A Feature of Spread Oak Wood.

It would not be incorrect to say that former forester Paul Hoda’c came to Britain the hard way – being chased by the Nazis more or less all the way from Czechoslovakia to England. It happened because of a blizzard of occurrences, all of them more or less out of his control – and it happened like this:

Paul was born in 1918 to a Catholic family in Czechoslovakia, enjoying a way of life which was utterly shattered in March, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria. Neighbouring Czechoslovakia immediately took fright and mobilised, and Paul was among the many hundreds of young men who signed up. Fate, however, intervened again when, a few months’ later, the Nazis invaded his country. Most of the local resistance was brushed aside, and he fled to Poland, being forced to make a highly dangerous border crossing, before finally joining the Czech Legion in that country.

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 The Catholic shrine in Spread Oak Wood at Bittering, Norfolk. The shrine was built by Paul Hodác in thanks for him finding refuge from the Nazis after they invaded his native Czechoslovakia on 15 March, 1939. He discovered Norfolk whilst on holiday, spending time in Bittering from the early 1960s. The chapel was consecrated in 1974, but is gradually being lost to the woods. Photo: EDP.

But the fates had more in store. In September, 1939, Poland was also overrun, and this time the young Paul Hoda’c was forced to flee to Romania and then, eventually, to Beirut and France, where he again fought the advancing Germans. By the time France fell he was a Sergeant-Major, but he managed to escape to England.

By 1945 he was married to an English girl, and when the War was over they moved to Leamington Spa where he worked for many years at the Jaguar car factory. But two things always stayed with him – the love of his home country and the Czech forests where he had worked as a young man, and his religion, and both of them, some years’ later, finally came together in one place.

In the early 1970s – which is when I first met him – Paul had only just purchased for himself a 10-acre piece of Norfolk woodland known as Spread Oak Wood between Longham and Bittering, near Dereham. Here, at weekends and during his holidays, when he ‘camped’ in a caravan parked under the trees, he rediscovered his connection with the forests of his youth, and also found something else – an authentic Roman road.

Bittering (Salter's Lane_Evelyn Simak)
View east along Salters Lane
From here, in a sharp bend, the Devil’s Dyke extends northwards, with pastures adjoining in the west. This area once used to be part of the historical parish of Launditch. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak 

This, I presume, was one of the branches of the Fen Causeway which originally ran from Denver and may have continued east as far as Caister on Sea. Near Bittering, it went by Salter’s Lane and Stoney Lane towards Kempstone, and a short stretch of it ran along the base of Paul’s triangular-shaped block of woodland.

I visited him several times when he was living in his caravan and he showed me the distinctive line of the ancient road under the trees and covered by leaves, and another short section which he had cleared completely. For this was key to the next part of his plan – to built a chapel/shrine and erect a cross which, by dint of hard work during his free time, he duly did, by hand, using materials acquired by himself or donated by well-wishers. – And complete it he did, so successfully that the cross and the chapel, built on the Roman road, were officially consecrated in 1974. Since the shrine opened in 1983 there has been an annual Mass, and a plaque above the altar in the chapel was dedicated to Paul’s wife, Monica, who died in 1998.

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Inside the Shrine. Photo: William Harrison

The last time I saw Paul Hoda’c, which is some years’ ago now, he was very much at ease among the trees, and utterly content with his lot.

By Bruce Robinson, 2014

THE END

 

Awdry: The Steam-Train Enthusiast!

On 7 April 2020 the Wisbech Standard published the sale of Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s former home in Emneth, Norfolk. It was The Old Vicarage and it was there, between the years 1953 to 1965, where Awdry wrote around half of his much-loved and popular children’s stories; principally, the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series of books which children, around the world, still enjoy today. The 8-bedroom detached house itself was built in 1858, using distinctive Victorian red bricks and set in 1.5 acres of grounds. This was where Awdry’s parishioners came on those occasions when they wanted to see their vicar. These visitors usually entered the house through the east side of the property, thus giving them access to his study. It was in this study where Awdry, not only attended to his day job of looking after his flock but also continued to write his famous books.

Rev Wilbert Awdry (Emneth Home 1953-62)
The Rev. Wilbert Awdry’s home in Emneth 1953 to 1963. Photo: Wisbech Standard.

Wilbert Awdry was born at Ampfield vicarage near Romsey, Hampshire on 15 June 1911. His father was the Reverend Vere Awdry, the Anglican vicar of Ampfield who was 56 years old at the time of Wilbert’s birth; his mother was Lucy Awdry (née Bury). More importantly perhaps is that the experiences upon which much of young Wilbert Awdry’s writings were to be based in later life began in 1917 when the family moved to Box, in Wiltshire when he was six years old. The family settled at “Journey’s End”, a house which was only 200 yards from the western end of Brunel’s 1841 Great Western Main Line ‘Box Tunnel’, through which the line passed on its way to Bath and Chippenham. Wilbert would lie in bed at night listening to the noise of the engines and he later described to Roy Plomley on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs how he and his father would engage in trainspotting the names of GWR engines, with a telescope aimed through his father’s dressing room window.

Rev W V Awdry (Box Tunnel_West Portal_Wisbech Society)
The western end of Brunel’s 1841 Great Western Main Line ‘Box Tunnel’. Photo: Wisbech Society.

Railway enthusiasts would know that it is at this point where the railway climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for some two miles. A banking engine used to be kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker, as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way eastwards up the incline.

Here was where young Awdry’s imagination began to believe that all steam engines had definite personalities and that in their ‘puffings’ and ‘pantings’ he could hear the conversation they were having with one another. From this point, Awdry quickly developed his passion for steam engines. As the son of a vicar, of whom he was very fond, Awdry also grew gradually towards a vocation as a priest and was ordained into the Church of England priesthood in 1936. It was these two lines passion – steam engines and religious devotion – that were to run throughout his life of 85 years; two lines that were straighter than most railway tracks and, together, were to be the inspiration for the story that Wilbert first told his own son Christopher.

The origin of that particular story happened in Birmingham, in 1942; Wilbert having taken the curacy at St Nicolas Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham in 1940. Christopher was confined to bed with measles. Wilbert set about amusing his son with a ‘germ’ of a story about a little old engine who was sad because he had not been out for a long time. When Christopher asked what the engine’s name was, his father said that it was Edward – the first name that came into his mind. It was Edward who, in Awdry’s subsequent first story book entitled “Edward’s Day Out”, helped Gordon’s train climb an incline – the inspiration for that act of charity clearly came from the time when Awdry listened to the sounds at Box Tunnel.

After Awdry wrote ‘The Three Railway Engine’, he built Christopher a model of Edward, together with some wagons and coaches, out of a wooden broomstick and scraps of wood. Children being children, Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however, the wartime shortage of materials limited Awdry to just making a little 0-6-0 tank engine which he named Thomas because, according to Awdry, it was the most natural of names to give this particular engine – Thomas the Tank Engine was born! Christopher liked a train named Thomas and asked his father for more stories about Thomas; these duely followed. By the time Awdry stopped writing in 1972, his Railway Series numbered 26 books. They all featured what became ‘established engines’ – the impish Thomas, industrious Edward, argumentative Henry and proud and pompous Gordon – as well as introducing new characters in such stories as Toby the Tram Engine, Percy the Small Engine and Duck & the Diesel Engine from the 1950’s.

In 1946 Awbry and family moved from Birmingham to Cambridgeshire to serve as Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Elsworth with Knapwell which was near Cambridge.

Rev Wilbert Awdry (Elsworth Holy Trinity_Cambs)
Ben Colburn & Mark Ynys-Mon wrote of Elsworth church itself: Holy Trinity is placed for best advantage in the village – the church stands high above the houses looking benignly down upon it all. Even if it didn’t have the advantage of the high ground the church would be impressive. The west tower is one of the grandest I’ve seen in western Cambridgeshire. It’s not particularly tall, but it is massive: broad and square, with thick angle-buttresses. The buttresses are carved with decoration, and above the parapet they turn into big pinnacles. It’s all very dramatic…… It reminded [us] of a stately (but slightly past-her-prime) old tabby cat, sitting on her haunches, looking down the hill with ears pricked up – waiting for food to arrive perhaps. PHOTO: Elsworth Holy Trinity. Photo:  Elsworth Chronicle
Rev Wilbert Awdry (Elsworth Stole)
The embroidered stole at Elsworth church commemorates the links the church had with the creator of Thomas the tank engine. Revd Wilbert Awdry, creator of the characters and author was rector at Elsworth with Knapwell 1946-1953.

Thomas the Tank Engine – in the Flesh!:
In 1947 a 0-6-0T steam engine, No.1800 was built by Hudswell Clarke for the British Sugar Corporation (BSC) to work at Woodston at Peterborough. It remained at Woodston for all of its working life where it was in daily use, in the sugar beet season, pushing wagons of beet from the farms up the steeply graded line to be uploaded at the factory. It also marshalled lengthy trains in the extensive siding that BSC had near the Fletton Loop just east of Orton Mere Station. It was in the late 1960s when diesel traction took over the duties from this steam locomotive; fortunately, however, the pensioner was maintained in good condition.

Rev W V Awdry (BSC Engine No 1800_Thomas_Gordon Edgar)
Pre-Thomas Engine (No.1800) at work with the British Sugar Corporation works in Peterborough Sept 1972. . Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Edgar,

Then in 1970 the newly formed Peterborough Railway Society (later to become the Nene Valley Railway) appeared on the scene, setting up their working base in a compound within the BSC sidings.  The company then sold its steam locomotive No.1800 to the Society for a nominal £100, and it was sometime around this point when the engine acquired the nickname of ‘Thomas’ – because of its blue livery! Almost twelve months later, in 1971, the retired Rev Wilbert Awdry returned to Cambridgeshire to officially name the locomotive ‘Thomas’, thereafter to become the star of what is now the Nene Valley Railway.

Rev W V Awdry (Engine No 1800_Thomas_NIck Cottam)
Thomas (No.1800) on the Nene Valley Railway in June 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Mick Cottam.

Of Thomas’s lasting popularity, Wilbert Awdry wrote:

“Thomas is the eternal child! Thomas is given a prohibition; naturally, as all children do when they’re told not to do something, they want to know why and they find out why by doing it.”

As for Awdry, he served seven years at Elsworth with Knapwell before moving to Bourn in 1950 as Rural Dean and then, in 1953, as Vicar of Emneth, Norfolk, near Wisbech. According to the Wisbech Society:

“It seems that concerns about his daughters’ future schooling drew Awdry from Elsworth to the Wisbech area and St. Edmund’s Church at Emneth. Both daughters attended Wisbech High School, three miles from Emneth Vicarage, and his wife Margaret taught in Wisbech at the Queen’s Girls School for 10 years.”

Rev (Church of St Edmund, Emneth, Norfolk._James P MIller)
St Edmund’s Church, Emneth, Norfolk. Photo: Courtesy of James P. Miller

‘Gordon the Big Engine’ was the first book published after Awdry moved to Emneth and 12 more were to follow during his incumbancy. Whilst there, he also maintained his enthusiasm for railways and was very much involved in railway preservation, building model railways, which he took to exhibitions around the country. At Emneth he created an extensive model railway network in his loft – it was based on Barrow-in-Furness layout. Fuelling his enthusiasm, Awdry’s Emneth home was also close to three Wisbech railway stations. The former Emneth railway station itself was on the EAR line from Watlington (formerly Magdalen Road Station) to Wisbech East. The GER Wisbech and Upwell Tramway tram engines, coaches and rolling stock were similar to ‘Toby the Tram Engine and ‘Henriett’ on the Ely to King’s Lynn mainline with Wisbech East (Victoria Rd) station. The M&GN Peterborough to Sutton Bridge via Wisbech North (Harecroft Rd) station. There were also harbour lines either side of the River Nene – M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch.

Time, inevitably, slipped away and in 1965, Wilbert Awdry “went into private practice” – retiring in other words. He moved to a smaller red-brick house in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where his study there became “an agreeable jumble of railway books, maps and timetables”, and was denoted by a “STATION MASTER” sign on the door. During these years, Awdry continued writing books for children, published a new Railway Series title each year until his last ‘Tramway Engines’ in 1972.

According to Awdry’s biographer, Brian Sibley:

“All these stories harnessed Awdry’s knowledge and love of railway engineering and history, which had to be “true-to-life”. Although the fictional engines had human personalities and voices, their activities always followed the rules of the railroad and virtually all the exploits described were based on something that had happened, somewhere at some time, to a real railway engine. Those adventures – mostly mishaps – included common derailments as well as more surprising disasters such as an engine running off the end of a jetty into a harbour or an unexpected disappearance down a disused mine. As often as not, however, these crises were brought about by the arrogance, stubbornness, jealousy or ambition of the engine involved. The morality of the stories was clear and Christian: misbehaviour led to suffering and retribution; however, provided the culprit showed repentance, restoration always followed. “The important thing,” Awdry said, “is that the engines are punished and forgiven – but never scrapped.

The analogies between the Christian faith and the ways of the railway are obvious: the engines are meant to follow the straight and narrow way and pay the price if they go off the rails. No wonder Awdry enjoyed drawing the parallels between railways and the Church: ” Both had their heyday in the mid-19th century; both own a great deal of Gothic-style architecture which is expensive to maintain; both are regularly assailed by critics; and both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting man to his ultimate destination.”

Rev W V Awdry (Familt_Emneth_Wisbech Society)
Awdry and family in 1996 at the time of his OBE Award. Photo: Wishbech Society.

In 1983, Wilbert made his final visit to Wisbech when he opened the Tramway Centenary Exhibition at Wisbech Museum. In 1996 Awdry was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable to travel to London. He died peacefully in his sleep in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 21 March 1997, at the age of 85.

Rev W V Awdry (Memorial Window_James P MIller)
The stained-glass window at St Edmund’s Church, Emneth. Photo: Courtest of James P. Miller

In Emneth, a stained-glass window was commissioned by the Awdry family and unveiled at St Edmund’s church in 2003; and in 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled by his daughter Veronica Chambers at The Old Vicarage where he had lived from 1953 and until 1965. Finally, in 2020, the Old Vicarage was placed on the market with an asking price of £895,000.

Rev Wilbert Awdry (Plaque 2011_Ian Burt)
Photo: Ian Burt.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilbert_Awdry
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-the-rev-w-awdry-1274321.html
https://lowlandrambler.com/2018/11/12/the-king-of-east-anglia-and-a-tenuous-connection-to-ringo-star/
https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/hudswell-clarke-works-no-1800-1-thomas-0-6-0t/
https://www.wisbech-society.co.uk/wilbert-vere-awdry-obe
https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/hudswell-clarke-works-no-1800-1-thomas-0-6-0t/

Banner Heading Photo: This shows Wilbert Awdry in May 1988, with ‘Edward Thomas’ dressed up as “Peter Sam” on the Talyllyn Railway, Wales. Photo: Wikipedia.

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Blakeney’s Sunken Wreck.

