic counterpart. In effect, his persistent and strong efforts to have a measure of control imposed on Roman Catholic appointments met with little success.
However, in general, Mountain’s relations with the Catholic hierarchy were amicable. Even on his arrival in 1793 he had been greeted by the aged and retired Bishop Briand with words of welcome and the Gallic salutation of a kiss on both cheeks. Joseph-Octave Plessis described his relations with Mountain as “not of intimacy but of reciprocal propriety.” But, because of Mountain’s vigorous and open efforts to advance his church, he was long viewed with apprehension by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Following his last and most discouraging trip to England, however, it saw him in another light. Plessis’s successor, Bernard-Claude Panet wrote, shortly after Mountain’s death:
“The old bishop was what we needed, since there had to be one……. because in his last days he was very quiet and scarcely looked to make proselytes and what is better still, he no longer bothered with affairs and had practically no credit.”
It seems a number of reasons impelled Jacob Mountain, after nearly 12 years in Lower Canada as Bishop, to plan a voyage to England. His sons Jacob Henry Brooke and George Jehoshaphat had been tutored at Quebec by Matthew Smithers Feilde since late 1800, but their further education was a matter of family concern. Of greater weight, however, were the Bishop’s doubts about his own future and his failure to advance the establishment of his church. Three roads out of these difficulties presented themselves to his mind: translation to an English bishopric, partial retirement on a pension with a country living in England, or an improvement in his position in Lower Canada. The Bishop and his family set sail early in August 1805 and arrived in England before mid-September. The boys were placed under the tutorship of the Reverend Thomas Monro at Little Easton, Essex where they remained until they both matriculated to Cambridge.
Bishop Jacob returned to England in 1816 when he attempted again to resign, or to receive translation; but, in these efforts, he failed once again. He also failed to persuade the Government even to pronounce that his church was established. Although the war was over, the Government’s primary concern was political and social peace in the Canadas, not the adoption of policies that might lead to strife. Jacob’s relations with Henry Bathurst, like those with his predecessors, were difficult. The colonial secretary, while acknowledging the Bishop to be “of considerable abilities,” found him rigid and “of a very striving disposition.”
One advantage Jacob did gain was renewed government interest in the creation of parishes and the setting up of rectories within them. In this campaign he now had the aid of a strong committee of the SPG; this being the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) as a high church missionary organisation of the Church of England which was active in the Thirteen Colonies of North America. Further delays occurred, but, between 1820 and 1823, twelve crown rectories were established in Lower Canada. Although Bishop Jacob succeeded in getting the titles of his assistants, namely his son George Jehoshaphat Mountain and George Okill Stuart, changed from official to archdeacon; however, he did not obtain a desired increase of £150 in their salary.
Bishop Jacob was an imposing man. In 1820, when he was 70 years of age, one of the diocesan clergies confessed himself:
“struck with admiration at as perfect a specimen of the human form as I ever beheld; erect, standing above six feet, face what might be called handsome, eye mild yet penetrating, features well set and expression benevolent, limbs fully developed, and symmetry of the whole person complete.”
Before meeting him, the Governor, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay, had heard him spoken of as “a clever man, amiable in his outward manners but a lazy preacher, very haughty and imperious in society.” When in 1820 Dalhousie heard a sermon by Mountain that pleased him, he described this “fine looking old Gentlemen” as “a Divine of exalted rank & of commanding abilities.” With his background and training Mountain moved easily and graciously in society. Of his wife, Elizabeth, John Strachan recorded that she was “in her manners amiable and engaging – in her religion sincere active and cheerful – in charity unbounded, without regard to sect or nation.” Through her letters to Elizabeth Pretyman Tomline written from 1793 to 1810 much can be learned of the home life of the Mountain family, of Mrs Mountain’s care for her children, of the Bishop’s many illnesses, of her continual concern for her husband and her sympathy with his problems.
Jacob Mountain died at Marchmont House, Lower Canada, 16 June 1825 and was buried under the chancel of Holy Trinity Cathedral he had built and which also contains a monument to his memory. He had never been able to overcome fully his English background and formation, and in 1823 after nearly 30 years as Bishop of Quebec he had referred to his situation as “this long expatriation”; from it he had numerous times tried to extricate himself. His objective had been not so much to adapt the Church of England to the specific and differing circumstances in Lower and Upper Canada, but to bring the religious life of the colonies and particularly the relations between the churches and the state into conformity with the situation in England. Dalhousie, a Scottish Presbyterian and despite his approval of Mountain’s ability as a preacher, felt that the Bishop carried “high church discipline too far for a colonial church,” and Strachan felt that “his habits and manners were calculated rather for an English Bishop than the Missionary Bishop of Canada.”
Thomas R. Millman, Author of, “Jacob Mountain”, stated in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6:
“Mountain gave to position, social dignity and prestige, both institutional and personal, an importance that they perhaps did not merit in the North American context. His clergy, most of them sent from Great Britain by the SPG, were never numerous enough to minister effectively in all areas of their large mission stations and differed widely in ability. Some, because of strict adherence to church rubrics, were not able to attract to their services settlers without strong church loyalties. Others, because of their fear of religious “enthusiasm” – shared by the Bishop – did not meet fully the emotional needs of a pioneer society. To all his clergy he held out high ideals for their conduct and spirituality, defending them in official correspondence, administering reproof and discipline in private as need arose. Jacob Mountain, despite his deficiencies, achieved much as a pioneer bishop, and even Strachan, recognising the difficulties that Mountain had had to face, acknowledged what had been accomplished. Mountain could not realise a number of his dreams and did not live to see the realisation of others, but in his long episcopate he fully earned the title given to him in his epitaph – ‘Founder of the Church of England in the Canadas’.”
In one sense, this is a sequel to the previous article: “Fishley: A Story of an Estate.” , which clearly outlined where Fishley, and its church, are in Norfolk. Suffice to say here that the church of St Mary’s is comfotably settled near the Estate’s heart, in an elevated position among open fields and just off the South Walsham Road, near Acle. A ‘just about’ driveable track leads the visitor from this road to the church before becoming a private link with the farm and Hall beyond.
St Mary’s is an old stone and isolated church and is one of around 124 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk and which, in 2009 was recorded by English Heritage as a significant survivor of the early 12th century. The mound on which it rides is tree-covered and lies about half a mile across the fields from the village of Upton with its own church of St Margaret’s. Upton-with-Fishley was once a Saxon hamlet and its Churches’ synonymous with each other; however, the whole place is often referred to as just Fishley:
“It is one of those places where, apart from its history, you will find peace, tranquillity, romance and curiosity, curiosity into wonder”.
So wrote Churchwardens, Ivan Barnard and Chloe Ecclestone, on the ‘British Listed Buildings’ website, some ten years ago. Nothing, it seems, has changed.
St Mary’s is enthusiastically stewarded, which should make any parishioner proud and an attraction to any visitor who has mustered sufficient interest to go there. Inside, they would find no medieval feel about the place, but they could easily imagine what it must have been like to attend services in this church in the 19th century when much was renovated.
In these days when often it feels fashionable to neglect, there are those places which are maintained to a high order – St Mary’s is one. Even some of its 19th Century headstones in the churchyard have, in recent years, been cleaned and relettered. For those who may prefer a more haunting and neglected setting for old churches, may I suggest that they simply view this particular church from a distance – in poor, damp and cold visibility, sufficient to lend the place a seemingly brooding appearance among its trees – else give credit to the volunteers who put their care into practice!
We are told, by those who know, that St Mary’s tower is probably Norman, with the rest of the building being essentially a late 13th century rebuild; thanks, it seems, to Sir John de Veile who appears to have been the most generous of benefactors to the Fishley Parish prior to Miss Edwards’ (of Hardingham Hall) intervention from 1860.
According to Francis Blomefield in his ‘An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104’:
“the Manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (of 1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, Archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th [year]of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile, and Leola his wife, was living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the Priory of Bromholm; in 1300; John, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the Manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the Manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
Over the years, ever since the 13th century rebuild in fact, very little was done to St Mary’s as far as maintenance of the fabric was concerned. Certainly, by 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and nine years later, it had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’. The situation seems not to have been redressed when Revd. Edward Marsham’s took over the Estate, and the only aspects of his occupancy which are noted is that, at some point, he replaced a William Henry Grimmer as occupier of Fishley Hall then, took advantage of his position of being a “squarson” – (a member of the clergy who was also the main local landowner) and installed himself as the incumbent of St Mary’s – replacing the Revd. Robert Cooper.
The position of the Estate’s owner, Revd. Edward Marsham (1787 -1859), meant that he was able to wield some clout, if he so desired. He was a son of Robert Marsham Esq (1749-1824), of Stratton Strawless, and Sophia, second daughter of Edward Hase Esq. of Salle. He was also the grandson of the famous phenologist, Robert Marsham (1708-1797), also of Stratton Strawless – the one who planted all those trees!
The young Edward Marsham was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge from 1803, and from where he became a B.A. scholar in 1805, and in 1808 – 10th Wrangler no less. He also became a Fellow of Emmanuel College on 28 May 1810, and was ordained Deacon at Norwich 8 July 1810. He also held the posts of Rector of Wramplingham in Norfolk, between 1811 and 1849, with that of Brampton between 1826 and 1828; also at Sculthorpe 1811-1859; and of Stratton Strawless 1828-1859. Included in his later years, up to his death in 1859, was Fishley.
