The Diaries of a Parson Woodforde.

By Haydn Brown.

 In the winter of 1932, Charles David Abbott observed that it is “Through the diaries of Parson Woodforde, that readers are given the opportunity to not only increase their knowledge of a departed age, but also to live among the fields and hedgerows and cottages of Georgian England.”

Woodforde (Portrait by Samuel Woodforde_Wikipedia)
Portrait of James Woodforde 1806 by Samuel Woodforde. Image: Wikipedia.

He does not say that his comment rings particularly true to those living in Norfolk where much of his diary was based. However, he does tell us that Woodforde’s 18th century was never poor in having literary memorials: London exists forever in the pages of Boswell; the upper circles will always gossip and there is much intrigue in Walpole’s letters; Cowper, would have succeeded in giving us the reality of country life, had he been able to keep his own too interesting personality and his poetic bent more in the background. But thanks to Parson Woodforde, we have ‘what Cowper was too great to produce’. The Parson paints a life as it actually was in hundreds of rural parishes throughout England.

Woodforde1

The Parson Woodforde Diaries begin on 21 July, 1759 – when, at the age of nineteen years, he records being made a Scholar of New College – readers immediately plunged into an Oxford of ‘unregenerate’ days.

“Hooke, Boteler and myself went to Welch’s of Wadham College, where we designed to sup and spend the evening, but our entertainment was thus, one Lobster of a Pound, a half-pennyworth of Bread, and the same of Cheese, half of an old Bottle of Ale, half a Bottle of Wine, and a Bottle of Lisbon, and then we were desired to retreat, which was immediately obeyed……”

Woodforde (Wadham College)
Wadham College, Oxford.

On another eventful occasion, the evidence was more lavish:

“Baker and Croucher both of Merton Coll: spent their evening in the B.C.R. [Bachelor’s Common Room]. Croucher was devilish drunk indeed, and made great noise there, but we carried him away to Peckham’s Bed in Triumph. Baker laid with me.”

Abbott, in his own words, goes on to say that James Woodforde was the normal undergraduate, by no means averse to the delights of collegiate existence but, at the same time, not unoccupied with the duty of preparing himself for the priesthood. His career was like that of the majority of university-bred men of his period – four years at Oxford, ten years of curacies in his native Somerset, followed by a year or two of residence as Fellow of New College and as University Proctor, all before he is finally presented to the college living of Weston Longeville in Norfolk. By the time he goes permanently to Weston in 1776, we are thoroughly acquainted with him.

Woodforde (All Saints Church)
All Saints at Weston Longeville, Norfolk where James ‘Parson’ Woodforde spent some twenty-six years as its incumbent. New College Oxford held the living for the church. Photo: Simon Knott.

He remains the same innocent fellow who in his first term at Oxford gave away his snuffbox “to a Particular Friend” and went “to see the man ride upon three Horses.” No breath of scepticism touched him. He has no doubt of Anglican doctrine, and he looks upon the church, in so far as he thinks about it at all, as the natural home for men of his sort. He questions none of the duties, dislikes none of them. They do not interfere with his simple pleasures, which consist largely of living comfortably in a rural retreat, where food is plentiful, the cellar spacious and well-stocked, and the neighbours sociable. He loves sport so long as it is not too strenuous—the coursing of a hare before dinner or the dragging of a pond. There is no chance of his ever growing bored with the life that he knows, from the carefully recorded daily breakfast to the evening rubbers of whist. He loves it all, and it is all a part of his simple nature. Everywhere he shows himself the wholesome, generous, affectionate, lovable gentleman who, we like to believe, is the typical country clergyman. We may therefore be amazed that so much good-nature never brought him a wife, but we soon grow accustomed to his continued state of bachelorhood.

Woodforde (Weston House)2
View of Weston House, home of John Custance (1749–1822) and friend of Woodforde. Photo: Courtesy of Picture Norfolk – taken about 1946.

It was on the question of Woodforde’s love life that Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) had a particular view, as expressed in The Common Reader, Second Series:

“The Parson’s love affair, however, was nothing very tremendous. Once when he was a young man in Somerset, he liked to walk over to Shepton and to visit a certain “sweet tempered” Betsy White who lived there. He had a great mind “to make a bold stroke” and ask her to marry him. He went so far, indeed, as to propose marriage “when opportunity served”, and Betsy was willing. But he delayed; time passed; four years passed indeed, and Betsy went to Devonshire, met a Mr. Webster, who had five hundred pounds a year, and married him. When James Woodforde met them in the turnpike road, he could say little, “being shy”, but to his diary he remarked — and this no doubt was his private version of the affair ever after:

“she has proved herself to me a mere jilt”.

But he was a young man then, and as time went on, we cannot help suspecting that he was glad to consider the question of marriage shelved once and for all so that he might settle down with his niece Nancy at Weston Longeville, and give himself simply and solely, every day and all day, to the great business of living. Again, what else to call it we do not know.”

Such was the Parson’s disposition when he arrived at his parsonage of Weston Longeville in 1776, and remained there, in spite of the later irritations of poor health, during a twenty-six-year incumbency. At Weston Longeville, we come to know it intimately, as if we had been part of the Parson’s household. The local and domestic events are all chronicled, quite without any attempt to dramatise them:

“My great Pond full of large toads, I never saw such a quantity in my life and so large, was most of the morning in killing of them, I daresay I killed one hundred, which made no shew of being missed, in the evening more again than there were, I suppose there are thousands of them there, and no frogs…….”

Woodforde (John Custance 1749-1822 of Weston House_Norfolk Museum Service)
John Custance (1749–1822), of Weston House, by Henry Walton (1746–1813). Norfolk Museums Service

The neighbours begin to call, particularly the Custances from Weston House, the great family of the parish, and soon the Parson is happily involved in the social life of the community. Dinner succeeds dinner, each duly recorded as to partakers and menu.

“We had for dinner, the first Course, some Fish, Pike, a fine large piece of boiled Beef, Peas Soup, stewed Mutton, Goose Giblets, stewed, etc. Second Course, a brace of Partridges, a Turkey rosted, baked Pudding, Lobster, scalloped Oysters, and Tartlets. The desert black and white Grapes, Walnuts and small Nutts, Almonds and Raisins, Damson Cheese and Golden Pippins. Madeira, Lisbon, and Port Wines to drink…..”

It is small wonder that, after so many dinners of these proportions, the good parson was to suffer later with a variety of internal complaints.

Regularly every summer, for many years, the Parson returns for a long visit with his family in Somerset, where his daily routine is unaltered, except that there are no clerical duties. We renew acquaintance with the various members of the family, particularly with Brother John, whose conduct does not always conform to the Parson’s notions of propriety. The Woodforde family is exhibited without any restraint on truth – we see them with all their jealousies, their humorous conceits, their pride and their affections, completely unadulterated. Woodforde has an innocent way of quite unconsciously laying bare the characters of his relations:

“Sister Clarke and Nancy had a few words at breakfast. My sister can’t bear to hear anyone praised more than herself in anything, but that she does the best of all.”

In such entries we are presented with the real materials that lie behind the artistry of Jane Austen. Finally, in 1779, Nancy Woodforde, a niece, leaves Somerset and comes to live at Weston with her uncle, whose comforts and trials she continues to share until his death.

Life, of course, goes placidly on in the Weston Parsonage, amid the round of dinners and the unceasing charity to the poor. The tithe-audit regularly takes place, and the Parson regularly entertains the tithe-payers at his “Frolick.” There are mild winters and cold winters, “such Weather with so much Snow I never knew before.” Some springs are merely moist and hence productive, others “so wet that Farmers cannot plow their lands for their barley.” The world of great events seems more than a few miles away.

