The Jermy’s of Stanfield Hall were an ancient family who arrived in England from Normandy soon after William the Conqueror – sometime around 1100. They were of the knighted class, holding their estates from various Earls and Barons by ‘knight’s fees’ – mostly in East Anglia. By the 1500s, however, they had acquired freehold ownership of their own properties. One branch of the family settled in North Norfolk and a later son of this line, John Jermy, Esq, became a successful lawyer in London before returning to Norfolk to take up the position of chief counsellor to the Bishop of Norwich – sometime around 1600. He did well in this post and was soon in a position to purchase two estates in north Norfolk for his sons. The elder son, Francis, settled at Gunton Hall, near Aylsham, while the younger one, Robert, did so at Bayfield Hall, near Holt. Each Jermy is outlined in turn:
The Senior Jermy Lineat Gunton Hall: This line of the Jermy family continued at Gunton for several generations, until about 1700 – when the Estate had to be sold to cover mortgage debts accrued years before during the English Civil War. By the late 1680s, the elder son, Francis, did at least attend Cambridge although he did not go on to a career in either the law or the church. After the estate was sold, he settled for a time in Hainford, near Norwich, where he married and had two surviving daughters before abandoning them and their mother for London where he seems to have lived ‘on his wits’. He then had three sons there in an irregular 2nd marriage but no later Jermys descended from them.
Francis Jermy did have a younger brother back at Gunton Hall but he received even less from the estate and very little education which meant the he had to settle for a working class apprenticeship – in Great Yarmouth. He did, however, later obtain a slightly better position in the Custom’s Service there through the influence of earlier family contacts. This younger brother of Francis was thereby in a position to afford to give his eldest, of two sons, at least, training as a Shipwright, but that son died quite young, without leaving an heir. The younger of the two sons obtained neither education nor training and was later referred to as ‘an illiterate day-labourer’. His name was John Jermy, the same John Jermy who was allegedly bought off for a mere £20 by Isaac Preston, the lawyer to William Jermy. It is not known if this John Jermy ever married or had children but he died in 1768 in Yarmouth. John’s death brought to an end the Gunton Hall branch of the ancient Jermy family.
The Junior Jermy line at Bayfield:
The junor line continued at Bayfield a little longer – until about 1750 that is. By 1735, the senior survivor on the estate, after 5 generations, was a respected Norfolk lawyer and landowner whose only son, William Jermy, Esq, was ready to marry that year. A union was arranged with the Hon. Elizabeth Richardson, only daughter of a wealthy landowner of south and west Norfolk – not the Jermys’ usual area of influence – She was soon to be the heir to her family’s large estate, including Stanfield Hall. In those times, a husband became effective owner of his wife’s property and, as William’s father had recently died, he was now in control of both Bayfield Hall and Stanfield Hall Estates. Unlike his father, however, he wasn’t very good at husbanding his resources and spent most of his time enjoying the lively social, partying scene amongst the landed gentry of Norfolk and in London. They never resided at either Hall but at their homes in Norwich and Aylsham, which were more convenient for their active social life. But he and his wife quarrelled and were soon divorced, she then dying before 1750. They had no children.
William Jermy was now free to marry again and would of course be quite a catch with all his wealth. But he too was now quite ill and apparently not very capable of handling his own affairs. It was at this point that a shrewd local lawyer – an Isaac Preston‘befriended’ him on the basis of having worked with William’s father previously. He soon convinced William to marry his sister Frances Preston – in 1751. Conveniently for Isaac Preston, William Jermy died very soon afterwards and, having never co-habited with Frances, there were no children. As William was the last of his family, and with no close relatives, his Estate passed into the hands of the Prestons; but what would happen as a consequence of this and who would legally end up with William’s vast Estate following the wording of his Will? Needless to say, the Will had been drawn up by this earlier Isaac Preston, the clever lawyer who advised for the property to go to William’s new widow, Frances, for her lifetime and then to one or other of two named Preston relatives, and their sons, if any. But these two men both died before Frances’s death in 1791 and without issue. In that case, said the Will, the property should go
“to the male person with the name Jermy nearest related to me (ie to William) in blood, and to his heirs forever”.
The ‘property’ by the time Frances died was, however, now lacking Bayfield Hall estate as the Will had also stated that Frances was to receive £5000 from the entire estate during her lifetime. This was much too much to raise from annual rental income so it was decided by Frances’s brother Isaac Preston to sell Bayfield! This was almost criminal by destroying the capital value of the estate; this certainly smacked of Isaac Preston’s influence in composing William’s Will. Bayfield Hall was sold in 1765 to the Jodrell family for £7600.
Some years later, in 1817, a Norwich weaver named Jonathan Jermy made a claim for the Bayfield estate through the courts based upon a pedigree that appeared to indicate he was a descendent of the Bayfield Jermys and thus William Jermy’s nearest heir-at-law. His apparent Jermy forebears over the 4 previous generations did have the very same christian names as did William’s, and in the same order, but his claim was made just after the relevant Statute of Limitations had expired and his pedigree was thus never examined in court. This was however later pursued and it was discovered that way back in 1640, Jonathan Jermy’s family’s name had actually been Jermyn, an unrelated family, but altered to Jermy after the civil war by church Vicars who were more familiar with the name Jermy. This family had actually settled near Stanfield Hall which turned out to be simply a remarkable coincidence!
A later member of the Jodrell family left Bayfield to the youngest son of the Earl of Leicester, Roger Coke; in more recent times the Hall came to the distantly related Combe family, of which Roger and Caroline Combe have resided there in recent years:
At least Stanfield Hall was still intact back in 1791 when William Jermy died. But who was ‘the nearest blood relative’ of William Jermy – with the surname Jermy at that point in time? There were no Jermys left in the Bayfield Hall line. What about the Gunton Hall Jermy family who previously had dispersed to London and Great Yarmouth? By 1791, none of the London members of that branch were still alive and in Yarmouth, the last of that family, a John Jermy the day-labourer described above, he had also died in 1768 and seemingly without issue.
What would happen now? Well, a short time after Frances died, another member of the Preston family, also a lawyer but not mentioned in the Will, quietly walked into possession of Stanfield Hall and instructed the estate’s Steward to forward the considerable rental income in future to him in Kings Lynn, claiming that he was now the new owner – “being the nearest relative to Frances”. In support of his claim he produced some apparently forged documents. The possibility of such an occurrence had been foreseen by the earlier Isaac Preston, namely that any future rights to William Jermy’s Estate could be claimed by anyone else . Frances death in 1791 was over 40 years since William’s death and his Will was published. Who else in 1791 would have any knowledge or interest in such a Will? No one apparently. There wasn’t it seemed ‘anyone else’ – to even question the suspicious justification produced by the member of the Preston family who walked into Stanfield Hall and staked his claim. No one else, seemingly, came forward to complain which meant that Stanfield Hall was to remain with the Prestons.
A contemporary account of the Jermy family and a murder that occurred in the 19th century can be read HERE; plus further accounts at many other websites – such as the following:
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.
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:
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The pleasure steamers our grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed are long gone. All we have are the memories of the tales they once told; along with the sepia and poorly coloured postcards that, having been posted from resort to family and friends during those far-off years, now lie cocooned in collectors’ albums, boxes and draws.
It is also certain that the likes of Great Yarmouth, along with every other seaside resort along the east coast and elsewhere, will ever again see these floating super-charged paddle-driven charabancs moor up and unload and re-load holidaymakers and trippers from London and other stopping places en route. Nice now to recall the era when they were commonplace, operating as they once did between our eastern resorts and often using specially-built piers where there was neither river nor adequate harbour.
The heyday of pleasure steamers coincided with that of the punctual railways, but the two clearly complemented each other for, like today, many folks enjoyed the spice of adventure for their holidays and chose pleasure steamers to provide this. An example was when, on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1889, thirteen special trains arrived at Yarmouth’s South Town Station packed with visitors – and five paddle steamers sailed into the Yare, each full to capacity. As usual, Hall Quay was crowded with sightseers welcoming the steamers, crews and passengers. Also waiting would have been those boarding-house proprietors offering accommodation in the town. But even then, it was more than likely that, in the thronged resort, some distressed and homeless visitors still desperately sought rooms in the early hours of the following morning.
That great pleasure steamer period began in the 1820s and endured until the Great War of 1914-18, unquestionably making a massive contribution to Yarmouth’s holiday industry. Some ships sailed directly from the Thames in London to Yarmouth, while others made “bus stop” calls at other resorts en route. Then, on the River Yare, some tied up on Brush Quay at Gorleston to let passengers off before continuing up-river to Yarmouth – an indication of the importance of Gorleston as a holiday destination. Occasionally, adverse weather conditions did cause delays in boat arrival, resulting in day-trippers having only a few hours ashore before they had to re-board for the voyage home.
The pleasure steamer line that provided this service to and from Great Yarmouth was the Belle Steamer fleet, which was a comparative late-comer to the business. ‘Belle Steamers’, as they were referred to, was nothing more that the marketing name used by the steamer company which had been created by various interests connected with the development of the east coast resorts of Clacton, Walton, Southwold, Felixstowe, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. Belle Steamers was the actual name of the parent company for about one year only, in 1897. The principal number of vessels operated by this company north of London totalled six; they were:
PS Clacton Belle (1890-1915), PS Woolwich Belle (1891-1924), PS London Belle (1893-1929), PS Southend Belle (1896-1929), PS Walton Belle (1897-1925), PS Yarmouth Belle (1898-1929) and PS Southwold Belle (1900-1913) – as below:
It was in June 1897 when the PS Walton Belle arrived in Yarmouth, after her maiden voyage from London; flags fluttering as cheering onlookers welcomed her and her 150 passengers. Her arrival was the inauguration of the London to Yarmouth (and vice versa) Belle Steamer service in the town, although the previous year the PS Southend Belle had sailed into the port and proved that safe berthing was possible, despite the Yare’s notorious currents. It also convinced the line that, provided the right vessel was used on the Thames-Yarmouth voyage, profits were assured. The PS Walton was, in fact, the sixth company vessel – and the fifth ‘Belle’. She was finished to the highest specifications, ensuring that her passengers were safe and well provided for. Her hull was divided into nine separate watertight compartments, a specification which rendered it very unlikely that the vessel would founder in any extreme weather conditions. As for her accommodation, first-class saloons were provided in oak and sycamore finishing, and the chairs and settees were upholstered in velvet and arranged to give a home-like appearance; windows guaranteed fine sea views and were curtained in blue and gold tapestry. The vessel was fully lit by electricity.