It is yet to be discovered when the Fishley Estate came into his hands. However, when he died in 1859, the Estate was bequeathed to his niece, Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardingham Hall, near Wymondham. Kelly’s Directory for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, 1883, pp.316-317, confirmed that Miss Edwards was the landowner and patron of the living, with the Revd. David Thomas Barry as Rector.
Miss Sophia Edwards proved to be a generous benefactress at Fishley, completing much there which had been left undone by her predecessors. The parish of the mid-19th century was fortunate to have had her, despite Sophia living in an age where women were barred from voting, attending universities, or even opening their own bank accounts or holding a mortgage. Sophia was certainly unique and probably something of an anomaly for that time; she remained unmarried but, importantly for Fishley, she was an independent owner of an estate and had the means to make her mark on that part of Norfolk, despite the fact that she was to follow every previous owner of the Fishley Estate by never actually living there.
Her benevolence to the parish included the extensive restoration and repairs to St Mary’s church in 1861, followed in 1875 with her financing the building of a new Rectory for its incumbent, Reverend David Thomas Barry; the Rectory was built on the outskirts of Acle, alongside the road leading to South Walsham. Sophia also funded the building of Upton School.
The Revd. David Thomas Barry’s CV ran somewhat along the following lines:
“Reverend David Thomas Barry was born in 1822 in Ireland, the son of David Barry and Mary Peacock Cooke-Collis; he married Ann E. McKee, daughter of Alexander McKee and Ann Miller. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland in 1844 with a Bachelor of Arts, followed with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He was a Curate between 1847 and 1848 at Parr in Lancashire, England, followed by a curacy at St. Paul, Toxteth Park, Liverpool between 1848 and 1853, then as Curate at St. Barnabas, Liverpool between 1853 and 1857. Finally, he became Rector at Fishley, Norfolk.”
So, this particular rector was to officiate at St Mary’s from the early days of Miss Edwards patronage, through to after her death in 1892. It was clear by then just how much he loved Fishley for not only did he dedicate the church lectern to Miss Edward’s memory but also, after his wife died and was buried elsewhere, he had her exhumed and reburied at Fishley. Reverend David Thomas Barry remained at Fishley until his own death in 1904.
Miss Sophia Edward’s 1861 restoration and repair of St Mary’s church was largely carried out to the designs of her cousin, the amateur architect Revd. John Barham Johnson, Rector of Welbourne, Norfolk. He, by the way, was also responsible for restoring the church at Mattishall, Norfolk in the mid-19th century and for designing the chancel and nave windows at Welbourne in 1874-76. Included in Revd Johnson’s plans was for a spectacular stained-glass window to be installed at St Mary’s, in commemoration of the former owner of Fishley and rector of the church, the Reverend Edward Marsham.
The work on St Mary’s brought it back from near total dereliction by first replacing the roof. Also, a large section of the south nave wall was rebuilt, as was the east gable; the chancel arch was demolished. The scissor-braced roof, which exists today, was designed with a very steep pitch, to cover both the nave and chancel in one sweep. The north side of the roof had previously rested on two beams which spanned the length of the nave and supported the rafters over the north extension. To counter this structural weakness, a cast iron column was installed to give extra support.
With the exception of a heavily-restored piscina in the chancel south wall and a ledgestone in the middle of the nave, marking the grave of Bridget Johnson (d.1747 – Revd, Johnson’s sister), all of the internal fixtures and fittings were removed. Precisely what was removed was never recorded, but one would assume that it included the box-pews, communion table, altar-rails, pulpit and font for there would be nothing left which pre-dates the 1861 work. The wooden lectern and the wooden reredos, both having been executed under the supervision of Barham Johnson were gifts of the Rev’d David Barry.
Amongst the items that were removed from the church in 1861 were two 13th century lidded stone coffins and the fragment of a third coffin-lid. The coffins were reverently placed in the churchyard to the south of the nave, and they were not rediscovered until 2010 when one was examined by Dr Julian Litten FSA in 2011. According to him:
“Whether or not the two stone coffins contained skeletons was not recorded at the time. Furthermore, no record was made of the……. positions, occupied by the coffins when they were in the church, and neither is it known if the items were visible in the building or were discovered below floor-level when preparations were made for laying the new tiled floor. The fragmentary coffin-lid, of Purbeck marble and with double-chamfer mouldings, was returned to the church in 2010 and now stands within a niche in the south wall of the chancel”.
Perhaps, of all the fixtures housed in St Mary’s today two stand out. One is the church’s 18th century organ which is hand blown and ideally suited to the church which remains unconnected to mains electricity. A plate affixed to the organ informs that it was made by Edward & John Pistor of Leadenhall Street, London in 1781. This organ is a chamber organ, the type of which was normally intended to be played in large houses. It was originally, and unsurprisingly perhaps, in Fishley Hall and was moved into the church in 1883 as a gift from Miss Edwards.
The second notable feature of St Mary’s is that it is the custodian of a unique map of the Norfolk and Suffolk inland waterways area, which includes the sites of some 75 churches (including Fishley) that surround former large ‘Great Estuary of Gariensisostium’; these churches are listed and displayed alongside the map for those who wish to explore further.
Stephen Heywood, in his ‘Conservation Based Analysis’ Report to the Norfolk County Council in October 2009, stated:
“This very attractive church, in its isolated setting and accentuated by the pine trees in the churchyard, retains a lot of its original fabric despite the wholesale restoration of 1861. Of very special interest is the virtually untouched tower which, through good fortune and good mortar, has not been repointed and keeps its valuable patina so easily spoiled.”
It would seem that for the present-day appearance of St Mary’s, credit should go to those who have applied a considerable amount of ‘elbow grease’, money and time with on-going maintenance, clearly backed by a considerable amount of love for such duties. Such people, not forgetting past benefactors such as Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards, have safeguarded the church from the ravages of time. Collectively, they have secured its tower, re-established the churchyard, installed a watertight roof, built a new access, gates and pathways and restored stained glasses.
“There hasn’t been a village at Fishley since the Saxons left, but here it stands, this remote gem in open countryside, which is a tribute to everyone that has loved the church and is determined to keep it safe.” – So wrote churchwarden, Ivan Barnard.
Overview: For those who do not know where Fishley is, particularly its Hall, Wikipedia tells us only that it is in:
“the English county of Norfolk. Administratively, it falls within the civil parish or Upton with Fishley which in turn is within the district of Broadland. Fishley sits a mile north of Acle, roughly halfway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth.”
This information, whilst correct, is something only Treasure Quest enthusiasts would thrive on. Better still, would be an instruction that would actually pinpoint a place that is almost ‘off the map’ – for there is very little there, except the lovely 12th century church of St Mary’s, Fishley Hall itself, a farm and open countryside. The old village of Fishley has certainly been long lost, which for Norfolk, is certainly not unusual for it has numerous other ‘lost’ villages. Villages that were considered ‘lost’ for various reasons; these included desertions; plague, soil exhaustion and probably more. When a village became ‘lost’, and Fishley remains somewhat of a mystery, it often left tell-tale signs of where it was or might have been. With Fishley, all that seems to remain is an open field – for the church and hall, which were both once ruinous at different points, made a come-back!
The village of Fishley:
To find what was once the site of the old village and Fishley Hall, today’s visitor would need to approach it along the B1140, the relative part of which that runs between South Walsham and Acle; they can, of course, approach the relevant turning from either direction. From South Walsham, after passing Church Road (a left-hand turn to Upton) the visitor would soon notice the premises of Hugh Crane Cleaning Equipment on the left, shortly before Acle. At this point, on the right, is a white/black road-sign which says ‘Fishley’ and points for the visitor to turn left – he, she or they have almost arrived! This narrow road, or to some a track, leads first to Fishley’s St Mary’s Parish Church and further on, to Fishley Hall itself with open countryside almost all round.
The old village of Fishley (and nearby Upton) was listed in the Domesday Book within the Walsham Hundred; its recorded population was shown as 33.3 households in 1086, which placed it in the largest 40% of recorded settlements. Fishley also recorded three Manors, for which each ‘holder’ was separately listed as both Tenant in Chief and Lord of the Manor – 1st Manor: – Abbey of St Benet at Holme; 2nd Manor: – King William and 3rd Manor: – William of Ecouis.
Fishley Hall and Estate: It would appear that the Fishley Estate has been a small compact unit of never more than 500 acres since it was first recorded in the Domesday Book; today, it is barely 350 acres. It also has had a long history of ownership by wealthy families who seldom, if ever, lived there, preferring to rent out the farm house and land and live off the rentals received. It also seems that the Hall was once associated with Royalty; King John was said to have hunted at Fishley during his reign of between 1199 and 1216; Ann Boleyn’s family had loose connections there. Clearly, the Estate was once renowned for its hunting and fishing – as well as its good arable land, and there has been a substantial dwelling at Fishley since the days of King John, who in 1201 gave its tenancy to his Falconer Roger de Veile.
According to Francis Blomefield, in his Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104:
“the manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile and Leola his wife were living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the priory of Bromholm; in 1300 John*, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
*The stone coffin of Roger’s son, Sir John de Veile, was discovered at Fishley church as recent as 2011.
Fishley: The Ann Boleyn Connection: Sir Nicholas Wychingham of Witchingham in Norfolk, who died circa 1433, had a daughter named Elizabeth. She subsequently married Sir Thomas Hoo who, as a result of marriage, came to possess Elizabeth’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate. Sir Thomas, a commander in France, was also rewarded with the Barony of Hoo and Hastings in 1447, thus bringing the total Hoo Estates to cover part of Norfolk, but principally in Hertfordshire and the Bedfordshire border area, which was centred on the family house at Luton Hoo.
