On the 26 June 2015 Emily Sarah of the Norfolk Record Office wrote that the final of the National Twelve Bell Striking Contest would take place at St Peter Mancroft Church on the following day, when 10 of the best teams of ringers from across the country, plus several hundred visiting ringers visited the city.
The Norfolk Record Office holds the records for no fewer than four ringers’ societies, all based at St Peter Mancroft’s, the earliest of which was the Norwich Ringers’ Purse founded in 1716. Members paid weekly contributions and, in return, received financial support when they fell sick. The purse also supported families of deceased ringers.
The most recent ringers’ society is the Guild of Ringers, which was founded in 1907, after a bitter dispute between the vicar and churchwardens on the one hand and the ringers on the other. At one point, the belfry was closed, the vicar got rid of all the old ringers and a new band was formed. Even then, prospective new ringers had to demonstrate that they could ring three distinct methods on twelve bells before they were admitted. Ringing a method means pulling your rope so that your bell follows all the other bells in the tower in turn, with a constantly changing pattern and at different speeds, all done by memory.
The most common method is Plain Bob Doubles, rung on five bells, usually with a sixth bell, called the tenor behind, always in the final place to keep a good sense of rhythm. Ringing the same method on eleven bells would be called Plain Bob Cinques. On twelve bells, it would be Plain Bob Maximus.
Ringing on 11 or 12 bells is very difficult, demanding years of practice and intense concentration so that the bells all sound absolutely in time. If anyone makes a mistake, the bells will clash and the resulting cacophony would be heard all over Norwich. It is said that the best ringers can ring to a precision of 3/100ths of a second.
Over the years, St Peter’s has acquired a total of 14 bells (though it is normally regarded as a ring of 12) plus a Sanctus bell, which is rung during the communion service. The largest number of bells in one tower in England is 16, at Birmingham St Martin.
The first true peal, lasting three hours and eighteen minutes on Plain Bob Triples (seven bells), was rung at St Peter’s on 2 May 1715. A peal is often rung to celebrate a special occasion, such as a birthday.
The Norfolk Record Office holds a short article on campanology from the Mancroft Review of 1971. This is mainly an appeal for more ringers to join the regular band, but it also describes the learning process:
‘Beginners are not taught at Mancroft, but on the six [bells] at St George, Colegate. There the bells are not so heavy and the ropes are just 40 feet long, compared to Mancroft’s 70 feet. But beware … campanology is a disease! Once you learn, you will get hooked.’
It is a fact that many folk in the distant past could neith read nor write; couple this with the fact that folklore stories have long drifted in and out of print, meaning that each generation relied on the tongue for telling tales which it was hoped would be remembered and passed on, from generation to generation. As part of this process, and to maintain the interest of liseners, these stories were often elaborated and embellished; an essential part of the spoken tradition which wanted to perpetuate whatever lay behind each tale. The following story is just one example where the detail has been given just that treatment over time, appearing in print in as many and varied versions as would the same tale told verbally – so maybe past chronicle authors and story-telling bards have a lot to answer for! But we have to go with what we have, so the question is ‘How much of a story is fact and how much is fiction’, remembering that all legends have a degree of truth in them; but one thing is certain – we will never know. The only thing the reader can do is to pick through content and decide where a degree of licence may have been applied and where facts possibly rest.
This story is about the beginnings of Erpingham Gate, a great Norwich gateway which takes the visitor from Tombland into the Cathedral Close and directly towards the main entrance to Norwich Cathedral. More importantly, it is about the person who, it was said, paid for its construction, Sir Thomas Erpingham – and about whom a legend, myth – whatever you might call it – found root around the time of 1422 when Gate was built. But first, some facts:
Sir Thomas Erpingham was born in 1357 in the Norfolk village of Erpingham, some 17 miles north of Norwich. His family had been in the village since the Norman Conquest and were part of the local gentry who came to be the holders of the manor in the early thirteenth century, taking the place name of Erpingham as their surname. After the death of his father, Sir Thomas went into the service of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and fought alongside Gaunt’s son (Henry Bolingbroke) across Europe and the Middle East. Bolingbroke later became King Henry IV and Sir Thomas was made his chamberlain. In 1400 Sir Thomas became a Knight of the Garter and received many estates in Norfolk and Suffolk. He used his position at court to promote the interests of Norwich and in 1404, the king gave Norwich its new charter, making it the County and City of Norwich. Sir Thomas was a generous patron and one of his legacies can still be seen most clearly in his entrance gate to Norwich Cathedral.
Sir Thomas went on to have an impressive military and political career beyond the confines of Norfolk. He was a staunch supporter of the Lancastrian dynasty and part of Henry V’s inner circle, he was instrumental in the king’s political and military successes. In 1415, Sir Thomas went with Henry V to Agincourt where he is thought to have been in charge of the archers, riding out in front of the English lines giving the order to strike the French. Sir Thomas became a hero to many and was immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V, where one Act takes us through the English and French camps on the eve of the battle, portrayed as a steadfast and loyal ‘old hero’. However, whilst he was considered ‘good’ in Shakespeare’s play, there was a piece of folklore that grew amongst the populace following the completion of the Gate. Its theme depicted the process of Sir Thomas paying for the building of the Erpingham Gate as an act of personal penance – for a seedy episode during his life!
When it comes to legends, you would think that their themes would rely more on history books and the information, if not facts therein. In the case of Erpingham, this legend, of which we speak, would have made reference to the fact that Sir Thomas was against Henry le Dispencer, Bishop of Norwich. For instance, in efforts to turn the City of Norwich against the Bishop, Sir Thomas managed to persuade the City’s authorities to endorse a list of accusations against the Despenser, who sympathised with the deposed Richard II and became implicated in a rebellion against Henry IV. As it was, the house of Despenser had a long-standing enmity with the House of Lancaster – and ultimately Sir Thomas. When the King Richard II was disposed of, Bishop Henry le Despenser was disgraced. Add to this the fact that it was Sir Thomas Erpingham who, when in exile with Henry Bolingbroke, helped the future Henry V to secure the throne, whilst capturing Richard and offering ‘advice’ that because Richard was a possible threat, he should be removed! With the Bishop of Norwich disgraced, Erpingham became even more influential in Norfolk.
The result of these acts was that a serious breach of trust opened up between Erpingham and Bishop le Despenser, the repercussions of which may have been felt by both Sir Thomas and the Church beyond the year of 1406 when Despenser died. We do not know! However, if this legend ever found root beyond Dispenser and the next two Bishops of Norwich – Alexander Tottington (1407 to 1413) and Richard Courteney (1413 to 1415) – then it must have been with John Wakering (or Wakeryng) who was Bishop of Norwich from 1415 and until 1425. It was during this period in office when the Erpingham Gate was built. So, was any sort of reconciliation between the Church and Sir Thomas settled during Wakering’s period in charge?
Whenever it was, if the wound was ever to be healed then Sir Thomas needed to make some sort of financial gesture to the Church – because that was what they liked! As things turned out, it was said that he came up with a two-pronged solution that, with God’s help, would satisfy both the Church and his belief that heaven awaited those who donated generously to the church; he also must have hoped that his earthly bones would eventually be laid to rest in the Cathedral when his time came. They say that this was the basis on which Sir Thomas Erpingham built his Gate. When Sir Thomas did die in 1428, his bones were indeed buried in the north side of the Chancel (or presbytery) of the Cathedral, along with his two wives.
That was one version of the legend; but it would seem that the populace much preferred another version of the legend that tells quite a different story – and with much less historical content. This one goes along the lines having a Friar in the opening scene – we’ll call him Brother John for the purpose of this version – who clearly lusts after Sir Thomas Erpingham’s wife, Joan. We do not know which Joan the tale refers to; both of Thomas’s wifes carried the same name for he married a Joan, daughter of Sir William Clopton of Clopton, Suffolk, then married a second Joan, daughter of Sir Richard Walton sometime around 1411. No matter, for this legend tells us that during Mass, Brother John slipped a note into Joan’s hand. Curiousity alone dictated that she would read it at the first opportunty, her subsequent blushes apparently telling Sir Thomas all he needed to know of the note’s content. But, being a faithful wife, she still insisted that her husband read it word for word, knowing that he would take matters into his own hands and take steps to remove the problem that lurked beneath a religious habit! Sir Thomas did just that – and so cunningly; first by noting the time and place suggested by Brother John for his meeting with Joan, both perfect for his plans. The meeting would take place at dusk when disguise was so much easier, and the place would be a quiet spot by the River Wensum – a short but convenient walk away from the Cathedral, Whitefriars Priory and the busy part of the City. We of course, do not know if this friar came from the Blackfriar fraternity, or that of the Whitefriars stood next to the Cathedral in Pockthorpe with the River Wensum in between. Sir Thomas then decided to dress in one of his wife’s more favoured dresses before leaving with his faithful servant to the ‘trysting’ rendezvous which some believed was downstream from the rear of Whiefriars and just short of Cow Tower – again, we cannot be certain.
Once there, Sir Thomas, now further disguised with a silk scarf tied over his head, stood beneath a tree at the water’s edge and gazed across the water to the bank opposite; waiting, but at the same time listening intently for sounds of any movement behind him. In the meantime, his servant concealed both himself and Thomas’s horse under cover a short distance away. It was not long before (alias) ‘Lady Erpingham’ heard advancing footsteps behind him and then felt stumpy fingers begin to move over his hip. “Thank you for coming – my love”. Brother John got no further with his obvious intentions for, almost in a single movement, Sir Thomas reached for a metal object hidden beneath the waist of the dress, swung round and struck Brother John firmly on the side of his bald head. The Friar fell first on his knees and then face downwards towards the river-edge reeds. He was dead.
The recipient of the legend is led to believe that it was never Sir Thomas’s intention to kill his victim, but only to give him a heavy lesson which he would never forget – such was his anger……..“How do we get rid of this lecher” he eventually asked his servant, who had come to his master’s assistance immediately he saw the Friar hit the ground. His reply was quick and straight forward. “He has no blood showing, just a dent my Lord. The best we can do is to return him to the Priory grounds”. With the help of Thomas’s horse they took the body the short distance to the Priory’s boundary wall. There, the two men lifted it over the wall and propped Brother John up in a sitting position – as if the Friar was asleep.
The corpse had not been there long, after Sir Thomas, servant and horse had quietly departed, when another Friar, in this instance a Brother Richard who was a very pious man, noticed Brother John – apparantly asleep when he should have been at prayers! Seeing this known womaniser lazely avoiding his religious duties caused Richard to pick up a stone and throw it in the direction of John. It so happened, that his aim was good, too good in fact; the stone hit the side of Brother John’s head, causing him to keel over, once again hitting the ground. Believing that he had actually killed Brother John and in doing so sinned, Richard took a further step towards further weakness; he lifted the body and rolled it over the wall where it fell to lay outside the Priory boundary. He then quietly called on the services of his own pony and left the Whitefriars and what he thought was his crime scene.
Now it so happened that Sir Thomas Erpingham’s personal servant again rode past the Whitefriar’s outer wall on an errand for his master. He could not help noticing, with some puzzlement, the body lying on the wrong side of the wall from where he and Sir Thomas had first left it. Maybe it was a degree of panic, if not a cool calculated decision, that caused the servant to climb down from his horse and replace his elevated position with that of the corpse which by then was stiff with rigor martis. He managed to get former John into an upright position, his feet into the stirrups and his wrists tied to the reins before firmly slapping the horse’s rump into a gallop.
