A Feature of Spread Oak Wood.

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

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

121976458_978361372667412_1836466013923910614_n
 The Catholic shrine in Spread Oak Wood at Bittering, Norfolk. The shrine was built by Paul Hodác in thanks for him finding refuge from the Nazis after they invaded his native Czechoslovakia on 15 March, 1939. He discovered Norfolk whilst on holiday, spending time in Bittering from the early 1960s. The chapel was consecrated in 1974, but is gradually being lost to the woods. Photo: EDP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inside the Shrine. Photo: William Harrison

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

By Bruce Robinson, 2014

THE END

 

Stiffkey Marsh: The Screaming Cockler!

Apart from an ‘Introduction’, The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story where ghosts emerge out of the sort of variable weather that one can find at Skiffkey! It is a story that may once have been widely believed – but possibly false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have happened sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

Introduction;
The village of Stiffkey lies on the North Norfolk coast, along the A149 coast road between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Morston. The name of Stiffkey derives from the tree stumps that are found in the marsh – the area of which is referred to as ‘tree-stump island’. Skiffkey is a beautiful village consisting largely of flint and brick cottages, built on the banks of the charming River Stiffkey which is bridged just into the Langham road. The river, with its little, narrow, confining valley is quite attractive during summer months and never seems to lose its way as it flows through the village on its way to the sea at Stiffkey Freshes. There was once a harbour at Stiffkey, but it has long been completely silted up – the reason why those ‘Blues’ of old grew so fondly attached to the area.

Stiffkey (Stewkey Blues)
‘Stewkey Blues’

The main street of Skiffkey is narrow and winding and is bordered on both sides by high walls – making it a dangerous place for pedestrians, also something of a nightmare for motorists – especially in the busy summer months when tourists pass through from afar. In fact, for those who venture through the village by car, van or lorry for the first time they would immediately notice one thing – the road is not only extremely narrow, but has no pavement between the flint walls and road. In the height of the summer tourist season this feature sometimes contributes to the occasional ‘incident’ caused by vehicles which choose to joist with others, often resulting in damaged paintwork at best or dented bodywork and, frequently, displaced side mirrors. It is also not the place for the faint hearted or for those who like to test their prowess at speeding. Patience is required!

Stiffkey (Feature)

Our Story:
In the small village of Stiffkey, out on the salt marshes is a large mud bank called Blacknock, which is the site of a ghostly haunting. Stiffkey is famous for its blue cockles, and in the 18th century these were gathered by the women of Stiffkey. It was hard and potentially dangerous work as the tides race in, cruel and fast over these marshes. But the Cocklers of Stiffkey were tough women, they had to be. With their weathered faces, dressed in pieces of sacking for warmth, they trawled the marshes for cockles.

Stiffkey (Cockle Gatherers)2

Once collected, the cockles had to be hauled back in large sacks to the village, without help of man or beast. It was no wonder that the women of Stiffkey were known thereabouts as Amazons, given their strength and hardiness. You had to be tough to be a Stiffkey Cockler. On one particular day the Stiffkey women were out as usual gathering the ‘Stewkey Blues’……

We all told her, but she wouldn’t listen, not her. Her mother was the same, stubborn as a mule. Her mother was a Stiffkey Cockler as well, but at least she died in her bed, not like her poor daughter.

It’s hard work cockling. You get paid by the sack so if you come back with only half a sack then you, or one of your children, might have to go hungry. We have to carry those sacks, full of cockles, all the way back to the village; you can’t get no mule out there, not out on those sand banks. But we’re tough, tough as old leather. That’s why they call us Amazons hereabouts. Though being tough don’t make it any easier when we lose one of our own.

But she wouldn’t listen……

Stiffkey ( Marsh Wreck)

We all saw that the tide was turning; turning fast and the weather was closing in quick. That’s why we packed up. None of us, apart from Nancy, had a full sack – but half a sack, your life and a night with an empty stomach is better than no life at all. So, we left the girl. Left her out there by herself still gathering cockles out on Blacknock whilst we all came back; came back home to our families and to safety.

There was nothing we could have done, she wouldn’t listen. Who could have known it was going to get that bad – and that quickly. Of course, when she realised the danger it was too late, the roke (fog) had descended. No way could she find her way back. I don’t even think Nancy could have found her way back in a roke like that. Not even with all her years of experience.

Stiffkey (Scream)

Our men folk tried to get to the girl. Well they could hear her see! Out there in their boats on the sea they could hear her calling and a screaming for help. My man said he even heard her cursing and swearing; raging against the roke and the tide – even against God himself! Then all of a sudden, he said, there was silence and he could hear her no more, none of them could. So, they turned back – had to – too risky in all that roke in a boat when you can’t see where the mud banks be.

She’s still out there of course! No, not her body; No!, that we found the next day. Still had her knife clasped in her hand and her sack, a way off still just half full. Seaweed there was, all tangled up in her hair and her eyes. Well, her eyes they were open, glaring one might say, glaring at the injustice of it all. No, it’s not her body out there, that be in the churchyard, but her spirit, her restless spirit, that’s still out there. Now I can’t spend my time gossiping I’ve got to get on, got to get back and feed my family.

Stiffkey (screaming-faces)

No, it’s not ‘cause of the tide; the tide has already turned and it’s on its way back out…… But there’ll be a fog tonight; you can already see it beginning to roll in from the sea……It’s her, she’s always much worse on foggy nights, much more restless and noisier – probably ‘cause it was foggy when she drowned……No, she’s far worse on foggy nights. On foggy nights you may even see her; with all that seaweed still in her hair. So, you don’t want to be thinking about going out there, not by yourself, not out on Blacknock sandbank!

Alice Cooper, November 6, 2006.

THE END

Source:
https://jongilbert.proboards.com/thread/288/screaming-cockler-stiffkey-marsh

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Blakeney’s Sunken Wreck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS Hjørdis (Watch House)
The Blakeney Watch House.

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

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

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

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

SS Hjørdis (Rocket Launcher)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Sue Gresham of the Blakeney Harbour Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SS Hjørdis Now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS Hjørdis 4

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

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

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

THE END

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

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

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

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

Two Writers’ Encounter with Norfolk.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sylvia Warner (Fishermans Return)

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

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

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

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

Warren Farm, Horsey: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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

 

 

Onesiphorus’s Wealth and Folly!

From the moment he was christened, or baptised – whatever you prefer, Onesiphorus Randall was destined to succeed in this world; it may appear to some that, as far as money was concerned, his destiny was pre-ordained – for ‘Onesiphorus’ means “bringing profits”! This is certainly how the future turned out for this splendidly named Norfolk lad who, almost from the moment he moved from the County to London, began his journey towards amassing a fortune.

From an almost relatively inconspicuous start of becoming a publican within a year of his arrival in Poplar, in east London, he soon began dabbling in the building trade thereabouts. He must have realised, even then, that there was money to be made as a fully-fledged property speculator there for the Poplar district was ripe for development. It so happened that he was ‘in the right place at the right time’ and clearly took full advantage of a growing situation. Later, as an increasingly rich man, he was to find time to regularly return to Norfolk and spend some of his wealth on ‘indulgences’ in the County of his birth.

Onesiphorus Randall (Cley_BAHS)
The small harbour and mill of Cley, Norfolk. Photo: Blakeney Area Historical Society.

Onesiphorus Randall was born in Cley, Norfolk on August 11, 1798, the youngest of five children. If ‘Ancestry’ records are to be believed then it would appear that his parents were John Randall and Elizabeth, nee Hook. The family were considered to be natives of Holt and, again, it would appear that Onesiphorus’s father, John, was born there in 1756; however, nothing further is known about Onesiphorus’s mother, Elizabeth. The boy’s upbringing and education is also unknown but in 1819, three years after the death of his father, Onesiphorus moved to the Poplar district of London; he was 21-years old. One can only speculate as to why he felt compelled to move, and why he chose Poplar, one of the poorest districts in the capital. Did he strike out blindly when he moved, or did he simply believe that opportunity lay waiting in such a place?

Onesiphorus Randall (Pennyfields 1895)
The Pennyfields area of Polplar. At the top , towards the right. is the Silver Lion public house run by Onesiphorus Randall between the years 1820 and 1831. Plan based on the Ordnance Survey of 1895

It is known that events moved rather quickly after he arrived in Poplar. Within one year, and barely 22 years old, he was settled as a publican of the Silver Lion in Pennyfields, and ran it until 1831 when he followed a William Blundell to become the licensee of the Globe Tavern at 33 Brunswick Street in Blackwall – that was until 1835. However, in between and sometime around 1825 whilst at the Silver Lion, he became involved in building speculation in the area and he was not alone in doing this. Maybe, over the flowing pints, the word was out that real money was to be made from the land that was increasingly becoming available for house building. Clearly, the area was desperate for cheap houses for rent, to at least those on the bottom of the ladder and the lower middle classes.  Here, it should be borne in mind that the opening of the West India Docks in 1802 stimulated a rapid growth in housing development of predominately ‘mean terraces of rented cottages’. Poplar Fields, of which we speak, was the area north of East India Dock Road, and was developed as Poplar New Town from the 1830s to the mid-1850s – see below. By the late 19th century, poverty and overcrowding were rife and firmly established.

Randall’s Estate:
Onesiphorus’s initial scheme begun rather modestly in 1827 when he took a lease of land to the south of East India Dock Road. There he built a terrace of four houses, numbered 179–185 East India Dock Road, but known from 1832 as Randall’s Terrace. Onesiphorus occupied the then No. 185 (it later became No. 4) for himself in 1831, and where he was to remain until his death in 1873 at the age of 75.

