Hidden from the busy roads around Holt is a hint of a prosperous past; a past that comes in the form of a ruin of a once-magnificent manor house which was originally the home to the Heydon family. This ruin is a hidden gem, now owned by English Heritage; the guardians of not only what remains of brick, stone, flint and mortar, but of a place that boasts a very curious caretaker – that of a spectral sentry!
It is Baconsthorpe Castle of which I speak, a peaceful place standing once-proud in the middle of open meadows and farmland with an impressive moat and lake offering an image of its lost grandeur which lent itself to this gentle corner of Norfolk. What meets the eye is also a stony reminder of how far one can fall from grace.
The Heydons began building work on the fortified manor house in 1450, adding extensions as their wealth grew. The person who started the whole project was lawyer, Sir John Heydon who was born the son of William Baxter, a peasant in Heydon. It is thought that Sir John changed his family surname to his village name to disguise his humble beginnings. In time, Sir John Heydon was appointed Recorder of Norwich in 1431, but soon became so unpopular with townsmen that he was dismissed as Recorder by May 1437; he was also accused of giving the City’s documents to Norwich Cathedral priory during a dispute. It was clear that John was, by nature and profession, an unscrupulous lawyer, hard man and opportunist; as an old Norfolk rhyme states: “There never was a Paston poor, or a Heydon a coward.” It also seemed to matter not to John that there was always a possibility that he may need those around him to help him see off enemies! One of these was Lord Moleynes whom John was to incite when he laid claim to the Paston Estate at Gresham, a claim that resulted in Margaret Paston and a dozen retainers being attacked by a mob of around 1,000. John also clashed with the Paston’s patron, Sir John Fastoff in disputes of property.
If turbulent relationships was not enough, John Heydon, during the intensive Wars of the Roses, often switched political allegiances to serve his own means. However and despite being also linked to extortion, duplicity and underhand tactics, John Heydon proved to be an astute survivor. At least two of those close to him were beheaded but John managed to not only stay alive but managed to retain his seat in Baconsthorpe, his property portfolio and his wealth.
The Heydons lived at Baconsthorpe for 200 years, their fortune built on the wool industry. But the family were poor estate managers and Christopher Heydon, who died in 1579, left his son William with growing debts. It was him and his eldest son Christopher who were the ones who wrought the family’s downfall; both were hot-tempered and clashed badly. Christopher lived at Saxlingham Hall with his wife Lady Mirabel. William was forced to sell off parts of the manor house.
In the late 16th or early 17th century, an ornamental mere was created to the east of the moat and formal gardens were created, but by the mid-17th century, the insolvency of successive Heydons forced them to demolish most of the castle and sell the stone, some of which ended up at Felbrigg Hall. The remains of the castle was sold to merchant Daniel Bridges in 1673. The gatehouse was eventually converted into a private dwelling and occupied until 1920 when it collapsed and the building left to decay.
There is so much more to the history of the Heydons and all of it would be very interesting but, unfortunately, there is not enough space here to document it. However, there is another side to Baconsthorpe that not many know about; it may surprise and intrigue you. It is that when visitors come to the castle and wander through the shattered remains to the moat, some will witness the silence broken by the unmistakeable sound of stones breaking the still waters – stones clearly thrown from some height! This and the sight of ripples spreading to either side and along the moat may well cause confusion with a few, but on turning inward to the ruin they will see clearly from where the stones were thrown. Not only that but some may catch sight of a ghostly medieval sentry standing on the castle walls, throwing these stones – as if to pass the time maybe? Those that witness this may feel startled, but rest assured – no one has ever reported feeling threatened by this stone-throwing spirit!
So be at ease, for this experience is only a further reminder that a spectral sentry was, at one moment in the distant past, detailed to be on guard at Baconsthorpe. There is every possibility, as things stand, that this lone soul may well stay there until such time as a counter order is issued from the appropriate authority for him to stand down. Until then……………….!
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The subject of the gibbet has become a topic of correspondence of late. Amongst the names of those who were so called ‘gibbeted’ for a crime is a Eugene Aram of Knaresborough in the County of Yorkshire. He suffered this fate in 1759.
Here, it should first be said that Eugene Aram was born in 1704 in the village of Ramsgill, near Harrogate to a family of labourers, his father being a gardener. But Aram was bright; his intellectual energy and quick mind enabled him to gain an education and to discover and develop a particular gift for languages, especially ancient ones. He was therefore, not the typical eighteenth-century murderer, for he had become an educated professional, a published author of works of philology who, at the time of his arrest at the King’s Lynn Grammar School, was working on his comparative lexicon of Latin, Greek and Celtic.
But before then, and after spending some time without success in London, he returned to Knaresborough and became a teacher, marrying and fathering seven children whilst at the same time gradually running up debts. Matters became particularly sour when he made the acquaintance of a shoe-maker, Daniel Clark, whose wife was a woman of means. Clark was spending lavishly and running up debts with local traders. Then, on 7 February 1744 he vanished. This set tongues wagging and by April 1745, Aram was starting to feel insecure; he abandoned his wife and children, moving from town to town before he was appointment as an usher at King’s Lynn Grammar School in February 1758. At that time the school was housed above the 14th-century Charnel Chapel, alongside St Margaret’s Church on Saturday Market Place. Later it was to become a Workhouse.
At first it was thought Aram had run away to escape his debts; his friends assuming that he had also fled with a quantity of valuable goods he had acquired illegally. At the same time Daniel Clark remained unaccounted for, even a ‘no questions asked’ reward of £15 (more than £3,000 in today’s money) was offered for information, but there were no takers.
