Norwich’s Young Hero!

Had World War Two not happened then we may never have heard of him. But it did happen and for a short while his name hit the headlines thanks to the investigative skills of the local newspapers. The local press built a story on the unselfish nature, courage and deeds of this lad and the award that he sunsequently received from a King.

John Grix (St Marks)
St Mark’s Senior Boys School on Hall Road in Lakenham, Norwich

The lad’s name was John Grix, was born in 1927 and living with his parents at 79 City Road, Norwich at the time of the conflict. As an aside, his grandfather was William Grix who once ran a restaurant in the city. John was one of five children and when of age attended St Mark’s Senior Boys School on Hall Road in Lakenham. This was a 19th century-built school, erected in 1897 at a cost of £3,000; its main benefactor and instigator at the time was the Vicar of St Marks, the Reverend Prior Whalley. The Reverend was said to have contributed £1,000 of his own money to the building fund and also provided the entire cost of the school furnishings, estimated to have been £130. He apparently died a poor man but helped establish a school where the ethos prepared many of its pupils who later went on to fight in the First World War of 1914-18; plaques dedicated to some of them in the local church bear witness. Amongst those heroes, and with his own memorial in the city centre, was a Sidney Day who won the Victorious Cross.

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Soldiers lend a hand to the N. F. S. in the biggest of the many fires they had to fight in the Norwich blitz. Here is shown Debenhams shopping centre on 28 April 1942. Photo from Archant Library

From St Mark’s, John Grix moved on to the Technical School, whilst also a chorister at St Peter Mancroft Church and a scout leader attached to that church. Additionally, he applied to join the Civil Defence Messenger Service (SDMS), operational because of the War. John’s application in this respect may well have come about because, during World War II, Boy Scouts in Britain were called upon to serve as volunteers in civil defence. It was believed at the time that Scouts, due to their training and qualifications, would be ideal, stressing that during an emergency, means of communications could be disrupted and that written messages might be the only means of communication.

John Grix5
Oak Street bomb damage. April 27, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

It has been said that the boys in the Civil Defence Messenger Service never received the credit that they undoubtedly deserved, at a time when they risked their young lives, racing across the city and suburbs on their cycles, past burning buildings and falling masonry to deliver vital messages. These riders had to operate with two-wheeled machines which often had to function with flat tyres, caused by strewn glass and debris; as bombs rained down, such riders were regularly thrown off. Those on the front line, such as the firemen and police officers who fought to put the fires and control the civil population, often relied and acted upon the vital information which was delivered to them by the members of the messenger service.

John Grix2
Bonds Store, now John Lewis, from Ber Street. June 28, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

Then there was the feeling that no-one would ever know the exact number of lives the CDMS helped save during the Baedeker raids of April 1942, but it was established that more than 200 men, women and children died over two nights in that April and that many more lost their homes. As the movement grew, women also played their part, motor-cycles arrived and its headquarters were relocated at Chapel Field East. In total, there was said to be around 200 boys and 30 girls who were members of the Civil Defence Messenger Service in Norwich. It was an organisation where officialdom had decreed that the lads so employed must be aged between 16 and 18; but, for the quiet and modest John Grix, clearly keen to join and ‘do his bit’, he quickly invented another birthday which placed him in the 16-year-old bracket – he was readily accepted!

John Grix6
Civil Defence Messenger Service, Angel Road School, Norwich. Date: 1943. Picture: unknown source but supplied to Archant.

Pamela Brooks wrote in her book ‘Heroes, Villains and Victims of Norwich’ about John Grix:

“His actions in Norwich during the Blitz were incredibly brave, particularly as he had fibbed about his age so that he could become a member of the Civil Defence; he was only 15 at the time. As a member, as the air-raid sirens sounded and people took cover, Grix rode off on his bicycle to the report centre to await orders. He took messages to the firemen, even though the incendiary bombs were falling around him. On one occasion he was passing a factory when acid was sprayed from the windows and burned his hands; he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt and continued taking messages instead. And, he didn’t stop when the air raid was over; he helped rescuers among the ruins. He slept overnight at the report centre and was out again on the second night of the raid – he kept taking messages, even though he was blown off his bike five times.”

 

John Grix1
King George VI talking to young award-winning Norwich hero John Grix (centre): “I understand you are only 15.” Photo: Archant Library

Whether one should believe that it was the local newspaper which told John Grix that he was in line to receive an award, or whether it was by way of a formal letter telling him that he was going to received the British Empire Medal (BEM), is not important. What was important was the fact that by being told by the Regional Commissioner, Will Spens, that he, John Grix, had acted ‘with courage and determination’ the way was being cleared for King George VI, during his surprise visit to Norwich in October 1942 when he referred to the feeling that ‘all these messengers should be remembered and applauded’. In particular, he spoke to John Grix and added his own congratulations, plus the comment “I understand you are only 15”. The wool had not been pulled over the eyes of the authorities!

John Grix7

 

John Grix could not serve his country in the armed services for several reasons, they included his true age, the injuries he received while serving in the CDMS, plus the unfortunate circumstances of losing one of his lungs. Instead, he went on to work at Laurence Scott & Electromotors for most of his remaining life, interrupted only by a period when he and his brother ran the Lings hardware shop in White Lion Street of the city. He married, and with his wife had two sons, Stephen and Ian. John Grix died in 1990 at the age of just 63 years.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.edp24.co.uk/features/15-year-old-norwich-boy-john-grix-awarded-the-british-empire-medal-after-ww2-1-4990026
https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/views/remembering-norwich-s-blitz-kids-1-5120407

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.

Mary Elizabeth Mann: A Norfolk Writer.

According to DJ Taylor in ‘Simple Tales of Country Folk’, published in The Independent as far back as 7 October 2000, Mary Elizabeth Mann’s writings “can be as brutal as Hardy, and as sharply satirical as Thackeray”. To illustrate her point, she states that there were not many grimmer stories in Victorian literature than , a book set in a Norfolk village in the 1890s and no more than five pages in length’. This story describes the visit of a well-meaning spinster to a philoprogenitive farm labourer’s wife who has just given birth to a stillborn thirteenth child. After commiserating with the mother, her visitor asks if she can see the corpse. This turns out to have vanished from the cradle. Venturing downstairs, the woman finds Mrs Hodd’s brood of children playing with what, at first sight, looks like a rather battered doll. This in itself would probably be enough to send shivers down the average 21st century spine. But what gives the story an even sharper tug, perhaps, is the dreadful laconicism of the final paragraph. Mrs Hodd, mildly rebuked for allowing this desecration, is unmoved:

“Other folkes’ child’en have a toy, now and then, to kape ’em out o’mischief. My little uns han’t,” she says. “He’ve kep’ ’em quite [quiet] for hours, the po’r baby have; and I’ll lay a crown they han’t done no harm to their little brother.”

Who, you might wonder, was responsible for this ghastly description from a bleak rural world where there was no child allowances and decent sanitation? Thomas Hardy? George Moore? – No! In fact, the author of ‘Little Brother’ turns out to be an obscure farmer’s wife named Mary Elizabeth Mann, an elusive person to say the least, who lived in Norfolk.

Mary Mann2
Mary Elizabeth Mann

All that is really known of Mary Mann (nee’ Rackman) is that she was born in Norwich in 1846, the daughter of a local merchant named William Simon Rackham. In 1871, at the age of 23, she married Fairman Joseph Mann, a substantial yeoman farmer whose land lay around the village of Shropham in Norfolk; a village laying near to Attleborough on the edge of the Breckland and not far from the Gallows Hill interchange with the modern A11, but with the water meadows of the young River Thet keeping today’s world at arm’s length.

Mary Mann (Church_Simon_Knott)
St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Shropham where Mary E. Mann is buried. Photo: Simon Knott.

Mary and Fairman Mann lived first at Church Farm in Shropham, Norfolk and after a few years moved to Shropham Hall [Manor], also in Shropham. The manor had been the Mann family home for several previous generations. Sometimes unoccupied and frequently let, the Manor became the home of Fairman and Mary Mann. They must have been, in practice, like a Squire and his wife in many an East Anglian tale. Fairman, as the owner and lessee of nearly 800 acres, was a significant local figure – churchwarden, parish guardian, secretary and treasurer of the board of school managers and guardian and overseer of the poor. Mary, as well as looking after their four children of one son and three daughters, was expected to support her husband by also devoting herself to the life and wants of the parish; to visit the workhouse and care for the poor. This transition of hers after marriage, from town to country, affected her greatly and was to prove hugely influential in her future writing; for that’s what she became – an author.

Mary Mann (Shropham Manor)
Shropham Hall today.

