Fustyweed – You Better Believe It!

By Haydn Brown.

Quite often I pass by the road signs on the Fakenham Road in Norfolk that tell me where the villages of Lyng and Elsing are. Each time I do so the name ‘Fustyweed’ comes to mind – a name that had been curious to me in the past – but no longer; but it still does tempt me to delve into the realms of ‘fantasy’ from time to time!

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Upper reaches of the river Wensum near the Norfolk hamlet of Fustyweed, between Lyng and Elsing. Credit: Bill Smith – Archant.

For those who do not know, ‘Fustyweed’ is real, both as a word with a pedigree, and also the name of an actual hamlet that sits comfortably between the neighbouring villages of Lyng and Elsing; all blessed for being on a sheltered side of the valley, and with open meadows. This hamlet itself consists of a collection of five older, artisan sized, houses, one of which is a treehouse!

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A Fustyweed cottage, as you approach from the direction of Lyng; it is the first you see before entering this small hamlet. Credit Zorba the Greek- Wikipedia.

It seems that Fustyweed has always been a hamlet, remaining so because it never grew to warrant a church or a working mill as did its neighbours. So, there must have been another reason for it being where it is; and why was it so named? Was it simply that in the very distant past, not only did crops grow thereabouts, but also some unpleasant smelling plant – possibly offering medicinal benefits to the community? The reason I suggest this is the possible origin of the word itself, which may offer a clue.

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Fustyweed Cows by the River Wensum. Credit Julian P Guffogg 2016.

Here, I had to go back to an 1822 publication by Robert Nares (1753 – 1829), titled ‘Nares’ Glossary’; this book was described in 1859, by Halliwell and Wright, as indispensable to readers of Elizabethan Literature. Within it I found the following information:

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Robert Nares (1753 – 1829). Wikipedia.

“Fusty” – Musty or mouldy:

Hector shall have a great catch if he knock out either out your brains: ‘a were as good crack a fusty nut with no kernal’. (Troilus and Cressida ii. 1.)

“Dirty, Musty, Ill Smelling”:

…. Where the dull tribunes,
That with the fusty plebeians [a commoner] hate thine honours,
Shall say, against their hearts, “We thank the gods
Our Rome hath such a soldier.” (Coriolanus. i. 9.)

Now, with the dry stuff out of the way – how about a little of that fantasy that I hinted to earlier. On that topic, I can do no better than recommend the following, by fellow blogger, Molly Potter in her November, 2009 blog, titled ‘Fustyweed’. Here it is:

Fustyweed:

A terrace of five small houses sits some distance back from the only road. Smoke from the five little chimneys zig zags into the sky. The doors and window frames are haphazardly painted orange, purple, red and green. The front gardens are brimming with stunningly beautiful flowers: mostly noddydil, fraf and craggleweed. Silver and gold fluttifol buzz around them collecting gliff to make their glittery crunnyplop (which is sold in jars from a table at the roadside).

All of the houses are kept perfectly maintained with the exception of number four. Minky Flupp who lives there says she spends far too much time granting wishes to bother with keeping her house shipshape. Her neighbours don’t mind, as long as she grants them a wish now and then.

Jiggy Paloozeville at number three keeps yickins. The yickins lay the most delicious eggs with a yoke so deeply purple few can resist. He willingly shares the produce with his neighbours and most mornings the fruity aroma of freshly poached yickin eggs wafts around the terrace.

People tend not to call round to number five because its resident: Professor Batty Baffookink conducts science experiments there. The one-time Minky knocked on the door, it was answered by a squealing green and brown slimey mass. It took Minky some time to recover even after she had learned that the sight was just Batty covered in Harpypoo Sulphate after a tuttyfragwill experiment had blown up. Even so, these days everyone prefers to wait for Batty to come to them.

The eldest Fustyweed occupant lives at number one. At four-hundred and forty-two, Neg Keg is filled with memories. So many, in fact, that he has to have them regularly removed by Chiffle Lacey-Trickle-Doot who conveniently lives next door. The removal process uses a bespoke machine that Chiffle invented. The machine has many cogs, several springs, a few sparking wires, two glass tubes and a large wooden memory vat. A wriggling hose-like attachment (tailored to Neg’s spikey head) sucks out twenty years’ worth of memories at a time. With the relief this provides, Neg can go back to filling his head up with new memories. These memories mostly come from his time on the wirrity field playing tuffball.”

– What more can one say!

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A suitable candidate for inclusion. Credit Peter Owen Steward 2022.

THE END

Sources Include: Molly Potter’s website at: http://torturedcreative.blogspot.com/2009/11/fustyweed.html

Heading Image: The welcoming village (hamlet) sign. Credit Cameron Self, 2010.

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.

Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.

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Miss Savidge’s Version of ‘Moving House’!

By Haydn Brown.

The story of Miss May Savidge is not new; it has done its rounds on television via ‘Bygones’ and the Antiques Roadshow, YouTube, newspapers, social media and local history groups. But it does have an endearing theme which makes it readable with all who discover it for the first time. For that reason, I am ressurecting the detail in the hope that a fresh audience will find it. And, where better to start her story than where it reached its final conclusion – at Wells-Next-The-Sea in Norfolk. This was where the love of her life – Ware Hall House, ended up!

Wells-next-the-sea.10

But first, let’s establish its actual location, which is not an easy task as the house, from one direction at least, is hidden down a pathway and behind a curved wall. It is, however, not too far from The Buttlands and if one exits that place by walking down the hill from its south-west corner, Ware Hall House come easily into sight. It is, in fact, a medieval house which was originally built some 100 miles from Wells-Next-The Sea, at Ware in Hertfordshire. Why, you may well ask, would a house of that vintage need to find an excuse to move its roots?

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Well, this particular part of May’s story continued from the 1970’s when the house was brought, in many parts, to Wells by Miss May Savidge and rebuilt over a period of 23 years, first by her and then finished by her niece, Christine Adams, after May had died. What follows is very much about May and her determination to see off death-watch beetles, rats, developers, bureaucracy, planners who threatened to demolish her historic cottage under a road-building project – and even her eventual failing health – and accompanied only by her faithful dog, Sasha. But who was May, and why did she move her 15th-century Ware Hall House from one County to another!

Born in Streatham, South London, in 1911, May Savidge was just ten when her father died of heart failure, plunging the family into poverty. As soon as she was old enough to go out to work for a living, she found a job with the Ministry of Aircraft Production where she trained to become a draughts-woman; as thing were to work out, this skill was to hold her in good-stead years later.

At a relatively young age of 16 years, May met an older man, his name was Denis Watson; he was a gifted Shakespearean actor and they had planned to marry; however, after they became engaged Denis died prematurely in 1938. It was said that May never completely recovered from this blow and continued to wear his signet ring on her wedding ring finger. She also retreated into herself for a time, that is, until she entered into a 17-year courtship with a man she believed would marry her. His name is not known, but from letters found amongst her many belongings discovered after her death many years later, he wrote a devastating letter to May in 1960. In it he revealed to her that he has simultaneously found God and fallen in love with his cousin, stating:

‘I have, thanks to God, seen my dear cousin Iris in a new and wonderful light……I know this will hurt you as I know only too well how you feel towards me. I pray to the Lord that you, too, may experience this most wonderful love…….I should like nothing better than for you to regard us as a new sister and brother. I would like to bring Iris to see you when you feel like it, I know you, too, will love her – everybody does!’

Clearly cut to the quick, May wrote back:

‘It surprises me that anyone so dear and lovable as your Cousin Iris should have thought it right to come between us, after 17 years. My heart is not made of stone. You often spoke of our marriage. Is it surprising that I thought you really cared? I hope you will be more faithful to Iris than you have been to me. Goodbye.’

Next to these letters was a photo of her former fiancée, Denis, playing Hamlet! From that moment on May wrapped her broken heart in a parcel, tied it with string and hid it at the back of her attic to be discovered years later. She became a loner, a spinster – but not through choice.

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May Savidge’s 15th century house in Ware, Hertfordshire.

Then in 1947 she bought a house with the intention of restoring it. The address was No. 1 Monkey Row, Ware, Hertfordshire, a house built around 1450 for a wealthy monk as a ‘hall house’, a medieval arrangement in which the living space was attached to an open hall overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery. At the time of May’s purchase, the remainder of the house was still being used as a bakery. Encouraged by her wish to renovate it, the Local History Society launched their own research exercise into the property, soon finding they could date it even further back, to 1415, when Monkey Row was used daily by monks, and named Monke Road.

As a self-taught home improvement enthusiast, May set about exposing the heavy oak beams of the house, each bearing the marks of medieval carpenters, and she lifted crumbling lino to reveal wide, hand-cut floorboards which needed to be preserved. She employed a builder to repair the roof, but for all the rest of the work – including brick-laying, carpentry, re-glazing and stripping plaster from the ceilings and 20 layers of paper from the walls and re-plastering – she did with her own hands.

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The emerged shell of May’s house.