As for Brother Richard, he thought that he had left his unfortunate experience behind him as he too rode out of Norwich, all be it at a much slower pace. But then he heard the sound of galloping hooves approaching towards him from the rear. He instictively turned his head to see the ‘gastly figure’ of Brother John approaching fast on a horse which. When alongside Richard’s pony it pulled up causing the dead friar to fall off to beneath the ponty’s feet. Richard was absolutely terrified – feeling the guilt of what he thought he had done. It was nothing less than divine intervention he thought and decided, there and then, that he must confess! He immediately turned his pony and made his way back to the Bishop and told him all that he knew.
Inevitably perhaps, Friar Richard was sentenced to be hanged for his apparent sins, but as he stood on the gallows, praying for forgiveness and waiting for the immident drop into oblivion if not heaven, Sir Thomas came on to the scene and forced his way through a crowd eager to witness what was a public strangulation. He shouted “Hangman – stop!” as he climbed the scaffold steps, removing the implements of execution and then descending the steps with the Friar. Sir Thomas, the most powerful knight in Norfolk at the time, sought out the Bishop and did not hesitate to kneel before him to admit that he, Thomas, was the one who had killed Friar John. He told the of circumstances surrounding the Mass and his thoughts and planning which led up to the murder along that part of the River Wensum which runs past Whitefriars, towards Cow Tower, Bishops Bridge and beyond. The Bishop listened, then contemplated and decided that the act of this killing was manslaughter…….the sentence was not to be death for such a distinguished person of the County, but one of a penance which Sir Thomas had to agree to if he was ever to be forgiven and find his place in heaven. What was agreed was for him to pay the costs of building what was to become known as the Erpingham Gate.
FOOTNOTE: The Erpingham Gate was erected between 1420 and 1435, in a style which matches the west front of the cathedral itself. The exterior of the gate has a small statue of Sir Thomas above, although this was apparently only put in place in the 17th century – some speculate that it came from Sir Thomas’s tomb in the Cathedral’s Presbytery. The interior side of the Gate also displays the Erpingham coat of arms. There are no less than 24 Christian Saints carved in the archway – 12 male and 12 female – a nice example of equal treatment some 600 years before the Equality Act. (Would this have had anything to do with the fact that Sir Thomas had two wives?).
About the time when the Erpingham Gate was being built, other work associated with the rebuilding of the church of the Dominican Friars and a new East window for the church of the Augustinian Friars was taking place. History does suggest that Sir Thomas donated even more of his money to projects such as these. What is not clear is whether, or not Sir Thomas, following his death in 1428 ever left any of his funds to William Alnwick, who was the Bishop of Norwich between 1426 and 1436. This Bishop continued with further enhancements within the Cathedral precincts by altering and improving the Cathedral itself – as well as his Palace!
We are told that much of the rebuilding of the Dominican friary in Norwich was financed by Sir Thomas Erpingham and his son Robert, who became a friar there. The gate that bears his name is thought to have been built at his cost, a gift to the cathedral, ca.1420. The upper portion, surrounding the canopy within which Sir Thomas’s statue is recessed and faced with flint in Norfolk style. Below it, surrounding the Perpendicular arch, the outward face of the gateway is highly decorated with figures of saints. The turrets on the buttresses at either side also bear sculptures, as well as the heraldic devices of Erpingham and the families of his two wives, and each turret is topped by the statue of a priest. The word yenk (“think”) is engraved at various places on the gateway, and is a request for viewers to remember (and say a prayer for) the donor.
The date of the building of the gate is not known for certain, but it must have taken place after his second marriage (1411). The style suggests the 1420s, and it seems likely the gate would have been given at a time when Erpingham’s thoughts were turning to his death and afterlife – by this time he would have been in his sixties. There were certainly stories that he built the gate as a penance for a sin he had committed – different versions suggest a homicide, his role in the disgrace of Bishop Despenser, his support of heretics – or even gratitude for surviving Agincourt; but there is no real foundation for any of these. If anything, the highly decorated gate is an assertion of orthodoxy at a time when Lollardy was posing a challenge to the established order and at a time when Sir Thomas might have been concerned with his spiritual future.
Erpingham died in 1428 and was buried inside Norwich cathedral, in a tomb built in advance, alongside his two wives; a chantry was established there in his name. His testament did not forget the city in whose affairs he had always shown an interest. He left sums of money to the cathedral and the Prior and monks there, as well as to the church of St. Martin at Palace; his armour too he left to the cathedral. He also bequeathed money to the sisters and poor inmates of St. Giles’ hospital, Bishopgate, and lesser sums to prisoners in the gaols of Norwich castle and the city Guildhall, as well as to hermits within the city.
The construction of the gate may have been an act intended to win favour from the Cathedral in which he hoped to be buried, to win favour from God, and to establish a memorial to himself. The armour in which he is depicted in the statue may have been that which was bequeathed to the cathedral. Although his will makes no reference to the gate, it is possible he commissioned it shortly before his death, with the work finished posthumously by his executors, or it may even have been entirely a project of his executors. His testament focused on pious and charitable bequests and left the rest of his worldly goods to his executors’ disposition – they may have felt the gateway a suitable application of that wealth, and certainly it has stood the test of time. It has been argued that his statue is not the right size for its niche and may have been moved there from his tomb, replacing some other statue on a religious theme.
Prologue: On the 15th April 1912 the RMS Titanic, billed as ‘unsinkable’, sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage, killing 1,517 people. The United Kingdom’s White Star Line built the Titanic as the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. It was nearly 900 feet long and more than 100 feet high. The liner could reach speeds of 30 knots and was thought to be the world’s fastest ship. With its individualised watertight compartments, it was seen as virtually unsinkable. On its first voyage, from Southampton to New York with stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic was carrying 2,206 people, including a crew of 898. A relatively mild winter had produced a bumper crop of icebergs in the North Atlantic, but the crew, believing their ship was unsinkable, paid scant attention to warnings.
On the night of Sunday, April 14, other ships in the area reported icebergs by radio, but their messages were not delivered to the bridge or the captain of the Titanic. The iceberg that struck the ship was spotted at 11:40 p.m. Although a dead-on collision was avoided, the Titanic‘s starboard side violently scraped the iceberg, ripping open six compartments. The ship’s design could withstand only four compartments flooding. Minutes later, the crew radioed for help, sending out an SOS signal, the first time the new type of help signal was used. Ten minutes after midnight, the order for passengers to head for the lifeboats was given. Unfortunately, there were only lifeboats for about half of the people on board. Additionally, there had been no instruction or drills regarding such a procedure and general panic broke out on deck.
The survivors, those who successfully made it onto the lifeboats, were mostly women who were traveling first class. In fact, the third-class passengers were not even allowed on to the deck until the first-class female passengers had abandoned the ship. White Star President Bruce Ismay jumped on to the last lifeboat though there were women and children still waiting to board. At 2:20 a.m., the Titanic finally sank. Breaking in half, it plunged downward to the sea floor, taking Captain Edward Smith down with it. The Carpathia arrived about an hour later and rescued the 705 people who made it into the lifeboats. The people who were forced into the cold waters all perished.
Official blame for the tragedy was placed on the captain and bridge crew, all of whom had died. In the wake of the accident, significant safety-improvement measures were established, including a requirement that the number of lifeboats on board a ship reflect the entire number of passengers.
The sinking of the Titanic has become a legendary story and 1985, after many attempts over many years, divers were finally able to locate the wreckage of the Titanic on the floor of the North Atlantic.
The Story Of Our Norfolk Couple: We are again into April and yet another Anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on the 15 April 1912 has come round. Much has already been written since the date of that tragedy – facts, such as they are known, probably much fiction on which dreamed up novels, short stories, myths and movies have been written; most with the profit motive in mind. This blog is not about the whole gambit, but only about a Norwich couple, who probably would never had hit the history books if they had not bought tickets to emigrate aboard that ill-fated ship.
Edward Beane: was born in Hoveton, Norfolk, England on 19 November 1879. He was the son of George Beane, a brewery worker who worked for the large Bullard Brewery in Norwich, and Mary Ann Cox; both had been Norfolk born and bred, marrying on 29 November 1877. Edward, our subject, was one of ten children, his siblings being: Sarah, George Herbert, William, Charles Archie, Caroline Augusta, Ernest Christmas, May Christine, Robert and Bertie Stanley.
Edward first appears on the 1881 census living with his family at Armes Street in Heigham, Norwich, Norfolk but they then moved to 231 Northumberland Street, Norwich by the time of the 1891 census. Between then and the next census in 1901 the family had moved further down the same street to Number 188 where Edward was described as a bricklayer. It was a trade that was to stay with him beyond the time when the family lived at 43 Bond Street in Norwich.
Ethel Louisa Clarke: was born on 15 November 1889 in Norwich, Norfolk, England. She was the daughter of Boaz Clarke, a boot factory warehouseman, and Louisa Webb, both natives of Norwich who had married in early 1881. Ethel was one of their five surviving children from a total of eleven, her known siblings being: Flora May, William Webb, Sydney Charles p, Gladys Lilian, Reginald Boaz, Dorothy and Ellen.
Ethel first appears on the 1891 census, living at 172 Northumberland Street, Heigham, Norwich and was still at this address for the 1901 census. So for this period of her life she knew the ten year older Edward Beane. By the time of the 1911 Census, Ethel was still living with her family but at 21 Churchill Road, Norwich where she was described as a single dressmaker and furrier.
The Leading Events: At 17 years of age, Ethel Louise Clarke was not ready for either marriage or emigration when Edward Beane raised the topics prior to his first departure to New York in 1907. However, both proposals appealed to her when he asked her to wait until he had saved enough money. Ethel, of course, said yes.
It was on the 13 April 1907, Edward, a bricklayer aged almost 28, crossed the Atlantic to New York on the Philadelphia with his two brothers, all travelling in steerage to save money. This was their maiden voyage and they sailed in the knowledge that each one of them would earn better wages than at their old construction jobs in Norfolk. Edward, at least, was to share his time between New York and Norwich, writing to Ethel in between, in fact right up to the time when he returned home aboard the Adriatic, arriving in Southampton on 22 December 1910. It is not known if he continued commuting thereafter but it was at this point in his life, at the age of 29 years, that he intended to finally ‘tie the knot’ with his chosen bride Ethel Louisa Clarke. However, that did not happen until March 1912 when, by this time, the couple had saved up a ‘nest egg’ – a figure which someone, in later years, estimated had been in the region of some 500 dollars?
It was only a day or so before the 10th April, the day when this ‘unsinkable’ ship was due to set sail on its maiden voyage, that Edward and Ethel said goodbye to their families and left for Southampton. At the Terminal they bought two second class tickets for the sum of £26 (ticket number 2908), boarding the Titanic that day, not only as emigants but also ‘honeymooners’
Edward and Ethel were one of 13 honeymoon couples and were in their cabin when the ship struck the iceberg at about 2.00am on the 15 April 1912. They did not think much of the jolt they felt until a woman in a nearby cabin came to tell them about the order to go to the boat deck with lifebelts and to wear warm clothes. Subsequent reports say that Edward urged Ethel to hurry and not to worry about bringing any of their few valuables; most of their savings were locked in the Purser’s office.
On the boat deck, Ethel was quickly ushered to Lifeboat 13 and had no time for more than a quick kiss from Edward. Three or four more passengers were loaded before it was launched, but Ethel lost sight of her husband and hoped that he would surely take another lifeboat. Edward was indeed rescued, but the stories conflict of how it happened. The problem was that both he and Ethel were to tell different versions of that night to reporters. In one, Edward stated he kept an eye on his wife’s lifeboat from the deck of the Titanic. Then, as the ship sank, he jumped and swam “for hours” until he reached it and was pulled aboard. The problem with this version is that no one would have survived that long in icy waters. Also, a passenger in Lifeboat 13, Lawrence Beesley, wrote a detailed account of the entire night shortly afterward and never mentioned rescuing anyone from the water. Because Lifeboat 13 was, apparently, only half full, some passengers did want to return to help those in the water, but most refused because they felt that their boat would be swamped.