Distant rumblings, of course, are heard from America and the Parson is occasionally aghast at the lawlessness of French mobs. As England becomes more and more involved in continental entanglements, even the Parson feels the shock of increased taxes. But such matters do not seriously interfere with his ways – including those of Nancy. His appetite remains unimpaired, and he is far more vexed by his niece’s chronic sauciness than by any affairs of the outside world!

Woodforde (Smugglers)
Not all of Woodforde’s suppliers of brandy and gin were as happy to show their faces as those that he names in his diaries. On at least one occasion he describes how a knock took him to the front door, and he discovered a couple of kegs waiting there: by the time he peered out into the night, whoever delivered them had melted away! Image: Public Domain.

Abbott wonders why the Parson’s unflagging repetition of daily small beer does not grow tiresome, and perhaps we are hoodwinked into thinking that our hunger for knowledge of a remote time is insatiable; but this is not the real reason, for we read the Diaries and are disappointed that there is not more, because Parson Woodforde in his unthinking, artless way has reproduced real life. He never repeats a conversation, and yet each individual from mere reiteration emerges as a definite personality. We learn to know every guest at every dinner, so frequently do they reappear; and, though we hear none of the conversation, we know pretty well from a hundred previous clues what was said. We become inevitably absorbed in all the details, just as if they were details of our own lives.

Finally, Abbott concludes by saying that everything is put down in the parson’s quaint fashion, unconscious of grammar and consistency, fact after fact, never any feelings other than mere bodily ones. But we know the emotions well enough; they lie between the lines, and as for the Parson, we are devoted to him. He has become an old friend, and when in the course of the last volume he begins to fail, and the daily routine is interrupted by long illnesses and seasons in bed, we grow sad because we know that the diary will come to an end and that with Parson Woodforde, we shall have lost the whole of his company of friends. And when he is gone, we can only echo the words of his last entry in his diary, and the grief of the one entry from Nancy’s diary’:

“17 October 1802: We breakfasted, dined, Very weak this Morning, scarce able to put on my Cloaths and with great difficulty, get down Stairs with help – Mr. Dade read Prayers & Preached this Morning at Weston Church – Nancy at Church – Mr. and Mrs. Custance & Lady Bacon at Church – Dinner today Rost Beef & Lamb.”

“January 1, [1803]. Saturday. Weston. Norfolk. This morning about a quarter after Ten o’clock died my ever-dear Uncle James Woodforde whose loss I shall lament all the days of my life…….”

THE END

Reference Sources:
A full written text by Charles David Abbott, available at:
https://www.vqronline.org/woodforde-diary
Other Norfolk detail from:
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2020/11/15/parson-woodforde-goes-to-market/
and
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91c2/chapter9.html

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Discovery of a Hidden Paston Girl!

By Haydn Brown.

The following story provides extra exposure to a very interesting article which was written by Stuart Anderson and first appeared in the ‘North Norfolk News’ on 9 June, 2019, and subsequently updated on 11 October, 2020. He reported on the previously hidden fate of Anna Paston, was titled ‘Discovery of a Hidden Paston girl…….’. His words, began with a question:

Paston (lady-katherine-paston-oxnead)1
A bust of Lady Katherine Paston at her tomb in Oxnead church. Lady Katherine died in childbirth in 1636 after seven years of marriage to Sir William Paston, only son of Clement Paston. Sir William is considered “the real founder of the Paston family fortunes”. Lady Katherine would have been the grandmother of the previously unknown Anna Paston. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are among the most-studied families from the English later Middle Ages. So how has the story of one Paston girl who died tragically young gone unnoticed for so long?

Paston (anna-paston-brass)2
The brass memorial to Anna Paston, which was recently discovered at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are also one of England’s best-known medieval families, who rose from humble origins to become leading members of the aristocracy, wielding political power and entertaining royalty at their sumptuous mansions. Thanks to the letters and other documents they left behind we know more about the Pastons than virtually any other family of that age. The documents, which chronicle the rise of the family during the War of the Roses, speak volumes of their arguments, gossip, feuds, plotting, private scandals, and even their shopping lists. Now, a recent discovery at Oxnead church in north Norfolk has uncovered evidence of a previously unknown Paston which is literally re-writing what was thought we knew about the family.

Paston (admiral-sir-clement-paston)3
The tomb of Admiral Sir Clement Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

A small medieval memorial brass is dedicated to Anna Paston, who is thought to have died tragically young. The brass was found tucked away between two larger monuments, and reads in abbreviated Latin:

‘Here lies Anna, daughter of John Paston Knight, on whose soul God have mercy, Amen’.

Paston (Oxnead Church)4
Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Historian Helen Castor, author of the bestselling ‘Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century’, said nothing had previously been known about Anna. She said:

“This is an extraordinary find: not only a previously unknown Paston grave, but the grave of a previously unknown Paston. The family’s remarkable letters shine a spotlight on the middle decades of the 15th Century, but a great deal of their story, before and after, remains in shadow.”

Paston (oxnead-church)5
Oxnead Church, where the memorial to Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society said Anna can only have been a daughter of John Paston III. The memorial is believed to have been crafted at the one of the Norwich workshops in the last decade of the 15th Century or the opening years of the 16th Century, and is of the type commonly used to memorialise an unmarried girl.

Archaeologist, Matthew Champion, who came across the memorial whilst investigating the church as part of the ‘600 Paston Footprints’ (-this is a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to shed new light the family). added:

Paston (The Tomb)6
The tomb of Lady Katherine Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

“Some people may be taken aback that one of the best known and most thoroughly researched families in England can still throw up surprises such as this. However, very few of the Paston letters actually survive from the 1490s, so there is likely to be quite a lot more that we have missed. “

It is known that John Paston III had another daughter called Elizabeth, who would have been Anna’s sister. Elizabeth survives to adulthood, and eventually marries, but the surviving documents contain barely a mention of her.”

Paston (oxnead-tombs)8
Oxnead Hall’s tombs. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Paston documents contain no further information about Anna, although it is likely she died in her early teens, given the ages of her siblings. But she may also may have been a scion of John Paston III’s second marriage, which means she would have died an infant.

It was at Oxnead that the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671, and where the medieval Paston letters were discovered mouldering in an attic room half a century later. These documents have been studied by historians in minute detail since they were first published in the late 18th Century, and it was thought that the family held few new surprises for academics.

Paston (oxnead-gardens)9
The gardens at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk, where the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The earliest member of the family that we have any record of is Clement Paston, of the village of Paston in north-east Norfolk. Clement was born in the years immediately after the Black Death swept England in the middle of the 14th Century, and was a miller and small-scale farmer by trade. In the wake of the plague, that killed about a third of the population of the country, Clement made good use of the less regulated land market to buy up small pieces of land in Paston and the neighbouring parishes. He married well, to the sister of a local lawyer, and their son William became a rich lawyer, high court judge, major landowner, and founder of the family fortune.

Paston (the once great oxnead-hall)110
The once-great Paston mansion of Oxnead Hall, where the memorial to the previously unknown Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

THE END

The original Stuart Anderson’s article, plus advertisements and other extraneous matter, can be found via the source link below.

Source:
Hidden story of Anna Paston sheds new light on famous medieval family (northnorfolknews.co.uk)

Norfolk in Brief: Booton’s Archangel!

By Haydn Brown.

Above the north porch of St Michael’s church at Booton in Norfolk is the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel himself, commissioned over 120 years ago by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin.