Soon after the PS Walton Belle’s inaugural visit to Yarmouth the great and the good from the area were invited on board for a voyage to savour the quality of the services the vessel had to offer. It was just as she was passing Corton, when Abel Penfold, the company chairman at the time, addressed the dignitaries. It was a well-timed intervention, being that his guests had been mare than adequately fed on a sumptuous lunch. No one questioned his statement that there was good mutually-beneficial business to be gained from a regular service between the capital and Yarmouth. Neither did they appear to doubt that the Belle steamers were far superior to the company’s rivals, but then it must have been a distinct possibility that few, in any, of the softened-up guests would ever make such a comparison.
Nevertheless, Abel Penfold seemed determined to make the point that his company would not be beaten on service and standards – and he kept his promise; within three years the Belle fleet numbered at least six vessels covering the east coast up to Yarmouth. Within seven years it had the monopoly on not only the Yarmouth service but also the landing piers of Lowestoft, Southwold, Clacton and Felixstowe. They used to say that on bank holiday weekends it was not unusual to see three Belle steamers berthed in the Yare. All would have arrived crowded with trippers eager to enjoy the pleasures of Great Yarmouth. This continued throughout the Victorian and Edwardian period when the Belles served the town; the Belles being principally the PS Walton Belle, PS Yarmouth Belle and PS Southwold Belle, proving that they all were indeed strong and reliable, a credit to their designers and builders. But what about Belle Steamers Ltd itself? (1896-1897)
The company was formed in 1896 when the London, Woolwich and Clacton-on-Sea Steamboat Company was renamed – using the title which applied to its steamers. However, the company was wound up at the end of 1897 and a new company named The Coast Development Company was formed, with interests outside the vessels themselves, particularly with further speculative development of the coastal resorts of East Anglia, but still retaining the ‘Belle Steamers’ identity. The company had pier and land interests in Clacton and also Walton-on-the-Naze. Importantly, a newly extended pier at Walton, then owned by the Belle Steamers parent company, became an important steamer call and from 1900 – 1904. The steamers would call at the more northerly pier before the more treacherous and tide-bound Clacton pier; this gave Walton “first call” for London excursionists and a new role as the interchange point for onward passengers to the more northerly resorts such as Yarmouth. The company also purchased land at Southwold in 1898 and set about the development of the small resort there, with new roads, a large hotel, a pier and a new steamer, to be called PS Southwold Belle, which entered service in the mid-summer of 1900. A pier was also built at Lowestoft (Claremont Pier) and opened in 1903 and a further pier at Felixstowe in 1905.
Then came the outbreak of war in 1914 and this meant that the whole steamer service was terminated. The vessels were requisitioned and put into service as minesweepers. Two of them went to Russia as hospital tenders. With peace came a decline, almost inevitable in the light of competition from motor coaches and changing ideas about excursions by sea. The steamers were gradually disposed of and the last call to Southwold was made in 1928. In 1934 a severe storm washed away the pier’s ‘hammer-head’ there and any chance of steamers being able to call was lost.
An almost ‘last throw of the dice’ by Belle Steamers was when three of its pleasure steamers, ‘Queen of the Channel’, ‘Golden Eagle’ and ‘Royal Eagle’ were used to evacuate thousands of schoolchildren from Yarmouth and Lowestoft when the 1939-45 war broke out. However, this exodus was briefly counterbalanced by the arrival in Yarmouth of 4300 London mothers and children ferried to Yarmouth by the same three pleasure steamers
From the moment he was christened, or baptised – whatever you prefer, Onesiphorus Randall was destined to succeed in this world; it may appear to some that, as far as money was concerned, his destiny was pre-ordained – for ‘Onesiphorus’ means “bringing profits”! This is certainly how the future turned out for this splendidly named Norfolk lad who, almost from the moment he moved from the County to London, began his journey towards amassing a fortune.
From an almost relatively inconspicuous start of becoming a publican within a year of his arrival in Poplar, in east London, he soon began dabbling in the building trade thereabouts. He must have realised, even then, that there was money to be made as a fully-fledged property speculator there for the Poplar district was ripe for development. It so happened that he was ‘in the right place at the right time’ and clearly took full advantage of a growing situation. Later, as an increasingly rich man, he was to find time to regularly return to Norfolk and spend some of his wealth on ‘indulgences’ in the County of his birth.
Onesiphorus Randall was born in Cley, Norfolk on August 11, 1798, the youngest of five children. If ‘Ancestry’ records are to be believed then it would appear that his parents were John Randall and Elizabeth, nee Hook. The family were considered to be natives of Holt and, again, it would appear that Onesiphorus’s father, John, was born there in 1756; however, nothing further is known about Onesiphorus’s mother, Elizabeth. The boy’s upbringing and education is also unknown but in 1819, three years after the death of his father, Onesiphorus moved to the Poplar district of London; he was 21-years old. One can only speculate as to why he felt compelled to move, and why he chose Poplar, one of the poorest districts in the capital. Did he strike out blindly when he moved, or did he simply believe that opportunity lay waiting in such a place?
It is known that events moved rather quickly after he arrived in Poplar. Within one year, and barely 22 years old, he was settled as a publican of the Silver Lion in Pennyfields, and ran it until 1831 when he followed a William Blundell to become the licensee of the Globe Tavern at 33 Brunswick Street in Blackwall – that was until 1835. However, in between and sometime around 1825 whilst at the Silver Lion, he became involved in building speculation in the area and he was not alone in doing this. Maybe, over the flowing pints, the word was out that real money was to be made from the land that was increasingly becoming available for house building. Clearly, the area was desperate for cheap houses for rent, to at least those on the bottom of the ladder and the lower middle classes. Here, it should be borne in mind that the opening of the West India Docks in 1802 stimulated a rapid growth in housing development of predominately ‘mean terraces of rented cottages’. Poplar Fields, of which we speak, was the area north of East India Dock Road, and was developed as Poplar New Town from the 1830s to the mid-1850s – see below. By the late 19th century, poverty and overcrowding were rife and firmly established.
Randall’s Estate: Onesiphorus’s initial scheme begun rather modestly in 1827 when he took a lease of land to the south of East India Dock Road. There he built a terrace of four houses, numbered 179–185 East India Dock Road, but known from 1832 as Randall’s Terrace. Onesiphorus occupied the then No. 185 (it later became No. 4) for himself in 1831, and where he was to remain until his death in 1873 at the age of 75.
Then, apart from building ‘modest houses in the adjacent parish of St Leonard’s, Bromley’, Onesiphorus’s began to build his ‘Randall’s Estate’ as part of Poplar’s ‘New Town’ to the north of the East India Dock Road, commonly known as ‘Poplar Fields’ until it was renamed ‘Poplar New Town’ in the 1830s. This land had previously been given over to market gardening and pasture, apart from a potash factory between Upper North Street and the ‘common sewer’ which drained the area. Development of the district east of the sewer began during the 1820s, but the major phase followed the release of the remainder of the area for building from the mid-1840s – this was when Onesiphorus became seriously involved, along with a series of other speculators who had leased areas of land which made up the whole. Within three to four years building of the whole area was ‘carried on with rapidity, equalled, perhaps, by no other suburban district of the metropolis’. The name ‘New Town’ was in use by 1836 and was applied generally to all the developments north of the East India Dock Road.
Onesiphorus ‘Randall’s Estate’ was in the centre of New Town, on a seven-acre field called The Grove. The southern section of this land had been held as copyhold of the manor of Stepney by the Smith family. In 1847 Richard Smith, junior, leased the land to Onesiphorus, having obtained a licence to demise the land for 90 years from Midsummer 1846. To the east of The Grove ran the ancient Black Ditch or common sewer, which formed the eastern boundary of the estate, while its western edge was along Upper North Street. Those boundaries merged at the north and south to form a lozenge-shaped area developed by Randall between 1850 and 1857.
Randall’s Estate was developed in the usual manner of building leases, most of them on terms of 80 years. A variety of local builders and craftsmen were involved in the construction of his estate. Among the most important were George Lester, carpenter; James Harpley Leake, joiner – who later ran the Estate Office for Randall; John Banbury and William Wickes, both bricklayers of Poplar; and Henry Clarke, a local builder. When finished, the development comprised 188 dwelling houses, 42 shops and houses, 49 lock-up shops in Randall’s Market and a large premise, formerly known as the Market House Tavern.
The southern portion of Randall’s Estate was built first, with the Market, which Randall also built, in the centre; streets ran from the market on an east-west axis. But from the outset, the standards of the new buildings were criticised. Randall himself was accused by the district surveyor of building a:
“fourth-rate dwelling house in Market Street of unsound materials and not in a manner to produce solid work, and on insufficient foundations”.
One wall was said to contain a large number of brickbats, and Randall was ordered to rebuild it. Despite this, he seemed to have little intention of making improvements; why should he when there was more money to be made by keeping the cost of his materials as low as was practical – he ‘got away with it’ and was not alone. In 1857, when the Estate was well advanced, the Building News still expressed concern when stating:
“a great number of new streets are in progress, but we regret to observe that they are anything but what they ought to be as regards design, materials and workmanship, being run up in a very paltry style”.
By means fair or foul, the whole estate was completed by the end of 1857. Grove (later Bygrove) Street was developed between 1849 and 1855, with 21 houses erected. Richard (later Ricardo) Street was built between 1851 and 1853, and Randall (later Augusta) Street between 1848 and 1854, with 24 houses constructed. On the south side of the Estate was a terrace of 11 houses, known as King’s Terrace, which was built by 1851 and named after Thomas Henry King, an architect and civil engineer of Spitalfields, who leased the site from Randall in 1851. Market Street included a terrace of nine two storey houses.
All the houses were similar in style and building materials. They were built of greyish brick, two storeys high and enriched with compo dressings which the ‘Building News’ again thought ‘preposterously too heavy in their proportions’. Towards the end of the 19th century, after Onesiphorus Randall had died, the streets of his Estate were described as “mostly straight dull rows of two-storied houses with a frontage of from 14-16 feet containing 6–8 rooms … most of them rise straight from the pavement in their grimy ugliness. There is generally a back yard of varying size and capabilities behind”. It was also self-evident that gardens did not flourish in this part of the east End!