Thirteen years later, the discovery of bones in St Robert’s cave. just outside Knaresborough led to speculation that Aram and another man, Richard Houseman, had conspired to kill Clark and steal his possessions. Aram was traced and arrested; this came about when a visiting horse trader to King’s Lynn recognised him, and the wheels of justice began to turn. In the same year, a skeleton was discovered in St Robert’s Cave near Knaresborough which did not do any favours for Aram. At some point his property was searched and some of Clark’s booty was found in Aram’s Garden as well as those of other friends. Aram was later to say that Clarke had left the goods there. Also, Houseman, who seemed by some to be far more suspicious, was to turn King’s Evidence and testified that Aram had murdered Clark.
The saying “hell hath no fury……” seems to have been appropriate for Mrs Aram, Eugene’s abandoned wife; she was quick to accuse him of the murder of Daniel Clark. Added to this was the rumours going around of an affair between her and Clark, which added more fuel to the fire. Aram was taken back to Yorkshire and tried for murder.
At his trial, in August 1759, Aram decided, unwisely as it turned out, to conduct his own defence. He questioned the identification of the bones and asserted his own good character but did not challenge the shaky, inconsistent and unreliable evidence of his former friend, Houseman. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, Aram was convicted and sentenced to death. Accordingly, Aram was executed at York Castle, after an unsuccessful attempt to end his own life in prison, and his body returned to Knaresborough, where his gibbet was erected close to the scene of crime, overlooking the river Nidd; his body remained there, gradually decomposing, for at least 25–30 years.
There was great public interest in Aram’s crime and trial. The association between the apparently gentle and scholarly man and violent murder for material gain was unusual and, combined with the instability of the evidence on which he was convicted, resulted in a widespread belief that the wrong man had been executed. His biographer, Norrison Scatcherd, even described the riots and threats with which Houseman was greeted on his own return to Knaresborough.
Historical image of Eugene Aram
Historical image of Eugene Aram and the incident.
Aram’s story was irresistible to cultural producers of the period. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel ‘Eugene Aram (1831)’, giving Aram a beautiful and brilliant lover, romanticised the story. Bulwer-Lytton’s Eugene Aram, though involved in the death of Clark, was the victim of circumstances and no murderer. The novel was adapted for the stage and had a successful run with Henry Irving in the title role. Thomas Hood’s narrative poem “The Dream of Eugene Aram” (1829) was recited by generations of schoolchildren. PG Wodehouse even has Bertie Wooster quoting Hood’s poem in proper Wooster style – (something along these lines): Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum, I slew him, tum-tum tum! (PG Wodehouse, Jeeves Takes Charge, 1916) Hood’s Aram, though guilty, was thoughtful, penitent and intelligent: a sympathetic hero. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel and Hood’s poem are the best known of Aram’s literary incarnations, but there were many more – forty-one, including a stage play and at least three films.
At some point, probably before the end of the eighteenth century, a doctor called Hutchinson, then practising in Knaresborough, decided to augment his private cabinet of curiosities with the skull of Eugene Aram and managed to remove it from its gibbet cage. But why was Hutchinson so keen to acquire Aram’s skull? Maybe it was simply that he wanted it as a curiosity because of its association with a significant local event—and one which had attracted national attention – who knows!
The skull resided in Hutchinson’s personal museum until he died, when it passed to his widow’s second husband, and his former assistant, Mr Richardson, a surgeon from Harrogate. When, in 1837, the young Dr James Inglis, burning with phrenological zeal, took up a post as physician at the public dispensary in neighbouring Ripon, it is probable that he found out about Aram’s skull from Richardson, as a fellow medical man working in a neighbouring town. It was Inglis who presented the skull to the Newcastle meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1838.
The skull then passed from Dr Richardson to his step-grandson, John Walker, in whose private collection it remained, first at Malton in Yorkshire and then at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, when Walker moved house. He presented the skull to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1869, by which date it had become something of a strange embarrassment to its owner, an Anglican minister, who therefore sought to place it in a museum. The skull was included in Sir William Flower’s catalogues of the Royal College collections in 1879 and 1907 and remained in that museum until 1993 when it was given to King’s Lynn Borough Council and passed to the Old Gaol House Museum in the town.
Today, and for anyone who is interested, there are three last bits to this story. In the Stories of Lynn Museum there are exhibited in the old gaol cells: Aram’s skull, a fragment of Clark’s skull, and a small pill box made of the wood from the gallows on which Aram was hung.
The story of Miss May Savidge is not new; it has done its rounds on television via ‘Bygones’ and the Antiques Roadshow, YouTube, newspapers, social media and local history groups. But it does have an endearing theme which makes it readable with all who discover it for the first time. For that reason, I am ressurecting the detail in the hope that a fresh audience will find it. And, where better to start her story than where it reached its final conclusion – at Wells-Next-The-Sea in Norfolk. This was where the love of her life – Ware Hall House, ended up!
But first, let’s establish its actual location, which is not an easy task as the house, from one direction at least, is hidden down a pathway and behind a curved wall. It is, however, not too far from The Buttlands and if one exits that place by walking down the hill from its south-west corner, Ware Hall House come easily into sight. It is, in fact, a medieval house which was originally built some 100 miles from Wells-Next-The Sea, at Ware in Hertfordshire. Why, you may well ask, would a house of that vintage need to find an excuse to move its roots?
Well, this particular part of May’s story continued from the 1970’s when the house was brought, in many parts, to Wells by Miss May Savidge and rebuilt over a period of 23 years, first by her and then finished by her niece, Christine Adams, after May had died. What follows is very much about May and her determination to see off death-watch beetles, rats, developers, bureaucracy, planners who threatened to demolish her historic cottage under a road-building project – and even her eventual failing health – and accompanied only by her faithful dog, Sasha. But who was May, and why did she move her 15th-century Ware Hall House from one County to another!
Born in Streatham, South London, in 1911, May Savidge was just ten when her father died of heart failure, plunging the family into poverty. As soon as she was old enough to go out to work for a living, she found a job with the Ministry of Aircraft Production where she trained to become a draughts-woman; as thing were to work out, this skill was to hold her in good-stead years later.