In another version that the Beane’s gave to the press stated that Edward was picked up by lifeboat 9 and he didn’t find Ethel on the Carpathia until after it docked in New York. This, again, seems unlikely because great care had been taken to compile accurate passenger lists and roll calls were also taken to help passengers find each other. It is possible, however, that Edward did jump aboard Lifeboat 13 at the last minute before launch, when no other women or children were available or willing to board. No one knows, but if he was like some other male survivors who panicked and ‘smuggled’ themselves into lifeboats, he probably would have met with public ridicule for not being “a gentleman” and going down with the ship – if indeed this was the case? Maybe, he and Ethel made up their stories to ease any guilt on his part? These questions and any viewpoints here are, however, purely speculative! However, bear in mind that another statement from an independent source said, perhaps in their defence: “They (the Beanes) were one of a few honeymooners who were not parted by the rule “women and children first”. Both were rescued in lifeboat 13”. As it is, Edward Beane is also listed as being a Lifeboat 13 passenger by Encyclopedia Titanica, the main source for all things Titanic and the principal aid in compiling this account.
Edward and Ethel settled in Rochester, New York where Ethel gave birth to a stillborn baby on 13 January 1913, making it likely that she was pregnant whilst on board the Titanic. The couple settled at 44 Michigan Street for the rest of their lives, never to return to England. Edward continued to work as a bricklayer and was a member of the Bricklayers’ Union. Ethel, for her part, delivered two children, both sons: Edward (1913-1982) and George (1916-1998) and during the rest of their lives seldom spoke about the Titanic, giving only the odd newspaper interview. Ethel was widowed in 1948 when Edward Beane died in the Rochester State Hospital on 24 October, just shy of his 69th birthday. A local newspaper reported: “Mrs. Beane is survived by her son, George Beane of Rochester, four granddaughters and six great-grandchildren”.
Ethel continued to live at the family home in Rochester before entering a nursing home in the last two years of her life. She died on 17 September 1983 aged 93 (although she had convinced everyone she was only 90) and was buried with her husband in White Haven Memorial Park.
The day of the 4 April 1817 began just like any other April day – but that wasn’t how the morning would turn out to be. The day was. in fact, Good Friday and Wright’s ‘Norwich & Yarmouth Steam Packet’ was preparing to take on twenty-two passengers, for an Easter trip to Great Yarmouth, some 24 river miles down-stream on the coast of Norfolk. The date of April 4, 1817 was also the sixth anniversary of the opening of Foundry Bridge from where the steam packet had regularly sailed ever since 10 August 1813. It was also the place where, during the construction of the Bridge, a ten-year-old boy drowned. That Good Friday morning was another tragic incident when, this time, the steam packet was lost.
At the appointed moment on the clock and with all passengers on board, the crew of John Wright’s boat undertook to ‘cast off’, but had hardly moved twenty yards from Foundry Bridge and its regular mooring there, when a huge explosion of its engine’s boiler took place. That moment claimed the lives of nine men, women and children and caused many other injuries of varying severity on board. Of the twenty-two passengers on board, five men, three women and one child were killed instantly. A number of other people, from Acle, Norwich, North Creake and Yarmouth had fractured arms and legs and were taken to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for treatment of those injuries, which included some loss of limbs and where one person died. The remaining seven escaped with minor injuries. It was said at the time that when the tragedy happened ‘the River Wensum turned red and many citizens cried’.
Those city citizens who heard that explosion rushed to the scene out of initial curiosity, but for some, curiosity quickly turned to a desire to help – from the very moment they witnessed the terrible scene of destruction and carnage that greeted them. The Norwich Mercury of the day reported:
“One of those unfortunate accidents which attend even the best arranged establishments that carry with them a certain though remote danger, occurred yesterday morning, and we state the extensive calamity with much acute pain. The horrible spectacle of eight mangled carcases, is yet before our eyes. These are the miserable victims of the bursting of the steam boiler in the packet which sails from Foundry bridge. Just after the boat has started, it had not gone twenty yards, when the tremendous explosion took place. The vessel was rent to atoms, so that little remains entire, from the stern to the engine room, except the keel and flooring,”
“Twenty-two passengers appear to have been on board. The bodies of eight are found – five men and three women, one child is missing, and six have been sent to hospital in a wounded state: six escaped unhurt. One person later died in hospital of their injuries.”
“Of these, one man was standing over the boiler when the explosion happened. It is said Major Mason was another, whose clothes were torn by the shock, but was otherwise uninjured. The third was an infant, two months old, and the little innocent was discovered at the bottom of the vessel in a profound sleep, after the removal of the dreadful wreck”.
“The boiler is a cylindrical vessel, playing fore and aft the vessel, about eight ft long and four ft in diameter, made of wrought iron, excepting one end, which laid towards the stem of the vessel, and is of cast iron. In consequence of the stress of stream being greater than the boiler was capable of sustaining, the cast iron part of the boiler gave way, and flew in a direction towards the stem of the vessel.”
Those who died were later named at a Court of Mayoralty which examined the cause of the accident. Such was the impact that the tragedy had on the city that its citizens raised a princely sum of £350 through a public subscription for the injured and the families of those who lost their lives. They were: John Bleasey (aged 4), Mary Bleasey (40) his mother, William Battledur, William Richardson, John Marron, Richard Squire, Thomas Luise, Elizabeth Stevens, Diana Smith.
Soon after the Foundry Bridge tragedy, a replacement packet was introduced on the river. It was worked by four horses, as in a thrashing machine with the animals walking on a path 18 feet in diameter. The vessel itself was propelled from six to seven miles an hour, as wind and tide dictated. However, this particular packet did sail for long; improved steam packets were soon introduced which went from Norwich to Yarmouth daily.
Being the way of all newspapers for having a ‘nose for a good story’, the Norwich Mercury picked up on the fact that the steam packet owner, John Wright, had bought a French boat and fitted it with a steam boiler. They reported that Wright had been challenged to a race but ‘someone’, maybe with a wager place on the outcome of the race – who knows, had strapped down the steam escape value to make the boat go faster. This was to determine that the incident that day had not been an accident and, as a result, John Wright had to pay compensation to the injured which made him destitute. The incident was later raised in Parliament where, under the heading of ‘STEAM BOATS’, Hansard recorded in ‘HC Deb 08 May 1817 vol 36 cc271-2’:
Mr. Harvey said, the House must all have heard of the unfortunate accident which happened some time ago at Norwich, when so many persons lost their lives in consequence of the explosion of the boiler of a Steam Packet. The cause of that explosion was owing, he understood, to the boiler not being of a right construction. It was from its being made of cast iron, and not of cast iron only, but cast iron mixed with other metals, which greatly increased the danger. As there were at present a great number of steam vessels in the different rivers of the country, and several other steam vessels were building, it became a matter of great importance to inquire into the means by which these vessels could be so constructed as to be attended with the least danger to the lives of the passengers. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, “That a committee be appointed to consider of the means of preventing the mischief of explosion from happening on board steam boats, to the danger or destruction of his majesty’s subjects on board such boats.”
Mr. Curwen said, the accident at Norwich could not have happened, had it not been for gross neglect with respect to the management of the safety valve. It was not from any deficiency in the materials of which the boiler was composed.
Mr. W. Smith said, the accident was owing to the safety valve being overloaded. The object of the committee should be, by examining engineers, to learn how the safety of the passengers might be best secured. It might be impossible to prevent the bursting of the boiler, but the boiler might burst without causing those inconveniences with which the bursting of cast-iron boilers was attended.
Mr. Thompson expressed his hope that the inquiry in a committee might remove the alarm of the country.
The motion was then agreed to.
Steam packets were suspended by parliamentary decree for extra safety measures to be carried out nationally; existing packets were replaced by ones’ worked by horses, as on a threshing machine where the animals trundled on a circular on-board path, which was about 18ft in diameter. By this means, the vessels were propelled 6 – 7 mph, as wind and tide dictated. However, this type of packet did not run for long before improved steam packets were introduced.
Jeremiah James Colman was once asked how he had made such a vast fortune from the sale of mustard. His reply was:
“I make my money from the mustard that people throw away on the sides of their plate”.
‘Old’ Jeremiah Colman, as he was to be known in later life, was originally a farmer and had also owned Bawburgh Mill. He had no children and was to adopt James, the eldest of his brother Robert’s fifteen children. Jeremiah was a devout Baptist, kindly, honest and a good master. Jeremiah Colman bought Pockthorpe smockmill in March of 1804 and sometime during the next ten years he demolished the old mill and replaced it with a towermill; to be known as either Bagshaw’s Mill, Bayfield’s Mill or St Paul’s Mill. The towermill had six floors and stood on land between Magdalen Road and Silver Road, approximately where Knowsley Road was later laid. After ten years had passed, Jeremiah Colman branched out when he leased Stoke Holy Cross watermill on the 3rd April 1814. He bought it as a going concern and paid £51 2s 0d to Edward Armes for his stock of mustard.
This is the point where the story of Colman’s Mustard really begins. It was from this moment when Old Jeremiah plotted his Company’s prosperous 50-year period at Stoke and gradually introduced a range of products, starting with the introduction of starch manufacturing. Under his ownership, between 1814, when he set up at Stoke, and 1851 when he died, wages rose regularly – although employees, including 8 and 9-year old boys, worked 12 hour shifts with two breaks and wages were 3d per hour. The working day for employees was normally from 6.00am to 6.00pm, although sometimes a shift could go on until midnight when some workers faced a long walk home.
‘Old’ Jeremiah had no children whilst his brother Robert, who was farming at Rockland St. Andrew, had fifteen – eleven of them were boys. It was the eldest, named James, who was adopted by Jeremiah, brought up and when he became 22 years of age, Jeremiah took him into his Company and gifted him partnership; the date was 15th February 1823. This date proved to be a significant date for the future development of Colman’s Mustard, because from that point Jeremiah shared the management burden of looking after a growing business, which in turn, opened up further job prospects for many people in and around Norwich. Young James began with a quarter share which increased to one-third in 1827 and half in 1831. Later on, two other brothers, Jeremiah the 2nd and Edward who were to represent the business in London, were also admitted into partnership; but this was not until 1844, six years before land was purchased at the Carrow Abbey district of Norwich for further expansion of the Company.
Before then, however, young James had to roll up his sleeves to sift and mix the mustard flour obtained from the crushed seed. Old Jeremiah remained at his desk, starting his day’s work at 7am, just one hour after the men had commenced their labours. With such commitment from everyone, the business prospered and by 1851 the firm was advertising mustard in casks, tinfoil packets, round tins and several types and different packages of starch, along with indigo and Prussian blue for laundries and manufacturers. The size of the business in those early days was relatively small and can be gauged from the records of a member of the Colman family who recalled his boyhood memories of 1834. Those memories included the moment when he watched Lazarus Horne:
“……who had only one arm, doing all the day’s packing himself; packing the mustard into wooden casks which, apart from a small amount of mustard being packed in bottles for export, were the only containers then used for the mustard flour……”
Then, on the 3rd December 1851, “Old” Jeremiah died; he was aged 74 years. Barely two years later, on the 24th November 1853 James Colman, his adopted nephew and successor, also died. It was his 24-year-old son, Jeremiah James Colman, who took over full control of the family business – he being the third member of the family to do so.