Then in 1953, having spent so much of her time renovating her house, the Council told May that they had planned for it to be demolished to make way for a road sometime in the future! In her eyes, that was nothing less than vandalism, forcing her to declare her form of outright war! May dug her heels in and resolved to save the building and for 15 years, she fought the Council’s plans, writing to them at one point:

‘If this little house is really in the way, I would rather move it and re-erect it than see it destroyed.’ She also separately commented: ‘I just won’t have such a marvellous old house bulldozed into the ground……. I’ve got nothing to do all day, so I might as well do the job myself.’

By 1969, when she was 58 years of age, but before the bulldozers were primed to advance, May effectively embarked on a 23-year labour of love and life of hardship. Dressed in a workman’s apron and her greying hair tucked beneath a headscarf, she single-handedly began first to number each beam, tile and pane of glass so that her home could be reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle. She then organised the dismantling of the heavy oak timber frame, held together with tapered wooden pegs; this was both difficult and dangerous and a team of local demolition contractors offered to help. Thousands of hand-made Hertfordshire peg tiles from the roof were piled high on the ground and huge timbers were laid out in a set order and in various and appropriate sizes. She had no electricity and worked by the light of Victorian paraffin lamps. She used an alarm clock to set herself targets each day; even noting how many nails she had extracted from oak beams per hour, as she dismantled the house and prepared for rebuilding. May even traced over a sample of brickwork using greaseproof paper and crayons so that she would know which bond to use and how thick to lay the mortar. Eventually, all these materials would all be loaded on to a lorry alongside Tudor fireplaces, Elizabethan diamond leaded glass and more, for a rebuild she might not have already realised, could span the rest of her life.

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May cataloging and storing the house materials prior to transporting to Norfolk.

But doggedly, she pressed on and continued to live in the house as it was being taken down, sleeping beneath the stairs – even in the freezing cold. All this time, charitable local reaction continued to build up and even leading to complete strangers offering help to May. Some sent her money to help with the inevitable expense and many became life-long friends. One was said to have commented: ‘Yours is the spirit that once made Britain great!’ May even woke up one morning with an idea which she considered to be a brainwave. On the basis that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ she hastily wrote to the R.A.F; she simply asked if they could possibly supply a helicopter and ‘lift and move the house for her’; they, unsurprisingly, sent a negative reply, saying unfortunately, the load was too big and they felt, much too risky. Even if they could, the journey would need to be painfully slow, given the age and structure of what they would be moving; it was a diplomatic way of saying No!

But this was the point when May already knew where she and her entire house would be going, and she had already found a site on which the house would sit; it happened to be in the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. Taking the next step, May had also secured the necessary planning permission to re-build, and went as far as to employ a Wells builder to lay the foundations. All it needed was for a lorry to make 11 round trips, between Ware in Hertfordshire and Norfolk, every part and section of May’s dismantled house.

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Back in Hertfordshire, the dismantled parts had been stacked up and stored around the garden, ready for their long journey. Visibly, the scene resembled a builder’s yard, in which everything was arranged with strict military precision. All bricks were placed together as were roof tiles in neatly stacked rows and seemingly innumerable piles of wooden beams, roof joints and more. Screws, nails, hinges, door handles, hooks, door knobs, nuts & bolts; cabling, dozens more items and maybe a few other possessions as well all had their own place, box or container. This neat arrangement even suggested that May would immediately know if any single item had been the least bit disturbed!

And when the day came for the first load to leave for Wells, three men and a lorry made the first of eleven round trips to Norfolk, to ensure every single part of the house – regardless of size or type – was moved. With the completion of this manoeuvre, May’s 20-year reconstruction programme continued; her temporary home at Wells being a former holiday caravan. Conditions there would often be unbearably cold, but she remained doggedly determined to press on; her niece, Christine Adams told the Fakenham Ladies Circle Club in 1971:

“My mother brought us up to believe there’s no such word as can’t” and this possibly fuelled her determination to continue and succeed.”

Two years later, the main framework had been fixed to the foundations by a local carpenter and May had also started to infill the brickwork; her still somewhat limited experience of this skill had been honed during her previous repair of the same house at Ware, that skill would be honed further over the coming years; but she was determined to lay every single brick perfectly – and it might still be another eight years before the roof tiles were put in place and the property made watertight.

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By her 70s, May had almost moved in as the house now stood proudly in its new surroundings. Each old oak beam had been correctly placed, the brickwork nearly completed and most walls plastered. Despite her age, she still continued to build, climbing the layers of scaffolding daily to reach the upper floors, top windows or whatever else required her attention. By 1986, the Queen had heard of May’s incredible project and immediately invited her to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. But now it seemed, May was running out of steam and in 1992 she installed a small wood-burner stove to heat the ‘new’ house, while already having difficulty climbing ladders. She also found cement work ‘a bit heavy’. Her failing health sometimes required home visits from the local doctor but reputedly, such conversations were only exchanged through the letterbox!

During 1993, May Savidge passed away peacefully, in the Wells Cottage Hospital just before her 82nd birthday, with the house still unfinished. The walls were up and the roof was on, but overall, it was still little more than a shell. However, in her Will the property had been left to members of her family and after May’s death, they subsequently finished it over the ensuing 15 years. Still standing not far from The Buttlands it is now the home of May niece, Christine Adams – and a B&B.

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May’s house today.

Footnote:
But there’s still one more story to tell about Miss May Savidge; she was, on the side, a collector extraordinaire and perhaps even a hoarder. It was a fact that May had filled her home to possibly resemble an overstocked curiosity shop. In the garden, were nine side-saddles, as relics of a bygone age. Boxes of unworn wartime nurses’ bonnets and May’s Service Medals lay inside heavy trunks, stacked to ceiling height. She kept packets of old-fashioned soap powder, Omo and Oxydol, alongside bottles of J Collis Browne’s Mixture, the Victorian cure-all.

 

There were thousands of train, bus and trolley bus tickets, milk bottle tops and notes left by the milkman. She reputedly kept old matchboxes, confectionery wrappers and still more which today, might be items eagerly sought by collectors or dealers. And in 440 diaries, she had listed every daily action carried out, revealing life in a Britain now lost – e.g., the use of farthings, florins, half-pennies, half-crowns, shillings, three-penny pieces, milk churns, chains, furlongs, yards, ounces, telegrams and typewriters on a much longer list. It was much of these memorabilia that was sold in order to raise funds to complete the renovation project left by May after she died.

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May Savidge at Wells.

 

She clearly had much dogged determination to pursue a passion that existed long before conservation became fashionable. May Savidge had decided to move her home lock, stock and barrel across Britain from the busy Ware High Street in Hertfordshire to peaceful Norfolk around 100 miles away. What a remarkable lady and such an incredible task she undertook!

THE END

Sources:
A Lifetime in the Building: The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved, by Christine Adams with Michael McMahon, published by Aurum.
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archive 2021.
Images: Courtesy of Christine Adams.

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
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Old Scole, its White Hart and Sign!

By Haydn Brown.

Crossing the River Waveney from the south, through a flat landscape, the old Norwich Road entered Norfolk at Scole, or “Schoale,” as the name was often spelled in old times. To the west, Scole was bordered by the parish and town of Diss. This parish nowadays contains not just the village of Scole, but also Billingford, Thelveton, Frenze, and the deserted village of Thorpe Parva. Indeed, in the 19th century the parish was known as ‘Scole with Thorpe Parva and Frenze’, before reverting to simply ‘Scole’ when in 1935 the parishes of Billingford and Thelveton were abolished and joined to Scole. Scole was also recorded as Osmondeston in the Domesday Book. The name ‘Osmodeston’ derives from the Old English for Osmond’s enclosure or farm.

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The White Hart at Scole. Charles Harper 1901.

In years past, when coming over the little bridge which once straddled the Waveney, the village could be seen huddled together on either side of a very narrow road, which rose as it continued north. Both the village and its church were dominated by a large building of mellow red brick, its panelled chimney-stacks and long row of beautiful gables giving the impression of an historic mansion having, by some mysterious chance, been lifted from a nobleman’s estate and placed beside the highway. This is the White Hart which, at no time, was a private residence, but built as an inn; and an inn it remained for well over two-and-a-half centuries.

Scole itself, was quite a celebrated place in the days when the Inn flourished. Then, every traveller in Eastern England had either seen or heard of the “Scole White Hart” and its famous sign that stretched completely across the road. Because a great many coaches halted at the inn for teams to be changed, passengers had plenty of time to examine what Sir Thomas Browne thought to be:

“the noblest sighne-post in England.”

Both Inn and sign were built in 1655, for James Peck, described as a “Norwich merchant,” whose initials, together with the date, were seldom noticeable on the centre gable. The elaborate sign alone cost £1057 to make and erect. It was of gigantic size and loaded in excess of twenty-five carved figures of classic deities. As explained by a Charles Harper, in 1901, there was:

“Chaste Diana, with bow and arrow and two hounds; she had a place on the cross-beam, in company with Time in the act of devouring an infant; there was also Actæon and his dogs, a huntsman, and a White Hart couchant. On a pediment above the White Hart, supported by Justice and Temperance, was the effigy of an astronomer ‘Seated on a Circumferenter,’ who by some Chymical Preparation is so affected that in fine weather he faces the north and against bad weather he faces that quarter from whence it is about to come.