Then, apart from building ‘modest houses in the adjacent parish of St Leonard’s, Bromley’, Onesiphorus’s began to build his ‘Randall’s Estate’ as part of Poplar’s ‘New Town’ to the north of the East India Dock Road, commonly known as ‘Poplar Fields’ until it was renamed ‘Poplar New Town’ in the 1830s. This land had previously been given over to market gardening and pasture, apart from a potash factory between Upper North Street and the ‘common sewer’ which drained the area. Development of the district east of the sewer began during the 1820s, but the major phase followed the release of the remainder of the area for building from the mid-1840s – this was when Onesiphorus became seriously involved, along with a series of other speculators who had leased areas of land which made up the whole. Within three to four years building of the whole area was ‘carried on with rapidity, equalled, perhaps, by no other suburban district of the metropolis’. The name ‘New Town’ was in use by 1836 and was applied generally to all the developments north of the East India Dock Road.

Onesiphorus ‘Randall’s Estate’ was in the centre of New Town, on a seven-acre field called The Grove. The southern section of this land had been held as copyhold of the manor of Stepney by the Smith family. In 1847 Richard Smith, junior, leased the land to Onesiphorus, having obtained a licence to demise the land for 90 years from Midsummer 1846. To the east of The Grove ran the ancient Black Ditch or common sewer, which formed the eastern boundary of the estate, while its western edge was along Upper North Street. Those boundaries merged at the north and south to form a lozenge-shaped area developed by Randall between 1850 and 1857.

Onesiphorus Randall ( Poplar New Town Plan)
Poplar New Town Plan, based on the Ordnance Survey of 1894–6 showing division into family estates. Randall’s lozenge-shaped Estate is the ‘hatched’ area at its centre. Image: British History.

Randall’s Estate was developed in the usual manner of building leases, most of them on terms of 80 years. A variety of local builders and craftsmen were involved in the construction of his estate. Among the most important were George Lester, carpenter; James Harpley Leake, joiner – who later ran the Estate Office for Randall; John Banbury and William Wickes, both bricklayers of Poplar; and Henry Clarke, a local builder. When finished, the development comprised 188 dwelling houses, 42 shops and houses, 49 lock-up shops in Randall’s Market and a large premise, formerly known as the Market House Tavern.

The southern portion of Randall’s Estate was built first, with the Market, which Randall also built, in the centre; streets ran from the market on an east-west axis. But from the outset, the standards of the new buildings were criticised. Randall himself was accused by the district surveyor of building a:

“fourth-rate dwelling house in Market Street of unsound materials and not in a manner to produce solid work, and on insufficient foundations”.

One wall was said to contain a large number of brickbats, and Randall was ordered to rebuild it. Despite this, he seemed to have little intention of making improvements; why should he when there was more money to be made by keeping the cost of his materials as low as was practical – he ‘got away with it’ and was not alone. In 1857, when the Estate was well advanced, the Building News still expressed concern when stating:

“a great number of new streets are in progress, but we regret to observe that they are anything but what they ought to be as regards design, materials and workmanship, being run up in a very paltry style”.

By means fair or foul, the whole estate was completed by the end of 1857. Grove (later Bygrove) Street was developed between 1849 and 1855, with 21 houses erected. Richard (later Ricardo) Street was built between 1851 and 1853, and Randall (later Augusta) Street between 1848 and 1854, with 24 houses constructed. On the south side of the Estate was a terrace of 11 houses, known as King’s Terrace, which was built by 1851 and named after Thomas Henry King, an architect and civil engineer of Spitalfields, who leased the site from Randall in 1851. Market Street included a terrace of nine two storey houses.

Onesiphorus Randall (Typical House Style)
Typical style of terrace housing built on Randall’s Estate. Photo: British History On-line.

All the houses were similar in style and building materials. They were built of greyish brick, two storeys high and enriched with compo dressings which the ‘Building News’ again thought ‘preposterously too heavy in their proportions’. Towards the end of the 19th century, after Onesiphorus Randall had died, the streets of his Estate were described as “mostly straight dull rows of two-storied houses with a frontage of from 14-16 feet containing 6–8 rooms … most of them rise straight from the pavement in their grimy ugliness. There is generally a back yard of varying size and capabilities behind”. It was also self-evident that gardens did not flourish in this part of the east End!

On the north side of Market Street was a terrace of nine houses. The three houses at the centre of the terrace were built beneath a high pediment on which a market clock was placed. Both the pediment and the cupola of unusual shape on the roof were Classical in design. The northern vista of Randall’s Market was close by these houses.

Randall’s Market:
At the centre of the development was Randall’s Market. It consisted of a north-south street of lock-up shops with a circus in the middle, where it was bisected by an east-west street. It was an ambitious scheme to establish a shopping area north of East India Dock Road. Costermongers, who were felt to lower the social standing of the area – as if the area had any more ‘slack’ to fall further, were prohibited from trading there. In some of the early deeds, the scheme was called Trinity Market, no doubt on account of its close proximity to the recently built Trinity Chapel in East India Dock Road. But this name was never adopted, and from its first appearance in the Post Office Directories in 1854, it was called Randall’s Market.

(Randall’s Market, built 1851-52, looking north in the 1920s.)

The Market was showy in style but, again, constructed of cheap materials. An ugly cement drinking-fountain was erected at the centre of the market and was surrounded by a punched-metal and glass canopy. Above the fountain was a gas lamp supported by dolphin brackets. The fountain was said to be in a state of rapid decomposition as early as 1857. Despite its architectural pretension, it was a market in a very humble area. The shops were a series of lock-ups with frontages with double-doors and a facade constructed mostly of wood. The roof of the single-storey shops was finished with a low parapet decorated with pierced stucco-work and concrete statues. In the centre of the market stood the Market House Tavern. This was a three-storey brick building with rendered walls. Italianate in style, the Market House had pedimented and embellished windows and the façade was decorated with a niche containing a statue.

Onesiphorus Randall ( Market Tavern)
The Market House Tavern at Randall’s Market; built 1853-54. Photo: British History On-line, c1890.

Onesiphorus and his Excursions Back to Norfolk:
Almost nothing is known of the man himself, except that Onesiphorus Randall was ‘the most eccentric of men’ who, from the very beginning of his property exploits in London, certainly lived up to the meaning of his name. He was said to have married an Anna Pattenden, who was born somewhere in Middlesex in 1780, and was therefore some eighteen years older than Onesiphorus. Again, this calls into question ‘Ancestry’ records which show that a son was born in 1861, also named Onesiphorus – this fact, if that’s what it is, also calls into question the impression that Anna was the mother. Impossible one would say since, in 1861, Anna would have been at least 80 years old! It would seem therefore that Onesiphorus married for a second time – and the best fit here seems to be a Mary Anne Vousley, who was born in Bermondsey in 1839; making her 22 years old when Onesiphorus junior was born at No.4 Randall’s Terrace, Poplar – the father, Onesiphorus Sen. was 63 years of age – some catch with his money!

During this period of a probable re-marriage and birth, Onesiphorus’s wealth continued to grow substantially and he was able to begin his return trips to Norfolk; whether he made these trips alone or with his wife we just do not know. However, it was again during this period that something happened for which he later became long-remembered in the County. Firstly, he bought Woodlands House in Holt (now part of Gresham’s School), before acquiring the ruined Kelling Old Hall and with it, the associated title Lord of the Manor.

Onesiphorus Randall (Woodlands House)
Woodlands House, Holt, Norfolk.

Randall’s Folly:
The truth is that, while still Lord of the Manor, Onesiphorus’s local ‘fame’ found its root when he built himself a ‘castle-styled folly’ at Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast. Unusually perhaps, the Folly was located on a mound of land called the ‘Great Eye’, right on the beach rather than in or even near the village. The square two-storey stone structure was named, and always referred to thereafter, as “Randall’s Folly”.  and was connected to a large expanse of grass called the ‘Flat Eye’ on which the village cows often grazed. The Folly was fitted with large double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor.

smeerockehouse
Randall’s Folly. Photo: Courtesy of the Salthouse History Group.

A member of the public, writing to a local paper in 1922, said:

“The familiar square-built stone house standing alone on the beach at Salthouse has been responsible for numerous questions as to its origin, and so many enquiries have been made regarding its association with smugglers and such romantic enterprises – one is sorry to destroy the illusion”

Just why Onesiphorus fitted double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor remained unclear. Although, his reputed penchant for entertaining the ladies, as spread by local gossip, has been suggested as one reason! As one local lady once put it – long after such rumoured events happened:

“I shouldn’t say this perhaps, but – Randall was very fond of women – that’s what that house was built for! It had a big door either end, and he used to drive up in his carriage and round into the house and right through the house with his coach and horses. The coach used to stop in the house till he was ready to go” …. Nod Nod, Wink Wink perhaps!

Certainly, those doors were real and enabled Onesiphorus to drive straight through in order to turn his horses and carriage round ready to return through the house and out over a bridge connecting ‘Flat Eye’ with ‘Great Eye’ and on to join Beach Road. He could bring the ladies into the house in his carriage and on leaving, open the seaward door, drive over the bridge and turn the carriage around on Flat Eye and depart back through the house! One may well wonder where Onesiphorus’s wife was while these alleged romantic dalliances were taking place in that remote Folly – and for which locals had a much saucier and descriptive name! Had anyone, at any time, given thought to the possibility, remote as may have been, that these ladies were images of no other that his wife?