On the north side of Market Street was a terrace of nine houses. The three houses at the centre of the terrace were built beneath a high pediment on which a market clock was placed. Both the pediment and the cupola of unusual shape on the roof were Classical in design. The northern vista of Randall’s Market was close by these houses.
Randall’s Market: At the centre of the development was Randall’s Market. It consisted of a north-south street of lock-up shops with a circus in the middle, where it was bisected by an east-west street. It was an ambitious scheme to establish a shopping area north of East India Dock Road. Costermongers, who were felt to lower the social standing of the area – as if the area had any more ‘slack’ to fall further, were prohibited from trading there. In some of the early deeds, the scheme was called Trinity Market, no doubt on account of its close proximity to the recently built Trinity Chapel in East India Dock Road. But this name was never adopted, and from its first appearance in the Post Office Directories in 1854, it was called Randall’s Market.
(Randall’s Market, built 1851-52, looking north in the 1920s.)
The Market was showy in style but, again, constructed of cheap materials. An ugly cement drinking-fountain was erected at the centre of the market and was surrounded by a punched-metal and glass canopy. Above the fountain was a gas lamp supported by dolphin brackets. The fountain was said to be in a state of rapid decomposition as early as 1857. Despite its architectural pretension, it was a market in a very humble area. The shops were a series of lock-ups with frontages with double-doors and a facade constructed mostly of wood. The roof of the single-storey shops was finished with a low parapet decorated with pierced stucco-work and concrete statues. In the centre of the market stood the Market House Tavern. This was a three-storey brick building with rendered walls. Italianate in style, the Market House had pedimented and embellished windows and the façade was decorated with a niche containing a statue.
Onesiphorus and his Excursions Back to Norfolk: Almost nothing is known of the man himself, except that Onesiphorus Randall was ‘the most eccentric of men’ who, from the very beginning of his property exploits in London, certainly lived up to the meaning of his name. He was said to have married an Anna Pattenden, who was born somewhere in Middlesex in 1780, and was therefore some eighteen years older than Onesiphorus. Again, this calls into question ‘Ancestry’ records which show that a son was born in 1861, also named Onesiphorus – this fact, if that’s what it is, also calls into question the impression that Anna was the mother. Impossible one would say since, in 1861, Anna would have been at least 80 years old! It would seem therefore that Onesiphorus married for a second time – and the best fit here seems to be a Mary Anne Vousley, who was born in Bermondsey in 1839; making her 22 years old when Onesiphorus junior was born at No.4 Randall’s Terrace, Poplar – the father, Onesiphorus Sen. was 63 years of age – some catch with his money!
During this period of a probable re-marriage and birth, Onesiphorus’s wealth continued to grow substantially and he was able to begin his return trips to Norfolk; whether he made these trips alone or with his wife we just do not know. However, it was again during this period that something happened for which he later became long-remembered in the County. Firstly, he bought Woodlands House in Holt (now part of Gresham’s School), before acquiring the ruined Kelling Old Hall and with it, the associated title Lord of the Manor.
Randall’s Folly: The truth is that, while still Lord of the Manor, Onesiphorus’s local ‘fame’ found its root when he built himself a ‘castle-styled folly’ at Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast. Unusually perhaps, the Folly was located on a mound of land called the ‘Great Eye’, right on the beach rather than in or even near the village. The square two-storey stone structure was named, and always referred to thereafter, as “Randall’s Folly”. and was connected to a large expanse of grass called the ‘Flat Eye’ on which the village cows often grazed. The Folly was fitted with large double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor.
A member of the public, writing to a local paper in 1922, said:
“The familiar square-built stone house standing alone on the beach at Salthouse has been responsible for numerous questions as to its origin, and so many enquiries have been made regarding its association with smugglers and such romantic enterprises – one is sorry to destroy the illusion”
Just why Onesiphorus fitted double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor remained unclear. Although, his reputed penchant for entertaining the ladies, as spread by local gossip, has been suggested as one reason! As one local lady once put it – long after such rumoured events happened:
“I shouldn’t say this perhaps, but – Randall was very fond of women – that’s what that house was built for! It had a big door either end, and he used to drive up in his carriage and round into the house and right through the house with his coach and horses. The coach used to stop in the house till he was ready to go” …. Nod Nod, Wink Wink perhaps!
Certainly, those doors were real and enabled Onesiphorus to drive straight through in order to turn his horses and carriage round ready to return through the house and out over a bridge connecting ‘Flat Eye’ with ‘Great Eye’ and on to join Beach Road. He could bring the ladies into the house in his carriage and on leaving, open the seaward door, drive over the bridge and turn the carriage around on Flat Eye and depart back through the house! One may well wonder where Onesiphorus’s wife was while these alleged romantic dalliances were taking place in that remote Folly – and for which locals had a much saucier and descriptive name! Had anyone, at any time, given thought to the possibility, remote as may have been, that these ladies were images of no other that his wife?
With that thought, fast forward towards the end of the 19th century after Onesiphorus had died. This was when the Folly was bought by the Board of Trade and used as a coastguard station, housing the village life-saving brigade’s rocket cart and associated equipment. The rocket itself was launched from a cannon firing a Breeches Buoy to those in distress; in fact, saving many lives around the turn of the century. These duties gave the Randall’s Folly a new name of the “Rocket House”. By the early 1920’s however, the property had been sold off to become a holiday home, ending its life as a Rocket Brigade House. Nevertheless, the “Rocket House” name stuck until 1937 when it was privately purchased and renamed ‘Great Eye Folly’. The novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) rented the Great Eye Folly from 1950 to 1951 while working on her final novel ‘The Flint Anchor’ published in 1954. She did not live at the Folly alone; Valentine Ackland, her lover, also stayed with her.
Sylvia Townsend Warner described her first impressions of the Folly in a letter to Alyse Gregory – written in 1950:
“…. 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.”
However, by 1937, the great expanse of “Flat Eye” had been lost to the sea but the folly remained, until seriously damaged in the 1953 flood. Surging water way above any normal height, removed half the building. Deemed unsafe, what remained was demolished. Subsequent storms and surges gradually removed all but a small mound of earth of the “Great Eye”, leaving “Little Eye” to the west as a former memory. In the 1600’s, Little Eye was about two thirds of the distance between the coast road and the shingle ridge and from Little Eye to Great Eye. Great Eye merged with Flat Eye which in turn merged with the shingle ridge, this forming a continuous barrier from near the Dun Cow pub, which didn’t open until 1786.
For nearly 100 years, Randall’s Folly had been a well-known landmark between Little Eye and the Beach Road car park. For many years, some local folk could still remember the iconic building rising high above the shingle on the horizon but, the former folly has not been entirely forgotten. That’s because locally, one local tradition still continues. Today, the local Holt Sea Angling Club holds an event at Salthouse Beach on the day after Boxing Day. Conceived by local fisherman and boat-owners, the annual ‘Rocket House Open’ fishing match is held in memory of the Folly which once stood on the “Great Eye” mound, facing seaward.
FOOTNOTE: Onesiphorus died at No. 4 (previously No.185) Randall Terrace Poplar in November 1873 at the age of 75 years. At the time of his death, his income from leasehold houses in the East End of London was said to have amounted to £3,000 per annum. His young son, also Onesiphorus jnr, eventually inherited the estate (for he was only 12 years old at the time of his father’s death – and 14 years when his mother died) after a protracted Chancery case; he died in 1913 at the age of 52 years.
The painting depicted below is of a derelict cottage; a once former “Tea House” in equally once rambling and romantic gardens in Norfolk. The painting is by James Mayhew who, as a sixth former, submitted it as part of his then ‘A’ Level examination. His choice of subject was well chosen because of its personal and family association with the garden in which it stood.
This association began, for him at least, after his Great Aunt and her husband had bought the gardens and moved into the estate’s “Redclyffe House”. In James’s own words:
“In the mid-1960s I would be taken to these grand, elaborate gardens and lose myself amongst the camellias and rhododendrons, the tumbling “Cinderella” steps and tiers of shrubs that possibly rivalled Babylon.”
To think that the boy’s imagined ‘Babylon’ would not have been possible had it not been for an enterprising Norfolk-born pioneer in preventive medicine, by the name of Dr Michael Beverley who, in 1881, purchased seventy-six acres of land on the western end of Brundall and built what was to become Brundall Gardens. Because of its wooded but unusually vertiginous picturesque slopes, the gardens became known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’, and people loved them – proof of this being the numbers that flocked there in their hey-day!
(Two views further of Brundall Gardens out of season. Photos: Justin Franklin.)
After many years of dedicated work, Dr. Beverley eventually transformed those seventy-six acres into the magnificent garden that it became. Magnificent because it contained a variety of features which included the rockeries and three-stepped ponds which led down to a vast expansive lake; the lowest pond was said to have contained a large and ‘legendary pike that could never be caught’. Around this landscape he planted shrubs and trees – many of them still surviving as specimen trees towering above lake and garden. Along with the original plantings was a collection of exotic birds to excite the visitor. He also built a somewhat luxurious log cabin as a weekend retreat for him, his family and friends.
However, thirty-eight years after his dream first found reality, Dr Beverley’s wife died. This was in 1919 and from that point he must have lost interest in the gardens and estate for he began the process of selling them off – ‘lock,stock and barrel’. This took time and it was not until 1921 when Frederick Holmes-Cooper, who had made his money from the cinematic industry, bought the complete package. He was clearly an entrepreneur in the strictest sense for he lost no time in developing the estate further for, presumably, no other reasons than to generate an increased number of visitors and a greater return on his investment.
One of his first projects was to replace the Log Cabin, which had burnt down just after he had bought the estate; this replacement came in the form of the impressive three-storey ‘Redclyffe House’ built within the grounds for his family; it was high above the vast expansive lake, the three stepped ponds leading down to it – and the large ‘legendary’ pike which could never be caught. Nearby, also overlooking the ponds and lake, was a ‘stone hart’ which was to become more than a feature of the garden. It was often upon this cooperative creature that children were sat to have their photographs taken by Khodak ‘brownie’ box cameras for the family album back home.
Further additions to the Gardens included the Tea House with its genuine Delft tiles placed around the fireplace; these depicted sailing boats . Further down on the river bank was a dance pavilion alongside the landing stage, plus a magnificent Hotel, unsurprisingly named the Riverside Hotel, since that is where it was – on the banks of the River Yare! In 1922, it was said that in excess of 60,000 people visited the Gardens. The sun was to shine in so many ways for both the owner and visitors.