Sir Thomas Hoo’s eldest daughter Anne Hoo (1426-1484), by his first wife, Elizabeth, married Sir Geoffery (Bullen) Boleyn sometime before 1448. With this marriage, Lady Anne Hoo as she became, subsequently brought her mother’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate into the ownership of the Boleyn family – and there it remained for a hundred years or so. It therefore followed that the Fishley Estate was in the ownership of the Boleyn family from sometime before 1448 until approximately 1561 when Sir William Boleyn sold it.
Sir William Boleyn was uncle to Anne Boleyn, the same Anne Boleyn who married King Henry V111. From the hundred year or so ownership of Fishley it follows that many of the Boleyn family although they may never have lived there, no doubt would have visited it. However, it remains a matter of conjecture whether, or not, Anne Boleyn ever visited Fishley with her uncle – possibly while staying at Blicking Hall?
Fishley, !8th Century: Fishley Hall has often been referred to ‘as of the Georgian period’; this, however, does not mean that the Hall is Georgian – only the façade can claim such provenance! The fact is that, after a William Luson had purchase the Estate in 1714 (see below), he bricked up the windows at the front of the Hall and added the façade, that was in 1717. This feature is the only part of the building that can be classed as ‘Georgian’; the main front section of the Hall, on to which William Luson added this façade, is probably up to a hundred years older. Indeed, the lower flint sections of the external north wall to the dining room was considered to be older still.
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; 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 then 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. The estate map of the same year provides such evidence – the dyke from the River Bure is shown leading up to the Hall, with its own turning basin so that boats could unload, or load, a cargo and turn round and go back to the river. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe?
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 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, 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. As an aside, the tenants of the Pepys family’s Fishley Hall were said to have been an Edward Deborah and an Edward Jay. Today, there are members of the Jay family buried in the neighbouring Upton Church; they were once a prominent local farming family. James Jay was the Steward of the Manor of Upton with one member of Upton’s Lord of the Manors being Christ Church College, Oxford.
In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed the Estate, along with other land he owned in Gunton near Lowestoft, to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling lived at Gunton Hall and is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was used in the founding of Lowestoft Pottery. His clay was very similar to that used in Holland to produce Delftware. As well as owning the Fishley Estate, the Lusons also had the right to appoint the Rector, and it seems that the Rev Edward Holden, appointed in 1753 was a relative of Hewling’s wife – nothing untoward there we don’t suppose!
Fishley, 1836 to 1875: It is not known when the Fishley Estate came into the hands of the Reverend Edward Marsham; he being a member of the extended Marsham family of Stratton Strawless; and the former incumbent of both Sculthorpe and St Margaret’s Church at Stratton Strawless. However, in 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and the Hall occupied by a Mrs Elizabeth Taylor; by 1845, a William Henry Grimmer lived there. Nine years later, the parish had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’; it would seem that there had been a slow deterioration, which had not been redressed during Edward Marsham’s occupancy. In addition, William Henry Grimmer had departed from the Hall, in favour of Edward Marsham who had himself moved into Hall. Not only that; but Revd. Robert Cooper was no longer the incumbent of St Mary’s church because the same Edward Marsham had also taken on this post; he being a “squarson” – a member of the clergy who was also main local landowner. The farm bailiff was a Mr John Yallow.
Enter Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardington Hall in 1859, having inherited the Fishley Estate from her late uncle, Reverend Edward Marsham who died that year. She was to prove to be a generous benefactress who did much for the Fishley Estate and return it to a respectable state. It was she who, in 1860, was responsible for the renovation of the Hall, when the north wing (referred to above) was pulled down, and the Hall’s ‘Pistor’ chamber organ was moved into St Mary’s church – this unique 1781 instrument was said to be one of only three organs from this manufacture which is known to still exist and in use today. In addition to all this, Miss Edwards also paid for the extensive restoration and repairs to the church. Then in 1872 she financed the building of the National School at Upton and in 1875, the building of a new Rectory on the South Walsham road leading into Acle; the Revd. David Thomas Barry occupied it as Rector.
With the arrival of Miss Edward, The farm was leased to Mr Henry Read and it was his turn to move into Fishley Hall. By 1865, John Squire had moved into the Hall, where they were to live for the next twenty-six years.
Into the 21st Century: Through the early years of the 20th century other tenants occupied Fishley Hall, but gradually thereafter it was to deteriorate; by the 1980’s the Hall, which had not been lived in for about fifty years, was roofless and dilapidated. Its non-use had ensured that its eventual ruinous state was principally due to water pouring in through a roof that had continuously lost more and more of its roof slates. In the end, some of the bedroom floors had collapsed on to the ground floor – the Hall was a candidate for demolition. But no; in 2013, four years of ‘painstaking’ restoration began and by 2017 the historic building had been brought back to life; fit to take on quite a different role. Today, the property is better-known as ‘An Enchanting Wedding Venue’, and a holiday retreat, with eight bedrooms and all the facilities one could expect.
As for the Rectory; by the 1980’s, it was the Amber Lodge Hotel, subsequently becoming the Manor Hotel & Country Club, with a telephone number of Acle 377 and the Mannings Hotel & Restaurant. The property, in the end, was closed and sold in 2006; today it is in private ownership.
The first 3 weeks of February 1916 were very unsettled, and often windy and wet; but it was very mild for that time of the year so it was confidently predicted by the weather forecasters of the time that ‘there was no chance of snow’ – sounds familiar! By 16 and 17 February, the temperature did settle close to 12°C in many places and there was heavy rain. However, on the east coast of England conditions were to be far worse – with gale-force winds and snow!
It was on Thursday 17 February 1916 when newspapers gave accounts of the ‘violent weather conditions which beset Britain’ and the ‘extensive damage to property and the loss of life as a result’. The “windstorm”, as it was called also resulted in ships being lost at sea, as did the Lowestoft trawler, ‘Narcissus’, which went aground and sank. The “Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal” of Friday 18th February gave a local report of ‘a violent gale, a hurricane and snow across Norfolk and Suffolk and described the damage which was caused by the extreme weather conditions and the ensuing floods.
But it was on the morning of Wednesday 16 February 1916 when, amid those strong gale force winds and very rough weather, the “the large steamer SS Hjørdis” set off from the Alexandra Dock in Hull bound for Calais; it was fairly fully laden with a cargo of 495 tons of coal. In charge, as skipper, was Captain Jensen; his crew amounted to ten men, made up of nine Norwegians and one Dane. Of the Norwegians, Thor Halnessen was the Chief Mate, Peter Hammer the second engineer, Eugenen Andersen an ordinary seaman, and Nilsen the steward. Ralf Petersen, from Denmark, was the boatswain.
The SS Hjørdis seemed to have had very competent skippers throughout its forty-three years of battling the North Sea, skippers who had managed to survive the sort of extreme weather conditions of 1916, conditions that were forcing some ships to run into harbour to avoid being sunk or run aground. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to see the Hjørdis leaving port that Wednesday morning, and the best that could be said about Captain Jensen’s decision was that it reflected his feeling that his ship had an obligation to fulfil her charter as it headed due south along the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire shoreline. In due course, the ship passed the Wash and prepared to round the Norfolk coast towards the North Sea; she was, after all, sailing during wartime when movements may well have been restricted. It was a direct route which would have taken her north of Sheringham to arrive off Cromer, before continuing to follow the coast, to Great Yarmouth and then south to Calais.
Captain Jensen’s planned route for the Hjørdis would suggest that he intended to hug the shore, coming in to the lee of the land to take advantage of the shelter which the North Norfolk coast can offer from south-westerly gales; the plan and the worsening conditions left little room for error. The weather was expected to hinder the ship’s progress but, surprisingly perhaps – and based on the 75-nautical mile distance travelled between Hull and Blakeney and the twelve hours it took her to reach the North Norfolk coast – the Hjørdis had travelled at close to her normal cruising speed of 6 knots. However, the added loss of visibility seriously impeded the Captain’s knowledge of the ship’s true location.
About twelve hours later, shortly after seven o’clock in the evening, the ship did go aground at the west end of Blakeney Bar and was wrecked; only one of the eleven-man crew survived despite the Captain and crew managing to launch and take to a lifeboat. Unfortunately, the boat was swamped within minutes by a large wave; it was a matter of speculation whether the ten men were drowned in the lifeboat or when they might have taken to the water in an attempt to swim ashore. Ralf Petersen, the boatswain from Denmark, had the presence of mind to take off his boots and most of his clothes before striking for the shore.
Against immeasurable odds it would seem, he reached the beach and struggled along it for nearly two miles – apparently by following the telegraph poles which were positioned along the beach – before reaching the Blakeney Watch House. From there, a Mr Strangroom, a 45-year-old Auctioneer and Draper of Cley who was acting on behalf of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, arranged for Petersen to have new clothing and be taken to the “King’s Head” public house in Cley’s High Street. There, he was cared for by Frederick Baines, the 40-year-old Licensed Victualler. The “King’s Head” was the place to which bodies of those lost at sea were traditionally taken to be coffined before burial.