On either side of the astronomer were figures of ‘Fortitude’ and ‘Prudence’, a position hardly suitable for the first-named of those two virtues, but certainly too perilous for the second. Further suggestions of Olympus, with references to Hades and Biblical history, adorned the other portions of this extraordinary sign. Cerberus clawed one side of the supporting post, while Charon dragged a witch to Hell on the other; and Neptune bestriding a dolphin, and Bacchic figures seated across casks alternated with the arms of twelve East Anglian noble and landed families.

Two angels supported respectively the arms of Mr Peck, his lady and two lions – those of Norwich and Yarmouth. On the side nearest the inn appeared a huge carving of Jonah coming out of the whale’s mouth, while, suspended in mid-air, and surrounded by a wreath, was another White Hart.”

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The Old White Hart Sign.
This old view of the gigantic sign shows one of the peculiar basket coaches of the second half of the 18th century, on its way to London. Joshua Kirby depicted the White Hart in one of his earliest known works. John Fossey engraved Kirby’s depiction and the prints were issued in 1740.  The engraving measured 17.5″x22″ and included detailed representation of the sign with all its figures at a scale of half an inch to a foot. After Kirby’s death, the engraving was reprinted in Volume 2 of M.J. Armstrong’s 10-volume History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk (1781).

Although Sir Thomas Browne had been impressed with this work, an early 19th-century tourist, apparently, dismissed it as “a pompous sign, with ridiculous ornaments”. Shortly afterwards, the sign was taken down, for no other reason than “it cost the landlord more to keep it in repair than the trade of the house permitted.”

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Staircase inside the White Hart. Charles Harper 1901.

Together with this, the once celebrated ‘Great Bed of the White Hart’ also disappeared. It was a round bed and said to be capable of holding twenty couples and, therefore, a good deal larger than the famous Great Bed of Ware [see below]. Perhaps it was because guests did not relish this co-operative method of sleeping together, or maybe because sheets, blankets and coverlets of sufficient size were not easily available, that the Scole Great Bed was chopped up for firewood. Why on earth did anyone suppose that beds of this size and capacity would ever be desirable?

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The famous Great Bed of Ware.

The “Scole White Hart” must have been among the very finest of inns and posting-houses in its day. Its wide staircases, its large rooms and fine panelled doors, its great stone-flagged kitchen, all proclaiming how great its old prosperity must have been. Even the wide-spreading yard at the rear of the Inn, together with its outbuildings, would have given some hint of how heavy the traffic must have once been, positioned as the Inn was, at the junction of the Lowestoft, Bungay, Diss and Thetford Road with that from London to Norwich. However, a gradual shrinking trade was to cause parts of the inn to be let; whilst the stone and wooden porches, seen in the old print, disappeared. The coach entrance was blocked up to become the bar, and the window mullions gave way to sashes. Nevertheless, the building still retained a noble architectural character which, perhaps, appears more interesting today.

Little or nothing is found in contemporary records of “Scole White Hart”; only that of its later years, when indignant would-be coach passengers stood at the door on a day in October 1822 and saw the drivers of the “Norwich Times” and “Gurney’s Original Day Coach,” fired by rivalry, and recklessness in their long race from Whitechapel, came pounding furiously up the road and over the bridge, passing the White Hart without stopping, and disappearing in clouds of dust in the direction of Norwich. It was said that Thorogood was driving the “Times” and both coaches started from London at 5.30 a.m. The “Day” coach reached Norwich at 5.20 p.m., and the “Times” ten minutes later, neither having stopped for changing horses during the last twenty-five miles. This was a “record” for that period, the usual time being fourteen hours.

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An illustration of an 18th century stagecoach, similar to those on the Norwich Road between London and Norwich.

Probably these ‘disappointed’ passengers stayed the night; a prospect which surely no one would have complained about? Guests at the “White Hart,” seem to enjoy being ‘coaxed’ into a feeling that they were living in another era; a feeling that would have grown as each wandered upstairs to bed, almost lost along the roomy corridors. After they had closed the nail-studded doors of their bedrooms and crept into the generous embrace of a damask-hung four-poster bed and gazed reflectively around their panelled room and up to the curiously coffered ceilings, they would have dropped soundly off to sleep. Old times would live again, faded flowers blossoming once more, forgotten footsteps echoing along the passages of time, post-chaises clattering up to the door, its noise consciously telling the sleeper that the sound is only that of a jolting rustic tumbril going down the road in the early morning. However, this is the twenty-first century, and the “White Hart” survives – from the back edges of life.

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The Present-day White Hart at Scole, Norfolk.

Besides the “White Hart,” there remains little else at Scole. The plain flint tower of the church still stands by the roadside, on the ascent that leads from the village. Two or three inns, a few rustic shops, cottages, and a private residence of the past also helped make up this tale. Scole, in fact, has not grown greatly since it was a Roman station, and when the Roman soldiers whose remains have been found near the river occupied the military post on the long road to Venta Icenorum.

THE END

 

The Removal of the Attleburgh Slough.

By Haydn Brown.

From Thetford to Wymondham on the A11, which is approximately 21 miles between the two, there is a flat six miles near Attleborough. In the midst of this level tract of country, that used to have few villages and houses is the Attleborough by-pass. Today, alongside this modern thoroughfare is an increasing dilapidated stone which, to many, looks like a milestone; but when it was in its original position, long before the by-pass was on any drawing-board, it sat only three-quarters of a mile beyond the sixteenth mile-stone stone from Thetford. Clearly, it is, or was, something else other than a mile-stone.

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The Dial Stone, near Attleborough, Norfolk. Photo: flickr, Sleeptmyf.

In fact, it is called ‘The Dial’ stone, erected as a memorial to a donation by Sir Edwin Rich, which allowed the reconstruction of a six-mile section of the old road in 1695. It was one of the first three turnpikes to be authorised in Britain and the second to be built, predated only by the Great North Road. This old pillar used to be crowned by a sundial, though this no longer survives – and has not done so since just after 1730. As for the inscription, it just about says: –

‘This pillar was erected by order of the sessions of the peace of Norfolk as a grateful remembrance of the charity of /Sir Edwin Rich K/ who freely gave ye sum of two hundred pounds towards the repair of ye highway between Wymondham and Attleborough/AD 1675’.

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The inscription on the Dial Stone, Photo: flickr, Sleeptmyf.

This inscription was restored in 1888 but is now partly illegible again. When the Attleborough bypass was opened in 1984 the Dial was restored and reset on the far side of the new road.

So, who was this Sir Edwin Rich, whose charity was so necessary to the upkeep of these six miles of road between Attleborough and Wymondham? Well, he was a distinguished lawyer, a native of Thetford and born in 1594. His monument in the church of Mulbarton, three miles from Wymondham, is rich in moral reflections and surmounted by a large hour-glass, and further adorned with eulogistic verse which was written by himself about himself! It quaintly tells us the circumstances of his birth and breeding:—

“Our Lyef is like an Hower Glasse, and our Riches are like Sand in it, which runs with us but the time of our Continuance here, and then must be turned up by another.

To speak to God, as if men heard you talk,
To live with men, as if God saw you walk.
When thou art young, to live well thou must strive;
When thou art old, to dye well then contryve;

Thetford gave me breath, and Norwich Breeding,
Trinity College in Cambridge Learning.
Lincoln’s Inne did teach me Law and Equity.
Reports I have made in the Courts of Chancery,

And though I cannot skill in Rhymes, yet know it,
In my Life I was my own Death’s Poet;
For he who leaves his work to other’s Trust
May be deceived when he lies in the Dust.

And, now I have travell’d thro’ all these ways,
Here I conclude the Story of my Days;
And here my Rhymes I end, then ask no more,
Here lies Sir Edwin Rich, who lov’d the poor.”

He died in 1675, at the age of eighty-one, and not only left those £200 towards the repair of the road, but made a curious bequest to the poor of Thetford of the annual sum of £20, to be distributed for 500 years, on 24 December every year for bread or clothing. Why he should have limited his charity to a mere five centuries it does not say, nor was it clearly understood what was to become of the property of Rose Hill Farm, Beccles, whence the income was derived. Perhaps he thought the end of the world would come by 2175!

It is said that Sir Edwin was a prudent as well as a pious man. No doubt wishing for some recognition of his excellent traits and achievements, he judged it best to write his epitaph himself: and a very curious mixture of humility and pride it is. There were sufficient reasons for him leaving a bequest for the maintenance of this road, which was in his time an open track, going unfenced the whole 31 miles between Thetford and Norwich, but plunging, in the 14 miles between Larlingford and Wymondham, into successive bogs and water-logged flats.

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The frontispiece of Ogilby’s  1675 “Britannia,” Image: Wikipedia.

If anyone consulted a large map of Norfolk of the time and scanned this district well, it would have been seen that on descending from the uplands of Thetford Heath to the Thet at Larlingford the road traversed a considerable area, veined like the leaf of a tree with the aimless wanderings of many streams, and dotted here and there with meres, or marshy lakes, as those of Scoulton and Hingham.

