Stories Behind the Signs: Fersfield

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

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

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

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

Fersfield & Blomefield (Village Sign)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fersfield (Bois Pedigree)
The Bois Pedigree.

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

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

Fersfield & Blomefield (Volumes)

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

THE END

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

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Shotesham: A little Village with Big Connections!

Shotesham is a village of around 562 souls; five miles south of Norwich, it has connections, historical, social, political and royal—and that’s where I was heading when I got off the bus at Upper Stoke, a couple of weeks past.

Upper Stoke sits at the highest part of the ‘high place’, the ancient Hundreds of Henstead. I know 90 meters above sea level isn’t exactly ‘high’ but this is Norfolk, and 90 meters is the second highest place in the county. Since I intended to finish my walk in the Tas Valley, at something close to 5 meters above sea level, I expected most of the trek to be downhill. Ha! The land undulates. Unexpected rises and hidden houses in little dips.

Shotesham (Map)1I had enticed my daughter into this walk with mention of the rare southern butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty, I’d seen last year [2016] peppering the steep hillside meadow just south of the Stoke to Poringland road. On that occasion, a very hot day, I was climbing the hill on my way home from West Poringland and places beyond. This time, alas, the wind scoured that hillside with far more vigour than forecast by the Met Office. So much for butterflies, rare or common. Moreover, that wind promised a miserable day.

Glad to be off the hillside, we then hiked a short way along a road, busier than expected – and still windy. But there were these Mallows all in flower, and I so wanted a photo. (See Pretty in Pink)

Shotesham (Poppies)2And the windblown poppies were waving their scarlet petals as if flamenco dancers with their dresses. It was as well this walk wasn’t all about flowers. But at least the squirrel kept still while I clicked it!

Shotesham (Squirrel)3Turning off road, and into a farmyard . . .

Shotesham (Farm)4The buildings found around a farm’s yard are not as quaint as they used to be. But certainly functional. Kinda . . . futuristic and Bauhaus together!

Shotesham (Farmhouse)5And except for a solitary farmhouse almost lost in a dip of the land, there was no other sign of habitation. Just fields upon fields upon fields, all greying into the distance: peas and barley and wheat, and oil-seed rape, now green with their pods, no longer sweet-smelling. But, time to stop waxing lyrical and tell you something of our destination.

Shotesham …:
… or Scotessa or Scotessam as it was first recorded, which could signify ‘the village of Scots’ (Scots here meaning the Irish pirates who made life hell at the end of the Roman Occupation). More likely it means ‘a gathering of warriors’ pieces’, i.e. land given by some long ago Saxon, or maybe Danish, lord to his fiercest fighters.

I favour that king to be King Cnut; he had much dealings with this area, donating Saint Botolph’s church and its parish as a foundation gift to the abbey of St Benet at Holm (near Acle on the edge of the Norfolk Broads). At the same time, a Saxon named Brictrict gave St Martin’s, another of the Shotesham churches (there were four), to the same abbey, along with the adjoining hamlet of Grenvil. Land around here was held off the abbey until the Dissolution.

Shotesham (Village Sign)6
The village sign . . .

So, a Danish king’s land, Shotesham, mostly given in reward to favoured warriors. And then along came William the Conqueror and, after his victory at Hastings in 1066, did much the same thing.

The main manor of Shotesham (later known as Shotesham Hall) included the church of All Saints (still open for business, stood proud upon its hillock).

Shotesham (All Saints)7
All Saints Church, Shotesham

Taken from its Saxon holder, the manor was delivered into the hands of the Anglo-Breton Ralf the Staller, a former toady of King Edward the Confessor who in 1067 William appointed as Earl of East Anglia. Alas, he died two years later and the land went to his son, Ralf de Gaël—who then was exiled for rebellion in 1075. The land was returned to the king’s hands and placed in the temporary keep of Godric the Sewer. It’s believed that this Godric had been steward to the Anglo-Breton Earl Ralf; regardless, he now was steward to the King.

King William (the Conqueror) had loaded this Godric with more confiscated lands than any decent man could manage. So Godric offloaded a few of the manors—for a fee. This particular manor of Shotesham he leased to King William’s half-brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux—Who in turn let it to Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk—Who in turn let to one of his followers, Aitard de Vaux.

And there it remained, in the hands of the de Vaux family until . . . 1288 when, upon marrying Petronel, eldest daughter and coheir of John de Vaux, a half share was assigned to one William de Nerford who held it off the Lord Marshal aka Earl of Norfolk aka Roger Bigod (a lineal descendant of that C11th Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk). Petronel’s sister held the other half; they would eventually be reunited.

Shotesham (Churches & Farm)8
The ruins of St Martin’s church (foreground) and behind it, St Mary’s church, with Old Hall Farm seen to the left (it were cumin’ on cloudy that day, it were!)

The manor remained in Nerford hands through generations until only a lone daughter was left. Margery. Margery died ‘without issue’ in 1390. But, wise woman, before she died (in fact, pre-1388) she sold it on, to—Sir John White, a knight already enfeoffed with lands in Suffolk. And there it remained, in ‘White’ hands, until—

Dynastic Disasters!
From Bartholomew White (died 1495) to his son Simon White (died circa 1505) to his son, Edward White (died 1521) to his son George White who . . . oops, died without issue.

So a quick backtrack up the tree . . . to Edward White’s brother, Edmund White, who died in 1538, and to his son Edward White, who died in 1558—unwed.

Luckily, for the estate, Edward had a sister, Anne White. Anne White married one Henry Doyly of Pond Hall, near Hadley, in Suffolk. Phew! And Shotesham Manor became the Doyly family’s seat.

Shotesham (Beck)9
The Beck at Shotesham

By then Shotesham Manor included the former Shotesham Hall, along with another nearby manor, again in Shotesham, of Toft Hall, and also the one named ‘Swans’.

Shotesham (The Common)10
Houses edge the Common at Shotesham

Toft Hall gets a mention in Domesday Book: it had been held, TRE (In the Time of King Edward) by the Anglo-Saxon bishop of East Anglia, Stigand. But Stigand wasn’t to remain in East Anglia, he was destined for greatness. Not only did he become the ‘King’s Bishop’ at Winchester (a much sought-after seat) but also Archbishop of Canterbury. And then was excommunicated for pluralism—at which Toft Hall was taken from him and granted instead to Roger Bigod, that same sheriff already mentioned.