The first 3 weeks of February 1916 were very unsettled, and often windy and wet; but it was very mild for that time of the year so it was confidently predicted by the weather forecasters of the time that ‘there was no chance of snow’ – sounds familiar! By 16 and 17 February, the temperature did settle close to 12°C in many places and there was heavy rain. However, on the east coast of England conditions were to be far worse – with gale-force winds and snow!

It was on Thursday 17 February 1916 when newspapers gave accounts of the ‘violent weather conditions which beset Britain’ and the ‘extensive damage to property and the loss of life as a result’. The “windstorm”, as it was called also resulted in ships being lost at sea, as did the Lowestoft trawler, ‘Narcissus’, which went aground and sank. The “Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal” of Friday 18th February gave a local report of ‘a violent gale, a hurricane and snow across Norfolk and Suffolk and described the damage which was caused by the extreme weather conditions and the ensuing floods.

SS Hjørdis 1a
The SS Hjørdis began life as the SS Strassburg, before her name was changed to SS Gimle and only later to the SS Hjørdis. Her name is of Ancient Scandinavian/ Icelandic origin and means “sword goddess”. Photo: Is when she was the SS Gimle (TBG142189603) – DnV, Lloyds, Starke – Steinar Norheim

But it was on the morning of Wednesday 16 February 1916 when, amid those strong gale force winds and very rough weather, the “the large steamer SS Hjørdis” set off from the Alexandra Dock in Hull bound for Calais; it was fairly fully laden with a cargo of 495 tons of coal. In charge, as skipper, was Captain Jensen; his crew amounted to ten men, made up of nine Norwegians and one Dane. Of the Norwegians, Thor Halnessen was the Chief Mate, Peter Hammer the second engineer, Eugenen Andersen an ordinary seaman, and Nilsen the steward. Ralf Petersen, from Denmark, was the boatswain.

The SS Hjørdis seemed to have had very competent skippers throughout its forty-three years of battling the North Sea, skippers who had managed to survive the sort of extreme weather conditions of 1916, conditions that were forcing some ships to run into harbour to avoid being sunk or run aground. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to see the Hjørdis leaving port that Wednesday morning, and the best that could be said about Captain Jensen’s decision was that it reflected his feeling that his ship had an obligation to fulfil her charter as it headed due south along the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire shoreline. In due course, the ship passed the Wash and prepared to round the Norfolk coast towards the North Sea; she was, after all, sailing during wartime when movements may well have been restricted. It was a direct route which would have taken her north of Sheringham to arrive off Cromer, before continuing to follow the coast, to Great Yarmouth and then south to Calais.

Captain Jensen’s planned route for the Hjørdis would suggest that he intended to hug the shore, coming in to the lee of the land to take advantage of the shelter which the North Norfolk coast can offer from south-westerly gales; the plan and the worsening conditions left little room for error. The weather was expected to hinder the ship’s progress but, surprisingly perhaps – and based on the 75-nautical mile distance travelled between Hull and Blakeney and the twelve hours it took her to reach the North Norfolk coast – the Hjørdis had travelled at close to her normal cruising speed of 6 knots. However, the added loss of visibility seriously impeded the Captain’s knowledge of the ship’s true location.

About twelve hours later, shortly after seven o’clock in the evening, the ship did go aground at the west end of Blakeney Bar and was wrecked; only one of the eleven-man crew survived despite the Captain and crew managing to launch and take to a lifeboat. Unfortunately, the boat was swamped within minutes by a large wave; it was a matter of speculation whether the ten men were drowned in the lifeboat or when they might have taken to the water in an attempt to swim ashore. Ralf Petersen, the boatswain from Denmark, had the presence of mind to take off his boots and most of his clothes before striking for the shore.

SS Hjørdis (Watch House)
The Blakeney Watch House.

Against immeasurable odds it would seem, he reached the beach and struggled along it for nearly two miles – apparently by following the telegraph poles which were positioned along the beach – before reaching the Blakeney Watch House. From there, a Mr Strangroom, a 45-year-old Auctioneer and Draper of Cley who was acting on behalf of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, arranged for Petersen to have new clothing and be taken to the “King’s Head” public house in Cley’s High Street. There, he was cared for by Frederick Baines, the 40-year-old Licensed Victualler. The “King’s Head” was the place to which bodies of those lost at sea were traditionally taken to be coffined before burial.

The Rescue Attempt:
The newspaper reports which followed gave no information as to how emergency assistance was summoned, or the sequence of events which cause it to be instigated. The men in the Watch House may have seen the Hjørdis from their upstairs “look-out” room or it may not have been until Ralf Petersen reached the Watch House that the men there raised the alarm. What is known is that the Cley ‘Rocket Brigade’ was hastily assembled and hurried to the beach with five horses; under the supervision of Henry Parker, a 58-year-old Journeyman Butcher from Cley, and the rocket apparatus which was carried on a cart lent by John Everett of Hall Farm nearby. Battling against the gale, the Brigade’s progress along the shingle would have been slow, but they did manage to get to within 300 yards or so of the SS Hjørdis, but there was no response to signals sent up and the Brigade returned to their base.

SS Hjørdis (Breeches Buoy)
The Life Line, by Winslow Homer, 1884, shows a breeches buoy in use during a rescue operation. Photo: Wikipedia.

Explanation of the Cley ‘rocket apparatus’: The system was simple but effective for the rescuing of shipwrecked mariners from the safety of the shore – lifeboats themselves would ground in shallows or be beaten back by crashing breakers. The system was invented by Captain George Manby, barrack master, of Bauleah House on St Nicholas Road in Great Yarmouth. In 1807 he witnessed scores of ships and crews being lost in appalling weather. One in particular was the gun-boat ‘Snipe’ which ran aground at Gorleston. Manby galloped there on horseback, seeing “entreating men clinging to her rigging and women thronging the forecastle with the most piercing shrieks, imploring our succour and assistance.” As he watched, helpless and frustrated, exhausted men were falling from the rigging into the cauldron of a sea which was sweeping women overboard to their deaths. That night 147 souls perished… all within 50 yards of safety!

SS Hjørdis (Rocket Launcher)

Manby set to work. After much frustrating trial and error, he devised a system under which those being rescued were hauled ashore in a breeches buoy which hung beneath a pulley on an aerial line fired across the stricken vessel by mortar or rocket. He demonstrated it with himself as “the endangered mariner”, and also created a star shot for work in darkness. It was put into use for real in 1808 when the brig ‘Elizabeth’ grounded 150 yards offshore in a blizzard. The line was successfully fired across the brig and secured, and seven relieved seamen were hauled to safety by pulley-on-line through snow, sleet and rollers.

SS Hjørdis (Manby_Plaque)
This plaque, acknowledging the breeches buoy rescue achievements, was once on a pedestal in Manby’s own Gorleston garden – but now in the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth. His system was adopted by the ‘Rocket Brigades’. Photo: EDP.

It would seem that, during the interval between the SS Hjørdis faltering on to the beach and the Rocket Brigade being summoned, the ship’s crew – possibly thinking that rescue from the shore was hopeless or would be slow to execute – took to their own lifeboat. They may well have been clear of the ship for a short time before the huge fateful wave overwhelmed them; some may have tried to swim to shore, others may have chosen to remain in the lifeboat – who knows?

While the Rocket Brigade was returning from the beach, which would have been about 11.30pm, a body was found by Corporal Bertie Hale of the 67th Provisional Battalion, approximately 150 yards east of the Watch House. An hour later, a second body was found about 2½ miles east of the wreck by a James White, Naval pensioner of Church Loke, Cley. Both bodies were recovered from the water and taken by the Rocket Brigade’s cart to Cley. They were examined the following morning by Police Constable Hewett, a retired (possibly because it was wartime) 56-year-old police officer from Norwich; he had them removed to Blakeney. Two more bodies were discovered soon afterwards at Salthouse.

News of the Disaster:
Early, brief reports of the SS Hjørdis appeared in regional newspapers in the days following the ship going ashore. The extent of the loss of lives was feared but not confirmed:

“Lloyd’s Blakeney (Norfolk) message to-day says the Norwegian steamer SS Hjørdis, from Hull for Calais, went ashore on Blakeney Point last night. The crew left in a boat, which was swamped. It is feared that ten lives have been lost. One man swam ashore.”

Ralf Petersen’s own account of his courageous attempts to save his fellow crew members and of his own survival was recorded in the “Eastern Daily Press” of 18th February, two days after the disaster. According to the newspaper, Captain Jensen had said “Hard a starboard” (this was incorrectly recorded in the press report; it should have read “Hard a port”) in order to get into deeper water but the ship struck twice more and then a fourth time, so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. Ralf Petersen’s account suggested that Captain Jensen had been overwhelmed by events and that it was Thor Halnessen, the Chief Mate, who took control.

Within a few days of the SS Hjørdis being wrecked, the scale of the disaster quickly became clear, and the newspapers reported accordingly. However, no mention was made of a lifeboat being launched from the shore which prompted a Mrs Susie Long to write to the “Eastern Daily Press” two days after the Hjørdis was wrecked to state that a boat did in fact go out to offer assistance:

“Sir – In your report in the “Eastern Daily Press” I see no mention is made of the lifeboat crew of this parish, who went out at 8pm and arrived home at 4am in the old lifeboat “Hettie”, belonging to Mr Holliday. They went up to the steamer, where all the lights were still burning both inside and out, and could and would have saved all the crew if they had not previously left. The steamer is ashore on East Point, (later corrected to say ‘West Point’). I may say that the men went on their own initiative, having had no orders. I think it is only fair to mention this. – Yours faithfully”,

Mrs Long’s husband, Charles Long, and her father-in-law, George Long, were both crew members of the RNLI Blakeney lifeboat ‘Caroline’. The “Mr Holliday” referred to was Richard Holliday, a Fisherman, aged 50, of High Street, Blakeney, also a crew member of the ‘Caroline’. At the time, the ‘Caroline’ had a crew of mainly fishermen who were too old for active war service; of eighteen crew members, the majority were over the age of fifty.

SS Hjørdis (Caroline)
Blakeney Lifeboat crew pictured in 1918 on the lifeboat Caroline. Photo: Anthony Kelly.

Plaques in Blakeney Church commemorate the Blakeney lifeboats and their rescues, up to 1924, but none refer to either the ‘Hettie’. or the ‘Caroline’ going to the aid of the Hjørdis, and it remains a matter of speculation as to how the fishermen of the ‘Hettie’ were alerted to the disaster; perhaps it was by communication from the Watch House or from the Rocket Brigade – and why did the “old lifeboat”, rather than the RNLI lifeboat ‘Caroline’, go out to the SS Hjørdis rather than the ‘Caroline’; was it because the latter was probably in the Lifeboat House and would have taken longer to launch?

The Lost Crew – Inquest and Burials:
Of the ten men who drowned, the bodies of only four crew members were recovered and taken to the Guildhall in the High Street, Blakeney and where the sole survivor, Ralf Petersen would identify them. The bodies of the remaining six sailors would, probably, never found. On the Saturday following the disaster,19 February 1916, the inquest into the deaths of the sailors was held at the ‘Ship Inn’ in the High Street, Blakeney. It was conducted by the Coroner of East Dereham, Mr Walter Barton.

SS Hjørdis (Ship Inn_Postcard)
The Ship Inn in Blakeney where the Inquest was held. Postcard Photo: Public Domain.

The ‘Thetford & Watton Times” of 26th February reported on the inquest:

“……. Ralf Petersen, boatswain on the Hjørdis, and the sole survivor of the crew of eleven, said …… When she first struck the captain said, “Hard a starboard”, to get her into deep water. The order was obeyed, but she struck twice more, and then she struck so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. The chief mate came up from below and said, “The only thing to do is to get the lifeboat out before it is smashed.” But the captain did not give the order as he was on the bridge crying like a little boy. They got the lifeboat out, and all got into her, but as soon as they had got clear of the bow of the steamer the sea half-filled the boat. Then another went right over her, almost filling her, and most of them were washed into the sea………He identified the bodies washed up at Blakeney as Thor Halnessen, aged 34, chief mate, and Eugenen Andersen, aged 20, ordinary seaman. Witness had also seen two bodies that came ashore at Salthouse; they were Peter Hammer, second engineer, and Nilsen, the steward.”

Following further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of “Death by drowning through misadventure at sea” and on their behalf the Rev. Gordon Rowe – Rector of Blakeney and Glandford who expressed great regret at the sad occurrence, and deep sympathy with the bereaved parents. The affair, he said, was “all the more deplorable in that if the men had kept on their ship for an hour or so after she struck all their lives might have been saved.”

 Burials:
At the time of the SS Hjørdis disaster, legislation – in the form of the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808 (also known as Grylls’ Act) and the subsequent Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 – ensured that the bodies of those lost at sea were decently, appropriately buried. The 1808 Act provided for “suitable interment in Churchyards or Parochial Burying Grounds in England for such dead Human Bodies as may be cast on Shore from the Sea, in cases or Wreck or otherwise”. It required that unclaimed bodies of dead persons washed ashore from the sea should be removed by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish and decently interred in unconsecrated ground. This act was amended by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 to extend its applicability to bodies found in, or cast on shore from, all tidal or navigable waters.

Historically, fishing and merchant seafaring were the most dangerous of all professions and each year many fishermen, mariners and ships’ passengers lost their lives at sea. Prior to the 1808 legislation, it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen, without shroud or coffin, and in unconsecrated ground. Uncertainty about the religious faith of those washed ashore, the considerable financial burden which burials placed on the parishes, and the pragmatic local response to these losses, resulted in the widespread practice of shoreline burials in all coastal communities.

The Parish Registers for Blakeney recorded that Eugenen Andersen and Thor Halmersen/Halnessen, whose bodies were recovered by the Rocket Brigade, were buried on 21st February; the Parish Registers for Salthouse recorded that Peter Hammer and (name) Nelsen/Nilsen, whose bodies were found on the beach at Salthouse, were buried in Salthouse churchyard on the same day. It is believed that the men were all buried “with a minimum of ceremony” in probably the equivalent of a pauper’s funeral – in a grave marked, if at all, with just a wooden cross.

The Cause of the Disaster?
With only the one first-hand, contemporary account of the disaster, conjecture still remains about what caused the ship to go aground in 1916. Other ships had been sunk during that particular gale so, the disaster could have been caused by weather conditions alone. However, in his statements at the time, Ralf Petersen made no mention of any panic or efforts to prevent the ship floundering on a lee shore; he also stated that the ship’s position was not known when she went aground and that, on leaving the ship, the crew did not know which direction to strike for. Does this confirm that it was a navigational error which was to blame?