Reverend_Whitwell_Elwin_Evelyn Simak
Reverend Whitwell Elwin. Photo: (c) Evelyn Simak.

By being placed in front of a niche in the wall, this particular St Michael was intended to be seen both from the front – and from the sides. It is said that this figure was inspired by examples of the pre-Raphaelites, most notably the St George in Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon, which was commissioned in 1866 by Miles Burket Foster for the dining room of his house at Witley, Surrey.

St George _Pinterest
Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon. Photo: Pinterest.

The striking profile of Booton’s St Michael, with ruffled hair and a combination of plate armour worn over chainmail with sheet leggings, does follow Burne-Jones’s St George, with the strikingly textured wings attached to the rear of the breastplate. Here, the dreamlike action of the painting has been replaced by a more heroic stance as St Michael, with a cross hanging from his neck, places both hands on his large sword, looking out purposefully across the fields as he stamps down the dragon under foot.

The name of the sculptor was not recorded, but Ann Compton of the University of Glasgow, has underlined, what she thinks is, its amateur approach – as restated by the RACNS:

“the figure was modelled by someone who had not been trained in working for bronze or, possibly, was deliberately flouting current teaching. My point is that the composition goes against the accepted idea that works cast in bronze should show off the possibilities of the material by incorporating minute definition of draperies and adopting an expansive composition to reflect the self-supporting properties of the final material – whereas the composition here is very contained.”

jamesminns
James Minns

The Norfolk artist of the time, James Minns (1828-1904), responsible for the wooden angels in the roof, described himself variously as ‘sculptor’ and ‘wood carver’ and could possibly, as again stated by the RACNS, have provided the model for this St Michael.

It seems generally accepted, by many accounts of the Booton church, that the building is extraordinary – the product of one man’s eccentric imagination! The Reverend Whitwell Elwin (rector 1850-1900), said to have been a descendant of Pocahontas of Hiawatha fame, built the church at the end of the 19th century – without the help of an architect. Apparently, he borrowed details from other churches throughout the country, and thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust which investigated Elwin’s sources, it can be stated that the design of the nave windows is taken from those at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, and the west window from St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster. Then there is the west door design, which is that of Glastonbury Abbey, and the curious trefoil window above the chancel arch is from Lichfield Cathedral. It has been suggested that this may have been a homage to Elwin’s passion for Dr Johnson; this may strike some as far-fetched; but then, the whole building is, with its slender twin towers soaring over the wide Norfolk landscape and the central pinnacle looking almost like a minaret; everything seem to have sprung solely from Elwin’s imagination.

Booton Church_Simon Knott
St Michael’s Church, Booton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The dramatic wooden angels that hold up the roof are the work of James Minns, the well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard; he also worked at Ketteringham. But the church’s great glory is its stained-glass windows, by Cox Sons and Buckley from the 1890s, a unique example of a unified scheme of saints, angels and musicians set against imaginative Gothic canopies moving in procession towards the high altar. The colour for the rich red robes and Venetian inspired brocades, which are woven across the windows, are also striking – worn by archetypal willowy pre-Raphaelite ladies. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was:

‘very naughty but built in the right spirit’.

People visiting Booton church may love it – or hate it, but no one would remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity, well bedded down in the Norfolk Landscape – with St Michael standing over and protecting visitors.

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.

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 ever intentional.

The Pedlar of Swaffham.

Our thanks to Jim Moon of ‘Hypnogoria’ who, somewhere amongst his many blogs, wrote the following – it is his take on a very famous and popular Norfolk myth – whoops! – tale.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Village Sign)
The Swaffham Village Sign.

In the county of Norfolk, between King’s Lynn in the west and Norwich in the east lies the market town of Swaffham. However, while the town and its market have been a centre for agriculture since the 14th century, the town is perhaps better known as being home to an oft-told folk tale. It’s a tale of a good man and good fortune, and frequently is mentioned when the subject of prophecies and dreams come up. It’s a tale that has been told many times, and its earliest incarnation is found in an old tome entitled ‘An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’ by Francis Blomefield (William Miller, London, 1805-10). In Volume 11 of this truly compendious essay, we have a letter by Sir William Dugdale, dated 29 January 1652, and in it he relates the following Tale:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Essay)

“That dreaming one night if he went to London he should certainly meet with a man upon London Bridge which would tell him good news; he was so perplext in his mind, that till he set upon his journey he could have no rest; to London therefore he hasts and walk’d upon the Bridge for some hours where being espyed by a Shopkeeper and asked what he wanted, he answered you may well ask me that question for truly (quoth he) I am come hither upon a very vain errand and so told the story of his dream which occasioned the journey.  Whereupon the Shopkeeper reply’d alas good friend! should I have heeded dreams, I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for ‘tis not long since that I dreamt, that at a place called Swaffham Market in Norfolk dwells one John Chapman a pedlar who hath a tree in his backside under which is buried a pot of money.  Now therefore, if I should have made a journey thither to dig for such hidden treasure, judge you whether I should not have been counted a fool. To whom the pedlar cunningly said “Yes verily, I will therefore return home and follow my business, not heeding such dreams henceforward.”  But when he came home (being satisfied that his dream was fulfilled) he took occasion to dig in the place and accordingly found a large pot full of money which he prudently conceal’d, putting the pot amongst the rest of his brass.”

Pedlar of Swaffham 3
The Pedlar of Swaffham
The oak benches in the nave of The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham date from the middle of the nineteenth century. The carved finials on the front pew ends in this church represent John Chapman, otherwise known as the Pedlar of Swaffham. Photo: Copyright David Dixon.

“After a time, it happen’d that one who came to his house and beholding the pot observed an inscription upon it which being in Latin, he interpreted it, that under that there was an other twice as good.  Of that inscription the Pedlar was before ignorant or at least minded it not, but when he heard the meaning of it he said, “‘tis very true, in the shop where I bought this pot stood another under it, which was twice as big”; but considering that it might tend to further his profit to dig deeper in the same place where he found that, he fell again to work and discover’d such a pot, as was intimated by the inscription, full of old coine: notwithstanding all which he so conceal’d his wealth, that the neighbours took no notice of it.  But not long after the inhabitants of Swaffham resolving to reedify their church, and having consulted with the workmen about the charge they made a levy wherein they taxed the Pedlar according to no other rate than what they had formerly done.  But he knowing his own ability came to the church and desired the workmen to shew him their model, and to tell him what they esteemed the charge of the North Isle would amount to, which when they told him he presently undertook to pay them for building it, and not only that but of a very tall and beautiful tower steeple.”

Now this tale has become famous the world over, and is much celebrated in the the town itself, lending its name, in the past, to the Pedlar’s Hall Cafe and inspiring the carved wooden village sign (above) for the town. However curiously, Swaffham isn’t the only place that has a tale like this. Indeed, an almost identical tale is told of Upsall Castle in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood’ by William Grainge (Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1859) we have a story he entitles “Crocks of Gold”:

“Many years ago there resided in the village of Upsall, a man who dreamed three nights successively that if he went to London, he would hear of something greatly to his advantage. He went, travelling the whole distance from Upsall to London on foot, arrived he took his station on the bridge where he waited until his patience was very nearly exhausted and the idea that he had acted a very foolish part began to rise in his mind. At length he was accosted by a Quaker, who kindly inquired what he was waiting there so long for. After some hesitation, he told his dreams. The Quaker laughed at his simplicity, and told him he had had that night a very curious dream himself, which was that if he went to dig under a certain bush in Upsall Castle in Yorkshire, he will find a pot of gold; but he did not know where Upsall was, and inquired of the Countryman if he knew, who seeing some advantage in secrecy pleading ignorance of the locality; and then thinking his business in London was completed, returned immediately home, dug beneath the bush, and there he found a pot filled with gold, and on the cover an inscriptions in a language he did not understand. The pot and cover were however reserved at the village inn; where one day, a bearded stranger like a Jew, made his appearance, saw the pot, and read the inscription, the plain English at which was –

“Look lower where this stood
Is another twice as good”

The man of Upsall hearing this, resumed his spade, returned to the bush, dug deeper, and found another pot filled with gold far more valuable than the first: encouraged by this, he dug deeper still, and found another yet more valuable.”