Frederick Holmes-Cooper investments in the vincinity of Brundall did not stop with his Gardens; he also owned the Brundall Gardens Steamship Company and the postcard below was actually an advertisement for day trips on the SS Victorious from Great Yarmouth to the gardens, where entrance fees were 3/6 for adults and 2/- for children under twelve. The reverse of the card told them:
“Any person taking a trip by the SS Victorious leaving Southtown Bridge any morning except Saturday (weather circumstances permitting) to Brundall Gardens, “The Switzerland of Norfolk”, will be amply rewarded. Luncheons and teas at the commodious riverside restaurant at moderate prices.”
Frederick Holmes-Cooper’s enterprising exploits did not stop with his purchase of the Gardens or his ownership of the local steam company. Such was the Garden’s popularity that he was also successful in negotiating for trains on the Norwich to Yarmouth line to stop at what was a bespoke station. It was opened on 1 August 1924 as the ‘Brundall Gardens Halt’ station; its installation costing £1,733, on top of which Holmes-Cooper gave LNER £150 per year to fund a stationmaster – everything seemed complete. The station would be renamed as simply Brundall Gardens in 1948.
However, in 1937, the entire gardens were sold and its gates firmly closed to paying visitors. Over future years, serious neglect set in and some sections of the land were ‘gifted’, or used for downsizing with the remnants sold off to a builder. By the time of the Garden’s last sale in 1968, the original 76 acres had diminished to just 18 acres. Then, in 1969, some fifty years after the Garden’s creation, the impressive ‘Redclyffe House’ was destroyed by fire and the once magnificent gardens sank further towards total neglect.
(Two aspects of the neglected Brundall Gardens. Photos: James Mayhew.)
Unsurprisingly, when there is neglect, vandals soon emerged from wherever they fester and did their worst. In the case of the Gardens, they invaded the area, destroying the Tea House and the stone hart before moving on. The stepped-ponds, the lake and the legendary pike remained but were almost completely forgotten because everywhere became overgrown; shrubs ran wild and the ‘cinderella’ stone steps leading from the house covered in ivy. Everything that was once neat, tidy and attractive became overgrown; sparking at least the imagination of children seeking excitement and adventure amongst the undergrowth. Even the stretch of riverbank, which lies between the Yare and the lagoon, became suffocated with the highly invasive Japanese Knotweed – which one would hope has now been completely eradicated! It was a legacy from the days of Dr Beverley when the plant had been extremely popular from Victorian times.
So, what, if anything, remains of Brundall Gardens? The Lily Lake still lies alongside the railway line, and a small area of the original gardens managed to survive the developer’s bulldozers to become the private gardens of the houses which surround it. The “Cascades” which were a series of ponds leading down to the lake, plus the remains, of what is believed to have been a Roman dock, were restored and now lie in the grounds of Lake House. This property is owned by Janet Muter who, at this point, takes up her story:
“on a chilly March afternoon in 1994, I first saw, quite by accident, the overgrown remains of what had once been the famous Brundall Gardens. By the next summer my husband and I had bought and later acquired three acres of the garden with its beautiful forest trees and water features. I was not young and planned to plant mainly small native trees, shrubs and bulbs, so keeping the area the wildlife haven that it had become. Beneath the trees I grew easily maintained perennials, such as Japanese anemones hardy geraniums and hellebores. I uncovered rockeries and boggy areas creating further interest and added a waterfall and a fountain. For twenty-five years we have opened the garden for the National Garden Scheme sharing it with thousands of visitors.”
Finally, the yacht basin became home to the Brundall Gardens Marina, whilst the landing stage and riverside tearoom site was developed some years ago to house a small marina/ boatyard and holiday cottage complex which seemed, for a long time thereafter, as unoccupied. As for the Riverside Hotel; that was renovated in the 1970s by Colin Chapman, of Lotus fame, but was later declared unsafe and it too was destroyed by fire in 1993 after a reputed lightning strike.
Last words are left to James Mayhew:
“A couple of years ago I visited Brundall Primary School. Instinctively I had parked outside where my aunts and grandparents’ “new” houses still stand (although they died long ago and I hadn’t been to Brundall since I was 18 and produced [my] ‘A’ level work). And by pure chance, one part of the garden, with the three descending lakes, was having an open day for charity.
And so, stepping back in time, I briefly revisited the re-imagined gardens. I was overwhelmed with memories; it was hard to make it seem real. Last of all I found the place where the stone hart once stood. It was probably the last time I will ever see anything of Brundall Garden. At least until I close my eyes and dream. Then I can run around, as a child, those stately trees and play in the tea house again, and sit once more on the back of the stone hart.”
In addition to those photographs kindly supplied from the gallery section of the Brundall Local History Group website, there is also their history of Brundall Gardens in “The Book of Brundall & Braydeston: A Tale of Two Norfolk Parishes” which was produced by the Group and published by Halsgrove in 2007.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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This is a fictional story set in Norwich, Norfolk during the early 19th century, but based on genuine news reports from the local newspapers of the day.
The year is 1814 and a young clerk to the insurance firm of The Norwich County and Municipal Insurance Company, which has offices overlooking the city’s Market Place, is making his way to work. His first name is Cloudesley, which is quite a popular name of the time. The job he has as clerk is a pretty good one, although not fabulously well paid to begin with but, yes, he is on his way.
Cloudesley has to tread carefully as he crosses the Market Place to avoid the blood and offal discarded by the butchers who are just setting up shop. There are also leather merchants, coffee dealers, beer sellers, vendors of hot potatoes, bread makers and bakers of the famous Norwich biscuit, which is probably filled with 50 per cent chalk; he needs to watch that he is not hit by the waste they throw from their stalls without looking! Everything is just left to drain away down to the bottom of the Square where a pack of dogs lap up up the disgusting-looking mess.
There is a wretched man in a pen – he is shirtless and has a scatted back; several people are laughing, throwing rotten vegetables at him. He has obviously been there all night, having been flogged for drunkenness or maybe lewd behaviour. Being a kind sort of a chap, Cloudesley passes his flask of week beer through the bars to the man – cold water is far too dangerous to drink – and the pitiful prisoner grasps it thankfully, downing it in one.
It’s only ever men who you see being punished in the Market Place – most days there are at least one flogging and several left in cages like the chap this morning. This does not mean that women don’t swear or steal or get drunk – the courts are full of them as a matter of fact. No, it’s just that their punishment is always courtesy of the ducking stool at Fye Bridge, near Tombland.
The main thing, though, is the smell, and it is something our hero can never get over. He cannot understand why people let themselves smell so rank – Cloudesley insists on going to the public bathhouse once every few weeks, whether he feels dirty or not. He passes a group of well-dressed people, each of whom has an orange, pricked all over, in front of their noses to ward off the worst of it. Oranges are very expensive; one day, maybe, he will treat himself.
On the whole, the Market Place has happy memories for him. It is here that nine years before he had witnessed the wonderful news of Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. The news was conveyed to the city by coach which arrived, colours flying, to the cheers of the crowd. The Volunteer Corps paraded and the bells of St Peter Mancroft were rung throughout the day, although the news was cast in shadow by the death of the hero of the Nile and Trafalgar. A giant ox was roasted in the pub on the corner.
Truth be told, Cloudesley is just a little tired this morning. Last night he and a group of the clerks had gone to Mrs Peck’s Coffee and Ale House on Gentleman’s Walk. The poster had read:
“To be seen alive in a genteel room at Mrs Peck’s Coffee and Ale House, Market Place, Norwich, the largest Rattlesnake ever seen in England, 42 years old, near nine-foot-long, in full health and vigour. He is well secured so that Ladies and Gentlemen may view him without the least danger. He has not taken any sustenance for 11 months. Admittance, Ladies and Gentlemen 1s; working people and children 6d.”
It was a bit of a mystery why this particular creature was not eating – Norwich had many ‘exhibits’ and the usual thing was that people would be admitted at half-price if they brought something – a live mouse or rat, say – to feed the animal.
Afterwards, being in fine spirits, the party could not resist going just up the road to the White Hart, Rampant Horse Street, to see the famous ‘counting pig’. It might have been the beer, but it was amazing – customers were invited to hold up a number of fingers and lo! The fat old porker would scape a paw on the ground the right number of times! Cloudesley couldn’t help thinking that maybe, somewhere out of sight, was a man with a pointed stick, poking the poor thing……
So, what’s going on in ‘No Mean City’ as the people so proudly called it? How are things? – Well, there is a great nervousness about a probable French invasion, which could well happen via Weybourne. The greatest ever British General, Wellington, may have blunted Napoleon’s glories and sent him into exile, but there were almost weekly rumours of his escape. Besides, the French absolutely detested us, a feeling returned with vigour. The largest pub on Gentleman’s Walk, owned by Alderman Davey – he who has recently invented an iron coffin, said to be completely safe against body snatchers – has an effigy of a strutting Corsican being skewered on a giant fork by John Bull. The pub is very popular. From the coast to the top of Norwich Castle are a series of wooden beacons ready to be fired if the French are spotted; thus, Norwich would know within minutes if the dreaded enemy has landed.
Cloudesley always arrives early for work as he likes to take a look at the newspaper before the five fellow clerks with whom he shares an office arrive. He sits at his tall wooden stool and spreads the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette out on his desk. Several items catch his eye. The population of Norfolk is returned as 274,221, of whom 130,249 were males and 143,972 females. However, as about 4,000 men are away in Wellington’s army, the sexes at slightly more equal than the figures suggest.
Cloudesley also reads that 247,000 quarts of soup are weekly being given to the poor, However, all is not doom and gloom as the Duke’s Palace Workhouse – down by the old Palace of the Duke of Norfolk, the one who lost his head planning to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – reports that the number of inmates has fallen from 1,027 to 425.
Wheat has risen from 146 shillings per quarter at the beginning of the month to 180 at the end. Various ruses are being tried to get people to eat less bread. ‘The officers of the West Norfolk Militia’, the paper states, ‘have entirely left off the use of bread at their mess, and have forbid the use of puddings and pies, except the crust is made of rice or potatoes, which they eat in a variety of shapes as a substitute for bread. Nurses are advised to use linseed meal and water instead of bread and milk in making poultices.’