According to Sue Gresham of the Blakeney Harbour Association:

“The two – East and West – towers of Blakeney Church were used to guide ships into the navigable channel between the inlet’s sandbanks, the light on the top of the East tower serving as a leading light to guide vessels into the harbour (the “leading light” practice later achieved by using pairs of lighthouses at different levels). When viewed from the sea, in daylight and in darkness, Blakeney Church is the only prominent point on a barren stretch of coastline and a visual aid for mariners to easily identify their position for many miles. If the Hjørdis was closer to the shore than Captain Jensen thought, it is possible that he mistook the light on the smaller, East tower of Blakeney Church for the Cromer lighthouse, further along the coast. This would explain why the Hjordis was so close inshore; the water is very deep close in to Cromer, but not close in at Blakeney.”

Petersen had also described the Hjørdis bumping over a sand bank, then of having only a few moments to alter course and attempt to get seaward into deeper water before the ship struck for the last time. The press reports, based on Petersen’s remarks, referred to “the tide carrying her in… … she struck the west side of the bar and came over it”.

The press reports of the time were somewhat misleading. Reported high water that day was at approximately 5.00pm so, at the time of the grounding, the tide would have been flowing from west to east along the coast and flowing out of Blakeney Harbour. It is more likely, therefore, that the Hjørdis struck one of the many sand bars in that area and then bounced over the first bar into deeper water and pushed on by the east setting tide. This would have made it more difficult for Captain Jensen to have altered course in order to save the situation before Hjørdis grounded on the next sand bar.

There also appeared to be an anomaly in Ralf Petersen’s account of Captain Jensen having given the order, “Hard a starboard” to get the ship into deep water; this would have put the ship further on to the shore! The words might, of course, have been either a reporting error by the newspaper – for the assumed order would be “Hard a port” – or an early indication of the Captain’s confusion or panic in the unfolding disaster. Then there was Peterson’s account of the lifeboat being carried out to sea after the crew had abandoned the Hjørdis; this would further support the fact that the wind direction was south-west and not west-north-west as local newspapers had reported. Therefore, the greater likelihood of the Hjørdis grounding as the result of navigational error was indeed borne out by the lifeboat being carried out to sea. This too would further support the belief that the gale was south-westerly, rather than west-north-westerly.

A Different Outcome Maybe:
Mrs Susie Long’s letter to the “Eastern Daily Press” suggested that the crew of the old lifeboat Hettie “could and would have saved all the crew” of the Hjørdis. When the ship struck, the tide was ebbing; therefore, could the crew have remained on the ship and awaited rescue, or simply waded ashore at low tide?

Ralf Petersen’s accounts conveyed the desperate situation which the crew encountered, where events were happening quickly, in uncertain circumstances: one of their lifeboats had been smashed before she grounded; there was no time to send up flares; the ship was taking in water; the crew did not know where they were; the skipper had lost control; and the ship was showing signs of breaking up. With the benefit of hindsight and with clearer heads at the time, there would have been little doubt that if the crew had remained on the Hjørdis, they would probably have survived – either by being rescued by the “Hettie” or by remaining on the Hjørdis until low tide.

The SS Hjørdis Now:

SS Hjørdis 6
A view of the wreck when it was not so exposed. Photo: © Julian Dowse

The wreck of the SS Hjørdis still lies off Blakeney Point. Gradually, over the years, it sank beneath the sand, with more local sand regularly moving in to almost completely covered it. Eventually, in September 1960, a survey from an unknown source produced a report which is held by the Blakeney Harbour Association; it gives the following information about the wreck:

“Iron Norse steamship 200 ft long 30 ft beam lying in a deep pool on dry bank heading 20 deg true with a list to port and one mast standing at the fore end. The hull, which is broken in two amidships, is about 9ft out of water………The boiler and engines are showing, also a cat davit is standing near the stern…… The wreck extends approximately 40 ft North West and 130 ft South East of pole carrying a light erected on wreck position…….(Trinity Superintendent Great Yarmouth 13.11.58).”

Apparently, the position of the wreck was checked again by Trinity House on 2 October 1969 when the SS Hjørdis’s position was found to lie 259 degrees 1.75 cables from position 525902N 005825E in position 525858N 005812E. Then in October 1993, Trinity House – in whose possession the wreck then was – carried out another survey which showed that the wreck was lying in a NNW/SSE direction in depths of between 2.0 to 2.5 metres at low water springs.

A further observation made by Trinity House in 1995 – referred to a suspicion that Hjørdis had been ice strengthened for the Baltic winter trade – suggesting that this would account for the fact that her low section had lasted for so long. In August 1995, a proposal was submitted to Trinity House by a local company, offering three options to remove the wreck between the “fair weather months” of April to October 1996. In the event, the Hjørdis was not removed and the wreck has remained in situ off Blakeney, always marked with a buoy, which was continually destroyed by the strong tides. It was removed but continues to serve a useful purpose – more than 420 miles away in a Cornish coastal village. It is now securely fastened on dry land and put to use as an honesty box at a car park in Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula. As for our Norfolk wreck, it is marked with a Trinity House beacon.

SS Hjørdis (Honesty Box)
The former Trinity House buoy, which marked the wreck of the SS Hjordis at Blakeney in the late 1950s, is now used as a honesty box for a car park in the Cornish village of Porthallow. Picture: ALAN MARTIN

Aerial photographs commissioned by the Harbour Association in 2016 showed that much of the ship’s structure still remains, despite the fact that the Blakeney Harbour mouth regularly changes position. Currents push the mouth towards the east, producing a lengthening peninsula of sand between the entrance channel and the sea. Tidal currents then break through towards the west and the eastern mouth fills up again.

SS Hjørdis 4

In recent years, the harbour entrance channel has been moving towards the east, bringing it nearer to the wreck. In April 2016, this movement reached the wreck, scouring through it, so that SS Hjørdis lay in the middle of the channel at the entrance to the harbour; by December of the same year, the channel was moving east of the wreck and beginning to bury Hjørdis in the sand once again. The movements in the sand peninsula and the changing position of the harbour mouth determine whether Hjørdis is either almost completely covered by sand and lost to view – or is still a visible reminder of the lost ship jutting from the sea.

SS Hjørdis 3
The wreck of the former SS Hjørdis can be seen bottom centre.

The Hjørdis has lain off Blakeney Point since 1916 and, as the local sand moved in, the wreck became almost completely covered. Between 2015 and 2016, the channel moved half a mile to the east and the flow of water over the wreck scoured her out. Large sections of the vessel’s hull and deck were uncovered. It would appear poignant that, in 2016, one hundred years after the ship went down, the SS Hjørdis showed herself once again.

THE END

Source:
This blog is based almost exclusively on Sue Gresham’s research and subsequent report written for the Blakeney Harbour Association in 2016/18. The full report can be viewed via the following link:

http://blakeneyharbourassociation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/HJORDIS-REVISION-10.12.18.docx.pdf

Banner Heading Photo: An Aerial photo of Blakeney Point, Norfolk – by Mike Page

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

James Stays at the ‘Maid’s Head’

The year is 1906. The age of the car has arrived and James Edmund Vincent, Welsh barrister, journalist and author, has been asked by his publishers to help put together a motoring guide for sale to touring motorists. The feeling is that there exists a potential need amongst car owners for information which would allow them to take full advantage of the open roads of this country. James’s brief, on this occasion, is to write about East Anglia. He is asked, as the very minimum, to concentrate on detailing the conditions of the region’s roads, outlining the topography and history of notable towns and other places en route; and give an impartial account of the hotels and inns visited with regards to their standards of service, cleanliness etc. Being an established writer, James’s is given a free hand to plan his own itinerary, with the only stipulation being that a completed copy of a draft guide should be completed and with the publishers within twelve months of starting out on his first journey. Payment, including reimbursement of expenses for the work are agreed but remain confidential.

Because James intends to make several forays into the region, he has arranged to use his 6-cylinder Lanchester on all journeys except this one, the inaugural trip to Norwich – a city he is familiar with, having been there before. James has planned most meticulously, with the enthusiastic collaboration of his friend, Claude Johnson, a somewhat large broad-shouldered extrovert who is someone of importance with the Roll-Royce Company. Claude will remain characteristically keen on the arrangements, mainly because he sees them as part of his early promotion to the company of his ideas for a new model car, which will eventually become Rolls Royce’s ‘Silver Ghost’. He particularly wants to prove that this unique car is smooth, silent and solid – and the best car that money can buy! Beyond this, he also wants to demonstrate the car’s reliability to the buying public. What better way would there be than to be part of James’s journey; a ‘trial run’ as it were, for his own anticipated 15,000 mile ‘non-stop’ promotional journey around Britain. Claude will of course drive the company car – who else!

James Vincent (Silver Ghost_TT_Getty)
Charles Rolls co-founded the company with Henry Royce in a forerunner of the company’s ‘Silver Ghost’ model. The car and driver took part in the first ever TT race in 1906; the race was won by Charles Rolls. Photo: Getty.

James is nevertheless, and unquestionably, in charge of all other aspects of the trip to Norwich – and beyond. It will take his party of Claude the driver, James’s wife and youngest daughter – both of whom will occupy the back seats of the Rolls; James will ride ‘shotgun’ next to Claude in the front. Arrangements looked perfect; everyone loves travelling, and what better than to ride in real comfort to what will be the ‘far end of the region’– perfect! The city of Norwich, indeed most of East Anglia, is still almost unexplored territory to most of the party – and there are no impossible hills of any length to worry about. So, with no worrys worth mentioning – they set off.

We next catch up with the James’s party and Claude’s car as it crawls through the narrow and crooked streets of Norwich, having successfully negotiated those ‘questionable’ roads en route, from Cambridge through Newmarket, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Beccles, Lowestoft and Yarmouth. However, the journey has not been completely without incident for the car; which confidently displayed its engine’s smoothness, reliability and power throughout, but did suffer two punctures – through no fault of its own according to Claude! Fortunately, and maybe by some sort of miracle, a garage appeared closeby on both occasions!

James Vincent (Norwich Market)
Norwich Market Place during the early part of the 20th century. Photo: Public Domain.

The still proud Silver Ghost, under the nurturing of Claude, now passes close to the city’s central Market Place before winding its way towards and around the Castle Mound before swinging left, around the Royal Hotel, into Tombland. This is a wide and open space opposite the west end of the Cathedral. James continues to take note of the city’s features which will be included in his eventual ‘tome’. But for the moment, he ponders on the meaning of Tombland’s name, but remains uncertain. Later, he is to write:

“We had seen the Cathedral spire rising against the clear sky, glanced through two great archways leading to the Cathedral Church itself, had passed on our left the “Stranger’s House”, though the quaint fact that the faces of the figures of Hercules and Samson, supporting the arch of its door, are adorned with “Imperial” beardlets.”

James Vincent (Samson & Hercules_Tombland)
To the left is “Stranger’s House” – as referred to by James – along with the figures of Hercules and Samson. Photo: Public Domain.

At the end of Tombland the car finds itself in Wensum Street with the Maid’s Head Hotel, where they are to stay, immediately on the right. Claude steers into the hotel by way of an archway some little way further down the street. Immediately the party finds itself in a covered courtyard. Here, there is such a contrast between the old and the new and James feels that the surviving surroundings are thanks to no other than Walter Rye who had once bought this ancient building and saved it from destruction; thereby winning the gratitude of every traveller of taste who would also witness features as near identical with those of the 15th-century when the Pastons used the “Mayde’s Hedde” and spoke well of its accommodation.

James Vincent (Maid's Head)1
The side entrance to the Maid’s Head Hotel in 1904; it led into a covered ‘reception’ courtyard. Photo; The Maid’s Head Hotel.

The Bar Parlour on the left, from which an attentive hostess appears to take instructions from the new arrivals, seems also to be of almost immemorial age. Yet in the centre is the most modern thing in this world, Claude’s six-cylinder motor-car. However, staring him in the face is a notice requesting all motorists, to make no unnecessary noise, but to deposit their passengers, or pick them up, as rapidly as possible and then go! He clearly quips that he almost feels inclined to push the car, instead of compelling it to propel itself, onwards through the covered courtyard and into the carriage yard and garage beyond. Claude truly believes that his Silver Ghost is, a beautiful car—and cars can be beautiful he feels. Half the assertions that they are ugly are due to the fact that his generation is not sufficiently educated in relation to cars, have not grown familiar enough with them to know what the lines of beauty in them are. Still, in the courtyard of the “Maid’s Head,” any car is an anachronism, a jarring note and the sooner this one is moved out of sight the better!

James Vincent (Maid's Head Courtyard)
A postcard showing what used to be the ‘reception’ courtyard. Image: Public Domain.

Probably taking advantage of this distraction, James’s wife and daughter quietly break away to explore the hotel. They soon ascend a very ancient and charming staircase of real oak, really black with real age and found someone who was delighted to show the two around “Queen Elizabeth’s Chamber”. James, downstairs, is soon handed a message telling him to visit them there and on arrival sees that the visit is, in his words, “more than worth paying for”. It is a spacious room, if one considers the floor area alone; but of course, the ceiling is very low and the dark beams supporting it still lower. He sees that one great bed is of carved oak, relieved with gilding, whilst another makes no impression on him at all. But not so the long and low windows, the shining planks of the ancient floor, which boasts its own hills and valleys, slopes and hollows, along with the cleanliness and brightness of everything; these make a very vivid and pleasant impression on James.

James Vincent (Maid's Head)2
“Queen Elizabeth’s Chamber” bedroom, circa 1904. Photo; The Maid’s Head Hotel.

Nevertheless, he understands that Queen Elizabeth I never did sleep in this chamber, or indeed in the Maid’s Head itself when she visited Norwich in 1578 – he had heard that she had stayed nearby in the Bishop’s Palace, at a time when weird pageants were displayed in her honour. No, the “Maid’s Head” was an old inn even in 1578. Edward the Black Prince entertained here after a jousting competition at Gildencroft and Queen Catherine of Aragon (King Henry VIII’s first wife) was entertained here. So, it is reasonably certain that the chamber named after Queen Elizabeth was also there. James then thought the room to be ideal for those who hanker after the old world, but do not yearn for that dirt which seems to have been an all-pervading characteristic of the lives of his forefathers. But this room, together with the hotel is certainly spotlessly clean!

James Vincent (15th Duke of Norfolk_ArtUK)
Henry Fitzalan-Howard (1847–1917), 15th Duke of Norfolk by Hester M. Walker. Portrait: St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. Image: ArtUK)

After this small interlude, the rest of the party disperses elsewhere whilst James sets off for a half hour stroll into the city before dinner. But at the foot of the stairs he sees quite an imposing person, whose presence is a happy coincidence for him. James remembers his first visit and the “Royal,” where Lord Kimberley was found to be a guest. Now, at the foot of the stairs of the “Maid’s Head,” is none other than the 15th Duke of Norfolk and his wife, the Duchess; both were about to become guests of this ancient hotel. Heavens! he thought; what a contrast to a similar visit some two centuries ago in 1685, on which Macaulay quoted:

James Vincent (Dukes Palace)
Image: Norfolk County Council Library & Information Service.

