Our previous blog about Jacob Mountain stated that the’ Mountain’ dynasty line was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
We also told you that their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne, in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jehosaphat’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain Snr. (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
It was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jehosaphat, and our previous blog about his younger brother, Jacob Mountain junior.
Jehosaphat Mountain himself was born at Thwaite Hall, Thwaite St Mary, Norfolk on 4 December 1745. Seven years later, in 1752, when the family had settled at West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road – his father died on the hunting field. A further seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jehosaphat Mountain’s uncle, from where he and his younger brother, Jacob, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school.
Jehosaphat married a Mary Leach in 1769 and had six children of his own. In 1777 he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University as a ‘sizar’, which meant he was an undergraduate receiving financial help from the college for which he had to perform certain menial duties. Jehosaphat did not take his degree but was ordained a Deacon on 15 March 1778 and priest on 19 September 1779, both of which were at Norwich. After holding these curacies in the parishes of Quidenham and Eccles in 1778 and 1779, he moved on to Peldon, Cranworth, and Southburgh from 1779 to 1782, after which he served as rector of St Mary’s at Peldon in Essex until 1793.
In that year he was recruited to serve in Lower Canada by his brother Bishop Jacob Mountain, recently appointed to the Quebec See. Jehosaphat responded the more readily because the prospect of a good salary in Lower Canada promised to help settle a worrisome burden of debt he had. He left England on 13 Aug. 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’, along with Jacob and their two maiden sisters. Jehosaphat was joined by his wife and three children; they included Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23-year-old son who had just been made Deacon. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793 after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs. Jehosaphat then assumed the duties of assistant to David-François de Montmollin, rector of Quebec, in the absence of Philip Toosey who was in England from 1792 to 1794.
On 24 Jan. 1794 Revd. Jehosaphat Mountain was appointed assistant to Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière*, Rector of Trois-Rivières, but he accompanied the Bishop Jacob on his visitation of the Canadas before taking up his post in the September. In practice, Jehosaphat replaced Veyssière in the performance of the rector’s duties, and the number of communicants rose from 4 to 18 in the year following his arrival. In early 1795 he was appointed missionary at Trois-Rivières of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The appointment added the society’s annual allowance of £50 to Jehosaphat Mountain’s salary of £150 as minister.
Although the Mountains greatly appreciated the beauty of the countryside and the salubrity of the climate at Trois-Rivières, they felt socially isolated in the overwhelmingly French-speaking Roman Catholic community and longed at first to be back in England. Jehosaphat’s hope for a rapid transfer to Montreal was dashed in 1795 when Bishop Jacob Mountain learned that the incumbency there had long since been promised to James Marmaduke Tunstall. In 1797 Jehosaphat was appointed chaplain of the troops stationed at Trois-Rivières and was named the Bishop’s official (commissary) for Lower Canada, a post which made him in effect the Bishop’s deputy, authorised to visit the clergy and to administer discipline and oaths, but not to ordain, confirm, or consecrate. The same year Jehosaphat turned down an appointment as Philip Toosey’s successor at Quebec in favour of his son Salter Jehosaphat. Mountain succeeded Veyssière at Trois-Rivières following the latter’s death on 26 May 1800. Within a few months, however, he was appointed to Christ Church, Montreal, replacing Tunstall. The following year he was granted the Lambeth degree of dd by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Jehosaphat Mountain had been at his new post in Montreal only two years when in June 1803 his church, the former Jesuit chapel, burned down. An architectural competition for the design of a new building was won by William Berczy. The contract for the church, to be built on Rue Notre-Dame on a lot granted by government, was let in January 1805, and the corner stone was laid on 21 June. By the autumn of 1805 the walls, of a rather pretentious structure in the Renaissance style, were raised and roofed in. However, work soon stopped for lack of money. The congregation included wealthy and prominent members, but the unexpectedly high costs led it to appeal to friends for funds, and in 1808 to the imperial government for £4,000 to complete the building. In a time of war with France, Westminster wished to limit its expenditures, and feared alienating the Canadians by boldly supporting the Church of England. A government grant of £4,000 was finally made, but because of a bureaucratic blunder it was not received in Montreal until 1812. The building was considerably altered before its ultimate completion in the 1820s.
Jehosaphat seems to have lived in relative comfort in Montreal, where by the time of his death he owned a house and vacant lot in the faubourg Québec and a house at Coteau-Saint-Louis; he also owned six uninhabited, uncultivated lots, totalling 1,218 acres, in the township of Wendover. When he died on 10 April 1817, an obituary in the Montreal Herald extolled his “extraordinary generosity and warmness of heart,” while at the same time admitting his “little singularities.” Mountain’s was the first funeral to be conducted in the new Christ Church.
The’ Mountain’ dynasty was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
Their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne , in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jacob’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain senior (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who had purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
But it was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jacob Mountain Junior, and a second blog about Jacob’s older brother, Jehosaphat Mountain.
Jacob Mountain junior was the youngest to be born at Thwaite Hall; he arrived on 1 December 1749. Three years later in 1752, when the family had settled almost at the other side of Norfolk in West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road, his father died on the hunting field. Seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jacob Mountain’s uncle, from where Jacob and his elder brother, Jehosaphat, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school. Sometime later, Jacob was sent to Scarning School near East Dereham where he became a favourite pupil of the master, the illustrious classical scholar Reverend Robert Potter (1721–1804). It would seem that Mrs Ann Mountain, who was to die in 1776, was careful with the education of her sons.
Jacob was to try his hand at a counting-house business but showed no aptitude for it; then, on 8 Oct. 1769 he was admitted as a pensioner to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. There he gained his BA (senior optima) and by 1774, had been elected junior fellow of the College and ordained deacon by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr George Horne. Three years later he took a further degree, followed by an honorary degree when he was made a Bishop himself, in 1793. But before then, on 17 Dec. 1780 to be exact, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Peterborough in a ceremony which took place in the chapel of Trinity College.
Jacob married Elizabeth Mildred Wale Kentish on 18 October 1783, in Little Bardfield Church of St Katherine, Essex and would produce seven children. It was immediately following his marriage that he relinquished his Cambridge fellowship, to be appointed perpetual curate of St Andrew’s Church in Norwich, a post he was to hold for seven years. Then from 1788 to 1790 he was Castor Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, and from 1790 to 1793 he became the examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, George Pretyman Tomline, whose acquaintance he had made at Cambridge. He was also vicar of Buckden, Cambridgeshire from 1790 to 1793, and for the same period he held in plurality the vicarage of Holbeach. It would appear that a bright future lay ahead for Jacob Mountain in the English church!