Mary Mann took up writing in the 1880s with the guidance of an in-law relative named Thomas Fairman Ordish and her first novel, ‘The Parish of Hilby’ (1883) began a career that was to last some 35 years. During this time, she produced over 40 works, all of which focused on the experiences of Norfolk yeoman farmers during the late 19th century’s agricultural and economic upheaval. Shropham (rechristened “Dulditch” in her writings) was to be the bedrock of Mann’s career. Her books were generally set in the few square miles around her village of Shropham; the books’ themes would usually be that of the yeoman farmer who both owned and rented land and, as such, was badly affected by the agricultural downturn. Fairman Mann himself was a casualty, and Mary’s writing hobby was soon to become an important part of the family’s income – at a time when the condition of the Norfolk working class was at its worst for half a century:

“…. a squalid vista of roofless cottages and families sleeping 10 to a bed, where the death of a baby in childbirth was looked on as an act of divine mercy.”

Mary Mann7

Unsparing of middle-class pretensions, Mary combined a satirical turn with a profound sympathy for the distressed rural poor: ‘The Patten Experiment‘ (1899), for example, one of her best novels, covers the efforts of a clergyman and his family to live on the 11 shillings a week that was the standard 1890s farmworker’s wage. Both that book and ‘The Parish Nurse’ (1903) were well received by contemporary critics, but her claim to lasting literary attention rests on the “Dulditch” stories.

It is her first-hand observations of Shropham’s community, enmeshed in the agricultural depression of the 1880’s, that gave her best work its quality. Anyone today reading her stories could not doubt that Mary Mann, at some point in her life, had seen a baby’s corpse sprawled somewhere in a labourer’s cottage, or watched “Wolf-Charlie” at work breaking stones by the roadside; he the protagonist of one of her best pieces:

“He is called Wolf-Charlie, I suppose, by reason of the famished look in his melancholy eyes, of the way in which the skin of his lips, drawn tightly over his gums, exposes his great yellow teeth; by reason of the leanness of his flanks, the shaggy, unkempt hair about his head and face, the half fierce, half frightened expression”

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Mary E. Mann sometime around the turn of the 19th century.

Mary Mann was once one of the most popular English Novelists. Her books were frequently re-printed, several appeared in various popular series and 18 were listed in the standard bibliography “A Guide to the Best Fiction” in 1920. But because of the general reaction against things Victorian and Edwardian at the time, her reputation suffered and her books became neglected.

Again, according to DJ Taylor in her article of 2000:

“What separates [Mary Mann’s] work from that of Hardy is its absolute matter-of-factness. “Elly” in Ben Pitcher’s Elly, who murders her illegitimate child, is not a sacrificial lamb picked out of the flock by some malign instrument of destiny: Mann lets her stay ordinary, and as a result the portrait has an awful, glamour-free conviction. Her psychological touch, too, can be extraordinarily deft. Dora o’ the Ringolets features a flaxen-headed peasant girl whose chief anxiety is that her mother’s impending death will leave no one to arrange the hair that distinguishes her from her lumpish class-mates and monkey-faced brother. When Mrs Green dies, her husband blows some of the burial club money on the luxury of a tin of salmon (“Happen she’d been alive, she’d maybe ha’ picked a mossel,” he reasons). Proceeding upstairs he finds his wife’s body covered by a mass of shorn-off curls and a crop-haired child sprawled across her breast. The father takes time to recognise his daughter. “I thought yu was the boy Jim,” he mutters.

The best of the “Dulditch” tales, though, are unlike anything else in Victorian literature – hard-eyed, sympathetic, direct, unyielding. Some enterprising publisher ought now to take it into his head to reissue a proper collection of the work of this writer who, at the very least, can certainly be marked down as Thomas Hardy’s East Anglian cousin.”

After her husband’s death in 1913, Mary Mann moved to Sheringham where, in 1929, she died aged 80. Her grave is in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Shropham and bears the epitaph:

“We bring our years
To an end
As it were a tale
That is told”

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The grave of Mary Mann at Shropham, Norfolk. Photo: Cameron Self.

In the 90 years since Mary Mann’s death, her work has undergone re-evaluation and there have been various attempts to republish, mostly by local firms anxious to claim her as a “Norfolk writer”. Those who have championed the cause in recent years have been local personalities such as Keith Skipper and author D.J. Taylor (quoted in this blog). Then there has been the fictionalised version of Shropham ‘The Parish of Hilby’ which was published by the Larks Press early in the millennium; with some of her stories having appeared in ‘Dead Men Talking’ – published by Black Dog Books and edited, again, by D. J. Taylor. Though chronically out of print, the most recent collection, of ‘Tales of Victorian Norfolk’, was published by a tiny Suffolk imprint in the early 1990’s. Clearly, Mary Mann’s work has been rediscovered as a major contributor to East Anglian literature, championed among others by A. S. Byatt, who in 1998 included her story ‘Little Brother’ in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories. In 2005 Eastern Angles Theatre Company used a collection of her characters and stories to create a new play ‘A Dulditch Angel’, directed by Orla O’Loughlin and written by Steven Canny.

Here is a list of some of Mary Mann’s works – which totalled over 40:

THE PARISH OF HILBY (1883), her first novel.
THE EGLAMORE PORTRAITS
ROSE AT HONEYPOT
THE PATTEM EXPERIMENT
OLIVIA’S SUMMER
A LOST ESTATE
THE PARISH NURSE
GRAN’MA’S JANE
MRS PETER HOWARD. A winter’s tale
ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS
MOONLIGHT
THE MATING OF A DOVE
THE FIELDS OF DULDITCH
AMONG THE SYRINGAS
SUSANNAH
THE CEDAR STAR

THE END

The Principal Sources Behind This Blog::

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/simple-tales-of-country-folk-638123.html
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/shropham.htm
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/shropham/shropham.htm

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.

Don’t Take Up Farming, Old Chap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3_Bugg Cottages before renovation2
Bugg Cottages before renovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_Threshing time2
Threshing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_Auction catalogue, 19452
Auction Catalogue, 1945.

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTCRIPT:

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

Anne Williamson

THE END

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

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

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

 

The Adventures of the Old Catton Village Sign!

On 11 December 1895 the journalist, James Hooper, wrote “Our way to Catton, which is some two miles nearer the North Pole than Norwich is, we are told ‘a delightful suburban village’. He went on to recount numerous theories on the origins of ‘Catton’ but in the end concluded that ‘there is little doubt that Catton was so named from the common cat.’ This, he believed, was substantiated by ‘many more cat observations and a visit to the church.’

Some one hundred years or so later, Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society placed far more substance on the village’s feline friend and its origins. His approach was to unravel and document the mysteries of the origins of this cat and how it became celebrated as part of the village sign. His investigations established the many lives that this sign subsequently had – which included the cat itself, the barrel on which the cat sits; plus every other part of the village sign in fact. However, the author has not, as yet, established where the cat disappeared to at various times throughout its history – especially during the Second World War! Neither has he yet discovered how many ‘Catton Cats’ have disappeared and not been seen ever again; or, which parts of the country (or world) the cat has been seen in his travels. One thing is certain; the Old Catton village sign, with a cat atop a barrel, is a symbol which must be familiar to many people of Norfolk, and indeed further afield. Its beginnings, however, pre-date the village sign by some 400 years. From a variety of Old Catton Council minutes, press reports and parish talk, Ray went on to compile what must be a better than excellent account of the cat’s history as one could reasonably expect. Here is a resume’ of his endeavours.

Catton Cat (2013)
The Village Sign in 2013

The rebus of a wild cat on a barrel was first recorded as the sign of Prior Robert Bronde (also known as Robert de Catton), the penultimate Prior of Catton before the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Historical sources record that his heraldic arms included “an ounce or cat of mountain.” and were included in stained glass placed in the windows of St Margaret’s church by Bronde himself. In addition, the Cat and Barrel rebus is also found in a beautiful section of stained glass situated in the south window of St Margaret’s church; this particular glass was installed by its then Vicar the Revd. Richard Hart in 1850.

Catton Cat2

There is also the original Tudor doorway on the east front of the Manor House in Church Street, Catton, which is also surmounted by a carving of a ‘cat’ and a ‘tun’ (barrel) rebus in the spandrels of its moulded bridging beams which by the early 17th century were already old fashioned. But, the most obvious and well-known manifestation of the device is to be found in the ‘cat’ and ‘tun’ reliefs which were carved in the door frame over the south door of the Manor House in 1891. This work is a well-executed copy of the Tudor carving situated over the Manor’s east door mentioned above; the person responsible is considered to be James Minns, a well-known Norwich wood carver often associated with works by Norwich architects George Skipper (1856-1948) and Edward Boardman. A footnote on plans for Boardman’s remodelling of the Manor House in 1891 names the Minns family as carvers.