At a relatively young age of 16 years, May met an older man, his name was Denis Watson; he was a gifted Shakespearean actor and they had planned to marry; however, after they became engaged Denis died prematurely in 1938. It was said that May never completely recovered from this blow and continued to wear his signet ring on her wedding ring finger. She also retreated into herself for a time, that is, until she entered into a 17-year courtship with a man she believed would marry her. His name is not known, but from letters found amongst her many belongings discovered after her death many years later, he wrote a devastating letter to May in 1960. In it he revealed to her that he has simultaneously found God and fallen in love with his cousin, stating:
‘I have, thanks to God, seen my dear cousin Iris in a new and wonderful light……I know this will hurt you as I know only too well how you feel towards me. I pray to the Lord that you, too, may experience this most wonderful love…….I should like nothing better than for you to regard us as a new sister and brother. I would like to bring Iris to see you when you feel like it, I know you, too, will love her – everybody does!’
Clearly cut to the quick, May wrote back:
‘It surprises me that anyone so dear and lovable as your Cousin Iris should have thought it right to come between us, after 17 years. My heart is not made of stone. You often spoke of our marriage. Is it surprising that I thought you really cared? I hope you will be more faithful to Iris than you have been to me. Goodbye.’
Next to these letters was a photo of her former fiancée, Denis, playing Hamlet! From that moment on May wrapped her broken heart in a parcel, tied it with string and hid it at the back of her attic to be discovered years later. She became a loner, a spinster – but not through choice.
Then in 1947 she bought a house with the intention of restoring it. The address was No. 1 Monkey Row, Ware, Hertfordshire, a house built around 1450 for a wealthy monk as a ‘hall house’, a medieval arrangement in which the living space was attached to an open hall overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery. At the time of May’s purchase, the remainder of the house was still being used as a bakery. Encouraged by her wish to renovate it, the Local History Society launched their own research exercise into the property, soon finding they could date it even further back, to 1415, when Monkey Row was used daily by monks, and named Monke Road.
As a self-taught home improvement enthusiast, May set about exposing the heavy oak beams of the house, each bearing the marks of medieval carpenters, and she lifted crumbling lino to reveal wide, hand-cut floorboards which needed to be preserved. She employed a builder to repair the roof, but for all the rest of the work – including brick-laying, carpentry, re-glazing and stripping plaster from the ceilings and 20 layers of paper from the walls and re-plastering – she did with her own hands.
Then in 1953, having spent so much of her time renovating her house, the Council told May that they had planned for it to be demolished to make way for a road sometime in the future! In her eyes, that was nothing less than vandalism, forcing her to declare her form of outright war! May dug her heels in and resolved to save the building and for 15 years, she fought the Council’s plans, writing to them at one point:
‘If this little house is really in the way, I would rather move it and re-erect it than see it destroyed.’ She also separately commented: ‘I just won’t have such a marvellous old house bulldozed into the ground……. I’ve got nothing to do all day, so I might as well do the job myself.’
By 1969, when she was 58 years of age, but before the bulldozers were primed to advance, May effectively embarked on a 23-year labour of love and life of hardship. Dressed in a workman’s apron and her greying hair tucked beneath a headscarf, she single-handedly began first to number each beam, tile and pane of glass so that her home could be reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle. She then organised the dismantling of the heavy oak timber frame, held together with tapered wooden pegs; this was both difficult and dangerous and a team of local demolition contractors offered to help. Thousands of hand-made Hertfordshire peg tiles from the roof were piled high on the ground and huge timbers were laid out in a set order and in various and appropriate sizes. She had no electricity and worked by the light of Victorian paraffin lamps. She used an alarm clock to set herself targets each day; even noting how many nails she had extracted from oak beams per hour, as she dismantled the house and prepared for rebuilding. May even traced over a sample of brickwork using greaseproof paper and crayons so that she would know which bond to use and how thick to lay the mortar. Eventually, all these materials would all be loaded on to a lorry alongside Tudor fireplaces, Elizabethan diamond leaded glass and more, for a rebuild she might not have already realised, could span the rest of her life.
But doggedly, she pressed on and continued to live in the house as it was being taken down, sleeping beneath the stairs – even in the freezing cold. All this time, charitable local reaction continued to build up and even leading to complete strangers offering help to May. Some sent her money to help with the inevitable expense and many became life-long friends. One was said to have commented: ‘Yours is the spirit that once made Britain great!’ May even woke up one morning with an idea which she considered to be a brainwave. On the basis that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ she hastily wrote to the R.A.F; she simply asked if they could possibly supply a helicopter and ‘lift and move the house for her’; they, unsurprisingly, sent a negative reply, saying unfortunately, the load was too big and they felt, much too risky. Even if they could, the journey would need to be painfully slow, given the age and structure of what they would be moving; it was a diplomatic way of saying No!
But this was the point when May already knew where she and her entire house would be going, and she had already found a site on which the house would sit; it happened to be in the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. Taking the next step, May had also secured the necessary planning permission to re-build, and went as far as to employ a Wells builder to lay the foundations. All it needed was for a lorry to make 11 round trips, between Ware in Hertfordshire and Norfolk, every part and section of May’s dismantled house.
Back in Hertfordshire, the dismantled parts had been stacked up and stored around the garden, ready for their long journey. Visibly, the scene resembled a builder’s yard, in which everything was arranged with strict military precision. All bricks were placed together as were roof tiles in neatly stacked rows and seemingly innumerable piles of wooden beams, roof joints and more. Screws, nails, hinges, door handles, hooks, door knobs, nuts & bolts; cabling, dozens more items and maybe a few other possessions as well all had their own place, box or container. This neat arrangement even suggested that May would immediately know if any single item had been the least bit disturbed!