Back in London, Letters Patent were issued on 28 June 1793 which created the See of Quebec; this embraced both Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). On the same day, Jacob Mountain was appointed to the newly created ‘See’ after his name had been drawn to the attention of Prime Minister, William Pitt, by George Pretyman Tomline, who at Cambridge had been Pitt’s tutor and mentor and had since become his intimate friend and chief adviser on ecclesiastical matters. Jacob Mountain was consecrated Bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace on 7 July 1793.
Very shortly after his consecration, Jacob and his family sailed to Lower Canada on 13 August 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’; its passengers included Bishop Jacob, his wife and their four small children. Also in the party was Jacob’s brother Jehosaphat, his wife and their three children, including Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23 year old son who had just been made Deacon. To complete the Mountain family on board were Jacob’s two maiden sisters. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793, after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs.
When Mountain arrived late in 1793, he found that the Canadian diocese clergy consisted of only nine priests of the Church of England; Quebec itself had no ecclesiastical edifice, no Episcopal residence, and no rectory. The three ordained ‘Mountains’ should have brought the number to 12, but of the three ‘old’ bilingual priests already in residence – who, by the way, had failed to attract Canadians to the church – two had already been placed in semi-retirement by Bishop Inglis and the third was immediately retired by Jacob Mountain. During the thirty-two years that were to elapse before his death, Bishop Jacob was to raise the church to a flourishing condition; the original nine clergy became 61 in number, he promoted the formation of missions, and also the erection of church edifices – including the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City.
But the ecclesiastical situation that faced Bishop Jacob on his arrival was that his diocese was huge and complex! Yet from the very beginning of his appointment he set out to transplant ecclesiastical traditions developed in England on to Lower and Upper Canada. For him the most important of these was the establishment of the Church of England as the state church in the colony. Such a measure, he felt, would heighten the status of the church and encourage dissenters and Roman Catholics to attach themselves to it, thus unifying the population under an institution that was bound to support the government. Jacob’s other purpose was to place his church on a more secure foundation by extending its privileges and reducing the power and independence of its Roman Catholic rival.
In accordance with the British practice of having Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, Mountain’s membership in the legislative councils of Upper and Lower Canada as Lord Bishop of Quebec had been arranged before he left England so, shortly after his arrival at Quebec, he requested a seat on each executive council as well, they being the real colonial influence on the provinces’ administrators. Once he was installed, the work of the councils occupied much of his time and most of his duties were unrelated to his episcopal office. His decision to play it fully was determined by his belief that only through the councils could he hope to counter the influence exercised by the Roman Catholic Bishop. Thus, in the 1790s and early 1800s he was to use the weight of his council seats to block the erection of Roman Catholic parishes, and to support the prohibition of refugees into the colony, including royalist clergy from revolutionary France. However, Mountain was also faced with the situation whereby, as head of the church for which he claimed establishment, he had less authority to place clergy than his Roman Catholic counterpart. In effect, his persistent and strong efforts to have a measure of control imposed on Roman Catholic appointments met with little success.
However, in general, Mountain’s relations with the Catholic hierarchy were amicable. Even on his arrival in 1793 he had been greeted by the aged and retired Bishop Briand with words of welcome and the Gallic salutation of a kiss on both cheeks. Joseph-Octave Plessis described his relations with Mountain as “not of intimacy but of reciprocal propriety.” But, because of Mountain’s vigorous and open efforts to advance his church, he was long viewed with apprehension by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Following his last and most discouraging trip to England, however, it saw him in another light. Plessis’s successor, Bernard-Claude Panet wrote, shortly after Mountain’s death:
“The old bishop was what we needed, since there had to be one……. because in his last days he was very quiet and scarcely looked to make proselytes and what is better still, he no longer bothered with affairs and had practically no credit.”
It seems a number of reasons impelled Jacob Mountain, after nearly 12 years in Lower Canada as Bishop, to plan a voyage to England. His sons Jacob Henry Brooke and George Jehoshaphat had been tutored at Quebec by Matthew Smithers Feilde since late 1800, but their further education was a matter of family concern. Of greater weight, however, were the Bishop’s doubts about his own future and his failure to advance the establishment of his church. Three roads out of these difficulties presented themselves to his mind: translation to an English bishopric, partial retirement on a pension with a country living in England, or an improvement in his position in Lower Canada. The Bishop and his family set sail early in August 1805 and arrived in England before mid-September. The boys were placed under the tutorship of the Reverend Thomas Monro at Little Easton, Essex where they remained until they both matriculated to Cambridge.
Bishop Jacob returned to England in 1816 when he attempted again to resign, or to receive translation; but, in these efforts, he failed once again. He also failed to persuade the Government even to pronounce that his church was established. Although the war was over, the Government’s primary concern was political and social peace in the Canadas, not the adoption of policies that might lead to strife. Jacob’s relations with Henry Bathurst, like those with his predecessors, were difficult. The colonial secretary, while acknowledging the Bishop to be “of considerable abilities,” found him rigid and “of a very striving disposition.”
One advantage Jacob did gain was renewed government interest in the creation of parishes and the setting up of rectories within them. In this campaign he now had the aid of a strong committee of the SPG; this being the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) as a high church missionary organisation of the Church of England which was active in the Thirteen Colonies of North America. Further delays occurred, but, between 1820 and 1823, twelve crown rectories were established in Lower Canada. Although Bishop Jacob succeeded in getting the titles of his assistants, namely his son George Jehoshaphat Mountain and George Okill Stuart, changed from official to archdeacon; however, he did not obtain a desired increase of £150 in their salary.
Bishop Jacob was an imposing man. In 1820, when he was 70 years of age, one of the diocesan clergies confessed himself:
“struck with admiration at as perfect a specimen of the human form as I ever beheld; erect, standing above six feet, face what might be called handsome, eye mild yet penetrating, features well set and expression benevolent, limbs fully developed, and symmetry of the whole person complete.”
Before meeting him, the Governor, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay, had heard him spoken of as “a clever man, amiable in his outward manners but a lazy preacher, very haughty and imperious in society.” When in 1820 Dalhousie heard a sermon by Mountain that pleased him, he described this “fine looking old Gentlemen” as “a Divine of exalted rank & of commanding abilities.” With his background and training Mountain moved easily and graciously in society. Of his wife, Elizabeth, John Strachan recorded that she was “in her manners amiable and engaging – in her religion sincere active and cheerful – in charity unbounded, without regard to sect or nation.” Through her letters to Elizabeth Pretyman Tomline written from 1793 to 1810 much can be learned of the home life of the Mountain family, of Mrs Mountain’s care for her children, of the Bishop’s many illnesses, of her continual concern for her husband and her sympathy with his problems.