Young Jeremiah J Colman now controlled what was still a small local company selling modest amounts of mustard and starch. However, in the space of 50 years he was to build, what was essentially a mustard company, into a global brand by using innovative marketing techniques, hard-work, honesty and integrity. J.J. Colman also proved to be a brilliant innovator whose masterstrokes included creating Colman’s famous Bull’s Head trademark in 1855 and moving, in 1858, from nearby Stoke Holy Cross to a site at Carrow Abbey in Norwich. His decision to leave Stoke Holy Cross was brought about partly by an uncertainty about the lease renewal, coupled with the obvious advantage of working near to river and rail transport links which the City of Norwich offered. The young entrepreneur had also identified a ready-made workforce in the city – cloth workers made redundant by the decline of the textile industry in Norfolk and its exodus to northern mills.
The mid-19th century was a time of great poverty in Norwich following the dwindling of the textile industry. Land was cheap and labour plentiful. The grounds of the historic Carrow Abbey were selected as the site for the new factory and, without planners to satisfy, the Carrow mustard mill was working by 1858. Before long, flour and mustard mills began to appear along the bank of the river, with engine houses, granaries, and stores. The Company’s ‘Counting House’, still identifiable today, was built shortly afterwards for use as the administrative headquarters.
After Jeremiah J. Colman married Caroline, they set up home at Carrow Abbey, where they remained for 40 years with the head of a growing company able to give personal supervision daily to his business which was at the bottom of his garden. The Colman family had always been in advance of their time in recognising the need to look after the welfare of their employees. Even the wife of James Colman organised a clothing club at Stoke in the very early days. It was the move to Carrow and the great and rapid expansion of the business which accelerated the provision of social welfare for employees on a scale not seen in the neighbourhood before. In 1857 Carrow School began with 22 children in an upper room in King Street. This was followed by Colman building a school on Carrow Hill in 1864, years before education was compulsory. There was no better indication of the growth of Carrow Works than the fact that when, in 1870, the State took over responsibility for education in 1870, continuing in partnership with Colmans, there were 324 children on the school register. When the school opened, Colman sent a letter to each of his employee’s extolling the benefits of education. Here are a few highlights from that letter:
‘In these days of progress, that man is sure to be left far behind, who has neglected the cultivation of his intellect while he who strives to improve his mind stands a fair chance of raising himself in the social scale’
‘Remember the motto of your Reading Society ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’, power for advancement, power to be good and to do good, power to be happy and to cause happiness to others’
‘It is of the utmost importance that you should teach your children to be punctual, neat and industrious.’
The truth was that the Colman family had always taken a benevolent interest in their workforce and, increasingly as the Company grew, they not only supplied schooling but contributed to the social life of its staff; for example: Christmas dinners in the granary, staff outings, a meals service for its workers – 4p bought hot meat, vegetable stew and a pint of coffee. Colman’s also provided a clothing club and lodgings for working girls, followed by a lending library and a pension fund; but these benefits were provided once the Company had grown to many hundreds of employees at the Carrow Works in Norwich.
In 1872 he set up a self-help medical club for his workers, encouraging them to contribute, matching their contributions with his own donations. Then, in 1878, the Company established a nursery for younger children, and employ an industrial nurse, called Phillipa Flowerday; plus, a dispensary set up for the benefit of his workers. Colman’s were also to build coffins for workers and their families, and build and rent out houses to workers and pensioners. The company owned hundreds of homes and accommodation was provided for many workers, but special provision was made for single women who were provided with low-cost accommodation. Most houses were in neighbouring Lakenham and Trowse, and some of the terraces were said to have had mustard-coloured front doors. He even provided public houses in which his workforce could enjoy a pint or two. – And, it did not stop there!
An onsite kitchen was opened, this provided tea or coffee in the morning and a hot meal for lunch, charged at cost. Workers who were off sick long term would have food parcels delivered to them at home courtesy of the Company; to do this, somebody was employed full-time to deliver these food provisions. A clothing club was also established; this made saving towards the cost of clothing much easier. Additionally, the company contributed to the savings scheme. From 1874 a dressmaking teacher was hired to help female employee’s learn new skills that could be used in the home and save money. In fact, a whole series of educational classes were provided free of charge to all employees. Jeremiah Colman then insisted that his employees were insured against sickness or injury, the Company ran its own scheme for workers who could choose between that or joining a Friendly Society. From 1864 the dispensary employed a doctor to work alongside the nurse.
In 1856, Colman’s employed just 200 people, by 1862 this had risen to 600 and by the time of his death in 1898 it was closer to 2,000. The story of the rise of Colman’s and of the work and life of Jeremiah James Colman is fundamental to understanding the history of Norwich in the 19th century. Colman’s influence could be seen everywhere and his morals, actions and achievements drastically altered the lives of many thousands of people living in Norwich. This rapid growth of Colman’s Mustard ran counter to the general narrative of English 19th century industrial growth. In an age characterised by child labour, unsafe working environments and long hours for low pay, Colman displayed a remarkable duty of care to his employees. Many industrialists of the time in this country claimed they could ill afford to treat their workers better or pay them more; to do so, would destroy their business and the nation’s economy. Jeremiah Colman proved that it was possible to grow a profitable business whilst treating workers with humanity and giving them some form of dignity.
When Jeremiah James Colman died, he left £2,000 in his Will to the employee’s trust and the money from this was used to set up a pension fund. By the time he had departed Colman had built up a system of nurseries, schools, medical care, food provision, housing and pensions. A system of protection for his workers from cradle to grave – 50 years before the creation of the welfare state!
Why did Colman feel the need to provide such assistance? He could very easily have turned a blind eye to the plight of his workers, like the majority of his contemporaries did. He was no social revolutionary, in an age of socially radical ideologies Colman was politically a liberal. He was however a devout Christian paying strict adherence to the Protestant religion. This drove his belief in a strong work ethic but also his compassion for his fellow man and his ethical approach to business. Colman’s brand of charity was that of self-help, he believed in giving to help people, but he believed that once helped people had a duty to do everything in their power to help themselves.
Such was Colman’s religious conviction that at a young age he had been tempted to turn down the opportunity to run the family business, for he feared it would impinge upon the time he could devote to religion and self-improvement. He even questioned the morality of wealth and feared he would become corrupted and greedy. As a future close friend of four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone, who offered Colman a baronetcy, Colman was to decline the offer saying:
‘anything I can do to promote the principles I have always supported … I am glad to do, but I much prefer that it should be without the reward or rank a title is supposed to give’.
Outside of business, Jeremiah Colman had a great sense of civic responsibility stating:
‘Men should go into municipal affairs to see what they could do for the town, instead of seeing what the town could do for them’.
At the young age of 29 he was elected to Norwich Town Council. He was sheriff in 1862-63, mayor 1867-68, in 1869 he became a magistrate for Norwich and then for Norfolk in 1872. In 1871 he was elected as a liberal MP for Norwich, serving for 25 years but his political career was mixed. He did not thrive in the Houses of Parliament as a Liberal MP, in part due to his poor oratory skills, but also because he very quickly became disillusioned with national politics. He was however much more successful as a local politician he sought to end the corruption for which Norwich was well known.
He was a part of Norwich Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society, this group met regularly and spent their time writing, reading and debating the great questions of the day focusing on politics, religion, society, and morality. He was closely involved with the successful launch of the Eastern Daily Press in 1870; a newspaper that is still going strong today. He also fought for, and won, having a preservation order placed upon the Norwich City Walls – or what was left of them after the City had decided to remove the ancient city gates in the previous century.
Colman was one of the leaders of a subscription campaign that sought to argue for all public buildings in Norwich being used for the public benefit. By 1886 they had been successful in securing both the Castle and Blackfriars Hall for public use. At the time Colman was a trustee of Norwich Museums, whose collections were then housed in a purpose-built building on Exchange Street. After closing as a prison, the castle was offered to both the city and county councils for purchase, but they were unwilling to meet such expense. Briefly the decision had been made to allow the castle to become a ruin, however banker John Henry Gurney purchased the castle, and it re-opened as the museum we know today.
So how was a small local company able to transform itself into one of the top 100 British companies in just under 50 years, whilst simultaneously providing a decent living for its workforce? Well, Marketing was the key to their success, and Jeremiah James Colman was the man driving this forward. In 1855 they adopted the now instantly recognisable bright yellow packaging with the distinctive bull’s head and in 1865 they gained a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. Colman’s products are still used by the Royal household today. They were one of the first companies to really push forward the marketing of their products to a consumer market. As early as the 1840’s Colman’s made the decision to start selling their products in much smaller packages (penny tins). This enabled smaller amounts to be purchased more cheaply which opened up a huge new potential customer base. Railway carriages were decorated in the distinctive brand colours to transport their goods across the country. Before the age of Television this allowed the whole country to see the Colmans imagery.
By the 1870’s Carrow had its very own marketing department, and by the late 1890s they had started hiring famous artists to create high quality advertising posters for them. Including the illustrator John Hassall and later the painter Alfred John Munnings. The growth of the business rested on the increasing nationwide and world-wide demand for the limited ranges of its quality products, and on what today would be known as good marketing. The selling and marketing were carried out by other members of the Colman, and carried on through their sons and grandsons from the Company’s Cannon Street offices in London.
In 1896 an important change took place in the structure of Colman’s Mustard when the partnership became a limited company with a capital of £1,350,000. The first chairman was Jeremiah James, who was succeeded after his death two years later by one the London cousins, Frederick Edward Colman.
By Acquisition and Amalgamation
The growth of Colman Mustard over 150 years or so did not come about solely by the introduction of new products, methods of manufacture, and increasing sales. These played their part, but so did the Colmans’ gift of creating the means by which competing firms could be taken over. This policy of expansion by acquisition appears to be as old as the 20th century, for it was in 1901 that a rival starch-making firm of Orlando Jones & Co. was absorbed. Two years later, principally interested in their competitor’s mustard and spice trade, Colmans took over Keen Robinson & Co., but found they had become one of the most important baby-food manufacturers in the country through sales of Robinson’s Patent Barley and Patent Groats.
The period up the first world war marked the continued transformation of Colmans from a paternal 19th century business employing a great deal of labour, and relatively little mechanised, to one using mechanical processes tending towards automation, and backed by the different financial approach of the limited company. Then in 1936, Colmans became a public company and two years later, in 1938 joined forces with Reckitt’s of Hull to become Reckitt & Colman Ltd. The amalgamation was in the fateful year of Munich when, to all but the optimists, war was inevitable.
Carrow Works was severely damaged by air raids during the war. One in 1941 destroyed four buildings including the cereal and mustard departments and a year later the seed granaries, starch, blue and advertising departments were blitzed. In 1943, six months after his son Alan had been killed while flying as a war-time ferry pilot, Mr. Russell Colman retired from the board. For the first time for 130 years there was no Colman on the Norwich branch among the directors. In the main the heavy burden of carrying on the business under the difficulties of wartime fell on the shoulders of Sir Basil Mayhew and Mr. H. A. G. Salter.
In 1945 the Reckitt & Colman Group was joined by another large business, Chiswick Products Ltd., manufacturers of polishes and similar lines, building up towards what were a world-wide range of foods, wines, soft drinks, household goods, toiletries, pharmaceuticals and industrial and other products. Probably the most significant developments of recent years were the acquisition in 1968 of the Norwich-based wine company Coleman & Co., long known for its tonic wine, Wincarnis. Because of the similarity of names many people thought that this was always a Colman product, but until 1968 it was not, although a hundred years before Colmans bought up Colemans of Bury St. Edmunds, a small mustard and starch manufacturer. The proprietor, Mr. W. J. Coleman, a chemist, then developed the tonic wine. Colemans had by this time become a considerable business as shippers and distributors of branded wines. Reckitt & Colman extended it by further acquisition of the business of Edward Robinson and, in 1969, of Moussec sparkling wine.