Cloudesley is pleased to read that repairs to the disastrous fire in the roof of Norwich Cathedral, caused by careless workmen and estimated to be costing over £500, are almost complete. Oh, lucky man! The winner of the Irish Lottery, Mr Charles Weston, a banker living in Norwich, is richer to the tune of £15,000. Chapelfield, where he often eats his lunch, is berated by a leading architect as being ‘a very cockneyfied and badly laid-out public space’.
The man previously cleared by Magistrates for knocking down and stealing the wallet from the old soldier in Castle Ditches – who subsequently died – has had an attack of conscience and confessed, even though he knows he will be hanged!
Under a section called ‘Curious Notes’ he reads of a businessman, Ainsworth Crisp, who has a shop in London Street and lives upstairs. He has had a coffin made of solid English oak, with a silver plaque on the outside giving his name; only the exact date needs to be filled in. The coffin is kept in the corner of his bedroom and is used as a cupboard.
A lady in the letter’s column complains that Cromer is become far too expensive as regards lodging in the season, but is pleased that this will keep out the troublesome London Cockney. As regards Happisburgh, one reader agrees with Walter Rye who, in a famous account of 1885, scathingly said that no book was to be found there; everyone is in bed by nine; dullness reigns supreme; and William Cowper, the poet, went there but went mad and he does not wonder at it.
Much of the paper is filled with crime, which is rampant, there being no law enforcement officers employed by the authorities. It is true that Aldermen can appoint men with temporary powers to arrest and detain troublemakers but, being usually the chief troublemakers themselves, they were notoriously subject to bribes and worse.
Four men were hanged in Norwich – two for robbing the Rectory at North Walsham; one for stealing a cow and three heifers, and one for stealing six sheep. The hangings took place at the entrance to the castle in front of enthusiastic crowds. Food and drink was sold and there was much singing and general merriment until the arrival of the prisoners when ‘an awful silence fell’. The paper reports that one man, a well-known criminal, 34 years old and dressed in fine clothes, attracted considerable attention from several well-dressed ladies.
At Norwich Quarter Sessions, John William Smith was charged with stealing a spoon from the Waggon and Horses public house, the property of William Smith, and a coat, the property of Michael Callow, from the Crown Inn, St Stephens. He was sentenced to seven year’s transportation.
Politically, Cloudesley is neither committed to the Whigs nor the Tories. Sometimes, he goes along to the Norwich Revolution Society which meets at the Bell Hotel and which, despite its alarming name, seems more of a heavy drinking club than anything else. The alternative is the Norwich Patriotic Society, but that appears much the same. No, his future probably lay not in politics, but in insurance – he greatly admires Mr Thomas Bignold who started something called The Norwich Union Insurance Company a mere twenty years ago, at the age of 36, as he was unable to insure himself against highwaymen (who are a curse whenever a respectable person ventures outside the city walls). Norwich Union is fast becoming a great English commercial company.
Thomas Bignold is very much a hero of young people hereabouts and Cloudesley chuckles to himself as he reads of his latest exploit. The Chronicle relates that, not one to suffer fools gladly, he has refused insurance to a man he disliked who wanted cover against being bitten by a mad dog on the grounds that should the dog do this, it would assuredly be sane. There is much idle talk of his son, Samuel, taking over the company as his father is becoming increasingly erratic, but Cloudesley thinks the press would not like it as it would certainly have less to write about.
He is much taken with the report about the library which may open in the Guildhall building – the cost of membership as proposed is high, no doubt to detract ruffians, but the idea of being to borrow books is pretty exciting; he reads a letter in the Chronicle from a Parson who thinks that allowing the working man to gain knowledge will inevitably lead to them becoming discontented with their lot and end in disaster. Hmm….. it’s a thought!
Life expectancy in 1814 is about 40 years. Cloudesley will do better than this because he is temperate in his habits, takes a good wash every now and again and has a respectable career which will mean a reasonable house. He hopes to meet a local girl to settle down with and bearing this in mind will no doubt find himself at six this evening parading up and down Gentleman’s Walk, which is exactly what it say it is, and may fall into a coffee shop now and again to rest and set the world to rights – especially regarding that troublesome French so-call ‘Emperor’ – with his fellows. Life is good! He picks up an invoice from a pile in front of him, nods ‘Hi’ to Tim, a fellow clerk who is just coming in the door, and begins his day’s labours.
Written by Stephen Browning and extracted from his latest book “Norwich and Norfolk: Stone Age to the Great War”.
In all probability, if the Queen had not visited the Strangers’ Club at 22-24 Elm Hill, Norwich in early May, 1935, Mrs Simmons, of Beckenham would never have attracted the attention of the local Eastern Daily Press. By picking up the ‘scent’ of a local-interest story and linking it with the Club to which Royalty was favouring a visit, the newspaper brought Mrs Simmons into the limelight and to the attention of its readers. The EDP also laid the basis of an unique window into a few small aspects of life in and around the city’s Elm Hill area between 1860 and 1870 which would never have seen the light of a future day had it not pursued the story and the Norfolk Record Office had not filed it for posterity.
Mrs Simmons, for we know nothing more of her identity, lived on Elm Hill from the time when she was a very young girl, through to when she was approaching her 21st birthday. During that time, she, her parents and siblings lived at 22-26 Elm Hill, the very house now occupied by the Stranger’s Club; also, once known as the Paston house, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1507. Mrs Simmons, therefore, probably knew more about what the area was like than anyone else living in those pre-WW2 days. These writings of hers were originally intended only for the amusement of her family as they grew up; however, since they had long flown the nest and the Queen was coming, maybe she was flattered by the attention of the local press – because, it was at that point, she consented to the publication of her personal reminiscences. The opening paragraph was as follows:
“Norwich was my birthplace and Elm Hill my cradle. My earliest home was an old house, there belonging to my grandfather, at least 300 years old [and] once the residence of Augustine Steward, Mayor of Norwich 1545, and now called the ‘Strangers’ Club’. In the lounge is a 20-light window frame of moulded oak from the adjacent building, occupied in the 15th century by the Norfolk family of Pastons and from here some of the Paston letters were written, headed “at Seynt Peter of Hungate” 1479. According to tradition, Queen Elizabeth I looked through this window when visiting the city in 1578……… Be that as it may, I loved the old house, where I spent a very happy childhood. I loved to look from the open window down upon the hill with its great elm tree in the middle of the plain and shading the parish pump (now gone). I can only picture it in bright sunshine, as there were to me few dark clouds in those early days.”
Father Ignatius: Maybe it was inevitable that Mrs Simmons would make an early reference to Father Ignatius O.S.B, since he was quite a controversial during her childhood; his real name was the Reverend Joseph Leicester Lyne. It was while she was living in Elm Hill that Father Ignatius and his Anglican monks first came to open his monastery in 1863. It seems that from the outset of his arrival, she painted a positive and rather charismatic image of Ignatius:
“Indeed, it was through my father, John Bishop, that Father Ignatius founded his monastery at Elm Hill. [The Reverend’s] aunt, Mrs [Julia] Utten Browne,[ wife of Edward Utten Browne of All Saints Besthorpe], called upon my father to ask if he knew of any premises to let suitable for a religious community, and he took her to Samson and Hercules House, then vacant, but as it did not suit he [her father] brought her back to Elm Hill and showed her a big old mansion, entered through an arched doorway into a paved courtyard with buildings around it, and it was here [at No.16 Elm Hill] that Ignatius soon founded his monastery.”
Thereafter, Mrs Simmons would recall that Elm Hill witnessed rare scenes during a period when often the street was crowded with sightseers; sometimes:
“Ignatius would come out and speak to the people, who were often more scoffers than hearers, and when the noise became too much for his voice to be heard he would lead his choir with his beautiful voice and sing a hymn and then retire through the arched gate behind him and the nail-studded door was shut and barred……on Easter morning, long before it was light, the monks came out in procession with banners and cross, dressed in their vestments and carrying lighted candles and censers, and would parade round the Parish singing hymns. I thought it “Beautiful”!
But maybe because Mrs Simmons was writing for her children, she never mentioned the more contentious aspects of Brother Ignatius’s activities, such as the community hostility towards him and his monks, and the fact that opinion was greatly divided towards the principle of accommodating a monk community in Norfolk. Specifically, she did not mention that he had caused outrage in the November of 1863 when it was reported that here was;
“a clergyman of the English Church, who has the temerity to come before a public audience attired as a Benedictine monk, with bare head and bare feet, carrying a rosary and crucifix, which in this country are regarded as symbolic only of the Romish Church, and calling himself by a name not accorded to him by his godfathers and godmother,”
On 13 February 1864, after Brother Ignatius had purchased No.16 Elm Hill as part of his attempt to revive a form of monasticism by forming a religious order, or brotherhood in the city, he was labelled as “notorious” in the press. This preceded his actions of 24 February when he dedicated the building as the “Benedictine Chapel of the Priory of St Mary and St Dunstan,” From this date scenes of disorder and riot were a frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood and the monastery. Directly, or indirectly the existence of the confraternity gave rise to several remarkable incidents; such as the daily procession by the brethren to and from St Lawrence’ church to celebrate Communion – this was met by a mob assailing and insulting them. The protection of the police was demanded by Ignatius, and the magistrates were frequently engaged in the hearing of cases of riot and assault arising out of the proceedings at Elm Hill and St. Lawrence’
Four months later, on 28 June 1864, the wide-spread public outrage at the activities of Father Ignatius and his Third Order on Elm Hill spilled over into actual violence. According to the Baroness de Bertouch, in her book ‘The Life of Father Ignatius’, 1904, it was triggered by the previous day’s pilgrimage of ‘over four hundred enthusiasts’ to St Walstan’s Well at nearby Bawburgh – as a challenge to the Bishop’s authority. The crowd had ‘moved as one long flexible column through the town’ and services were held at the Well, vials and vessels being filled with its holy well water. On their return to Norwich cries of ‘No Popery’ were heard and Ignatius received an anonymous letter telling him that his priory would be set on fire, together with anyone who happened to be within its precincts. A mob of many thousands gathered and detachments of police began to arrive. The brothers barricaded themselves in and some of the sisters arrived to lend support. The authoress lent a degree of humour to the incident when she stated that the sister’s armoury was mixed: “Sister Faith brought her rosary; Sister Hope carried a magnificent rolling pin; but Sister Charity was made of sterner stuff – she brought a kettle filled with vitriol (sulphuric acid).” In the event, the Elm Hill monastery was closed in May, 1866, and the building work of a proposed new chapel to be erected by Father Ignatius was suspended and he left Norwich.