Jacob Mountain died at Marchmont House, Lower Canada, 16 June 1825 and was buried under the chancel of Holy Trinity Cathedral he had built and which also contains a monument to his memory. He had never been able to overcome fully his English background and formation, and in 1823 after nearly 30 years as Bishop of Quebec he had referred to his situation as “this long expatriation”; from it he had numerous times tried to extricate himself. His objective had been not so much to adapt the Church of England to the specific and differing circumstances in Lower and Upper Canada, but to bring the religious life of the colonies and particularly the relations between the churches and the state into conformity with the situation in England. Dalhousie, a Scottish Presbyterian and despite his approval of Mountain’s ability as a preacher, felt that the Bishop carried “high church discipline too far for a colonial church,” and Strachan felt that “his habits and manners were calculated rather for an English Bishop than the Missionary Bishop of Canada.”
Thomas R. Millman, Author of, “Jacob Mountain”, stated in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6:
“Mountain gave to position, social dignity and prestige, both institutional and personal, an importance that they perhaps did not merit in the North American context. His clergy, most of them sent from Great Britain by the SPG, were never numerous enough to minister effectively in all areas of their large mission stations and differed widely in ability. Some, because of strict adherence to church rubrics, were not able to attract to their services settlers without strong church loyalties. Others, because of their fear of religious “enthusiasm” – shared by the Bishop – did not meet fully the emotional needs of a pioneer society. To all his clergy he held out high ideals for their conduct and spirituality, defending them in official correspondence, administering reproof and discipline in private as need arose. Jacob Mountain, despite his deficiencies, achieved much as a pioneer bishop, and even Strachan, recognising the difficulties that Mountain had had to face, acknowledged what had been accomplished. Mountain could not realise a number of his dreams and did not live to see the realisation of others, but in his long episcopate he fully earned the title given to him in his epitaph – ‘Founder of the Church of England in the Canadas’.”
In one sense, this is a sequel to the previous article: “Fishley: A Story of an Estate.” , which clearly outlined where Fishley, and its church, are in Norfolk. Suffice to say here that the church of St Mary’s is comfotably settled near the Estate’s heart, in an elevated position among open fields and just off the South Walsham Road, near Acle. A ‘just about’ driveable track leads the visitor from this road to the church before becoming a private link with the farm and Hall beyond.
St Mary’s is an old stone and isolated church and is one of around 124 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk and which, in 2009 was recorded by English Heritage as a significant survivor of the early 12th century. The mound on which it rides is tree-covered and lies about half a mile across the fields from the village of Upton with its own church of St Margaret’s. Upton-with-Fishley was once a Saxon hamlet and its Churches’ synonymous with each other; however, the whole place is often referred to as just Fishley:
“It is one of those places where, apart from its history, you will find peace, tranquillity, romance and curiosity, curiosity into wonder”.
So wrote Churchwardens, Ivan Barnard and Chloe Ecclestone, on the ‘British Listed Buildings’ website, some ten years ago. Nothing, it seems, has changed.
St Mary’s is enthusiastically stewarded, which should make any parishioner proud and an attraction to any visitor who has mustered sufficient interest to go there. Inside, they would find no medieval feel about the place, but they could easily imagine what it must have been like to attend services in this church in the 19th century when much was renovated.
In these days when often it feels fashionable to neglect, there are those places which are maintained to a high order – St Mary’s is one. Even some of its 19th Century headstones in the churchyard have, in recent years, been cleaned and relettered. For those who may prefer a more haunting and neglected setting for old churches, may I suggest that they simply view this particular church from a distance – in poor, damp and cold visibility, sufficient to lend the place a seemingly brooding appearance among its trees – else give credit to the volunteers who put their care into practice!
We are told, by those who know, that St Mary’s tower is probably Norman, with the rest of the building being essentially a late 13th century rebuild; thanks, it seems, to Sir John de Veile who appears to have been the most generous of benefactors to the Fishley Parish prior to Miss Edwards’ (of Hardingham Hall) intervention from 1860.
According to Francis Blomefield in his ‘An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104’:
“the Manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (of 1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, Archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th [year]of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile, and Leola his wife, was living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the Priory of Bromholm; in 1300; John, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the Manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the Manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
Over the years, ever since the 13th century rebuild in fact, very little was done to St Mary’s as far as maintenance of the fabric was concerned. Certainly, by 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and nine years later, it had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’. The situation seems not to have been redressed when Revd. Edward Marsham’s took over the Estate, and the only aspects of his occupancy which are noted is that, at some point, he replaced a William Henry Grimmer as occupier of Fishley Hall then, took advantage of his position of being a “squarson” – (a member of the clergy who was also the main local landowner) and installed himself as the incumbent of St Mary’s – replacing the Revd. Robert Cooper.
The position of the Estate’s owner, Revd. Edward Marsham (1787 -1859), meant that he was able to wield some clout, if he so desired. He was a son of Robert Marsham Esq (1749-1824), of Stratton Strawless, and Sophia, second daughter of Edward Hase Esq. of Salle. He was also the grandson of the famous phenologist, Robert Marsham (1708-1797), also of Stratton Strawless – the one who planted all those trees!
The young Edward Marsham was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge from 1803, and from where he became a B.A. scholar in 1805, and in 1808 – 10th Wrangler no less. He also became a Fellow of Emmanuel College on 28 May 1810, and was ordained Deacon at Norwich 8 July 1810. He also held the posts of Rector of Wramplingham in Norfolk, between 1811 and 1849, with that of Brampton between 1826 and 1828; also at Sculthorpe 1811-1859; and of Stratton Strawless 1828-1859. Included in his later years, up to his death in 1859, was Fishley.
It is yet to be discovered when the Fishley Estate came into his hands. However, when he died in 1859, the Estate was bequeathed to his niece, Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardingham Hall, near Wymondham. Kelly’s Directory for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, 1883, pp.316-317, confirmed that Miss Edwards was the landowner and patron of the living, with the Revd. David Thomas Barry as Rector.