This story has been related of other places, but Upsall appears to have as good a claim to this yielding of hidden treasures as the best of them. Here we have the constant tradition of the inhabitants, and the identical but yet remains beneath which the treasure was found; an Elder, near the north-west corner of the ruins. Now you will notice that this text boldly mentions that the tale is told in other places, and indeed it is. For to travel further north in the United Kingdom, we find it retold yet again and at an earlier date. In ‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826), we learn the history of Dundonald Castle:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Scotland)
‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826).

“Donald, the builder, was originally a poor man, but had the faculty of dreaming lucky dreams. Upon one occasion he dreamed, thrice in one night, that if he were to go to London Bridge, he would become a wealthy man. He went accordingly, saw a man looking over the parapet of the bridge, whom he accosted courteously, and, after a little conversation, intrusted with the secret of the occasion of his visiting London Bridge. The stranger told him that he had made a very foolish errand, for he himself had once had a similar vision, which directed him to go to a certain spot in Ayrshire, in Scotland, where he would find a vast treasure, and, for his part, he had never once thought of obeying the injunction. From his description of the spot, the sly Scotsman at once perceived that the treasure in question must be concealed in no other place than his own humble kail-yard at home, to which he immediately repaired in full expectation of finding it. Nor was he disappointed; for, after destroying many good and promising cabbages, and completely cracking credit with his wife, who esteemed him mad, he found a large potful of gold coin, with the proceeds of which he built a stout castle for himself, and became the founder of a flourishing family.”

Pedlar of Swaffham (London Bridge)
London Bridge

Chambers, much like Grainge, goes on to remark “This absurd story is localised in almost every district of Scotland, always referring to London Bridge”. And indeed, not only does the tale recur in other Scottish tales, but it appears in various other places in England and Wales too. Furthermore if we hop over the Channel to Europe, we find it flourishing there too, although of course with some other national landmark standing in for dear old London Bridge. The most famous example perhaps is found in the collections of folk tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm:

“Some time ago a man dreamed that he should go to the bridge at Regensburg where he would become rich. He went there, and after spending some fourteen days there a wealthy merchant, who wondered why was spending so much time on the bridge, approached him and asked him what he was doing there. The latter answered, “I dreamed that I was to go to the bridge at Regensburg, where I would become rich.“What?” said the merchant, “You came here because of a dream? Dreams are fantasies and lies. Why I myself dreamed that there is a large pot of gold buried beneath that large tree over there.” And he pointed to the tree. “But I paid no attention, for dreams are fantasies.” Then the visitor went and dug beneath the tree, where he found a great treasure that made him rich, and thus his dream was confirmed” (from Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), Vol. 1, No. 212)

Pedlar of Swaffham (Grimm)

However, the trail does not end there. Even earlier and further south, we discover an identical tale in that famous anthology of ancient tales ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ (AKA Arabian Nights). The 14th tale is called The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream and goes like this:

“Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, “Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it.” So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque, they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail. Three days later, the Chief of Police sent for him and asked “Where do you come from?” “From Bagdad” he answered. ” And what brought you to Cairo?” asked the Chief.

“A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune,” answered the man from Baghdad “But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me.””You fool,” said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. “A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination.” He then gave him some money saying, “This will help you return to your own country.”The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus, Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream’s prediction to fulfillment”.

Now we cannot be sure of the exact age of the many tales collected in this volume, for scholars believe the first versions of the collection appeared in Arabic in the early parts of the 8th century, with various additional tales being added over the next few centuries. However, what we do know is that this particular story of a most fortunate dream appears in as part of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumia, who is best known in the West as simply Rumi. In his epic collection The Masnavi, we have the poem ‘In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad’.

So then, here we have a tale retold in many places and at many times, indeed it is one of those small number of tales that seems to recur everywhere. And folklorists have a catalogue of such stories – this one is commonly referred to as ‘The Treasure at Home’, and under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales it is number ATU 1646. Now given that we have several important literary landmarks for the story, it is widely though that this very popular tale was spread throughout Europe thanks the massive popularity of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, and was adapted to fit local geography and history as it was retold in different places.

However, the first European edition of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ was a French version translated by Antoine Galland that appeared 1704, and was first translated into English in 1706. We should also note at this point that the works of Rumi were not translated until considerably later, with the first English translations appearing in the late 19th century. However, if you have been paying attention to the dates, we find that while the ‘Arabian Nights’ theory could well account for the versions referenced by Grainge and Chambers, the oldest English version, comes from a letter written in the 1650s.

Now while we cannot rule out this old Arabic tale been spread orally across Europe before its printed incarnations, it is certainly intriguing that the Swaffham version predates other European versions by a good century or more. Furthermore Sir William makes clear that it was already an old tale when he set it down in his letter, and this is supported by the fact that the original Swaffham version has a sequel built in that many other version do not – the business of the inscription and a second pot of gold. For this kind of embroidery is typical of a tale been around for a good while, gaining additional details and extra subplots as it is retold by different generations.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Chapman & Dog)
John Chapman and his dog

Stranger still is the fact that our hero is actually given a name – John Chapman – something very unusual for a folk tale. But even more intriguingly, there is some historical evidence to back up the story, for John Botewrigh, the Rector of Swaffham between 1435 and 1474 made an inventory of building and repair work done to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And this tome is now known as the’Swaffham Black Book’, and in it we discover that in the mid-15th century the North Aisle of the church was rebuilt. And what is more, this renovation work was paid for by a fellow named John Chapman. And as part of this building work, new pews were installed and two of them are of particular interest for us: for their carved ends show a pedlar and his dog. Furthermore, local tradition suggests that a third which shows a lady, is a representation of the shopkeeper in the story.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Church)
The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham
This is one of the finest medieval churches in East Anglia. It was built between the years of 1454-1465 on the remains of the previous church which had partly collapsed. The tower was added between 1507 and 1510.
The church, which is built of Barnack stone, brick and flint, is in the Perpendicular style. It has the traditional cruciform plan of chancel, nave and transepts with north and south aisles and a square tower. Its total length is 173 feet from west to east. The church is a grade I listed building (English Heritage Building).

 Of course, none of that can displace the fact that a version of the tale was circulating in the East some centuries before, but certainly the pews and Chapman’s name appearing in the ‘Swaffham Black Book’ does suggest that the story of his good fortune may have been doing the rounds while the goodly gent was still alive. Obviously, Chapman, who served as a churchwarden, was a wealthy man, for construction work never comes cheap, particular in earlier times when a major building project may take years to complete. And given that in the 15th century, Swaffham was home to a thriving market, one wonders whether the tale had found its way to rural Norfolk thanks to travelling merchants, the very kind of folks Chapman would have been trading with.