Swan’s Manor had been in the hold of Ulketel (who we’ll meet in a later post, when we finally arrive at the supposed deserted village of Saxlingham Thorpe and its thriving neighbour, Saxlingham Nethergate). William, the wonderful conqueror, assigned Swan’s Manor to Robert Malet, lord of the honour of Eye (Suffolk), someone I don’t intend to deal with here.

Shotesham (St Botolph Ruins)11
All that remains of St Botolph’s church . . .

But to return to Shotesham Manor, now grown large . . .

The Doyly Family:
Like the Bigods, the Doyly family arrived with the Normans in 1066 (Robert D’Oyley de Liseaux, named for Ouilly in Calvados, Normandy).

At that time the said Robert d’Oyley was given lands chiefly in Oxfordshire where he built a castle (at Oxford) and married the daughter of Wigot, the Saxon lord of Wallingford. Their daughter, Maud, inherited her mother’s land (i.e. Wallingford) which, as was the way, passed to her legal lord and husband, Miles Crispen. But despite when widowed she then married Brian Fitz Count (illegitimate son of Alan IV Duke of Brittany), with neither husband did she produce an heir. Her inherited lands therefore passed to her uncle Nigel, Robert d’Oyley’s brother (Constable to King William Rufus).

And so the successions went in regular fashion until—Henry Doyly married Anne White, heiress of Shotesham in or around 1558.

Henry Doyly:
Knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire, in Queen Elizabeth’s time. Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1578. Sheriff of Norfolk again in 1590. Died 1597 in possession of the manors of:

  • Shotesham Hall, Swans, and Toft Hall, Shotesham
  • St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham
  • Warham manor
  • Blackford Hall in Rockley (another Henstead parish)
  • Various granges in Shotesham, Stoke Holy Cross, and ‘other adjacent towns’
  • And several churches besides

Again, descent reeled through the generations in normal fashion until it arrived at Sir William Doyly (the Elder) who, dying in 1677, left the entire estate to his son. Sir William D’Oyley (known as the Younger) who promptly ‘disposed’ of parts of his assets:

Shotesham Hall, Swans and Toft Hall, and the lease of St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham; Blackford Hall (alias Stoke Holy Cross manor), Rostlings and Gostlings in Great and Little Poringland and Stoke . . .

To Samuel Verdon, sometime under-sheriff of Norfolk. (We will meet with the Verduns when we arrive at Saxlingham Nethergate). By 1689, the widow of Samuel Verdon had these manors in mortgage.

However, the term ‘disposed’ apparently does not mean sold. For in 1699, Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly (grandson of the frittering Sir William the Younger), baronet and one-time resident of my birth-village of Costessey, sold those very same manors to Christopher Gibbs, worsted weaver of Norwich.

But here I confess to encountering confusion.

For this historical account, I’ve been following Francis Blomefield’s ‘Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 5′ (London, 1806), pp. 503-519, to be found on British History Online.

As with all writers, Blomefield was a man of his times. A clergyman, born of a Thetford family, and by now (post Cambridge degree in Divinity) with a living in South Norfolk. His style tends towards convoluted sentence structure with punctuation that would give any modern editor a nervous breakdown. So, Blomefield says first of Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly, selling these manors. And then seems to contradict himself by saying that ‘the lands and estates continued in Sir Edmund’.

Moreover:  ‘In 1739 Christopher Barnard of Yarmouth was lord, and his widow now holds it for life, and at her decease it goes to her husband’s two sisters, who are both married.’ Amazing. For in 1731 it is known that Shotesham Hall (and lands etc) was bought by William Fellowes; he was then aged 26 and was destined for a distinguished career as a philanthropist.

Shotesham (Hollow Lane)12
Hollow Lane, Shotesham, leading down to the Common. Once believed to be a foot-and-hoof worn way, now thought to mark the boundary of a medieval park. Myself, I think it might mark the boundary between the parishes (and/or manors) of St Mary’s and St Botolph’s, for that’s where it’s found.

The Fellowes Family:
Locally, William Fellowes is most noted for his role in establishing the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. But even before that, together with local surgeon Benjamin Gooch, he had set up what must have been one of the very first cottage hospitals in the country, in his own village of Shotesham. As Lord of the Manor—and he was very much lord of that manor, owning almost all the land, and the houses (though those were sold off during the 20th, century)—he cared for the people in his charge. Yet William Fellowes is not the most notable of that family and I did promise you royal connections.

Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham:
According to ‘thepeerage.com‘ the former ‘Lord of the Manor’, Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham was:

  • Assistant Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1977 and 1986.
  • Deputy Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1986 and 1990.
  • Privy Counsellor (P.C.) in 1990.
  • Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1990 and 1999.

He was created:

  • Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) in 1989.
  • Knight Commander, Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) in 1991.
  • Knight Grand Cross, Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) in 1996.
  • Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) in 1998.
  • And received Award of the Queens’ Service Order (Q.S.O.) in 1999.

On 12 July 1999, he was created Baron Fellowes, of Shotesham (U.K. Life Peer). But none of this mentions his own, personal, royal connections.

In 1978, he married Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer, daughter of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer & Honourable Frances Ruth Burke Roche. For those who don’t recognise the name, Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer is elder sister to the late Princess Diana. This makes Robert Fellowes uncle to the Princes William and Harry. Moreover, through his mother, Jane Charlotte nee Ferguson (b.1912 d.1986) he is first cousin once removed of Sarah, Duchess of York, divorced wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York. And further, through his great grandmother, he was related to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother.

Considering the painful events of August 1997, during which period Robert Fellowes was Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II, it is not surprising that he announced his retirement from the Royal Household that following year, in 1998. But to believe that was the end of his public career is a mistake. Amongst his several appointments since, as listed by Wiki, the one I noticed was Chair of the Prison Reform Trust, in 2001.

But to me, Robert Fellowes will always be known as the landowner who allowed me to freely walk his land (providing I kept to the designated footpaths, of which there are plenty). And that land contains so many gems by way of wildlife (many of the flower photos I posted last year were taken around here), not to mention the wealth of history, two of my passions compactly catered in one.