Miss Sophia Edwards proved to be a generous benefactress at Fishley, completing much there which had been left undone by her predecessors. The parish of the mid-19th century was fortunate to have had her, despite Sophia living in an age where women were barred from voting, attending universities, or even opening their own bank accounts or holding a mortgage. Sophia was certainly unique and probably something of an anomaly for that time; she remained unmarried but, importantly for Fishley, she was an independent owner of an estate and had the means to make her mark on that part of Norfolk, despite the fact that she was to follow every previous owner of the Fishley Estate by never actually living there.
Her benevolence to the parish included the extensive restoration and repairs to St Mary’s church in 1861, followed in 1875 with her financing the building of a new Rectory for its incumbent, Reverend David Thomas Barry; the Rectory was built on the outskirts of Acle, alongside the road leading to South Walsham. Sophia also funded the building of Upton School.
The Revd. David Thomas Barry’s CV ran somewhat along the following lines:
“Reverend David Thomas Barry was born in 1822 in Ireland, the son of David Barry and Mary Peacock Cooke-Collis; he married Ann E. McKee, daughter of Alexander McKee and Ann Miller. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland in 1844 with a Bachelor of Arts, followed with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He was a Curate between 1847 and 1848 at Parr in Lancashire, England, followed by a curacy at St. Paul, Toxteth Park, Liverpool between 1848 and 1853, then as Curate at St. Barnabas, Liverpool between 1853 and 1857. Finally, he became Rector at Fishley, Norfolk.”
So, this particular rector was to officiate at St Mary’s from the early days of Miss Edwards patronage, through to after her death in 1892. It was clear by then just how much he loved Fishley for not only did he dedicate the church lectern to Miss Edward’s memory but also, after his wife died and was buried elsewhere, he had her exhumed and reburied at Fishley. Reverend David Thomas Barry remained at Fishley until his own death in 1904.
Miss Sophia Edward’s 1861 restoration and repair of St Mary’s church was largely carried out to the designs of her cousin, the amateur architect Revd. John Barham Johnson, Rector of Welbourne, Norfolk. He, by the way, was also responsible for restoring the church at Mattishall, Norfolk in the mid-19th century and for designing the chancel and nave windows at Welbourne in 1874-76. Included in Revd Johnson’s plans was for a spectacular stained-glass window to be installed at St Mary’s, in commemoration of the former owner of Fishley and rector of the church, the Reverend Edward Marsham.
The work on St Mary’s brought it back from near total dereliction by first replacing the roof. Also, a large section of the south nave wall was rebuilt, as was the east gable; the chancel arch was demolished. The scissor-braced roof, which exists today, was designed with a very steep pitch, to cover both the nave and chancel in one sweep. The north side of the roof had previously rested on two beams which spanned the length of the nave and supported the rafters over the north extension. To counter this structural weakness, a cast iron column was installed to give extra support.
With the exception of a heavily-restored piscina in the chancel south wall and a ledgestone in the middle of the nave, marking the grave of Bridget Johnson (d.1747 – Revd, Johnson’s sister), all of the internal fixtures and fittings were removed. Precisely what was removed was never recorded, but one would assume that it included the box-pews, communion table, altar-rails, pulpit and font for there would be nothing left which pre-dates the 1861 work. The wooden lectern and the wooden reredos, both having been executed under the supervision of Barham Johnson were gifts of the Rev’d David Barry.
Amongst the items that were removed from the church in 1861 were two 13th century lidded stone coffins and the fragment of a third coffin-lid. The coffins were reverently placed in the churchyard to the south of the nave, and they were not rediscovered until 2010 when one was examined by Dr Julian Litten FSA in 2011. According to him:
“Whether or not the two stone coffins contained skeletons was not recorded at the time. Furthermore, no record was made of the……. positions, occupied by the coffins when they were in the church, and neither is it known if the items were visible in the building or were discovered below floor-level when preparations were made for laying the new tiled floor. The fragmentary coffin-lid, of Purbeck marble and with double-chamfer mouldings, was returned to the church in 2010 and now stands within a niche in the south wall of the chancel”.
Perhaps, of all the fixtures housed in St Mary’s today two stand out. One is the church’s 18th century organ which is hand blown and ideally suited to the church which remains unconnected to mains electricity. A plate affixed to the organ informs that it was made by Edward & John Pistor of Leadenhall Street, London in 1781. This organ is a chamber organ, the type of which was normally intended to be played in large houses. It was originally, and unsurprisingly perhaps, in Fishley Hall and was moved into the church in 1883 as a gift from Miss Edwards.
The second notable feature of St Mary’s is that it is the custodian of a unique map of the Norfolk and Suffolk inland waterways area, which includes the sites of some 75 churches (including Fishley) that surround former large ‘Great Estuary of Gariensisostium’; these churches are listed and displayed alongside the map for those who wish to explore further.
Stephen Heywood, in his ‘Conservation Based Analysis’ Report to the Norfolk County Council in October 2009, stated:
“This very attractive church, in its isolated setting and accentuated by the pine trees in the churchyard, retains a lot of its original fabric despite the wholesale restoration of 1861. Of very special interest is the virtually untouched tower which, through good fortune and good mortar, has not been repointed and keeps its valuable patina so easily spoiled.”
It would seem that for the present-day appearance of St Mary’s, credit should go to those who have applied a considerable amount of ‘elbow grease’, money and time with on-going maintenance, clearly backed by a considerable amount of love for such duties. Such people, not forgetting past benefactors such as Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards, have safeguarded the church from the ravages of time. Collectively, they have secured its tower, re-established the churchyard, installed a watertight roof, built a new access, gates and pathways and restored stained glasses.
“There hasn’t been a village at Fishley since the Saxons left, but here it stands, this remote gem in open countryside, which is a tribute to everyone that has loved the church and is determined to keep it safe.” – So wrote churchwarden, Ivan Barnard.
Overview: For those who do not know where Fishley is, particularly its Hall, Wikipedia tells us only that it is in:
“the English county of Norfolk. Administratively, it falls within the civil parish or Upton with Fishley which in turn is within the district of Broadland. Fishley sits a mile north of Acle, roughly halfway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth.”
This information, whilst correct, is something only Treasure Quest enthusiasts would thrive on. Better still, would be an instruction that would actually pinpoint a place that is almost ‘off the map’ – for there is very little there, except the lovely 12th century church of St Mary’s, Fishley Hall itself, a farm and open countryside. The old village of Fishley has certainly been long lost, which for Norfolk, is certainly not unusual for it has numerous other ‘lost’ villages. Villages that were considered ‘lost’ for various reasons; these included desertions; plague, soil exhaustion and probably more. When a village became ‘lost’, and Fishley remains somewhat of a mystery, it often left tell-tale signs of where it was or might have been. With Fishley, all that seems to remain is an open field – for the church and hall, which were both once ruinous at different points, made a come-back!