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Then in 1902, to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII, the Buxton family of Catton Hall gave a commemorative mug, made by the famous Doulton pottery, to every household in the village: the jug featured a cat in relief on one side and a barrel on the other. Several are still held in private ownership in the village. All the instances of the cat’s past existence are the forerunners of the present well-known village sign; the originals are a happy mix of intent and coincidence.

Catton Cat (Mug)
The commemorative mug.

It was in March 1936 when the Parish Council first asked parishioners for their suggestions for commemorating the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, which would be held later that year. None were received immediately, and it was not until later in 1936 when a Mr Fred Gough of Crome House, Catton entered the scene; he owned the Norwich Paper and Cardboard Co. Mr Gough wrote to the Parish Council offering to erect a village sign which would represent the “Cat” and the “Tun”. The sign, similar to that erected at Swaffham, would stand on the ‘Village Green’ at the junction of Church Street and St Faiths Road; it was thought that this would preserve the small island there. Mr Gough’s offer was, in principle, accepted by the Council, along with a statement that the matter would be passed up to the St Faiths RDC.

It was the case that certainly by the November of 1936 no suggestions had been forthcoming from parishioners as to commemorating the forthcoming coronation; this being the case, the village’s deliberations on the matter were postponed a further three months, to February 1937; this to allow time to see what celebrations other Norfolk villages were planning. Eventually, the two interests of village sign and a suitable commemoration to celebrate King George VI’s Coronation merged. A new village sign was duly unveiled in 1937 by Mr Gough’s son in the presence of the Vicar, the Revd McCready, and formally handed over to the Chairman of Old Catton Parish Council. A large crowd of councillors and parishioners gathered for the occasion.

At the time of the 1937 unveiling, the identity of the designer and maker of the sign was not known – seventy-nine years later it was! Early in 2016, an email was received from a John Hennings of Droitwich in which it said:

“It is told to me that the sign was designed by Bernard Nicholson (my Grandfather) he was the Architect for Bullard’s Brewery and I was always told that his idea was to place a cat on to a model of a “tun”. I have, what I was told as being the original Alabaster cat used to model the carved version.”

From this message it became obvious that John Henning’s grandfather was none other than the Catton Parish Council Chairman present at the 1937 unveiling ceremony.  One further delight to emerge from John Henning’s email was that he had in his possession an alabaster cat which was said to have been the model for the cat on the barrel. A commercial post-card published in 1938 illustrates the sign perfectly, showing scrolled iron-work under the top pedestal, and a vertical in inscription which read, “G.R.- TO COMMEMORATE THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE VI ON 18TH MAY 1937”. Neither of these two features appear to have survived beyond the 1940s.

Catton Cat9
This commercial post-card, published in 1938, shows the sign perfectly.

In Oct 1937 it was noted in the Parish Council minutes that under Section 268 (I) of the Local Govt. Act 1933, the Council were empowered to have reasonable expenses for the upkeep of the Village Sign presented by Mr F Gough and who, surprisingly enough, arranged for the sign to be renovated in 1938. No reason was given for the ‘remedial’ work on such a new feature, but the varnish was hardly dry before a remarkable series of feline adventures began. World War II intervened and across the nation signposts were taken down to confuse the enemy. It was in this way that the Officer’s Mess at RAF Horsham St Faiths, nearby, became the home of the sign for the duration of hostilities. The council minutes for August 1940 recorded: –

“The sign having been removed by request of the local police officer and temporarily placed in front of the Officers’ Mess R.A.F. Fifers Lane by request of the C.O. It was resolved on proposition of Mr Sabberton seconded by Mr Booty that the Commanding Officer should give the Council a written receipt for the sign on the understanding that it should be returned in good order to the former site on conclusion of hostilities.”

It seemed unclear to most in the parish what benefit the minor relocation of the sign would have in deceiving the enemy should they ever arrive, but clearly the move was very popular with the RAF as the following letter of 17 August 1940 (on R/H side) to the Parish Clerk demonstrated: –

Catton Cat (Cat Loan)

In the final years of the war American Liberator aircraft were based at RAF Horsham St Faiths and US servicemen were clearly taken by the ‘cute’ sign on their doorstep. The following photograph shows Capt. Maurice Speer standing beside the sign in front of the Officers’ Mess.

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Captain Maurice Speer, United Sates Airforce, circa 1944.

Events during the war are shrouded in mystery but rumour had it at the time that the cat took part in a bombing raid over Germany. As the threat of German invasion waned the calls for the sign to be returned to its original home began. The Parish minutes for April 1944 recorded that the sign be brought back to its old position in the village, but it was not until the following April of 1945 that the Clerk approached the Air Ministry regarding the restoration of the sign. On 14 June 1945 the RAF responded:-

“Old Catton Village Sign

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of the 11th inst., regarding the collection of the Old Catton village sign which is at present situated on front of the Officers’ Mess.

The Senior Works Officer raises no objection to the removal of the sign, provided no expense is incurred by the Air Ministry, but I regret to inform you that the cat is missing.

The matter has been taken up with the Unit Executive Officer, who assures me that no effort will be spared in endeavouring to trace the cat, and it is hoped that steps already taken will result in its location and return.

This matter is sincerely regretted, both by myself and the Unit.

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

Four days later another letter was received: –

“Old Catton Village Sign

With reference to my letter of the 14th inst., I have pleasure in informing you that the cat has been traced and is now held in safe custody.

I should be glad if your representative would call at this office when he comes to remove the sign from the Officers’ Mess; the cat will then be handed over to him.

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

In June 1946 the Council accepted Mr Southgate’s tender for re-erection of the sign. Materials were evidently difficult to obtain in the post-war economy, but the work was finally completed by the end of the year, and the sign stood again at its original home. There then began a long period of mixed fortunes.

In February 1949 the parish clerk reported the removal of the cat by RAF auxiliary merrymakers. Two months later, thanks to the local and RAF Constabulary, it was returned from Stockton-on Tees. The re-installation was undertaken by an RAF NCO but the sign was cleaned up at Parish expense. A charge of 25 shillings was made and councillor Mr English took steps to obtain restitution from the Commanding Officer of the auxiliary unit at Stockton on Tees; whilst in a separate letter, expressed the appreciation of the Parish Council to the Station Commander at Horsham St Faiths. Then in September 1952 the cat again vanished – apparently without trace! Fishponds appeared to be a popular choice for searching, and Bristol was mentioned as a possible fruitful ground of enquiry. Mr English of the Council promised to convey this information to the police.

Coincidently and quite out of the blue it seems, an offer to the Parish Council was received in 1953 from a Mr Wolfgang Klinge who was Danish. Despite having returned to his native Denmark, he offered to replace the cat in recognition of the happy years he had spent in Old Catton, having worked for Bush Builders at Hellesdon. His offer was ‘enthusiastically accepted on behalf of the Council’ and the Clerk was instructed to write to Mr Klinge ‘expressing the warm appreciation of the Council.’ However, the matter thereafter was far from being as straightforward as one would want.

Catton Cat (Wolfgang Klinge)
Wolfgang Klinge and wife – Greyfriars, May 1952.

Throughout the following year there were various reports which indicated ‘that there were frustrating delays in the making of a new cat.’; and Mr Klinge was expressing disappointment that nothing was being done, particularly as he had paid for the work before leaving Norwich. Then, in February 1954 Mr Klinge informed the Parish Council that he proposed to get the cat made in Denmark. In response, the Clerk was instructed to investigate the cost of a plaque pending the arrival of the cat. This plaque would note the gift of the original sign by Fred Gough in 1936, correctly reflecting the year when the idea of a cat on a barrel sign was born. A second plaque would acknowledge the generous gift of a restored version by Wolfgang Klinge. Keen to publicise the replacement, the Clerk of the Council undertook to supply a paragraph to the Press and Parish Magazine when the job was completed. In the meantime, in the June of 1954 to be exact, RAF personnel were seen trying, but failing, to remove the barrel. The new cat was finally posted to England and erected in September 1954.

Catton Cat (Plaque)1

Two months later, in November, a very interesting development took place in which the Parish Clerk received a letter from the Commanding Officer of RAF Horsham St Faiths with intelligence that the ‘cat’ might be found adorning a street sign in Chicago. A letter to the mayor of Chicago produced an inscrutable reply, thanking the village for their hospitality to the USAF during the war, but made no mention of the sign. This was followed in April 1955 with a suggestion that the cat had also been sighted in Orkney – or was it Shetland!