 

Shotesham (Little Wood)13
Approaching Little Wood, on Shotesham Hall estate. Photo taken on earlier visit, 16th May 2017

Written by Prisina Kemp

THE END

Source:
https://crispinakemp.com/2017/07/01/a-little-village-with-big-connections/

The Lost Beaupre’ Hall

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

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

EPSON scanner image

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

Beaupre Hall8

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

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

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

Beaupre Hall7
Beaupré Hall in 1884–85

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaupre Hall3

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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.

 

Poachers and The Heydon Affray

Overview:
Over 194 years ago on a large country estate in Norfolk a group of working-class, if not peasant, men clashed with those who were on the side of the Landed Gentry. The intruders were intent on poaching game for their tables and yes, probably profit. The land owner on the other hand was determined to stop them, see them off the property and, if needs must, punish them with the help of strict and almost unforgiving laws! The Heydon Affray, as it was called, was only one incident in what were once known as the “Poaching Wars”, an almost continuous bitter class conflict which started in earnest in the mid-17th century and came to infest the countryside across the whole of England – but never more so than in Norfolk. According to “The Stuart Constitution” by J.P. Kenyon (Cambridge University Press 1969):

“A similar distinction between the God-given race of landowners and the rest was made by the Game Act of 1671, the most stringent and comprehensive of the famous Game Laws.  It gave gamekeepers the power to enter houses to search for guns, nets and sporting dogs, which those below the rank of esquire were nor only forbidden to use but even to own;  it gave a single justice – usually the landowner concerned-power to award summary punishment, and the decision of Quarter Sessions, staffed by neighbouring land owners was final.  Such blatant class legislation confirmed the social ascendancy of the squirearchy, but in the end their administration of the Game Laws, ‘grossly partial, selfishly biased, and swayed by consideration of their own class interest even to the verge of corruption’, wrecked the reputation of the rural justices and made an important contribution to their ultimate downfall.”

Heydon Affray (Poachers)
19th Century Poachers by Edward Charles Barnes (1855-1882)

In this war between Peasant and Landowner, men were sometimes killed on both sides of the social structure whether by intent or accident, some were even murdered. Those from the lower order who were caught received sentences of death, imprisonment or transportation – all for the sake of a rich man’s rabbit or pheasant. A particularly vicious phase of the poacher’s war began in 1816 with the passing of the Night Poaching Act; this introduced transportation for seven years, if the convicted culprit had been armed with ‘net or stick’ and had the intent to steal rabbits or game. In 1828 a new ‘Night Poaching Act’ introduced transportation of up to fourteen years for such offences.

In 1825, and a little over twelve months before the Heydon affair, Lord Suffield said in the House of Lords: –

“The recipe to make a poacher will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met with in every game county in England.  Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong….give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter, by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God.”

Heydon Affray (Poachers War)
Poaching Wars

William Savage in his blog “Poachers in the 18th Century” added: “There’s also a tendency in this romanticised version of events to portray most, if not all, poachers, as poor local men. Fathers desperate to feed themselves and their families. As large-scale capitalist agriculture spread during the 18th century, so this version goes, the commons and woods where ordinary people once grazed a few sheep and shot a few rabbits were fenced off as private property. Deprived of access to wild animals for the pot, the peasants were driven to taking illicitly what they had once enjoyed without hindrance.

I’m sure that did happen. Yet local, small-scale poaching would never have produced the Draconian anti-poaching laws which disfigured the period from around 1810 to the 1830s. The petty ‘crimes’ of local poachers were almost always dealt with as misdemeanours. The poacher would expect a severe lecture from the magistrate, followed by a small fine or a few weeks in prison. Poaching for money, not for the pot, was the problem. Gangs of men who descended on an estate to take large amounts of game to sell. It started in the 18th century, then grew into almost a class war in the 19th.”

Heydon Affray (Corn Laws)

This bleak picture of England by the early 19th century was, in no small measure, made worse by the collapse of wheat prices to 65 shillings 6 pence following the Wars against France; foreign grain flooded into the country.  From 1815 onwards a series of Corn Laws were passed in an attempt to prevent the importation of wheat until prices reached at least 80 shillings. This blatant protectionism failed but the price of bread, which was the staple food of the English poor, remained high; this was coupled by the increasing number of enclosures of land which greatly reduced the opportunity for supplementing the diets of the rural poor with rabbits, hares etc.

Tensions were therefore at a high level in the countryside as a result of working people’s desperation and the fear they had of the far richer landowners who vigorously pursued their fight to protect what they believed was rightly theirs. The Night Poaching Laws had brought with them the sentence of transportation for seven years for poachers caught in the act of taking game.  It was said that in the eleven years following the introduction of these Laws, 1700 people in both England and Wales were convicted and sentenced to be transported.

Heydon Affray (wounded_poacher_henry_jones_thaddeus)
“The Wounded Poacher”,
Henry Jones Thaddeus, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

If it was desperation that persuaded peasants and labourers to poach, then it was the fear of transportation, if caught, which drove many to violence when resisting arrest.  Transportation meant never returning to England and to families; equally, it was extremely unlikely that convicts who were only transported for a limited period would ever return to their native land.  Those transported for life were, of course, banned from ever returning, although many were conditionally pardoned within the colonies.

Costessey, Norwich – A Hotbed for Poaching:
The pages of the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette for the period in which we speak provided ample evidence and comment on the fact that the area in and around Costessey village, Norfolk was a hotbed for poachers, whether indivuals or large poaching gangs.  The proximity of this area to the City of Norwich made disposal of ill-gotten game relatively easy. In return, the city itself was a fruitful source for recruiting poachers for the likes of the notorious “Cossey Gang” of that time. The city’s crowded yards and courts also provided excellent hiding places for planned poaching forays into the gaming preserves of the surrounding country estates.

“On Sunday the 31st ult at four o’clock in the morning, a gang of poachers, about fourteen in number, entered the plantations of the Earl of Buckingham, at Blickling. After they had fired thrice, the keeper and his watch, in all fifteen, came up with them, and an engagement ensued, when the poachers threw vollies [sic] of stones, and very much wounded one of the watch. The poachers, at length, finding themselves pressed, threatened fire, and did fire two guns, but, as is supposed, with powder only; soon after, however, they fired with shot, and wounded three of the watch, and then fled.”

(Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 20 January 1787)

In 1818 both Richard Harvey and David Banham of Costessey were imprisoned for poaching in Taverham.  In the 1820’s the most frequently named offender in Costessey was a John Adcock. He was a ploughman, transported in 1827 to serve seven years as a convict labourer in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania); it would be most unlikely that he ever returned to Norfolk and his family. Adcock was transported despite a plea from Lord Stafford to the Home Secretary to let him serve his sentence in England.  Adcock’s offence was for taking three pheasants at Costessey Hall, the property of Lord Stafford. Others poaching with him were Henry & James Harvey, James Edmunds, Thomas Paul and Thomas Riches.

Heydon Affray (Costessey Hall)

The Heydon Hall Affray:
It was on Monday, 11 December 1826, when there was much to-ing and fro-ing between Costessey and Norwich by men planning to do a bit of poaching that night.  Five men went to the city in the morning and met up at Crook’s Place before taking a short walk to St Stephens to buy powder and shot. Two then went off to the Brickmakers on the Trowse Road in search of a further colleague, before returning and moving on the Eight Ringers in St Miles – it would seem that the process of ‘rounding up’ a party was in progress. From St Miles the party walked the short distance to St Augustine’s where they all had a further pot of beer before going outside.

A total of fourteen men gathered under a tree at St. Augustine’s Gates where they held a meeting to finalise a plan for what would turn out to be a poaching foray to Heydon Hall, some 14 miles north-east of the city. Those men who made up early numbers were (1) William Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry,  (14 ) John General, and (15) Matthew Howlett (16) Richard Turner. More would join them at the Red Lion at Drayton. – Take note of the sequence of numbers against the names for later reference when each was sentenced.

Heydon Affray (St-Augustines-Gate_Henry-Ninham)
St Augustine’s Gate by Henry Ninham (1793 – 1874). Image: Tudor Galleries.

It was while they were still at St Augustine’s that there was a realisation that they only had four guns between them and it was James Paul and John Perry who volunteered to return to Costessey to get more weapons whilst the other men moved on to the Red Lion at Drayton where they met up with (15) Matthew Howlett. Later, Paul, Perry, plus a sixteenth member, (6) William Skipper arrived to report that they had managed to get two more ‘nippers’ (guns). In total, sixteen men settled down in the Red Lion for an evening’s drinking before setting off for the Heydon Hall Estate for a night’s work.

Mary Howard was to remember Monday, 11 December 1826 long into the New Year and beyond. She was the Red Lion publican’s daughter who served behind the bar and generally kept order, particularly when her father was absent. She remembered most of the proposed poaching party turning up, at intervals, to kill time before moving on. Mary witnessed them ‘loosening up’ and generating increasing levels of noise. This included a drinking challenge of ‘downing the flincher’ over pots of beer, accompanied by the rider “b**** to the first who flinches”. Not everyone took part; James Paul, for one, refused to take part for he “would flinch”! As for John Perry, he proclaimed at some point well into the evening that he would bet “five shillings that he would not miss a shot that night”.

Heydon Affray (Red Lion)
The Red Lion in Drayton, some 90 years after Mary Howard worked there and where poachers gathered.

When the party eventually left the Red Lion public house, it was just before half past nine; they had some ten more miles to travel before they reached the Heydon Estate and their feather and fur quarry. The route was along the Attlebridge Road and then across country to Felthorpe where William Olley obtained a gun from a cottage and gave it to James Harvey. Seven men now had guns: Edward Baker, William Elsegood, John General, James Harvey, Richard Harvey, John Perry and William Skipper – the others armed themselves with stakes from a hurdle, broken off during their journey.  From Felthorpe, they made their way to ‘Blackbridge Wood’, which was on the Heydon Estate and about a mile from the Hall itself.

Heydon Affray (The Hall)
Heydon Hall. Image: Wikipedia.

The wood was large and surrounded a lake and boathouse before reaching almost as far as the gamekeeper’s ‘Bluestone Hall’ cottage which lay alongside the Holt to Norwich road and not far from Dog Corner. The poachers made certain that they were well clear of the gamekeeper’s cottage as they moved towards a nearby area where they hoped the game were roosting; but it was a bright moonlight night and they feared “the game birds would quickly fly”. Some nearby rooks had felt sufficiently disturbed to fly to more distant trees. But the poachers had arrived, they were committed to make the most of the conditions and they approached their task in a loose formation, with those armed advancing forward in front of those who only held stakes and bludgeons.

Heydon Affray (Bluestone Hall_Zoopla)
Formerly the gamekeeper’s, James Carman’s, ‘Bluestone Hall’ Cottage. Image: Zoopla

Somehow, suspicion had been aroused amongst Estate staff with the head gamekeeper, James Carman, organising a ‘Watch’ or ‘Posse’ which would assemble at his cottage; the party consisted of estate workers Phillip Brewster, William Southgate, William Spray, Richard Carmin and George West. It was just before midnight of the 11 December 1826 when a section of this party headed out towards Blackbridge Woods. No one had yet seen any intruders, nevertheless Carman went armed with a brace of pistols and a double-barrelled gun which he soon handed to William Spray at the cottage gate; the weapons were their insurance should ‘armed’ men be out there. All was still and quiet as they came within a furlong of the wood; then suddenly some crows flew and one in the party was immediately convinced that there was someone or other afoot amongst the trees. Carman’s first instinct was to dismiss the thought, on the basis that no one would poach on such light night. He soon changed his mind when a gunshot sounded – and then a second. Carman immediately drew his pistols and fired into the air so as to attract the attention of the remaining members of the Watch who were waiting back at the cottage. At the same time, he noticed several on the edge of the wood, one of whom recognised the gamekeeper and was heard to shout “That’s Carman” threatening to give him a ”damn good beating”, while another added ”We’ll shoot him out of the way”!