The Rescue Attempt: The newspaper reports which followed gave no information as to how emergency assistance was summoned, or the sequence of events which cause it to be instigated. The men in the Watch House may have seen the Hjørdis from their upstairs “look-out” room or it may not have been until Ralf Petersen reached the Watch House that the men there raised the alarm. What is known is that the Cley ‘Rocket Brigade’ was hastily assembled and hurried to the beach with five horses; under the supervision of Henry Parker, a 58-year-old Journeyman Butcher from Cley, and the rocket apparatus which was carried on a cart lent by John Everett of Hall Farm nearby. Battling against the gale, the Brigade’s progress along the shingle would have been slow, but they did manage to get to within 300 yards or so of the SS Hjørdis, but there was no response to signals sent up and the Brigade returned to their base.
Explanation of the Cley ‘rocket apparatus’: The system was simple but effective for the rescuing of shipwrecked mariners from the safety of the shore – lifeboats themselves would ground in shallows or be beaten back by crashing breakers. The system was invented by Captain George Manby, barrack master, of Bauleah House on St Nicholas Road in Great Yarmouth. In 1807 he witnessed scores of ships and crews being lost in appalling weather. One in particular was the gun-boat ‘Snipe’ which ran aground at Gorleston. Manby galloped there on horseback, seeing “entreating men clinging to her rigging and women thronging the forecastle with the most piercing shrieks, imploring our succour and assistance.” As he watched, helpless and frustrated, exhausted men were falling from the rigging into the cauldron of a sea which was sweeping women overboard to their deaths. That night 147 souls perished… all within 50 yards of safety!
Manby set to work. After much frustrating trial and error, he devised a system under which those being rescued were hauled ashore in a breeches buoy which hung beneath a pulley on an aerial line fired across the stricken vessel by mortar or rocket. He demonstrated it with himself as “the endangered mariner”, and also created a star shot for work in darkness. It was put into use for real in 1808 when the brig ‘Elizabeth’ grounded 150 yards offshore in a blizzard. The line was successfully fired across the brig and secured, and seven relieved seamen were hauled to safety by pulley-on-line through snow, sleet and rollers.
It would seem that, during the interval between the SS Hjørdis faltering on to the beach and the Rocket Brigade being summoned, the ship’s crew – possibly thinking that rescue from the shore was hopeless or would be slow to execute – took to their own lifeboat. They may well have been clear of the ship for a short time before the huge fateful wave overwhelmed them; some may have tried to swim to shore, others may have chosen to remain in the lifeboat – who knows?
While the Rocket Brigade was returning from the beach, which would have been about 11.30pm, a body was found by Corporal Bertie Hale of the 67th Provisional Battalion, approximately 150 yards east of the Watch House. An hour later, a second body was found about 2½ miles east of the wreck by a James White, Naval pensioner of Church Loke, Cley. Both bodies were recovered from the water and taken by the Rocket Brigade’s cart to Cley. They were examined the following morning by Police Constable Hewett, a retired (possibly because it was wartime) 56-year-old police officer from Norwich; he had them removed to Blakeney. Two more bodies were discovered soon afterwards at Salthouse.
News of the Disaster: Early, brief reports of the SS Hjørdis appeared in regional newspapers in the days following the ship going ashore. The extent of the loss of lives was feared but not confirmed:
“Lloyd’s Blakeney (Norfolk) message to-day says the Norwegian steamer SS Hjørdis, from Hull for Calais, went ashore on Blakeney Point last night. The crew left in a boat, which was swamped. It is feared that ten lives have been lost. One man swam ashore.”
Ralf Petersen’s own account of his courageous attempts to save his fellow crew members and of his own survival was recorded in the “Eastern Daily Press” of 18th February, two days after the disaster. According to the newspaper, Captain Jensen had said “Hard a starboard” (this was incorrectly recorded in the press report; it should have read “Hard a port”) in order to get into deeper water but the ship struck twice more and then a fourth time, so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. Ralf Petersen’s account suggested that Captain Jensen had been overwhelmed by events and that it was Thor Halnessen, the Chief Mate, who took control.
Within a few days of the SS Hjørdis being wrecked, the scale of the disaster quickly became clear, and the newspapers reported accordingly. However, no mention was made of a lifeboat being launched from the shore which prompted a Mrs Susie Long to write to the “Eastern Daily Press” two days after the Hjørdis was wrecked to state that a boat did in fact go out to offer assistance:
“Sir – In your report in the “Eastern Daily Press” I see no mention is made of the lifeboat crew of this parish, who went out at 8pm and arrived home at 4am in the old lifeboat “Hettie”, belonging to Mr Holliday. They went up to the steamer, where all the lights were still burning both inside and out, and could and would have saved all the crew if they had not previously left. The steamer is ashore on East Point, (later corrected to say ‘West Point’). I may say that the men went on their own initiative, having had no orders. I think it is only fair to mention this. – Yours faithfully”,
Mrs Long’s husband, Charles Long, and her father-in-law, George Long, were both crew members of the RNLI Blakeney lifeboat ‘Caroline’. The “Mr Holliday” referred to was Richard Holliday, a Fisherman, aged 50, of High Street, Blakeney, also a crew member of the ‘Caroline’. At the time, the ‘Caroline’ had a crew of mainly fishermen who were too old for active war service; of eighteen crew members, the majority were over the age of fifty.
Plaques in Blakeney Church commemorate the Blakeney lifeboats and their rescues, up to 1924, but none refer to either the ‘Hettie’. or the ‘Caroline’ going to the aid of the Hjørdis, and it remains a matter of speculation as to how the fishermen of the ‘Hettie’ were alerted to the disaster; perhaps it was by communication from the Watch House or from the Rocket Brigade – and why did the “old lifeboat”, rather than the RNLI lifeboat ‘Caroline’, go out to the SS Hjørdis rather than the ‘Caroline’; was it because the latter was probably in the Lifeboat House and would have taken longer to launch?
The Lost Crew – Inquest and Burials: Of the ten men who drowned, the bodies of only four crew members were recovered and taken to the Guildhall in the High Street, Blakeney and where the sole survivor, Ralf Petersen would identify them. The bodies of the remaining six sailors would, probably, never found. On the Saturday following the disaster,19 February 1916, the inquest into the deaths of the sailors was held at the ‘Ship Inn’ in the High Street, Blakeney. It was conducted by the Coroner of East Dereham, Mr Walter Barton.
The ‘Thetford & Watton Times” of 26th February reported on the inquest:
“……. Ralf Petersen, boatswain on the Hjørdis, and the sole survivor of the crew of eleven, said …… When she first struck the captain said, “Hard a starboard”, to get her into deep water. The order was obeyed, but she struck twice more, and then she struck so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. The chief mate came up from below and said, “The only thing to do is to get the lifeboat out before it is smashed.” But the captain did not give the order as he was on the bridge crying like a little boy. They got the lifeboat out, and all got into her, but as soon as they had got clear of the bow of the steamer the sea half-filled the boat. Then another went right over her, almost filling her, and most of them were washed into the sea………He identified the bodies washed up at Blakeney as Thor Halnessen, aged 34, chief mate, and Eugenen Andersen, aged 20, ordinary seaman. Witness had also seen two bodies that came ashore at Salthouse; they were Peter Hammer, second engineer, and Nilsen, the steward.”
Following further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of “Death by drowning through misadventure at sea” and on their behalf the Rev. Gordon Rowe – Rector of Blakeney and Glandford who expressed great regret at the sad occurrence, and deep sympathy with the bereaved parents. The affair, he said, was “all the more deplorable in that if the men had kept on their ship for an hour or so after she struck all their lives might have been saved.”
Burials: At the time of the SS Hjørdis disaster, legislation – in the form of the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808 (also known as Grylls’ Act) and the subsequent Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 – ensured that the bodies of those lost at sea were decently, appropriately buried. The 1808 Act provided for “suitable interment in Churchyards or Parochial Burying Grounds in England for such dead Human Bodies as may be cast on Shore from the Sea, in cases or Wreck or otherwise”. It required that unclaimed bodies of dead persons washed ashore from the sea should be removed by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish and decently interred in unconsecrated ground. This act was amended by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 to extend its applicability to bodies found in, or cast on shore from, all tidal or navigable waters.
Historically, fishing and merchant seafaring were the most dangerous of all professions and each year many fishermen, mariners and ships’ passengers lost their lives at sea. Prior to the 1808 legislation, it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen, without shroud or coffin, and in unconsecrated ground. Uncertainty about the religious faith of those washed ashore, the considerable financial burden which burials placed on the parishes, and the pragmatic local response to these losses, resulted in the widespread practice of shoreline burials in all coastal communities.
The Parish Registers for Blakeney recorded that Eugenen Andersen and Thor Halmersen/Halnessen, whose bodies were recovered by the Rocket Brigade, were buried on 21st February; the Parish Registers for Salthouse recorded that Peter Hammer and (name) Nelsen/Nilsen, whose bodies were found on the beach at Salthouse, were buried in Salthouse churchyard on the same day. It is believed that the men were all buried “with a minimum of ceremony” in probably the equivalent of a pauper’s funeral – in a grave marked, if at all, with just a wooden cross.
The Cause of the Disaster? With only the one first-hand, contemporary account of the disaster, conjecture still remains about what caused the ship to go aground in 1916. Other ships had been sunk during that particular gale so, the disaster could have been caused by weather conditions alone. However, in his statements at the time, Ralf Petersen made no mention of any panic or efforts to prevent the ship floundering on a lee shore; he also stated that the ship’s position was not known when she went aground and that, on leaving the ship, the crew did not know which direction to strike for. Does this confirm that it was a navigational error which was to blame?