When the Colman family picked the site around the old Abbey at Carrow something like 160 years ago, they were really looking ahead. Despite automation, computers, and mechanical processes not dreamed of by the early employees who put the mustard into large and small containers by hand, there was a sizable number of workers in the Food & Wine Division in Norwich. It was a point touched upon by Mr. James Cleminson, who came to Carrow in 1960, was appointed managing director of the food division in 1970, and then went on to become chief executive of the then £200 million parent company, Reckitt & Colman Ltd. At the 150th Anniversary of Colmans in 1973, James Cleminson said that it was appropriate that the Company should acknowledge the debt owed to predecessors when he opened a mustard shop in Bridewell Alley in Norwich.
“I am sure”, he added, “that they would regard it as more important that we should maintain their progressive outlook for the future.”
In 1995, Colman’s became part of Unilever’s Van Den Bergh Foods when it was purchased from Reckitt & Colman PLC. As part of the acquisition, Unilever acquired the dry sauces, condiments and mustards sold under the Colman’s brand name. In 2018, Unilever confirmed that it would close its base [Colmans] in Norwich! They went on to say that a transition period of moving production from Norwich to Burton-upon-Trent and Germany would begin in the autumn of 2018 and would continue until the end of 2019. To sweeten a bitter pill for many, Unilever said that it planned to open a new milling facility near Norwich for the production and packing of Colman’s mustard powder!
Those in the know would recognise the ‘boteh’, a tear-drop motif with a name which was inspired by the territories which bordered Kashmir. It was where shawls were made from the fine, under belly fleece of Tibetan goats. These Kashmir shawls became very fashionable in 18th century Britain, but they were very expensive. It was the sight of these shawls which inspired Britain and France to produce cheaper alternatives of their own. Ironically, within one-hundred years, shawls produced in Kashmir were influenced by European designs.
The Kashmir ‘boteh’ pattern was developed from an image of a vase, or bunch, of flowers with tightly packed heads bending at the top and forming the familiar decorated pinecone shape that we all recognise. For many-a-year, fabrics woven with a series of these tear-drop motifs were known as ‘Paisley’, the name of the Scottish town which used the design to decorate its shawls in the early nineteenth century. However, the town of Paisley was not the first British town to produce shawls decorated in this way. The fact of the matter was that the city of Norwich, in Norfolk, had been using a very similar pattern on the borders of their shawls ever since the latter part of the 18th-century.
(Gladstone House, 28 St Giles, Norwich. Former home of John Harvey).
It was John Harvey (1755-1842) who was credited with introducing shawl weaving to Norwich in 1791. He was a person of some standing in the city, becoming Sheriff in 1784, Mayor in 1792, High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1825 and, as an aside, was also credited for reviving horse racing on Mousehold Heath, on the outskirts of Norwich. Harvey also became associated with Norwich citizen Philip Knights. In 1794, it was Knights, Shawlman to Her Majesty, who mounted an exhibition in his London showroom at 136 Bond Street to honour Her Majesty’s birthday. There, at the windows of the showroom, little children could be seen embroidering Norwich shawls.
By the nineteenth century, Norwich had at least twenty shawl manufacturers, and the number grew. It has been said that in the 19th century, successfull manufacturers of Norwich shawls included Towler and Campin, Clabburn, Sons & Crisp, Edward Blakely, Willett & Nephew, and Bolingbroke & Jones. These, along with others, made the best use of the Jacquard Loom, which was developed in 1804 and worked on the basis of using perforated pattern cards.
Joseph-Marie Jacquard – the developer:
To be clear, Joseph-Marie Jacquard was not the inventor of what could be termed, the ‘programmable’ loom – as many people imagine. Actually, he created an attachment to the loom, which played a very important role not only in the textile industry, but also in the future development of other programmable machines, such as computers. In other word’s, Jacquard’s genius did not lay in originating the revolutionary ideas behind his loom, but in building upon the work of previous innovators, bringing their ideas together, adding his own insights, and solving a variety of practical engineering problems, to create an automatic loom that was fast, reliable and most importantly—commercially viable. The Jacquard loom revolutionized the speed at which decorated fabrics could be woven. Using the Jacquard loom, a skilled weaver could produce two feet of decorated silk fabric per day, compared with one inch per day that could be produced by a skilled two-man draw loom team.
As far as the Norwich weaving companies were concerned, the development of the Jacquard Loom allowed for ever more complex patterns to emerge, eventually covering most of their shawls rather than stopping at the borders. However, even though they could copy the ‘boteh’ designs, they found it difficult to reproduce the soft feel of the high-quality woollen shawls from Kashmir. Fortunately, Norwich, with its long experience of weaving fine quality, lightweight fabrics, came up with a combination of silk and ‘worsted’ wool; the result was a warm and strong fabric with a soft feel.
Continuing success seemed assured but it did not come without one inevitable offshoot. Norwich manufacturers became dismayed by towns, such as Paisley, copying the Norwich pattern and flooding the market; by doing this, the exclusivity of the design was watered down. Only Government legislation could help, but it was not until 1842, when it became possible to register a design at the Patent Office for one shilling; however, this protection was limited to between six and twelve months from registration. Most Norwich companies thought this to be a waste of time and effort and, in fact, only seven manufacturers bothered to take the opportunity to protect their patterns against what they thought to be piracy.
But it seemed as if there was ‘something for everyone’; certainly in Norwich from the turn of the 18th century, some companies were receiving orders for up to 42,000 shawls. Inevitably perhaps, this spawned the desire of the workers to have a share of this prosperity and it seems that, in some parts of the trade at least, there was a degree of ‘reward’ handed out (if one ignored the long hours), for wages in the trade were good for that period; Mr Marten, a visitor to the City in 1825 recalled:
“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 bobbins 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.”
By way of description – Norwich shawls were long, narrow and square with woven borders which featured the ‘boteh’ motif and a plain central area or one sprigged with tiny flowers. Other shawls were fringed and contained varying sized ‘boteh’ which sometimes crossed each other and completely covered the background. Even full dresses of this period, showed off these designs with shawls at their peak of fashion. The most beautiful of Norwich shawls were produced between 1830 and 1850 and one of the companies in the forefront of high-quality production was Towler & Campin. Others were not far behind and, because of the competition, every manufacturer had to employ what today may be thought of as a ‘stylish’ selling approach, certainly on those who had the most money to spend on ‘luxuries’. One such company was that of Edward Blakeley; the following report appearing in the Norwich Mercury on the 5 March 1831:
“Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen and HRH the Duke of Sussex having condescended to patronise the manufacturer of Norwich shawls, Edward Blakely begs most respectfully to inform the Nobility and ladies that he will have ready for inspection, on Tuesday 15th inst, a splendid assortment of the same description of shawls which Her Majesty has been pleased to select”.
In 1848, an employee of Edward Blakely, a certain William Piper, went to London and obtained an introduction from the Countess Spencer to the Queen and was able to secure ‘sales of Norwich shawls with Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager, the Duchess of Kent and many members of the aristocracy’. In 1851, Edward Blakely took the opportunity to display his shawls at the Great Exhibition, showing Anglo-Indian scarves, shawls, dresses and brocades. He was rewarded with two orders for shawls ‘made in the pure Indian style’ from Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. It was by 1851 when ‘printed’ shawls also came on to the market with many being dyed with a colour identified as ‘Norwich Red’. These shawls were designed to cover crinolines and were over six feet square, or a twelve-foot rectangle and sometimes five feet in length, again filled with boteh and filled with flowers. The Great Exhibition of 1851 gave Norwich the chance to show off this development.
Norwich Pattern 1851 Great Exhibition
Norwich Pattern 1851 Great Exhibition
Norwich Pattern 1851 Great Exhibition
Norwich Pattern 1851 Great Exhibition
(Norwich shawl patterns, as displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition)
There had always been a problem wearing a shawl which had a right and a wrong side. Kashmir shawls overcame the difficulty by sewing two together but this was not suitable for the heavier European shawls. However, in 1854 Clabburn, Sons and Crisp successfully produced a reversible shawl. Their shawls were the most intricate, woven from silk using the Jacquard loom. The pine cone shape became elongated, resembling the handles of a pair of scissors and scrolled from the border boteh to the centre of the shawl, where there may or may not have been have been a plain central eye. Zebra shawls featured lines of complex patterns scattered throughout with tiny pine cone motifs. However, as the crinoline, so well suited for supporting a heavy shawl fell out of fashion, the shawl was superseded by a short jacket or cape. The shawl once epitomising elegance and gentility, was now identified with the frail and dispossessed and by the 1870s the heyday of the shawl in Norwich, as in other European towns, was over.
The Shawl in Norwich today: Norwich Museum Service remains the custodian of what remains of original Norwich shawls and Carrow House in King Street Norwich, which was once home to the Service, held its collection there until 2011. At that time, there were over 100 Norwich shawls in the collection and around 500 shawls of other types. The Norwich examples were credited to the companies that made them and where possible, a provenance was given, so it was possible to get a good sense of the shawl’s place in the history of costume, the contribution Norwich made to the shawls’ production – and made visitors realise the sheer variety of what was termed as the paisley pattern.
One may well wonder what the current value of original Norwich Shawls would be? – and certainly, it remains difficult to positively attribute any such shawl to the city. Many textile specialists have, in the past, listed them as European – or possibly Norwich. However, in the early years of the Second Millennium, the price of shawls at London auction houses and identified as Norwich fell. Immediately prior to this period, Phillips offered a good selection of Norwich shawls. In 1996 they sold a number of Norwich shawls for between £320 and £460; then, in May 1999 two Norwich shawls were sold by them for £280 and £300; on the other hand two, with an estimate of £250-£300 failed to sell. Later the same year they offered almost a dozen Norwich shawls and although two were sold for around £400, nearly half with an estimate of £200-220 remained unsold. Others went for £130, £220 and £300. Also, in 1999, Sotheby s sold one lot containing two printed Norwich shawls for £207. In October 2000, Christies sold a shawl possibly Norwich for £235. A month earlier, Phillips had sold one for £138.
In today’s terms, John Bilby of Norwich did not live long; he was born in 1801 and died in 1839. He became a tradesman and as far removed from being an author as one would suppose. Nevertheless, he wrote an account of his life and career in an autobiography, supplemented with the regular ‘jottings’ that he entered in his personal journal that he had maintained from quite a young age. Such documents would be considered as the most personal and private forms of writing; fortunately, they have been preserved, thus allowing researchers to obtain fresh information on the period in which John Bilby lived.
John Bilby was born on the 27th of October 1801 in the town of Great Yarmouth and his family moved to Norwich within twelve months of his arrival. His jottings followed his life story from the time his family first took up residence in Norwich and included the addresses at which he lived, until marriage; these included Ber Street in the City, and then later in King Street. During this time, Bilby organised his own family history into a series of descriptive lists which focused on particular events such as the marriage and death of his parents and the lives of his siblings. Bilby’s father died when John was seven years old, so his mother had a struggle caring for John and her other three children, until she remarried in 1811. What follows is just a sketch of his writings.
Soon after his mother remarried, when John was ten years of age, he made his first reference to becoming an errand-boy, and his later transition to becoming an apprentice hairdresser:
“I was engaged as Errand boy to Mr Willement, master weaver of St George’s. Lived with Mr Willement for 12 months, then for a short time at Mr [Houth’s], an Appraiser of London Street in Norwich, left Mr [Houth’s] to go and live with Mr Leeds, a brush maker of St Andrew’s – at this shop I was two years when my master was made a Bankrupt of, and I left. I was also with Mr Ling, a tailor in St Michael at Plea until, on the 20th day of August 1815 I was bound out Apprentice to Mr Mason, tailor and hair-dresser of King Street in Norwich.”………I was with my master (Mr. Mason.) but two years before we disagreed……I was then turned over to one Mr. Hewett – hair cutter and dresser”.