The village of Fishley:
To find what was once the site of the old village and Fishley Hall, today’s visitor would need to approach it along the B1140, the relative part of which that runs between South Walsham and Acle; they can, of course, approach the relevant turning from either direction. From South Walsham, after passing Church Road (a left-hand turn to Upton) the visitor would soon notice the premises of Hugh Crane Cleaning Equipment on the left, shortly before Acle. At this point, on the right, is a white/black road-sign which says ‘Fishley’ and points for the visitor to turn left – he, she or they have almost arrived! This narrow road, or to some a track, leads first to Fishley’s St Mary’s Parish Church and further on, to Fishley Hall itself with open countryside almost all round.
The old village of Fishley (and nearby Upton) was listed in the Domesday Book within the Walsham Hundred; its recorded population was shown as 33.3 households in 1086, which placed it in the largest 40% of recorded settlements. Fishley also recorded three Manors, for which each ‘holder’ was separately listed as both Tenant in Chief and Lord of the Manor – 1st Manor: – Abbey of St Benet at Holme; 2nd Manor: – King William and 3rd Manor: – William of Ecouis.
Fishley Hall and Estate: It would appear that the Fishley Estate has been a small compact unit of never more than 500 acres since it was first recorded in the Domesday Book; today, it is barely 350 acres. It also has had a long history of ownership by wealthy families who seldom, if ever, lived there, preferring to rent out the farm house and land and live off the rentals received. It also seems that the Hall was once associated with Royalty; King John was said to have hunted at Fishley during his reign of between 1199 and 1216; Ann Boleyn’s family had loose connections there. Clearly, the Estate was once renowned for its hunting and fishing – as well as its good arable land, and there has been a substantial dwelling at Fishley since the days of King John, who in 1201 gave its tenancy to his Falconer Roger de Veile.
According to Francis Blomefield, in his Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104:
“the manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile and Leola his wife were living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the priory of Bromholm; in 1300 John*, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
*The stone coffin of Roger’s son, Sir John de Veile, was discovered at Fishley church as recent as 2011.
Fishley: The Ann Boleyn Connection: Sir Nicholas Wychingham of Witchingham in Norfolk, who died circa 1433, had a daughter named Elizabeth. She subsequently married Sir Thomas Hoo who, as a result of marriage, came to possess Elizabeth’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate. Sir Thomas, a commander in France, was also rewarded with the Barony of Hoo and Hastings in 1447, thus bringing the total Hoo Estates to cover part of Norfolk, but principally in Hertfordshire and the Bedfordshire border area, which was centred on the family house at Luton Hoo.
Sir Thomas Hoo’s eldest daughter Anne Hoo (1426-1484), by his first wife, Elizabeth, married Sir Geoffery (Bullen) Boleyn sometime before 1448. With this marriage, Lady Anne Hoo as she became, subsequently brought her mother’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate into the ownership of the Boleyn family – and there it remained for a hundred years or so. It therefore followed that the Fishley Estate was in the ownership of the Boleyn family from sometime before 1448 until approximately 1561 when Sir William Boleyn sold it.
Sir William Boleyn was uncle to Anne Boleyn, the same Anne Boleyn who married King Henry V111. From the hundred year or so ownership of Fishley it follows that many of the Boleyn family although they may never have lived there, no doubt would have visited it. However, it remains a matter of conjecture whether, or not, Anne Boleyn ever visited Fishley with her uncle – possibly while staying at Blicking Hall?
Fishley, !8th Century: Fishley Hall has often been referred to ‘as of the Georgian period’; this, however, does not mean that the Hall is Georgian – only the façade can claim such provenance! The fact is that, after a William Luson had purchase the Estate in 1714 (see below), he bricked up the windows at the front of the Hall and added the façade, that was in 1717. This feature is the only part of the building that can be classed as ‘Georgian’; the main front section of the Hall, on to which William Luson added this façade, is probably up to a hundred years older. Indeed, the lower flint sections of the external north wall to the dining room was considered to be older still.
Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak! At Fishley Hall there is such a story; it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that then directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused. The estate map of the same year provides such evidence – the dyke from the River Bure is shown leading up to the Hall, with its own turning basin so that boats could unload, or load, a cargo and turn round and go back to the river. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe?
A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London. As an aside, the tenants of the Pepys family’s Fishley Hall were said to have been an Edward Deborah and an Edward Jay. Today, there are members of the Jay family buried in the neighbouring Upton Church; they were once a prominent local farming family. James Jay was the Steward of the Manor of Upton with one member of Upton’s Lord of the Manors being Christ Church College, Oxford.
In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed the Estate, along with other land he owned in Gunton near Lowestoft, to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling lived at Gunton Hall and is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was used in the founding of Lowestoft Pottery. His clay was very similar to that used in Holland to produce Delftware. As well as owning the Fishley Estate, the Lusons also had the right to appoint the Rector, and it seems that the Rev Edward Holden, appointed in 1753 was a relative of Hewling’s wife – nothing untoward there we don’t suppose!
Fishley, 1836 to 1875: It is not known when the Fishley Estate came into the hands of the Reverend Edward Marsham; he being a member of the extended Marsham family of Stratton Strawless; and the former incumbent of both Sculthorpe and St Margaret’s Church at Stratton Strawless. However, in 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and the Hall occupied by a Mrs Elizabeth Taylor; by 1845, a William Henry Grimmer lived there. Nine years later, the parish had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’; it would seem that there had been a slow deterioration, which had not been redressed during Edward Marsham’s occupancy. In addition, William Henry Grimmer had departed from the Hall, in favour of Edward Marsham who had himself moved into Hall. Not only that; but Revd. Robert Cooper was no longer the incumbent of St Mary’s church because the same Edward Marsham had also taken on this post; he being a “squarson” – a member of the clergy who was also main local landowner. The farm bailiff was a Mr John Yallow.
Enter Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardington Hall in 1859, having inherited the Fishley Estate from her late uncle, Reverend Edward Marsham who died that year. She was to prove to be a generous benefactress who did much for the Fishley Estate and return it to a respectable state. It was she who, in 1860, was responsible for the renovation of the Hall, when the north wing (referred to above) was pulled down, and the Hall’s ‘Pistor’ chamber organ was moved into St Mary’s church – this unique 1781 instrument was said to be one of only three organs from this manufacture which is known to still exist and in use today. In addition to all this, Miss Edwards also paid for the extensive restoration and repairs to the church. Then in 1872 she financed the building of the National School at Upton and in 1875, the building of a new Rectory on the South Walsham road leading into Acle; the Revd. David Thomas Barry occupied it as Rector.