St Peter Hungate Church: Today, at the top of Elm Hill, stands the church of St Peter Hungate. It is not the original church you understand, that was demolished way back in 1458; but the one that was there in the mid-19th century and to which Mrs Simmons attended as a youngster; this was in fact a rebuild by John Paston and Margaret his wife by 1460. Fast forward to 2011 when Simon Knott wrote of it:
“Although St Peter Hungate is right in the heart of the urban area, its setting is idyllic; 16th and 17th century cottages flank the north and east sides, and then beautiful Elm Hill drops away below it. To the west is the magnificent chancel window of the Blackfriars church………. Hungate itself no longer exists, but was formerly ‘houndsgate’ – the street of dogs. In this conservation area the roads are cobbled, and it is an oasis of charm in the middle of East Anglia’s biggest city.”
As a child, Mrs Simmons remembered her father discovering a rude (sic) carving on the stone shaft in the north porch; it was of an acorn with an oak tree growing from it and he thought it probably was to indicate that the present church was built on the site of an older one. St Peter Hungate then, as now, was built of black flint, cruciform in shape and having a nave, chancel, transepts, and square tower with two bells. The roof of the nave was ornamented with figures of angels and with ‘a fine east window filled with ancient glass’; the church also had squints, spy-holes.
In 1861 the interior of St Peter Hungate was much improved and we find that the church also retained what may have been a unique three-tiered pulpit. According to Mrs Simmons:
“the clerk’s desk at the base, and above this the reading desk, equivalent to our lectern, and still above this the pulpit and over all a big sounding-board.”
The church’s Rector at the time was the Rev. Samuel Titlow M.A. who was first appointed to the post in 1839. He was, according to Mrs Simmons: “a confirmed old bachelor who, was very pompous and stern”. She also remembered how the Reverend would preach in his college gown – after taking off his surplice in the vestry! Always, around his neck he wore white ‘Geneva’ bands; these were two bands or pendent stripes made usually of white lawn and worn at the throat as part of the clerical garb, originally worn by Swiss Calvinist clergy. Then there was her father, John Bishop, who was a churchwarden at St Peter Hungate and he, together with his fellow wardens would sit in special high pews at the west end of the church. Whilst all pews were square with high board screens around them, a warden’s pew had a padded arm-rest, just like an armchair and above the pew door was a green curtain, which the clerk drew after everyone had entered and before the service begun. According to Mrs Simmons:
“We, my brother, sister and I, sat opposite to our parents. I could not see over the pew, even [when] standing, so father used to lift me on to the seat, and I well remember an old chap in front who used to lay his wool glove on the top of his bald head to keep off the draughts. I used to hope it would fall off, but it never did.”
She also noticed that on the wall, at the end of the pews, were pegs for the men to hang their hats on. She also witnessed the ritual these men went through before entering their pews; still standing, they would hold their hats before their faces to pray into; only then did they hang them up and then proceed to their seats:
“How queer we should think it now to see a collection of tall hats hanging round a church during a service………[then] Once a month, on the first Sunday, there was Holy Communion after morning service. The bell would be rung on Saturday afternoon to announce the fact. Then, when the service had ended, father and the other warden stepped out of their pews and, armed with big brass bowls, would stand on either side of the porch to receive the alms of the departing congregation.”
It is sometimes amazing how the smallest of memories can be permanently locked into one’s mind. This seems to have happened with Mrs Simmons who, from her recollections of St Peter Hungate, remembered one little incident between the old Rector, Samuel Titlow, and Father Ignatius, who attended one particular service, along with his band of monks:
“The Rector did not approve, but they were parishioners and he could not exclude them – and our father liked Ignatius and showed them into pews in front of the pulpit. All went well until the Creed. The Rector began in his severe style, reading “I believe”. The monks took it up and intoned it. [There was] a pause, the Rector started again and read it deliberately by himself. I do not remember anything else during the service and do not think the monks ever came again.”
Father Ignatius, instead, had a chapel fitted up in his ‘monastery’ and continued to have regular services there. These drew crowds of people; so much so that not all could be accommodated. The solution was for admission tickets to be issued. We are told that Mrs Simmons’s father, John Bishop, did ‘business with Ignatius’, and presumably on that basis he was given a family ticket for any service.
“By the way”, quoted Mrs Simmons at one point, “a funny thing happened one day: Ignatius wanted to see my father and, as he could never appear without a crowd mobbing him, he opened our private door and walked into the house. Our maid was on her knees at her work and, hearing a sound, turned her head and saw (to her) ‘an awful figure clad in black with a cowl over his head’. She fled in fright to my mother, exclaiming: “Oh! Mam, I believe it is the Devil now come in.””
Mr and Mrs Trory:
Mrs Simmons’s reminisces were not, however, confined to the controversial figure of Father Ignatius and his activities. She remembered her music master, Mr Trory who was “a dear old man with a stately wife”, both of whom lived at the top of Elm Hill; he played the violin and his wife sang at the Triennial Festivals. Mrs Simmons recalled that this couple use to recall ‘earlier days when several neighbours owned horses and carriages.’ But Mrs Simmons could only recall one, a Mr Able Towler, of the firm of Towler, Rolland & Allen; manufactures, specialising in crepes, bombazines and Paramattas – and earlier than this in producing the noted Norwich Shawls. Their factory was next to Mrs Simmons’s parent’s home in what is known as Paston House behind which was Crown Court.
She had a very vivid memory of one large room in Paston House which had a beautiful moulded ceiling, from the centre of which hung “a wonderful wrought-iron snake to support the original oil lamp”. It has been said that when Queen Elizabeth I stayed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace nearby, she and her courtiers walked through the gardens by the riverside and held court in that very room. On what would have been the same occasion, the Queen was said to have also watched a pageant from the existing first-floor window of the same building – now known as the Strangers Club. Hence the origin of the name “The Crown Court” since applied.
Mrs Simmons eventually brought her newspaper reminisces to an end with a late reference to the Rev. Samuel Titlow and Mrs Trory. The readers are told that Mrs Trory met the Reverend out walking one day and respectably smiled at him and bowed. However, he, looking his grimmest and taking no notice passed her by:
“Soon afterwards he called upon her [Mrs Trory] for a subscription and, before the bell could be answered, he opened the door and met her in the hall. He began in his pompous manner: “Excuse me, Mrs Trory ——,” She took him by the arm, turned him round, saying: “You do not know me in the street and I do not know you in my house,” and she showed him out! The old man was very indignant and afterwards told my father how he had been treated…. When we heard the tale, we were much amused as we could picture the scene and the performers”.
The ‘Minstrel’ was typical of the ships that once provided the bread and butter trade of the Norfolk ports. This topsail schooner was said to have been a handsome and very safe and reliable vessel, which traded along the English coast between the years 1847 to 1904; during its life, it regularly tied up at Burnham Overy, Blakeney, Wells-Next-the-Sea and other ports around the English coast and over the horizon.
Built at Wells-Next-the-Sea in 1847; it emerged at a time when there was a trend towards building larger vessels, capable of trading in much deeper seas and at further distances; vessels such as sloops and schooners of up to 100 tons. The Minstrel went against this trend, being smaller at almost half the size and typical of those that formed the backbone of the Norfolk coastal trade. Minstrel was built at a time when she was able to profit during the best times of 19th century trade, but also becoming old enough to experience its decline. Today, there are but a few 19th century photographs of this ship, accompanied by taped conversations and various written records, all of which is well preserved by the Norfolk Record Office and the Blakeney Area Historical Society (BAHS).
In the Beginning: During the mid-19th century there were two principal shipyards in Wells-Next-the -Sea, those of John Lubbock and Henry Tyrrell; the ‘Minstrel’ was built by the latter, who’s yard was at the East End of the harbour, just past the Jolly old Sailor’s Yard. The Norfolk Chronicle recorded the ship’s launch thus:
“Yesterday afternoon (25th August) at six o’clock, a very pretty schooner called the Minstrel was launched from Mr H T Tyrrell’s shipyard. She is the property of T.T. Mack Esq. of Burnham.”
Jonathan Hooton, writing in his book ‘Minstrel, Biography of a Sailing Ship’ stated:
“A few months earlier, in April 1847, Tyrrell had launched the ‘Countess of Leicester’, the largest vessel to be built at Wells to that date and described as “a splendid brig” and “the finest specimen of shipbuilding ever constructed at Wells.” The event was also recorded, probably by Tyrrell himself, in a two dimensional ‘model’, consisting of a series of cut-outs mounted on a square baseboard [see photo below]. The relevance of this to the Minstrel is that her construction was well underway by the time that the ‘Countess of Leicester’ was being launched and she must be the vessel shown in the model under construction next to the ‘Countess of Leicester’. She is shown stern on with the hull ready for planking. To have such a representation is very rare…..”
The surveying officer at Wells in 1847 was a Charles Claxton; he was there to witness the registration of the ‘Minstrel’ on 4 September; it being the seventeenth vessel registered at both Wells and Cley that year. Eight of these were small fishing craft built at Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ludham; but four were larger vessels built elsewhere, bought second hand and re-registered at Wells; the remainder had been built at Wells. This was, indeed, a prosperous period for the Wells shipbuilders. In 1847, Tyrrell had built and launched the 151-ton ‘Countess of Leicester’ and the 95-ton schooner ‘Teazer’, whilst, during the same period, the John Lubbock shipyard had built the schooners ‘Sydney Claude’ (84 tons) and ‘Edward Coke’ (87 tons).
The 59-ton Minstrel had two masts and her measurements were; length 57.3 feet, breadth 15.3 feet and depth 8.4 feet. They say she had a graceful square stern and was carvel built, which meant that her planking was laid flush and not overlapped; she also had a scroll rather than a figurehead. She was something that any owner would be proud of, so it was probably inevitable that Thomas Thurtle Mack would commission a painting of ‘his’ Minstrel for posterity. He would have been no exception for it was commonplace throughout the 18th-century for proud masters or owners to purchase a painting of their vessel from one of the artists frequenting major ports who earned a living by faithfully reproducing ships. Here, the ‘Minstrel’ was no exception – and it had an added advantage – the painting would show the vessel in full sail, which is not the case with all the photographs taken of this vessel while in port. By looking at the following painting of Minstrel, the two square sails on her mainmast show that she was a topsail schooner. Two crewmen are shown on deck but it is known that she was in fact crewed by four men.