And when the day came for the first load to leave for Wells, three men and a lorry made the first of eleven round trips to Norfolk, to ensure every single part of the house – regardless of size or type – was moved. With the completion of this manoeuvre, May’s 20-year reconstruction programme continued; her temporary home at Wells being a former holiday caravan. Conditions there would often be unbearably cold, but she remained doggedly determined to press on; her niece, Christine Adams told the Fakenham Ladies Circle Club in 1971:
“My mother brought us up to believe there’s no such word as can’t” and this possibly fuelled her determination to continue and succeed.”
Two years later, the main framework had been fixed to the foundations by a local carpenter and May had also started to infill the brickwork; her still somewhat limited experience of this skill had been honed during her previous repair of the same house at Ware, that skill would be honed further over the coming years; but she was determined to lay every single brick perfectly – and it might still be another eight years before the roof tiles were put in place and the property made watertight.
By her 70s, May had almost moved in as the house now stood proudly in its new surroundings. Each old oak beam had been correctly placed, the brickwork nearly completed and most walls plastered. Despite her age, she still continued to build, climbing the layers of scaffolding daily to reach the upper floors, top windows or whatever else required her attention. By 1986, the Queen had heard of May’s incredible project and immediately invited her to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. But now it seemed, May was running out of steam and in 1992 she installed a small wood-burner stove to heat the ‘new’ house, while already having difficulty climbing ladders. She also found cement work ‘a bit heavy’. Her failing health sometimes required home visits from the local doctor but reputedly, such conversations were only exchanged through the letterbox!
During 1993, May Savidge passed away peacefully, in the Wells Cottage Hospital just before her 82nd birthday, with the house still unfinished. The walls were up and the roof was on, but overall, it was still little more than a shell. However, in her Will the property had been left to members of her family and after May’s death, they subsequently finished it over the ensuing 15 years. Still standing not far from The Buttlands it is now the home of May niece, Christine Adams – and a B&B.
Footnote: But there’s still one more story to tell about Miss May Savidge; she was, on the side, a collector extraordinaire and perhaps even a hoarder. It was a fact that May had filled her home to possibly resemble an overstocked curiosity shop. In the garden, were nine side-saddles, as relics of a bygone age. Boxes of unworn wartime nurses’ bonnets and May’s Service Medals lay inside heavy trunks, stacked to ceiling height. She kept packets of old-fashioned soap powder, Omo and Oxydol, alongside bottles of J Collis Browne’s Mixture, the Victorian cure-all.
There were thousands of train, bus and trolley bus tickets, milk bottle tops and notes left by the milkman. She reputedly kept old matchboxes, confectionery wrappers and still more which today, might be items eagerly sought by collectors or dealers. And in 440 diaries, she had listed every daily action carried out, revealing life in a Britain now lost – e.g., the use of farthings, florins, half-pennies, half-crowns, shillings, three-penny pieces, milk churns, chains, furlongs, yards, ounces, telegrams and typewriters on a much longer list. It was much of these memorabilia that was sold in order to raise funds to complete the renovation project left by May after she died.
She clearly had much dogged determination to pursue a passion that existed long before conservation became fashionable. May Savidge had decided to move her home lock, stock and barrel across Britain from the busy Ware High Street in Hertfordshire to peaceful Norfolk around 100 miles away. What a remarkable lady and such an incredible task she undertook!
A Lifetime in the Building: The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved, by Christine Adams with Michael McMahon, published by Aurum.
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archive 2021. Images: Courtesy of Christine Adams.
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The village of Bale can be found just off the A148, which runs from Fakenham towards Cromer. There is some history here, not so much for being mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but for it’s famous ‘Bale Oak’, once an enormous tree with a trunk 36 feet in circumference. The Bale Oak is said to have been a gathering place for pagan worship before the coming of Christianity. Indeed, it is said the 14th century church of All Saints was built beside the oak, in a place already considered sacred. By the early 18th century, the oak was hollow and it was said that ten men could stand inside its trunk. The then Norfolk historian, Rev. Blomfield, added to the information by recording:
“A great oak at bathele near the church, its hollow so large that ten or twelve men may stand within it and a cobbler had his shop and lodge there of late and it is or was used for a swinestry.”
However, in 1795, the oak was severely damaged and was heavily pollarded, with the removed bark and some of the wood sold to the Hardy’s of Letheringsett for tanning. The tree never recovered and was deemed dangerous by the local populace; it was also subjected to abuse and this led to its removal in 1860 on the orders of the Lord of the Manor, Sir Willoughby Jones. There was said to have been much local mourning as the remains of the oak was taken in a cart to Cranmer Hall at Fakenham.
The site was replanted with a grove of 12 Holm Oaks (Quercus Ilex) and may have been planted to commemorate the Bale Oak, although there is a record of oaks being planted there in 1617. The trees have been National Trust property since 1919, and are now ‘listed’ by that body as a ‘Place of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’. A wooden sculpture now marks the approximate position of the original Bale Oak tree, and the trees that surround it have now grown to maturity and form a screen between the church and the road.
The Windhams—the real Windhams that is—ended with William Windham; later versions were merely Lukins who assumed the name on inheriting the Felbrigg Estate.
William Windham, the statesman, who, having played a patriotic part as Secretary for War under Pitt from 1794 to 1801, and as Secretary for War and the Colonies in Lord Grenville’s Administration of 1806, died on 4 June 1810, ‘a sad loss to society’. Thomas Grenville voted him ‘a model of an English gentleman’, and Canning ‘the best-bred man in England’. A reflection of William Windham’s younger days was that he had all the outward advantages imaginable: To quote Fanny Burney, who had met him frequently in his capacity as a manager of Warren Hastings’s trial, he was, on first impression:
“one of the most agreeable, spirited, well-bred and brilliant conversers I have ever spoken with ….. a man of family and fortune, with a very pleasing though not handsome face, a very elegant figure, and an air of fashion and vivacity.”