With that thought, fast forward towards the end of the 19th century after Onesiphorus had died. This was when the Folly was bought by the Board of Trade and used as a coastguard station, housing the village life-saving brigade’s rocket cart and associated equipment. The rocket itself was launched from a cannon firing a Breeches Buoy to those in distress; in fact, saving many lives around the turn of the century. These duties gave the Randall’s Folly a new name of the “Rocket House”. By the early 1920’s however, the property had been sold off to become a holiday home, ending its life as a Rocket Brigade House. Nevertheless, the “Rocket House” name stuck until 1937 when it was privately purchased and renamed ‘Great Eye Folly’. The novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) rented the Great Eye Folly from 1950 to 1951 while working on her final novel ‘The Flint Anchor’ published in 1954. She did not live at the Folly alone; Valentine Ackland, her lover, also stayed with her.

Onesiphorus Randall (Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978_ NPG)
Novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978). Photo: National Portrait Gallery.

Sylvia Townsend Warner described her first impressions of the Folly in a letter to Alyse Gregory – written in 1950:

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

However, by 1937, the great expanse of “Flat Eye” had been lost to the sea but the folly remained, until seriously damaged in the 1953 flood. Surging water way above any normal height, removed half the building. Deemed unsafe, what remained was demolished. Subsequent storms and surges gradually removed all but a small mound of earth of the “Great Eye”, leaving “Little Eye” to the west as a former memory. In the 1600’s, Little Eye was about two thirds of the distance between the coast road and the shingle ridge and from Little Eye to Great Eye. Great Eye merged with Flat Eye which in turn merged with the shingle ridge, this forming a continuous barrier from near the Dun Cow pub, which didn’t open until 1786.

Onesiphorus Randall (Birkin_Rocket_House)
Immediately prior to the 1953 flood this was known as the ‘Great Eye Folly’s. Its whole seaward front was torn off by the great storm in January of that year. The ruin remained like this for a couple of years, but had to be demolished finally in June 1956. Photo: Birkin Haward (Courtesy of Birkin Haward Jnr).
Onesiphorus Randall (Birkin_From Gramborough Hill)
Three boys play football on a great stretch of sand which had been deposited there by the flood. The image was taken from Gramborough Hill with ‘Little Eye’ visible far left and ‘Great Eye’ with the Rocket House still standing erect. The shingle bank is flattened. Photo: Birkin Haward (Courtesy of Birkin Haward Jnr)
Randall's Folly_Salthouse (Birkin Haward)3
Birkin Haward’s painting of Randall’s Folly. Image: Photo: Courtesy of Birkin Haward Jnr.

For nearly 100 years, Randall’s Folly had been a well-known landmark between Little Eye and the Beach Road car park. For many years, some local folk could still remember the iconic building rising high above the shingle on the horizon but, the former folly has not been entirely forgotten. That’s because locally, one local tradition still continues. Today, the local Holt Sea Angling Club holds an event at Salthouse Beach on the day after Boxing Day. Conceived by local fisherman and boat-owners, the annual ‘Rocket House Open’ fishing match is held in memory of the Folly which once stood on the “Great Eye” mound, facing seaward.

FOOTNOTE:
Onesiphorus died at No. 4 (previously No.185) Randall Terrace Poplar in November 1873 at the age of 75 years. At the time of his death, his income from leasehold houses in the East End of London was said to have amounted to £3,000 per annum. His young son, also Onesiphorus jnr, eventually inherited the estate (for he was only 12 years old at the time of his father’s death – and 14 years when his mother died) after a protracted Chancery case; he died in 1913 at the age of 52 years.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp207-211
http://www.salthousehistory.co.uk/folly.html
http://www.salthousehistory.co.uk/1953(2).html
Christopher Weston (Norfolk Achive).

Once a Busy Norfolk Sailing Ship!

The ‘Minstrel’ was typical of the ships that once provided the bread and butter trade of the Norfolk ports. This topsail schooner was said to have been a handsome and very safe and reliable vessel, which traded along the English coast between the years 1847 to 1904; during its life, it regularly tied up at Burnham Overy, Blakeney, Wells-Next-the-Sea and other ports around the English coast and over the horizon.

Minstrel (Wells 1895)
The Minstrel at Wells-Next-the_Sea, Norfolk c1895. Photo: Public Domain and as it appears in the BAHS‘s ‘The Glaven Historian’, No.8, 2005.

Built at Wells-Next-the-Sea in 1847; it emerged at a time when there was a trend towards building larger vessels, capable of trading in much deeper seas and at further distances; vessels such as sloops and schooners of up to 100 tons. The Minstrel went against this trend, being smaller at almost half the size and typical of those that formed the backbone of the Norfolk coastal trade. Minstrel was built at a time when she was able to profit during the best times of 19th century trade, but also becoming old enough to experience its decline. Today, there are but a few 19th century photographs of this ship, accompanied by taped conversations and various written records, all of which is well preserved by the Norfolk Record Office and the Blakeney Area Historical Society (BAHS).

In the Beginning:
During the mid-19th century there were two principal shipyards in Wells-Next-the -Sea, those of John Lubbock and Henry Tyrrell; the ‘Minstrel’ was built by the latter, who’s yard was at the East End of the harbour, just past the Jolly old Sailor’s Yard. The Norfolk Chronicle recorded the ship’s launch thus:

“Yesterday afternoon (25th August) at six o’clock, a very pretty schooner called the Minstrel was launched from Mr H T Tyrrell’s shipyard. She is the property of T.T. Mack Esq. of Burnham.”

Jonathan Hooton, writing in his book ‘Minstrel, Biography of a Sailing Ship’ stated:

“A few months earlier, in April 1847, Tyrrell had launched the ‘Countess of Leicester’, the largest vessel to be built at Wells to that date and described as “a splendid brig” and “the finest specimen of shipbuilding ever constructed at Wells.” The event was also recorded, probably by Tyrrell himself, in a two dimensional ‘model’, consisting of a series of cut-outs mounted on a square baseboard [see photo below]. The relevance of this to the Minstrel is that her construction was well underway by the time that the ‘Countess of Leicester’ was being launched and she must be the vessel shown in the model under construction next to the ‘Countess of Leicester’. She is shown stern on with the hull ready for planking. To have such a representation is very rare…..”

Minstrel (Model)
A model of The ‘Countess of Leicester’ about to be launched in 1847 with ‘Minstrel’ under construction alongside at Tyrrell’s shipyard. The model is owned by Tom Dack of Wells, and for further information on it, see Stammers, M. K.
“A 19th Century Shipyard Model from Wells-next-the –Sea” in Norfolk Archaeology Vol. XLII part IV pp 519-596.

The surveying officer at Wells in 1847 was a Charles Claxton; he was there to witness the registration of the ‘Minstrel’ on 4 September; it being the seventeenth vessel registered at both Wells and Cley that year. Eight of these were small fishing craft built at Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ludham; but four were larger vessels built elsewhere, bought second hand and re-registered at Wells; the remainder had been built at Wells. This was, indeed, a prosperous period for the Wells shipbuilders. In 1847, Tyrrell had built and launched the 151-ton ‘Countess of Leicester’ and the 95-ton schooner ‘Teazer’, whilst, during the same period, the John Lubbock shipyard had built the schooners ‘Sydney Claude’ (84 tons) and ‘Edward Coke’ (87 tons).

The 59-ton Minstrel had two masts and her measurements were; length 57.3 feet, breadth 15.3 feet and depth 8.4 feet. They say she had a graceful square stern and was carvel built, which meant that her planking was laid flush and not overlapped; she also had a scroll rather than a figurehead. She was something that any owner would be proud of, so it was probably inevitable that Thomas Thurtle Mack would commission a painting of ‘his’ Minstrel for posterity. He would have been no exception for it was commonplace throughout the 18th-century for proud masters or owners to purchase a painting of their vessel from one of the artists frequenting major ports who earned a living by faithfully reproducing ships. Here, the ‘Minstrel’ was no exception – and it had an added advantage – the painting would show the vessel in full sail, which is not the case with all the photographs taken of this vessel while in port. By looking at the following painting of Minstrel, the two square sails on her mainmast show that she was a topsail schooner. Two crewmen are shown on deck but it is known that she was in fact crewed by four men.

Minstrel (Drawing)
A ship painting of the ‘Minstrel’. Photo: Public Domain and as it appears in the BAHS‘s ‘The Glaven Historian’, No.8, 2005.

The vessel was entirely owned by Thomas Thurtle Mack of Burnham Thorpe and her first master was a Henry Howell, who also came from Burnham Thorpe. Thomas Mack himself seems to have advanced his prospects over the years, for whereas he was once described simply as a merchant, he became referred to as a ‘Ship Owner’ with the launch of the Minstrel. His new status went hand-in-hand with his business dealings with Henry Tyrrell, whom he clearly knew and trusted. Thomas Mack had previously dipped his toe into investments when, along with two other business colleagues from Burnham Overy, he had bought a third share in another of Tyrrell’s ships, the 51-ton sloop ‘Hopewell’, which had been built a year earlier in 1846. Mack was obviously happy with his investment, for as well as financing the whole of the Minstrel, he had also taken eight shares in the ‘Countess of Leicester’.

Burnham Overy:
The vessels mentioned above traded from Burnham Overy which had long been under Wells jurisdiction. Although never as important as Wells, Burnham had a steady trade during the first half of the 19th century. White’s Directory of 1845 describes Burnham Overy Creek as:

“navigable for vessels of 60 or 80 tons up to the Staithe, where the spring-tides rise 9 or 10 feet, and where a considerable trade in Coal and corn is carried on, as well as in oysters, of which there is an excellent bed in the offing, where 5 boats and 15 fishermen are regularly employed.”