With the arrival of Miss Edward, The farm was leased to Mr Henry Read and it was his turn to move into Fishley Hall. By 1865, John Squire had moved into the Hall, where they were to live for the next twenty-six years.
Into the 21st Century: Through the early years of the 20th century other tenants occupied Fishley Hall, but gradually thereafter it was to deteriorate; by the 1980’s the Hall, which had not been lived in for about fifty years, was roofless and dilapidated. Its non-use had ensured that its eventual ruinous state was principally due to water pouring in through a roof that had continuously lost more and more of its roof slates. In the end, some of the bedroom floors had collapsed on to the ground floor – the Hall was a candidate for demolition. But no; in 2013, four years of ‘painstaking’ restoration began and by 2017 the historic building had been brought back to life; fit to take on quite a different role. Today, the property is better-known as ‘An Enchanting Wedding Venue’, and a holiday retreat, with eight bedrooms and all the facilities one could expect.
As for the Rectory; by the 1980’s, it was the Amber Lodge Hotel, subsequently becoming the Manor Hotel & Country Club, with a telephone number of Acle 377 and the Mannings Hotel & Restaurant. The property, in the end, was closed and sold in 2006; today it is in private ownership.
Walkers on Sheringham’s west end clifftop footpath, which leads up to the Coastguard Hut, may not know that this is an area of the cliffs which, during the Second World War was honeycombed with tunnels and heavily defended. What they may also not know is that this elevated position also overlooks the place where, in the early hours of 6 December, 1939, three enemy airmen lost their lives.
This War-time drama occurred during a night of hail and rain and brisk winds. Residents close to the seafront were awakened by the sound of an aircraft, flying very low and with engines spluttering, which went on to crash in the sea on the east side of the Lifeboat Shed. Despite an initial fear that ‘Jerries might be running around in the dark,’ people poured out of their houses in the pitch dark, and the lifeboat crew was ‘knocked up’ to launch the lifeboat into a heavy swell to search for survivors.
Ashore, flickering lights and torches picked out a parachute which was draped over the promenade, near the Whelk Copper. About 50 yards from high-water mark was the equally ominous sight of a swastika-adorned plane rolling in the sea. Despite the wind, hail, rain, topped with the stink of aviation fuel, some men bystanders waded into the sea with ropes and managed to secure the wreckage to the breakwater, to prevent from being driven away.
It was left for daylight to not only bring further detail, but also a flood of military guards, officials and aviation experts. They identified the aircraft as a Twin-Engine Heinkel HE 115 Float Plane, which may have been laying magnetic mines – who knows? Apparently, the story went round that the aircraft had been ‘downed’ by one of our ‘secret weapons’; subsequent opinion suggested that it had possibly clipped one of the Chain Home Radar Towers at West Beckham. The Press at the time sensationalised (what’s new!) the news with headlines such as “Nazi Plane Crashes into the Sea”. It was said that the Heinkel also boasted self-sealing fuel tanks, a system which would have been of interest to the on-the-spot officials who were poking around the wreck; but also of great interest to British boffins back at base who were working on their own version. Eventually, of course, the wreckage was cleared away, though one of the engines is said to be still there – lying in about 20 feet of water.
But what of the German crew of three? The body of the pilot was discovered immediately and subsequently buried, with military honours, at Bircham. The other two bodies were washed ashore several days later. They too were given military funerals, this time at Sheringham’s Weybourne Road cemetery. After the War, they were said to have been exhumed and re-buried in the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffs.
It is an odd fact that if the Heinkel had come down at low water, it might well have been recorded as the first German plane of World War Two to have crashed on British soil.
Footnote: RAF West Beckham, which had close links with the local fighter station RAF Matlask, was opened in 1938 and comprised a transmitter and receiver site, a generator site and underground reserves. It reported to the filter room at RAF Watnall which was the HQ to No. 12 Group RAF, and the station was originally parented to RAF Bircham Newton, followed later by RAF Wittering and finally RAF Coltishall.
The radar site was located at Bodham Hill and was known as A Site. During World War II the station was commanded by the famous dance band leader Marius B. Winter and because of his background the soldiers based at the camp were said to have been ‘very well entertained’. The Site closed in 1956.
There were also two other separate camps: B Site, near Baconsthorpe, provided accommodation for the WAAFs and airmen from 1939 to 1946. It was also known as “The Marlpit Camp”, due to its close proximity to a disused marl pit – which is now a fishing lake. The camp was closed down in 1958.
C Site was home to the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1940 and in 1941 was used by the Military Police, followed by an RAF regiment from 1942 until 1945. After the war the site went into care and maintenance. Today the station is privately owned and many of the buildings are still in existence.
First, an Explanation: According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
“Pirate is the most general of the four terms. Originating with the Greek peiratēs, meaning brigand, it can be applied to a wide range of nautical misbehaviour, including coastal raiding and intercepting ships on high seas. Robbery, kidnapping, and murder all qualify as piratical activities, provided there’s some water and a boat involved. If there’s no water and no boat, you’re just a regular bandit. If there’s a boat but no water, you need to go back to pirate school.”
A privateer was a pirate with papers. As the name suggests, privateers were private individuals commissioned by governments to carry out quasi-military activities. They would sail in privately owned armed ships, robbing merchant vessels and pillaging settlements belonging to a rival country. The most famous of all privateers is probably English admiral Francis Drake, who made a fortune plundering Spanish settlements in the Americas after being granted a privateering commission by Elizabeth I in 1572. The use of privateers allowed states to project maritime power beyond the capabilities of their regular navies, but there were trade-offs. Because privateering was generally a more lucrative occupation than military service, it tended to divert manpower and resources away from regular navies.
Privateering could be shady business, and this accounts for some of the lexical overlap with the word pirate. Privateers sometimes went beyond their commissions, attacking vessels that didn’t belong to the targeted country. This extracurricular raiding and pillaging were indistinguishable from piracy as defined above. At other times, outlaw pirates would operate with the tacit encouragement of a government but without the written legal authorization given to privateers. In historical settings where these practices were common, the line between privateer and pirate was blurred.