Catton Cat (1954 Sign)
The Cat and Tun in 1954.

Back in Old Catton the life of Klinge’s cat was very short-lived for, on 19 April 1955, The Eastern Evening News reported that both the cat and barrel had been wrenched off the post the previous night. A Melvyn Johnson reported that the barrel had been found on farmland (now Ives Road), next to the vicarage garden, which was then at the junction of Fifer’s Lane with St Faiths Road – there was no sign of the cat. A further cat was generously donated by Wolfgang Klinge, and the Parish minutes for January 1956 duly record the arrival of a new teak cat from Denmark.

The sign again suffered damage in 1971. On Sunday, 12 June at 1.30 a.m. two men were seen trying to remove the cat; they were seen off but not before leaving three saw cuts. The barrel was damaged beyond repair and a new one had to be made.

Then a major change took place in 1972 when, for traffic reasons, the whole sign was moved from the busy Church Street junction. It had originally been intended to place it by the new school extension in Church Street, but the wide grass verge created by the development of Parkside Drive was finally chosen and the sign became a dramatic village centre feature opposite the church.

Catton Cat (Sign Valdilised)

In June 1976, vandals struck again when the whole sign was laid flat. This prompted a complete renovation which was carried out in the workshops of Johnsons Joinery of Hellesdon at their expense, and unveiled by [Yorkshire born] parish council chairman Bill Catton at a ceremony on 13 November 1976. A wooden shield presented to Johnsons employees records their part in the restoration.

Catton Cat (Shield)

The latter quarter of the 20th century seems to have been incident free, and the only reference to the cat during this period was that it had not been forgotten in the USA; a fact established by village resident, Colin Green, in the early 1990s. He was on a visit to the ship Queen Mary, at her final resting place in Long Beach, when he saw a photograph and reference to St Faiths displayed on the wall of one of the great liner’s public corridors. Beyond that snippet nothing, except that by the end of the 20th century the village sign’s timber post was deemed to have decayed beyond the point of repair by the Parish Council and a new steel upright was commissioned.

It was in March 2001 when the wooden post was sawn down and later renovated, along with the cat and barrel, again by Melvyn Johnson who had worked on an earlier restoration as a young man place. By curious coincidence Drayton resident Peter Klinge, the son of Wolfgang, happened to drive past as the sign was being dismantled and stopped to see and reminisce. At a formal ceremony on 7 May 2001 the new sign was unveiled by Peter’s son Martin, the grandson of Wolfgang Klinge, along with Lucy Dingle.

In another nice touch a model of the sign was made from the old upright by Barry Leggett and presented to the Mayor of Lavare during the visit of the French Exchange to our twinned village in 2003. Another part was used to make a gavel for Old Catton Society. The remaining half of the decaying wooden upright was saved by Barry Leggett where it, with a freshly carved small cat and barrel, can be found on the wall beneath his car port in Garrick Green.

By an interesting development, village representatives made payed a visited to Zell-am-Zee in the Moselle valley and, apparently, they were amazed to discover a fountain in the town square with a large cat and barrel statue at its centre. As a keepsake, and no doubt to refresh this memory from time to time, a few wine bottles were brought back; their labels illustrating the feature.

In July 2009, being in need of further renovation, the sign was repainted. During the course of the work the cat fell sideways, no doubt due to decay. It was removed, renovated and replaced.

More recently, on Sunday 26 August 2012, Becky Betts and the the BBC Radio Norfolk Treasure Quest team arrived to find a clue secreted by the Society archivist in the leaf scroll work around the top of the column. The easily solved clue bringing the radio car to Church Street was:

“The rugby man who has aged a bit is changed from being on standby. The signs are they are not scraping it, not whisky in, but something galore over!”

Unfortunately, history repeated itself on 11 October 2012, when the cat and barrel were found missing. However, it was soon discovered – it had been briefly removed by the Parish Council for repair! By 2017 the barrel had decayed beyond repair and a new one was made and installed by Barry Legget and his son Graham. Now, and in retrospect, it has to be accepted that no-one is absolutely clear as to how many cats there have been over the years; but it is believed that the present incarnation is probably the fourth – sitting on what is barrel number two.

Catton Cat (2011)2

So, some 84 years on, the cat of many lives still stands and watches the villagers go about their business, and often seen sporting a Father Christmas bobble hat during the festive season.

THE END

Source: Most of the information and photographs included in this blog are by kind permission of  Ray Jones and the Old Catton Society at https://oldcattonsociety.org.uk/village-sign

 

The Dancing Noverres’ and Assurance!

Prologue:
The 18th and 19th centuries were the golden age of the dancing master. Social dances of that period were not only changing constantly, but were also extraordinary complicated. Considerable investment of time and money was required in order to achieve complete competence before being ‘let loose’ at a Ball or a Dancing Assembly. It was an age when a good appearance in oneself was so important. The dancing master was, in fact, the important conduit and arbiter in matters of deportment, behaviour, etiquette and social instruction.

Such cultural refinement was not lost on the aspirations of most of Norwich’s well-heeled citizens. This could be gauged by the city’s long-standing connection with Noverre family, where the family’s first link with Norwich is to be found in 1765. This was the year when another of the city-based dancing masters, by the name of John Brown, returned from London having received dancing lessons from the ‘celebrated’ Augustin Noverre (1729-1805) who was the brother of Jean-George Noverre (1727- 1810), dancing master to Marie-Antoinette.

It was not until the outbreak of World War I did a popular rhyme celebrating the Noverre name finally fade on the lips of those living in and around Norwich:

Mr Noverre came from France
To teach the natives how to dance.

Jean-Georges and Augustin Noverre:
The Noverre family had Swiss ancestors who possibly migrated to France during the late 17th century or early 19th century. Jean Georges Noverre was born in Paris on 29 April 1727 to Marie Anne de la Grange and Jean Louys, a Swiss soldier who became an Adjutant in the French army of Louis XIV. The couple expected their son to pursue a military career but the boy chose dance, studying with M. Marcel and then with the famous Louis Dupré. In 1729, a brother arrived by the name of Augustin Noverre; he also was to choose dance, but his achievements in that field was not to match those of the internationally renowned Jean-Georges.

Noverre & Norwich Union (George Noverre)2
Jean-George Noverre. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In August of 1743, Jean Georges made his debut at Fontainebleau at the court of Louis XV. Following the marriage of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria to Princess Beatrice of Modena, he was created a ‘Chevalier’ – a member of the lowest rank of French nobility. Later, upon the nomination of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, he joined the Imperial Academy of Dance in Paris, working with such luminaries as Mozart and Voltaire.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (David Garrick)
David Garrick,

The Noverres’ brothers, Jean-Georges and Augustin, first came to England in late 1755 when David Garrick, a celebrated theatre impresario and actor, brought Jean-George’s ballet company from France to perform in his Chinese Festival ‘Les Fêtes Chinoises’ at the Drury Lane Theatre. Noverre had promised that in preparation for the upcoming winter in London he would “compose such dances as would surprise and captivate all ranks of people.” In fact, Noverre did surprise and captive the people, but not in the way he and Garrick would have liked. Somehow, “between the planning of this public diversion, and the representation of it, hostilities commenced between England and  France” with anti-French riots breaking out in the capital.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Dury Lane 1808_Wikipedia)
Dury Lane Theatre in 1808.

We are told that, on the back of anti-French feelings, a scuffle broke out on the stage of the Drury Lane Theatre where several men drew their swords and attacked both the cast and other social groups in the audience. One newspaper gave this account of the fray:

“On Tuesday Night there was a great Riot at Drury-Lane Theatre, on account of the French Dancers performing there, on which Occasion the Audience was divided into two Parties, and some Mischief was done on both Sides, tho’ not so much as might have been expected. The Advocates of the Dancers being the Strongest Side, drove a great Part of their Opponents out of the Pit, and the Performance was executed, but in great Confusion, and the Managers though proper to promise that it should never be repeated.”