However, his death signalled the end of the high reputation of the Windham’s; what followed was little more than a romance; but a romance which was peculiar. It arrived speedily and, whilst it certainly made the family name of Windham far better known than ever before, it also brought with it a huge chunk of notoriety – rather than enviable fame!
It remains true that the story is sordid, but what it lacks in good feelings, it fully makes up for in human interest – hence the retelling here. This story of Felbrigg and of “Mad Windham” in particular, was the talk of England in the early 1860’s; and, for a long time afterwards, was vividly remembered in Norfolk for it reeked with foulness far beyond the washing of dirty linen in public. It was a tale of family degeneracy, in which the honoured name of Windham should have had no part.
The Lukins – Come Windhams:
When the famous statesman died, the historic property went to his nephew, William Howe Lukin, who assumed the name of Windham, and he married Lady Sophia Hervey, sister of the Marquis of Bristol.
In November, 1854, this self-styled William Howe “Windham” died, leaving a widow and an only son, William Frederick, at that time fourteen years of age. At that tender age he was already, at Eton and elsewhere, an “ill-disposed and uncontrollable buffoon and vicious idiot”. His guardians were his mother and his uncle, General Windham, whose actions and motives were so severely criticised during the notorious “Windham Trial.”
William Frederick Windham would, in the ordinary course of events, have come of age and succeeded to his inheritance in 1861 without question; but his conduct as a boy and as a growing man was so outrageous that it was reluctantly decided by General Windham and others to petition for a judicial inquiry into the state of mind of this heir, who, they claimed – to be fully supported by future events by the way – could not be trusted with the management of his own affairs.
The Essential Details of the ‘Windham Trial’:
The “Windham Trial,” began on 16 December 1861, lasted thirty-four days and attracted hugh interest amongst the public; so much so that pamphlets were printed at the time, detailing the dreadful evidence, and selling by thousands.
The brief details of the case were that the alleged lunatic, William Frederick, was in line to inherit Felbrigg Hall and the rents that with it. In all, he would enjoy a considerable income which, in today’s terms would be around £700,000 per annum – according to one estimate. The petitioners sought to have their ward adjudged ‘incapable’ and for them to be made guardians of the property during his lifetime. To support that contention, they made a long series of allegations, showing that William Frederick had exhibited simple imbecility in childhood, and that with his physical growth his mental powers had declined.
The petitioners further recounted Windham’s idiosyncrasies. At Eton he was a buffoon and commonly known as “Mad Windham.” His indescribable habits led to his being early removed and placed under the care of a long succession of tutors, none of whom could make anything of him. Many testified that he was incapable of reasoning, addicted to low associates, filthy and profane language, and wanton and capricious cruelty to animals. He would gorge his food without using a knife and fork; eating until he was sick!
His violent temper had led to extraordinary scenes. For instance, at an evening party he had rushed at a gentleman whom he had never seen or spoken to before and, shrieking ‘like a wild Indian, had pinned him to the wall by his whiskers’. He was consistently exceptionally rude and offensive to ladies, and delighted to tear their clothes and make grimaces at them. He could not follow out any train of thought, and acted from one minute to another without reference to previous actions, becoming the laughing-stock of servants. He would also throw money away in the streets, and laugh when saner people scrambled for it. He would fondle a horse one moment and thrash it unmercifully the next. These actions, said Counsel, could not be those of a person enjoying reasonable use of his faculties, but there was worse to come.
It was only with apparent reluctance that General Windham was obliged to publicise these painful affairs of his unhappy nephew ……. there was no other course:
“for his nephew’s vile associates had persuaded him that all the efforts being made to prevent his moral, physical, and financial ruin were only part of a scheme by his uncle to deprive him of his liberty and property”.
But it was explained further in a statement that this was not the case because, whichever way the inquiry went – or whatever happened to his nephew, General Windham would not be the heir.
Witnesses were then called who bore out the opening statement, and added a great deal more. Some told how Windham would at times pretend to be a fireman, and, dressing in character, go about in a devastating manner with an axe and chop down doors and smash windows. At other times he would act the part of a railway guard. With uniform made for the character, he would frequent railway platforms, blow a whistle, and wave a flag. Once, performing these pranks, he nearly caused a railway disaster. At other times he would make off with passengers’ luggage. Altogether, from the family’s point of view and that of the public, William Frederick Windham should have been put under restraint. But it seems that the real compelling reason for bringing legal action was the connection young Windham had recently formed with a woman whom he had picked up in London, during Ascot week.
Agnes Willoughby, alias Rogers, in the words of Counsel:
“was not the chastest of the chaste; her favours in love-affairs were not few; she was known to the police.”
On 30 August 1861, having come of age on the 9th, he married her and settled £800 a year on her, to be increased in 1869 to £1,500. She had been, up to that time, living with a man named Roberts – after the marriage the three lived together!
The action was defended by Windham and his associates, who, in the event of his being declared a lunatic, would have lost “the rich harvest of plunder they were reaping.” A pitiful feature of the case, and one tending to prejudice the public against the petitioners, was that Windham’s mother, naturally unwilling to see her son branded as a madman, gave evidence in favour of him. Then, of the more than 150 witnesses called during the progress of the case, a number declared they had never noticed any peculiarity about young Windham, apart from:
“perhaps he was exceedingly high-spirited. He always behaved like a gentleman.”
It did not take the special jury of twenty-four “good men and true” very long to deliberate upon the concluding speeches of counsel. In half an hour they returned, with the astonishing verdict:
“That Mr. Windham is of sound mind and capable of taking care of himself and his affairs.”
This announcement was received with cheers!