Minstrel (Burnham Overy)1
A more relaxed ‘present-day’ view of  Burnham Overy, Norfolk. Photo: Lynne Rivers Roper

Thomas Mack was, up until 1846, in partnership with a local person named Wiseman at Burnham. Their business was known as Mack & Wiseman, Corn and Coal Merchants. However, that partnership was dissolved in 1846 – as recorded in the London Gazette of that year:

Minstrel (London Gazett 1846)

The timing of what was clearly a change of business direction coincided with Mack’s growing shipping investments which, from now on, did not included Wiseman. Instead, it was possible that Mack was strengthening his business links with a John Savory, miller & maltster of Burnham who, along with Mack, partly owned the ‘Hopewell’ which, together with the Minstrel, were built in order to control the shipping of their produce. The ‘Minstrel’ itself was primarily involved in trading from Burnham, although there was clearly a constant interchange between Wells and all of the North Norfolk ports, with the vessel only taking cargoes to and from Wells when it was not needed at Burnham.

Trading – Overseas:
But Minstrel was not just involved in the coasting trade; occasionally she ventured overseas. In 1863 for instance, she went from Hartlepool to Hamburg and returned to Burnham. Later that year she made two separate trips from Hartlepool to Memel, Klaipeda, in present day Lithuania. The first was when she returned to Blakeney; then, in the September, she made the return journey to Wells, where the crew were discharged. The crew for these voyages were all from Burnham. They were the Master, 44-year-old Henry Howell; Mate, 26-year-old William Smith; Seaman, 23-year-old Joseph Scoles; and Cook, 21-year-old Henry Howell jnr. On his first trip oversea, the latter received a wage of only £1-15s, the lowest of the crew. However, either he must have creditably discharged his duties or, benefitted from his family connection with the Master – or both, for on his second trip his wages rose to £2-00 – more was to come! However, in between these overseas voyages, the Minstrel did undertake nine coastal voyages that year, all but one starting from Burnham, visiting Hartlepool four times and Newcastle once. It may well have been that she was carrying grain north and returning to Norfolk with coal. Also, the crew had joined the ship at Hartlepool at the beginning of May that year, which may be an indication that the ship had over-wintered at a northern port.

Minstrel (Blakeney 1895)
The Minstrel seen at the Blakeney Quay from the High Street. Photo: Public Domain and as it appears in the BAHS‘s ‘The Glaven Historian’, No.8, 2005.
Minstrel (Blakeney Modern)
A similar view of Blakeney Quay from the High Street, taken in more recent years.

As busy as trade might have been during that period, we do find that the following year, on 23 August to be precise, Thomas Thurtle Mack, sold his substantial share stake in Minstrel; 32 shares went to his fellow Burnham merchant, John Savory, and a further 32 shares to Henry Howell, the Master of the Minstrel – it has been speculated that this portion may have been passed on to his son, Henry Jr., mentioned above. This shift in ownership did not seem to change Minstrel’s trading habits; it still remained engaged largely in exporting grain from John Savory’s granaries in Burnham and returning with coal from the north. When not needed in Burnham, Minstrel would visit other ports along the north Norfolk coast which were involved in a similar trade. However, one wonders as to the degree of profit being made at this time, now that growing competition was being felt from the railways; a trend that would eventually lead to an irreversible decline in the cargoes being shipped to and from the North Norfolk ports.

For nigh-on 44 years, Minstrel had been a family concern and a very reliable vessel, skippered also by only two masters during that time – Henry Howell senior and Henry junior. But in 1891 the father decided to sell his half share in the ship. John Savory, clearly still with full faith in the vessel, bought 16 shares of it, increasing his own share of the ownership to 48 shares. The other 16 shares were bought by a new name on the block, Minstrel’s new Master William Temple – he another Burnham man! Temple had already been in charge of the vessel for at some 4 months prior to the purchase, shipping malt to Newcastle and returning to Wells with coal. However, Minstrel, with Temple in charge, did not sail again until after the change in ownership when she left Wells for Blakeney.

Future Voyages:
Throughout the 1890’s her voyage pattern seldom varied, with the carrying of coals, seed cake or barley, from Wells to Hull, Sunderland and North Shields, with trips to Burnham and Blakeney on the Norfolk coast in between. However, by the end of the 19th century the vessel’s trading pattern was forced to change by the terminal decline which was beginning to grip the North Norfolk harbours. This effectively meant that there was not enough trade to keep the Minstrel permanently employed and she had to go seeking trade wherever it occurred; this meant an unfamiliar coarse setting along the east and south coasts of England. Of the eighteen journeys made in 1901, only four were in Norfolk and, when she left Blakeney in the April, Minstrel did not return for the rest of the year. She ranged from Sunderland in the north to Cowes and Southampton in the south, none of them to Norfolk.

Minstrel (Blakeney 1900)
The Minstrel at Blakeney Quay c1900. Photo: Public Domain and as it appears in the BAHS‘s ‘The Glaven Historian’, No.8, 2005.

Minstrel’s master, William Temple who described himself as being from Wells and Blakeney – probably depending on whichever place he considered to be home – saw very little of his native Norfolk now that his vessel had to sail the south and east coasts of Britain to search for cargoes. The nature of his crew had changed too. Whereas in 1863 the crew remained the same all year and were all from Burnham, only William Temple came from Norfolk by 1901. One could say that the source of the vessel’s crew was now nationwide, if not international.

The Minstrel’s Demise:
By 1904 the Minstrel was in its 57th year of what some would term an impressive service, but one which required a continued need to travel further afield for employment. Such was the case when she embarked on her final voyage; leaving Woolwich in the February of 1904, bound for York with a cargo of government stores. But disaster struck on 17 February when she became stranded and lost in a Force 7 easterly gale at Chapel Point, near Chapel St. Leonard in Lincolnshire.  The crew were all saved, but not so the 57-year-old vessel which was thought not to be worth repairing. She was broken up in the May of 1904 by J. J. Simons of Sutton, Lincs.

It is said that its master, William Temple, went on to become master of the ketch ‘Admiral Mitford’ and it was rumoured that he became famous for sailing her single handed up to the north-east and then returning to Norfolk where he would moor and sell coal out of the ship, often remaining in one port until all the coal had been sold. Allegedly, he would combine this little bit of business with what became his frequent visits to the nearest quayside pubs. With such a development, it was always likely that tale such as this would have a sequel; in William Temple’s case it was an alleged theft from his vessel at Morston. It happened during one of Temple’s lengthy sojourns there, when someone by the name of Billy Holmes was said to have gone aboard the ‘Admiral Mitford’ and stole money. The case was brought to court, but a local merchant by the name of Gus Hill ‘stood up for Holmes and the case was dismissed’. However, William Temple would have none of it; he felt that Holmes was guilty and, in protest, refused to drink in Morston again, instead confining his drinking to the Blakeney pubs. As an aside, it was said that Temple was also the Master of the ‘Reaper’, as well as the ‘Minstrel’ and the ‘Admiral Mitford’.

THE END

Sources:
http://www.bahs.uk/GH-Files/GH8/GlavenHistorianIssue8.pdf
https://albatroswells.co.uk/history/

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Myngs: The ‘Pivateer’ from Salthouse!

On 20 March 2007, the conservators of Norfolk County Council completed the restoration of some historic 16th-century records to their former glory; these had been buried in a village churchyard at the outbreak of the Second World War to prevent them falling into German hands. These documents confirmed much about Vice-Admiral Sir Christopher Myngs’s Norfolk origins and featured in a public exhibition in 2007. Included in this exhibition were items relating to the Salthouse hero, such as his baptism which appears in the Salthouse register for 1625. Other exhibits on display, apart from Myngs’s baptism entry, were deeds relating to the property which he purchased in Salthouse, a copy of a letter which he wrote on board ship, and a transcript of a description of Myngs’s funeral.

Sir Chris Myngs (Lowestoft_RMG)
Flagmen of Lowestoft: Vice-Admiral Sir Christopher Myngs, 1625-66. Image: Royal Museums Greenwich,

From these, and other records it can be deduced, with no 100% certainty you understand, that apart from young Christopher Myngs (1625- 1666) actually being born in Salthouse, Norfolk, his birthplace was believed to have been in the Manor House. He was the son of John Myngs, shoemaker, who had been married at Salthouse on 28 September 1623. The Register also recording that John Myngs was “as of the Parish of St. Katherine in the City of London”. It appears that John Myngs, in turn, was the kinsman or son of Nicholas Myness [sic], a son of Christopher, who was baptised on 8 March 1585 at Blakeney (Marshall, Genealogist, 38-9). – “a good old Norfolk family” according to Bloomfield in his ‘Topographical History of Norfolk’.

Sir Chris Myngs (Birthplace_Val Fiddian 2005)2
The Manor House in which Christopher Myngs was born in 1625. Image (c)  Val Fiddian 2005.

The maiden name of John Myngs’s wife, and Christopher’s mother, was Parr, Her family may also have owned the Manor House. That being the case then the following extract, taken from F.N. Stagg’s ’History of Salthouse’ – researched in the 1930s, would be of interest:

“The Parrs, I think we can safely say, lived in the Manor House—in which case Sir Christopher Myngs was born there. When the latter acquired some small degree of wealth, he bought a property in Salthouse and everything points to it having been what is now called the Hall [here there is a large asterisk in the margin and a ‘no’, and Stagg’s words ‘what is now called the Hall’ crossed out. The handwriting that is not Ketton-Cremer’s and may be that of Stagg himself supplants it with: ‘The building in Long Chats Lane [Long Church Lane] opposite the Hall’. If so, it must have been in that [Manor] House that his daughter Mary died in 1697-8, but Myngs’ second wife Rebecca must have disposed of it probably soon afterwards to one of her husband’s maternal relations, the Parrs.”