In Charles Harper’s words of 1904:

“It was then a veritable piece of fenland, where the bitterns boomed among the reeds, the corncrakes creaked, the great horned owls hooted, and the gulls screamed in unstudied orchestration. The last bittern— “bog-bumpers” the country-folks called them—long years ago was gathered into the natural history collections of rare birds, and the bass-viol bellowing’s of his voice are no longer heard after sundown. The great horned owls, too, are no more; but lesser owls still tu-whoo in the woods, and the screaming gulls of Scoulton yet startle the stranger as they rise, voiceful, in their many thousands from the mere.”

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An example of a fenland ‘slough’ or ‘meer’. Photo: Mat Fascione

In 1675, when Ogilby’s “Britannia,” was published, this spot was pictured on his sketch-plan of the road as “Attleburgh Meer,” and was apparently something between a bog and a lake. It stretched across the road, and to a considerable distance on either side. This was in the very year of Sir Edwin Rich’s death, when his bequest became available and this hindrance to travellers was abolished. Very shortly afterwards, the Dial commemorating Rich’s liberality was erected, on the very spot where that “slough had once been.”

THE END

 

Mr Marten Visits Norfolk!

By Haydn Brown

This blog revises and adds to a previous blog, titled: Mr Marten Pays a Visit to Norwich!

Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.

Mr Marten (Steam Packet )1
An illustration of a typical steam packet that plied its trade along the east coast of England, bringing on at least one occasion, a certain Mr Marten to Norfolk.

Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.

Mr Marten (Family Gathering)
An English family at Tea by Van Aken. Painting and Image: Tate Britain

The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson.  The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.

He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business,  he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.

Mr Marten (Home Plaistow)
Mr Marten’s  ‘Broadway House’ at Plaistow. Image: Credit Elizabeth Larby/Sarah Murden

By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.

When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children.  It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth)2
Yarmouth Jetty after 1823; a view that Mr Marten would have recognised. By John Constable. Image: Tate Gallery.

Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth from Gorleston_William Daniells_Tate)
Yarmouth from Gorleston by William Daniell 1769–1837. Tate Gallery T02936.

On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.

Mr Marten ( Yarmouth Steam Packet)
The steam packet departing Yarmouth for Norwich by John Crome. Picture: Archant Archives

It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.

Mr Marten (Foundary Bridge)2
Foundry Bridge in the 1820’s, the point of Mr Marten’s arrival in Norwich. Painted by Robert Ladbooke (1768 – 1842) . Norfolk Museums Service.

Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.

Mr Marten ( Princes Street Independant)1
Princes Street Independent Chapel, built 1819.
Mr Marten ( St Marys Baptist)1
The present-day ‘Norwich Central Baptist Church’ (formerly St Mary’s Baptist Church). Photo: Evelyn Simak.

Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:

“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”

Mr Marten (Norwich cathedral)
Sillett, James; Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk; Norfolk Museums Service;

Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:

“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”

Mr Marten (Joseph_Kinghorn)
Joseph Kinghorn, Preacher.
Mr Marten (Old Meeting House)1
The Old Meeting House, Colgate, Norwich. Photos: (c) George Plunkett.

On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:

“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.

Mr Marten (Norwich)1
View of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. By John Walker after Charles Catton junior, Norwich. Engraving from The Itinerant, published 1 March 1792
British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum.

However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.

“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”

Mr Marten (Silk Weaving)1
Female silk weavers at work in 1893. The industry in Norwich was founded by Huguenot refugees – ‘Strangers’  ( Getty Images )

“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”

Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:

“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.

Mr Marten (Flint_st-miles-coslany)
Flint work in and around a replica window motif at St Michael (Miles) Coslany, Norwich. Photo: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:

“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”

Mr Marten (Norwich Prison)1
The former Norwich Prison; under construction during Mr Marten’s visit to the city in 1825.

Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:

“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”

Norfolk Hotel (c1820)

Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:

“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”

THE END

Sources:
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office. 
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/01/15/pleasure-gardens/
Photo (Feature Heading): The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich. circa 1806 by John Crome.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
Robert Humphrey Marten | Morgan Web Site (morganfourman.com)
https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/a-georgian-tourist-the-1825-travel-diary-of-robert-humphrey-marten-revealed/

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.
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Cresswell: A Naval Officer Who Delivered Good News!

By Haydn Brown.

Introduction:
The era of the ‘Pax Britannic’ was the period of relative peace between the Great Powers, during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a “global policeman”. However, the period was anything but peaceful for many Royal Navy Officers, and few saw as much active service as Samuel Gurney Cresswell of Kings Lynn, Norfolk. It was he who contrived to fight in the Baltic campaign of the ‘Crimean War’ – the first-time whole battle fleets maneuvered and fought under steam power. He then achieved fame as an Arctic explorer (being credited with being the first to traverse the much sought-after North West Passage, as the result of a truly epic sledging trip form the trapped HMS Investigator in 1853).

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Samuel Gurney Cresswell

As his career advanced, Cresswell rose to sea-going command, and played his part in the imperial coercion of China, which included amphibious operations and the suppression of piracy in the South China Sea. Throughout his action-packed service, he always found time to keep journals and to correspond with his family. He was an acute observer of the closed world of the Victorian navy, as well as the exotic climes he was privileged to visit. His lively first-hand accounts form the raw material for subsequent books. Like other contemporary sailors, he could also express his observations in competent drawings and watercolours, but with a skill of a higher order. Indeed, he was to be summoned to the Palace to present his Arctic sketches to Queen Victoria, and they were eventually issued as lithographs. However, most were never published at the time.

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An elaborate map of the British Empire in 1886, marked in pink, the traditional colour for Imperial British Dominions on maps. Wikipedia.

In the Beginning:
Overlooking King’s Staithe Square and the Great Ouse River at King’s Lynn is Bank House, a glorious Georgian townhouse built by a wealthy wine merchant who shipped imported wine downriver to the Cambridge colleges and the Bishops of Ely. It was here in the 1780s that Joseph Gurney, later a founder of the present-day Barclays Bank, set up his first bank. Bank House was also where Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell, the Arctic Explorer, was born on 25 Sept 1827 (1827-1867). The house was built on the former site of the 16the Century Port Tollbooth.

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Bank House (left) where Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born.

Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born on 25 September 1827, the third son of Francis Cresswell Esq. (Banker, born 1789) and Rachel Elizabeth Fry (born 1803, London, Middlesex), daughter of Elizabeth Fry, née Gurney, the distinguished philanthropist and prison reformer. Samuel Cresswell had two older brothers (Frank Joseph and Addison John), three who were younger (William Edward, Gerard Oswin, and Oswald) and one sister, (Harriet France Elizabeth). The Cresswell’s’ circle in Norfolk included the Gurneys as well as Sir Edward Parry.

Cresswell’s Life and Career Thereafter:
From his childhood, Samuel Gurney Cresswell expressed a keen desire to go to sea rather than pursue a formal education at Harrow as his older brothers had done. His parents, having sought the advice of Sir William Edward Parry, an intimate family friend “in whose judgement…… [they] had perfect confidence,” decided that Samuel, aged 14, would enter the Royal Navy. This he did, first to serve as a midshipman on board ‘HMS Agincourt’ under Sir Thomas John Cochrane, Commander-in-Chief of the East India and China station. During this period, which was between 1845 and 1847 Cresswell distinguished himself in several actions against pirates in Borneo and Brunei; a further promotion followed in September 1847.

Thomas-john-cochrane
Sir Thomas John Cochrane

While Cresswell was serving in the far-east, Sir John Franklin was leading an expedition in search of the North-West Passage, a navigable route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Franklin had sailed from Greenhithe on 19 May 1845 with 129 officers and men aboard the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ – both fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment. Franklin’s ships passed from the Atlantic through the Davis Strait into Baffin Bay and were last seen on 26 July at the entrance to Lancaster sound, moored to an iceberg.

Sir John Franklin_NPG
Sir John Franklin. Image: National Portrait Gallery.

Back at Portsmouth, England and serving on ‘HMS Excellent’, Cresswell was next promoted to 6th Mate on April 1848; one month later, in May 1848 he was transferred to ‘HMS Investigator’ to take part in Sir James Clark Ross’s Arctic expedition in search of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin’s expedition ships which remained missing. During the search, on 10 Sept. 1849 to be exact, Cresswell was promoted to 2nd lieutenant; then, within three weeks of his return to England in November 1849, he voluntarily re-joined ‘HMS Investigator’ as a member of Robert John Le Mesurier McClure’s Arctic expedition, both in the continuing search for the Northwest Passage and also as part of the second Franklin search expedition. The search would be attempted from the Pacific coast of America and travelling eastwards via the Bering Strait. Little did McClure know when he set out that nearly four years would elapse of fruitless searching.

Captn._Sir_Robert,_J._Le_Mesurier_McClure_R.N_RMG_PX7216 (2)
Robert John Le Mesurier McClure.