Footnote: On 2 February 1866 the Norfolk Chronicle published the following:
“Mr. F. W. Windham, who for five or six years had enjoyed unenviable notoriety, died suddenly at the Norfolk Hotel, Norwich. He had been unwell for several days, and was seen by his medical attendant, Mr. F. C. Bailey, on 31 January. Mr. Windham became better on 1 February, and still further improvement was manifested on the following day; but later in the same day his symptoms were completely altered, and became so alarming that Mr. Bailey called in Dr. Bateman and Dr. Eade. Every effort was made to restore animation, but without avail; this victim of an ill-spent life gradually sank, and in a few hours expired, in the presence of the medical men and of some of the servants of the hotel. Death was due to the obstruction of the circulation by a clot of blood in the pulmonary artery. On the 7 February the body was removed to Tucker’s Hotel, Cromer, and the interment took place on the 8th, in the family vault at Felbrigg.
Mr. Windham had completely dissipated the residue of the extensive property which he inherited, after payment of the law expenses contingent on the great suit, Windham v. Windham (q.v. November 22 1861), and became dependent for a livelihood on the little income he made as driver of the Cromer coach. His uncle, General Windham, had made arrangements by which he was supplied with the means of living respectably. He had rooms at the Norfolk Hotel, but generally spent his time in one or other of the low public-houses in the city. The effect of his death was to deprive Mrs. Windham of the annuity granted on Mr. Windham’s life, and of any interest whatever in the Hanworth estate.
Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.
Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.
The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.
He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business, he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.
When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.
On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.
It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.
Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.
Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:
“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”
Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:
“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”
On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:
“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.
However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.
“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”
“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”
Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:
“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.
Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:
“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”
Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:
“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”
Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:
“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. Further Note: If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction. Also: If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.
This is a brief account of a family’s links, not only to numerous historical personalities, but also with the seaside resort of Cromer in Norfolk. It pays particular attention to two members of the family line who, despite leading different and extraordinary lives, both had a special and direct link with the town of Cromer.
But we begin by mentioning Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson, who was an American-born self-made millionaire who became a British citizen and was made a baronet in 1866. This reference to him is brief and refers only to his death, on his Sussex estate at Rowfant near Crawley Down in 1885, and the fact that he was succeeded, as a hereditary knight, by eldest son George – who, again, has no relevance to this particular story. Our real starting point is with Sir Curtis Lampson’s only daughter, Hannah Jane, and her husband, Frederick Locker; it was these two who kicked off a fascinating story of the ‘Locker-Lampson’s.
Captain William Locker: Things will become clearer; but at this point, mention must be made of Frederick Locker’s line and his paternal grandfather – Captain William Locker, He was somewhat famed for being in charge of HMS ‘Lowestoffe’ in the latter part of the 18th century which, on its 1777 voyage to the West Indies, included a very young and newly promoted Lieutenant Horatio Nelson – later to become Admiral Lord Nelson. It would appear that Locker’s influence on young Nelson was immense because, on 9 February 1799, the then Lord Nelson wrote the following to his old captain:
“I have been your scholar; it is you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct when in the Experiment; it is you who always told me ‘Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him’, and my only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life, but you have always been too partial to me.”
Nelson was also staying with William Locker at Greenwich in 1797 when, at Locker’s behest, Lemuel Francis Abbott came down to make the oil study on which all his Nelson portraits were based. These eventually numbered over forty. William Locker was a noted patron of the arts, having a number of portraits painted. He was also the driving force behind the creation of a National Gallery of Maritime Art; he suggesting the Greenwich hospital:
“…should be appropriated to the service of a National Gallery of Marine Paintings, to commemorate the eminent services of the Royal Navy of England.”
He died before his vision could be realised, but it was subsequently put into effect by his son, Edward Hawke Locker.
Frederick Locker: Frederick Locker was born in Greenwich Hospital in 1821, the son of Edward Hawke Locker. Frederick would always be poor in health, but he did mature into a distinguished man of letters and poetry. His first marriage, in 1850, was to Lady Charlotte Bruce, daughter of Lord Elgar, the man who famously brought the marbles to England from Athens. The couple had a single child, Eleanor, who later married Lionel Tennyson, a son of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was Alfred, the poet laureate, who had been a good friend of Sir Curtis Lampson (see above) and it is likely that, through this connection, that Frederick Locker met Hannah Jane Lampson. In 1874 these two married and took on the family surname of ‘Locker-Lampson’. This double-barrelled appellation was the wish of Sir Curtis in his Will, and it enabled the couple to live at Rowfant and to be an integral part of the line’s inheritance. It was on the ‘Rowfant’ estate where Frederick Locker and Hannah Jane produced four children.
Frederick Locker-Lampson, as he now was, became somewhat of a minor figure in the Victorian literary field, but he did publish “London Lyrics” in 1857 – his first book of poetry. However, being well regarded as a convivial host and raconteur, he did become well acquainted with all the big literary names of the age, including Charles Dickens, the Brownings, Thackery and Trollope. One of his observations was: “The world is as ugly as sin – and almost as delightful.” In 1886 he produced “The Rowfant Library”, a catalogue of his much-lauded collection of rare books; then in 1892, this work inspired the founding of the Rowfant Club in Cleveland, USA, for people “interested in the critical study of books to please the mind of man”. Frederick Locker-Lampson died at Rowfant in 1895. Following his death, his youngest son, Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson inherited the likes of Newhaven Court in Cromer, Norfolk, and was to lead a quite different life from his father, but equally an extraordinary one. – here we come to the crux of this blog.
Newhaven Court, Cromer and Oliver Locker-Lampson: Newhaven Court at Cromer was built in 1884 by Oliver’s father, Frederick as the family’s summer holiday home. In its time, under the Locker-Lampson’s ownership, Newhaven Court played host to many eminent visitors; they included Oscar Wilde, the King of Greece, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Prince Philip (who, as a boy, stayed in a chalet in the grounds) and, of course, Albert Einstein. It was to become an hotel later in the 20th century, but before it was destroyed by fire on 23 January 1963.