Furthermore, in history we have many examples of less than virtuous men who in later life decide to bankroll various projects for their local churches. And usually these generous and charitable projects are seemingly done as a kind of penance for their earlier sins and misdeeds. Therefore it is tempting to speculate that the tale of Chapman’s fortune may well have been deliberately adopted to disguise the real origin of his wealth. And rather than repaying the good Lord for his luck by refurbishing his local church, as many versions of the tale suggest, he may well have been atoning for making a lot of money through less than virtuous means…

THE END.

Sources:
https://plus.google.com/+JimMoonHypnogoria
https://thehistoryanorak.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-pedlar-of-swaffham.html
https://calumimaclean.blogspot.com/2014/12/dreaming-of-fortune-at-london-bridge.html
Feature Image: Is an illustration by John D. Batten

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

 

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.

 

 

A Painting Framed in Mystery!

Research in recent years uncovered lost 17th-century treasures once owned by the Paston family of Norfolk. In 2018 this treasure was brought together in an exhibition that was held at the Castle Museum in Norwich; included in the items displayed was a picture, named ‘The Paston Treasure’ (circa. 1663). This painting has been described as an enigmatic masterpiece commissioned by either Sir William Paston, first Baronet (1610–1663), an epic collector and traveller who got as far as Cairo, Constantinople and Jerusalem; or his son, Robert Paston first Earl of Yarmouth (1631–1683), to mark his father’s death in 1663. Robert himself was a passionate amateur scientist (believed to have accounted for the unusual number of different expensive pigments that were used in the painting) who practiced alchemy for years but failed to turn base metal into much-needed gold. He was to die in 1683, aged 52, overwhelmed by debt which was partly caused by the ruinous cost of lavish hospitality, including a party for King Charles in 1671; also, after a life scarred by gout, scurvy and depression. However, the identity of the Flemish artist, working out of a makeshift studio at Oxnead Hall around 1663, is not known, although there have been suggestions.

The painting was given to the Norwich Museum in 1947 by a descendant of one of the buyers from the Paston’s 18th-century “garage sale” and was regarded then as a historical curiosity rather than a major work of art – it was “very faded, of no artistic value, only curious from an archaeological point of view.” However, its eerie atmosphere and teeming detail have mesmerised generations of visitors. In 2018, and in a partnership between the Norwich Museum and the Yale Center for British Art many of the painting’s secrets were decoded.

Paston6
Dr Francesca Vanke, curator of the exhibition with ‘The Paston Treasure’ painting. Photo: ANTONY KELLY

At the time of the exhibition the Curator, Dr Francesca Vanke, said that the event was:

“A once-in-a-lifetime event [that] tells both a very Norfolk story and a genuinely international one. The painting is not just a typical 17th century still life, but the key to unlocking a fascinating, dramatic and ultimately tragic story: of a family, a collection, and a great house. The first clues to the story are in this painting. They open up a world we never knew existed, for which evidence is scattered worldwide. This exhibition, the result of years of research, brings everything together.”

The exhibition, in fact, reunited ‘The Paston Treasure’ painting with some of the rare works of art that the painting depicts; it also shed new light on the Paston family itself, their Norfolk home, and the rise and fall of one of 17th century England’s most important private art collections. The exhibition also displayed the recently discovered painting ‘The Paston Prospective’, which dates from around 1640, a couple of decades before ‘The Paston Treasure’, and features a grand imaginary building that it is thought could have been a vision of what Sir William Paston wanted to create at Oxnead.

Paston7
Dr Francesca Vanke, curator of the exhibition viewing ‘The Paston Prospect’ painting. Photo: ANTONY KELLY

The Paston family possessions, plus many of the surviving objects depicted in the painting, were brought together from museums and private collections in Europe and the US; this was the first time in 300 years that they could be placed together in a single venue. On view were five treasures from the 16th and 17th centuries that appear in the painting, one of a pair of silver-gilt flagons, a Strombus shell cup, two unique nautilus cups, and a perfume flask with a mother-of-pearl body. A host of other objects, many with Paston provenance, depicted the rich story of collecting within the family from the medieval period until the moment the painting was created. However, the Paston collection was sold off within two generations of the painting’s completion.

Paston1
The Paston Treasure painting, circa 1663, held by the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery NWHCM.170.

The Paston family is beloved by historians for a unique set of medieval letters  tracing their family and financial affairs in vivid detail. By the mid-17th century they were rich, powerful landowners. When they commissioned The Paston Treasure painting, a swaggering boast of their wealth and culture, it was also a vanitas, with the hour glass, the ticking clock, the flowers and fruit which will decay and rot, the reminders that life is fleeting and death inexorable. The Pastons could not have guessed how true this was for them: there would be many deaths in childhood including the little girl in the painting. Robert’s son, William, would inherit massive debts, and instigated the disposal of the treasures; this began far earlier than previously thought for the research mentioned turned up a sale receipt dated 1709. Finally, Oxnead Hall itself was sold and, by 1732, William was bankrupt, with debts equivalent to £17m today. So, within two generations the family was overwhelmed by debt, the treasures scattered in a series of sales, and their huge house, Oxnead Hall, abandoned and then sold, and later almost entirely demolished in the 18th century.

Paston8
Oxnead Hall From the East, by Rev James Bulwer (1794-1879). Watercolour on paper. Image: © Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Paston9
Oxnead Hall – A 17th century brick structure in formal garden, by Rev James Bulwer (1794-1879). Watercolour and pencil on paper. Image: © Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

Pre-exhibition research also identified the sheet music being held by the pale little girl shown in the picture. She was Robert Paston’s daughter who died in childhood. The handsome young African boy has still not been identified, but because the identifiable details are so meticulously accurate, the researchers believed that he must, like the girl, been a real person and possibly had lived in the Paston household. Jonathan Wainwright, professor of music at the University of York, had pored over photographic enlargements of the sheet music held by the little girl and identified it as an appropriately doom-laden piece by the Scottish composer Robert Ramsey, “Charon, O Charon, Heare a Wretch Opprest”, written in 1630. The music itself was so meticulously painted that he could read it. Only one manuscript of this music still survives and that resides in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The first recording of the song was commissioned by the Castle Museum from the Royal College of Music and was played during the Norwich exhibition.

Paston2
A section of  The Paston Treasure showing the sheet music.
Paston3
The musical score by Robert Ramsey which matches that held by the little girl. Image: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Wainwright also traced a second musical reference, though in the painting of the tiny book held by the satyr on the golden stem of the shell cup was too minute even for his eyes. However, on the real cup, which came on loan from the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, he could read the words of a popular 16th-century round song – again dealing with death – “Je prens en gré la dure mort”.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jun/21/framed-mystery-painting-tells-story-doomed-norfolk-family-paston
https://www.edp24.co.uk/going-out/paston-treasure-new-exhibition-1-5574054
https://britishart.yale.edu/exhibitions/paston-treasure-microcosm-known-world
https://www.eastangliaartfund.org.uk/events-old/oxnead-hall-and-the-paston-treasure

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

 

 

Stories Behind the Signs: Fersfield

There are parts of South Norfolk that, even today, can seem remote – like those that have a maze of lanes, particularly between Diss and Thetford where the villages hide. It is surprising therefore that one of those villages, Fersfield, holds an important place in the history of Norfolk; but not necessarily because of the village itself, or its parish church. Fersfield is famous because of an 18th century incumbent of its church, St Andrew’s

Fersfield & Blomefield (St Andrews)2
St Andrew’s Church, Fersfield, Norfolk. Photo: Simon Knott.