McClure’s expedition actually set sail in January 1850 and encountered the first ice west of Barrow Point in the August of that same year. Having entered the North-West Passage from the Bering Strait it attempted to sail further eastwards but the ship became trapped in pack ice in the autumn of 1851. Come the 26 October and a travelling party from McClure’s ship was held fast off Banks Land but manage to establish that the Prince of Wales Strait did connect to Viscount Melville Sound. Melville Island itself, first discovered 34 years earlier by Parry who had approached from the opposite direction, was clearly seen by the members of McClure’s party from their elevated position; it lay across the entrance to Prince of Wales Strait. It was this that gave indisputable proof of the existence of the Northwest Passage:

“The highway to England from ocean to ocean lay before us”!

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This is one in a Series of Eight Sketches in Colour of the Voyage of H.M.S. Investigator (Captain M’Clure), during the Discovery of the North-West Passage. Image: Day and Son and Ackermann and Co., London, 1854.

As thing were at the time, the excessive heavy ice conditions during the summers of 1851 and 1852 prevented McClure’s expedition from making any further progress eastward, and it was forced to winter throughout 1851–1853 at the Bay of Mercy. It was at this point, when McClure’s ship was finally abandoned, and although the events of that period were fully documented, the location of the HMS Investigator wreck was not known for over 150 years; it would be in July 2010 when it was found, at a depth of 8 metres, just off Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea.

Back in 1853, the expedition was faced with the prospect of starvation but was located on 6 April that year by a sledge party sent by Captain Henry Kellett, commander of ‘HMS Resolute’, which was also on the Franklin search expedition under Captain Sir Edward Belcher. Cresswell, along with 24 invalids, followed McClure on the 170-mile trek to Kellett’s winter camp at Dealy Island, located off Melville Island. Arriving in good health, Cresswell volunteered to continue overland for about 300 miles to Beechey Island in the hope of meeting a ship.

By an incredible stroke of luck, he encountered the ‘HMS Phoenix’ under the command of Captain Inglefield, who had arrived on 2 August 1853. It was on this ship that Lieut. Cresswell set sail for home, via Scotland, on the 23 August. Understandably, he triumphantly had in his possession McClure’s dispatches to the Admiralty which established him, Cresswell and his party, as the living proof of not only the discovery of the long-sought for Northwest Passage by Sir Franklin, but also his own success of being the first to traverse this passage. In 1854 Captain McClure was awarded a knighthood for his leadership throughout.

On 26 October 1853, a public dinner was held in his honour at the Kings Lynn Assembly Rooms, organised by his native townsmen; tickets were 1 guinea each. It was after a lavish banquet when the Town Clerk read out a ‘Congratulatory Address’ and the Mayor, Lionel Self, presented Lieut. Cresswell with a copy on an illuminated scroll of vellum to which the Corporate seal was attached by a golden cord. Lieut. As tradition dictated, Cresswell returned the compliment by thanking his audience and regaling them with some of the hardships which he had suffered whilst leading his sledging party across the ice:

‘We used to travel all night, about 10 hours, and then encamp, light our spirits of wine, put our small kettle on it to thaw the snow water, and after we had our supper – just a piece of pemmican and a glass of water – we were very glad to get in, after smoking our pipes (“Bravo,” and laughter). The first thing we did after pitching the tent was to lay a sort of Macintosh cloth over the snow. On this would be a piece of buffalo robe stretched. Each man and officer had a blanket sewed up in the form of a bag, and this we used to jump into, much the same as you may see a boy in a sack (laughter). We lay down, head and feet, the next person having his feet to my head, and his head to my feet, just the same as herrings in a barrel (laughter). After this we covered ourselves with skins over the whole of us, and the closer we got the better, as there was more warmth (laughter).’

Coincidentally, it was noted that the public dinner actually took place on the third anniversary of the discovery of the North-West Passage. It was also fitting at this celebratory dinner that a tribute was paid by Rear-Admiral Parry to Cresswell; Parry being the person who had been influential in Cresswell’s career and felt a personal responsibility for his safety.

On the mystery of Sir Franklin’s disappearance, the Government of the day gave up the search for him and his ships in 1855 when it was discovered that a few survivors had attempted to reach the Hudson’s Bay Company’s settlement. However, Lady Franklin was not satisfied and organised another search, which proved to also be unsuccessful. The fate of the Franklin’s expedition (but not the location of the two ships) was finally revealed in the Spring of 1859. As it was, the Captains and crews had all but completed the navigation of the North-West passage and, for this reason, Sir Franklin was given the honour of its discovery.

As for the ship’s crew, they were last seen on King William Island but would never return to England. Their apparent disappearance at the time, prompted a massive search that continued unsuccessfully for nearly 170 years. In September 2014, an expedition led by Parks Canada did, finally, discover the wreck of ‘HMS Erebus, and two years later, the wreck of ’HMS Terror’ was located. Historical research, local knowledge and the support of others made these discoveries possible. Now Parks Canada are working manage this fascinating National Historic Site. Public access to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is not yet allowed.

Subsequently, and until his promotion to Commander on 21 October 1854, Cresswell served on HMS Archer in the Baltic during the Russian War. It was while he was stationed in the China Seas in 1857-58 as commander of ‘HMS Surprise’, that he was promoted to Captain; that was on 17 September 1858. It was during this posting that Cresswell met with ill health from which he never fully recovered. It seems his years in the Arctic wastes had ruined his health and he retired in February 1867, dying, unmarried on 14 August 1867 at Bank House, his mother’s home in Kings Lynn, aged only 39 years.

Cresswell’s Artistic Talents:
Cresswell, while on the Ross and McClure expeditions, executed numerous water-colours which today provide a valuable pictorial record of the crews’ activities and Arctic terrain. Some of his sketches, suitably ironed flat from their rolled-up state and placed in an album, were presented personally to Queen Victoria with a request for permission to dedicate a volume of lithographic views after the drawings to her Majesty. The resulting folio volume, published in 1854 in London, was entitled A series of eight sketches in colour ……… of the voyage of ‘H.M.S. Investigator’. His drawings were also used to illustrate the discovery of the North-West Passage by H.M.S. Investigator, edited by Sherard Osborn and published in London in 1856.

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First discovery of land by HMS Investigator, September 6th 1850. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Sledge-party leaving HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay, under command of Lieutenant Gurney.  Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Critical position of HMS Investigator on the north-coast of Baring Island, August. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.

THE END  

Sources: Included amongst the sources used are the following:
Biography – CRESSWELL, SAMUEL GURNEY – Volume IX (1861-1870) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Glimpses – Samuel Gurney Cresswell (thornburypump.co.uk)

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The Tale of a Publican and a King!

This is the story of non-other than Mucky Porter, the Fenland publican who saved King Charles 1 on one occasion. It was written originally by Gordon Phillips, who based it on different tales contained in the books “Tales from the Fens” and “More Tales from the Fens”, written by Walter Barrett, with illustrations by Percy Garrod; the stories were edited by Enid Porter.  Walter, or Jack as most locals knew him as, grew up in Brandon Creek and most of his tales were adapted from those told by the legendary fen man and storyteller, Chafer Legge. This story, by Gordon Phillips, previously appeared on the Enid Porter Project website. Read on:

In the fens of the past there was a secret brotherhood and sisterhood of the Grey Goose Feather. True fen landers would carry a feather from the fowl who overwintered in the watery places and when in need they only had to produce the feather and all true fen landers would help them.

Mucky Porter (Goose Feather)1
A Goose Feather.

At the time of the English Civil War there lived in the village of Southery, on the Norfolk border of the great wilderness, a publican by the name of Mucky Porter. One evening he was counting out his money, his takings for the day of which there was very little, when there came a knock at the Inn door. Mucky Porter looked outside and saw two very fine-looking gentlemen with two extremely beautiful thoroughbred horses outside in his yard. He wondered what such affluent looking folk could want with him and hurried to the door.

Mucky Porter1
The Old White Bell at Southery, formerly ‘The Silver Fleece’ where Mucky Porter was landlord.

“Are you the man they call Mucky Porter?” They asked. “I might be, it depends on who wants to know”, he replied letting them into the pub parlour. The strangers sat down and quickly came to the point.

“Mr. Porter could you tell us what you think of Old Noll?” – This, by the way, is an epithet applied to Oliver Cromwell by his Royalist contemporaries.

“Well, I don’t think much about him except he’s the reason that my takings have been rather low recently. Nearly all my regulars have gone to fight in his army as he says that he’ll put an end to the draining of the fen and interfering with their way of life,” he replied.

“And what about the King, Mr. Porter?”
“Well, I don’t think much about him neither.”
“Would you be prepared to help the King Mr. Porter?”
“Well, it depends what was in it for me.”

At this one of the strangers took out of his pocket a bag of gold coins. Mucky Porter’s eyes lit up. The strangers continued:

“Mr. Porter we have heard that you are one of the few people who know the way across these accursed marshes and bogs. The King has been pursued across Norfolk by Oliver Cromwell’s men and needs to get to Huntingdon where his forces are waiting to escort him to Oxford. If you could guide him across you would be rewarded with this bag of gold.”