These last words were followed immediately with shots being fired in the direction of the gamekeeper, some of which Carman later claimed went “into his ear and eye and others into his hand”; however, this did not prevent him retrieving his gun from Spray and firing at the poachers.  Poachers Richard Turner and James Harvey were on the receiving end of this volley with Harvey saying to Turner, ‘’Take hold of my gun, they have shot my eyes out”. What followed was Turner bandaging Harvey’s head with a handkerchief, then both being hit with yet another discharge from Carman. Poacher James Paul then came up and said that he also had been shot in the hand and face.  Despite what appeared to be a one-sided confrontation, the Watch, to a man, ran off out of the wood and followed by the superior numbered poachers who had clearly taken the initiative. Watch member, William Southgate, was then knocked down with a stone and beaten by William Olley, that was until fellow poacher, William Elsegood, pleaded with him to stop or ”for God’s sake you’ll kill him”.

The poachers pursued James Carman and the Watch into Seaman’s Farm where, it was said, they hid under a manger in the stable while the poachers spent a full twenty minutes nearby searching for them and uttering threats throughout. The poachers then regrouped and departed for another wood nearby, said to be Newell Wood. There, they discharged their ‘nippers’ three or four more times.  They then disputed whether to go back to Blackbridge Wood or cut their losses and go home. In the meantime, Carman and the Watch came out of hiding and on the way back to the Hall for reinforcements met the Hon. G.W. Edwardes, the third son of Lord Kensington, who was going down to Newell Wood where it was reported the poachers were.  Poacher, Edward Baker, was the first to spot the now reinforced Watch, its advancing presence causing the poachers to run towards the shelter of a hedge and bank where they argued as to whether they should fight the Watch or retreat fast……

The Hon. Edwardes  stood on the bank and apparently said  ”What do all you people do here at this time of night” to which Richard Harvey replied ”Your people shot us at first, and if you do not stand back you will stand the chance of sharing the same fate”.  It was later suggested that his reply was probably a reference to one of the poaching party, John General, who it is believed was fatally wounded earlier in the night when it was reported:

”one of the keepers being hard pressed, discharged his gun at this solitary poacher who immediately fell, and the short distance at which that person received the shot makes it probable that he must have been seriously, if not fatally wounded”.

Edwardes told them they had better not fire, but was almost immediately struck in the face by a stone thrown by Perry; this caused blood to flow from his mouth and nose. Edwardes fell on one knee and hand and as he was rising was shot by Perry and another poacher in the side and shoulder. In the return of fire from the Watch James Paul cried ‘’They have cut me all to pieces ” as he was severely wounded in the thigh. At this point, the poachers had enough of the exchanges and retreated, led by John Perry.  The Honourable Edwardes’ servant ‘Ensor’ helped his master back to Heydon Hall……. On 17 December 1826, two bludgeons, two guns and a hat, ‘much shot through’ was found in the home of William Howes at Crook’s Place, Norwich.

Heydon Affray (Judge)
The Judge (c.1800) by Thomas Rowlandson. Image: Tate Gallery, number T08531. © Tate, granted under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

It is not known how and when the poachers were apprehended by the authorities – but caught they were and were committed to trial at the Lent Assizes held in Thetford, Norfolk on 27 March 1827. The Judge presiding was Justice Sir Stephen Gaselee (1762 – 26 March 1839), justice of the Court of Common Pleas. It was said that Gaselee was the original of the irascible judge represented by Charles Dickens in the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, under the name of Justice Stareleigh.

Those poachers appearing on the Charge Sheet were:

“(1) William. Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, aged 34, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (6) William Skipper, aged 28, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry was severally indicted for shooting at and wounding the Honourable George Warren Edwardes, on the 12 of December last.”

Witnesses called and cross-examined included James Carman (gamekeeper), William Southgate (watch), Philip Brewster (watch), George West, Honourable G. W. Edwardes (Estate), William Spray (keeper), William Ireland (Farmer), (13) John Perry, (accused), (14) Richard Turner (gentleman’s servant and accomplice), and Mary Brown (Red Lion).

The prisoners said nothing in their defence with some having to rely on submitted ‘good references’. The Jury retired for barely twenty minutes to consider its verdict, and when it returned the verdict was ‘Guilty’, but with the equally unanimous recommendation for Mercy. The Judge responded by saying that this “should be communicated where it would meet with due attention……nevertheless, he must perform the painful duty his office imposed on them”. His Lordship then proceeded to pass the formal sentence of death upon the accused, but which subsequently was commuted to either transportation or prison. The fate of the 16 members of the ‘Cossey Gang’, of whom 14 actually stood trial at the Norfolk Assizes on 27 March 1827, was as follows:

Sentence to Death but Transported for life:
The following were sentenced to death but with Royal Mercy were commuted to transportation on the ship “ASIA V”. This ship, of 523 tons, was launched in 1824 at Bombay. She carried 200 male convicts to Hobart and had two deaths en-route. She departed Portsmouth on the 17th of August 1827 and arrived at Hobart on the 7th of December 1827. Her Master was Captain Henry Ager and Surgeon: George Fairfowl.

Heydon Affray (John_Ward_of_Hull_-_H.M.S._Asia)
HMS Asia by John Hall of Hull.

(1) William Howes: Aged 32, native place Little Brandon, Norfolk and was a Groom and Coachman. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On his arrival ai Hobart, he was assigned to a Mr Seagrim and later served as a Constable. During his time, he committed five minor Colonial offences, being admonished or Ticket of Leave suspended 1 month. On 17 March 1836 Howes was sentenced to one-months Hard Labour on a road gang for being drunk and ‘striking his wife’! He received a conditional pardon on 24 May 1839.

(2) Edward Baker:  Aged 34, native place Catton, Norfolk, farm labourer and brickmaker – worked for a Mr Blake. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, Baker was assigned to a W. Gunn Esq., Supt of Prisoners Barracks at Bourbon Sorrell in the Drummond Parish. He was later admonished for insolence and drowned in the South Esk River on Thursday, 13 August 1835.

(3) William Elsegood: Aged 28, On arrival in N.S.W. was assigned to Sir John Jamison of Evans.

(4) George Goffin:  Aged 30, native place Norfolk, ploughman and brickmaker. He left a wife in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, he was assigned to Mr Phillip Pitt of Beaufort Parish. He committed no Colonial offences and was given a conditional pardon on 20 September 1837, with a Pardon extended to the Australian colonies on 12 August 1845.