According to Sue Gresham of the Blakeney Harbour Association:
“The two – East and West – towers of Blakeney Church were used to guide ships into the navigable channel between the inlet’s sandbanks, the light on the top of the East tower serving as a leading light to guide vessels into the harbour (the “leading light” practice later achieved by using pairs of lighthouses at different levels). When viewed from the sea, in daylight and in darkness, Blakeney Church is the only prominent point on a barren stretch of coastline and a visual aid for mariners to easily identify their position for many miles. If the Hjørdis was closer to the shore than Captain Jensen thought, it is possible that he mistook the light on the smaller, East tower of Blakeney Church for the Cromer lighthouse, further along the coast. This would explain why the Hjordis was so close inshore; the water is very deep close in to Cromer, but not close in at Blakeney.”
Petersen had also described the Hjørdis bumping over a sand bank, then of having only a few moments to alter course and attempt to get seaward into deeper water before the ship struck for the last time. The press reports, based on Petersen’s remarks, referred to “the tide carrying her in… … she struck the west side of the bar and came over it”.
The press reports of the time were somewhat misleading. Reported high water that day was at approximately 5.00pm so, at the time of the grounding, the tide would have been flowing from west to east along the coast and flowing out of Blakeney Harbour. It is more likely, therefore, that the Hjørdis struck one of the many sand bars in that area and then bounced over the first bar into deeper water and pushed on by the east setting tide. This would have made it more difficult for Captain Jensen to have altered course in order to save the situation before Hjørdis grounded on the next sand bar.
There also appeared to be an anomaly in Ralf Petersen’s account of Captain Jensen having given the order, “Hard a starboard” to get the ship into deep water; this would have put the ship further on to the shore! The words might, of course, have been either a reporting error by the newspaper – for the assumed order would be “Hard a port” – or an early indication of the Captain’s confusion or panic in the unfolding disaster. Then there was Peterson’s account of the lifeboat being carried out to sea after the crew had abandoned the Hjørdis; this would further support the fact that the wind direction was south-west and not west-north-west as local newspapers had reported. Therefore, the greater likelihood of the Hjørdis grounding as the result of navigational error was indeed borne out by the lifeboat being carried out to sea. This too would further support the belief that the gale was south-westerly, rather than west-north-westerly.
A Different Outcome Maybe: Mrs Susie Long’s letter to the “Eastern Daily Press” suggested that the crew of the old lifeboat Hettie “could and would have saved all the crew” of the Hjørdis. When the ship struck, the tide was ebbing; therefore, could the crew have remained on the ship and awaited rescue, or simply waded ashore at low tide?
Ralf Petersen’s accounts conveyed the desperate situation which the crew encountered, where events were happening quickly, in uncertain circumstances: one of their lifeboats had been smashed before she grounded; there was no time to send up flares; the ship was taking in water; the crew did not know where they were; the skipper had lost control; and the ship was showing signs of breaking up. With the benefit of hindsight and with clearer heads at the time, there would have been little doubt that if the crew had remained on the Hjørdis, they would probably have survived – either by being rescued by the “Hettie” or by remaining on the Hjørdis until low tide.
The SS Hjørdis Now:
The wreck of the SS Hjørdis still lies off Blakeney Point. Gradually, over the years, it sank beneath the sand, with more local sand regularly moving in to almost completely covered it. Eventually, in September 1960, a survey from an unknown source produced a report which is held by the Blakeney Harbour Association; it gives the following information about the wreck:
“Iron Norse steamship 200 ft long 30 ft beam lying in a deep pool on dry bank heading 20 deg true with a list to port and one mast standing at the fore end. The hull, which is broken in two amidships, is about 9ft out of water………The boiler and engines are showing, also a cat davit is standing near the stern…… The wreck extends approximately 40 ft North West and 130 ft South East of pole carrying a light erected on wreck position…….(Trinity Superintendent Great Yarmouth 13.11.58).”
Apparently, the position of the wreck was checked again by Trinity House on 2 October 1969 when the SS Hjørdis’s position was found to lie 259 degrees 1.75 cables from position 525902N 005825E in position 525858N 005812E. Then in October 1993, Trinity House – in whose possession the wreck then was – carried out another survey which showed that the wreck was lying in a NNW/SSE direction in depths of between 2.0 to 2.5 metres at low water springs.
A further observation made by Trinity House in 1995 – referred to a suspicion that Hjørdis had been ice strengthened for the Baltic winter trade – suggesting that this would account for the fact that her low section had lasted for so long. In August 1995, a proposal was submitted to Trinity House by a local company, offering three options to remove the wreck between the “fair weather months” of April to October 1996. In the event, the Hjørdis was not removed and the wreck has remained in situ off Blakeney, always marked with a buoy, which was continually destroyed by the strong tides. It was removed but continues to serve a useful purpose – more than 420 miles away in a Cornish coastal village. It is now securely fastened on dry land and put to use as an honesty box at a car park in Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula. As for our Norfolk wreck, it is marked with a Trinity House beacon.
Aerial photographs commissioned by the Harbour Association in 2016 showed that much of the ship’s structure still remains, despite the fact that the Blakeney Harbour mouth regularly changes position. Currents push the mouth towards the east, producing a lengthening peninsula of sand between the entrance channel and the sea. Tidal currents then break through towards the west and the eastern mouth fills up again.
In recent years, the harbour entrance channel has been moving towards the east, bringing it nearer to the wreck. In April 2016, this movement reached the wreck, scouring through it, so that SS Hjørdis lay in the middle of the channel at the entrance to the harbour; by December of the same year, the channel was moving east of the wreck and beginning to bury Hjørdis in the sand once again. The movements in the sand peninsula and the changing position of the harbour mouth determine whether Hjørdis is either almost completely covered by sand and lost to view – or is still a visible reminder of the lost ship jutting from the sea.
The Hjørdis has lain off Blakeney Point since 1916 and, as the local sand moved in, the wreck became almost completely covered. Between 2015 and 2016, the channel moved half a mile to the east and the flow of water over the wreck scoured her out. Large sections of the vessel’s hull and deck were uncovered. It would appear poignant that, in 2016, one hundred years after the ship went down, the SS Hjørdis showed herself once again.
Source: This blog is based almost exclusively on Sue Gresham’s research and subsequent report written for the Blakeney Harbour Association in 2016/18. The full report can be viewed via the following link:
Banner Heading Photo: An Aerial photo of Blakeney Point, Norfolk – by Mike Page
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), 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.
Our thanks to Jim Moon of ‘Hypnogoria’ who, somewhere amongst his many blogs, wrote the following – it is his take on a very famous and popular Norfolk myth – whoops! – tale.
In the county of Norfolk, between King’s Lynn in the west and Norwich in the east lies the market town of Swaffham. However, while the town and its market have been a centre for agriculture since the 14th century, the town is perhaps better known as being home to an oft-told folk tale. It’s a tale of a good man and good fortune, and frequently is mentioned when the subject of prophecies and dreams come up. It’s a tale that has been told many times, and its earliest incarnation is found in an old tome entitled ‘An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’ by Francis Blomefield (William Miller, London, 1805-10). In Volume 11 of this truly compendious essay, we have a letter by Sir William Dugdale, dated 29 January 1652, and in it he relates the following Tale:
“That dreaming one night if he went to London he should certainly meet with a man upon London Bridge which would tell him good news; he was so perplext in his mind, that till he set upon his journey he could have no rest; to London therefore he hasts and walk’d upon the Bridge for some hours where being espyed by a Shopkeeper and asked what he wanted, he answered you may well ask me that question for truly (quoth he) I am come hither upon a very vain errand and so told the story of his dream which occasioned the journey. Whereupon the Shopkeeper reply’d alas good friend! should I have heeded dreams, I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for ‘tis not long since that I dreamt, that at a place called Swaffham Market in Norfolk dwells one John Chapman a pedlar who hath a tree in his backside under which is buried a pot of money. Now therefore, if I should have made a journey thither to dig for such hidden treasure, judge you whether I should not have been counted a fool. To whom the pedlar cunningly said “Yes verily, I will therefore return home and follow my business, not heeding such dreams henceforward.” But when he came home (being satisfied that his dream was fulfilled) he took occasion to dig in the place and accordingly found a large pot full of money which he prudently conceal’d, putting the pot amongst the rest of his brass.”
“After a time, it happen’d that one who came to his house and beholding the pot observed an inscription upon it which being in Latin, he interpreted it, that under that there was an other twice as good. Of that inscription the Pedlar was before ignorant or at least minded it not, but when he heard the meaning of it he said, “‘tis very true, in the shop where I bought this pot stood another under it, which was twice as big”; but considering that it might tend to further his profit to dig deeper in the same place where he found that, he fell again to work and discover’d such a pot, as was intimated by the inscription, full of old coine: notwithstanding all which he so conceal’d his wealth, that the neighbours took no notice of it. But not long after the inhabitants of Swaffham resolving to reedify their church, and having consulted with the workmen about the charge they made a levy wherein they taxed the Pedlar according to no other rate than what they had formerly done. But he knowing his own ability came to the church and desired the workmen to shew him their model, and to tell him what they esteemed the charge of the North Isle would amount to, which when they told him he presently undertook to pay them for building it, and not only that but of a very tall and beautiful tower steeple.”