Augustin Noverre, defending himself, thought he had run a man through and killed him. Presuming that the man was dead, he fled to Norfolk to live among the Huguenots who had, years previously, come to Norwich as silk weavers. Unfortunately, no record seems to exist as to where, exactly, Augustin hid during his first spell in the city; from this, one may be forgiven for doubting the authenticity of this part of the Noverre’s tale. Nevertheless, the facts seem to be that Augustin’s ‘victim’ was not dead, but making a full recovery. This allowed Augustin to return to London to carry on working on the Drury Lane stage as a dancing master, coupled with periods of being a ‘dancing-master in Norwich’.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (A_country_dance_Wellcome_V0049213-1200)
A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Eventually Augustine moved to Norwich permanently, but no one seems certain exactly when. It has been suggested that this was at the point when he retired – any time after 1776! The only firm reference to the Noverre’s permanent arrival in Norwich comes from the Norwich Mercury of 31st August, 1793 which was directed at Augustine introducing his son, Francis as a Norwich dancing-master in his own right. Here, one should understand that in the 18th century the most fashionable dancing masters were very visible members of society. Not only did they teach the ‘beau monde’, but they held and officiated at public balls and they advertised their services assiduously in the newspapers and elsewhere. Such was the case with Augustine, for it would appear from the reference to himself in the Notice (below) that he, Augustin, may also have been attempting to make himself appear ‘fashionable and important’ to the reader:

“Mr [Augustine] Noverre of London, wishing to establish his SON in Norwich, and having been greatly encouraged by his Friends to such an undertaking, begs leave to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City and County that his son, Mr F Noverre, has just arrived from the Continent (where he has been for some time under the tuition of his uncle Sir [Jean-George] Noverre and intends opening an Academy for young Ladies and Gentlemen on or before Michaelmas next, of which timely notice will be given by Mr Noverre, whose present address is at Mrs Milligan’s in St Stephen’s. Mr Noverre has not a doubt but that his son’s assiduity in his profession will give perfect satisfaction to any Lady or Gentleman who may honour him with their support.”

By 1797, both father and son were living in a house in the Chantry – a street close to the Assembly House in Norwich. As for ‘Sir Jean-George Noverre’ of the above newspaper entry, (here given the British version of the title ‘Chevalier’ awarded him in France), he returned to France and was later ruined by the Revolution. Jean-George died there in poverty in 1810. As for Augustine, his daughter, Jane Louisa, married into the family that owned the Norwich Mercury newspaper, itself one of the first provincial newspapers in the land; Augustine’s son, Francis, built up his own dancing business whilst the father settled firmly into retirement. Augustine died in 1805 when his obituary stated that ‘he was considered the most finished elegant and most gentlemanly minuet. dancer that ever appeared’. He was buried in St Stephens Church, Norwich.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Francis_Noverre)
Francis Noverre (1773 – 1840)

Francis Noverre (1773 – 1840) carried on the family tradition of working as a dancing master; and in his case, at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich. He, above his predecessors, became a very prominent citizen in the local social scene, where he taught dancing to the wealthy young men and women and married the daughter of the Manager of the city’s Theatre Royal. The Noverre family did so well that they added a large wing to the original Assembly House in 1840. This was where they held Balls, as well as the Noverre Academy where they taught dancing. In the 20th century, this wing was to become a cinema and is now a gallery, shop and exhibition space -but still carrying the Noverre name.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Assembly-House)1
The Assembly House with what use to be the Noverre Dancing Academy in the right wing of the building. Photo: George Plunkett.

It is at this point where our Noverre tale moves somewhat on to Francis’s other preoccupation – Assurance/Insurance and Norwich Union Fire Society in particular. Although Francis Noverre is not listed on the original deed of settlement for the Norwich Union, he certainly joined the Board fairly soon after its establishment and is listed as a Director in the supplementary deed of 1805 – can you spot his name, towards centre on the third line?

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Francis_deed)

(Thought not – so here is a close-up).

Noverre & Norwich Union (Signature)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Metal Plaque)2
A Fire Mark

In 1818 a pamphlet was targeted at the homes of those insured with Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society; those homes would have been identifiable through the fire marks attached to the outside of every home. The pamphlet gave details of a meeting in the July of that year about perceived irregularities in the way the Society was being run. One of the main thrusts of the argument was that those listed as Trustees, illustrious names such as The Dukes of Somerset, Beaufort and Argyll, whose involvement was intended to inspire confidence in the society, were actually not engaged in running the business at all. What would catch the eye is that the Earl of Craven had allowed his name to be used at the request of his family dancing master, none other than Francis Noverre who was one of the Directors of the Society. On the following page, listed under the heading ‘directors’, Francis Noverre of Norwich, Gentleman has a little asterisk by his name which identifies him as the dancing master in question.  The relationship between Noverre and the Earl of Craven was that the two were in fact brothers-in-law.

Noverre & Norwich Union1
The front cover of the pamphlet issued to members.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Public Notice)3

Noverre & Norwich Unin (francais-novere-director)4
Francis Noverre of Norwich, Gentleman has a little asterisk by his name which identifies him as the dancing master in question.

Research into the early records of the Norwich Union Fire Society also revealed that Noverre was also a ‘Member’ of the society, in other words a person whose property was insured against fire by Norwich Union – his employer. The list of members (below) dates from around 1802.

This next list of members, from 1806, shows increasing sophistication of presentation and demonstrates the growth of the business even over a few years. Among Noverre’s fellow ‘Ns’ now appear members from as far afield as Yorkshire and Leicestershire.

Sadly, the early records of the fire society are sparse and there are no surviving board minutes to show evidence of Francis having attended meetings and no policy registers to provide details about the property he insured. There is, however, one surviving early fire policy which was actually signed by Francis.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)2

As can be seen from a close-up of the policyholder’s details, by the time Policy 46349 was issued in 1814 the business of Norwich Union Fire had continued to spread far beyond the predominantly local members listed a decade earlier. By this date, Francis and his fellow directors were considering insurance on property as far afield as Blackburn and beyond. Indeed, by 1817 the society boasted 80,000 members (whom they could presumably no longer afford to list), 500 agents across the country and annual premium income of £78,800.

Another unexpected find in the archive collection was this receipt, for Noverre’s own fire policy in 1820…. which had been stuck into a scrapbook of sundry, odd Norwich Union material.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Receipt)

Also, in the same scrapbook was another reference to Noverre. Can you identify him in the poster below? His name is carefully hidden but with, appropriately enough, a dancing link.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Show Bill)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Show Bill)2
‘Nowhere’, ‘Starling’ and ‘Crow’ are billed as performing a ‘pas de trios’, in what, initially, one could assume is a nice piece of entertainment for the Norwich Union Life Society staff. Just think, three respectable members of the board (Francis Noverre, John Starling Day and John Crowe) putting together the dance – obviously choreographed by Noverre – to the delight of those who had been working hard writing policies and keeping the books. Sadly, this was only a fantasy; a closer look reveals that the document was another piece of ingenious propaganda made to look like a contemporary theatre handbill.

A further search of the archive was made for an explanation as to some of the references in the handbill – in which no individual is specifically referred to by name. It would appear that the gist of the document is that at an upcoming general meeting of the Norwich Union Life Society, master Sammy (Samuel Bignold) would perform ‘hocus pocus’ to make the Society appear solid, successful and well run – a view with which the writer of the handbill evidently disagreed!

Corsbie2
Samuel Bignold.

The major thrust of his complaint seems to be to do with the board and how the Society was effectively being run by three directors rather than the twelve specified in the deed of settlement. Furthermore, the three ‘dancers’ Noverre, Starling Day and Crowe who were making all the decisions were all under Bignold’s control or, in the words of the anonymous writer:

“live, move and have their being at the command of Sammy”.

Frustratingly, the minutes of the board for 1835 make no reference to any discontent within the Society or to protests by outside forces so it is not possible to discover who produced the handbill. It is, however, possible that there were links to local political divisions as Bignold was a prominent member of the local conservative Orange and Purple Party. Records of board meetings that year certainly support the view that attendance of all 12 directors at meetings was rare and that Noverre, Day and Crowe were overseeing the bulk of the society’s business.

On the question of Life Policies for Directors, it is clearly the case that Francis Noverre took one out – Policy Number 8 (which paid out a total of £1280 18 shillings, including bonuses after his death in January 1840)Now, a policy number is the key to unlocking fascinating life policy records from which it is possible to find the original proposal document. This was the case with Policy Number 8 which was completed by Francis when he took out his policy in 1808. Although listed, for appearances sake, as a ‘Gentleman’ in company literature, he completed his proposal giving his occupation as ‘dancing master’. Other details given include his place, month and year of birth and confirmation of his physical fitness declaring that he had had ‘measles and whooping cough and not suffered with spitting of blood or gout’. The proposal also required him to give the names of a doctor and two friends who could further vouch for his temperance and suitability as a life assurance candidate. In the case of Francis’s Policy Number 8, we find the original enquiries sent out to James Nosworthy (fellow director and Norwich silversmith)……R M Bacon (husband of Noverre’s sister Louisa and editor of the Norwich Mercury ),……and Edward Rigby (Noverre’s family doctor).