The church of St Andrews at Fersfield sits where some of those lanes mentioned come together, its truncated, pencil-like tower a beacon across the fields and farmlands. According to Simon Knott (2018):

” The capped tower is reminiscent of Culpho and Thornham Parva in Suffolk, and probably dates from the early 14th century. If so, it is probably later than the bulk of the church against which it sits. There were further improvements: money in the late 15th century brought a fairly imposing south aisle and porch, and the chancel is entirely Victorian, I think. But it all works well together, especially when seen from the south-east.”

Fersfield & Blomefield (Village Sign)

This church is depicted on the village sign at Fersfield, and stands next to it. At the brick base of the sign is a metal plaque which reads:

“This sign was given by the people, to the people of the village of Fersfield. 31st July 1988.” Then, in two columns the plaque includes the names of ten individuals before concluding. ‘Between the faces lies our village history.”

Taking this as a guide, it is clear that the residents of Fersfield have every right to celebrate the village’s past. More importantly however is that it was at Fersfield where the first major work on the history of the entire county of Norfolk was written; its author was Francis Blomefield, the 18th century incumbent of St Andrew’s Church who happened to have been born in the village on 23 July 1705.

Fersfield & Blomefield (Blomefield Tablets)
The Blomefield Tablets in St Andrew’s Church, Fersfield. Photo: Wikipedia

Francis Blomefield was the eldest son of Henry and Alice Blomefield, who were yeoman farmers nearby. Later biographies record that he developed a fascination for visiting churches as a child, when he began recording their monumental inscriptions, covering Norfolk, Suffolk and later Cambridgeshire. At the same time he began his education at Diss and Thetford Grammar Schools; then, in April 1724, he was admitted to Caius College, Cambridge from where he graduated BA in 1727 and MA in 1728. While at college, he also began keeping genealogical and heraldic notes relating to local families; then, soon after leaving university in 1727 he was ordained a priest whilst continuing with collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire.

Fersfield & Blomefield (Portrait)
Blomefield depicted in the frontispiece to volume 1 of the quarto edition of An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk (1805). Image: Wikipedia.

On 13 September 1729 Francis Blomefield was ordained as an Anglican minister when he was ‘presented by his father, Henry Blomefield, Gent’. His first appointment was a very brief affair as rector of Hargham before moving on to become rector of Fersfield, his father’s family living. According to Simon Knott, it was at Fersfield where:

“……. he would spend the rest of his life. He was not always a well man, and although he visited many of the churches himself, the bulk of his work involved sending questionnaires to Rectors of other churches. Because of this, and because Blomefield himself did not always understand what he was seeing or reading about, the survey needs to be used with care. Moreover, Blomefield did not finish it. I always tend to think of 18th century antiquarians as be whiskered old men sitting with quill pens at high desks, but Blomefield contracted smallpox and died at the age of 47. His work was completed by friends, most notably Charles Parkin and William Whittingham.”

It was on 1 September 1732, when Francis Blomefield married Mary Womack, the daughter of a former rector of Fersfield. They had three daughters, two of whom survived him. It was also in 1732 when the project of collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire was deferred when he was given access to Peter Le Neve’s huge collection of materials for the history of Norfolk by Le Neve’s executor “Honest Tom” Martin.

Fersfield & Blomefield (Thomas Martin)
Thomas Martin FSA (8 March 1696/7 to 7 March 1771), known as “Honest Tom Martin of Palgrave”, was an antiquarian and lawyer. Image: Wikipedia.

It is said that during a visit to Oxnead Hall in 1735, Blomefield found a vast number of written correspondences among the papers of the country house. Of the discovery, Blomefield wrote in May 1735:

“There are innumerable letters, of good consequence in history, still lying among the loose papers all which I layd (sic) up in a corner of the room on an heap, which contains several sacksful, but as they seemed to have some family affairs of one nature or other intermixed in them I did not offer to touch any of them…”

This collection, known today as the ‘Paston Letters’, is now regarded as one of national significance. These papers date from the period of the Wars of the Roses and the Black Death and reveal details of everyday life of a notable East Anglian family.

Before his untimely death, on 16 January 1752, Blomefield wrote just three volumes of his ‘An Essay towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’. Determined to protect and control the production of this work, he also installed a printing press in his own home. The first volume, covering his own Parish of Fersfield among others, was completed on 25th December 1739. He was nearing completion of his third volume – having reached page 678 – when he contracted the deadly smallpox during a visit to London. He died in Fersfield on 16th January 1752 aged 47. The Rev. Charles Parkin, the rector at Oxborough and a friend and fellow history enthusiast, was the first to continue Blomefield’s work. He not only completed Blomefield’s third volume but went on to write two further volumes. This initial set of three was subsequently published in various forms.

Fersfield & Blomefield (Portrait)2
Portrait of The Rev’d Francis Blomefield at St Andrew’s Church in Fersfield. Photo: Sonya Duncan

This portrait of Francis Blomefield is positioned on the south side of St. Anne’s chapel in St. Andrew’s Church, allowing him a pleasing opportunity to look down on a memorial which he himself took great pains to conserve. In his own words, from Volume 1 of his work:

“In the south side of St. Anne’s chapel, in the south isle, under the window, in an arch in the wall, lies an effigies of a knight, armed capà-pié, cut out of one piece of oak, which being in a dirty condition, I had it taken out and washed very clean…..… After removing the seats that stood before it, I caused it to be painted in the same colours, as near as could be, and added this inscription:

‘Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Son of Sir Robert, and Grandson of Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Founder of this Isle, Lord of this Manor, and Patron of this Church, died in 1311, aged 43 Years.’

Fersfield (Bois Pedigree)
The Bois Pedigree.

He, the most famous medieval survival is the man in a glass case and represents someone who was probably responsible for the rebuilding of the church’s tower. He lies with his legs uncrossed, a rather surprised buck at his feet. Nearby is a relatively plain Norman font. After his own visit to St Andrew’s in 2018, Simon Knott also wondered:

“…… how much Blomefield would recognise his own church if he came back to it today. The furnishings are all modern, and the feel is of a pleasantly light space of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His memorial is in the rebuilt chancel, a fairly simple ledger stone set, not inappropriately, beneath the kind of 17th century panelling which must have been familiar to him. Less happy is the clumsy reredos, which looks as if some of the panelling had been left over and cobbled together with a picture of the Last Supper…… Even today, St Andrew is not without Antiquarian interest. Above Blomefield’s memorial in the east window are three roundels of glass, all of which are continental, I think. They depict St Andrew, St Gregory, and the eagle of St John. They were probably placed here by the Victorians at the time of the rebuilding. Curiously, Blomefield records quite a lot of medieval glass at Fersfield, mostly from the narrative of the Blessed Virgin, which is now all gone……… But despite the modern ambience, this is a church in which to recall the 18th century. The south aisle contains more Blomefield memorials, curly ones on the walls and simple ledgers on the floor. And, looking down on them all, the great royal arms of Queen Anne dated 1703, two years before Francis Blomefield was born.”

Fersfield & Blomefield (Volumes)

Of Francis Blomefield, it has been said that he was one of a generation of 18th century historians who ultimately saved that past belonging to Norfolk churches from being consigned to oblivion – with no thanks to the 16th century Anglicans and 17th century Puritans who seemed ‘hell-bent’ in doing just that. He was a giant among Norfolk antiquarians!

THE END

Some Sources:
http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/fersfield/fersfield.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Blomefield
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol1/pp74-114

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 necessary, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that 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.

Francis Howes: An Almost Forgotten Cleric and Scholar.

By Haydn Brown.

Francis Howes was born at Morningthorpe, Norfolk, on 29 February 1776 and baptised at St John’s, Morningthorpe on 3 March 1776. Apart from his entry into the church, he was to become a classical scholar.