Now this tale has become famous the world over, and is much celebrated in the the town itself, lending its name, in the past, to the Pedlar’s Hall Cafe and inspiring the carved wooden village sign (above) for the town. However curiously, Swaffham isn’t the only place that has a tale like this. Indeed, an almost identical tale is told of Upsall Castle in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood’ by William Grainge (Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1859) we have a story he entitles “Crocks of Gold”:
“Many years ago there resided in the village of Upsall, a man who dreamed three nights successively that if he went to London, he would hear of something greatly to his advantage. He went, travelling the whole distance from Upsall to London on foot, arrived he took his station on the bridge where he waited until his patience was very nearly exhausted and the idea that he had acted a very foolish part began to rise in his mind. At length he was accosted by a Quaker, who kindly inquired what he was waiting there so long for. After some hesitation, he told his dreams. The Quaker laughed at his simplicity, and told him he had had that night a very curious dream himself, which was that if he went to dig under a certain bush in Upsall Castle in Yorkshire, he will find a pot of gold; but he did not know where Upsall was, and inquired of the Countryman if he knew, who seeing some advantage in secrecy pleading ignorance of the locality; and then thinking his business in London was completed, returned immediately home, dug beneath the bush, and there he found a pot filled with gold, and on the cover an inscriptions in a language he did not understand. The pot and cover were however reserved at the village inn; where one day, a bearded stranger like a Jew, made his appearance, saw the pot, and read the inscription, the plain English at which was –
“Look lower where this stood
Is another twice as good”
The man of Upsall hearing this, resumed his spade, returned to the bush, dug deeper, and found another pot filled with gold far more valuable than the first: encouraged by this, he dug deeper still, and found another yet more valuable.”
This story has been related of other places, but Upsall appears to have as good a claim to this yielding of hidden treasures as the best of them. Here we have the constant tradition of the inhabitants, and the identical but yet remains beneath which the treasure was found; an Elder, near the north-west corner of the ruins. Now you will notice that this text boldly mentions that the tale is told in other places, and indeed it is. For to travel further north in the United Kingdom, we find it retold yet again and at an earlier date. In ‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826), we learn the history of Dundonald Castle:
“Donald, the builder, was originally a poor man, but had the faculty of dreaming lucky dreams. Upon one occasion he dreamed, thrice in one night, that if he were to go to London Bridge, he would become a wealthy man. He went accordingly, saw a man looking over the parapet of the bridge, whom he accosted courteously, and, after a little conversation, intrusted with the secret of the occasion of his visiting London Bridge. The stranger told him that he had made a very foolish errand, for he himself had once had a similar vision, which directed him to go to a certain spot in Ayrshire, in Scotland, where he would find a vast treasure, and, for his part, he had never once thought of obeying the injunction. From his description of the spot, the sly Scotsman at once perceived that the treasure in question must be concealed in no other place than his own humble kail-yard at home, to which he immediately repaired in full expectation of finding it. Nor was he disappointed; for, after destroying many good and promising cabbages, and completely cracking credit with his wife, who esteemed him mad, he found a large potful of gold coin, with the proceeds of which he built a stout castle for himself, and became the founder of a flourishing family.”
Chambers, much like Grainge, goes on to remark “This absurd story is localised in almost every district of Scotland, always referring to London Bridge”. And indeed, not only does the tale recur in other Scottish tales, but it appears in various other places in England and Wales too. Furthermore if we hop over the Channel to Europe, we find it flourishing there too, although of course with some other national landmark standing in for dear old London Bridge. The most famous example perhaps is found in the collections of folk tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm:
“Some time ago a man dreamed that he should go to the bridge at Regensburg where he would become rich. He went there, and after spending some fourteen days there a wealthy merchant, who wondered why was spending so much time on the bridge, approached him and asked him what he was doing there. The latter answered, “I dreamed that I was to go to the bridge at Regensburg, where I would become rich.“What?” said the merchant, “You came here because of a dream? Dreams are fantasies and lies. Why I myself dreamed that there is a large pot of gold buried beneath that large tree over there.” And he pointed to the tree. “But I paid no attention, for dreams are fantasies.” Then the visitor went and dug beneath the tree, where he found a great treasure that made him rich, and thus his dream was confirmed” (from Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), Vol. 1, No. 212)
However, the trail does not end there. Even earlier and further south, we discover an identical tale in that famous anthology of ancient tales ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ (AKA Arabian Nights). The 14th tale is called The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream and goes like this:
“Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, “Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it.” So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque, they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail. Three days later, the Chief of Police sent for him and asked “Where do you come from?” “From Bagdad” he answered. ” And what brought you to Cairo?” asked the Chief.
“A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune,” answered the man from Baghdad “But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me.””You fool,” said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. “A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination.” He then gave him some money saying, “This will help you return to your own country.”The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus, Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream’s prediction to fulfillment”.
Now we cannot be sure of the exact age of the many tales collected in this volume, for scholars believe the first versions of the collection appeared in Arabic in the early parts of the 8th century, with various additional tales being added over the next few centuries. However, what we do know is that this particular story of a most fortunate dream appears in as part of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumia, who is best known in the West as simply Rumi. In his epic collection The Masnavi, we have the poem ‘In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad’.
So then, here we have a tale retold in many places and at many times, indeed it is one of those small number of tales that seems to recur everywhere. And folklorists have a catalogue of such stories – this one is commonly referred to as ‘The Treasure at Home’, and under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales it is number ATU 1646. Now given that we have several important literary landmarks for the story, it is widely though that this very popular tale was spread throughout Europe thanks the massive popularity of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, and was adapted to fit local geography and history as it was retold in different places.
However, the first European edition of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ was a French version translated by Antoine Galland that appeared 1704, and was first translated into English in 1706. We should also note at this point that the works of Rumi were not translated until considerably later, with the first English translations appearing in the late 19th century. However, if you have been paying attention to the dates, we find that while the ‘Arabian Nights’ theory could well account for the versions referenced by Grainge and Chambers, the oldest English version, comes from a letter written in the 1650s.
Now while we cannot rule out this old Arabic tale been spread orally across Europe before its printed incarnations, it is certainly intriguing that the Swaffham version predates other European versions by a good century or more. Furthermore Sir William makes clear that it was already an old tale when he set it down in his letter, and this is supported by the fact that the original Swaffham version has a sequel built in that many other version do not – the business of the inscription and a second pot of gold. For this kind of embroidery is typical of a tale been around for a good while, gaining additional details and extra subplots as it is retold by different generations.
Stranger still is the fact that our hero is actually given a name – John Chapman – something very unusual for a folk tale. But even more intriguingly, there is some historical evidence to back up the story, for John Botewrigh, the Rector of Swaffham between 1435 and 1474 made an inventory of building and repair work done to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And this tome is now known as the’Swaffham Black Book’, and in it we discover that in the mid-15th century the North Aisle of the church was rebuilt. And what is more, this renovation work was paid for by a fellow named John Chapman. And as part of this building work, new pews were installed and two of them are of particular interest for us: for their carved ends show a pedlar and his dog. Furthermore, local tradition suggests that a third which shows a lady, is a representation of the shopkeeper in the story.
Of course, none of that can displace the fact that a version of the tale was circulating in the East some centuries before, but certainly the pews and Chapman’s name appearing in the ‘Swaffham Black Book’ does suggest that the story of his good fortune may have been doing the rounds while the goodly gent was still alive. Obviously, Chapman, who served as a churchwarden, was a wealthy man, for construction work never comes cheap, particular in earlier times when a major building project may take years to complete. And given that in the 15th century, Swaffham was home to a thriving market, one wonders whether the tale had found its way to rural Norfolk thanks to travelling merchants, the very kind of folks Chapman would have been trading with.
Furthermore, in history we have many examples of less than virtuous men who in later life decide to bankroll various projects for their local churches. And usually these generous and charitable projects are seemingly done as a kind of penance for their earlier sins and misdeeds. Therefore it is tempting to speculate that the tale of Chapman’s fortune may well have been deliberately adopted to disguise the real origin of his wealth. And rather than repaying the good Lord for his luck by refurbishing his local church, as many versions of the tale suggest, he may well have been atoning for making a lot of money through less than virtuous means…
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.
The year is 1906. The age of the car has arrived and James Edmund Vincent, Welsh barrister, journalist and author, has been asked by his publishers to help put together a motoring guide for sale to touring motorists. The feeling is that there exists a potential need amongst car owners for information which would allow them to take full advantage of the open roads of this country. James’s brief, on this occasion, is to write about East Anglia. He is asked, as the very minimum, to concentrate on detailing the conditions of the region’s roads, outlining the topography and history of notable towns and other places en route; and give an impartial account of the hotels and inns visited with regards to their standards of service, cleanliness etc. Being an established writer, James’s is given a free hand to plan his own itinerary, with the only stipulation being that a completed copy of a draft guide should be completed and with the publishers within twelve months of starting out on his first journey. Payment, including reimbursement of expenses for the work are agreed but remain confidential.
Because James intends to make several forays into the region, he has arranged to use his 6-cylinder Lanchester on all journeys except this one, the inaugural trip to Norwich – a city he is familiar with, having been there before. James has planned most meticulously, with the enthusiastic collaboration of his friend, Claude Johnson, a somewhat large broad-shouldered extrovert who is someone of importance with the Roll-Royce Company. Claude will remain characteristically keen on the arrangements, mainly because he sees them as part of his early promotion to the company of his ideas for a new model car, which will eventually become Rolls Royce’s ‘Silver Ghost’. He particularly wants to prove that this unique car is smooth, silent and solid – and the best car that money can buy! Beyond this, he also wants to demonstrate the car’s reliability to the buying public. What better way would there be than to be part of James’s journey; a ‘trial run’ as it were, for his own anticipated 15,000 mile ‘non-stop’ promotional journey around Britain. Claude will of course drive the company car – who else!