The information required to assess the health of an individual in 1808 was fairly basic compared with what would be needed today, and it would be interesting to see the difference between the letter sent to the ‘medical person’ and that sent to Noverre’s friends. Interestingly, the last paragraph carried the following: “should you return this letter without any answer we shall understand the hint and decline the insurance.” Fortunately, Francis Noverre was considered a suitable candidate for life assurance and his details duly appeared in the first ever policy register.

As with all other policy registers held by the then Norwich Union, one column listed an individual’s occupation; Noverre’s ‘dancing master’ stands out among the more sober bankers, wool factors, linen drapers and clergymen. To establish evidence of Noverre as being a customer of Norwich Union is one thing, but to also unearthed an unexpected ‘treasure’ was a bonus – namely Francis’s own policy! Issued on the second of August 1808 and signed by fellow directors James Roper (Woollen Draper), William Bacon (Coach Maker) and James Nosworthy, the policy is the final piece in the paper trail of Francis Noverre the customer.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Francis's Policy)
Francis Noverre’s Life Policy

The collection of life policies and board minutes, shows that Francis Noverre was closely involved in the business of the Life Society. His attendance at board meetings meant he regularly helped make decisions on which proposals should be accepted and on the payment of claims. Francis was indeed a member of the board which declined to pay out after the suspicious death of poet Percy Shelley (whose links with the society may be the subject of another blog).

As for Francis, he continued his involvement with Norwich Union Life Society even after his retirement, in 1837, from his dancing school. The last policy signed by him is dated April 1839, less than a year before he died. Listed among the directors on that policy is one Frank Noverre, his son.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Director)

Frank Noverre (1807 – 1878): He too became a Director of Norwich Union Life insurance, but also further enriched the cultural life of Norwich as a founder member and honorary secretary of the Norwich Philharmonic Society (1841-1878), honorary treasurer of the Norwich Choral Society and a prominent committee member of the Triennial Musical Festival. However, back on the business front, Frank lost his fortune when the East of England bank crashed in 1864; he was a large shareholder in the bank which in those days meant that he had unlimited liabilities. 

Noverre & Norwich Union (Fran Noverre)
Frank Noverre

Noverre & Norwich Union (Dance Lessons)

Frank Noverre first appears in the Life Society’s board minutes for 1835 where he was variously referred to as F Noverre Junior or Frank Noverre. Unlike his father, Francis, he does not seem to have been a member of the ‘inner circle’, the Board Committee, and although he is listed as a director on policies – he does not appear to have ever signed one.

Despite being a director for over 30 years, there are very few references to Frank in the board minutes. His name stops being listed as a director in around 1868 and newspapers of the period report that he lost a vote to be on the Society’s board that year. Surprisingly, the minutes themselves do not pass any comment on his departure. Although board minutes, generally, are often frustrating for the very fact that they are full of references to the coming and going of board members rather than the business undertaken – this is not a criticism that can be made of the Norwich Union minutes in this period. Characteristically, the minutes record a payment on Frank’s life policy a decade later, but in a similarly business-like way with no expressions of regret at his loss despite the length of his tenure on the board and his family’s, by then, nearly 80 year link to the Society.

The reference to his death in the board minutes does, however, give his policy number which unlocks the records of Frank as a ‘customer’. He took out two policies with the Society, one when he was 27 and another a’ged 59. By all accounts his wife, Sophia, would have been very grateful to receive the insurance payment of £1221 7s 13d as Frank had lost a great deal of his fortune as a result of his liabilities as shareholder of the East of England Bank which failed in 1864.  Records show that his entire estate was valued for probate purposes at less than £2,000.

In many ways the investigation into Frank is a lesson in the disappointments of archival research for, despite him taking out two policies nearly thirty years apart – both coincide with gaps in the company’s policy records. Without the proposal and referee letter books it was not possible to see what his doctor said about his pulmonary condition or which friends he chose to support his application. To return to the analogy of unlocking customer records; in Frank’s case – we have the key but the doors no longer exist!

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Haggard)

Frank Noverre, by virtue of his long association with the society, took a pre-eminent position in the list of directors. His name appeared directly below the main committee of the board (see above) who undertook the day-to-day business of the society. As an aside, at the foot of this list of Directors there appears a one W.M.R. Haggard – father of  H Rider Haggard, the author known for his adventure novels.

The ‘wow’ moment during research into Frank is also linked to the developing promotional activity of the Life Society – like being listed as a director on this very attractive information leaflet which folded to form an envelope and could then be posted to policyholders or prospective policyholders. All the information on the premium rates and security of the company is cleverly fitted in below an attractive engraving showing the society’s offices at Bignold House in Surrey Street Norwich and when this leaflet was turned over we find that it was addressed to none other than Frank!

Noverre & Norwich Union (Leaflet)1

Noverre & Norwich Union (Leaflet)2
With so many ‘dead ends’ with regard to Frank, the unexpected discovery that this attractive example of company literature had been sent to him, and had been in his hands, must be a real thrill to any archivist. It is also a fitting place to end the links between Frank Noverre and Norwich Union. While Frank may have been a shadowy figure in the Norwich Union records his son Charles is one member of the Noverre family that offers more.

Charles Edwin Noverre (1845 – 1920) was the first of the Noverre dynasty to put insurance/assurance before dancing – leaving his elder brother, Frank William Bianchi Noverre, to run the dancing school. Charles took up an apprenticeship in the Norwich Union Life Office in 1861 at the age of 16 when his father, Frank, was still serving on the board.  Seven years later he elected to transfer to the Fire Society. The first reference to his employment in the Fire Society was this fragment which appears to record overtime paid to clerks from both societies in 1871.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Charles Overtime)
The name of Charles Noverre is the fourteenth entry down in the left-hand column

As can be seen from the above reference, he received £9 12 shillings for his overtime which was a relatively low sum compared to the amounts racked up by his fellow clerks. It may be that his other, more artistic pursuits, as organist and choirmaster at St Stephens Church etc. meant he had less spare time than some.

The next reference to Charles Noverre came in that invaluable scrapbook which also contained his grandfather’s fire policy receipt and the interesting ‘Nowhere, Starling and Crow’ handbill referred to above with regard to his grandfather, Francis Noverre. The significance of the document (see below) is that it lists the order in which the clerks of both Societies attended the funeral, in 1875, of Sir Samuel Bignold who had served as secretary of the fire and life societies for the preceding 60 years. By virtue of his length of service Charles was transported to the funeral in coach Number 5 and by 1904 was one of few members of staff still working for the Society who had also served under Sir Samuel.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Bignold's Funeral List)

In a staff magazine article that year he fondly reminisced…

“Well shall I ever remember the genius of my dear old chiel, Sir Samuel Bignold, who used to devote a whole day in personally paying salaries of his large staff of clerks, from the highest to the lowest, as each quarter day came round, and who, on these occasions, used to discuss and advise each of us in our separate anxieties and aspirations, and who showed by his unprompted comments that that separate individual had been in his thoughts at other times. Truly, was he a father to us all. He would notice our children when he met them on the roads and would rein up his horse to give a passing remark of kindliness and encouragement, perhaps allowing the little ones to examine and stroke the gee-gee, to their infinite delight. The children may have forgotten these little attentions but their parents never did. Need I say his staff loved him to a man. Here was an influence which cost nothing even in dignity, but its effects were immeasurable.”

…..and revealed that he had tried to emulate Sir Samuel in this respect when he himself joined the ranks of the management.

Although staff records for this period are limited and not particularly informative we know from his obituary in the staff magazine that in 1882 that Charles was promoted to Head of the policy and tariff department. In this role, according to a contemporary on the staff, he oversaw every policy written up for the Fire Society – just as his grandfather had been so closely involved in all the life policies produced half a century before. Fellow employee and colleague, W Jecks Drane, also recalled in this period that:

“Having himself contracted writer’s cramp, he adopted me temporarily as his amanuensis, as he considered I had a facile pen. He would be at the office as early as 6 o’clock in the morning, if occasion required, when arrears of correspondence were cleared off. Mr [Charles] Noverre would dictate to me, and the letters would be written on the Board Room table, the illumination being by candle-light in the winter. Those were not the days of short-hand writers and typists, but frequently as many as 40 letters were written before breakfast. Regular office hours commenced at 9 o’clock, when we would adjourn to the St Stephen’s Cafe, quite near, and would there have a somewhat frugal meal, and so back to the ordinary day’s work.”

It is illuminating to have such memoirs of former staff to bring life the everyday work activities which are not recorded in the formal records of a business. The reference to Charles’ problem of writer’s cramp is pertinent as it links to a further reference in the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund records for references to the Noverre family.  Although the name crops up several times the most informative reference is one of 1885 shows that Charles had visited the doctor provided by the SS&B Fund after suffering from writer’s palsy [cramp]. In this instance Charles sought a cure for his condition in Germany (the trustees of the fund did not feel that this was something they ought to pay for!), but the trip was not a success and evidence of his problems with writing appears again later in Charles’ career when his personal letters were stamped with a polite notice excusing his use of a typewriter.