So, like many young men in every generation, John tried a number of jobs before he settled down to train; in his case, to be a ‘hair cutter and dresser’ [hairdresser] – it was the career that he followed for the rest of his life. In addition to his early experiences of life, Bilby was to include in his diary, and his later autobiography, details on the techniques and skills which had aided him in his apprenticeship as a hairdresser. For instance, there were remedies for both cuts and bruises, along with the accurate measurements and preparation techniques required. Then there was his serious approach towards his job title but, at the same time, there were instances when he was able to find humour in most situations. For instance, a poem titled ‘On A Lady Who Wore False Hair in Norwich’ humorously described how women often denied that they wore false hair, even though Bilby often knew ‘where she bought It’!
In 1821, when he had qualified as a hairdresser and gained the necessary experience, he was given the opportunity to run his own barber’s shop:
“I agreed to conduct the Business for Mr Lofty, the Hair Dresser of St Giles, Norwich, 3rd Feb. 1821, he being at the time very ill and not able to attend to it himself……..”
However, Bilby did not remain with that business for long, after joining a musical Group called the ‘Musical Sons of Good Humours’, and was given a job offer by Samuel True, who was the Group’s treasurer. True provided Bilby with a hairdressing parlour in his own house, and had it painted and equipped for a hairdressing business which started trading on 9th March 1822. In his spare time, Bilby continued performing with the musical group, and eventually received a ‘Star Medal’ for serving as its secretary and later as president. In 1822, he was also part of the Norwich Company of Comedian’s appearance at the Theatre Royal in a special show to celebrate the Coronation of King George IV. Bilby took the part of a Knight of the Garter. The Norfolk Chronicle reported:
“In consequence of extensive preparations, the opening of the opening of the Theatre is necessarily postponed until Thursday, 31st January when will be represented the Coronation of His Majesty George IV, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The dresses and regalia and every decoration are copied from the models of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, by permission of the Proprietor. The whole of the Company, with numerous *Additional Aid, both vocal and instrumental will be employed to give every possible effect to this splendid ceremony.”
*Bilby was part of the ‘Additional Aid’.
During this same period, Bilby courted a ‘Miss Payne’. It was said that during their courtship ‘they enjoyed a pleasure cruise together on the ‘Nelson’ steam packet to Yarmouth’. Clearly their relationship flourished, both on water and land, for in the same year they married; he writes in his journal:
“I was married to Miss Payne on the 25th November, 1822 by the Rev. Whittingham at St Saviour’s Parish Church – spent the day very comfortably and had a large supper party in the evening at Mr Payne’s house in St Paul’s parish…….”
Thereafter, very little is said in Bilby’s diary about his wife – certainly he was never to mention her forename. He did, however, include her in his entry about their first child:
“My wife was delivered of a fine boy on the 11th of June, 1823, at a quarter before eleven at night. The boy was named John Bilby on the 15th. Mrs Bilby came downstairs on the 22nd, this was the 11th day after her being delivered of a son.”
Two years into his marriage, he was picked to serve five years with the militia as a private; this was in April 1824. He was clearly very reluctant to comply for:
“I found a young man who was willing to serve for me – for a sum of money – this sum I paid him and he was sworn in on the 20th of the same month – his name was Daniel Orford of St Martin’s parish.”
In 1827 the Bilby family moved to his father-in-law’s parish of St Paul’s where John was soon to be appointed as an ‘Overseer for the Poor’; a positioned which he was to fill for a number of years thereafter. We find that the winter of 1837 was a particularly severe one and Bilby, together with other parish helpers, raised several hundreds of pounds to provide food and fuel for the poor. John personally helped to deliver these around the houses of the parish. There was thick snow in the streets, and John writes: “Five officers from the Horse Barracks [in the Pocock parish] amused the public by driving through the streets in a large sledge.” The following winter the weather conditions were identical, and he again writes: “Mr Berry, Mr Dring and myself relieved 2000 poor persons in the St Paul’s parish with bread and coals.”
Bilby’s diary, journal or notebook, whatever one chooses to prefer, was not only of a personal and autobiographical nature throughout, but also functioned as a travel diary in which he described, in detail, the journeys he undertook. His excursions, and the activities which he participated in, are clearly noted in the ‘Contents’ page provided for the reader. One particular trip, discussed in detail, was Bilby’s trip to Lincoln. He described the nature of the city in depth, from the ‘very troublesome’ upper and lower streets which were considerably hard to navigate to the imposing cathedral which stands on a hill so high, that it can be ‘seen in six counties round’. 50 miles to the North and 30 miles to the South’. Similar observations were also employed to describe the cities and towns of Nottingham, Peterborough and Newark which Bilby further travelled to during 1828.
Beyond this date Bilby’s jottings tail off and eventually we learn the last about ‘the virtuous and vigorous Mr Bilby’. Furthermore, a change in writing style can also be observed throughout the later entries of the journal. This seems to signify John Bilby’s passing, as described by the subsequent writer remarks:
“Mr John Bilby died on Sunday the 15th of July at half-past 8 o’clock in the morning, after a long illness which he bore with Christian fortitude, aged 37 years, in 1839, and he was interred in St Giles’ churchyard on the 18th. His funeral was attended by his wife and three children, his two brothers and his sister – Peter, William and Charlotte, and Mr Payne also, his bearers were as follows: Mr Fox, Mr Hart, Mr Whiting, Mr Poll, Mr Alborough and Mr Right.”
The cause of John Bilby’s death was not given, so it is left to pure speculation to suppose that his illness had been particularly virulent and this had led to the death of a comparatively young man. From where, and how, he had picked it up – would again be speculative!
This is not a new story – just a resume. The ‘Strangers’ of Norwich; are well documented.
The arrival of the “Strangers” from the Low Countries in the 16th century was the result of the persecution of Dutch Calvinists by the Catholic Spanish rulers of that region of Europe. The Duke of Alva had ruthlessly pursued them as heretics and many were raped, murdered or burnt at the stake and they became refugees looking for a new home. These ‘Strangers’ were broadly welcomed in this area of Eastern England and there were two main reasons why. Under Elizabeth I, England was a Protestant country and it had not been long previously that Mary I had persecuted “heretics” in a similar manner as Alva. The second reason was that, with their skills in weaving, the new immigrants were of immense economic value. Having first settled in Sandwich, Kent, in 1565, the City of Norwich elders recognised their worth and invited them to the city because of their renowned skills in textile. Much of the prosperity of Norfolk after this period can be traced to this influx of these ‘Strangers’.
The arrival of the Strangers was described by W. Moens in his book The Walloons & their Church at Norwich (1888):
“Invited by the Duke of Norfolk and the Corporation of Norwich, the strangers on obtaining letters patent from the Crown, came to Norwich in 1665 from Sandwich, where they first settled, and soon increasing in numbers restored to the city, by the manufacture of their various fabrics, that prosperity which had been lost by the ravages caused by the mortality from the black death at the close of the 14th century.
In 1566 an accord was made by the Duchess of Parma with those of the reformed religion in the Netherlands, who, on attaching their signatures to the terms before the magistrates of the various towns, were allowed to attend the Services of their own ministers. Many returned from England to the Low Countries on this concession, but in the following year faith was broken with them, and the unscrupulous severity of the Duke of Alva’s rule caused a flight of all who could escape the vigilance of the authorities. … The details of the conditions under which foreigners were formerly allowed to settle in this country and to follow their trades are interesting and very different from the custom of the present day, when they are on the same footing as natives, but from their frugal habits are able to (and do) work at rates, which in many eases bring misery and ruin to whole districts…. The old custom of hostage, revived by the grant of 1576 to William Tipper, compelled to reside with appointed hosts who received payment for their entertainment and who supervised and received a percentage on their purchases and sales. The Corporation of Norwich purchased this right in 1578 for the sum of £70 13s. 4d., but did not exercise it against the strangers. The strangers paid double subsidies or taxes on the value of their personal property; they paid their own ministers, by whom they had to be furnished with a voucher before permission to reside in the city was granted to them, all their names being registered; they had to pay all the expenses of their churches and the entire support of their poor besides twenty pence in the pound on their rentals, towards the pay of the parish clergy. … As in the present time in London, where the old jealousy against foreigners seems to be reviving, there was always a party in the Corporation of Norwich opposed to the strangers, but the manifest benefits derived by the city from their manufactures and trade always induced a large majority of the Council to watch over and protect them.
The strangers at Norwich from the first were placed under a strict and special rule; a book of orders was drawn up by the Corporation and settled by a committee of the Privy Council, From time to time these articles were varied, but it was not long before they were allowed in a measure to fall into abeyance, on account of the prosperity brought to the city by the successful trade of the strangers.”
However, Norwich was not free from xenophobia. As early as 1144, the death of a boy, named William, had led to accusations of ritual murder by Jews and sparked anti-Semitic rioting. In 1567 the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Whall, made inflammatory statements, which sound all too familiar today, that the Walloons had “sucked the living away from the English” and greater restrictions were placed upon them. Interestingly, when a crowd tried to foment attacks on the ‘Strangers’ in 1570, it was the ring-leaders of the anti-Stranger faction who were executed.
In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I made a state visit to Norwich, which may have been a specific attempt to demonstrate her support for the ‘Strangers’. The Dutch community presented her with a pageant and a silver-gilt cup worth £50. Although there were further difficulties and conflicts between their community and the established population of Norwich, it was probably the beginning of their assimilation and, as with most influxes of immigrants and refugees, they gradually disappeared as a separate entity. In 1633-4, the Norwich rate book listed many names which were probably Dutch or Flemish in origin. By 1830, the Norwich poll book includes very few: possibly only Adrian Decleve (goldsmith) and John De Vear (draper).
A Solution to a Problem:
Strong trading links had existed between Norwich and the Low Countries before the 16th century, evident from very early Wills of Dutch and Flemish people already settled here. But, it was in the 16th Century that immigrants in the Low Countries were officially encouraged to move to the City.
Ever since the Middle Ages, Norwich had been at the centre of an extensive textile inductry in woollens and worsted. By the 16th Century, however, this industry was in crisis, with competition coming from cheaper and better quality merchandise from Flanders – a region in the south west of the Low Countries now split between Belgium, France and the Netherlands. It was the skilled immigrants from these Countries which could provide a solution to the economic crisis here. At a time when skills were handed down through apprenticeships, the Strangers could teach local workers to produce new types of cloth, giving fresh impetus to Norwich’s flagging inductry.
So it was that in 1565, the Norwich City authorities sent a representative to Queen Elizabeth I, asking for permission for immigrant workers to settle in Norwich. Later that year, the Queen responded by issuing a royal “Letters Patent”, allowing “thirtye duchemen” and their households – totalling no more that 300 people – to settle within Norwich’s city walls. Twenty-four of the householders admitted were Dutch and six were Walloons – the latter a Romance ethnic people native to Belgium, principally its southern region of Wallonia, who spoke French and Walloon. Walloons remain a distinctive ethnic community within Belgium.
The Strangers also had their own pressing motives for emigranting. The anti-Protestant policies of their Habsburg ruler, Philip II of Spain, together with economic hardship and war, forced many people to leave the Low Countries. Between 50,000 and 300,000 refugees sought religious freedom elsewhere, many of whom came to Protestant England, settling in towns like London, Southampton, as well as Norwich.