James is nevertheless, and unquestionably, in charge of all other aspects of the trip to Norwich – and beyond. It will take his party of Claude the driver, James’s wife and youngest daughter – both of whom will occupy the back seats of the Rolls; James will ride ‘shotgun’ next to Claude in the front. Arrangements looked perfect; everyone loves travelling, and what better than to ride in real comfort to what will be the ‘far end of the region’– perfect! The city of Norwich, indeed most of East Anglia, is still almost unexplored territory to most of the party – and there are no impossible hills of any length to worry about. So, with no worrys worth mentioning – they set off.
We next catch up with the James’s party and Claude’s car as it crawls through the narrow and crooked streets of Norwich, having successfully negotiated those ‘questionable’ roads en route, from Cambridge through Newmarket, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Beccles, Lowestoft and Yarmouth. However, the journey has not been completely without incident for the car; which confidently displayed its engine’s smoothness, reliability and power throughout, but did suffer two punctures – through no fault of its own according to Claude! Fortunately, and maybe by some sort of miracle, a garage appeared closeby on both occasions!
The still proud Silver Ghost, under the nurturing of Claude, now passes close to the city’s central Market Place before winding its way towards and around the Castle Mound before swinging left, around the Royal Hotel, into Tombland. This is a wide and open space opposite the west end of the Cathedral. James continues to take note of the city’s features which will be included in his eventual ‘tome’. But for the moment, he ponders on the meaning of Tombland’s name, but remains uncertain. Later, he is to write:
“We had seen the Cathedral spire rising against the clear sky, glanced through two great archways leading to the Cathedral Church itself, had passed on our left the “Stranger’s House”, though the quaint fact that the faces of the figures of Hercules and Samson, supporting the arch of its door, are adorned with “Imperial” beardlets.”
At the end of Tombland the car finds itself in Wensum Street with the Maid’s Head Hotel, where they are to stay, immediately on the right. Claude steers into the hotel by way of an archway some little way further down the street. Immediately the party finds itself in a covered courtyard. Here, there is such a contrast between the old and the new and James feels that the surviving surroundings are thanks to no other than Walter Rye who had once bought this ancient building and saved it from destruction; thereby winning the gratitude of every traveller of taste who would also witness features as near identical with those of the 15th-century when the Pastons used the “Mayde’s Hedde” and spoke well of its accommodation.
The Bar Parlour on the left, from which an attentive hostess appears to take instructions from the new arrivals, seems also to be of almost immemorial age. Yet in the centre is the most modern thing in this world, Claude’s six-cylinder motor-car. However, staring him in the face is a notice requesting all motorists, to make no unnecessary noise, but to deposit their passengers, or pick them up, as rapidly as possible and then go! He clearly quips that he almost feels inclined to push the car, instead of compelling it to propel itself, onwards through the covered courtyard and into the carriage yard and garage beyond. Claude truly believes that his Silver Ghost is, a beautiful car—and cars can be beautiful he feels. Half the assertions that they are ugly are due to the fact that his generation is not sufficiently educated in relation to cars, have not grown familiar enough with them to know what the lines of beauty in them are. Still, in the courtyard of the “Maid’s Head,” any car is an anachronism, a jarring note and the sooner this one is moved out of sight the better!
Probably taking advantage of this distraction, James’s wife and daughter quietly break away to explore the hotel. They soon ascend a very ancient and charming staircase of real oak, really black with real age and found someone who was delighted to show the two around “Queen Elizabeth’s Chamber”. James, downstairs, is soon handed a message telling him to visit them there and on arrival sees that the visit is, in his words, “more than worth paying for”. It is a spacious room, if one considers the floor area alone; but of course, the ceiling is very low and the dark beams supporting it still lower. He sees that one great bed is of carved oak, relieved with gilding, whilst another makes no impression on him at all. But not so the long and low windows, the shining planks of the ancient floor, which boasts its own hills and valleys, slopes and hollows, along with the cleanliness and brightness of everything; these make a very vivid and pleasant impression on James.
Nevertheless, he understands that Queen Elizabeth I never did sleep in this chamber, or indeed in the Maid’s Head itself when she visited Norwich in 1578 – he had heard that she had stayed nearby in the Bishop’s Palace, at a time when weird pageants were displayed in her honour. No, the “Maid’s Head” was an old inn even in 1578. Edward the Black Prince entertained here after a jousting competition at Gildencroft and Queen Catherine of Aragon (King Henry VIII’s first wife) was entertained here. So, it is reasonably certain that the chamber named after Queen Elizabeth was also there. James then thought the room to be ideal for those who hanker after the old world, but do not yearn for that dirt which seems to have been an all-pervading characteristic of the lives of his forefathers. But this room, together with the hotel is certainly spotlessly clean!
After this small interlude, the rest of the party disperses elsewhere whilst James sets off for a half hour stroll into the city before dinner. But at the foot of the stairs he sees quite an imposing person, whose presence is a happy coincidence for him. James remembers his first visit and the “Royal,” where Lord Kimberley was found to be a guest. Now, at the foot of the stairs of the “Maid’s Head,” is none other than the 15th Duke of Norfolk and his wife, the Duchess; both were about to become guests of this ancient hotel. Heavens! he thought; what a contrast to a similar visit some two centuries ago in 1685, on which Macaulay quoted:
“In the heart of the city stood an old palace of the Dukes of Norfolk, said to be the largest town house in the kingdom out of London. In this mansion, to which were annexed a tennis court, a bowling-green and a wilderness, stretching along the banks of the Wensum, the noble family of Howard frequently resided, and kept a state resembling that of petty sovereigns. Drink was served to guests in goblets of pure gold. The very tongs and shovels were of silver. Pictures by Italian masters adorned the walls. The cabinets were filled with a fine collection of gems purchased by that Earl of Arundel whose marbles are now among the ornaments of Oxford. Here, in the year 1671, Charles and his court were sumptuously entertained. Here, too, all comers were annually welcomed, from Christmas to Twelfth Night. Ale flowed in oceans for the populace. Three coaches, one of which had been built at a cost of five hundred pounds to contain fourteen persons, were sent every afternoon to bring ladies to the festivities; and the dances were always followed by a luxurious banquet. When the Duke of Norfolk came to Norwich, he was greeted like a king returning to his capital. The bells of the Cathedral and of St. Peter Mancroft were rung; the guns of the Castle were fired; and the Mayor and Aldermen waited on their illustrious fellow citizen with complimentary addresses. In the year 1693 the population of Norwich was found, by actual enumeration, to be between twenty-eight and twenty-nine thousand souls.”
What a contrast James felt! Now, on the 9th of March, 1906, the present Duke of Norfolk enters a city of approximately one hundred and thirteen thousand souls; the bells of the cathedral and St. Peter’s Mancroft are not ringing. No guns are being fired. No mayor and aldermen waiting upon the Duke in his Palace, because there is no Palace. All that is happening is that this quiet, bearded English gentleman walks, limping slightly, with a lady into the courtyard of the Maid’s Head Hotel and, after a parley with the hostess, vanishes up the stairs, to be seen no more. It is pure luck that James sees him, and that he is able to recognise this Premier Duke and Earl, the Hereditary Earl Marshal and Chief Butler of England. He was received with precisely the same courtesy of attention that had been shown to James and his party, but without servility. The Duke received all that he wanted, and in a manner which, James thought, really did him credit.
No more is left of the pomp and dignity of the 17th-century Palace than that of the city’s clothing trade. The Duke of Norfolk has become, in the interval, an Englishman first and a great power in Sussex next, and the clothing trade of Norwich is no more. The city of 113,000 souls is now subsisted, as James is told during his walk-about, on the proceeds of boots and mustard, the latter industry founded by one of whom a correspondent of the Norfolk and Norwich Notes and Queries wrote:
“The original Colman [the name means “free man”] was a jolly old fellow who used to give me sixpence and direct me to the house for refreshment”; it subsisted also, as I learned for myself next morning……. as one of the largest agricultural and pastoral centres it has ever been my good fortune to witness. Times were indeed changed; but he would be a rash man who should say that they were changed for the worse in all respects.”
James writes up his notes after Dinner, which has been taken in the coffee-room of the hotel, and everyone in his party thinks it is very pleasant there. James includes a further thought that the room also has an air of antiquity, and its deep fireplace certainly charms the eye. The ‘cookery’ is, in his opinion, distinctly good and the attendance quiet and prompt ‘as that in any well-ordered private house’. The Dinner was also the time for him to reflect on some of the other famous associations with the hotel. For instance, the Pastons had used and commended it, and their words of praise, blazoned on the outer door, seems right and proper; but it was a pity, James thought, to have placed newspapers near to them! He also thought that sitting in this same hostelry on the morning of his last fight with Kett and his rebels, Warwick had breakfasted, and had then led his men, who were camped on the market-place, to victory. It is also certain to him that Margaret Paston’s horses were seized here. Then, in the time of the rebellion, the Royalists stayed, despite being scarce in the eastern counties. But Royalists were also Freemasons and held their lodges in the “Maid’s Head” as early as 1724; James understands that on one occasion a Mrs. Beatson hid behind the wainscot of the lodge-room and heard all their mysteries!