There may be little doubt that Cristopher Myngs was the “son of a shoemaker”, for even Samuel Pepys himself says so in his letter of (28 March 1665…) –‘ that his father was indeed a shoemaker and was consulted by the Navy Board about the uses to which leather shavings might be put.’ Bloomfield’s reference that the Myngs family may have been of “a good old Norfolk family” need not mean that Christopher’s father could not have been a shoemaker; Christopher did go to sea as a ‘mere cabin boy’…… proud that he rose in rank due to merit’. However, all this may be erroneous, along with Pepys’s story of Myngs being of ‘humble birth’ – this term possibly an explanation for Myngs’s popularity at the time? More importantly perhaps is the belief that Christopher Myngs was also a relative of the future Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who was born, some 25 years after Myngs, at the nearby village of Cockthorpe. Here, there are strange coincidences between Myngs and Shovell – and they have little to do with the possibility that the two men may have been related.

Sir_Cloudesley_Shovell,_1650-1707
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Image: Wikipedia

Myngs was reputed to have been of ‘humble birth’, son of a shoemaker, possibly related to a knight, and went to sea as a cabin boy! Sir Cloudesley Shovell was reputed to have been that knight – but the latter was also born, or so it was said, into only ‘middling circumstances’ and was ‘apprenticed to a mean trade……of a shoe-maker’, and also went to sea as a cabin boy.’ What strange coincidences! One could be forgiven for wondering whether it was a prerequisite for 17th century Norfolk lad’s to first serve St Crispin [Patron Saint of Shoemakers] in order to obtain successful entry into the British Royal Navy!

So, as a young boy, Myngs may well have joined the British Royal Navy to serve first as a ‘mere cabin boy’, then as an ‘ordinary seaman’; but he did rise rapidly through the ranks thereafter, and this could well have been due to family connections? It has been also suggested that another reason for his rapid career rise was because, as his career progressed, he sided with Parliament and was its supporter; not to mention that the Council of State thought highly of him and, he was also recommended for promotion by the flag officers under whom he served. Myngs was also a friend of Sir John Narborough who was descended from an old Norfolk family. He married Elizabeth Hill, whose father was John Hill, a Commissioner of the Navy. After her husband’s death, Lady Narborough married none other than Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Well, Well Well!

Battle_of_Scheveningen_Jan_Abrahamsz._Beerstraten)
The Battle of Scheveningen (10 August 1653) during the First Angl0-Dutch War. Painting by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten.

Myngs first appeared prominently during the first First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654) as captain of the ‘Elisabeth’ when he captured a Dutch convoy, including two men-of-war taken as prizes. From 1653 to 1655 he continued to command the ‘Elisabeth’ before being given command of the 44-gun frigate ‘Marston Moor’; whose crew happened to be on the verge of mutiny! After quelling the crew’s insubordination, the ship was sent to Port Royal to safeguard England’s new possession – Jamaica. Here, he became the subcommander of the naval flotilla on the Jamaica Station (Royal Navy), with the ‘Marston Moor’ as his flagship. Not bad for a lad from Salthouse.

On his arrival in Jamaica, Myngs assessed that the best defence was to take war to the Spanish. However, the ‘Marston Moor’ was the only English warship available so he decided to recruit local buccaneers. By using the tactic of attacking instead of defending, his buccaneers were to defeat countless Spanish attempts to capture Port Royal. Every potential attack was repulsed before it could begin; then Myngs would successfully counter-attack and regularly defeat the enemy ports nearby. The Spanish government considered him a common pirate and mass murderer, protesting to no avail to the English government of Oliver Cromwell about his conduct. Maybe the Lord Protector of the British Isles was influenced by the opinions that ‘one man’s pirate is another man’s privateer’, and that the Spanish interpretation of Myngs’s behaviour came from a nation that was given half the world by the Pope to rape and pillage. Also, the towns that were sacked by Myngs were cruelly controlled by the Spanish as they loaded their ships with gold. There was also some evidence circulating that suggested that some local populations welcomed the Spanish being given a bloody nose in return!

In February 1658, he returned to Jamaica as naval commander, acting as a commerce raider (privateer) during the Anglo-Spanish War. During these actions he received a reputation for unnecessary cruelty, sacking and massacring entire towns in command of whole fleets of buccaneers. Later in 1658, after beating off a Spanish attack, he raided the coast of South-America; but failed to capture a Spanish treasure fleet despite having a plan of hiding off the coast in wait. Unfortunately for Myngs the timing was not good because most of his fleet’s crew were ashore obtaining fresh water; this was when the Spanish treasure fleet appeared. The Marston Moor and another ship passed through the Spanish fleet and hung on its rear before unsuccessfully attempting to scatter them.

Myngs then proceeded to raid Tolú and Santa Marta, both in Columbia, again with only moderate results. It was then Myngs decided to change tactics. Previously, his large group of ships had pre-warned the local population who would retreat inland with their possessions. But he now divided his squadron into smaller flotillas and so increase the chance of surprise. He also would pursue them inland, sometimes using land troops as marines. Myngs then used his new tactics on three ports on the coast of Venezuela – Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro in present-day Venezuela. The latter contained a Spanish silver shipment valued at 250,000 English pounds – roughly £32.5million today. However, Myngs decided to split the money with his buccaneers to keep them interested for future expeditions, rather than with the Governor, Edward D’Oyley, and the English treasury. On his return to Port Royal, D’Oyley had him arrested on charges of embezzlement and acts of piracy, returning him to England on the Marston Moor in 1660 to face trial. However, in the confusion of the restoration of Charles II at the time, the charges were dropped.

Sir Chris Myngs (HMS Centurion_Wikipedia)
HMS Centurion. Image: Wikipedia.

In fact, the Restoration government retained him in his command and, in August 1662, sent Myngs back to Jamaica, as commander of the HMS Centurion, to resume his activities as commander of the Jamaica Station – despite the fact that the war with Spain had ended. This was part of a covert English policy to undermine the Spanish dominion of the area, by destroying as much as possible of the infrastructure. In 1662 Myngs decided that the best way to accomplish this was to employ the full potential of the buccaneers by promising them the opportunity for unbridled plunder and rapine. He had the complete support of the new Governor, Lord Thomas Hickman Windsor, who fired a large contingent of soldiers to fill Myngs’s ranks with disgruntled men. In the October of 1662, the buccaneers’ first target, Santiago in Cuba, fell easily despite its strong defences and much loot was brought back.

Other legendary buccaneers of the time, such as Henry Morgan and Edward Mansvelt, admired Myngs’ personal abilities and success and in 1663 some, including Morgan, accompanied him on next big expedition, as did many other Dutch and French soldiers. In fact, there were some 1400 buccaneers gathered in Port Royal; these were what could be termed semi-lawful sailors and soldiers but to Spain, they were just ordinary pirates whilst to England buccaneers were a lot more than that. These buccaneers were to be aboard a powerful fleet of 14 ships which had been assembled for the next assault on the Spanish which would be the attack on the Bay of Campeche and San Francisco. At one point during these attacks, Myngs was severely wounded and compelled to leave Edward Mansvelt in charge of his fleet and pirate army.

As expected, these raids again outraged the Spanish, who denounced Myngs as a common pirate and a mass murderer with a reputation for unnecessary cruelty; they threatened war with England and this forced King Charles to send a new governor Thomas Modyford to Jamaica with orders to stop the raids. The outcome was that this was to be the last Caribbean raid for hot-blooded Captain Myngs; he returned to England in 1664, still ambitious, but yet to be fully recovered from the injuries he received during the attacks on Campeche and San Francisco. Despite all that had happened to Myngs, the Government still promoted him to Vice-Admiral of the White under the Lord High Admiral James Stuart, Duke of York and Albany. Myngs flew his flag during the Second Anglo-Dutch War at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, and for his share in that action he was knighted.

Sir Chris Myngs (Battle of Lowestoft_Adrianen Van Diest)
The Battle of LowestoftAdriaen Van Diest Image: Wikipedia.

In the same year Myngs then served under Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, as Vice-Admiral of the Blue then, after the disgrace of Montagu, he served under the next supreme fleet commander, George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle. Myngs was on detachment with Prince Rupert’s Green squadron, when on 11 June 1666 the great Four Days’ Battle began; however, he was able to return to the main fleet in time to take part on the final day of this battle. Unfortunately, when Myngs flotilla was surrounded by that of Vice-Admiral Johan de Liefde he was mortally wounded by musket balls fired by a sharpshooter when his ‘Victory’ was challenged by De Liefde’s flagship, the ‘Ridderschap van Holland’.

Myngs was shot through the throat. He refused to leave the deck, even to have the wound dressed, but remained standing, compressing it with his fingers till he fell, mortally wounded by another bullet which, passing through his neck, lodged in his shoulder (Brandt, Vie de Michel de Ruiter, pp. 359, 363; State Papers, Dom. Charles II, clviii. 48; Pepys, 8 June 1666). The wound was, it was hoped on the 7th, ‘without danger;’ but on the 10th Pepys recorded the news of the admiral’s death. As he was buried in London on the 13th, it would seem probable that he died at his own house in Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel. Pepys, who was at the funeral, noted that no person of quality was there……… ‘The truth is,’ continued Pepys, ‘Sir Christopher Myngs was a very stout man, and a man of great parts, and most excellent tongue among ordinary men.’ Myngs it seems had brought his family into a way of being great; but dying at this time, his memory and name will be quite forgot in a few months……. nor any of his name be the better by it; he having not had time to Will any estate, but is dead poor rather than rich.’