Victims of Success:
The Stranger community grew rapidly from the original 30 households. By 1620, there were around 4,000 Dutch and Walloons living in Norwich, comprising a quarter of the city’s population. They had an impact on all aspects of Norwich life. They rejuvenated the local economy, and by the end of the 16th Century the city was prospering again. English textile apprentices learnt new skills and techniques; the ” New Draperies” produced proved lucrative exports to Europe and the East. By 1600, Norwich weavers were even facing a shortage of yarn and labour. On the whole, the Strangers integrated well with the local community. With no restrictions on their residency, they were not deliberately “ghettoised”. They rebuilt the whole area north of the River Wensum that had been devastated by a great fire in 1507, leaving their mark on the city’s landscape.
Over the years, strong personal links were forged between the two communities: wealthy Strangers married into the Norwich elite, they sent their children to the local grammar school and they formed business partnerships with local merchants. But, the Dutch and Walloons did not lose their own identity and culture. The Stranger churches were important as centres of communication and social care, and immigrants continued to donate money to them, despite also having to support English parishes.
Dutch and Frence schools were established in the area, and strong links were maintained with their native countries, especially through trade. In the second generation, ties were strengthened as Stranger children returned to Holland to attend University.
Local Friction Nevertheless:
Despite general harmony, there were some teething troubles. When the immigrants first moved into the area, they were subject to detailed restrictions – from controls over what they were allowed to buy and sell, to an 8pm curfew intended to stop drunkeness and disorder. Frictions and disputes between the Strangers and indigenous locals sometimes erupted. Many Strangers refused to pass on their skills to English apprentices, arguing that they had enough of their own children to set to work. Locals were often upset when immigrants set up business in other trades, such as tailoring and shoe-making because this created unwanted competition.
From this fragile start, relations gradually improved. A number of “politic men”, or arbiters, were appointed and they negotiated agreements between the authorities and the Strangers. Immigrants in Norwich were offered citizenship rights before those of any other town, and the corporation made full use of the Stranger skills and expertise. The Dutch printer, Anthony de Solempne, was employed to publish official orders and decrees. While in 1596, during a period of poor harvest, the authorities turned to a Stranger, Jacques de Hem, to help them secure provisions from Europe.
During the Elizabethan era, foreigners became more numerous on the Nation’s streets. The government’s response to this wavered between control and welcome. Restrictive policies were needed to minimise tensions between Stranger and local communities, but very different policies were necessary if the English economy was to benefit from the skills and technologies of immigrants. Influence by both religion and international politics, the Crown’s attitude towards foreigners was constantly shifting and this can be seen filtering down in the treatment of the Norwich Strangers.
Initially, under Elizabeth I, the Strangers were allowed to hold their services at Blackfiars’ Hall and St Mary the Less in relative freedom, but in the 1630’s they suffered under Archbishop Laud, who ordered them to attend only English services. Matthew Wren, Bishop of Norwich, was one of Laud’s committed followers, and frequently quarrelled with the Stranger community. He accused one congregation of Strangers of damaging the Bishop’s Chapel, where they held their meetings. But, above all, Wren worried that locals might start attending Stranger services and weaken the English church.
The Stranger’s reputation was not helped by evidence that radical religious books were being smuggled into Norwich from the Low Countries, or by the flow of English Puritans to Rotterdam in the 1630’s led by William Bridge, where they established a ‘Gathered Church’ – “A church which asserts the autonomy of the local congregation……its members believe in a covenant of loyalty and mutual edification, emphasising the importance of discerning God’s will whilst ‘gathered’ together in a Church meetins”.
Even if the Strangers were not involved in these activities, as religious separatists they still viewed with suspicion by the authorities. The government also feared that immigrant communities were a threat to public order and security by assisting foreign powers to invade. In 1571, the authorities searched Stranger’s homes for armour and weaponry,and in the unsettled years before the Civil War, it was feared they might be disloyal to the Crown. However, the relationship between the Norwich Strangers and the English was generally stable. Personal ties were formed through marriage and friendship. Some English even became godparents and guardians to Stranger children.
Overall, the story of the Strangers in Norwich was a very successful one and not only helped the local economy but also of added to the cultural variety and vibrancy of the community in which they settled. These immigrants were to become so well integrated into the local community that they were no longer “Strangers”.
Today, there are a few obvious reminders of the Strangers of old. They did bring with them a love of canary breeding, which soon caught on with the locals. It was not long before there was a new breed of bird known as the “Norwich Canary”. Bizarrely maybe, this is their most visible legacy – for who doesn’t know in Norfolk that the Norwich football team is the “Canaries”!
BILLY Bluelight was a Norfolk eccentric who – in the absence of a welfare state lived on his wits and his charm. This most iconic of characters was famous for racing the steam pleasure boats along the River Yare from Bramerton to Norwich – hoping for spare change from the passengers on board.
At half past eleven or so every morning, the tinkle of a bell would intrude upon the cooing of the wood pigeons; it heralded the approach of the Yarmouth Belle or the Waterfly, both deep in the water as a result of their heavy freight of Yarmouth trippers, all bound for Norwich.
As if on cue, a strange figure would appear on Bramerton’s river bank and take up a familiar stance. Clad in shorts and a singlet and hung with a prodigious array of medals, his expansive smile, matched at a higher level by the peak of his gaily-striped cricket cap. From the river bank he would call out:
“My name is Billy Bluelight, my age is 45,
I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive.”
With these words, he would sprint off along the river footpath of the Yare. At Woods End he would be no more than level, but once out of sight he always gained by taking a short cut across the Whitlingham Sewerage Farm, to reappear still neck and neck by the time both man and boat had reached the old limekiln at Crown Point. There, Billy would again disappear from view, and while the boat passed very slowly through unsuitable bends and narrow waters, Billy would make a detour over Trowse Bridge. By the time Carrow Bridge was reached, there would be Billy, ready to receive the well-earned plaudits of the trippers and the coppers thrown on to the path by the Boom Tower.”
Year after year this performance was repeated, but Billy’s age remained 45! This may have been for the sake of the rhyme, but there was enough of the Peter Pan in him to have justified it on other grounds.
Bluelight, whose real name was William Cullum is one of many interesting ghostly characters that still lingers on the 35-mile route along the Yare from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. He was born in the slums of his home city of Norwich, eking out a living selling cough medicine, firewood and blackberries. He never received a formal education, but he did however teach himself to read and worked briefly at Caley’s chocolate factory. By 1907 he was already legendary for his racing and street selling activities and continued racing boats into the 1930s, when he was considerably older than 45 – He is said to have remained ’45’ for many, many years. He never married and lived with his mother, until her death around 1930. The two lived at several addresses in the city including Oak Street, Colegate and Pkyerell House at St Mary’s Plain. After his mother’s death, he was reported to have entered Woodlands, part of the West Norwich Hospital. By the 1940s he was living at Palmer Road on the Mile Cross Estate which was built between the wars. In his eighties he entered the West Norwich Hospital and was later moved to St James Hospital at Shipmeadow, Suffolk where he died in 1949. Five years after his death, writer R L Potter wrote this description of him:
“That over-worked term ‘nature’s gentleman’ was never better exemplified than in the gentle, unpretentious character called Billy Bluelight. It may seem astonishing that a humble little man could imprint his personality so widely on a large city, but it was so. ”
— R L Potter, EDP.
In 1994 Woodforde’s Brewery renamed their outlet The Freemasons Arms in Hall Road, Norwich to The Billy Bluelight, but since March, 2005 and after a change of ownership, the pub reverted to its former name. However, close to the Woods End Inn in Bramerton and on the Wherryman’s Way long-distance footpath stands a life-size statue of Billy. This particular footpath is named after the men who operated the distinctive flat-bottomed sailing barges that were the HGVs of the 1700s, when Norwich was England’s second city, and a prodigious amount of cargo was ferried between the Low Countries and Norwich via the Yare. This was thirsty work and its legacy, happily, lingers in an unusual wealth of riverside pubs, there to refresh the walker en route – although never Billy Bluelight, who was teetotal.
Many theories have been put forward to how he received his name. In 1907, a reference was made to the ‘bluelight’ of his eloquence; another suggestion was that of his blue nose in winter, or that he sold blue-tipped matches. ‘Bluelight’ was also a Victorian term for teetotaler or temperance worker and William Cullum did speak out against the dangers of alcohol.
There have been several reminders of him in the Norwich area over the years since the days when he graced the River Yare and Norwich, from a pub, a statue and the Apache theatre company’s play about his life in recent times, entitled “Nature’s Gentleman – The Story of Billy Bluelight.”
It does not take too much imagination to create a 15th or 16th century scene where the condemned are seen walking from their place of imprisonment in Norwich Castle or the City’s Guildhall jail, through the streets and past the Cathedral towards Bishopsbridge and the place of execution beyond. Unquestionably, the route taken would be thronged with the inquisitive, those who were sympathetic, others who were downright hostile and some who were simply curious but with no feelings one way or the other. The parade of unfortunates would eventually preceed over the ancient Bridge and into a chalk pit on the other side of the river Wensum. There the faggots would be piled high and ready. The Church, having handed over the condemned to the secular authorities, would step out of the limelight whilst the executions took place – burning the condemned ‘at the stake’. The Church’s preferred way was to claim the authority to sentence but not kill – it kept things neat and tidy! As for those on the wrong side of the Church’s principles and laws well, they were disposed of. In Norwich they went to the chalk pits, for no other reason than for their religious beliefs. The name for these unfortunates was ‘Lollards’.
Just Who Were The Lollards?
We cannot understand who the Lollards were without first looking at John Wycliffe and who he was; born sometime in the 1320’s, becoming young Curate at Ludgershall in Wiltshire and dying there of natural causes on 31st December, 1384. He was buried in the churchyard.
Wycliffe was an English Christian theologian who became popular for translating the Bible into vernacular (common) English in 1382. During this time, the Bible was usually only available in Latin, the language used by the Church and the Upper Classes. Many regular men and women were therefore not able to read the Bible for themselves. Wycliffe wanted to change that and he did so by translating the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) into the people’s common language. As professor of theology at Oxford University, Wycliffe also challenged the Catholic Church on numerous points of doctrine. He felt that the Church was too institutionalised and had become corrupt. He promoted a personal type of Christianity – one that emphasised piety, humility and simplicity.
After Wycliffe had been dead for about 40 years, the Church declared him a heretic and afraid that his grave would become a religious shrine, Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln and acting on the instructions of Pope Martin V, ordered officials to exhume the bones, burn them, and scatter the ashes on the River Swift. Thereafter, events saw the beginning of what was to be a conserted persecution of Lollardy over a large area of England.
The Lollards were part of a movement that existed from the mid-14th century and up to the English Reformation, inspired, if not led, by John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lollards’ demands, in line with Wycliffe’s thinking, were primarily for the reform of Western Christianity and in this they had much in common with the Protestants who would follow more than a century later. Amongst the many beliefs held by the Lollards, was that the Catholic Church’s practices of baptism and confession were unnecessary for salvation. They also considered that praying to saints and honouring their images was a form of idolatry. Oaths, fasting, and prayers for the dead were thought to have no scriptural basis and they had a poor opinion of the trappings of the Catholic church, including holy bread, holy water, bells, organs, and church buildings.
Definition of the ‘Lollard’ Label: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name Lollard is most likely derived from Middle Dutch lollaerd (“mumbler, mutterer”) and from the verb lollen (“to mutter, mumble”). It appears to be a derisive expression applied to those without an academic background, educated (if at all) only in English, who were known to follow the teachings of John Wycliffe in particular; they were certainly considerably energised by his translation of the Bible into the English language. By the mid-15th century, “lollard” had come to mean a heretic in general. The lesser known use of the more neutral term “Wycliffite” was generally applied to those of similar opinions, but having an academic background.