The vessel was entirely owned by Thomas Thurtle Mack of Burnham Thorpe and her first master was a Henry Howell, who also came from Burnham Thorpe. Thomas Mack himself seems to have advanced his prospects over the years, for whereas he was once described simply as a merchant, he became referred to as a ‘Ship Owner’ with the launch of the Minstrel. His new status went hand-in-hand with his business dealings with Henry Tyrrell, whom he clearly knew and trusted. Thomas Mack had previously dipped his toe into investments when, along with two other business colleagues from Burnham Overy, he had bought a third share in another of Tyrrell’s ships, the 51-ton sloop ‘Hopewell’, which had been built a year earlier in 1846. Mack was obviously happy with his investment, for as well as financing the whole of the Minstrel, he had also taken eight shares in the ‘Countess of Leicester’.
Burnham Overy: The vessels mentioned above traded from Burnham Overy which had long been under Wells jurisdiction. Although never as important as Wells, Burnham had a steady trade during the first half of the 19th century. White’s Directory of 1845 describes Burnham Overy Creek as:
“navigable for vessels of 60 or 80 tons up to the Staithe, where the spring-tides rise 9 or 10 feet, and where a considerable trade in Coal and corn is carried on, as well as in oysters, of which there is an excellent bed in the offing, where 5 boats and 15 fishermen are regularly employed.”
Thomas Mack was, up until 1846, in partnership with a local person named Wiseman at Burnham. Their business was known as Mack & Wiseman, Corn and Coal Merchants. However, that partnership was dissolved in 1846 – as recorded in the London Gazette of that year:
The timing of what was clearly a change of business direction coincided with Mack’s growing shipping investments which, from now on, did not included Wiseman. Instead, it was possible that Mack was strengthening his business links with a John Savory, miller & maltster of Burnham who, along with Mack, partly owned the ‘Hopewell’ which, together with the Minstrel, were built in order to control the shipping of their produce. The ‘Minstrel’ itself was primarily involved in trading from Burnham, although there was clearly a constant interchange between Wells and all of the North Norfolk ports, with the vessel only taking cargoes to and from Wells when it was not needed at Burnham.
Trading – Overseas: But Minstrel was not just involved in the coasting trade; occasionally she ventured overseas. In 1863 for instance, she went from Hartlepool to Hamburg and returned to Burnham. Later that year she made two separate trips from Hartlepool to Memel, Klaipeda, in present day Lithuania. The first was when she returned to Blakeney; then, in the September, she made the return journey to Wells, where the crew were discharged. The crew for these voyages were all from Burnham. They were the Master, 44-year-old Henry Howell; Mate, 26-year-old William Smith; Seaman, 23-year-old Joseph Scoles; and Cook, 21-year-old Henry Howell jnr. On his first trip oversea, the latter received a wage of only £1-15s, the lowest of the crew. However, either he must have creditably discharged his duties or, benefitted from his family connection with the Master – or both, for on his second trip his wages rose to £2-00 – more was to come! However, in between these overseas voyages, the Minstrel did undertake nine coastal voyages that year, all but one starting from Burnham, visiting Hartlepool four times and Newcastle once. It may well have been that she was carrying grain north and returning to Norfolk with coal. Also, the crew had joined the ship at Hartlepool at the beginning of May that year, which may be an indication that the ship had over-wintered at a northern port.
As busy as trade might have been during that period, we do find that the following year, on 23 August to be precise, Thomas Thurtle Mack, sold his substantial share stake in Minstrel; 32 shares went to his fellow Burnham merchant, John Savory, and a further 32 shares to Henry Howell, the Master of the Minstrel – it has been speculated that this portion may have been passed on to his son, Henry Jr., mentioned above. This shift in ownership did not seem to change Minstrel’s trading habits; it still remained engaged largely in exporting grain from John Savory’s granaries in Burnham and returning with coal from the north. When not needed in Burnham, Minstrel would visit other ports along the north Norfolk coast which were involved in a similar trade. However, one wonders as to the degree of profit being made at this time, now that growing competition was being felt from the railways; a trend that would eventually lead to an irreversible decline in the cargoes being shipped to and from the North Norfolk ports.
For nigh-on 44 years, Minstrel had been a family concern and a very reliable vessel, skippered also by only two masters during that time – Henry Howell senior and Henry junior. But in 1891 the father decided to sell his half share in the ship. John Savory, clearly still with full faith in the vessel, bought 16 shares of it, increasing his own share of the ownership to 48 shares. The other 16 shares were bought by a new name on the block, Minstrel’s new Master William Temple – he another Burnham man! Temple had already been in charge of the vessel for at some 4 months prior to the purchase, shipping malt to Newcastle and returning to Wells with coal. However, Minstrel, with Temple in charge, did not sail again until after the change in ownership when she left Wells for Blakeney.
Future Voyages: Throughout the 1890’s her voyage pattern seldom varied, with the carrying of coals, seed cake or barley, from Wells to Hull, Sunderland and North Shields, with trips to Burnham and Blakeney on the Norfolk coast in between. However, by the end of the 19th century the vessel’s trading pattern was forced to change by the terminal decline which was beginning to grip the North Norfolk harbours. This effectively meant that there was not enough trade to keep the Minstrel permanently employed and she had to go seeking trade wherever it occurred; this meant an unfamiliar coarse setting along the east and south coasts of England. Of the eighteen journeys made in 1901, only four were in Norfolk and, when she left Blakeney in the April, Minstrel did not return for the rest of the year. She ranged from Sunderland in the north to Cowes and Southampton in the south, none of them to Norfolk.
Minstrel’s master, William Temple who described himself as being from Wells and Blakeney – probably depending on whichever place he considered to be home – saw very little of his native Norfolk now that his vessel had to sail the south and east coasts of Britain to search for cargoes. The nature of his crew had changed too. Whereas in 1863 the crew remained the same all year and were all from Burnham, only William Temple came from Norfolk by 1901. One could say that the source of the vessel’s crew was now nationwide, if not international.
The Minstrel’s Demise: By 1904 the Minstrel was in its 57th year of what some would term an impressive service, but one which required a continued need to travel further afield for employment. Such was the case when she embarked on her final voyage; leaving Woolwich in the February of 1904, bound for York with a cargo of government stores. But disaster struck on 17 February when she became stranded and lost in a Force 7 easterly gale at Chapel Point, near Chapel St. Leonard in Lincolnshire. The crew were all saved, but not so the 57-year-old vessel which was thought not to be worth repairing. She was broken up in the May of 1904 by J. J. Simons of Sutton, Lincs.
It is said that its master, William Temple, went on to become master of the ketch ‘Admiral Mitford’ and it was rumoured that he became famous for sailing her single handed up to the north-east and then returning to Norfolk where he would moor and sell coal out of the ship, often remaining in one port until all the coal had been sold. Allegedly, he would combine this little bit of business with what became his frequent visits to the nearest quayside pubs. With such a development, it was always likely that tale such as this would have a sequel; in William Temple’s case it was an alleged theft from his vessel at Morston. It happened during one of Temple’s lengthy sojourns there, when someone by the name of Billy Holmes was said to have gone aboard the ‘Admiral Mitford’ and stole money. The case was brought to court, but a local merchant by the name of Gus Hill ‘stood up for Holmes and the case was dismissed’. However, William Temple would have none of it; he felt that Holmes was guilty and, in protest, refused to drink in Morston again, instead confining his drinking to the Blakeney pubs. As an aside, it was said that Temple was also the Master of the ‘Reaper’, as well as the ‘Minstrel’ and the ‘Admiral Mitford’.
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Starston is a small village in the South East corner of Norfolk with a population of 331 at the 2011 Census. Its southern boundary edges to within one mile of the River Waveney, which divides this part of Norfolk from Suffolk.
Starston is mentioned in the Domesday Book and its earliest name recorded as Sterestuna or Steerstown; the latter probably reference to the raising of cattle or stores in the village. If this is correct then it can be claimed that the raising of cattle in the area has been carried on ever since. In the year 1086 Starston was a very small village, being ‘one mile and five furlongs long and five furlongs wide’ according to old maps and references, and the area covered was the northward end towards Starston Hall. As the years went by more and more land came under cultivation and the boundaries of the village grew.
As land became cultivated so more land become in demand for houses and it is recorded that there was a large increase in the population in the years 1698 to 1798, going up from 215 to 381 and by 1877 the total had reached 510. When an informal census was taken in the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee it was found that the population was 545. However, after this growth in population there was a steady decrease, particularly noted at the end of the 1914-18 war.
Most of Starston is good agricultural land, loamy with a clay subsoil. The land has been used very much for corn growing and to a lesser extent sugar beet; but in recent years Diss-based Wharton’s, a local firm of Rose Growers, have been growing roses on the lighter lands towards Harleston that originally belonged to Beck Hall. Founded in 1947, the company grows in excess of 1.5 million rose bushes and more than 300 different varieties. This family business must be one of Britain’s biggest rose growers, selling to garden centres and nurseries across the country.
One of the special features of Starston is the stream that passes through the village, known as The Beck; its source is said to be a wide ditch at Tivetshall Hall. By the time this stream reaches the Norwich to Ipswich main road it has become a constantly running stream, running through a brick archway under the road, about a quarter mile south side of Pulham crossroads. When next seen from a public road, near the old railway station at Pulham Market, the stream is much larger.
Along the whole length of the Beck, surplus water feeds into it from the uplands and many minor streams and ditches leading to it. It travels a winding course through the village of Pulham St. Mary and by the time it reaches Crossingford Bridge it has become a stream capable of maintaining a quantity of coarse fish such as Roach, Dace, Gudgeon and Eels.
As the Beck comes within a quarter of a mile of Starston there is a footpath on the southern side of the road. Roy Riches of Starston, writing in 1969 said:
“……in my boyhood days the Beck was known as ” Gowers Ford “, a wooden plank bridge was there to allow people to cross when the water was too high to ford. This footpath carries on through ‘White House’ farm yard and joins up with Cross Road near the Poplars Farm. Further along the road there is another footpath – this is near the Streamlet Farm, and once again a wooden plank bridge is provided, the footpath then continues through the farmyard of ‘Yew 3 Tree Farm’ on to cross roads, and so the Beck rolls on to the first of four sluices which is situated near The Street.”