Despite this disability Charles continued his rise within Norwich Union and in March 1887, only a month after attending this dinner in Norwich,……he was appointed manager for the London branch at 50 Fleet Street. Further records show that by 1895 Charles was manager for the whole of London on a salary of £700 a year plus commission. His position guaranteed him a role in celebrations for the centenary of the fire office in 1897.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (1897 Celebrations)
Can you spot Charles Noverre in this photograph of branch managers and agents at the official celebratory garden party? He is sixth from the left on the third row back, in a somewhat lighter coat and sporting both a ‘button-hole’ and a monocle.

 The portraits appeared in the staff magazine and it is through the magazine that the real Charles Noverre comes to life. While official correspondence as London Manager shows him dealing with business and administration……..in the magazine we see him as a man as well as an insurance official and as someone who was very proud of Norwich Union and his family links to it. The Norwich Union staff magazine, one of the earliest staff publications produced, first appeared, in manuscript form, in 1888. It is an incomparable source for information on the lives and activities of the men, and later women, who worked to build up Norwich Union.

Charles remained an active contributor to the publication even after his retirement providing the editor not only with treatises on insurance topics, but also fictional tales with titles like “the Muggs of Mugborough, a dream” and “A Christmas Nightmare”. Through the magazine we learn about his social life in London…… and even find out about an accident in 1893 which injured his leg and nearly cost him his life.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Charles Accident)

 Reminiscences by his contemporaries for his obituary in the magazine provided details of his activities outside the office, as a writer of plays and musical scores, and information on his philanthropic work. For four years ending in 1887, he was secretary of the Jenny Lind Infirmary for Children and also secretary of the Children’s Convalescent Home at Great Yarmouth, of which he may be regarded as the founder. Then there was his enthusiasm for music. He was, for 21 years the choirmaster and organist of St Stephens Church in Norwich and a useful scribe and counsellor for the Norwich Triennial Musical Festivals. Charles also acted as ‘Musical Editor’ of the Easter Daily Pre

Apart from his abilities as a musical critic, he was an amateur playright and a musical composer of no slight merit, besides being a brilliant pianist. For some, his best plays were “Later On” and “A Game of Nap”. These were first performed in a bijou theatre at his residence of ‘Connaught House’ in Norwich. Charle’s musical compositions, which were both sacred and secular, were published under the pseudonym of “Errevon”. When Charles retired at the start of 1912 he had completed over 50 years in the service of Norwich Union. After his retirement he was to serve, until his death, as chairman of the society’s London board.

The journey of discovering the links between Norwich Union and the Noverres’ is nearly over – but not quite. The death of Charles Noverre in 1920 effectively saw the end of family links which were over 120 years old, but there were thtee further family members to whom fleeting references have been discovered – read on!ss.

Two of Charle’s sons, Frank William Bianchi Noverre (b.1843), founder of the Norwich Ladies Orchestral Society, and Richard Percival (Percy) Noverre (1850-1921) were both organisers of the ‘Festivals’ and fourth generation dancing masters in the city. According to one former pupil of theirs, they cut imposing figures as follows:

“……the Noverre brothers wore tail coats and knee breeches, silk stockings and buckle shoes, and we certainly did learn to waltz and reverse beautifully. Also, we knew at the time that their ancestor had been a ballet master at the French Court.”

The lack of comprehensive staff records means that it hasn’t been possible to say precisely when ‘Percy’ Noverre began to work for Norwich Union. According to the Census records he was working as a dancing master, alongside his elder brother, Frank William Bianchi Noverre, in 1891 but by 1901 he gave his occupation in the Census as insurance clerk. The earliest reference to his employment for the Society dates to 1902 when he applied to join the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had been employed by his father, Charles, in his quest for treatment for his writers’ palsy. Percy’s request was denied and it is possible that this was something to do with his age, for the change from dancing master to insurance clerk came very late in life when he was around 50 years old. What caused the change of career and how influential his brother and his long family connections were in securing his position remain unanswered questions.

Ten years later, in 1912, Percy was well in charge of the ‘office ladies’ and the following memory, shared by Geoffrey Hart, is of Percy’s role of ensuring that there was no fraternisation between the clerks and his ladies:

Corsbie124
Geoffrey Hart’s reminiscences from a staff magazine of 1938.
Noverre & Norwich Unin (Percy_Noverre)
This photograph from the NU staff magazine, shows Percy with the ‘ladies’ whose honour he defended so well.
Note also ‘Elsie Corsbie’, at the extreme right of the back row. She was a member of the ‘Corsbie’ dynasty of Norwich Union employees – of which there is more HERE.

Sadly, his retirement in 1918 when he would have been about 69 years old occurred during the time of the First World War. As a result there was no retirement notice to add to the details on Percy. The brief reference to his death in 1921 also contains few further clues about the life and career of the last of the dancing Noverres.

Finally the last man of the Noverre dynasty: Francis Gray Noverre: He was the only son of Charles and his wife Laura. References to his brief employment, at the Fleet Street branch under his father, are very limited. He was listed, as Noverre (new clerk), in a board minute relating to staff salaries in 1895 …… then the staff magazine announced his departure two years later. The 1911 Census records him living in Hove and gives his occupation as ‘insurance official’ but there is no record of his employment by Norwich Union after he left Fleet Street. Two years later on the 11 December 1913 he was admitted into Holloway Sanatorium where he died on 28 December 1943.

It seems a shame to leave investigations into the Noverre family on such a sad note but, to quote Anna Stone, Group Archivist ov Aviva:

“…… it is the final feature of research that historical facts rarely fit neatly into the plans we have for them and that we can’t change what happened in the past to suit the view of history we want to project.”

Hopefully, you have enjoyed getting to know the Noverres and remember the thought that all archivists may well hold – that of this verse, from  A Psalm of Life  by Longfellow:

“Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time;”.

THE END

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

 

 

Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Cromer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cromer Links Halt. Photo: Steven Gorick.

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

 

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

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

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

The Cromer Tunnel.

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

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The Cromer Tunnel today. Photo: Anthony Weeden

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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

The Corsbies — A Family of Clerks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bignold House Surrey Street, c1897

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Norwich Market Place, 1890s

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

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List of clerks attending Samual Bignold’s funeral, 1875

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

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

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

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

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

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Walter Lewis Corsbie’s application letter, 1883.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House, c1911

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

 

9. Christmas: Chilling Tales!

Possibly the most famous story about telling stories in all of English literature begins on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, in June 1816. During a historically wet, cold and gloomy summer – 1816 would become known, in fact, as “The Year Without a Summer” – two of the leading poets of the age, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, were vacationing near each other, Shelley with his then-future wife Mary and her stepsister Claire Clairmont (who was, in fact, pregnant with Byron’s child at the time), and Byron with his friend and physician John Polidori (who would go on to write what is now often referred to as the world’s first vampire novel).

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Percy Shelly, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron

There were no excursions in the woods or on the lake, no romps through fields. The days were cold and dreary and spent indoors, and Byron, inspired by a volume of ghost stories he had received from a friend, decided that each of his companions should write a ghost story. Polidori struggled with one about an old woman who peeks through keyholes on unspeakable acts. There is no record of Claire Clairmont even trying. Percy Shelley was never really one for narrative and he, too, quickly gave up the ghost, so to speak. Byron came up with a partial tale about a vampire that would eventually serve as the basis for Polidori’s novel.

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Mary Shelly

Only Mary Shelley succeeded, with a tale that began: “It was on a dreary night of November…” When the story later became the novel Frankenstein, the author changed the story’s opening to “December 11th, 17–.” Clearly, in spite of the inspiration coming in summer, the frigid weather had a dramatic effect on her, transporting her and her tale to the depths of winter. And so the novel begins in the Arctic, with “stiff gales” and “floating sheets of ice”, and ends with Frankenstein’s monster, doomed to a slow death, receding into the distance on an ice floe. Frankenstein is, in essence, a winter’s tale.
Fankenstein (Rex)

The notion that cold, snowy days are the best for stories designed to frighten and appal us goes back at least to the early 17th century. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, written in 1611, Mamillius says: “A sad tale’s best for winter. I have one / of sprites and goblins.” But it was in the Victorian era that telling ghost stories became an indispensable custom of the Christmas season – indeed, the genre’s popularity had been dwindling somewhat until writers such as Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell breathed new life into it. Families relished the chance to gather around the hearth on Christmas Eve to try to scare one another half to death with tales of mysterious, menacing apparitions or, in one story by MR James, a master of the genre, a “vengeful ghost boy… with fearfully long nails”. The practice even finds its way into Christmas songs. A verse in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” mentions “scary ghost stories” right alongside singing to neighbours and hanging mistletoe as the very substance of the season.
leech-a-christmas-carol

One of the most familiar examples of the Christmas ghost story is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which he wrote in 1843 as a way of cashing in on the renewed demand for the form. The novel amounts to an acknowledgement of the ghost story’s seasonal ubiquity. It’s not just a ghost story that one could tell at Christmas, but – with Scrooge sitting in his armchair as his life’s story is unfurled before him – it is a story about ghost stories at Christmas, a kind of meta-Christmas ghost story, if you will.