Our Story: As youngsters we were brought up on romantic swashbuckling tales of pirates sailing in various exotic parts of the world; then there were movies such as “Treasure Island” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. No one ever told us that being a pirate in the cold waters of the North Sea could be just as profitable, and just as violent, – as happened, for instance, on the morning of Wednesday, 31 January 1781 when a large brigantine, the “Alexander & Margaret” was heading for London laden with coals. David Bartleman was its captain with Daniel MacAulay as his mate.
At about six o’clock on that January morning a Cutter, carrying eighteen 4-pounders plus a crew of upwards of 100 men commanded by the notorious English pirate Daniel (John?) Fall, emerged out of the mist and attacked the brigantine just off Cromer on the edge of the North Norfolk coast. Bartleman and his crew courageously defended their ship and did manage to beat off what was a first assault by Fall; it was an effort which no doubt raised the moral of the men – at least temporarily.
This success did indeed turn out to be short lived for barely two hours later Fall’s Cutter attacked again. This second skirmish continued for a further two hours until the brigantine became totally disabled with Daniel MacAulay, the mate, dying from the loss of blood and Bartleman also seriously wounded, some of the remaining crew less so; two small boys, apparently, escaped injury. It was clear that there was no option other than for Bartleman to strike a ransom with Daniel Fall; a ransom reputed to have been around 400 guineas. This agreement allowed Bartleman to bring his proud but shattered vessel into Great Yarmouth, which lay approximately thirty miles south-east of the skirmish area. Two weeks later, on the 14th February 1781 and at an age of barely 25 years, David Bartleman died as a consequence of his wounds and was buried in the parish churchyard of St Nicholas Church, in Great Yarmouth. To commemorate the gallantry of his son’s death, plus the bravery of his faithful mate, and at the same time mark the infamy of Fall the pirate, his father Alexander Bartleman ordered a stone to be erected over his son’s grave. At the foot of this stone is the following epitaph:
“Twas great. His foe though strong was infamous – the foe of human kind
A manly indignation fired his breast
Thank God my son has done his duty”.
On Saturday, 3 February 1781 the Ipswich Journal recorded this and other similar incidents by Fall:
“Yesterday the noted pirate Fall made his appearance to the North of this coast, and has taken a number of colliers and coasters; amongst which are the following:
The ‘John Pearson’ of Shields, ransomed for 700 guineas.
‘Smelt Coxon’ of Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.
‘Fanny Porter’ of Yarmouth ransomed for 300 guineas. ‘Alexander & Margaret’ from Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.”
Almost simultaneously, another account emerged from Cromer, picking up on what could have been part of Daniel Fall’s raiding programme in the vacinity of the Norfolk coast during that period, reporting thus:
“On Monday last, 11 fellows, armed with pistols etc landed out of a large boat at Runton, near Cromer, and greatly terrified the inhabitants; but assistance being called from Cromer, [ensured] they were all secured. The account they give of themselves is, that they belonged to a large smuggling vessel, which they were obliged to quit in order to save their lives; but it is supposed they belonged to the noted Daniel FALL, two of them being lately wounded, one of whom is shot through the knee, and the boat they landed from being thirty feet long. It is thought they either came to plunder, or surprise some unarmed vessel. William Windham, Esq. of Felbrigg, sent for Captain Bracey, of the impress service in this city, who accompanied by his gang, safely conducted them to town, [where] they were examined before Roger Kerrison, Esq., who committed them to Norwich Castle. They all prove to be Englishmen. (February 1781).”
The Norfolk Chronicle also picked up on the theme of Fall in the following two reports; on one hand you have Fall, the pirate, and on the other hand, you have Captain Steward, the ‘good guy’ :
“Yarmouth, Feb 1, 1781. On Thursday, about twelve o’clock, the ‘Dreadnought’, with Privateer, Captain Timothy Steward, Commander of 14 carriage guns, and 50 men, went to sea………he saw a large brigantine from Shields (known now to be the ‘Alexander & Margaret……..which was taken this morning about six o’clock)………Within half an hour, another large vessel, laden with coals, passed our roads and which was also taken this morning……and ransomed for five hundred guineas. The Captains of the above vessels say, they were taken by that notorious villain FALL, who had on board his ship at that time thirteen Ransomers; they supposed that FALL has taken near thirty sail of ships from the North. It is surprising that this villain had not one Frenchman on board.”
“Captain STEWARD, his Officers……. sailed down to a Scotch privateer in the Roads, and would have had its Captain [join him in pursuit of] this audacious pirate, but the Captain refused; then Capt. Steward directly sailed down to the ‘Ranger’ privateer, but the crew refused, as their Captain was not on board and the ship [was] not in proper order for action. Captain STEWARD, had 20 Gentlemen friends on board,……….who volunteered to go in pursuit of FALL, [provided] the ships in view would join the chase; but all refused. The sloop of war, ‘Fly’, was in the Roads, but had fifteen ships under her convoy for Portsmouth. (February 1781)”
Our Ships are Privateers, YOURS are Pirates!: It depended very much from which side you were looking. Generally speaking, the British ships which preyed on enemy vessels were described as privateers. The enemy’s ships, or those who attacked British vessels, regardless of their own origin, were described as pirates. It made little difference to the treatment given to their victims. Strickly speaking, a privateer had a government commission to carry out commerce raiding against the enemy — a kind of privatised naval warfare — whereas a pirate was simply in it for the money and would attack anyone. However, sometimes even Captain Fall was given the relative dignity of being called a privateer – and in this the profits likely to come to him from the value of his ‘catch’ were huge:
“The ‘Sans Pear’, a French privateer, Capt. FALL, is arrived at Helvoetfluys, with 100 English prisoners, and 14 ransomers, valued at 5,400 guineas. The same privateer has also taken the ‘Ranger’ privateer (formerly the Lady Washington and captained by Magnus Brightwell of Wells), of 12 guns and 45 men; and on the third inst. she fell in with the ‘Eagle’ privateer of 16 guns and 160 men, which she sunk, after an obstinate engagement, that lasted with great fury on both sides for three hours and an half. (February 1781).”
At the beginning of June 1781, the Harwich packet, ‘Prince of Wales’ was captured by two cutters – The ‘Fearnought’, commanded by Fall, and the ‘Liberty’, which he had recently cut out from a Scottish port. The packet was taken into Flushing, where the ‘Liberty’ was wrecked as she approached the harbour and her company, including the British prisoners were rescued by Fall. It is interesting to note that although England was at war with Holland, the capture angered the Dutch, as they considered the packet-boats to be no more than neutral ships and the prisoners were soon repatriated.