(5) Richard Harvey: Aged 27, native place Costessey, Norfolk. He was baptised on 30 September 1798, son of Richard HARVEY and Sarah (Lovett), and left behind a wife, Susannah (Parnell) of Costessey and children Thirza and William at Costessey. On arrival at Hobart Harvey was assigned to Lieut. Hawkins and Mr Isiah Ratcliffe but later committed many Colonial offences, being sentenced to a variety of punishments, such as Tread-Wheel, Chain Gang, Working in irons, Imprisonment with hard labour, Solitary Confinement and Bread & water. Eventually he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ on 2 August 1836, conditional pardon on 10 May 1836 which was extended to Australian colonies 8 December 1846.

(6) William Skipper Aged 27, Native place Stoke, Norfolk. He left behind a wife Sarah and six children ‘on the parish’ at Costessey – William, Mary, Hannah, Isabella, Anthony and Anastasia. Skipper was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan’ on 27 April 1827, then transferred to the ‘Hardy’ on 28 May 1830. He was not transported but discharged with a Free Pardon on 30 June on the appeal of Lord STAFFORD to the Home Secretary. In the 1881 Census he was still living at 17 The Croft, Costessey as a widower.

(7) James Harvey:   Aged 20, son of Richard Harvey and Sarah (nee Lovett) and baptised on 6 July 1808 at Costessey. Harvey was already under sentence of 7 years transportation for poaching in a plantation of Lord STAFFORD on the Costessey Hall estate, along with John Adcock and Thomas Paul on 25 Nov.1826. On arrival in New South Wales Harvey was assigned to Mr. Spark of Botany Bay.

(10) William Olley: Aged 34, native place Drayton, Norfolk, farmer, ploughman, malster and brewer. He left behind a wife and children ‘on the parish in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart he was assigned to Mr. Andrew Tolney in the Ormaig Parish and was once reprimanded for being absent from Church Muster. He received a Ticket of Leave in 1836 and a conditional pardon on 20 June 1840.

Sentenced to Death but commuted to a Gaol term:
(8) Thomas Paul: Aged 26, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 22 February 1802. His death sentence was commuted to 2 years in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

(9) James Paul: Aged 18, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 9 July 1806 and married Harriet Skipper on 26 October 1830. His death sentence was commuted to 4 months in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

(11) Thomas Skipper Aged 17, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Lakay) of Costessey. Baptised 4 Feb. 1810. His death sentence was commuted to a period in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

Sentence to Death but commuted to 7 years transportation:
(12) John Catchpole: Aged 26 was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan‘ on 27 April 1827 with others. Nothing more was heard of him.

Sentence to Death but not in Custody:
(13) John Perry:  At the time of the trial Perry was not in custody although in the evidence it was seen that he was the ringleader. Nothing further has been discovered about him. However, on 18 September 1826 a child Ellen E. Perry, daughter of John Perry and Martha, was baptised at Costessey Church.

Believed Killed during the Heydon Affray:
(14) John General: Newspaper reports of the time indicated that General may well have been fatally wounded and hence not charged. He was carried from the scene by his companions.

Sentence Unknown:
(15) Matthew Howlett:  He was with the gang at the Red Lion in Drayton but was not mentioned in the report of the affray. It would also seem that he was not charged.

Turned King’s Evidence:
(16) Richard Turner: It was reported that Turner had been a gentleman’s servant for twelve months before who turned King’s Evidence; he escaped punishment. On 17 May 1828 a Richard Turner married Anne Simmons at Costessey, (witnesses John Pank and Anne Powell). A question was posed as to whether, or not, Turner had been planted in the gang!

Other Costessey Poachers transported to Australia:
John ADCOCK:  Aged 28, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Richard and Elizabeth (nee Cutler). He was baptised on 12 Nov.1797 and married Sarah Gurney of Costessey on 4 Oct. 1825. Children were Maria Elizabeth and Sarah Ann. Adcock was a farm labourer and ploughman. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation on 10 January 1827 for poaching in a plantation of Lord Stafford on the Costessey Hall estate, along with James Harvey (10) and Thomas Paul (11) on 25 November 1826. Sarah ADCOCK was on parish relief all through 1827. Adcock was transported to Van Dieman’s Land on the convict transport “Asia V ” on 17th August 1827. On arrival he was assigned to a Mr Anthony Geiss of Wellington Parish. On 11 March 1830 Adcock absented himself from his master’s service and was reprimanded. Around 1832/33 he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ and on 23 January 1834 a Free Certificate was issued. It is to Lord Stafford’s credit that he had appealed to the Home Secretary to have Adcock’s sentence remitted; however, the appeal was unsuccessful.

THE END

Bibliography and Sources of Reference:
The above tale based on the reports that appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette on Sat. 31st March 1827 about the trial of the Heydon poachers at the Lent Assizes held in Thetford, Norfolk on the 26 March 1827: Also:
The Village Labourer 1760-1832. L.L. and Barbara Hammond – First publ. 1911 Longmans, London.
The History of Costessey by T.B. Norgate published privately by Author, August 1972.
The Diary of a Country Parson. 1758-1802. James Woodforde. ed by James Beresford, OUP 1978.
The Long Affray. The Poaching Wars 1790-1914. Harry Hopkins, Macmillan, London 1985.
Peasants & Poachers. A study in rural disorder in Norfolk, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge Suffolk.
Tasmanian Archives Convict Records -Hobart, Tasmania.
Poachers in the 18th Century
www.geocities.ws/sandgroper79/poachers19.html
www.geocities.ws/sandgroper79/poachers20.html
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2638689?seq=1
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2638689?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Ae2110a8ef76815734930d60a0662880e&seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents

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

Admirals of our Norfolk Coast!

To understand what the title and this particular blog is all about, it is best to first explain the title and responsibilities of an ‘Admiral’ – before going on to write about two archaic posts which were held by distinguished persons responsible for our Norfolk coastline:

Meanings Behind the use of ‘Admiral’:
The title ‘Admiral’, as most people understand it today is quite different to the original name. Today, it refers to the title and rank of a senior naval officer, often referred to as a flag officer, who commands a fleet or group of ships of a navy or who holds an important naval post on shore. The term is sometimes also applied to the commander of a fleet of merchant vessels or fishing ships.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the title of Admiral has an ancient lineage. It apparently originated before the 12th century with Muslim Arabs, who combined amīr (“commander”), the article al, and baḥr (“sea”) to make amīr al-baḥr. Shortened to amiral, the title was adopted for naval use by the Sicilians. The French copied the word from the Genoese during the Seventh Crusade of 1248 to 1254. The Latin word admirabilis (“admirable”) may have contributed to the designation Admiral for the commander of the Cinque Ports in England before the end of the 13th century.