“In the heart of the city stood an old palace of the Dukes of Norfolk, said to be the largest town house in the kingdom out of London. In this mansion, to which were annexed a tennis court, a bowling-green and a wilderness, stretching along the banks of the Wensum, the noble family of Howard frequently resided, and kept a state resembling that of petty sovereigns. Drink was served to guests in goblets of pure gold. The very tongs and shovels were of silver. Pictures by Italian masters adorned the walls. The cabinets were filled with a fine collection of gems purchased by that Earl of Arundel whose marbles are now among the ornaments of Oxford. Here, in the year 1671, Charles and his court were sumptuously entertained. Here, too, all comers were annually welcomed, from Christmas to Twelfth Night. Ale flowed in oceans for the populace. Three coaches, one of which had been built at a cost of five hundred pounds to contain fourteen persons, were sent every afternoon to bring ladies to the festivities; and the dances were always followed by a luxurious banquet. When the Duke of Norfolk came to Norwich, he was greeted like a king returning to his capital. The bells of the Cathedral and of St. Peter Mancroft were rung; the guns of the Castle were fired; and the Mayor and Aldermen waited on their illustrious fellow citizen with complimentary addresses. In the year 1693 the population of Norwich was found, by actual enumeration, to be between twenty-eight and twenty-nine thousand souls.”

James Vincent (Dukes Palace)2
Image: Norfolk County Council Library & Information Service.

What a contrast James felt! Now, on the 9th of March, 1906, the present Duke of Norfolk enters a city of approximately one hundred and thirteen thousand souls; the bells of the cathedral and St. Peter’s Mancroft are not ringing. No guns are being fired. No mayor and aldermen waiting upon the Duke in his Palace, because there is no Palace. All that is happening is that this quiet, bearded English gentleman walks, limping slightly, with a lady into the courtyard of the Maid’s Head Hotel and, after a parley with the hostess, vanishes up the stairs, to be seen no more. It is pure luck that James sees him, and that he is able to recognise this Premier Duke and Earl, the Hereditary Earl Marshal and Chief Butler of England. He was received with precisely the same courtesy of attention that had been shown to James and his party, but without servility. The Duke received all that he wanted, and in a manner which, James thought, really did him credit.

No more is left of the pomp and dignity of the 17th-century Palace than that of the city’s clothing trade. The Duke of Norfolk has become, in the interval, an Englishman first and a great power in Sussex next, and the clothing trade of Norwich is no more. The city of 113,000 souls is now subsisted, as James is told during his walk-about, on the proceeds of boots and mustard, the latter industry founded by one of whom a correspondent of the Norfolk and Norwich Notes and Queries wrote:

“The original Colman [the name means “free man”] was a jolly old fellow who used to give me sixpence and direct me to the house for refreshment”; it subsisted also, as I learned for myself next morning……. as one of the largest agricultural and pastoral centres it has ever been my good fortune to witness. Times were indeed changed; but he would be a rash man who should say that they were changed for the worse in all respects.”

James Vincent (Maid's Head)3
The Hotel’s Lounge and Writing Room, circa 1904. Photo; The Maid’s Head Hotel.

James writes up his notes after Dinner, which has been taken in the coffee-room of the hotel, and everyone in his party thinks it is very pleasant there.  James includes a further thought that the room also has an air of antiquity, and its deep fireplace certainly charms the eye. The ‘cookery’ is, in his opinion, distinctly good and the attendance quiet and prompt ‘as that in any well-ordered private house’. The Dinner was also the time for him to reflect on some of the other famous associations with the hotel. For instance, the Pastons had used and commended it, and their words of praise, blazoned on the outer door, seems right and proper; but it was a pity, James thought, to have placed newspapers near to them! He also thought that sitting in this same hostelry on the morning of his last fight with Kett and his rebels, Warwick had breakfasted, and had then led his men, who were camped on the market-place, to victory. It is also certain to him that Margaret Paston’s horses were seized here. Then, in the time of the rebellion, the Royalists stayed, despite being scarce in the eastern counties. But Royalists were also Freemasons and held their lodges in the “Maid’s Head” as early as 1724; James understands that on one occasion a Mrs. Beatson hid behind the wainscot of the lodge-room and heard all their mysteries!

James Vincent (Maid's Head)4
A passage way in the Hotel, circa 1904. Photo; The Maid’s Head Hotel.

As James writes, he is pleased that all this information is decidedly enhanced by the fact that this visit had provided further insight and confirmation. Undoubtedly, its value will also be fully appreciated once ‘his’ Motoring Guide is published – next year?. But his pleasure does not end there. James is also proud to be able to say that the Maids Head, this very building in which he sits, was built on the site of Herbert de Losinga’s first Palace, which once stood on Gothic arches; also, that an Assembly Room was built over the courtyard to become a minstrel’s gallery. The carving in the smoking-room represents a fish – possibly a ray? If this is correct, it probably accounts for the title of the hotel; for it was certainly mentioned in the 1287 Norwich Court Records as the ‘Myrtle Fish Tavern’ where “Robert the fowler stole goods from the said innkeeper at Cook Rowe.” Again, if this fish is a ray, then another difficulty vanishes, for the sea-fishermen of Norfolk call, or once called, the ray, “Old Maid.”

Certainly, the hotel did not take its new title on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth I’s 1578 visit, for John Paston had, in 1472 confirmed the hotel’s name change to ‘Maids Head’ in a letter, recommending the inn as a good place to stable horses:

“if he tery at norwyche ther whyls, it were best to sette hys horse at the Maydes Hedde.”

The hotel is also mentioned in a curious petition to Wolsey, again unearthed by that man Walter Rye. James again blesses Mr Rye for having bought the lease of the Maid’s Head in the 1890’s – and saving it! James also remembers him acquiring property next door on Tombland and building the frontage with the ‘Mock Tudor’ look, but keeping the Jacobean snug and bar. This was the moment when Rye quoted:

“I had been myself a customer of the house for 20 years and more and some of the most pleasant parts of my life had been sent in and about it. It was rumoured that when Mr Webster left the Maids Head, the whole scope of the old Tory house – the nearest approach to the typical old hostel that I ever saw – was going to be spoiled and no longer to be a refuge for those who like peace and quiet and old surroundings. I heard what the new rent was to be and took upon myself the burden…..I will try and keep on trying to make people as comfortable as I was myself.”

James Vincent (Maids head_Front_Agoda)
The present-day Maid’s Head Hotel, Norwich. Photo: Agoda.

The next day James, his wife, daughter and Claude the driver, complete packing in anticipation of an early departure soon after breakfast. James gathers up his notes of all he had witnessed and heard during what had been a short stay; but he knows that he will return. His final accolade is saved for the hotel itself; after settling the account he is very pleased that the final bill is ‘quite moderate—for England’ The party eventually departs Norwich for Cromer and James took that moment to note some further useful information which will eventually be passed to the readers of the proposed Motoring Guide Book:

“As with arriving in this city, great care should always be observed when leaving Norwich, for the streets are narrow, crooked and full of risk, and directions difficult to work out…… Roads here are gerally fair, some good – especially to Cromer”.

THE END

Sources:
http://www.gutenberg.org/
www.gutenberg.org/files/38938/38938-h/38938-h.htm
https://www.maidsheadhotel.co.uk/

Two Writers’ Encounter with Norfolk.

In May 1933 Sylvia Townsend Warner and her female partner, Valentine Ackland, were driving around Norfolk when they discovered what used to be called Frankfort Manor, but now known as Sloley Old Hall; it lay up a quiet lane in the northwest of the county of Norfolk  and about 5 miles south of the town of North Walsham. According to Warner:

Sylvia Warner (Sloley Village Sign)
The village sign. Photo: Cameron Self.

“It was a beautifully proportioned house, with a Dutch Gable and a reed-thatch roof – filled with the noise of trees. Valentine found it, exploring inland, but only because her quick eye caught sight of it behind its rampart of trees: backing to have another look, she saw it was to let. It stood in that stretch of Norfolk where the soil is deep and fertile; a soil for oak and chestnuts to plunge their roots into.”

 

Sylvia Warner (Old Sloley Hall)
Sloley Old Hall: Formerly Frankfort Manor, the temporary home of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland in 1933/4. Photo: William H Brown Archive.

The Manor, as then, was for rent and the two somewhat strange literary ladies leased it until November 1934. They believed that the house and its gardens would provide them with the perfect rural location in which to potter about and write – particularly about a family of cats that lived in the Hall’s outbuildings. These feline creatures inspired Warner’s ‘The Cat’s Cradle Book’ (1940), which is a collection of short stories seen from a cat’s point of view.

Sylvia Warner (Valentine at Sloley Manor_Norfolk)
Ackland and the Frankfort Manor cats.

In her autobiography, Valentine Ackland described the attraction of Frankfort Manor thus:

“At Frankfort Manor, then, we lived in a kind of solemn, fairy story splendour. The first spring and summer brought nothing but miraculous days. Every day a fresh discovery; one day I found white currents….another day we met a hedgehog walking up the drive, another day I was picking green peas into a colander and saw the earth near my feet heaving and a mole emerged and I caught it instantly in the colander and carried it in to Sylvia and set it down beside her typewriter on her table.”

Clearly, Frankfort Manor was where they enjoyed one of the happiest times of their lives together. But they were not to know, when they took out the lease on the property that within twelve months they would be forced to leave because their money was being drained by heavy legal costs resulting from a libel case involving them and the Chaldon Vicarage back in Dorset. In short, they successfully sued after standing up for the rights of a badly treated servant girl there; it was huge financial blow. Nevertheless, whilst they were at the Manor Warner herself described their days there as follows:

“Throughout the autumn, we worked hard and honestly in the kitchen garden. There was about an acre of it, four square plots with flower-borders smothered in bindweed, two asparagus beds and a fruit wall. When we arrived, the ground was under potatoes. These we sold to a fish and chip shop on the Wroxham Road. ……… We made jam and conserves and pickles and sold them. We needed every penny we could raise if we were to stay on in this kind paradise where we were so happy, so hard-working, so good. Goodness is like a flower of the locality. We were never again so unimpededly good as we were at Frankfort Manor.”

It was also during this time at Frankfort Manor that their first and only collaborative work, a book of poetry titled ‘Whether a Dove or a Seagull’, was published. It was truly a time of happiness and productivity, a time that was to be deeply cherished by Warner.

“There was a Victorian wire arch over a path in the kitchen garden, and I remember hanging grey kittens among its lolloping pink roses to get them out of my way as I thinned carrots, and thinking as I heard Valentine whistling nearby…..It would not be possible to know greater happiness……It did not occur to me that such happiness might be too good to last.”

For the Record:
Sylvia Nora Townsend Warner was born on 6 December 1893 at Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, the only child of George Townsend Warner and his wife Eleanor “Nora” Mary (née Hudleston). Her father was a house-master at Harrow School and was, for many years, associated with the prestigious Harrow History Prize which was renamed the Townsend Warner History Prize following his death in 1916. As a child, Warner was home-schooled by her father after being kicked out of kindergarten for mimicking the teachers. She was musically inclined, and, before World War I, planned to study in Vienna under Schoenberg. She enjoyed a seemingly idyllic childhood in rural Devonshire, but was strongly affected by her father’s death.

Sylvia Warner (Portrait_National Portrait Gallery_© Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby's London)
Sylvia Townsend Warner. Photo: National Portrait Gallery. (c) Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotherby’s, London.

On the other hand, Valentine Ackland’s upbringing was quite different. She was born Mary Kathleen Macrory Ackland on 20 May 1906 in London, to Robert Craig Ackland and Ruth Kathleen (née Macrory). Nicknamed “Molly” by her family, she was the younger of two sisters. With no sons born to the family, her father, a West End London dentist, worked at making a symbolic son of Molly, teaching her to shoot rifles and to box. This attention to Molly made her sister Joan Alice Elizabeth immensely jealous. Older by eight years, Joan psychologically tormented and physically abused Molly.

Sylvia Warner (Valentine Ackland at Winterton 1928_© The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society 2020)
Valentine ‘Molly’ Ackland. Photo: (c) The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society.

Molly began wearing men’s clothing, and cut her hair in a short style called the Eton crop, and was at times mistaken for a handsome young boy. This was the time, in the late 1920’s, when she changed her name to the androgynous Valentine Ackland; it was when she decided to become a serious poet. Her poetry appeared in British and American literary journals during the 1920s to the 1940s, but Ackland deeply regretted that she never became a more widely read poet. Indeed, much of her poetry was published posthumously, and she received little attention from critics until a revival of interest in her work in the 1970s.

But it was back in 1927 when Sylvia Townsend Warner first met the aspiring writer named Valentine Ackland. In 1930, they became life partners, eventually settling permanently in the village of Frome Vauchurch, Dorset in 1937. In the same year, American heiress, Elizabeth Wade White (1908–1994), moved to Dorset, England, ostensibly to conduct her research on Anne Bradstreet, an early American poet and the first American writer to be published in the Thirteen Colonies. This was actually an excuse; her real intent was to meet Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Valentine Ackland with whom White was to have an affair sometime later.

Sylvia Warner (Elizabeth Wade White at age 18 in 1924 at Westover School_Wikipedia)
Elizabeth Wade White at age 18 in 1924. Photo: Wikipedia.

As an aside: White was coincidentally, a supporter of Sheringham’s John Craske who, in turn, was a painter friend of Ackland. It would appear that for this reason, White became in contact with another East Anglian, Peter Pears, who was collecting Craske’s works; White was to donate her papers about Craske to the Aldeburgh Festival Archive.

Matters were to become difficult for Warner around this time, for she was marked by her mother’s increasing senility. This situation was not helped when Valentine had her ongoing affair with White. Warner was tolerant of her younger lover’s dalliances, but the seriousness and length of Ackland’s relationship with White was distressing and pushed Warner’s relationship with Ackland to the edge. Eventually, in 1949 to be exact (see ‘Warren Farm’ below), Valentine returned to Warner and the next fifteen years were relatively tranquil for them both. This does not hide the fact that Valentine struggled with alcohol addiction for many years of their life together.  Valentine’s lack of success  as a poet and her financial  reliance on Sylvia Warner  meant that  her self-esteem took a battering and she was often wracked by self-loathing.

Winterton:
After eventually leaving the blissful days of Frankfort Manor behind, Warner and Valentine resumed living back at their cottage in West Chaldon, Dorset. It would be seventeen years before the couple again stayed any appreciable length of time in Norfolk, although there were those moments when Warner, one of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s, frequently stayed with Ackland at her childhood family home of Hill House in Winterton. Its grounds have long since been a holiday centre with those bizarre African inspired thatched holiday chalets. Before then, the house was more recognisable, without the present-day huge bay windows, and from where the two frequented the Fisherman’s Return in Winterton, one of the two pubs in the village; the second was the Mariners, which has since become a private house.