The main reason why the sluices was erected at this spot was to hold the water to a depth of not more than 4 feet. About two feet under the water’s surface was a suction pipe which ran to the windmill’s well which stood in Mill Field, quite close to the Beck. The purpose of this windmill was to pump water to a large tank placed on top of Starston Place house; the tank was its main supply of water. Part of this facility was a large indicator on a wall of Starston Place which told when the tank was full and when pumping should stop. Another large tank, used for a similar purpose, was in the farmyard of ‘The Home Farm’; this tank always being kept full, as in years past there was never less than 200 head of milking cows and fattening bullocks, plus a very large herd of pigs. Another use for this water was to maintain the level of water in the farm’s horse pond, fed by an overflow pipe from the main tank.
From this point, the Beck continues to be allowed to glide quietly along a further four miles or so before its outfall into the river Waveney at Homersfield.
The Parish Church:
The oldest and most historical building in Starston is the parish church of St. Margaret’s. It is situated in a very commanding position in a well-kept churchyard, which long ago was planted with many fine trees. They say that the original church was built sometime between 1150 and 1200, and that the main body of the church and tower were erected about 1300. The first Rector of Starston, according to Blomefield’s Register, was Robert De Beverley, who resigned in 1306, and he could well have been St Margaret’s first Rector.
Of the church, Simon Knott wrote, after his visit there on a damp, miserable day in 2005:
“St Margaret’s stood proudly, a small church, in the greying light of the wide graveyard. The Victorianised chancel and medieval body and tower made a nice harmony. On the north side is a 19th century aisle, not unpleasing. Most striking is the chequerboard flintwork of the nave and tower parapets – perhaps the medieval chancel had the same……. Inside, St Margaret’s is almost entirely the work of the 19th century, and medieval survivals are few and far between. But it is a pleasant, welcoming interior, and the restoration and rebuilding were done well.”
The list of Starston Rectors shows that many prominent people were, at one time or another, been appointed. One, in particular, deserves a special mention – that of the Rev. William Whitear, who was appointed in 1803. During this period of 1803 to 1826, the poor of the villages were poor; often the main provider had to resort to poaching to obtain the food necessary for their families. There were no County or Rural Police in those days, and most villages used an unpaid Village Constable who was appointed by the overseers of the Parish. It was more than likely that many poachers were more than capable of outwitting him, and that was probably a good thing for if caught for rabbiting, sheep stealing, wood stealing or taking linen from someone else’s linen line, the sentence was more than likely death by hanging. In many parts of rural Norfolk vigilante groups were formed in an effort to catch such people. One such group was formed in and around the Harleston district, stretching from Hoxne to Hardwick and from Dickleburgh to Flixton – taking in some eighteen villages. This body included the village of Starston and was known as the ‘Harleston Association’.
There is a true story goes that says that a group of poachers were known to be planning a poaching visit to the woods belonging to Gawdy Hall (demolished 1939); the night in question was 27 November 1826. The Association Committee decided to go out in force, in an effort to catch the poachers red-handed. This armed party, included the Reverend William Whitear of Starston’s St Margaret’s church, together with a young man from Starston Hall named Thomas Pallont. They proceeded to the woods with the others, in conditions that were so dark that ‘it was made difficult to see friend from foe’. There, a shooting incident took place and both the Rev. Whitear and Thomas Pallont fell to the ground wounded; it was said that the latter lost both his finger and thumb. The Rector, who was more severely wounded in the chest, died two weeks later. The Norfolk Chronicle reported the incident, dated 27 November 1826:
“The Rev. William Whitear, Rector of Starston, met with his death under singular circumstances. He had gone out with a party to apprehend poachers; the party divided themselves into two bodies, and on proceeding to the place where it had been agreed upon to reassemble, Mr. Whitear was mistaken for a poacher and shot in the right side by another of the party, a young man named Thomas Pallont. He died from the effects of the wound on December 10th, and Pallont was committed for trial on the charge of manslaughter. The case was tried at the Norfolk Assizes at Thetford before Mr. Justice Stephen Gaselee, on March 26th, 1827, when the accused was acquitted. “He was so seriously affected during the trial that before its conclusion he became quite insensible, and was taken home in that state.”
One of the most famous 19th century Rectors of Starston was the Rev. Angus Macdonald Hopper, who was appointed in 1845 and remained in the village until his death in 1878. While he was here as Rector, he also became Archdeacon of Norwich, and was very active in the church life of the country. He was a great benefactor to the church at Starston, also to the village school. Archdeacon Hooper left a family of three sons and one daughter. In gratitude to their father’s memory, they presented the church with its Brass Lectern which is still in use today.
The Waveney Valley Railway:
The Waveney Valley Railway was a branch line running from Tivetshall in Norfolk to Beccles in Suffolk, it connected the Great Eastern Main Line at Tivetshall with the East Suffolk line at Beccles, providing an interconnecting rail service to Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Ipswich and many other smaller towns in Suffolk with additional services to London.
The line was authorised by the Waveney Valley Railway Act on 3 July 1851 and the line opened in stages. First, it ran from Tivetshall to Harleston from 1 December 1855, then to Bungay from 2 November 1860, and finally to Beccles. When the line was finally completed, around 1863, it was incorporated into the Great Eastern Railway; it then became part of the LNER from 1 January 1923. In its early years, services on the line were worked by the company’s only locomotive, named ‘Perseverance’; this was a 2-2-2T locomotive, built by Sharp Stewart and Co of Manchester. However, it did not perform particularly well and was rebuilt by the GER in 1864 as a 2-4-0T- it was withdrawn in 1880 and broken up in November 1881.
Apart from stations at Pulham Market and Pulham St. Mary, Starston also boasted a station of its own, but it was only in operation for 11 years, between 1856 and 1866. It was been said that, when the station was at the planning stage, local landowners insisted that no trains should run on a Sunday; however, with the coming of the 1914 war this ruling went by the board, as troop trains very often moved along the line. Also, with the creation of the Pulham Air Station, much of the stores and materials were carried on a loop line connected with the Air Station. With the coming of motor transport however, the amount of business done by the railways declined, and eventually the passenger service was withdrawn in 1953. The line was finally closed in 1966 when the Goods trains ceased to run.
Some of the Larger Houses in Starston: The largest house in Starston until recently, was known as ‘Starston Place’. It came into the possession of the Taylor family in 1824 when a Mr. Taylor of Diss purchased it, and was known then as ‘Bressingham House’; the owner having some connection with the village of that name which is situated just outside Diss. The original house was demolished just after the second world war, and a smaller house was built which, certainly up to 1969, remained named as ‘Starston Place’. It is believed that a house has stood on the site since 1235, but the earliest date mentioned of ‘Starston Place’ is 1878, when a General Clay was the owner.
Other large houses in Starston include ‘Grove Hill’ built in 1849, ‘Conifer Hill’, built in 1881 and ‘Beck Hall’, the latter first mentioned in 1296. ‘Gunshaw Hall’ is another house, which stands partly in Needham and partly in Starston, it is said that the boundary of the two villages runs exactly through the middle of the house.
Again, writing in 1969, Roy Riches states:
“Until the year 1836 when the Pulham Workhouse was built, every village had its own Poor House, and the first recorded one stood in what is known as the Church Pightle, this was where the unfortunate poor of Starston were put, usually when they were in a very distressed state. However, with coming of the poor law, Authorities built another house by the side of the Pulham Road, and this became the village workhouse, and until quite recently this house was known by the older residents as Workhouse Cottages. During the last few years, this house has become the home of farm workers employed at Starston Place Farm, and was occupied by three families at one time, being known as Stone Cottages. In 1836, it was decided to put all the poor of the district into one building, and Pulham Workhouse standing by the side of the Ipswich to Norwich road was completed. This was a very large building, with accommodation for 500 inmates. In consequence, village workhouses were done away with. Another of these workhouses is still standing at Pulham St. Mary, and known as Workhouse Cottages, they stand on South Green, and like Starston Cottages, these too are now used as ordinary residences.”
Starston is yet another village that is unable to boast a public house. It used to have one, it was known as ‘The Gate Inn’ and was situated near the school. Prior to the 1950’s, travellers and locals used to call in there for refreshments; and, because this hub was something of ‘a social centre’ for the village, all sorts of leading topics would be discussed. It was also quite common for such talk to be centred around crop growing and garden produce, when keen gardeners used to compete with others for which was the best and largest produce. It was often believed that the information exchanged could be far from the truth. It is said that before the ‘Gate’ closed, and turned into a shop (closed 1984), there used to be a wonderful Walnut tree growing in front of the pub, and high up in its branches was a sign which read:
“This Gate hangs high and hinders none – Refresh and pay and travel on”.
Unfortunately, the walnut tree became old and began to rot to the point where it had to be removed – along with that sign. The Brewers then put a twist on things by having a miniature gate made and attached to the front of the Pub. An amended inscription read:
“This Gate hangs well – refresh and pay and travel on”.
It was also said that the nuts from that lost walnut tree tasted far better than those bought in the shops; and it was not unknown for the village boys to throw wooden sticks and ‘cudgels’ into the branches of the tree, in an effort to bring the nuts down; much to the worry of those people living close by who were afraid for their windows. Up until a few years before the Gate Inn closed, it was kept by a Mr. and Mrs. Osborne. Apparently, in addition to Mr. Osborne being the landlord, he was also a fishmonger who took his business around the countryside thereabouts by a pony and cart. He became renowned for the quality of his herrings and bloaters, which he used to cure himself. His most enthusiastic customers would recall how Mr Osborne would always smoke his fish in his very own drying sheds – and he would use nothing other than oak to cure them with. The herring that he selected for smoking always had to be prime ones, with lovely fat roes!
Such memories are long into the past; along with village windmills which used to grind the corn, public houses which used to refresh the body if not the soul, local schools close to communities, and even the traditional village blacksmith shop. Close behind have also long been the loss of rectors and rectories with parishes now combined under one parson. But it seems many Norfolk villages survive – and even thrive. Starston feels like one of them; in 2010 its villagers purchased Glebe Meadow in the heart of the village and converted it into a public space with attractive views of the church!