Admirals (Ship)
A ship of the 16th century. Photo: Pinterest.

Henry VIII is known as the father of the English navy and from the Tudor period, England produced many eminent naval officers. By 1620 the word Admiral was used in England to denote a commander at sea. In that year the fleet was formed into three squadrons with the admiral commanding the centre squadron, his ships flying red ensigns. The vice admiral in the van squadron flew white ensigns, and the rear admiral flew blue ensigns in his squadron. The British navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

The ’Lord High Admiral of the Wash’:
This position is an ancient hereditary office within the English navy goes back to medieval times when the title holder was a nobleman with responsibility for defending and protecting the entire coastal area of the Wash in Norfolk. The post was first granted to the Le Strange family (still associated today with Old Hunstanton) in the 13th century. However, in the 16th century and reign of Henry VIII, the post became obsolete when protection and defence duties around the area were taken over by the Royal Navy. Apparently, at that time, nobody thought of formally abolishing the post so even today, it still remains in title a hereditary dignity – but with absolutely no responsibilities nor privileges of any kind what so ever!

Admirals (henry_styleman_le_strange)
Henry Styleman Le Strange. Photo: Wikipedia.

When Henry Styleman Le Strange died in 1862 he was already Lord of the manor of Hunstanton – and other Manors, but also held the wonderful title of Hereditary Lord High Admiral of the Wash. But in more official times, this title had also allowed its holder the right to claim possession of anything out to sea for the distance a man on horseback could throw a spear from the High-Water mark!

Admirals1
The Admiral Surveys his Norfolk coast! Photo: Christopher Weston.

The Lord High Admiral of the Wash no longer resides at Hunstanton Hall. Nor does he control all shipping and smuggling around the Wash, as the Le Strange family had originally been commanded to do all those centuries earlier. The current Admiral inherited the title from his mother, yet still lives in Hunstanton. Technically, he still owns all the land between the High Tide mark and the distance he can throw a spear.

The ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’:
Again, during Henry Vlll’s reign in the 16th century, ‘vice-admiralties of the coast’ posts were established in each of the twenty maritime counties of England, the North and South of Wales, and the four provinces of Ireland. Hence, each jobholder became formally a ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ within the county or area for which they had been appointed and while holding office, were required to act as deputies of the Lord High Admiral. This, the highest post, was always held by a nobleman who was not a seaman and did not command at sea except on rare occasions; the position was as head of departments that administered naval affairs and included responsible for providing ships for war which, through the duty usually brought large fees to the holder – he, by the way, also had jurisdiction in certain legal cases. The current title holder of Lord High Admiral is Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. As for the lower “Vice-Admiral”, he was responsible for naval administration in his County; this included deciding the lawfulness of prizes captured by privateers, dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, acting as a judge and implementing the role of the Impress Service (relating to men forced into military service by Press Gangs).

The earliest recorded appointment to the post was in 1536, when William Gonson (1482-1544) became Vice Admiral of the combined Norfolk & Suffolk coastal areas. Gonson was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire in England he was the son of Christopher Gonson and Elizabeth (nee: Trussell). He married Bennett Walters and together they had six sons and four daughters. (One of his sons, Benjamin Gonson, would go on to hold a career in the English navy and also became Treasurer of the Navy). William Gonson eventually fell from grace and committed suicide in 1544 leaving the navy disorganized in the region. It took two years for Henry VIII to reorganize control and develop what became later known as ‘The Navy Board’. William Gonson was probably, along with William of Wrotham, and Sir Robert de Crull of the 13th and 14th centuries, one of the three most important administrators of naval affairs of the English Navy prior to 1546.

Admirals (John Wodehouse)
On of the last recorded Vice Admirals of the Coast in Norfolk,  John Wodehouse (1771-1846), painted by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845)
Norwich Civic Portrait Collection, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

From around 1560, the ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ acquired a more public profile than previously and in the second half of the 16th century, increasingly received orders from the Privy Council.  In 1561, instructions were given by the Crown but in 1660, their functions were controlled by the Admiralty Board. The last recorded Vice Admiral of the Coast in Norfolk, was the 2nd Baron Wodehouse, John Wodehouse (1771-1846), who was also Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk between 1821 and 1846. Soon after this, records indicate the office and its requirements as described above, became extinct.

THE END

Sources:
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archives.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/admiral
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_High_Admiral_of_the_Wash
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vice-admirals_of_the_coast

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

Norwich’s Secret Garden

The Secret Garden is well hidden, and so is the commemorative stone which sits in a dark niche immediately to the left of the entrance gate to the garden.

Secret Garden2
Entrance to the Secret Garden. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The late photographer and historian of Norwich, George Plunkett, stated that: “This rather secluded corner adjacent to the Adam and Eve public house was the location of the Meeting House or Tabernacle.” It was a plain little red-brick building with pantiled roof and a double row of sash windows, opened by Mr Whitefield on 14 April 1753 and leased to John Wesley from 1758 to 1764 – see below. Stanley Wearing in ‘Georgian Norwich and its Builders’ considered the Meeting House to have been the first building in Norwich with which the locally famous architect Thomas Ivory was known to be connected.

Secret Garden1
The commemorative Stone. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The person behind the existence of the Meeting House had been a Calvinistic Methodist by the title and name of Reverend James Wheatley. He, prior to his moving permanently to Norwich in 1750, had been preaching in the city at various places including an older ‘Tabernacle’ set up in a house on Scoles Green in Nowich. Unfortunately, Wheatley’s ideas were not generally well received and frequent riotous scenes occurred, resulting in his molestation to such an extent that on more than one occasion ‘the poor creature was half dead, not able to walk alone, and in a most terrible condition’, to quote one eye-witness. It would appear that such scenes and experiences left him totally undeterred for eventually he was able to purchase the land, of which we speak, for the building of the Meeting House, together with an adjoining three-storeyed dwelling house.”