It was Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson who ended up as a Commander with the awards of CMG and a DSO to his name. But as a young man, he first became a journalist. Then in 1910, at the age of 30 years, he became a Conservative MP. War broke out in 1914 and in the December of that year he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant Commander; this was a post vouched for by Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty. It was Churchill who asked Locker-Lampson to establish an armoured car unit for the Royal Naval Air Service. Following training, Oliver’s No. 15 Squadron went to France but stalemate in the trenches negated the unit’s potential for mobile warfare. Then in 1916, in a show of support for Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his hard-pressed army, Locker-Lampson sailed with his squadron of armoured cars to the arctic port of Murmansk. From there his vehicles ranged as far south as the Caucasus Mountains skirmishing with the invading Germans.
Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, always the self-promotional sort of figure, never denied talk of his involvement in the Russian court’s plots and schemes – and even of being implicated in the murder of the “mad monk” Rasputin who wielded a malign influence over the Tsarina. Apparently, he also proposed a plan to spirit the Royal Family out of Russia following the Tsar’s abdication in March 1917! Post-war, and as an MP, he warned of communist meddling in Britain’s home affairs – that still rings a bell in recent times! In 1931 he formed the Blue Shirts movement with the intention to “peacefully fight Bolshevism and clear out the Reds”. Their motto was his own family motto: “Fear God! Fear Naught!” In 1932 the Nazi Alfred Rosenberg visited Britain and was introduced to Oliver who was truly shocked to learn that Hitler believed the Blue Shirts to be fellow fascists.
The Locker-Lampson’s always had several houses but their principal home was still ’Rowfant’ in West Sussex; and it was following the death of Oliver’s mother, Hannah, in 1915 when Frederick’s eldest son, Godfrey Locker-Lampson, inherited Rowfant, whilst the younger Oliver, inherited Newhaven Court in Cromer. He married twice; his first wife was Californian Bianca Jacqueline Paget in 1923. Their wedding saw the couple dragged through the streets of Cromer in a car by members of his old armoured car squadron of World War 1 – only for her to die on Christmas day in 1929. His second wife was Barbara Goodall, whom he married in 1935 – it was she who was in his company, as one of the secretaries who guarded the physicist Albert Einstein when he was in residence on Roughton Heath in 1933. Oliver had given refuge to Einstein after the latter had received death threats while living in Belgium; he even took Einstein to meet Winston Churchill. In Norfolk, Oliver is probably only remembered as the person who gave refuge to Albert Einstein – and was the resident of Newhaven Court.
Overall, Oliver Locker-Lampson’s life in Cromer, between 1909 and 1936, was relatively genteel – if one ignores his exploits during the First World War, Russia in particular and his later ‘crusading’ as an MP. In Cromer, he helped to raise funds for an X-ray unit at the local Hospital, and opened a gymkhana to raise funds for lifeboat families who had lost crewmen at sea. It was in August 1925 when Oliver, ‘the commander’ and some of his ‘guests’, whom he used to collect into his ‘celebrity culture group’, organised a fete on Cromer Pier, with stalls, bunting, 500 lights and fancy dress – this was the forerunner of today’s annual carnival in the town.
During his time as an MP, Oliver Locker-Lampson assisted Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie find sanctuary in Sussex and evade the clutches of Mussolini. He also helped scores of ordinary Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany. Then in the Second World War he joined the Home Guard and gave his full parliamentary support to Prime Minister Churchill. He retired from politics at the 1945 General Election and died in 1954. He is buried along with his father and other family members in Worth churchyard, West Sussex. Unfortunately, he missed the boat to becoming famous himself; and, given his life-long efforts and achievements, he never did receive the recognition that he probably deserved.
Footnote: On 23 January 1963 Cromer’s Newhaven Court Hotel, formerly ‘Newhaven Court’ was destroyed by fire; more than a century of Locker-Lampson holidays and heritage ended in fierce flames and billowing smoke. The fire was tackled by 40 firemen, who battled through the night, trying to confine the flames to the first floor, but:
‘Flames and sparks leapt high into the night from the roof, 50ft above the ground. Fire gained a good hold till the whole roof was ablaze.’
Gone also were its tennis courts, said to have been the best in England and used by some professional players of the time. Prior to the fire, the hotel was run by Mr and Mrs Donald Stevenson, who had leased it from local building firm A.G. Brown. It was said at the time that Donald Stevenson and his 15-year-old son, ran upstairs to fight the blaze, but were beaten back by smoke. The building was never restored, and was demolished to make way for homes and flats at Newhaven Close and Court Drive.
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The following story provides extra exposure to a very interesting article which was written by Stuart Anderson and first appeared in the ‘North Norfolk News’ on 9 June, 2019, and subsequently updated on 11 October, 2020. He reported on the previously hidden fate of Anna Paston, was titled ‘Discovery of a Hidden Paston girl…….’. His words, began with a question:
The Pastons are among the most-studied families from the English later Middle Ages. So how has the story of one Paston girl who died tragically young gone unnoticed for so long?
The Pastons are also one of England’s best-known medieval families, who rose from humble origins to become leading members of the aristocracy, wielding political power and entertaining royalty at their sumptuous mansions. Thanks to the letters and other documents they left behind we know more about the Pastons than virtually any other family of that age. The documents, which chronicle the rise of the family during the War of the Roses, speak volumes of their arguments, gossip, feuds, plotting, private scandals, and even their shopping lists. Now, a recent discovery at Oxnead church in north Norfolk has uncovered evidence of a previously unknown Paston which is literally re-writing what was thought we knew about the family.