Sir Chris Myngs (St Mary Matfelon Church)
Christopher Myngs was buried in St Mary Matfelon Church, Whitechapel. This view of the church is around 1830, after Thomas Hosmer Shepherd © Trustees of the British Museum,

Postscript 1:
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 October 1665

Up, and, leaving my guests to make themselves ready, I to the office, and thither comes Sir Jer. Smith and Sir Christopher Mings to see me, being just come from Portsmouth and going down to the Fleete. Here I sat and talked with them a good while and then parted, only Sir Christopher Mings and I together by water to the Tower; and I find him a very witty well-spoken fellow, and mighty free to tell his parentage, being a shoemaker’s son, to whom he is now going, and I to the ’Change, where I hear how the French have taken two and sunk one of our merchant-men in the Streights [sic], and carried the ships to Toulon; so that there is no expectation but we must fall out with them. The ’Change pretty full, and the town begins to be lively again, though the streets very empty, and most shops shut. So back again I and took boat and called for Sir Christopher Mings at St. Katharine’s, who was followed with some ordinary friends, of which, he says, he is proud, and so down to Greenwich, the wind furious high, and we with our sail up till I made it be taken down. I took him, it being 3 o’clock, to my lodgings [Mrs Clerke’s home] and did give him a good dinner and so parted, he being pretty close to me as to any business of the fleete, knowing me to be a servant of my Lord Sandwich’s.

Observations of Pepys’s Entry:
Why did he Myngs tell Pepys that he was ‘a shoemaker’s son’? To admit to a very low birth, in a class-conscious age, was most unusual, especially when he was a Knight by then. Did Pepys keep quiet about his own father being a tailor – which would have been of a higher social standing than a cobbler, referring instead to his father as living “on our estate in the country”. Here, perhaps Pepys was bragging about his closeness to Lord Sandwich, so Christopher Myngs throws in a line “Oh I am only the son of a shoemaker” as if teasing Pepys – the English have always been masters of the understatement! Much depends on how far Pepys wanted to appear. He was the son of a tailor, but also cousin to Lord Sandwich. Perhaps Pepys is a little too pompous a climber to indulge in irony, Myngs on the other hand is obviously more comfortable in in own skin and “with some ordinary friends, of which, he says, he is proud”!

Postscript 2:
The above account of Christopher Myngs’s life and career is very imperfect. The actual details of Myngs’s career are only to be found in the Calendars of State Papers, Domestic; and, more fully, in the State Papers themselves. There are also many notices of him in Pepys’s Diary, for it can be said that he was a friend of Myngs.

THE END

Sources:
http://www.salthousehistory.co.uk/index.html#stq=myngs&stp=1
https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1665/10/26/
http://www.thewayofthepirates.com/famous-buccaneers/christopher-myngs/
https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/cromwells-pirate-the-incredible-naval-career-of-christopher-myngs/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Myngs
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Dictionary_of_National_Biography_volume_40.djvu/18

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Don’t Take Up Farming, Old Chap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3_Bugg Cottages before renovation2
Bugg Cottages before renovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_Threshing time2
Threshing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_Auction catalogue, 19452
Auction Catalogue, 1945.

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTCRIPT:

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

Anne Williamson

THE END

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

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

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

 

The Walpoles: Two of a Kind!

Certain members of Norfolk’s Walpole family of the past, if not born insane became so at some point in their lives. George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford, was one – and his mother Margaret (nee Rolle) was another. As with both his parents, George also indulged in life’s little vices, not that the aristocracy of the time considered them to be so.

George Walpole (Robert_Walpole,_1st_Earl_of_Orford_by_Arthur_Pond)
Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, PC (1676 – 1745), was a British politician who is generally regarded as the ‘de facto’ first Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was George Walpole’s grandfather.

These two paintings are of Robert Walpole, (2nd Earl of Orford, KB (1701 – 1751), and Margaret Rolle, 15th Baroness Clinton, (1709 – 1781), wife of Robert. Both portraits are by John Theodore Heins and produced as a matching pair. Photos: Wikipedia.

George Walpole, (3rd_Earl_of_Orford,_by_Jean-Etienne_Liotard)
George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1730 – 1791) was a British administrator, politician, and peer. He was the only child of Robert Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford and his wife Margaret Rolle (above) and became known as the ‘Mad Earl’. Image: Wikipedia.

George’s father, Robert Walpole, was born in 1701 and finally succumbed on 31 March 1751. He was, at the very least, a British Peer and married the rich heiress, Margaret Rolle – neither loved the other. In 1736, six years after George was born, Robert separated from Margaret in favour of a mistress by the name of Hannah Norsa; she was a leading singer and actress at Covent Garden.

George Walpole (Hannah-Norsa)
Hannah Norsa by R. Clamp, after Bernard Lens (III), stipple engraving, published 1794. Image: Wikipedia.

Horace Walpole, writer, George’s uncle and brother of Robert, described Norsa as “my brother’s concubine” when she went to live with him. Then at the point when Robert succeeded to the peerage as Earl of Orford, in 1745, Norsa moved to Houghton Hall in Norfolk. A local clergyman’s wife wrote of her at the time:

“She is a very agreeable Woman, & Nobody ever behav’d better in her Station, she has every body’s good word, and bears great Sway at Houghton, she is everything but Lady, she came here in a landau and six horses & …… a young Clergyman with her.”

In 1740, Norsa had a son with Orford, but who died young. Forever loyal, Norsa stayed with Robert until his death in 1751, having apparently financed his extensive debts – but not really enough to make any difference! Robert, in his Will, asked that his successor:

“take care that Mrs Norsa have her judgment well served to her.”

As for Margaret (George’s mother), she was the 15th Baroness Clinton in her own right and a wealthy Devonshire aristocratic, known both for her eccentricity – bordering on madness – and also extramarital affairs. Horace Walpole frequently alluded to Margaret as “his sister-in-law and her profligate habits”. Not to put too finer a point on her ‘comings and goings’ she did make the point, shortly after the birth of George in 1730: “not to let her husband lie with her and at last stipulated for only twice a week”! We know this because Horace Walpole, mentioned it in a letter to Sir Horace Mann on 17 June 1746. – the Horace’s exchanged many snippets of family gossip! It was also common knowledge between the two Horace’s that Margaret habitually quarrelled with the entire Walpole family; consequently, Robert and her lived apart from each other. Later Margaret obtained a legal separation from him and also departed for the continent, first going to Naples and afterwards to Rome and Florence. When she was about to leave England, the wits of the ‘Beef Club’ showed their antipathy towards Sir Robert Walpole by addressing her in the following ‘Toast’:

“Go, sprightly Rolle, go, traverse earth and sea
And fly the land where beauty is not free.
By your own wealth enslaved to one you hate,
Mourne not your own, but think of Britain’s fate.
Life may be welcome on some happy shore,
Where not a W [Walpole] shall approach thee more.”

We find that by 1734 Margaret had taken Thomas Sturgess {Sturgis] as a lover plus a second husband, he being the Honourable Sewallis Shirley. How many dalliance relationships Margaret had both before her separation from Robert Walpole and thereafter is best left. Suffice to say that in 1781 Margaret died at Italy’s Pisa, in Tuscany and was buried at Leghorn there. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon said of Margaret: “a woman of very singular character and considered half mad”. 

Georga Walpole (Horace_Walpole)
Horace – real name Horatio – Walpole , 4th Earl of Orford (1717 – 1797) was an English writer, art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. He was the son of the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Image: Wikipedia.

It is Horace Walpole we have to thank for providing ‘pen sketches’ of his nephew, George Walpole; other than the snippets that he revealed, very little is known about George’s early years. We do know, through Horace, that in 1739 his friend, John Chute, said that he was ‘quite astonished at [George’s] sense and cleverness’; but within the year Horace worried about the ‘wild boy’. He also thought that George’s friends were leading him into bad ways and was to ask his friend and a minister in Florence, the same Sir Horace Mann, to make friends with young George while he was on a Grand Tour. In 1742, Horace then threw the cat amongst the pigeons by referring to George as “a most charming boy, but grown excessively like his mother in the face”. This comment would not have gone down well with the Walpole’s at a time when the parent’s unhappy relationship was a sore point.

Following the death of his father in 1751, George became the 3rd Earl Orford at the age of 21 years; he also inherited the family home at Houghton Hall, along with a family debt of £50,000. His father had made sparse efforts to, at least, reduce the total amount of the debt around the Walpole’s neck; he did so by selling off his own father’s London paintings and Houghton silver. However, he found out that the sum received barely dented the family’s total debt. Young George would do no better; in fact he would add further to the family’s woes!