Sylvia Warner (Fishermans Return)

It was also at Hill House that the two wrote poetry inspired by the Winterton beach and dunes; with Warner writing, after one visit in 1930:

“It was the severe presence of the sea which made the rather ugly house romantic. Below the plateau the dunes stretched far as the eye could travel, harshly mossed to the landward (it was impossible to think of them as land), prickled with marram grass as they rose into sandhills and subsided into the beach: a grey pebble beach till the tide went out and left a belt of sand streaked with watery light where the sea lay caught in pits and furrows.”

Sylvia Warner (The Hill House_Winterton)
The present Hill House, Winterton, Norfolk. Photo: Cameron Self

As a postscript to Hill House; it became an upmarket hotel when it was acquired by ex-RAF pilot Ken Temple. He had spent time living in Africa and it was he who had the roundhouses built as bedrooms for guests. Thatched cottages were also built as holiday lets during the 1950s and 60s in The Lane, which is opposite the Fisherman’s Return public house; at one point the lighthouse itself was part of the holiday centre. The hotel was rather exclusive and among its high-profile guests were film stars. Apparently, Honor Blackman and Richard Burton were at one glittering event there and the young actor, who went on to play Antony to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, happily chatted up a local girl – nothing new there then!

Warren Farm, Horsey: 

In October 1949, Sylvia and Valentine returned again briefly to Norfolk and stayed at Warren Farm, Horsey; it happened to be during the crisis of Valentine’s affair with Elizabeth Wade White. Today, the Farm is somewhat different, situated at the south eastern edge of Waxham Sands Holiday Park and forming part of it. It also adjoins a Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary.

Sylvia Warner (Warren Farm_Evelyn Simak)
An impression of Warren Farm; try and imagine it without all those caravans. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Salthouse:
Salthouse lies on the North Norfolk coast between Weybourne and Cley-next-the-Sea. At one time, salt was manufactured in the village and exported to Europe. In fact, its name derives directly from ‘house for storing salt’ – a term recorded in the Domesday Book. Above Salthouse is the village church, which provides a spectacular view across the marshes to the North Sea. Mary Mings, the daughter of the famous admiral Sir Christopher Mings, is buried beneath the nave.

It was one year on from their stay at Warren Farm when, in 1950, Sylvia Townsend Warner and her lover, Valentine Ackland, came once more to Norfolk and rented the Great Eye Folly in Salthouse, that was until 1951 whilst Warner worked on her last novel ‘The Flint Anchor’ (1954). The Folly – a former coastguard building – was originally built by Onesiphorus Randall in the 19th Century and for a long time was called Randall’s Folly. It stood on the beach in an exposed and windswept location and would always be vulnerable to the sea. In 1950, when the two writers first set eyes on the Folly, it made a profound impression, particularly with Warner who, in a letter to Alyse Gregory in 1950, described her own impressions of the building:

 “…. I think Valentine will have told you about the Great Eye Folly. I have the oddest impressions of it, since we were only there for about fifteen minutes, and conversing all the time with its owners. But the first five of those minutes were enough to enchant me. It is the sort of house one tells oneself to sleep with, and sometimes I almost suppose that it is really one of my dream-houses, and no such solid little assertion of the rectangle breaks the long sky-line of salt-marsh and sea.”

Sylvia Warner (Randall's Folly)
The once ‘Great Eye Folly’ in Salthouse where Warner and Ackland stayed in 1950/51. Photo: Courtesy of the Salthouse History Group.

So, the two women stayed, and again potted about and wrote until the moment arrived when it was time to depart and return finally to Dorset. Two years later, the great storm of 1953 broke the Folly’s back and its complete demise was nigh. Nothing remains of it today.

Randall's Folly_Salthouse (Birkin Haward)3
Birkin Haward’s painting of  the former Great Eye Folly (Randall’s Folly). Image: Courtesy of Birkin Haward Jnr.
Sylvia Warner (Great Eye Folly)2
Immediately prior to the 1953 flood this was known as the ‘Great Eye Folly’s. Its whole seaward front was torn off by the great storm in January of that year. The ruin remained like this for a couple of years, but had to be demolished finally in June 1956. Photo: Birkin Haward (Courtesy of Birkin Haward Jnr).

In 1967, Valentine Ackland was told that she had breast cancer that had metastasised to her lungs; after a long struggle with the disease, she died in 1969 at her home in Maiden Newton, Dorset. Warner, then in her mid-70s, continued to mourn her for the remainder of her life, though she found some solace in her garden and her much-loved cats. In her last years, she also enjoyed a resurgence of interest in her work, especially among feminist scholars. Increasingly troubled by arthritis and deafness, Warner became bedridden early in 1978. She died on May 1 of that year, aged 84 years and her ashes were buried with Ackland’s at St Nicholas, Chaldon Herring, Dorset with the inscription from Horace Non omnis moriar (Ode III.30, “I shall not wholly die”) on their gravestone.

Sylvia Warner (Headstone)
Photo:(c) The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Townsend_Warner
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine_Ackland
https://myancestors.wordpress.com/2007/12/23/sylvia-townsend-warner-1893-1978/
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/sloley.htm#:~:text=In%20May%201933%20Sylvia%20Townsend,leased%20it%20until%20November%201934.
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/salthouse.htm
https://www.townsendwarner.com/data/201406_stws_we.php
https://inkyfoot.wordpress.com/tag/valentine-ackland/

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

 

 

Past Holiday Adventures Afloat!

The pleasure steamers our grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed are long gone. All we have are the memories of the tales they once told; along with the sepia and poorly coloured postcards that, having been posted from resort to family and friends during those far-off years, now lie cocooned in collectors’ albums, boxes and draws.

Belle Steamers (Britannia Pier 1895)
Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier 1895. Image Five Minute History.

It is also certain that the likes of Great Yarmouth, along with every other seaside resort along the east coast and elsewhere, will ever again see these floating super-charged paddle-driven charabancs moor up and unload and re-load holidaymakers and trippers from London and other stopping places en route. Nice now to recall the era when they were commonplace, operating as they once did between our eastern resorts and often using specially-built piers where there was neither river nor adequate harbour.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Promenade 1895)
Yarmouth’s Promenade 1895. Image Five Minute History.

The heyday of pleasure steamers coincided with that of the punctual railways, but the two clearly complemented each other for, like today, many folks enjoyed the spice of adventure for their holidays and chose pleasure steamers to provide this. An example was when, on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1889, thirteen special trains arrived at Yarmouth’s South Town Station packed with visitors – and five paddle steamers sailed into the Yare, each full to capacity. As usual, Hall Quay was crowded with sightseers welcoming the steamers, crews and passengers. Also waiting would have been those boarding-house proprietors offering accommodation in the town. But even then, it was more than likely that, in the thronged resort, some distressed and homeless visitors still desperately sought rooms in the early hours of the following morning.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Belle)4
The Ps Yarmouth Belle arriving from London.

That great pleasure steamer period began in the 1820s and endured until the Great War of 1914-18, unquestionably making a massive contribution to Yarmouth’s holiday industry. Some ships sailed directly from the Thames in London to Yarmouth, while others made “bus stop” calls at other resorts en route. Then, on the River Yare, some tied up on Brush Quay at Gorleston to let passengers off before continuing up-river to Yarmouth – an indication of the importance of Gorleston as a holiday destination. Occasionally, adverse weather conditions did cause delays in boat arrival, resulting in day-trippers having only a few hours ashore before they had to re-board for the voyage home.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Belle)2

The pleasure steamer line that provided this service to and from Great Yarmouth was the Belle Steamer fleet, which was a comparative late-comer to the business. ‘Belle Steamers’, as they were referred to, was nothing more that the marketing name used by the steamer company which had been created by various interests connected with the development of the east coast resorts of Clacton, Walton, Southwold, Felixstowe, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. Belle Steamers was the actual name of the parent company for about one year only, in 1897. The principal number of vessels operated by this company north of London totalled six; they were:

PS Clacton Belle (1890-1915), PS Woolwich Belle (1891-1924), PS London Belle (1893-1929), PS Southend Belle (1896-1929), PS Walton Belle (1897-1925), PS Yarmouth Belle (1898-1929) and PS Southwold Belle (1900-1913) – as below:

It was in June 1897 when the PS Walton Belle arrived in Yarmouth, after her maiden voyage from London; flags fluttering as cheering onlookers welcomed her and her 150 passengers. Her arrival was the inauguration of the London to Yarmouth (and vice versa) Belle Steamer service in the town, although the previous year the PS Southend Belle had sailed into the port and proved that safe berthing was possible, despite the Yare’s notorious currents. It also convinced the line that, provided the right vessel was used on the Thames-Yarmouth voyage, profits were assured. The PS Walton was, in fact, the sixth company vessel – and the fifth ‘Belle’. She was finished to the highest specifications, ensuring that her passengers were safe and well provided for. Her hull was divided into nine separate watertight compartments, a specification which rendered it very unlikely that the vessel would founder in any extreme weather conditions. As for her accommodation, first-class saloons were provided in oak and sycamore finishing, and the chairs and settees were upholstered in velvet and arranged to give a home-like appearance; windows guaranteed fine sea views and were curtained in blue and gold tapestry. The vessel was fully lit by electricity.

Belle Steamers (Walton Belle)
The PS Walton Belle about to enter the Yare.

Soon after the PS Walton Belle’s inaugural visit to Yarmouth the great and the good from the area were invited on board for a voyage to savour the quality of the services the vessel had to offer. It was just as she was passing Corton, when Abel Penfold, the company chairman at the time, addressed the dignitaries. It was a well-timed intervention, being that his guests had been mare than adequately fed on a sumptuous lunch. No one questioned his statement that there was good mutually-beneficial business to be gained from a regular service between the capital and Yarmouth. Neither did they appear to doubt that the Belle steamers were far superior to the company’s rivals, but then it must have been a distinct possibility that few, in any, of the softened-up guests would ever make such a comparison.

Nevertheless, Abel Penfold seemed determined to make the point that his company would not be beaten on service and standards – and he kept his promise; within three years the Belle fleet numbered at least six vessels covering the east coast up to Yarmouth. Within seven years it had the monopoly on not only the Yarmouth service but also the landing piers of Lowestoft, Southwold, Clacton and Felixstowe. They used to say that on bank holiday weekends it was not unusual to see three Belle steamers berthed in the Yare. All would have arrived crowded with trippers eager to enjoy the pleasures of Great Yarmouth. This continued throughout the Victorian and Edwardian period when the Belles served the town; the Belles being principally the PS Walton Belle, PS Yarmouth Belle and PS Southwold Belle, proving that they all were indeed strong and reliable, a credit to their designers and builders. But what about Belle Steamers Ltd itself? (1896-1897)

Belle Steamers (Clacton Pier 1895)2
Clacton Pier 1895. Image Five Minute History.

The company was formed in 1896 when the London, Woolwich and Clacton-on-Sea Steamboat Company was renamed – using the title which applied to its steamers. However, the company was wound up at the end of 1897 and a new company named The Coast Development Company was formed, with interests outside the vessels themselves, particularly with further speculative development of the coastal resorts of East Anglia, but still retaining the ‘Belle Steamers’ identity. The company had pier and land interests in Clacton and also Walton-on-the-Naze. Importantly, a newly extended pier at Walton, then owned by the Belle Steamers parent company, became an important steamer call and from 1900 – 1904. The steamers would call at the more northerly pier before the more treacherous and tide-bound Clacton pier; this gave Walton “first call” for London excursionists and a new role as the interchange point for onward passengers to the more northerly resorts such as Yarmouth. The company also purchased land at Southwold in 1898 and set about the development of the small resort there, with new roads, a large hotel, a pier and a new steamer, to be called PS Southwold Belle, which entered service in the mid-summer of 1900. A pier was also built at Lowestoft (Claremont Pier) and opened in 1903 and a further pier at Felixstowe in 1905.

Then came the outbreak of war in 1914 and this meant that the whole steamer service was terminated. The vessels were requisitioned and put into service as minesweepers. Two of them went to Russia as hospital tenders. With peace came a decline, almost inevitable in the light of competition from motor coaches and changing ideas about excursions by sea. The steamers were gradually disposed of and the last call to Southwold was made in 1928. In 1934 a severe storm washed away the pier’s ‘hammer-head’ there and any chance of steamers being able to call was lost.

Belle Steamers (Southwold Pier P057 c1900)
Paddle steamer about to berth at Southwold Pier in the early years of the 20th Century. Bathing machines are drawn up to the water’s edge. Image: Southwold Museum.

An almost ‘last throw of the dice’ by Belle Steamers was when three of its pleasure steamers, ‘Queen of the Channel’, ‘Golden Eagle’ and ‘Royal Eagle’ were used to evacuate thousands of schoolchildren from Yarmouth and Lowestoft when the 1939-45 war broke out.  However, this exodus was briefly counterbalanced by the arrival in Yarmouth of 4300 London mothers and children ferried to Yarmouth by the same three pleasure steamers

THE END

Sources:
Images: Unless otherwise stated, images are Courtesy of Ian Boyle of Simplon Postcards
Banner Heading: Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier 1895.
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/BelleSteamers.html
https://www.southwoldmuseum.org/Transport%20popups/Steamers_popup.htm
http://www.ourgreatyarmouth.org.uk/page/belle_steamers
http://paddlesteamers.info/BelleSteamers.htm
https://www.tendringcoastalheritage.org.uk/content/places/clacton-on-sea/photo-gallery
https://fiveminutehistory.com/18-victorian-seaside-pleasure-piers/

Brundall Gardens: Once Someone’s Dream.

The painting depicted below is of a derelict cottage; a once former “Tea House” in equally once rambling and romantic gardens in Norfolk. The painting is by James Mayhew who, as a sixth former, submitted it as part of his then ‘A’ Level examination. His choice of subject was well chosen because of its personal and family association with the garden in which it stood.

Brundall Gardens (Mayhew's Painting)
Painting of the former Tea House at the late Brundall Gardens. Painting and Photo: James Mayhew.

This association began, for him at least, after his Great Aunt and her husband had bought the gardens and moved into the estate’s “Redclyffe House”. In James’s own words:

“In the mid-1960s I would be taken to these grand, elaborate gardens and lose myself amongst the camellias and rhododendrons, the tumbling “Cinderella” steps and tiers of shrubs that possibly rivalled Babylon.”

Brundall Gardens (Redclyffe House_Justin Franklin_Pinterest)
The original ‘Redclyffe House in Brundall Gardens. Photo: Justin Franklin.

To think that the boy’s imagined ‘Babylon’ would not have been possible had it not been for an enterprising Norfolk-born pioneer in preventive medicine, by the name of Dr Michael Beverley who, in 1881,  purchased seventy-six acres of land on the western end of Brundall and built what was to become Brundall Gardens. Because of its wooded but unusually vertiginous picturesque slopes, the gardens became known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’, and people loved them – proof of this being the numbers that flocked there in their hey-day!

(Two views further of Brundall Gardens out of season. Photos: Justin Franklin.)