As James writes, he is pleased that all this information is decidedly enhanced by the fact that this visit had provided further insight and confirmation. Undoubtedly, its value will also be fully appreciated once ‘his’ Motoring Guide is published – next year?. But his pleasure does not end there. James is also proud to be able to say that the Maids Head, this very building in which he sits, was built on the site of Herbert de Losinga’s first Palace, which once stood on Gothic arches; also, that an Assembly Room was built over the courtyard to become a minstrel’s gallery. The carving in the smoking-room represents a fish – possibly a ray? If this is correct, it probably accounts for the title of the hotel; for it was certainly mentioned in the 1287 Norwich Court Records as the ‘Myrtle Fish Tavern’ where “Robert the fowler stole goods from the said innkeeper at Cook Rowe.” Again, if this fish is a ray, then another difficulty vanishes, for the sea-fishermen of Norfolk call, or once called, the ray, “Old Maid.”
Certainly, the hotel did not take its new title on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth I’s 1578 visit, for John Paston had, in 1472 confirmed the hotel’s name change to ‘Maids Head’ in a letter, recommending the inn as a good place to stable horses:
“if he tery at norwyche ther whyls, it were best to sette hys horse at the Maydes Hedde.”
The hotel is also mentioned in a curious petition to Wolsey, again unearthed by that man Walter Rye. James again blesses Mr Rye for having bought the lease of the Maid’s Head in the 1890’s – and saving it! James also remembers him acquiring property next door on Tombland and building the frontage with the ‘Mock Tudor’ look, but keeping the Jacobean snug and bar. This was the moment when Rye quoted:
“I had been myself a customer of the house for 20 years and more and some of the most pleasant parts of my life had been sent in and about it. It was rumoured that when Mr Webster left the Maids Head, the whole scope of the old Tory house – the nearest approach to the typical old hostel that I ever saw – was going to be spoiled and no longer to be a refuge for those who like peace and quiet and old surroundings. I heard what the new rent was to be and took upon myself the burden…..I will try and keep on trying to make people as comfortable as I was myself.”
The next day James, his wife, daughter and Claude the driver, complete packing in anticipation of an early departure soon after breakfast. James gathers up his notes of all he had witnessed and heard during what had been a short stay; but he knows that he will return. His final accolade is saved for the hotel itself; after settling the account he is very pleased that the final bill is ‘quite moderate—for England’ The party eventually departs Norwich for Cromer and James took that moment to note some further useful information which will eventually be passed to the readers of the proposed Motoring Guide Book:
“As with arriving in this city, great care should always be observed when leaving Norwich, for the streets are narrow, crooked and full of risk, and directions difficult to work out…… Roads here are gerally fair, some good – especially to Cromer”.
The Jermy’s of Stanfield Hall were an ancient family who arrived in England from Normandy soon after William the Conqueror – sometime around 1100. They were of the knighted class, holding their estates from various Earls and Barons by ‘knight’s fees’ – mostly in East Anglia. By the 1500s, however, they had acquired freehold ownership of their own properties. One branch of the family settled in North Norfolk and a later son of this line, John Jermy, Esq, became a successful lawyer in London before returning to Norfolk to take up the position of chief counsellor to the Bishop of Norwich – sometime around 1600. He did well in this post and was soon in a position to purchase two estates in north Norfolk for his sons. The elder son, Francis, settled at Gunton Hall, near Aylsham, while the younger one, Robert, did so at Bayfield Hall, near Holt. Each Jermy is outlined in turn:
The Senior Jermy Lineat Gunton Hall: This line of the Jermy family continued at Gunton for several generations, until about 1700 – when the Estate had to be sold to cover mortgage debts accrued years before during the English Civil War. By the late 1680s, the elder son, Francis, did at least attend Cambridge although he did not go on to a career in either the law or the church. After the estate was sold, he settled for a time in Hainford, near Norwich, where he married and had two surviving daughters before abandoning them and their mother for London where he seems to have lived ‘on his wits’. He then had three sons there in an irregular 2nd marriage but no later Jermys descended from them.
Francis Jermy did have a younger brother back at Gunton Hall but he received even less from the estate and very little education which meant the he had to settle for a working class apprenticeship – in Great Yarmouth. He did, however, later obtain a slightly better position in the Custom’s Service there through the influence of earlier family contacts. This younger brother of Francis was thereby in a position to afford to give his eldest, of two sons, at least, training as a Shipwright, but that son died quite young, without leaving an heir. The younger of the two sons obtained neither education nor training and was later referred to as ‘an illiterate day-labourer’. His name was John Jermy, the same John Jermy who was allegedly bought off for a mere £20 by Isaac Preston, the lawyer to William Jermy. It is not known if this John Jermy ever married or had children but he died in 1768 in Yarmouth. John’s death brought to an end the Gunton Hall branch of the ancient Jermy family.
The Junior Jermy line at Bayfield:
The junor line continued at Bayfield a little longer – until about 1750 that is. By 1735, the senior survivor on the estate, after 5 generations, was a respected Norfolk lawyer and landowner whose only son, William Jermy, Esq, was ready to marry that year. A union was arranged with the Hon. Elizabeth Richardson, only daughter of a wealthy landowner of south and west Norfolk – not the Jermys’ usual area of influence – She was soon to be the heir to her family’s large estate, including Stanfield Hall. In those times, a husband became effective owner of his wife’s property and, as William’s father had recently died, he was now in control of both Bayfield Hall and Stanfield Hall Estates. Unlike his father, however, he wasn’t very good at husbanding his resources and spent most of his time enjoying the lively social, partying scene amongst the landed gentry of Norfolk and in London. They never resided at either Hall but at their homes in Norwich and Aylsham, which were more convenient for their active social life. But he and his wife quarrelled and were soon divorced, she then dying before 1750. They had no children.
William Jermy was now free to marry again and would of course be quite a catch with all his wealth. But he too was now quite ill and apparently not very capable of handling his own affairs. It was at this point that a shrewd local lawyer – an Isaac Preston‘befriended’ him on the basis of having worked with William’s father previously. He soon convinced William to marry his sister Frances Preston – in 1751. Conveniently for Isaac Preston, William Jermy died very soon afterwards and, having never co-habited with Frances, there were no children. As William was the last of his family, and with no close relatives, his Estate passed into the hands of the Prestons; but what would happen as a consequence of this and who would legally end up with William’s vast Estate following the wording of his Will? Needless to say, the Will had been drawn up by this earlier Isaac Preston, the clever lawyer who advised for the property to go to William’s new widow, Frances, for her lifetime and then to one or other of two named Preston relatives, and their sons, if any. But these two men both died before Frances’s death in 1791 and without issue. In that case, said the Will, the property should go
“to the male person with the name Jermy nearest related to me (ie to William) in blood, and to his heirs forever”.
The ‘property’ by the time Frances died was, however, now lacking Bayfield Hall estate as the Will had also stated that Frances was to receive £5000 from the entire estate during her lifetime. This was much too much to raise from annual rental income so it was decided by Frances’s brother Isaac Preston to sell Bayfield! This was almost criminal by destroying the capital value of the estate; this certainly smacked of Isaac Preston’s influence in composing William’s Will. Bayfield Hall was sold in 1765 to the Jodrell family for £7600.
Some years later, in 1817, a Norwich weaver named Jonathan Jermy made a claim for the Bayfield estate through the courts based upon a pedigree that appeared to indicate he was a descendent of the Bayfield Jermys and thus William Jermy’s nearest heir-at-law. His apparent Jermy forebears over the 4 previous generations did have the very same christian names as did William’s, and in the same order, but his claim was made just after the relevant Statute of Limitations had expired and his pedigree was thus never examined in court. This was however later pursued and it was discovered that way back in 1640, Jonathan Jermy’s family’s name had actually been Jermyn, an unrelated family, but altered to Jermy after the civil war by church Vicars who were more familiar with the name Jermy. This family had actually settled near Stanfield Hall which turned out to be simply a remarkable coincidence!
A later member of the Jodrell family left Bayfield to the youngest son of the Earl of Leicester, Roger Coke; in more recent times the Hall came to the distantly related Combe family, of which Roger and Caroline Combe have resided there in recent years:
At least Stanfield Hall was still intact back in 1791 when William Jermy died. But who was ‘the nearest blood relative’ of William Jermy – with the surname Jermy at that point in time? There were no Jermys left in the Bayfield Hall line. What about the Gunton Hall Jermy family who previously had dispersed to London and Great Yarmouth? By 1791, none of the London members of that branch were still alive and in Yarmouth, the last of that family, a John Jermy the day-labourer described above, he had also died in 1768 and seemingly without issue.
What would happen now? Well, a short time after Frances died, another member of the Preston family, also a lawyer but not mentioned in the Will, quietly walked into possession of Stanfield Hall and instructed the estate’s Steward to forward the considerable rental income in future to him in Kings Lynn, claiming that he was now the new owner – “being the nearest relative to Frances”. In support of his claim he produced some apparently forged documents. The possibility of such an occurrence had been foreseen by the earlier Isaac Preston, namely that any future rights to William Jermy’s Estate could be claimed by anyone else . Frances death in 1791 was over 40 years since William’s death and his Will was published. Who else in 1791 would have any knowledge or interest in such a Will? No one apparently. There wasn’t it seemed ‘anyone else’ – to even question the suspicious justification produced by the member of the Preston family who walked into Stanfield Hall and staked his claim. No one else, seemingly, came forward to complain which meant that Stanfield Hall was to remain with the Prestons.
A contemporary account of the Jermy family and a murder that occurred in the 19th century can be read HERE; plus further accounts at many other websites – such as the following:
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