A Christmas Carol
‘A Christmas Carol’ – Frightfully good!

The Turn of the Screw, the US Anglophile Henry James’s own take on the Christmas tale, published in 1898, operates in much the same fashion, structured as it is to position its readers by the Yuletide hearth listening to tales of horror. It begins: “The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.” If the last words of that sentence don’t cause your hair to stand on end, you’re probably simply not susceptible to ghost stories.

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The Turn Of The Screw
“He presently produced something that made me drop straight down on the stone slab”

The tale, which relates a series of strange events that befall a young governess, centres on the supposed – and that word is key – possession of a boy by the spirit of a hostile figure named Peter Quint. To begin with a recounting of the telling of the story around a fire on Christmas Eve would, James decided, be the most effective context for the story’s macabre twists and turns, part of a framework designed to make the whole somehow more believable, more unsettlingly so – to ensure that the chill sinks deep down into the reader’s bones.

Maybe the impulse to thrill each other with these tales of the grisly and supernatural is spurred by Halloween; as the leaves die off and fall to the ground before disappearing, we observe a holiday that features witches, ghosts and demons – a veritable festival of the dead. That sets the mood and liberates the spirits which accompany us through the following months as the days get colder, and Jack Frost stretches his fingers across the window pane. Winter is tantalisingly terrifying, and it’s undoubtedly to do with its nearness to death – for, in the days before antibiotics, these were the months that would claim the most lives.

We relish the sense that our warm, happy homes, with their firmly closed doors and crackling fires, can keep death’s frigid hand from our throats. So the writing that truly haunts us is almost always set in cold, barren landscapes. Consider this from Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem “The Raven”, the tale of a lover’s death and the agonising chant of an avian visitor, who tells the narrator, over and over, that his departed love will appear to him “nevermore”: “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December / And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” Or this, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s long poem “Christabel”, ostensibly about a ghostly visitor and replete with unnerving omens, which served as an influence for Poe’s eerie tales: “The night is chill; the forest bare / Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?” The list goes on.

Tenniel-TheRaven
‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Image: Wikipedia.

One of my favourite winter tales is the short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken, published in 1934. It is about a boy who lapses into a state of schizophrenia, a condition which – due to new and deeper scientific investigations in the early 20th century – captured the public imagination with stories of hallucinatory voices and “unnatural” behaviour. The dream world into which Aiken’s protagonist slips becomes – silently, slowly, inch by inch – engulfed in bright white. The most terrifying aspect of the story is how quietly it proceeds, how the snow seems literally to settle in the reader’s mind, exerting a chilling, mesmerising pressure much like that experienced by the boy himself: “The hiss was now becoming a roar – the whole world was a vast moving screen of snow – but even now it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep.”

And we’re all familiar with the story told in The Shining – whether in Stephen King’s original novel or Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation – with the vast blanketed spaces surrounding the Overlook Hotel, and their eerie, transforming solitude. As Jack Torrance loses his grip on reality, the mood darkens and the tension increases in line with the dropping temperature and the rapidly layering snow. The result is perhaps the world’s most celebrated case of “cabin fever”.

Even a story that isn’t intended to be scary, such as James Joyce’s “The Dead”, from 1914’s Dubliners, distils haunting effects from its winterscape. The final scene is the telling of a story, narrated by the main character’s wife, about her first love, a man named Michael Furey, who died for her love by standing outside her window in a snowstorm and contracting pneumonia. The main character, Gabriel Conroy, listens to the melancholy story, in which his wife reveals that she never truly loved him, while he stands at a window himself and watches the snowflakes “falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead”. So apt is Joyce’s tale for this time of year that, until 28 December, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe in London is staging a candlelit reading of the short story as part of its Winter’s Tale season, with Joyce’s words, read by the actor Aidan Gillen, set to an unsettling piano score played by Feargal Murray. This is the second year in a row that the Wanamaker has hosted an adaptation of the tale; it’s becoming something of a tradition.

How many other scenes have we read in which characters observe the snow through a window? Time and again, writers have called on wintry images to evoke feelings of dread, emptiness, loss, and isolation. But the trope can also be used to reverse effect – to emphasise the warmth of the fire and the comforts of the home, as in this passage from the French writer Jean Giono’s Joy of Man’s Desiring, published in 1936:

“The fire roared. The water boiled. The shutter creaked. The pane cracked in its putty with the cold… There was a beautiful morning over the earth. The sun was daring to venture into the sky… The enlightenment was coming from the warmth, the fire, the frost, the wall, the window pane, the table, the door rattling in the north wind…”

Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest removed from its more harmful aspects. Take this passage from Eowyn Ivey’s 2011 story The Snow Child, set in a frozen Alaskan landscape in the early 1900s: “Through the window, the night air appeared dense, each snowflake slowed in its long, tumbling fall through the black. It was the kind of snow that brought children running out their doors, made them turn their faces skyward, and spin in circles with their arms outstretched.” The jovial imagery belies its melancholy context, for Ivey’s novel is about an elderly man and wife who are unable to conceive a child and who live with their grief in a hostile landscape – often brutally so. In a rare moment of levity and togetherness they construct a little girl out of snow. The next morning, they find that she has become real – as if by magic. The story, which combines one of nature’s most deep-seated anxieties about fertility, or its lack, with a primitive distrust of intruders and that which cannot be rationalised, is based on an old Russian folk tale; Ivey’s retelling demonstrates how enduring the appeal is of these icy tales, for writers and readers alike.
frankenstein_pg_7

In some ways, the stories by which we love to be unsettled are also a form of preparation – often for the very worst. Curled up in a favourite armchair, we still ourselves against the things we know can harm us. When the weather outside turns gloomy or threatening, we can crank up the heating and lighten the burden of our thoughts by turning to fantastic tales designed to mask the things that scare us most.

That summer of 1816, during which Mary Shelley and the others invented ghost stories, would turn out to be the party’s final carefree season. The travellers returned to England to find that Mary’s half-sister had committed suicide; Percy Shelley’s first wife, pregnant with his child, drowned herself a few months later. Shelley’s son from his first marriage died of a fever in 1818. In the next few years, Percy and Mary Shelley would have two children, neither of whom would reach their second birthday. Percy Shelley and Lord Byron themselves would both die within the next 10 years. Sometimes, the frightening stories we tell each other are not nearly as horrifying as the events that real life holds in store for us. In this sense, the effect is twofold: the tales transport us from our everyday anxieties at the same time as they enable us to confront them, however obliquely; they are a means to exorcise our demons by acknowledging them – in a homely environment.

But the secret lure of these tales – of the horrifying creatures we call into being, the ghosts that stalk us, and the demons that we discover at work within our own minds – is that, while the stories themselves are fictions, the underlying dangers they conjure up, and the thrill that we feel in confronting them, are in the end quite real:

Think of that on a winter’s night!

THE END

Text by Keith Lee Morris, 21 December 2015. Courtesy of the Independent Newspaper. Keith’s 1916 novel was ‘Travelers Rest’.

This is the last in the Christmas Series, so may we wish each and every reader a very Happy and Contented festive season; along with our best wishes for 2020.

Source:
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/christmas-ghost-stories-a-history-of-seasonal-spine-chillers-a6782186.html
Feature Image: Dark deeds: in Dickens’s work, as this illustration from ‘Little Dorritt’ shows, winter nights are a time for skulduggery ( Getty )

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

A Norwich Hospital That Moved On.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospital (Original)2
The Original Norfolk and Norwich Hospital of 1771-72. Photo: Public Domain.

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

Hospital3 (Fellowes)
William Fellowes of Shotesham (1706-1775) by Joseph Highmore. Original Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo Credit: ArtUK.
Hospital5 (Benjamin-Gooch)
Benjamin Gooch. Portrait with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: (c) Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Gooch said of the operation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

THE END

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

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

 

 

Norfolk: A Hidden & Forgotten Railway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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