After many years of dedicated work, Dr. Beverley eventually transformed those seventy-six acres into the magnificent garden that it became. Magnificent because it contained a variety of features which included the rockeries and three-stepped ponds which led down to a vast expansive lake; the lowest pond was said to have contained a large and ‘legendary pike that could never be caught’. Around this landscape he planted shrubs and trees – many of them still surviving as specimen trees towering above lake and garden. Along with the original plantings was a collection of exotic birds to excite the visitor. He also built a somewhat luxurious log cabin as a weekend retreat for him, his family and friends.

The Log House, Brundall Gardens c.1910
Dr. Beverley’s Log Cabin. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.

However, thirty-eight years after his dream first found reality, Dr Beverley’s wife died. This was in 1919 and from that point he must have lost interest in the gardens and estate for he began the process of selling them off – ‘lock,stock and barrel’. This took time and it was not until 1921 when Frederick Holmes-Cooper, who had made his money from the cinematic industry, bought the complete package. He was clearly an entrepreneur in the strictest sense for he lost no time in developing the estate further for, presumably, no other reasons than to generate an increased number of  visitors and a greater return on his investment.

Brundall Gardens (Redclyffe House)2
The original ‘Redclyffe House in Brundall Gardens. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.

One of his first projects was to replace the Log Cabin, which had burnt down just after he had bought the estate; this replacement came in the form of the impressive three-storey ‘Redclyffe House’ built within the grounds for his family; it was high above the vast expansive lake, the three stepped ponds leading down to it – and the large ‘legendary’ pike which could never be caught.  Nearby, also overlooking the ponds and lake, was a ‘stone hart’ which was to become more than a feature of the garden. It was often upon this cooperative creature that children were sat to have their photographs taken by Khodak ‘brownie’ box cameras for the family album back home.

Brundall Gardens (Stone Hart_James Mayhew)
The Brundall Garden’s stone Hart. Photo: James Mayhew.

Further additions to the Gardens included the Tea House with its genuine Delft tiles placed around the fireplace; these depicted sailing boats . Further down on the river bank was a dance pavilion alongside the landing stage, plus a magnificent Hotel, unsurprisingly named the Riverside Hotel, since that is where it was – on the banks of the River Yare! In 1922, it was said that in excess of 60,000 people visited the Gardens. The sun was to shine in so many ways for both the owner and visitors.

Brundall Gardens (map)2
Brundall Gardens: 1920s Visitor’s Map.
This map of the Gardens shows the landing stage from the river and the suggested tour round the estate with arrows pointing the way. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.

Frederick Holmes-Cooper investments in the vincinity of Brundall did not stop with his Gardens; he also owned the Brundall Gardens Steamship Company and the postcard below was actually an advertisement for day trips on the SS Victorious from Great Yarmouth to the gardens, where entrance fees were 3/6 for adults and 2/- for children under twelve. The reverse of the card told them:

“Any person taking a trip by the SS Victorious leaving Southtown Bridge any morning except Saturday (weather circumstances permitting) to Brundall Gardens, “The Switzerland of Norfolk”, will be amply rewarded. Luncheons and teas at the commodious riverside restaurant at moderate prices.”

Brundall Gardens (SS Victorious_1925)2
The steamship SS Victorious. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.
Brundall Gardens (Landing Stage & Refreshment Room, 1920s-30s )
Brundall Gardens: The 1920s Landing Stage.
This postcard shows the landing stage and riverside tearooms during the height of the Garden’s popularity in the 1920s. The passenger steamer moored alongside may well be the Jenny Lind which used to run day trips to the gardens from Norwich, which lay upstream in the opposite direction to that regularly taken by Great Yarmouth’s SS Victorious. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.

Frederick Holmes-Cooper’s enterprising exploits did not stop with his purchase of the Gardens or his ownership of the local steam company. Such was the Garden’s popularity that he was also successful in negotiating for trains on the Norwich to Yarmouth line to stop at what was a bespoke station. It was opened on 1 August 1924 as the ‘Brundall Gardens Halt’ station; its installation costing £1,733, on top of which Holmes-Cooper gave LNER £150 per year to fund a stationmaster – everything seemed complete. The station would be renamed as simply Brundall Gardens in 1948.

Brundall Gardens (Station)
The present Brundall Gardens Station.
Brundall Gardens station serves the western end of the village. The entrance to the station is at the end of West End Avenue – an unsurfaced access road serving the properties situated alongside it. The station is now unmanned and there is no car park. A footbridge connects the two platforms. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

However, in 1937, the entire gardens were sold and its gates firmly closed to paying visitors. Over future years, serious neglect set in and some sections of the land were ‘gifted’, or used for downsizing with the remnants sold off to a builder. By the time of the Garden’s last sale in 1968, the original 76 acres had diminished to just 18 acres. Then, in 1969, some fifty years after the Garden’s creation, the impressive ‘Redclyffe House’ was destroyed by fire and the once magnificent gardens sank further towards total neglect.

(Two aspects of the neglected Brundall Gardens. Photos: James Mayhew.)

Unsurprisingly, when there is neglect, vandals soon emerged from wherever they fester and did their worst. In the case of the Gardens, they invaded the area, destroying the Tea House and the stone hart before moving on. The stepped-ponds, the lake and the legendary pike remained but were almost completely forgotten because everywhere became overgrown; shrubs ran wild and the ‘cinderella’ stone steps leading from the house covered in ivy. Everything that was once neat, tidy and attractive became overgrown; sparking at least the imagination of children seeking excitement and adventure amongst the undergrowth. Even the stretch of riverbank, which lies between the Yare and the lagoon, became suffocated with the highly invasive Japanese Knotweed – which one would hope has now been completely eradicated! It was a legacy from the days of Dr Beverley when the plant had been extremely popular from Victorian times.

Brundall Gardens (Redcliffe House)2
Some years after Redclyffe House burnt down in 1969, it was replaced another house named Redcliffe House (with an ‘i’). The new house, as before, has magnificent views over the lake and the Yare valley.  The house has since changed hands more than once. Photo: (c) Brundall Local History Group Archive.

So, what, if anything, remains of Brundall Gardens? The Lily Lake still lies alongside the railway line, and a small area of the original gardens managed to survive the developer’s bulldozers to become the private gardens of the houses which surround it. The “Cascades” which were a series of ponds leading down to the lake, plus the remains, of what is believed to have been a Roman dock, were restored and now lie in the grounds of Lake House. This property is owned by Janet Muter who, at this point, takes up her story:

“on a chilly March afternoon in 1994, I first saw, quite by accident, the overgrown remains of what had once been the famous Brundall Gardens. By the next summer my husband and I had bought and later acquired three acres of the garden with its beautiful forest trees and water features. I was not young and planned to plant mainly small native trees, shrubs and bulbs, so keeping the area the wildlife haven that it had become. Beneath the trees I grew easily maintained perennials, such as Japanese anemones hardy geraniums and hellebores. I uncovered rockeries and boggy areas creating further interest and added a waterfall and a fountain.  For twenty-five years we have opened the garden for the National Garden Scheme sharing it with thousands of visitors.”

Brundall Gardens (Lake House)
The former Brundall Garden’s water features in Janet Muter’s garden. Photo: National Garden Scheme.

Finally, the yacht basin became home to the Brundall Gardens Marina, whilst the landing stage and riverside tearoom site was developed some years ago to house a small marina/ boatyard and holiday cottage complex which seemed, for a long time thereafter, as unoccupied. As for the Riverside Hotel; that was renovated in the 1970s by Colin Chapman, of Lotus fame, but was later declared unsafe and it too was destroyed by fire in 1993 after a reputed lightning strike.

Last words are left to James Mayhew:

“A couple of years ago I visited Brundall Primary School. Instinctively I had parked outside where my aunts and grandparents’ “new” houses still stand (although they died long ago and I hadn’t been to Brundall since I was 18 and produced [my] ‘A’ level work). And by pure chance, one part of the garden, with the three descending lakes, was having an open day for charity.

And so, stepping back in time, I briefly revisited the re-imagined gardens. I was overwhelmed with memories; it was hard to make it seem real. Last of all I found the place where the stone hart once stood. It was probably the last time I will ever see anything of Brundall Garden. At least until I close my eyes and dream. Then I can run around, as a child, those stately trees and play in the tea house again, and sit once more on the back of the stone hart.”

THE END

Footnote:
In addition to those photographs kindly supplied from the gallery section of the Brundall Local History Group website, there is also their history of Brundall Gardens in “The Book of Brundall & Braydeston: A Tale of Two Norfolk Parishes” which was produced by the Group and published by Halsgrove in 2007.

Sources:
http://www.brundallvillagehistory.org.uk/index.htm
https://www.broadlandmemories.co.uk/blog/2010/12/brundall-gardens-the-switzerland-of-norfolk/
https://icenipost.com/the-rescue-of-a-famous-norfolk-garden-the-lake-house-at-brundall/
https://www.jamesmayhew.co.uk/2010/07/the-stone-hart.html

Stories Behind the Signs: Starston.

Starston is a small village in the South East corner of Norfolk with a population of 331 at the 2011 Census. Its southern boundary edges to within one mile of the River Waveney, which divides this part of Norfolk from Suffolk.

Starston (Village Sign)
Starston Village Sign.
Situated on Low Road at the junction with The Street. The Sign features a wind pump that was used to transport water from the Beck river up to Starston Place, which was demolished during the early 1900s. The wind pump remained and was restored in 2010, and can be seen from the roadside. Photo:© Copyright Adrian Cable

Starston is mentioned in the Domesday Book and its earliest name recorded as Sterestuna or Steerstown; the latter probably reference to the raising of cattle or stores in the village. If this is correct then it can be claimed that the raising of cattle in the area has been carried on ever since. In the year 1086 Starston was a very small village, being ‘one mile and five furlongs long and five furlongs wide’ according to old maps and references, and the area covered was the northward end towards Starston Hall. As the years went by more and more land came under cultivation and the boundaries of the village grew.

As land became cultivated so more land become in demand for houses and it is recorded that there was a large increase in the population in the years 1698 to 1798, going up from 215 to 381 and by 1877 the total had reached 510. When an informal census was taken in the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee it was found that the population was 545. However, after this growth in population there was a steady decrease, particularly noted at the end of the 1914-18 war.

Starston (The Street)
Starston’s ‘The Street’
St Margaret’s Parish Church overlooks the Beck and the ‘The Street’ with the above village sign located a short distance north of the hollow post wind pump. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Most of Starston is good agricultural land, loamy with a clay subsoil. The land has been used very much for corn growing and to a lesser extent sugar beet; but in recent years Diss-based Wharton’s, a local firm of Rose Growers, have been growing roses on the lighter lands towards Harleston that originally belonged to Beck Hall. Founded in 1947, the company grows in excess of 1.5 million rose bushes and more than 300 different varieties. This family business must be one of Britain’s biggest rose growers, selling to garden centres and nurseries across the country.

The Beck:
One of the special features of Starston is the stream that passes through the village, known as The Beck; its source is said to be a wide ditch at Tivetshall Hall. By the time this stream reaches the Norwich to Ipswich main road it has become a constantly running stream, running through a brick archway under the road, about a quarter mile south side of Pulham crossroads. When next seen from a public road, near the old railway station at Pulham Market, the stream is much larger.

Starston (The Beck)
View west along the Beck. Photo:© Copyright Evelyn Simak

Along the whole length of the Beck, surplus water feeds into it from the uplands and many minor streams and ditches leading to it. It travels a winding course through the village of Pulham St. Mary and by the time it reaches Crossingford Bridge it has become a stream capable of maintaining a quantity of coarse fish such as Roach, Dace, Gudgeon and Eels.

Starston (Crossingford Bridge)
Crossingford Bridge on Pulham Road. Photo: © Copyright Adrian Cable

As the Beck comes within a quarter of a mile of Starston there is a footpath on the southern side of the road. Roy Riches of Starston, writing in 1969 said:

“……in my boyhood days the Beck was known as ” Gowers Ford “, a wooden plank bridge was there to allow people to cross when the water was too high to ford. This footpath carries on through ‘White House’ farm yard and joins up with Cross Road near the Poplars Farm. Further along the road there is another footpath – this is near the Streamlet Farm, and once again a wooden plank bridge is provided, the footpath then continues through the farmyard of ‘Yew 3 Tree Farm’ on to cross roads, and so the Beck rolls on to the first of four sluices which is situated near The Street.”

The main reason why the sluices was erected at this spot was to hold the water to a depth of not more than 4 feet. About two feet under the water’s surface was a suction pipe which ran to the windmill’s well which stood in Mill Field, quite close to the Beck. The purpose of this windmill was to pump water to a large tank placed on top of Starston Place house; the tank was its main supply of water. Part of this facility was a large indicator on a wall of Starston Place which told when the tank was full and when pumping should stop. Another large tank, used for a similar purpose, was in the farmyard of ‘The Home Farm’; this tank always being kept full, as in years past there was never less than 200 head of milking cows and fattening bullocks, plus a very large herd of pigs. Another use for this water was to maintain the level of water in the farm’s horse pond, fed by an overflow pipe from the main tank.

Starston (Windmill)
Starston’s Hollow Post Wind Pump.
This wind pump, located in the corner of a field south of The Street, is a Grade 2 Scheduled Ancient Monument and believed to be the only one of its type left. It was erected in 1832 and has been restored with help from English Heritage and Norfolk County Council. The wind pump has since been adopted as a symbol for the village of Starston. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

From this point, the Beck continues to be allowed to glide quietly along a further four miles or so before its outfall into the river Waveney at Homersfield.

Starston (Homersfiels_Waveney)
The River Waveney at Homersfield. Photo: Peggy Cannell.

The Parish Church:
The oldest and most historical building in Starston is the parish church of St. Margaret’s. It is situated in a very commanding position in a well-kept churchyard, which long ago was planted with many fine trees. They say that the original church was built sometime between 1150 and 1200, and that the main body of the church and tower were erected about 1300. The first Rector of Starston, according to Blomefield’s Register, was Robert De Beverley, who resigned in 1306, and he could well have been St Margaret’s first Rector.

Starston (St Margarets)
St Margaret’s Church, Starston. Photo: Simon Knott.

Of the church, Simon Knott wrote, after his visit there on a damp, miserable day in 2005:

“St Margaret’s stood proudly, a small church, in the greying light of the wide graveyard. The Victorianised chancel and medieval body and tower made a nice harmony. On the north side is a 19th century aisle, not unpleasing. Most striking is the chequerboard flintwork of the nave and tower parapets – perhaps the medieval chancel had the same……. Inside, St Margaret’s is almost entirely the work of the 19th century, and medieval survivals are few and far between. But it is a pleasant, welcoming interior, and the restoration and rebuilding were done well.”

Starston (Cotton)
Memorial to Bartholomew Cotton, who died in 1613. He was clerk to the Star Chamber and here kneels in piety at a prayer desk. Photo: Simon Knott.