Georga Walpole (Houghton Hall)

George moved into Houghton Hall and during his time there he served as High Steward of King’s Lynn, High Steward of Yarmouth, Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk and Colonel of the Norfolk Militia. He also served as a ‘Lord of the Bedchamber’ to King George II until the latter’s death, and then to King George III until 1782. On the death of his mother in 1781 he became the sixteenth Baron Clinton.  Amongst all these formal duties placed on the Earl, we still hear Horace Walpole speaking about George’s personal traits and experiences – like the time when friends of George tried, apparently, to persuade him to marry the Heiress, Margaret Nicholl. The thought was that the Nicholl’s wealth would save the debt-ridden Walpole Estate; but here, Horace stepped in once again and stopped such a move, leaving Margaret to go off and marry someone else. Later Horace referred to George as “charming”, with “the easy, genuine air of a man of quality and……his address and manner are the most engaging imaginable” However, George never answered letters or kept engagements, instead, he spent most of his time drinking, enjoying women and gaming. In April of 1751 George’s uncle, Horace, again wrote to his friend Horace Mann to say that his nephew was “the most ruined young man in England”.

Georga Walpole (Houghton Hall)2
This illustration is from ‘The Comprehensive History of England’ by Charles Macfarlance et al (Gresham Publishing, 1902). Image: Public Domain.

As an ardent falconer, George spent £100 a year on each of his birds of prey, sending them to the continent during moulting season. In addition to gambling, he indulged his mistress, Mrs Patty Turk, a former Houghton maid. To pay his growing debts, George sold Houghton’s exterior stone staircases. By 1773, Horace Walpole found Houghton:

“half ruin, though the pictures, the glorious pictures and furniture are in general admirably well preserved. All the rest is destruction and devastation. The two steps exposed to all weathers, every room in the wings rotting with wet; the ceiling of the gallery in danger…… the park half covered with nettles and weeds……a debt of above £40,000, heaped on those of my father and brother…”

But the worst was yet to come, by what Horace again described as the “shipwreck of my family” (see Footnote below).

George Walpole (Houghton Hall_Copyright @ Donna Simpson.)3
Houghton Hall. Image: Copyright Donna Simpson.

Whatever other time George had at his disposal, he included sport, particularly hare coursing. He founded the Swaffham Coursing Club in 1776, initially with twenty-six members who each named their greyhounds after a different alphabet letter. For some years Swaffham was the leading coursing club in England, holding several meetings a year. He also organised coursing for neighbouring farmers and provided prizes. Throughout all this, he displayed all the extravagance shown by his late father. Then, just like his mother before him, he became increasingly eccentric and, eventually, insane – as indeed was his mother. Two of a Kind indeed!

By then, George Walpole was generally regarded as the “Mad Earl”, someone having periodic bouts of madness and having “toad-eaters” around him and spending “by the handfuls and pocketful’s”, again according to Horace. But even he couldn’t put an end to either George’s recurring illness, or his antics and so-called ‘escapades’. It would seem that in 1756 George challenged his friend, Lord Rockingham, to race five turkeys against five geese from Norwich to London; the winner would be the one with the most birds at the finishing line at Mile End. George, who clearly had something going for him, won; he won because he knew turkeys did not roost – but geese did; one up on the Lord one would think! Then there were the occasions when he would use four deers to drive his open four-wheeled carriage, normally referred to as a ‘phaeton’ and pulled by horses. On one occasion at Newmarket when he used these deers, he was chased by a pack of hounds and only just made it into the Yard of an inn. It was Horace who, in 1777, had George moved to a house near London during one of his bouts while he, Horace, dealt with the stewards…… and so, it went on and on…..

In November 1791 Patty Turk, George’s mistress, died. It was said that George refused to accept the fact and hid her body under a pile of boots in a cupboard, not wanting to be parted from her. In his grief, he developed a fever and died at Houghton on 5 December 1791 at the age of 61. His titles — except the title of Baron Clinton, which passed into the Trefusis family who were descendants of George’s great-aunt Bridget Rolle (1648–1721), passed on to his uncle Horace Walpole; he also took the still heavily encumbered Houghton Estate. Because George never married, he left no legitimate heirs. However, there is documentary evidence that he had an illegitimate daughter, named Georgina Walpole, whose mother was Mary Sparrow of Eriswell

Within the story of George Walpole, it should not be forgotten that, certainly within the County of Norfolk, he was very popular; everyone liked his manners and the way he was passionately absorbed in things around him. In 1791, the year in which he died, Dr. Charles Burney visited him and “found his Lordship’s head as clear, his heart as kind and his converse as pleasing as it has always been.”  In 1792, Rochester Lane (the main entrance to the Castle Ditches in Norwich was widened. The work was financed by public subscription, and our George had been one of the biggest subscribers. The new road, Orford Street in the city, was named after him and Hog Hill became Orford Hill.

Footnote: Above everything else, George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford will be particularly remembered for his 1778 sale of his grandfather’s magnificent art collection, the “shipwreck of my family”, the phrase coined by Horace Walpole. This episode started in the autumn of that year when George hired James Christie, founder of the ‘eponymous’ auction house, to value his grandfather’s paintings in “the most profound secrecy” – a wish that didn’t really work! Alexey Musin-Pushkin, Russia’s ambassador to the Court of St James, was to quickly inform Catherine the Great of the impending auction:

George Walpole (Catherine_II_by_J.B.Lampi_(1780s,)
Portrait of Catherine II in her 50s, by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder. Image: Wikipedia.

“Your Majesty has perhaps heard of the collection of paintings of the celebrated Robert Walpole…… His grandson, Lord Orford [our George] is taking the liberty of placing everything, or part of it, at Your Imperial Majesty’s feet. It is worthy, in the opinion of all connoisseurs, of belonging to one of the greatest sovereigns.”

Wasting no time, Catherine instructed the diplomat to make an ‘en bloc’ offer of £40,550 [1778 value] for 204 of Walpole’s best paintings. Catherine’s apparent talent for clandestine negotiations paid off. By July 1779, the Empress and George Walpole had struct a deal. News of that deal unleashed a firestorm of protest. The trustees of the British Museum petitioned parliament for their purchase and the erection of a new building in the grounds of the British Museum, but to no avail – the King was pre-occupied with the American Revolution. Fast forward to the 1930’s which saw the sale of some of the collection, leaving 126 pictures which now forms the collection at The Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2013 seventy paintings from the “magnificent” art collection built up by Britain’s first Prime Minister temporarily returned home to Houghton Hall in Norfolk; the first time in over 230 years. The collection included Rembrandt, Velasquez and Rubens.

For those interested in such things – here is the Walpole’s Family Tree, from the first person mentioned in this blog, to the present incumbents:

Georga Walpole (Family Tree)

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Walpole,_3rd_Earl_of_Orford

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=K8bY-u9uveAC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=Thomas+Sturgess+Margaret+Walpole+1734&source=bl&ots=aOa6T-2FDB&sig=ACfU3U1Mtd1Ixf582OQLxE-5NLWphYRRFg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwir2bC98ZnmAhVgSBUIHf_uDTUQ6AEwEnoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Thomas%20Sturgess%20Margaret%20Walpole%201734&f=false

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Mary_Wortley_Montagu

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BA_CCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT168&lpg=PT168&dq=patty+mrs+turk+houghton+hall+1773&source=bl&ots=hA-4GLoKra&sig=ACfU3U1HI_yVvwGEMVto6sZbLu5I1AA3Hg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjc5-TX45vmAhXPTsAKHVRYBi8Q6AEwDXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=patty%20mrs%20turk%20houghton%20hall%201773&f=false

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

Godwick: A Deserted Village

Overview:
It is possible to take the story of roofless buildings, grass-covered streets and redundant houses back to the decline of Roman cities and villas in Britain during the fourth and fifth centuries; or, indeed, the abandonment of the farms founded to replace them in the countryside during the Anglo-Saxon period. However, those that were deserted from around 1300 until fairly recent times hold more interest, if only because a few have left traces of their existence in the modern landscape, and some can be visited. A good example is the lost village of Godwick in Norfolk.

Godwick1
The ruins of All Saints; Church at Godwick, which was abandoned when the village died. Apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained as a folly, the church was demolished early in the 17th Century, leaving Godwick’s medieval inhabitants to remain buried beneath the churchyard. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

By the year 1100, Whilst concentrations of houses and people in villages with between 12 and 50 dwellings had developed in many parts of Britain by the year 1100, here in East Anglia most people lived in hamlets or scattered farms. Generally, villages such as these thrived through the cultivation of grain in open fields, and gradually grew in size until about 1300. Then, they began to run into trouble when the rural population fell in the 14th century. This meant that less grain was needed whilst at the same time prices dropped. This problem was made worst when the peasant occupiers tried to adjust their farming by bringing in more animals which, in turn, lead to disputes with neighbours over so called grazing rights. As a result, some families moved out and their heirs failed to take over their parents’ holdings of land. Sometimes, the balance tipped completely over to pasture, making the cultivators redundant.

Godwick2
A plan of the lost medieval village of Godwick, which is between Fakenham and Swaffham. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

It must have been from around 1380 and until the early 16th century when many villages were either deserted or reduced to a survivable level. Here, many reasons came into play. Sometimes the problems were internal, from maybe ambitious peasants who took over their neighbours’ land, drove hundreds of sheep over the common fields, and discouraged newcomers from moving in. All this made for communities to become quarrelsome and fractious, often dooming them to failure. Then there were lords of the village, or their agents such as the farmers who managed the lord’s own share of the village fields; they killed off some villages by expanding their own flocks and herds, forcing tenants out, or buying up land. In many cases, after a period of decay, the landlord removed the remaining vestiges of a once-thriving community in order to profit from the wool and meat that could be reared on the site.

Godwick (Drawing of Manor)
Reconstruction of the old Godwick Manor as it looked in the late 16th Century. Image: Copyright of Sylvanus.