Lollard Influence – and the Consequences! Although the Lollard’s influence spread to Lincolnshire to the north and to both the midlands and Wales to the west, the greatest concentration was in the south and East Anglia with Norfolk as an influential hub. These were the heartlands of the large agricultural Estates within which were the bulk of the restlest peasantry – the working classes of the future industrialised England. They, inherently, voiced grievances and complained, not only about religious issues but life in general. It was therefore a short step for them to be labelled troublemakers by the authorities. By the late 14th Century, the unrestful peasants became embroilled in the Peasants Revolt, led by Wat Tyler (1381), As a result, Lollardism became associated with tradesmen, peasants, public disorder, licence and excess; these were excuses subsequently used to suppress the movement. Notebly, King Henry IV was persuaded by the Church to pass the 1401 Statute “De Heretics Comburendo” (The Necessity of Burning Heretics). This Act did not, specifically, ban the Lollards, but (a) probibited the translating or owning heretical versions of the Bible and (b) authorised death by burning for all heretics.
By 1395, the Lollards had their own ministers and were winning popular support but were to be subjected to extreme measures of persecution. Throughout England they, increasingly, were hunted down, imprisoned, tortured and frequently burnt at the stake as heretics. Clearly, the religious and secular authorities were strongly opposed to the them and a primary early opponent was Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was ably assisted by none other than Henry le Despenser of Norwich of whom the Chronicler, Thomas Walsingham praised for his zeal! In 1410, John Badby, a layman and craftsman who refused to renounce his Lollardy was burnt at the stake; he was the first layman to suffer capital punishment in England for the crime of heresy. John Foxes Acts and Monuments, popularly known as Foxes Martyrs, tells many of their stories although with a strong anti-Catholic bias.
The Norwich Heresy Trials of 1428 to 1431: These trials saw fifty-one men and nine women prosecuted for heresy – four were priests: John Midelton, vicar of Halvergate; John Cupper, vicar of Tunstall; Robert Cavell, parish chaplain of Bungay; and Master Robert Berte of Bury St Edmunds, chaplain. This, and mush more, is contained in a surviving manuscript from the Westminster Diocesan Archives MS. B.2, which is considered to be perhaps the most important record of heresy trials in the British Isles before the Reformantion. This manuscript is also of local interest because it is by far the most important record of Lollardy in East Anglia. It shows the extent of heresy at an early date in this area, which produced few known Lollards, before John Oldcastle’s Revolt – or after 1431 when the trials ended. The evidence also clearly offsets East Anglia’s reputation as an exceptionally ‘High Church’ area in the late Middle Ages and helps to explain why the eastern region became a Puritan stronghold.
Thus we learn, from the Norwich Heresy Trials Manuscript, of William White, a priest from Kent who had moved to Ludham to preach dissent; also of fellow Lollard’s John (or William?) Waddon and Hugh Pye. White’s trial took place on 13 September 1428, followed by those of Wadden and Pye; all three were burnt at Lollard’s Pit later that month. How bravely they met their fate is not known but it was reported that some people had a habit of emptying the contents of their chamber pots over the condemed as they walked along Bishopsgate.
Then there was Margery Baxter from Martham who was put on trial in October 1429. A Johanna Clifland testified against Baxter stating, amongst other things, that she had expressed a variety of unorthodox sentiments, including speaking out against the traditions of sanctioned marriage, fasting for religious days, and the swearing of religious oaths. Johanna Clifland accused Baxter of telling a friend that the bread consecrated in the mass was not the very body of Christ:
“You believe ill because, if every such sacrament is God and the true body of Christ, there are countless gods because a thousand and more priests every day make a thousand such gods and afterwards eat these gods and, having eaten them, discharge them through their posteriors into repulsively smelling toilets, where you can find plenty of such gods if you want to look. Therefore, know for certain that that which you call the sacrament of the altar will never by the grace of God be my God, for such a sacrament was falsely made and deceitfully ordained by priests in the church to induce idolatry in simple people because this sacrament is only material bread”.
Baxter also went on to argue that “the images which stand in the churches come from the Devil so that the people worshipping those images commit idolatry”. Then, echoing foundational Lollard beliefs, Baxter also opposed the wealth of Catholic clergymen and the practice of confession to church officials. However, despite such statements and confessions, Margery Baxter was sentenced not to be burnt, but to receive four Sunday floggings as she walked barefoot around her parish church.
It was the case that not all of the Norwich accused were condemed to be burnt at Lollards Pit. Nearly half the total tried ended up, like Margery Baxter, being flogged in either their parish churches or the adjoining cemeteries or, in the local market places on market day. Occasionally, sentences would be carried out in Norwich, in its market place or in the Cathedral church or Cloisters. Clearly the ecclesiastical authorities were eager to make the penances known to the public. Frequently, a penitent was given precise instructions that he, or she, was to appear bare-footed, bare-headed and clad in simple clothing, carrying a candle which they had to offer at the high altar of their parish church as soon as they had completed their penance.
Persecution of heretics in Norwich tailed away after 1431 but was to return in 1531 when the Reformation (1517 – 1648) ensured further persecutions in Norwich – they had, of course, continued in other areas of England during this ‘tailed off’ period during when there was a general respite of about forty five years (1440 – 1485) as a consequence of the ‘War of the Roses’, but thereafter the attacks on the Lollards entered another bloody phase. As for the reign of Henry VII (1485 – 1509), it had hardly got going before burnings began again in London and Canterbury. Despite these renewed pressures, the Lollard movement struggled on into the 16th Century and were to be still burnt at the stake during the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547). In 1519, seven people were burnt in Coventry and within the next few years there were six burnt in Kent and five in the Eastern Counties. The stern measures employed by both the Church and State effectively drove the Lollards underground.
One of the first trials in Norwich during 1531 was that of Thomas Bilney, a Norfolk man born near Dereham; he was a Cambridge academic and, like William White before him, was convinced the Church had to be reformed. Arrested, and taken before Cardinal Wolsey, he had recanted his beliefs; but, characteristic of some who recant when initially faced with execution, returned to preaching heresy in the streets and fields. Bishop Richard NIX or NYKKE, (circa 1447–1535) of Norwich had him re-arrested and, thereafter, took a leading part in the execution of Thomas Bilney – who, by the way, had belonged to Nix’s old college. It was said, with some justice, that Nix burnt Bilney on his own authority, without waiting for the royal warrant. There was no mercy. Bilney was typically tried and convicted by the Church but given to the agents of the State for execution.
On the morning of his execution, Bilney was unwavering from his fate. A crowd had gathered in the streets of Norwich as he walked resolutely to the fire. Some thought that the weak and frail man would probably recant again. But as the fagots were piled around him, Bilney raised himself to his full height and said in a firm voice, “Good people, I am come hither to die.” After reciting Psalm 143, he took off his outer garments and was bound to the stake. As the torch was applied to the wood, Bilney did not flinch. The flames burned high around his face, but a strong wind blew them away. Bilney stood firm as the pile was ignited a second and then a third time. The third time, the fire burned in full strength. Whatever pain the noble martyr felt appeared bearable, for Bilney held his head high as the flames rose in full intensity around him. He cried out one brief phrase in Latin, “Jesu, credo.” – “Jesus, I believe.” With that dying prayer of faith, Bilney sunk downward into the fire, and the flames consumed all that was mortal”.
The climax to burning at the stake came during the reign of Mary (1553-58). Up to 50 people died during this time, under the religious conservative Bishop Hopton. In 1557 pewterers wife Elizabeth Cooper and Simon Miller, of Kings Lynn, were executed. Cooper had interrupted a service at St Andrews to retract her earlier recantation of Protestantism. As the two went to Lollards Pit, a Cecily Ormes declared her support for them.
Cecily Ormes was the wife of Mr. Edmund Ormes, worsted weaver of St. Lawrence, Norwich. At the death of Miller and Elizabeth Cooper she had said that “she would pledge them of the same cup they drank of”. For these words the civil authorities, often loath to arrest heretics, had no choice but to take her to the chancellor, who would have discharged her if she had promised to go to church and to keep her belief to herself. As she would not consent to this, the chancellor urged that he had shown more lenity to her than any other person, and was unwilling to condemn her, because she was an ignorant foolish woman; to this she replied, (perhaps with more shrewdness than he expected,) that however great his desire might be to spare her sinful flesh, it could not equal her inclination to surrender it up in so great a quarrel. The chancellor then pronounced the fiery sentence, and September 23, 1558, she was taken to Lollard Pit at eight o’clock in the morning.
After declaring her faith to the people, she laid her hand on the same stake at which Miller and Cooper had been burnt and said, “Welcome, thou cross of Christ.” Her hand was sooted in doing this and she at first wiped it only to again welcomed and embraced the stake. After the tormentors had unhurriedly built up the faggots and kindled the fire, she prayed then crossed her hands upon her breast, and ‘looking upwards with the utmost serenity, she withstood the fiery furnace. Her hands continued gradually to rise until the sinews were dried, and then they fell. She uttered no sigh of pain, but yielded her life’.
Note: There used to be a local rumour that had Sir Thomas Erpingham listed as a Lollard, for which his ‘penance’ was to build the Erpingham gate, entrance to the Cathedral precinct in Norwich!
Why did Norwich choose that particular ‘Pit’ site? What was to become known as the ‘Lollard’s Pit’ had long been associated with the Church being, as it was in the distant past, held by the Bishop of Norwich. For generations Norwich’s citizens had used the area, along with part of the then vast expanse of Mousehold Heath beyond as something approaching an industrial site. Early chalk workings were dug out there to provide foundations for the nearby Cathedral; hence the creation of a Pit in the first place. Also, its position was, conveniently, just outside the city walls and therefore a good place to dispose of those who had been cast out by the Church. The approach to it was directly along Bishopsgate. linking the Cathedral and city centre with the Pit which lay opposite Bishop’s Bridge.
Today all traces of that particular chalk pit where Lollard supporters were burned is long gone. Today, the only clue of where it once was is the Lollards Pit Public House on Norwich’s busy Riverside Road. It marks the approximate position of the old chalk pits.
The aftermath: For many years after the exercutions ended the area surrounding Lollards Pit was shunned by local people, many of whom feared evil connotations. Later it became a tannery, where wherrymen used to load and unload cargo, also it was a convenient place to dump the City’s rubbish and later it was used as a camp for gipsies. In modern times, as the area became more developed, local children would play there, unbothered by the ghosts of the past.
Today the Lollards Pit (formerly the Bridge House) pub has a plaque fixed to its wall marking the site of the infamous pit. Inevitably, it is sometimes claimed that eerie ghostly screams may be heard in the pub late at night. Claims also refer to terrified witnesses having seen ghostly black figures in the pub’s corridor and on one occasion, a shocking apparition of a woman engulfed in flames was claimed to have been seen before she quickly vanished into thin air; this suggests that, maybe, spirits are not confined to the bottles on the other side of the bar!
On the other side of Riverside Road, on the riverbank, is another commemorative plaque which hails the executed as martyrs, naming up to a dozen who died so horribly in Lollards Pit centuries ago.
FOOTNOTE: No one is absolutely sure where the Lollard’s Pit was situated; Some argue that it was not by the ‘Lollards Pit’ Public House but under the site of the old Gasometer on Gas Hill, others say it does indeed lay beneath the back bar of the Pub, whilst others put the case for it being below the site once occupied by Godfrey’s Store – or even underneath Chalk Hill House on Rosary Road. All close to one another.