Mucky Porter (Charles I)
Portrait of Charles I of England by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1628. Photo: Wikipedia

It took Mucky Porter at least three seconds to decide and later that night he was brought before the King himself at Snore Hall near Downham Market, where he was being hidden. Some of the King’s attendants were dubious that this raggedy looking local could be trusted with the fate of the monarch and Mucky was asked for some proof that he was trustworthy. At that Mucky Porter drew from his pocket a grey goose feather. He took out his knife and cut the feather in half.

“Your lordships,” said Mucky Porter with all the dignity he could muster, “I am a fen lander, a true fen lander. All true folk of this area carry this token and if in need are sworn to help, unto even their own death, another who carries a grey goose feather.” He put one half feather in his pocket and handed the other to the King. “Now, by my honour, I can do nothing but aid His Majesty.”

This seemed to satisfy the members of the court and the following morning Mucky Porter of Southery and King Charles 1st of England set out across the last great wilderness of Southern Britain. At first, they passed through populous areas and Mucky Porter was concerned that their presence was being noted by those they came across.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “I am worried that these great huge horses make us stand out. I think we need to take a detour.”

Mucky Porter (Southery_Oliver Dixon)
Common Drove, Southery
A bend in the Drove, alongside a drain. Photo: © Copyright Oliver Dixon

The detour took them to Southery and the inn where they stabled the thoroughbreds they were riding and took to two sturdy fenland ponies instead. Mucky Porter also got a couple of old sacks to put over their clothes and as they passed out through the village streets, they went unnoticed.

Mucky Porter was indeed an expert at finding his way through the fen and they passed through areas that few knew and even fewer dared themselves to visit. Thus, they came eventually to the other side, to the ford in the river just outside Huntingdon. There, however, their hearts sank as it was strongly manned by Roundhead troops.

“Halt, who goes there?” called the sentries.

At this Mucky Porter put his hand into his pocket, took out the split grey goose feather and held it aloft. The troops turned their gaze on the King who put his hand in his pocket and did the same.

“Quick, come across, and then away with you”, said the guards who were, of course, themselves true fen landers. There Mucky Porter handed the King over eventually to his own men and returned by his secret route towards the pub. In his pocket, which he kept tapping, was the bag filled with gold coins and in his stable back at the pub were the two fine horses, the like of which had never been seen in Southery.”

Mucky Porter (Bag of Gold)

And that might have been the end of the story for Mucky Porter, but not, of course, as we know for King Charles. Eventually the forces of Oliver Cromwell were victorious and Charles was forced to stand trial. As is well known, he was found guilty and was sentenced to death. It is said in the fens that on the night before the execution, Cromwell was sitting with the rest of his generals near to the place of execution when there came an emissary from the King. He stood before the generals and said,

“The King does not ask for pardon for he is God’s anointed monarch and knows that the Parliament has no authority to do what they intend to do to him. All that His Majesty asks is that he is afforded that due to one who holds this token.”

At that the courtier drew from his pocket the split grey goose feather and placed it on the table before Cromwell. Cromwell’s face went white and he dismissed all those who were gathered with him. Long he sat into the night, staring at the feather. For Cromwell too was a fen lander and knew what he should do. But when morning came, he did not intervene and Charles 1st was beheaded. It is said that when they heard about this the fenland members of his army refused to follow him. They threw their goose feathers at his feet and returned to their homes.”

Mucky Porter Execution)
Execution of Charles I. Illustration for Young Folk’s History of England (McCarthy, c 1890). Credit: Look & Learn.

And what of Mucky Porter, back in the inn at Southery? Perhaps he shed a tear when he heard of the execution of the King, we do not know. He was still landlord many years later when he heard of the death of ‘Old Noll’ and it unlikely that he was very upset at that. One day, when Mucky Porter was getting very old but still landlord at the pub there came a knock at his door in the early morning. He went to the window and saw a number of fine-looking gentlemen out in the yard. He went outside and greeted them.

“Are you Mucky Porter?” one of the fine gentlemen asked. “I might be, it depends who’s asking”, was his reply. “I am looking for a man called Mucky Porter”, said the most flamboyantly dressed visitor. “When I was young, I heard many times the story of how a publican of that name helped my father to escape from Cromwell’s men across the wilderness. I have always wanted to reward him for the deed.”

Mucky Porter very quickly realised who the visitor was and within a few minutes had agreed to accompany Charles 2nd and his courtiers out into the newly drained lands. The company was amazed when the old fen lander emerged from his stable riding a fine thoroughbred horse, the descendent of the two horses he had obtained all those years ago.

Mucky Porter (Charles II)
Charles II. Photo: Wikipedia.

They rode out on to the fen where the newly drained land shone with fecundity in the bright fenland sunlight. After they had ridden for a while Charles said to Mucky Porter, “Well here we are Mr. Porter. You can have, as a reward for the service that you gave to my father, as much of the land as you would like. Come now, specify the boundaries of your new domain.” Mucky Porter stared around him.

“Well, Your Majesty”, he said, “I think I’ll have from that barn over there, to that ditch right over there, to that tree in the distance. How much do you think I’ve got?”

“Mr. Porter, I think that you must have several acres there.”

And ever since that day the land on Methwold Fen has been called the Methwold Severals which, ever since, has been farmed by a Porter.

Mucky Porter (Methwold Severals)
Neat rows of young salad crops destined for supermarkets on fertile peat fenland soil. Photo:© Copyright Rodney Burton

THE END

Source:
Enid Porter Project | Bringing folk traditions to life in five Cambridgeshire villages

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.

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The Diaries of a Parson Woodforde.

By Haydn Brown.

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

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

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

Woodforde1

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

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

Woodforde (Wadham College)
Wadham College, Oxford.

On another eventful occasion, the evidence was more lavish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
Also:
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A Champion of the Agricultural Labourer.

By Haydn Brown.

Joseph Arch was not born and bred in Norfolk, but he did play a key role in unionising agricultural workers of the County and championing their welfare, along with becoming the Liberal MP for the North West of the County in 1885.

Joseph Arch (Spy-cartoon)
Arch caricatured by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1886. Image: Public Domain.

Joseph Arch, in fact, came from the Warwickshire village of Barford where he was born on 10 November 1826. His ancestors were also Barford bred and for three generations, at least, had owned and lived in their own cottage there since the 18th century. After only three years of schooling, he started work as a labourer at the age of nine and his first job was as a bird-scarer, working 12 hours a day for a wage of 4d per day – so, he knew from bitter experience, the problems that faced the poorly-paid, ill-educated rural labourer of the time. From being a bird-scarer, he progressed to become a plough-boy, then a skilled hedge cutter before mastering just about any other farming skill one could find on the land. Such qualifications enabled him, in time at least, to move around the Midlands and South Wales, earning quite a reasonable wage in the process. At the same time, he could not fail to observe the terrible conditions in which the majority of his agricultural labouring colleagues lived. These were later described by the Countess of Warwick in the introduction she wrote to his eventual 1898 autobiography:

“Bread was dear, and wages down to starvation point; the labourers were uneducated, under-fed, underpaid; their cottages were often unfit for human habitation, the sleeping and sanitary arrangements were appalling …… In many a country village the condition of the labourer and his family was but little removed from that of the cattle they tended.”

Joseph Arch (Countess of Warwick)
Countess of Warwich

Following his return home to his Warwickshire village from his travels, Joseph Arch married in 1847 and, over time, had seven children. He also became a Primitive Methodist preacher which, apparently, did not go down well with the village parson and his wife who discriminated against the Arch’s’ as a result – there again, Joseph’s family had always been at odds with the parson. Nevertheless, during this period, Joseph also managed to educate himself politically by reading old newspapers and, in time, became a supporter of Liberalism.

Joseph Arch (Portrait_Elliott & Fry)
Joseph Arch (1826 – 1919) Agricultural Campaigner. Photo: Wikipedia.

It was therefore to him, as a well-respected and experienced agricultural worker, that his destitute fellow workers turned for help in their fight for a living wage. Called to address an initial meeting held on 7 February 1872, in the Stag’s Head public house in Wellesbourne, Joseph expected an attendance of fewer than thirty. Instead, he found on his arrival that over 2,000 agricultural labourers from all the surrounding area had arrived to hear him speak. The meeting was therefore held under a large chestnut tree opposite on a dark, wet, winter night, with the labourers holding flickering lanterns on bean poles to illuminate the proceedings.

Joseph Arch (The Square_Wellesbourne_chestnut,_1905)
The Wellesbourne  Chestnut Tree in 1905 (see below). Photo: Public Domain.

The right man in the right place at the right time:
From this initial gathering, further meetings were called and from one of these a committee was elected which met at John Lewis’s old farmhouse in Wellesbourne. Its endeavours eventually resulted in farm workers, from all parts of South Warwickshire, meeting in Leamington on Good Friday, 29 March 1872, to form the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union. From this, and in light of much agitation up and down the country, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was established, and Joseph Arch was elected as its President. The Union’s first action was to withdraw their labour, and farmers and landowners soon found out that the reprisals they tried to apply were ineffective; the result was, for a time, a temporary rise in the workers’ wages. This seemed to satisfy the Union members to the point where they ceased to organise themselves further. Inevitably, farm owners fought back and came to ‘locking-out’ union members, an action which became so widespread that the Union finally collapsed in 1896. It would, however, be replaced a decade later by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906.