The list of Starston Rectors shows that many prominent people were, at one time or another, been appointed. One, in particular, deserves a special mention – that of the Rev. William Whitear, who was appointed in 1803. During this period of 1803 to 1826, the poor of the villages were poor; often the main provider had to resort to poaching to obtain the food necessary for their families. There were no County or Rural Police in those days, and most villages used an unpaid Village Constable who was appointed by the overseers of the Parish. It was more than likely that many poachers were more than capable of outwitting him, and that was probably a good thing for if caught for rabbiting, sheep stealing, wood stealing or taking linen from someone else’s linen line, the sentence was more than likely death by hanging. In many parts of rural Norfolk vigilante groups were formed in an effort to catch such people. One such group was formed in and around the Harleston district, stretching from Hoxne to Hardwick and from Dickleburgh to Flixton – taking in some eighteen villages. This body included the village of Starston and was known as the ‘Harleston Association’.

There is a true story goes that says that a group of poachers were known to be planning a poaching visit to the woods belonging to Gawdy Hall (demolished 1939); the night in question was 27 November 1826. The Association Committee decided to go out in force, in an effort to catch the poachers red-handed. This armed party, included the Reverend William Whitear of Starston’s St Margaret’s church, together with a young man from Starston Hall named Thomas Pallont. They proceeded to the woods with the others, in conditions that were so dark that ‘it was made difficult to see friend from foe’. There, a shooting incident took place and both the Rev. Whitear and Thomas Pallont fell to the ground wounded; it was said that the latter lost both his finger and thumb. The Rector, who was more severely wounded in the chest, died two weeks later. The Norfolk Chronicle reported the incident, dated 27 November 1826:

“The Rev. William Whitear, Rector of Starston, met with his death under singular circumstances.  He had gone out with a party to apprehend poachers; the party divided themselves into two bodies, and on proceeding to the place where it had been agreed upon to reassemble, Mr. Whitear was mistaken for a poacher and shot in the right side by another of the party, a young man named Thomas Pallont.  He died from the effects of the wound on December 10th, and Pallont was committed for trial on the charge of manslaughter.  The case was tried at the Norfolk Assizes at Thetford before Mr. Justice Stephen Gaselee, on March 26th, 1827, when the accused was acquitted.  “He was so seriously affected during the trial that before its conclusion he became quite insensible, and was taken home in that state.”

Starston (Gaselee)

The Judge by Thomas Rowlandson (c.1800).
(Image: Tate Gallery, number T08531. © Tate, granted under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.)
The Judge presiding was Justice Sir Stephen Gaselee (1762 – 26 March 1839), justice of the Court of Common Pleas. It was said that Gaselee was the original of the irascible judge represented by Charles Dickens in the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, under the name of Justice Stareleigh.

One of the most famous 19th century Rectors of Starston was the Rev. Angus Macdonald Hopper, who was appointed in 1845 and remained in the village until his death in 1878. While he was here as Rector, he also became Archdeacon of Norwich, and was very active in the church life of the country. He was a great benefactor to the church at Starston, also to the village school. Archdeacon Hooper left a family of three sons and one daughter. In gratitude to their father’s memory, they presented the church with its Brass Lectern which is still in use today.

The Waveney Valley Railway:

The Waveney Valley Railway was a branch line running from Tivetshall in Norfolk to Beccles in Suffolk, it connected the Great Eastern Main Line at Tivetshall with the East Suffolk line at Beccles, providing an interconnecting rail service to Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Ipswich and many other smaller towns in Suffolk with additional services to London.

Starston (Railway)

The line was authorised by the Waveney Valley Railway Act on 3 July 1851 and the line opened in stages. First, it ran from Tivetshall to Harleston from 1 December 1855, then to Bungay from 2 November 1860, and finally to Beccles. When the line was finally completed, around 1863, it was incorporated into the Great Eastern Railway; it then became part of the LNER from 1 January 1923. In its early years, services on the line were worked by the company’s only locomotive, named ‘Perseverance’; this was a 2-2-2T locomotive, built by Sharp Stewart and Co of Manchester. However, it did not perform particularly well and was rebuilt by the GER in 1864 as a 2-4-0T- it was withdrawn in 1880 and broken up in November 1881.

Apart from stations at Pulham Market and Pulham St. Mary, Starston also boasted a station of its own, but it was only in operation for 11 years, between 1856 and 1866. It was been said that, when the station was at the planning stage, local landowners insisted that no trains should run on a Sunday; however, with the coming of the 1914 war this ruling went by the board, as troop trains very often moved along the line. Also, with the creation of the Pulham Air Station, much of the stores and materials were carried on a loop line connected with the Air Station. With the coming of motor transport however, the amount of business done by the railways declined, and eventually the passenger service was withdrawn in 1953. The line was finally closed in 1966 when the Goods trains ceased to run.

Starston (Starston Station_Wikipedia)
The former railway station on Railway Hill in Starston
(The property is now called ‘Crossing Gates’).
 After its closure as a station the building served as a crossing cottage. Part of this line’s route – between Harleston and Broome – has since been taken over by the realigned A143 road. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Some of the Larger Houses in Starston:
The largest house in Starston until recently, was known as ‘Starston Place’. It came into the possession of the Taylor family in 1824 when a Mr. Taylor of Diss purchased it, and was known then as ‘Bressingham House’; the owner having some connection with the village of that name which is situated just outside Diss. The original house was demolished just after the second world war, and a smaller house was built which, certainly up to 1969, remained named as ‘Starston Place’. It is believed that a house has stood on the site since 1235, but the earliest date mentioned of ‘Starston Place’ is 1878, when a General Clay was the owner.

Other large houses in Starston include ‘Grove Hill’ built in 1849, ‘Conifer Hill’, built in 1881 and ‘Beck Hall’, the latter first mentioned in 1296. ‘Gunshaw Hall’ is another house, which stands partly in Needham and partly in Starston, it is said that the boundary of the two villages runs exactly through the middle of the house.

Starston (Beck Hall)
Beck Hall, Starston.
Beck Hall is situated on the corner of The Street and Railway Hill and flanked by the Beck in the north. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Again, writing in 1969, Roy Riches states:

“Until the year 1836 when the Pulham Workhouse was built, every village had its own Poor House, and the first recorded one stood in what is known as the Church Pightle, this was where the unfortunate poor of Starston were put, usually when they were in a very distressed state. However, with coming of the poor law, Authorities built another house by the side of the Pulham Road, and this became the village workhouse, and until quite recently this house was known by the older residents as Workhouse Cottages. During the last few years, this house has become the home of farm workers employed at Starston Place Farm, and was occupied by three families at one time, being known as Stone Cottages. In 1836, it was decided to put all the poor of the district into one building, and Pulham Workhouse standing by the side of the Ipswich to Norwich road was completed. This was a very large building, with accommodation for 500 inmates. In consequence, village workhouses were done away with. Another of these workhouses is still standing at Pulham St. Mary, and known as Workhouse Cottages, they stand on South Green, and like Starston Cottages, these too are now used as ordinary residences.”

Starston is yet another village that is unable to boast a public house. It used to have one, it was known as ‘The Gate Inn’ and was situated near the school. Prior to the 1950’s, travellers and locals used to call in there for refreshments; and, because this hub was something of ‘a social centre’ for the village, all sorts of leading topics would be discussed. It was also quite common for such talk to be centred around crop growing and garden produce, when keen gardeners used to compete with others for which was the best and largest produce. It was often believed that the information exchanged could be far from the truth. It is said that before the ‘Gate’ closed, and turned into a shop (closed 1984), there used to be a wonderful Walnut tree growing in front of the pub, and high up in its branches was a sign which read:

“This Gate hangs high and hinders none – Refresh and pay and travel on”.

Unfortunately, the walnut tree became old and began to rot to the point where it had to be removed – along with that sign. The Brewers then put a twist on things by having a miniature gate made and attached to the front of the Pub. An amended inscription read:

“This Gate hangs well – refresh and pay and travel on”.

It was also said that the nuts from that lost walnut tree tasted far better than those bought in the shops; and it was not unknown for the village boys to throw wooden sticks and ‘cudgels’ into the branches of the tree, in an effort to bring the nuts down; much to the worry of those people living close by who were afraid for their windows. Up until a few years before the Gate Inn closed, it was kept by a Mr. and Mrs. Osborne. Apparently, in addition to Mr. Osborne being the landlord, he was also a fishmonger who took his business around the countryside thereabouts by a pony and cart. He became renowned for the quality of his herrings and bloaters, which he used to cure himself. His most enthusiastic customers would recall how Mr Osborne would always smoke his fish in his very own drying sheds – and he would use nothing other than oak to cure them with. The herring that he selected for smoking always had to be prime ones, with lovely fat roes!

Such memories are long into the past; along with village windmills which used to grind the corn, public houses which used to refresh the body if not the soul, local schools close to communities, and even the traditional village blacksmith shop. Close behind have also long been the loss of rectors and rectories with parishes now combined under one parson. But it seems many Norfolk villages survive – and even thrive. Starston feels like one of them; in 2010 its villagers purchased Glebe Meadow in the heart of the village and converted it into a public space with attractive views of the church!

Starston (Glebe Meadow)
Glebe Meadow, Starston. Photo: Starston Village Site.

THE END

Sources:
http://starstonvillage.co.uk/starston/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/A-Brief-History-of-Starston-Roy-Riches.pdf
The booklet ‘A Brief History of Starston’ was originally published by Roy Riches of Starston, Harleston, Norfolk in 1969. The booklet was designed, printed and bound by The Harleston Press, Station Road, Harleston, Norfolk.
http://starstonvillage.co.uk/starston/

A Murder at Honingham Hall

Honingham Hall – A Brief Background History:
The small village of Honingham, together with the site of its former Hall, is situated in the English county of Norfolk and located 8 miles to the west of Norwich, along the A47 trunk road. The Hall itself was originally commissioned by Sir Thomas Richardson, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1605. After passing down the Richardson family it was bought by Richard Baylie, President of St John’s College, Oxford, in about 1650 and was then acquired by William Townsend, Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth in about 1735, before passing down the Townsend family. In 1887 it was inherited by Ailwyn Fellowes, 1st Baron Ailwyn and in 1924 by Ronald Fellowes, 2nd Baron Ailwyn who sold it in 1935.

The Hall was then bought by Sir Eric Teichman, a diplomat who, at the age of 60 years, retired there. At some point during World War II he allowed a large section of the Hall to become a Barnardo’s home, retaining a substantial section of it for himself, his wife, their cook and a small retinue of staff.  He must have anticipated a peaceful retirement but, ironically, after so many dangers and difficulties faced on his past travels, Sir Eric died in December 1944 from a bullet to the head. It was fired by an American soldier who was stationed at the nearby US Airforce base; he was caught, along with a fellow soldier, poaching on Sir Eric’s estate. Sir Eric was buried in the St Andrew’s Churchyard where his grave may still be seen. The house closed as a Barnardo’s home in December 1966 and was demolished shortly afterwards.

Sir-Eric-Teichman (Honingham Hall)2
The front of the former Honingham Hall. Image: National Trust.

Sir Eric Teichman:
He, the victim of this unfortunate crime, had been a British diplomat and orientalist who was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. At the time of his death, Sir Eric was serving as adviser to the British Embassy at Chungking.

Sir-Eric-Teichman1
Sir Eric Teichman GCMG CIE (born Erik Teichmann; 16 January 1884 – 3 December 1944 in Norfolk, England. Photo: Wikipedia.

Teichman had been described as “one of British diplomacy’s dashing characters”, flamboyantly enigmatic and explorer-cum-special agent some claimed; he had embarked on a number of “special missions” and “fact-finding journeys” throughout Central Asia, as early as before World War I. In 1943 he began on what would be his final foreign journey from Chongqing. After caravanning as far as Lanzhou, his truck continued along the outer Silk Road, across the Tarim basin, and over the Pamir Mountains to New Delhi. From there he flew back to England where, only a few days later he met his death.

The Perpetrators, Murder and its consequences :
It was on Sunday 3 December 1944 when Private George E. Smith, aged 28 years, of Pittsburgh and Private Leonard S. Wijpacha of Detroit, USA, took a pair of M-1 Carbines from the armoury on their base with the intention of ‘going hunting‘ as they would have described it. Hunting for what with such powerful rifles? The two soldiers were probably the last people on earth to have given this a thought as they set out. It was early afternoon as the two entered Sir Eric’s Teichman’s estate at Honingham and were to pass close by the house as they scanned the trees and undergrowth thereabouts fpr their prey.

Sir-Eric-Teichman (M-1 Carbine)
An example of an Americal WW2  M-1 Carbine. Photo: MJ Militaria.

It can only be imagined what Sir Eric Teichman was doing inside. Lunch was over and quiet would have descended on the big house. It was quite probable that he sat before a cosy fire, more than content with life. But all this certainly changed from the moment he heard the sound of shots outside. It is more than reasonable to suppose that this disturbance would have annoyed him and, being the sort of character he was, he would have gruffly risen from his armchair, mindful of going out to stop this “damned poaching.” As he left the Hall, he told his wife that he had heard some shots in the nearby wood and was going to investigate!

At the moment when Sir Eric was storming out of the Hall towards the sound of gunfire, Smith and Wijpacha were positioned behind two adjacent trees, taking pot shots at one particular squirrel which was jumping from branch to branch trying not to be the next casualty. The two poachers were almost facing each other when Smith noticed ‘this old man’ approaching from behind Wijpacha, calling out “Wait a minute… what are your names?” That was the moment when Smith shot Sir Eric through his right cheek, with the bullet exiting by way of the left shoulder-blade, shattering his jaw on the way through. If Sir Eric had been more upright, his height would have been nearer 6ft, but he was stooped at an angle of about 30 degrees as the result of an old injury caused long ago through a riding accident. Nevertheless, when he was shot, he fell on to one of his arms and seemingly died quickly through shock and a haemorrhage from the bullet wound. The next action of the two soldiers was telling – neither went over to the body but instead made a hasty departure back to base,

Being winter, night fell early and when Sir Eric had still not returned a worried Lady Ellen organised a search party to comb the grounds. It turned out to be a long search in the dark and quite late when they found the master, huddled in bracken some 300 yards from the house. Thereafter, events moved quickly, the police were called, the bullet extracted and confirmed as one fired from a .38 carbine; then the local American airfield was sealed off, and within a very short time Smith and Wijpacha were arrested. The swiftness of their arrest would not have been surprising when it was later revealed that Smith himself had been court-marshalled eight times previously; he must have been high on the list of suspects! He almost immediately confessed with the words “I shot him”, but then retracted this at his trial, arguing that it had been made under duress.

Both Smith and Wijpacha were subsequently court-martialled at USAAF Attlebridge, which commenced on 8 January 1945, and lasted five days due to the repeated hospitalisation of Smith. As part of the preparations for the trial, Smith had been subjected to an earlier psychiatric examination from Major Thomas March of the US Hospital at Wymondham College in Norfolk.