Francis Howes (Portrait_Norfolk Museum Service)
The Reverend Francis Howes (1776-1844) by Henry Housego (c.1795–1858) . Portrait: Norfolk Museums Service. Image: Artuk

Francis was the fourth surviving son of the Revd Thomas Howes (1732–1796), ‘Lord of the Manor of Morningthorpe’ and Rector of St Edmunds, Fritton and St Andrews, Illington. Thomas was grandson of a much earlier Thomas Howes who had first acquired Morningthorpe Hall following the death of his own father in law, John Roope, who died without male heirs in 1686. For generations thereafter the Howes family were born at Morningthorpe.

Francis Howes (Spixworth Hall)
Spixworth Hall. Image: Wikimedia.

Francis Howes mother was Susan Longe (1732-1822), the daughter of Francis Longe of Spixworth (1689-1735), also in Norfolk. Susan had married Francis Howes’s father, Thomas, on 11 Jan 1758 at St Peter’s church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Her elder brother had already married Thomas’s sister, Tabitha Howes, at the same Spixworth church in 1747 – brother and sister married sister and brother! Francis Howes eldest surviving brother, John (1758–1787), entered Gray’s Inn but died young. Two other brothers of his, Thomas (1770–1848) and George (1772–1855), took holy orders, the latter taking over in 1808 as Vicar of Gazeley cum Kentford, Suffolk and then as Rector of St Peter’s at Spixworth, the related Longe family home.

Francis Howes (St Peter's Spixworth)
St Peter’s Church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Image: Wikipedia.

Francis Howes was first educated at Norwich Grammar School in 1790 under Dr Samuel Parr and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 and graduating with a BA in 1798 as ‘Eleventh Wrangler’, then proceeding to a MA in 1804. Between 1799 and 1800 he had obtained the ‘Members Prize’. His chief college friend was John Williams, the judge, who subsequently made him an allowance of £100 per annum.

Francis Howes (Norwich Grammar School)

Francis Howes is said to have ‘married early’ but in fact was of full age, having married Sarah Smithson (1773–1863) on 19 March 1802 in St Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn. It has been speculated that this comment ‘married early’ was probably because his family disapproved of the match; the bride’s late father had been a member of St John’s College, Cambridge – but as a cook, not as a Fellow! (Universal British Directory, 2, c.1792, 493). Francis and Sarah had a reported nine children of whom their sons were Thomas George (b. 1807), later rector of Belton, Suffolk; John (1808–1837), parish clerk; and Charles (1813–1880), fellow and chaplain of Dulwich College. Three of their six daughters married clergymen – a strong theme throughout the generations of the Howes.

Francis Howes was ordained Deacon on 21 December 1800 and priest on 9 August 1801. He was to accumulate a number of clergy appointments thereafter. He was appointed Vicar of Shillington, Bedfordshire, in 1801 and was to hold it until 1816, although it appears that he never lived there. Francis’s sons were baptised in Acle, Norfolk, from where his first books were dated. He was also Vicar of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, from 1809 until his death, and Rector of Buckenham, with Hassingham, Norfolk, from 1811 to 1814. In 1814 he moved to St George Colegate, Norwich, as parish chaplain, a position which he held until 1831 when he was appointed Vicar of Bawburgh, Norfolk, remaining in this post until 1829. But in 1815 he was also appointed a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, moving to Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He received the rectories of Alderford and Attlebridge in March 1826 and in 1829 was made Rector of Framingham Pigot, Norfolk, retaining them until his death in 1844:

The diocese of Norwich was notorious for pluralism and absentee clergy, but the Bishop of the time, Henry Bathurst, always pointed out that the majority of parishes were small and produced a low income.

Francis Howes (Book)As for scholastic writings of Francis Howes, some translations were from Latin into English verse and printed privately for him in 1801; they were included in his Miscellaneous Poetical Translations (1806). His translation of The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (1809) was unsuccessful. Although he claimed that his translation of Horace’s Satires was ‘shortly’ to be published, The Epodes and Secular Ode of Horace did not appear until 1841 and The First Book of Horace’s Satires in 1842; both were privately printed in Norwich. It was only after his death when his son, Charles, gathered his translations from Horace and published them in The Epodes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1845); all the translations were written in heroic couplets, on which Francis Howes’s reputation was to rest. In 1892, John Conington praised these translations, noting that they had been forgotten by the public:

“very good, unforced, idiomatic, felicitous … I should be glad if any notice which I may be fortunate enough to attract should … extend to a predecessor who, if he had published a few years earlier, when translations were of more account, could scarcely have failed to rank high among the cultivators of this branch of literature.”

Howes, also composed epitaphs for monuments in Norwich Cathedral and spent his last years transcribing the diaries of his eccentric but cultured neighbour Sylas Neville. Neville was born in 1741, apparently in London. In 1768-9 he came to Great Yarmouth and settled at Scratby Hall. The years 1772-6 were then spent mainly in Edinburgh where he qualified as a doctor of medicine; the years 1777-80 were spent in foreign travel, mainly in Italy. On his return, and after visits to London, Edinburgh etc., he settled at Norwich in 1783 and there spent the rest of his life, intending to practise medicine but in fact subsisting increasingly on charity and the proceeds of begging letters. He was also to mutilate his diaries and letters later in his life, apparently in an attempt to remove compromising or politically embarrassing matter. Many of these excised passages were later restored by Francis Howes after Neville’s death in 1840 when his papers passed to Howes; he, in turn, transcribed some of the diaries, along with some of the correspondence – but afterwards destroying the originals! From Howes’ son the papers passed to the antiquary Hargrave Harrison then, on his death in 1896, they were purchased by L.G. Bolingbroke; from his family they went to Basil Cozens-Hardy.

Revd Francis Howes died at Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk on 26 March 1844 and was buried in the west cloister of Norwich Cathedral near his son John. According to the Norwich Mercury on 30 March 1844:

 “Mr Howes was known as a ripe and spund [sic] classical scholar having addressed himself to this branch of learning from its earliest growth. He was not less distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition, the sweetness of his temper and the urbanity of his manners. The Editor of this Journal, who pays this tribute to his worth, passed through the Free School of this City upon the same form as him, and testifies with a mournful satisfaction to the early development of these his true qualities, to which they who knew him in later life will be ready to do the same justice, as well as to the liberality of his principles, and of his firmness in their assertion.”

Francis Howes widow died on 3 January 1863, aged 89 years.

THE END

Some Sources:
https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/13987
https://www.howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I10181&tree=Onename

Wickhampton: St Andrews and a Legend!

By Haydn Brown.

On reclaimed marshland where the most frequent visitors are birds, the site of St Andrew’s Church at Wickhampton was once covered by sea, now it stands as a lonely beacon on the haunting expanse of Halvergate marsh. It is a place which inspires calm – unlike the story attached to the stone effigies it guards. Many childhood generations have been told the heartrending and cautionary tale of two local brothers who took extreme measures to resolve their differences; it warns against sibling wars.

Wickhampton Legend4 (St Andrews)
St Andrews, Wickhampton, Norfolk.

This tale has to start in the chancel of St Andrew’s Church where there is an interesting pair of 13th century effigies, representing Sir William and Isabella Gerbygge; the couple lie in single beds awaiting Judgement Day. Sir William served as a Bailiff of Great Yarmouth in the 1270s and died about 1280. One fascinating feature of Sir William is that he is shown holding a heart in his hands. This has given rise to several interpretations. The most romantic interpretation is that Sir George is showing his love for his wife. A more religious interpretation is that he is holding his heart up to God in prayer. Another, rather intriguing interpretation is that the heart tells the story of Sir William’s two sons who tore each other’s hearts out.