Joseph Arch (Union Banner)
Image : Spartacas Educational.

But this was the time when Joseph Arch became identified with what was clearly a very popular cause.  He travelled all over England, speaking in stirring language at countless village meetings; inspired no doubt by his deep faith in his cause. Rural workers everywhere welcomed him as one of their own and from the walls of many small cottages’, portraits of his strong bearded face looked encouragingly down. He also became the subject of such rallying songs as:

Joe Arch he raised his voice,
’twas for the working men,
Then let us all rejoice and say,
We’ll all be union men.

Joseph Arch (Ham Hill demo)
Joseph Arch (standing centre) addressing the sixth annual demonstration of agriculural labourers at Ham Hill, Yeovil on, Whit Monday 1877. Photo: Public Domain.

In 1873 the Canadian government invited him over to examined the suitability of the country for British emigration. Impressed by his report, his Union helped over 40,000 farm labourers and their families to emigrate both there and to Australia over the next few years.

Joseph Arch also turned to agitating for the widening of the voting franchise, which until then only included property owners, and this resulted in the passing of the 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act. In the ensuing 1885 General Election, he was elected as the Liberal MP for North West Norfolk, the first agricultural labourer to enter the House of Commons. He did lose his seat when William Gladstone was defeated in June 1886; however, Arch was re-elected to the same constituency in Norfolk in 1892, when he was one of twelve working-class MPs in parliament. Though he was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor in 1893, he seldom spoke and his former supporters came to perceive him as pompous and out of touch. Now they sang about him

Joseph Arch he stole a march,
Upon a spotted cow.
He scampered off to Parliament,
But where is Joseph now?

Then, on 25 July 1894, the Norfolk Chronicle reported:

“Mr. Joseph Arch, M.P., at a meeting held at New Buckenham, delivered to the agricultural labourers his famous address which was quoted throughout the country for some time afterwards.  “You poor, craven milk-and-water fools,” said the hon. member for North-west Norfolk, “why, you button up your pockets at the thought of paying 2¼d. a week when you are told by a lot of lying scampery and scandalism that I have run away with your money. . . .  Professor Rogers once said when speaking of the tenant farmers, that their heads were as soft as the mangolds they grew.  I think some of the labourers’ heads are as soft as the mangolds they hoe.”

In 1898, Arch published what was considered to be ‘a pugnacious and opinionated autobiography’, upon which The Spectator newspaper commented at the start of its long review that:

“One cannot help wishing that this book was more of an autobiography, and less of a polemic against Mr. Arch’s adversaries, political and social.”

Joseph Arch (Signed Photo_1900)
Joseph Arch autographed photograph 1900 . Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Retiring from Parliament before the 1900 General Election, Arch returned to spend the last years of his long life in his tiny cottage in Barford; the place where he had been born. He died there on 12 February 1919 at the age of 92 years.

Joseph Arch (outside-cottage)
Joseph Arch as an old man outside his cottage. Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Footnote – The Legacy:

(1) The Wellesbourne Tree: This tree died in 1948 but the spot was marked by a commemorative stone at the old meeting place, now renamed Chestnut Square. In 1952, the National Union of Agricultural Workers erected a bus shelter there and set up inside it a commemorative plaque which still remains. A replacement tree was also planted where every year union representatives once gathered on 7 February and then went on to Barford to lay a wreath upon Arch’s grave. The unions do not, apparently, do this anymore, but the Wellesbourne Action Group organises a walk from Barford to Wellesbourne in June each year, along the footpath known as the Joseph Arch Way. There is now also a Joseph Arch Road in the village which runs off the A439 roundabout, while in Barford the old coaching inn has been renamed the Joseph Arch pub.

(2) The Joseph Arch Inn:

Joseph Arch (Pub_Barford)
The Joseph Arch Inn at Barford. The pub is named after Barford’s most famous son. Photo: © Philip Halling

(3) Plaster Casts:

Joseph Arch (Hands)

The Museum of English Rural Life has a Joseph archive; included in which are curious plaster casts of his hands and wrists. Unfortunately, nothing is known about these plaster casts, except that they were made during the last quarter of the 19th century when Joseph Arch was no longer a practising agricultural labourer – else, they would be heavy, calloused and weather-beaten. Also, the exact reason why the casts were made is unknown. Maybe they were part of a statue; even though no other parts of the statue have been found. Another possibility is that such plaster casts were created because, during the 19th century, they were used to improve art and for teaching and research purposes. However, there seems to be no written record which could explain exactly why these casts were created – only speculation remains.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Arch
https://www.barfordheritage.org.uk/content/people/joseph-arch/joseph-arch-1826-1919

Banner Heading: ‘The Mowers’ by George Clausen, 1892. Painting: Usher Gallery, London

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest 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. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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East Anglian Agricultural Gangs of the Past.

By Haydn Brown.

During the first half of the nineteenth century many acres of waste land throughout Norfolk and East Anglia were brought into cultivation as part of a national development which followed in the aftermath of the French wars when the price of grain was high. This was a time of need land owners of light uplands cleared them of gorse, thistles and coarse grass and ploughed them to plant such crops as wheat and barley. Later in the century Fen landowners did something similar by using steam pumping engines to drain hitherto intractable marshlands, such as Deeping Fen a few miles north of Peterborough, and made them fit for cultivation.

Agricultural Gangs (Farmers on a Hillside_STRAFFORD NEWMARCH_Public Domain)2
Painting of an Agricultural gang on a hillside by Strafford Newmarch. Image: Public Domain

However, most of this ‘new’ land was some distance from existing settlements, and farmers working it found themselves short of labour. They were reluctant to build permanent houses for their farm workers, because they feared that the inhabitants might later qualify for poor relief, and so become a burden on the rates. In similar circumstances in the 18th-century, farmers might well have found room in their own homes to accommodate their labourers, but by the middle of the 19th century the social gap between master and worker was far too wide for this to be an acceptable solution. Feelings on the subject were, in 1865, expressed more fully by one particular farmer’s wife whose husband was employing four young labourers:

“It is very objectionable having these men in one’s own house…. it is so bad for the female servants.”

The Establishment of Gangs:
Apparently, this particular wife overcame the problem by making the foreman take in the labourers – but many farmers favoured a more radical solution. They, in fact, dispensed with full time labourers as far as they could, and relied instead on the labour of agricultural ‘gangs’ which were established to satisfy the demand for labour.

Agricultural Gangs (Hoeing Turnips Painting by George Clausen_Public Domain)
Hoeing turnips by George Clausen. Image: Public Domain.

Where local population numbers allowed, some farmers organised their own private gangs by recruiting women and children from the nearest village to be employed at busy times to work for a few days at a time. Others employed so-called ‘gangs’ which were organised by ‘gang-masters’. In many instances these ‘masters’ were usually unemployed farm labourers who recruited between ten and maybe forty women and children to work for them at a fixed rate of pay, after which they contracted with local farmers for their gangs to tackle specific jobs. The gang master had to be able to accurately estimate how long a given job would take. If he overestimated, then he would probably be too expensive to get the contract. On the other hand, if he underestimated, then he would charge too little and he would lose money on the deal.

It was the seasons which dictated the type of work done by the gangs. In winter, when there were few of them, they were employed to clear stones or sort potatoes. In spring, their work became more varied; some cleared such growth as couch grass by hand, whilst others spread muck, hoed, or planted potatoes. In early summer their work increased to include clearing fallow fields, hand-weeding grain and root crops, and helping with the hay harvest. Strangely perhaps, gangs generally disbanded for the main grain harvest in August and September, in favour of whole families coming out to work together. Then, by October, gangs re-formed for the potato harvest. In 1866, it was calculated that some 6,400 people worked in gangs in Norfolk, East Anglia and the East Midlands at some time during the year.

However, agricultural gangs had a bad reputation. Some of the masters were said to be unscrupulous by accepting contracts at rock-bottom prices, and then forcing their gangs to work for long hours to fulfil them. Some were considered immoral by taking, according to many, advantage of their status by demanding sexual favours from the girls and women in their gangs. Many gangs were noisy, unruly and regularly disturbed the peace on their way to and from work. It was also said that they tempted children away from school into what seemed too many to be a totally unsuitable environment.

Legislation:
It was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury KG, who persuaded the Government, in 1865, to order an investigation into agricultural gangs. The Children’s Employment Commission was subsequently formed to take evidence from about 500 witnesses before presenting its report in 1867. In it they condemned the gangs and maintained that most of the masters were ‘men of violent and drinking habits’ whose influence was ‘very pernicious to the moral principles and conduct of the children and young persons of both sexes under their management’. It concluded that the manners of older members of the gangs were ‘coarse and irregular’, and that young people brought into contact with them were ‘hardened by early association with vice’.