A small medieval memorial brass is dedicated to Anna Paston, who is thought to have died tragically young. The brass was found tucked away between two larger monuments, and reads in abbreviated Latin:
‘Here lies Anna, daughter of John Paston Knight, on whose soul God have mercy, Amen’.
Historian Helen Castor, author of the bestselling ‘Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century’, said nothing had previously been known about Anna. She said:
“This is an extraordinary find: not only a previously unknown Paston grave, but the grave of a previously unknown Paston. The family’s remarkable letters shine a spotlight on the middle decades of the 15th Century, but a great deal of their story, before and after, remains in shadow.”
Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society said Anna can only have been a daughter of John Paston III. The memorial is believed to have been crafted at the one of the Norwich workshops in the last decade of the 15th Century or the opening years of the 16th Century, and is of the type commonly used to memorialise an unmarried girl.
Archaeologist, Matthew Champion, who came across the memorial whilst investigating the church as part of the ‘600 Paston Footprints’ (-this is a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to shed new light the family). added:
“Some people may be taken aback that one of the best known and most thoroughly researched families in England can still throw up surprises such as this. However, very few of the Paston letters actually survive from the 1490s, so there is likely to be quite a lot more that we have missed. “
It is known that John Paston III had another daughter called Elizabeth, who would have been Anna’s sister. Elizabeth survives to adulthood, and eventually marries, but the surviving documents contain barely a mention of her.”
The Paston documents contain no further information about Anna, although it is likely she died in her early teens, given the ages of her siblings. But she may also may have been a scion of John Paston III’s second marriage, which means she would have died an infant.
It was at Oxnead that the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671, and where the medieval Paston letters were discovered mouldering in an attic room half a century later. These documents have been studied by historians in minute detail since they were first published in the late 18th Century, and it was thought that the family held few new surprises for academics.
The earliest member of the family that we have any record of is Clement Paston, of the village of Paston in north-east Norfolk. Clement was born in the years immediately after the Black Death swept England in the middle of the 14th Century, and was a miller and small-scale farmer by trade. In the wake of the plague, that killed about a third of the population of the country, Clement made good use of the less regulated land market to buy up small pieces of land in Paston and the neighbouring parishes. He married well, to the sister of a local lawyer, and their son William became a rich lawyer, high court judge, major landowner, and founder of the family fortune.
The original Stuart Anderson’s article, plus advertisements and other extraneous matter, can be found via the source link below.
Walkers on Sheringham’s west end clifftop footpath, which leads up to the Coastguard Hut, may not know that this is an area of the cliffs which, during the Second World War was honeycombed with tunnels and heavily defended. What they may also not know is that this elevated position also overlooks the place where, in the early hours of 6 December, 1939, three enemy airmen lost their lives.
This War-time drama occurred during a night of hail and rain and brisk winds. Residents close to the seafront were awakened by the sound of an aircraft, flying very low and with engines spluttering, which went on to crash in the sea on the east side of the Lifeboat Shed. Despite an initial fear that ‘Jerries might be running around in the dark,’ people poured out of their houses in the pitch dark, and the lifeboat crew was ‘knocked up’ to launch the lifeboat into a heavy swell to search for survivors.
Ashore, flickering lights and torches picked out a parachute which was draped over the promenade, near the Whelk Copper. About 50 yards from high-water mark was the equally ominous sight of a swastika-adorned plane rolling in the sea. Despite the wind, hail, rain, topped with the stink of aviation fuel, some men bystanders waded into the sea with ropes and managed to secure the wreckage to the breakwater, to prevent from being driven away.
It was left for daylight to not only bring further detail, but also a flood of military guards, officials and aviation experts. They identified the aircraft as a Twin-Engine Heinkel HE 115 Float Plane, which may have been laying magnetic mines – who knows? Apparently, the story went round that the aircraft had been ‘downed’ by one of our ‘secret weapons’; subsequent opinion suggested that it had possibly clipped one of the Chain Home Radar Towers at West Beckham. The Press at the time sensationalised (what’s new!) the news with headlines such as “Nazi Plane Crashes into the Sea”. It was said that the Heinkel also boasted self-sealing fuel tanks, a system which would have been of interest to the on-the-spot officials who were poking around the wreck; but also of great interest to British boffins back at base who were working on their own version. Eventually, of course, the wreckage was cleared away, though one of the engines is said to be still there – lying in about 20 feet of water.
But what of the German crew of three? The body of the pilot was discovered immediately and subsequently buried, with military honours, at Bircham. The other two bodies were washed ashore several days later. They too were given military funerals, this time at Sheringham’s Weybourne Road cemetery. After the War, they were said to have been exhumed and re-buried in the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffs.
It is an odd fact that if the Heinkel had come down at low water, it might well have been recorded as the first German plane of World War Two to have crashed on British soil.
Footnote: RAF West Beckham, which had close links with the local fighter station RAF Matlask, was opened in 1938 and comprised a transmitter and receiver site, a generator site and underground reserves. It reported to the filter room at RAF Watnall which was the HQ to No. 12 Group RAF, and the station was originally parented to RAF Bircham Newton, followed later by RAF Wittering and finally RAF Coltishall.
The radar site was located at Bodham Hill and was known as A Site. During World War II the station was commanded by the famous dance band leader Marius B. Winter and because of his background the soldiers based at the camp were said to have been ‘very well entertained’. The Site closed in 1956.
There were also two other separate camps: B Site, near Baconsthorpe, provided accommodation for the WAAFs and airmen from 1939 to 1946. It was also known as “The Marlpit Camp”, due to its close proximity to a disused marl pit – which is now a fishing lake. The camp was closed down in 1958.
C Site was home to the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1940 and in 1941 was used by the Military Police, followed by an RAF regiment from 1942 until 1945. After the war the site went into care and maintenance. Today the station is privately owned and many of the buildings are still in existence.
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.
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.
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.
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.