Wickhampton Legend1

It was during the reign of Edward I that Wickhampton, on the marshes near Breydon Water, was a place of fishing, fine hunting and with a farm and a church; the neighbouring village of Halvergate was rich in arable land and seen as the better of the two villages for it boasted many fine farms and a fine church.

Sir William Gerbygge owned both villages and he and his two sons, Gilbert, the elder son, and William managed the estate. It was a fine estate, the rich farmland produced bountiful crops, while livestock thrived on the damp verdant pastures, which also provided hay for the winter months. Wildlife abounded, providing fine sport and hunting. The sons were very fortunate, a fact that Sir William was forever reminding them. But the brothers were quarrelsome and jealous and their father often had to reproach them.

Wickhampton Legend6

Gilbert, the elder son, wanted the better of the inheritance and his possessive gaze took in all that was good, frequently using the word “my”, to the annoyance of his brother and the villagers. But William was strong and had a sharp mind, frequently quarrelling with his brother and driving his father to his wits end to know how best to distribute his lands after his death. He eventually left Wickhampton to William and the better of the two villages, Halvergate, to Gilbert. He made known of his Will and prayed for peace as he breathed his last. But, after his death, there would be little peace. At first Gilbert and William wanted to at least give the impression that they were both pleased with their respective inheritances; when they met, they would make a point of shaking hands – which was noted by the quiet villagers with a cynical nod as they could see the storm clouds gathering. In fact, the two brothers were to spend years arguing over their respective lands, with neither brother conceding; gradually, the dispute became bitter and finally, became violent.

It happened at ploughing time of one particular year, when the folk looked forward to another good season. There was a field, just north of Wickhampton church which projected far into the boundary of Halvergate, and Gilbert saw this as an opportunity. He called to his brother who happened to be close by, “That field should be mine. It is an obvious mistake, made when the boundaries were drawn”. William replied coolly “You already have enough…….no mistake was made”. But the impetuous Gilbert, angry that he could not sway his younger brother, jumped from his saddle, rushed over to William and pulled him from his horse. “I will have my way” he shouted, striking William with his bare hands.

Wickhampton Legend7
Conflict!

The two brothers then attacked each other with increasing ferocity that frightened the folk who had gathered around to watch the fight. Gilbert and William tore at each other with bare hands, at the edge of the field over which they disagreed. They grasped for hair to pull out by its roots, ears to rent, fingers, legs, arms and noses which were scratched, pulled and twisted with unreasoning and inhuman fury. The differences, pent up over the years, were released as they became snarling and snorting animals. The villagers dared not to intervene.

As the blood began to flow and the fighting became ever more intense, a demonic fury gripped the two brothers. Their finger nails appeared to grow longer, their teeth became fangs, their eyes widened and the villagers gazed on in silence. The brothers tore at each other’s throats and breasts with devilish roars in what became their final fight. Then, strange as it would appear and precisely at the same point in time, the brothers tore the hearts from each other with their bare hands in a final burst of malice. They lay upon the ground, lifeless – as one would expect! The awestruck onlookers then saw a divine figure overhead, some said it was an angel, others said no – it was God who was so appalled by the brother’s behaviour that he instantly turned them both to stone to atone for such sins and as a warning to others. God also ensured that the stone fingers of each brother would remain clutching the heart of the other. Local villagers bore the stone corpses – together with the clutched hearts – into the church to serve as a reminder of the perils of fighting. As for the brothers’ lands; they were renamed Wicked Hampton, now shortened to Wickhampton, and Hell Fire Gate, now known as Halvergate. Legend also has it that, over time, one brother’s heart has been worn away leaving just one grasping a heart with the other next to him.

 

But there is more to St Andrew’s church than a legend, standing as it does in a secluded rural location on the wide open Halvergate marshes where the Yare Valley seems to contain any excitement it may have of reaching the sea. We are still four miles from the coast and there is nothing hereabouts until you reach Yarmouth except – the haunting flatness. Five-hundred years ago, St Andrews stood on the edge of a wide inlet, but the silting up of the estuary over the years left its tower as a beacon for nothing else other river boats.

The dedication of the church to St Andrew seems appropriate; he is the patron saint of fishermen, and Wickhampton is said to have been a fishing community which supported a population of around 500 inhabitants and had direct access to the river Yare. The church was built in the 13th century, but it seems very likely that an earlier church stood on the same spot for at least several hundred years before that. The earliest part of the church is the 13th century tower. The nave was rebuilt around 1340, and the chancel and south porch were added in the 15th century.

That said, the most interesting historic feature of St Andrews church is a series of 14th century wall paintings which are simply staggering, and the detail is remarkable. They were hidden by plaster at the Reformation and only came to light again during restoration in 1840 by the Diocesan architect Richard Phipson, someone criticised for over doing it! However, many wallpaintings of this kind were lost when liturgical patterns changed in the 15th century, a full century before the Reformation when perpendicular windows often destroyed such decorations when punched through them. But the three main subjects at Wickhampton are pretty well complete. They sit on the north wall with the largest, at the extreme westend, being the best surviving depiction in Norfolk of the Three Living and Three Dead. The theme was a common one in medieval art; the frailty of human life and the certainty of mortality. Three kings are shown hunting, and they meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning,

‘As you are now, so once were we. as we are now, so shall you be.’

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting_Simon K)2b
Three kings are hunting and meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning. Photo: Simon K Flickr.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2a
The Three Living Kings.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2
The Three Skeletons.

The final wall painting shows The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection, which illustrates people Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Prisoner, Receiving the Stranger, Visiting the Sick, and Burying the Dead. In a largely illiterate society, these images acted as as colourful reminder to churchgoers of the sort of behaviour that was expected of medieval Christians. The message is driven home in the final scene, showing Christ raising his hand in a gesture of blessing.

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)1
The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection

According to Simon Knott: The Seven Works of Mercy were, and are, a Catholic catechetical tool, designed to help the faithful follow the teachings of Christ with regard to strangers as set forth in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel. By meditating on these images, the worshippers could ensure they were carrying out this advice in their daily lives. The faithful are called upon to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to the homeless, to visit the sick, to comfort the prisoner, and to bury the dead. The way in which meditative images could be used to follow their example give us an insight into the way in which medieval Christianity was practiced in the days before congregational worship became the norm. The illustrations at Wickhampton are stunning in their simplicity and emotion. The Burying of the Dead panel in particular deserves to be as well-known as any 14th century Christian image in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and yet here it is, in an isolated church on the edge of a wild Norfolk marshland.

There are, of course, other features of historic interest in the church beyond the wall paintings. The pulpit is late Elizabethan, while the benches in the nave are Victorian, in the style of the Jacobean period. A single original Jacobean bench end survives in the chancel. In the nave hangs a royal coat of arms to George I, dated 1737. The organ came from Freethorpe Manor and is housed in an 1810 mahogany cabinet made by George Pike. Near the south door is an ancient parish chest. In its traditional place opposite the entrance is a painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. You can still see swarms of fish around St Christopher’s feet, perhaps another sign of Wickhampton’s once-thriving fishing industry.

To visit Wickhampton church will provide an unforgettable experience. The church seems stranded, lost in time, with no obvious village left to serve, but the superb wall paintings speak of a long and rich past, now lost, when this rural backwater was a busy place, full of life, and providing the roots of a possible sibling feud – one which led to a legend!

THE END

Sources:
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/wickhampton/wickhampton.htm
https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/norfolk/churches/wickhampton.htm

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