Agriculural Gangs (Anthony_Ashley-Cooper,_7th_Earl_of_Shaftesbury)
Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801–1885), 7th Earl of Shaftesbury by Francis Grant (1803–1878). Painting with the Parliamentary Art Collection.

The Commission also found that gangs usually worked about eight hours a day – perhaps an hour more in summer and less in early spring and late autumn. But these hours did not include travelling time and the commissioners quoted the two children, aged eleven and thirteen, who had to walk eight miles to work, labour for eight hours and then walk eight miles back home – all for 7d. a day. At the end of six weeks work they were said to be ‘good for nothing’.

The commissioners’ report also concluded that working in gangs seriously damaged both the physical health and the moral well-being of the children and young people involved, and they proposed various regulations to deal with the situation. A bill based on their recommendations was introduced into Parliament on July 29th, 1867, and given the royal asset on August 20th.

The ‘Agricultural Gangs Act’ sought to eliminate unsuitable gang-masters by setting up a licensing system. It also forbade the employment of all children under the age of eight, prohibited men and women working in the same gang, and made it illegal for even a licensed gang-master to take charge of a female gang unless he was accompanied by a woman license holder.

Agricultural Gangs (Child_labour,_c1885_Science Photo Library)
Gang system of child labour, c1885. Teams of children were formed by a contractor or ‘ganger’ and hired out to farmers as agricultural labour for tasks such as sowing and hoeing. They would be made to worked for 8 or 9 hours a day and often had to walk 3 or 4 miles to and from work. The practice was particularly widespread in East Anglia. In this wood engraving a girl tries to revive a boy who has collapsed, probably from exhaustion, while the rest of the gang continue hoeing around them. (Coloured black and white print). Child Labour. Image: Science Photo Library

However, it may be somewhat surprising that the commissioners had, in some respects, painted a much blacker picture of gang work than was justified by the evidence they had collected, and on which their report was based. Though they were able to point to some cases of brutal or inconsiderate treatment, few witnesses seemed to agree with its assertion that gang work adversely affected the physical health of those involved. The scepticism of the witnesses was backed up by the evidence taken from boys and girls who themselves worked in gangs. For instance: one commissioner interviewed a sixteen-year-old Georgiana Rowan from Great Gressingham in Norfolk; she said that on her return from a day’s work near her home:

“We topped and tailed this morning for one farmer, she said, and forked docks this afternoon for another. We left the ground this afternoon at 5. Tomorrow morning, we shall start at 7. I take dinner with me to work, bread or bread with cheese or butter, but take no drink at this time of the year. [It was autumn] ……I don’t know what kind of work was hardest but we’re used to it now, and don’t mind it”

A Norfolk villager at the time felt that many young workers agreed with such a view, along with others:

“The children often come home wet,’……. but I believe they are fond of the work. They reckon to have some fun.”

Even a local magistrate, who believed that the gang system was ‘attended with much evil’, had to admit that children in gangs usually looked ‘happy and cheerful both in going to and coming from their work’. This positive attitude of many gang children was probably due to the fact that it was usually temporary and they welcomed outdoor gang work as a change from the classroom. Hannah Staff of Downham Market also gave a parent’s view. ‘My girl aged fifteen works in the gang. It is a deal healthier than the flax factory.’

Agricultural Gangs (Child_labour,_c1885_Science Photo Library)2
Gang system of child labour, c1885 from The Sunday at Home, London, 1869. Image: Public Domain.

But when the commissioners asserted that gangs damaged the morale of those who worked in them, they were faithfully reflecting the opinion of the majority of their witnesses. A Norfolk doctor came down to basics by saying:

“It is most indecent with boys and girls of that age out all day always together, and with no hedges or concealment of any kind. Nature must be relieved, and the workers drop out for this, and then the boys laugh at the girls.”

Another witness had reported that during their dinner time girls would take off ‘their petticoats etc’ and hang them up to dry, while a third had seen boys ‘bathing in a pond, while the girls were sitting round on the bank.’ Certainly, the sexual morals of the rural poor seemed unconventional when judged by respectable middle-class standards. One vicar said:

“I seldom marry any of them without being obliged to see the bride to be of larger dimensions than she ought to be.”

Agricultural Gangs (labourer-with-scythe-1900_Public Domain)
Labourer with scythe 1900. Photo: Public Domain.

A more moderate, and perhaps more realistic view, came from several clergymen who probably knew more about the living conditions of the rural poor than did many other witnesses. They felt it was easy to exaggerate the pernicious influence of the gangs compared with other aspects of rural life. For instance, a vicar of Terrington in Norfolk painted a detailed picture of most cottages in his parish having only two or three rooms; where there were three, one was frequently let to a lodger, so that the family had to squeeze into the other two. Some cottages only had one room, and the vicar mentioned a case where one family, consisting of a father, mother, three sons and a grown-up daughter, all living in just a single room. He concluded:

“I fear that much immorality, and certainly much want of a sense of decency among the agricultural labouring classes, are owing to the nature of their homes, and the want of proper room: more so probably to this than to gang or field work.”

Many witnesses were particularly vehement about the bad effect of gang labour on the attitude of the girls involved. ‘They get so bold and know too much’, said one farmer. People seemed to take it for granted that the daughters of the rural poor ought to go into service in some respectable household where they would do useful work, be imbued with a proper sense of respect for their betters, and learn enough domestic skills to be able to keep house for their future husbands. Gang labour did not fit into this scheme of things. Indeed, it disrupted it.

Agricultural Gangs (Farmers on a Hillside_STRAFFORD NEWMARCH_Public Domain)
Painting of an Agricultural gang on a hillside by Strafford Newmarch. Image: Public Domain

The Rector of Stilton certainly had no doubts; he thought gang work was ‘most objectionable’ for girls. ‘It makes them rude, rough and lawless, and consequently makes them unsuitable for domestic duties; this, consequently would disqualify them for a future position as a wife and mother’. A prosperous farmer agreed. ‘Field work renders them unfit for service’, while another remarked that:

“A love for unhealthy liberty sets in, untidy habits arise, they turn aside from service in farm or other houses, know little or nothing of sewing, washing, making or mending, and entering upon marriage are generally untidy, slovenly and bad-managing housekeepers.”

 Overall, it seems that the commissioner’s report did not represent the views of everyone, and certainly not those witnesses who thought gangs were subversive, teaching girls ‘independent habits’, and giving them ‘a love for unhealthy liberty’. Instead, the commissioners preferred to base their case against gangs on the damage they inflicted on the health and welfare of those who worked in them. Thus, their report highlighted parts of the evidence and played down the rest.Most gang workers interviewed did, in fact, present evidence in fact, calm and matter-of-fact manner. Ellen Collishaw of Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, was typical. She told a commissioner:

“I am going on 13. I have worked at weeding. I worked all the year to gleaning (harvest). I have been working since harvest too. I have been singling turnips and weeding turnips. I went with Mr Hutchinson. He is a labourer. I was all the time with him. There were twenty besides me, girls as well as boys. There were many girls younger than me… We worked on Mr Greenham’s on the heath, we weeded wheat and barley. We picked up twitch after harvest. The corn was high when we weeded it. We used to get wet. Our dresses got wet as well as our feet. We got them dry by next morning. We got home about 6. We left the field at 5. When we got home, we washed and changed our clothes. I never caught cold.”

Elizabeth Wilson, a labourer’s wife from Exning, near Newmarket in Norfolk, gave much the same impression:

“Both my girls, now at service, worked in a gang. Sometimes they would be wet from rain or dew, and some girls, I believe, take a great deal of cold from this, but mine didn’t go a deal. There was nothing I minded as to language or anything in the gang for girls, though I would sooner have kept them at school if I had not been obliged to let them go out.”

This is not to say that agricultural gangs needed no regulation. There were abuses, and perhaps the commissioners had to paint a uniformly black picture if Parliament was to be persuaded to do anything to control gangs. Certainly, there is no indication that interested MPs looked beyond the evidence quoted in the report itself – they had left the commissioners to carry out the burdensome task of sifting and assessing the bulk of the evidence. Historians could not afford to be so trusting.

As it was, Gangs gradually faded out towards the end of the 19th century, with two developments hastening their demise. The first was the increasing use of machinery, particularly on light soils, and the other was the spread of compulsory education after 1870 which hit the gangs even harder. In 1870 school boards were given the right to make education compulsory for all children under the age of thirteen in their areas. In 1880 Mundella’s Act made it compulsory to enforce attendance without naming a leaving age. In 1893, however, the minimum leaving age was fixed at eleven, and in 1899 it was raised to twelve, thus bringing the whole country into line with the practice adopted by some boards as early as 1870.

Though many country children still took time off school to work on farms from time to time, compulsory schooling made it impossible for masters to recruit them into gangs without falling foul of the law – as they would say “the game was not worth the candle” and they gave it up. It was then only during school holidays, usually considerately fixed to coincide with busy times on farms, that gangs of women and children went to work in the fields – a tradition which survived almost to the present day.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historytoday.com/archive/agricultural-gangs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_gang
http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/the-return-of-the-gangmaster

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