It was sometime close to 9 and 10 January 1945 when The Times newspaper reported on the arrests, Smith’s formal charge of the murder of Sir Eric Teichman and his ninth court-marshal! Amongst many other items of detail, the newspaper highlighted Smith’s statement in which it was revealed that he:

“was single and had joined the army in 1942; to date, he had been court-martialled eight times. With regard to the alleged shooting, Smith said that another soldier had asked him to go hunting through the woods. “Some of us had been drinking beer…. I drank about 15 coffee cups of beer; we saw a lot of blackbirds around and we shot some of them. We went up into the woods. I saw a squirrel, and fired one clip of 15 shots. One of us said ‘There’s an old man’. I think I saw him first and made that remark. I don’t remember the old man saying anything to me, nor do I remember saying anything to him. I raised my gun to my side, pointed it at the old man and fired one shot. I saw the man fall.”

By the 12 January 1945 The Times had again followed the story up with a report on Smith’s mental condition at the time, an examination which had been conducted by a Major L Alexander, a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, attached to a United States Army hospital in England. Alexander said that Smith’s [mental] condition could not be successfully faked. In his opinion, [Smith] was suffering from:

“a constitutional psychopathic condition, emotional instability, and an explosive, primitive, sadistic aggressiveness…… His mental deficiency was border-line, and his mental age was about nine years…… His condition was a mentally defective homicidal degenerate…. and Smith acted almost on automatic impulse.”

The Times also reported, from within the report’s findings, a revealing set of statistics about the United States Army. In a reply to a question, Major Alexander said that:

“…….the average mental age of the Army in the last war [WWI] was 12 – That figure was artificial as it excluded Officers and N.C.O’s. The average age now [WW2] was between 13 and 14. The vast majority of enlisted men was in the 14 group.”

Major Alexander went on to say that Smith knew it was wrong to kill, and that:

“a psychopath such as he fell into the group which the law regarded as sane. In his opinion, Smith “should be removed from society” for the rest of his life! This apparently final remark was followed by a statement from a Dr John Vincent Morris, of the Little Plumstead Hall Institution, Norwich, a specialist in mental diseases. He said that Smith was an anti-social type, who deliberately refused to conform to army rules and orders……Smith showed no signs of emotion or regret about the shooting and spoke about it “as a man talked of killing a rabbit.” It was Dr Morris’s opinion that Smith fired the shot irrespective of consequences, because possibly “Sir Eric interfered with his [Smith] pleasure, and he acted under an uncontrollable impulse.”

Little Plumstead Hall Institution (Billy Smith)
Little Plumstead Hall Institution, Norwich. Photo: Billy Smith.

The outcome was innevitable, Smith was convicted and received the ultimate death penalty; his companion, Private Wijpacha charged with being an accessory to murder, was not sentenced to death. It followed that Smith was imprisoned at Shepton Mallet Prison in Dorset to await execution. But why a British prison in the south of England?

Sir-Eric-Teichman (Shepton Mallet)
The entrance to Shepton Mallet Prison in Dorset. Photo: Wikipedia.
Sir-Eric-Teichman (Shepton Mallet)2
Inside perimater of Shepton Mallet Prison in Dorset. Photo: Mirror. Co.

Between mid-1942 and September 1945 part of Shepton Mallet Prison was taken over by the American government for use as a military prison and as the place of execution for American servicemen convicted under the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act (1942) which allowed for American Military justice to be enacted on British soil. It was staffed entirely by American military personnel during this period when a total of 18 American servicemen were executed at the prison – sixteen were hanged and two were shot by a firing squad. Of those executed, nine were convicted of murder, six of rape, and three of other crimes which carried the death penalty. To enable these executions to take place a new brick-built extension had been added to one of the prison’s wings; it was a structure that looked totally out of place against the weathered stone walls of the old prison building. Inside, a new British style gallows was installed on the first floor of the building and two cells within the main building converted into a condemned cell. Hangman Thomas William Pierrepoint conducted most of these executions, assisted by his nephew, Albert Pierrepoint.

Sir-Eric-Teichman (Thomas Pierepoint)
Thomas William Pierrepoint – Hangman.

It so happened that Private George Smith’s appeals against the death penalty were denied and he was hanged at within the ‘Execution Shed’ at Shepton Mallet Prison on 8 May 1945, (VE Day), despite requests for clemency, including one from Lady Teichman.  It was Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris, who carried out this execution. It took 22 minutes of ‘suspension’ before Smith was pronounced dead.

(The former ‘execution shed’ at Shepton Mallet Prison where Private George Smith was hanged. Photos: Wikipedia.)

Afterwards, he was temporary buried at Brookwood American cemetery; that was until 1949 when his remains, along with every other WW2 executed American servicemen, was moved to Plot E in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France; Smith’s grave is number 52 in row 3. At this point, a fuller explanation as to why executed American servicemen were buried in France is necessary.

Sir-Eric-Teichman (cemetery)2
The entrance to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France. Photo: Wikimedia.

Initially, the remains of American prisoners executed at Shepton Mallet were, as a matter of course, interred in unmarked graves at “Plot X” in Brookwood American Cemetery – also known as the London Necropolis. But in 1949 all eighteen bodies were exhumed. With the exception of the remains of David Cobb which were repatriated to his hometown, the remaining 17 were reburied in ‘Plot E’ at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France – a private section intended for the “dishonoured dead”. The cemetery is home to the remains of 96 American military prisoners, all of whom were executed by hanging or firing squad. Significantly, no US flag is permitted to fly over the section of the cemetery where they lie, and those beneath the soil lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road. Their final resting place has been described as a “house of shame” and a “perfect anti-memorial”.

Sir-Eric-Teichman (cemetery)
Plot E for the “dishonoured dead” is across the road on the outside of the main cemetery. Image: Google.

As for Sir Eric Teichman, he was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church at Honingham; his grave being in the corner plot, directly in line with the now-demolished Honingham Hall. His widow, Lady Ellen Teichman, was buried in the same grave in 1969. The memorial there to the Teichman’s carries no mention to 3 December 1944 – or the murder!

Sir-Eric-Teichman (St Andrews)
St Andrew’s Church, Honingham, Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

THE END

Some Sources:
http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/sheptonm.html
http://thefifthfield.com/fifth-field/albert-pierrepoints-execution-logbook/

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The Lost Beaupre’ Hall

In 1889, a correspondent, known simply as H.K., wrote in The Methodist Recorder:

“Far back into centuries I should have to go in imagination to find the man who built Beaupré Hall, with its gabled and mullioned windows and beautiful gateways and courts and porches, with its picturesque towers and chimneys outside, and its wilderness of oak-panelled rooms and passages inside.”

EPSON scanner image

An Architectural Pen Picture of Beaupre’ Hall:
Beaupré Hall used to be a large 16th-century house mainly of brick, which was built by the Beauprés and enlarged by their successors the Bells. Like many of Britain’s country houses it was demolished in the mid-20th century.

Beaupre Hall8

When it did exist, the oldest parts of Beaupre Hall dated from about 1500 and included much of the central block running south-west to north-east, with a long wing running north-west at an angle. The Gate House was placed in front of the main block and was probably dated from about 1525. Fifty years later, after Sir Robert Bell succeeded to the property, by virtue of his marriage with the heiress of Edmund Beaupré, the north-east section was rebuilt from the screen of the Hall, a porch with an upper story was added on both sides, and a bay added at the daïs on the front. About the same time a large wing was constructed at right angles to the south-east, and connected with a wall to the gatehouse to form a court. Before the end of the 16th century another court was formed to the south-west by a wing projecting from the main block and abutting upon the south-west side of the Gate House. Considerable alterations, mainly internal, were made about 1750.

Beaupre Hall (Sir Robert Bell_ NPG)
Image: National Portrait Gallery.

The Gate House, built around 1525, was placed in front of the entry facing South-East. This structure was built upon an old model, probably by Edmonde Beaupré during the time of his marriage with Margaret the daughter of Sir John Wiseman, servant to the 15th Earl of Oxford. His second wife, Katherine Wynter (widow of John Wynter of Great Yarmouth) was the daughter of Phillip Bedingfield of Ditchingham Hall. The gatehouse was also of brick with stone dressings and with the upper part being mainly of ashlar. The arches of the passage were four-centred. Above was a room, lighted back and front by a square-headed window with stone mullions and transom. The room contained a late-16th-century fireplace. Around 1570, the south west end of the Gate House was fitted with a new building that connected a gated section of wall to the south-west wing, making another courtyard. This wing spanned north-west to the main block, and from the main block extended the chapel, which had an altarpiece in the far north-west end.

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Beaupré Hall in 1884–85

There used to be some excellent 16th-century chimney-stacks and the main door of the house having 16th-century linenfold panelling. Several rooms on the first floor retained late-16th-century panelling; another room had early 18th-century panelling and yet another Georgian wainscoting. The drawing-room, formerly part of the hall, had an early 17th-century chimney-piece and a deep wooden cornice which disappeared long before the Hall met a similar fate. The back of the house was somewhat altered in the 19th century and was said to have suffered greatly in the process. Of the Hall’s latter years, a number of windows which had been modernised in the main block were restored to their original form with stone mullions and transoms. The building at the southwest angle retained its characteristic flanking finials, which were also formerly found on the porch and other parts.

Beaupre Hall (Stained Glass Panels)
Beaupré Hall heraldic stained glass, Victoria and Albert Museum

The roofs of Beaupre were covered with stone tiles, except some portions which had been repaired with blue slates. To the south were some fine contemporary farm buildings with stepped gables, moulded brick stringcourses, and massive timbers. The two windows of the entrance hall were filled with fine heraldic glass dating from 1570–80.

History of the Hall:
The history of the Hall begins with its family origins, a Norman from Saint-Omer who dwelled and, according to Christopher Hussey “christened his domain with gallic grace, among the dull-sounding names of the Danes.”

The knight of St Omer (de Beau-pré) accompanied William the Conqueror’s invasion of England; he “appears in the Roll of Battle Abbey, and his descendants lived here in their place of Beaupré.” Several other noted members of the St Omer family were Sir Hugh de St Omer and John de St Omer, who according to the chronographer Matthew Paris, were known to have ‘penned a counterblast’ to a monk of Peterborough who had lampooned the people of Norfolk during the reign of King John; which elevated them to literary fame.

Beaupre Hall (Matthew Paris)
Self-portrait of Matthew Paris from the original manuscript of his Historia Anglorum (London, British Library, MS Royal 14.C.VII, folio 6r

A Sir Thomas de St Omer was Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Henry III. His successor William de St Omer was granted a fair at Brundale and at Mulbarton, Norfolk, in 1254, where his arms could formerly be seen on a monument in the church. Mulbarton came to Sir William Hoo (1335-1410) through his marriage to Alice de St Omer (died c. 1375), daughter of a later Thomas de St Omer and Petronilla de Malmaynes. Sir William Hoo added to heraldic glass which they placed in the chancel windows, and (after a second marriage) was buried there beside Alice.

Beaupré to Bell:
Christian, daughter and coheir of Thomas de St Omer, married John, the great-great-grandson of one Synulph, who lived during the reign of King Henry II, and had issue: John (dicte quoque Beaupré), who lived during the reign of King Edward II, and married Katherine, daughter of Osbert Mountfort. Their son Thomas Beaupré was raised by his grandmother Christian (the last St Omer in this line) after the death of both of his parents. Thomas was knighted by King Edward III, and married Joan Holbeache, and died during the reign of King Richard II. Generations later the Hall was in the possession of Edmonde Beaupré. After his death in 1567 leaving no male heirs, the hall succeeded to Sir Robert Bell, by virtue of marriage to Edmonde’s daughter Dorothie in 1559; whereby his Beaupré line became extinct. Upon Sir Robert Bell’s passing following the events of the Black Assize of Oxford, in 1577, the Hall passed to his son Edmonde, and his heirs successively until finally in 1741, Beaupré Bell bequeathed the Hall to his sister who married William Greaves, of Fulbourn. Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, who held Beaupré Hall until it passed into the hands of Edward Fordham Newling, and his brother.

In the 1890s, Beaupré Hall was sold to the Newling family; some twenty-five years later problems for the old manor house started to emerge. A gale in 1915 severely damaged the building, and a chapel in the north-west range had its roof torn off and was allowed to become derelict. In 1923, Christopher Hussey the architectural writer, visited Beaupré Hall and saw that its condition was such that he anticipated its eventual destruction! It then took until the Second World War and the Royal Air Force to practically seal Beaupré’s final fate. The RAF requisitioned the Hall for the duration then, when peace came and the Service left, the mansion was found to be in a serious state of disrepair, with substantial roof damage throughout.

Beaupre Hall3

There were, of course, those who must have loved the house and might have saved it, given different circumstances. In 1947, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, did give the Hall listed status – but pathetically little else. Then a fire in 1953 worsened Beaupre’s condition, and it was left to a Mrs Kingsman, formerly the wife of Edward Newling, who had married Stuart Kingsman, to offer the Hall to the National Trust. It was the second heritage body to turned its back on Beaupré Hall by declining the offer; presumably on the grounds that it would take too much public money to restore the property to something like its former glory. The Hall, plus thirteen acres of land was subsequently put up for sale and did inherit two subsequent owners; nevertheless, the Hall was seemingly destined to continue its headlong dash to becoming a ruin.

51JX5SV5BWL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_During the 1950’s, the barrack huts left over from the RAF occupation were used to house students on the ‘Holidays with Pay Scheme’ run by the government. Understandably perhaps, legends of headless horsemen and other spirits said to roam the Hall began to regain renewed interest and attention. It was in the book of the time, ‘The Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters’ by Ingrid Pitt, that an account of a ghost seen by a couple of the students of the government scheme was cited; they were brave enough to enter the Hall one night; the Beaupré ruins undoubtedly provided an adventure for them!

beaupre-hall-norfolk-country-life-archives-1
Newly built bungalows in the shadow of the derelic Beaupre Hall. Image: Country Life

Norfolk’s ‘Victoria County History’ reported sometime later that much of the building was still standing, but the development of a modern housing estate in Beaupre’s former grounds was a shadow quickly advancing on the house. Then, in 1963, the ‘Country Life’ magazine showed the new bungalows of this estate which had crept up to the heels of the ruin; an image which might suggest that one party or the other had messed things up over previous years! Eventually the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished. It was left to the ‘East Anglian Magazine’ to lament the final demolition of the old Beaupre Hall in 1966. At the time, the magazine stated that the only section to escape demolition was the gatehouse. Nine years later, the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished, the only reminder being the name of the road on which the housing estate stands… Beaupré Avenue .

beaupre-hall-norfolk-google-maps-1
Beaupre Avenue, Outwell. Image: Google.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaupr%C3%A9_Hall
http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_norfolk_beauprehall_info_gallery.html
https://houseandheritage.org/2019/02/16/beaupre-hall/
http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_norfolk_beauprehall_info_gallery.html
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp206-219
https://www.history.ac.uk/research/victoria-county-history/county-histories-progress/norfolk
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bell_(Speaker)

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