The problems of outward migration, land being concentrated in fewer hands and lords pursuing higher profits only made matters worse for villages. Then, to cap it all, along came the owners of stately homes who launched their own attacks on villages which they considered to be in the wrong place. Here, the gentry were often blamed for removing villages that ‘spoilt the view’ when creating their landscape parks. However, in their defence, some of the villages that were removed were often in poor health by the time this landscaping was taking place.

Godwick (Goldsmith)
Oliver Goldsmith (1728 – 1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is known for his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770). Image: Wikipedia

Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village” published in 1770, condemned rural depopulation, the enclosure of common land and the pursuit of excessive wealth. After describing a nameless deserted village as ‘Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain”, Goldsmith then decries its current parlous state, abandoned by villagers, its buildings ruined:

“Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;
And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away thy children leave the land
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.’

So, what remains of these deserted villages? Occasionally a ruined building marks the site. Yet these are usually part of a castle, manor house or church as they would have been the only stone structures in the village. A typical peasant house may have had a low, stone foundation wall, but was built mainly of timber and wattle and daub, with a thatched roof, which either decayed or was carried away to be recycled when the village was abandoned. Yet today all is not lost. The sites of houses are usually visible as grassed-over foundations or platforms on which the building stood. Roads and lanes as sunken hollow ways can sometimes be seen, while the boundaries of the enclosures (tofts) in which the houses stood are sometimes marked by banks and ditches.

Godwick8
The church tower remained almost complete until 1981, when its eastern wall collapsed. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Once the village had gone, the lord often built a mansion on or near the site. It is in the fields surrounding these mansions that you can sometimes identify the grassed-over banks and hollows of walkways, flower beds and water features which formed part of the garden that occupied the site of the village. Look closely and you might see the prospect mounds (for visitors to view the garden) or the pillow mounds for rabbit warrens. Reminds one of Godwick.

The History of Godwick:
Godwick today is a deserted village in the county of Norfolk. Its location is south of Fakenham between the villages of Tittleshall and Whissonsett. There are several hundred deserted or ‘shrunken’ medieval villages in Norfolk, but most sites have long been destroyed by ploughing, the pressures of two world wars or other agricultural uses. Only a few still have impressive surface remains; the earthworks at Godwick being one of the best preserved. It can be found in an area that became pasture in the 16th Century, not long after the last few villagers departed, and remained being grazed by sheep ever since; this has meant that the ground has never been disturbed from deep ploughing or flattened for cultivation. Today it is one of the best surviving examples in the county and the only one open to the public.

Godwick9
The eastern side of Godwick Old Hall, photographed before it was destroyed in a 19th century fire. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/ Norfolk County Council.

The place-name ‘Godwick’ derives from Old English and probably means ‘Goda’s farm’ and objects found in the surrounding fields suggest that the village was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period. In 1086 Godwick was held by Ralph de Tosny and he granted it to West Acre Priory, in whose hands it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. It then passed between families until it was bought by Sir Edward Coke in 1590 and remained in the Coke family until they sold it to the current owners in the 1950s. Throughout the Middle Ages Godwick was a stable community, but fell out of use in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, being almost completely abandoned by 1586, when the Old Hall was built and gardens and a park laid out around it. The Great Barn was built in 1597 with the church tower converted into a folly soon afterwards. Both were an important part of a very early landscape park.

Godwick7
Sir Edward Coke  (1552 – 1634) was an English barrister, judge, and politician who is considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.Image: Wikipedia

All Saints church at Godwick was abandoned when the village died but Godwick remained a distinct parish in its own right until absorbed into that of Tittleshall.  To be exact, Wellingham, Tittleshall and Godwick were consolidated into one parish in 1630 and in 1845 the combined parish of Tittleshall-Cum-Godwick contained 615 inhabitants, 124 houses and 3360 acres of land – about 300 acres of which was woods and wastes – nearly all of which belonged to the Earl of Leicester (Coke). The joint benefices were valued, at that time, at £871 per annum. Godwick itself consisted of only two farms. St Mary’s church at Tittleshall sheds light on a dark history as it contains monuments to Norfolk’s famous Coke family. Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice under James I and originator of the Coke family fortune, enshrined into law in 1628 the dictum that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’.

Godwick’s decline and fall:
Whilst the 12th and 13th centuries saw a gradual increase in Norfolk’s population, with people seeking new areas to settle, Godwick’s population was never to become large, mainly because the heavy clay soils thereabout were difficult to cultivate. Then the Black Death reached Norfolk in 1349 and may have killed over a third of the County’s population. However, this epidemic was not solely to blame for the fall in numbers, either throughout Norfolk or in Godwick itself; that began in previous decades with poor harvests, agricultural problems, and a colder, wetter climate. Many village abandonments – although not Godwick – were the result of clearance of depleted villages by greedy landowners who wanted land put to grass. Others just faded slowly away, which seems to have been the case with Godwick.

Godwick (Wikipedia)1a
The mounds of the lost village of Godwick. Photo: Wikipedia

It had always been a small place and, although a relatively stable community, was never a prosperous one. In 1086, only 14 peasants were recorded in the Domesday Book and the village paid a modest amount of taxation in 1334, which declined as the community continued to shrink in the 15th century. In 1428 there were less than 10 households in Godwick and by 1508 a survey showed that of 18 properties on the north side of the main street, 11 were empty and three had no land holdings attached. The same survey showed that a church lay to the south and there was also a watermill with a millpond. By 1525 only five households paid tax when the village was, in reality, already ceasing to exist. By 1595 further decay left Godwick virtually deserted. Its final stages of decay were recorded in an estate map of 1596 when only three or four houses remained and the church tower had collapsed.

The land had been bought in the 1580s by Edward Coke. By 1585 he had built a large manor house in Godwick, as shown on a map of the village in 1596; by this time there was almost nothing left of the original village. The manor house was adjoined by a huge brick barn. The barn still stands, although the manor house was demolished in 1962, but can still be seen in outline. The barn was restored and is now used for wedding receptions.

Godwick6
Looking across the rapeseed fields to the former village of Godwick. Picture: LIZ MURTON

The Church of All Saints was demolished early in the 17th Century, apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained by Coke as a folly – it is the only original building left. The churchyard looks a little raised now with the village’s medieval inhabitants still buried beneath.

Again, Goldsmith words are a suitable epitaph for the demise of a once vibrant village:

‘No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,
No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself no longer shall be found
Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.’

Present Site Description:
What remains of the medieval village today, consists of a long sunken hollow way running east to west with two other roads running off to the south. This defines the main village street, with the banks and ditches defining the closes in which houses stood. These well-preserved earthworks are not often seen in Norfolk, mainly because so many sites have been ploughed up in modern times. Along both sides of the street can be seen banks and ditches separating individual house plots. About ten of these still remain to be seen. The long street itself indicates that the elongated plan – the one-street village – was an established feature in East Anglia. Another recurring feature is the early modern garden visible around the existing house, with a deep hollow way and a series of rectangular enclosures. This reflects the effects of the wealthy landowner on the landscape after the village had gone.

Godwick5
A view of the lost village of Godwick from above. Picture: EDP ARCHANT.

The church ruin stands within a similar enclosure at an angle between the streets. At the eastern end of the site, the village street runs along what was a dam to hold back a millpond; a small watermill once stood at the far end. The line of the dam is now covered by farm buildings. The 13th-century church tower had been raised as a brick and flint folly when the church was pulled down in the 17th century. This folly may well have formed part of a scheme of landscape architecture for the later Godwick Manor. In 1981 a remaining part of the church tower survived a collapse and inspection of it found evidence of a Norman church amongst the rubble. Also, still to be seen on the site is a large 13th-century red-brick barn with an elaborate façade, built over the line of the street. During the reign of Charles II, 200 men were garrisoned there and although access is barred, it is possible to walk round it and enjoy its beautiful windows.

In 1585, in the middle of the deserted village, Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice and Attorney General to Elizabeth I, built a fine brick manor house. The ruins of that house, which was E-shaped with an impressive two-storey porch and windows, were pulled down in 1962. Its square outline can still just about be picked out as slight humps in the grass. It had a walled yard and entrance to the north, and around the Hall a pattern of formal gardens and enclosures was laid out. Admiral Sir William Hoste, whilst born at Ingoldisthorpe, lived as a very young child at Godwick Manor. The Manor had been leased from Thomas Coke, the eventual 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall by his father, the Reverend Dixon Hoste (1750–1805) who was rector of Tittleshall and Godwick at the time.

Godwick (Manor Ruin)
The porch in dangerous condition prior to demolition (Johnson family album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council)
Godwick (Manor Ruin)2
The ruins of the Old Hall in the late 19th Century. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council.
Godwick (Great Barn)
The Great Barn at the new visitor trail around the lost village of Godwick. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Godwick earthworks are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and there is an agreement between the present owner and English Heritage over the opening and the management of the site, which is open between April and September from 9:30 am until dusk and visitors are free to wander in the daytime, though dogs should be kept on leads and the Country Code observed. On site there are information panels with displays of aerial photographs, maps and interpretation plans of this lost village. Visitors are warned that it is an offence to disturb the site or use metal detectors without the written permission of English Heritage.

So, there you have it. Amateur historians and landscape enthusiasts can freely walk in the sunken remains of the Godwick village streets, trace outlines of medieval buildings, and marvel at the spectral ruins of the church still standing.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/in-case-you-missed-it-the-villages-that-disappeared/
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/exploring-norfolk-lost-village-of-godwick-1-6070927
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/lost-norfolk-village-of-godwick-1-6204377
https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM8Y1Z_Godwick_Deserted_Village_Norfolk
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/introduction/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/godwick-old-hall/

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