It was in much earlier days, on 23 December 1737 to be exact, that John Wesley (1703–1791) and the founder of Methodism, disapproved of Wheatley’s reputation. It was at the time when Wheatley had invited Wesley to preach at an earlier ‘Tabernacle’ – possibly the one at Scoles Green. According to Wesley: “James Wheatley now repeated his offer of the Tabernacle. But I was in no haste. I wanted to consult my friends, and consider the thing thoroughly.” Eventually, however, Wesley consented:

“I went up and preached to a large congregation without any let or hindrance.” On the Sunday, “the Tabernacle was thoroughly filled, and mostly with quiet hearers. I saw none who behaved amiss but two soldiers, who struck some that desired them to be silent. But they were seized and carried to the commanding officer, who ordered them to be soundly whipped.” The following day he preached, he thought, to good effect, “Stony hearts were broke; many mourners comforted; many believers strengthened. Prejudice vanished away; a few only kept their fierceness till the afternoon.”

But, Norwich was suspicious of Wesley and he, in turn, thought of the city: “her people seemed fickle, perverse, unstable as water”. Then, in 1758, five years after the Meeting House had been built and also the time when Wesley was leasing the Meeting House, he wrote, “It seems the time is come when our labour even in Norwich, will not be in vain”.

PortraitofJohnWesley1703-1791founderofMethodism2
The old Meeting House in 1939. Photo: George Plunkett.

Fast forward again to George Plunkett who, apart from photographing the Meeting House in the 20th century, had also seen inside before the building which was to be demolished in 1953: “the Tabernacle was furnished with handsome mahogany seating and a beautiful pulpit”.

But it was back in 1775 that the building was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon; she set up a trust to appoint ministers “whose preaching and sentiments [were] according to the articles and homilies of the Church of England”. Disused by the 1930s, it was then acquired by the Eastern Gas Board, whose works adjoined to the north, and was pulled down early in 1953, the year of its bicentenary. Now, in its place, is Norwich’s ‘Secret Garden.

Secret Garden3
Inside the Secret Garden, Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

THE END

Photographs: George Plunkett, by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett. Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Don’t Take Up Farming, Old Chap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3_Bugg Cottages before renovation2
Bugg Cottages before renovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_Threshing time2
Threshing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_Auction catalogue, 19452
Auction Catalogue, 1945.

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTCRIPT:

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

Anne Williamson

THE END

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

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

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

 

The Adventures of the Old Catton Village Sign!

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

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

Catton Cat (2013)
The Village Sign in 2013

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

Catton Cat2

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

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

Catton Cat (Mug)
The commemorative mug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catton Cat (Cat Loan)

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

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Captain Maurice Speer, United Sates Airforce, circa 1944.

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

“Old Catton Village Sign

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

Four days later another letter was received: –

“Old Catton Village Sign

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

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

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

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

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

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

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

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

Catton Cat (Plaque)1

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

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

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

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

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

Catton Cat (Sign Valdilised)

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

Catton Cat (Shield)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catton Cat (2011)2

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

THE END

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

 

Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Cromer.

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

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

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

Cromer_Map2
An Illustration of the M&GNJR line, from North Walsham, leaving Overstrand (right) and curving round to approach the then Cromer Beach station from the west. Photo:Wikipedia
Railway Map001
An Illustration of how the Cromer section (top right) fitted into the Norfolk railway system around 1900. Take note of the relatively short section that links Cromer with North Walsham – drawn as a ‘fishbone’.

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

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The former Cromer Beach Station. Photo: Public Domain.
Cromer (Beach Station)001
Old Postcard Cromer Beach Station and its extensive number of rail tracks at the time. The inclusion of ‘Beach’ in its name was to hightlight the station’s actual position at Cromer. The station became simply ‘Cromer’ in 1969 and today there are just two tracks, one each side of the platform. Dwarfing today’s station is a supmarket, plus other retail outlets.
Cromer_High1
The former Cromer High Station. Photo: Public Domain.

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

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)1
Cromer Links Halt. Photo: Steven Gorick.

Then there was the Cromer Links Halt station, on the M&GNJR, which became yet another casualty when the line closed. Located near to the Northrepps Road in Cromer the Halt opened in 1923 to serve a nearby golf course; access to the course was via steps. Costing £170 to build they were located in a wood with a path to the station running up the embankment.

The Halt was part of this little-used extension line from Cromer to North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand, Trimmingham and Mundesley.

 

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)2
Sidestrand Station
Much like its counterpart at Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand consisted of a simple wooden platform capable of accommodating one coach. Hidden away at the end of a public footpath, the station did not have any ticket-issuing facilities, and these could only be purchased on the trains. The halt had been opened in an attempt to increase revenues on the line by further exploiting the tourist potential of “Poppyland“, but in the event it only lasted seventeen years and closed along with the section of the line between Cromer and Mundesley in 1953. Photo: Wikipedia.
Cromer (Overstrand Station)001
Overstrand Station
A postcard showing that much of the M&GNJR  line at Overstrand was on an embankment, and the reach the ‘long-island’ platform entry was via a white-tiled sloping subway, in the centre of this view, with its frosted-glass roof.

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

Cromer (Trimmingham Station)002
Trimingham Station
Here and the Overstrand the stations were built by C.A. Sadler of Sheringham; both stations were of the same brick and terracotta design with the corrugated iron roof extending over the canopy.
Cromer (Mundesley Station)001
Mundesley-On-Sea Station
To cater for the crowds of holiday makers – who, by the way, never materialised – this station was spacious with four platforms, two signal boxes and its own engine shed.
Cromer,_North_Walsham
A 1907 map showing the North Walsham to Cromer section of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (in dotted blue/yellow) and connecting lines

The Cromer Tunnel.

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

Cromer_Tunnel (Anthony Weeden)2
The Cromer Tunnel today. Photo: Anthony Weeden

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

Cromer_Roughton2.jpg
Roughton Road Railway Station
Roughton Road railway station is located on Roughton Road in the southern outskirts of Cromer. It is the station between Cromer and Gunton railway stations on the Bittern Line.
  © Copyright G Laird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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

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

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

THE END

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

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

Norfolk: A Hidden & Forgotten Railway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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