Often FALL would sail under American colours. In February 1781 for instance, a Harwich packet sighted Fall who carried letters of marque from Holland, France and America and on this occasion hoisted the 13 stripes as the packet passed him. A short while later it was reported that Fall was off Orfordness with a squadron of privateers from Dunkirk. This demonstates that Fall, and many English sailors were happy to act as French (and American) privateers! – it would appear that a pirate was a pirate, regardless of the flag under which they happened to be sailing. However, although Captain Fall was active for quite a long time in the North Sea, it was reported in April 1782 that Fall had moved into the Irish Sea – and, apparently, Norfolk and the East Coast heard no more of him!
Today, tucked away in the old graveyard of the Great Yarmouth parish church of St Nicholas, is the headstone which was erected to the memory of David Bartleman, master of the brigantine “Alexander & Margaret” of North Shields.
In the early part of 2011, stonemason Colin Smith, spent many weeks restoring Bartleman’s faded relic of a headstone and transforming it into a legible icon for the St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust. This work was followed in the July of that same year by a special service, attended by more than 25 people; it was held in the St Nicholas churchyard, specifically for the purpose of the rededication and re-positioning of the restored stone at the West End of the Church. The stone was blessed by the Rev Chris Terry. Interestly, the funding for the restoration was said to have come from a family whose distant ancestors were themselves pirates!
Footnote: Like most ship’s of the time, Bartleman’s ’Alexander’ and Margaret’ brigatine sported a figurehead, or ‘wooden dolly’ on its bow. Some three decades later, this same figurehead settled in Shields when, in 1814, the ship was in dock for repairs and the late Captain Bartleman’s father, Alexander, presented the figurehead to the quayside tradesmen. They, in turn, placed it at the entrance to Custom House Quay on Liddell Street, North Shields, and it stood there until 1850.
The curved female figure which today stands outside ‘The Prince of Wales Tavern’ in North Shields is the latest in a series of ‘wooden dollies’ which have stood at the entrance to Customs House Quay since 1814. This and all other ‘Dollies’ since then became famous the world over amongst sailors, who would cut pieces off to keep for good luck whilst voyaging at sea. Most Dollies became so defaced that they were regularly replaced.
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It would not be incorrect to say that former forester Paul Hoda’c came to Britain the hard way – being chased by the Nazis more or less all the way from Czechoslovakia to England. It happened because of a blizzard of occurrences, all of them more or less out of his control – and it happened like this:
Paul was born in 1918 to a Catholic family in Czechoslovakia, enjoying a way of life which was utterly shattered in March, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria. Neighbouring Czechoslovakia immediately took fright and mobilised, and Paul was among the many hundreds of young men who signed up. Fate, however, intervened again when, a few months’ later, the Nazis invaded his country. Most of the local resistance was brushed aside, and he fled to Poland, being forced to make a highly dangerous border crossing, before finally joining the Czech Legion in that country.
But the fates had more in store. In September, 1939, Poland was also overrun, and this time the young Paul Hoda’c was forced to flee to Romania and then, eventually, to Beirut and France, where he again fought the advancing Germans. By the time France fell he was a Sergeant-Major, but he managed to escape to England.
By 1945 he was married to an English girl, and when the War was over they moved to Leamington Spa where he worked for many years at the Jaguar car factory. But two things always stayed with him – the love of his home country and the Czech forests where he had worked as a young man, and his religion, and both of them, some years’ later, finally came together in one place.
In the early 1970s – which is when I first met him – Paul had only just purchased for himself a 10-acre piece of Norfolk woodland known as Spread Oak Wood between Longham and Bittering, near Dereham. Here, at weekends and during his holidays, when he ‘camped’ in a caravan parked under the trees, he rediscovered his connection with the forests of his youth, and also found something else – an authentic Roman road.
This, I presume, was one of the branches of the Fen Causeway which originally ran from Denver and may have continued east as far as Caister on Sea. Near Bittering, it went by Salter’s Lane and Stoney Lane towards Kempstone, and a short stretch of it ran along the base of Paul’s triangular-shaped block of woodland.
I visited him several times when he was living in his caravan and he showed me the distinctive line of the ancient road under the trees and covered by leaves, and another short section which he had cleared completely. For this was key to the next part of his plan – to built a chapel/shrine and erect a cross which, by dint of hard work during his free time, he duly did, by hand, using materials acquired by himself or donated by well-wishers. – And complete it he did, so successfully that the cross and the chapel, built on the Roman road, were officially consecrated in 1974. Since the shrine opened in 1983 there has been an annual Mass, and a plaque above the altar in the chapel was dedicated to Paul’s wife, Monica, who died in 1998.
The last time I saw Paul Hoda’c, which is some years’ ago now, he was very much at ease among the trees, and utterly content with his lot.
Apart from an ‘Introduction’, The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story where ghosts emerge out of the sort of variable weather that one can find at Skiffkey! It is a story that may once have been widely believed – but possibly false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have happened sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..
Introduction; The village of Stiffkey lies on the North Norfolk coast, along the A149 coast road between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Morston. The name of Stiffkey derives from the tree stumps that are found in the marsh – the area of which is referred to as ‘tree-stump island’. Skiffkey is a beautiful village consisting largely of flint and brick cottages, built on the banks of the charming River Stiffkey which is bridged just into the Langham road. The river, with its little, narrow, confining valley is quite attractive during summer months and never seems to lose its way as it flows through the village on its way to the sea at Stiffkey Freshes. There was once a harbour at Stiffkey, but it has long been completely silted up – the reason why those ‘Blues’ of old grew so fondly attached to the area.
The main street of Skiffkey is narrow and winding and is bordered on both sides by high walls – making it a dangerous place for pedestrians, also something of a nightmare for motorists – especially in the busy summer months when tourists pass through from afar. In fact, for those who venture through the village by car, van or lorry for the first time they would immediately notice one thing – the road is not only extremely narrow, but has no pavement between the flint walls and road. In the height of the summer tourist season this feature sometimes contributes to the occasional ‘incident’ caused by vehicles which choose to joist with others, often resulting in damaged paintwork at best or dented bodywork and, frequently, displaced side mirrors. It is also not the place for the faint hearted or for those who like to test their prowess at speeding. Patience is required!
Our Story: In the small village of Stiffkey, out on the salt marshes is a large mud bank called Blacknock, which is the site of a ghostly haunting. Stiffkey is famous for its blue cockles, and in the 18th century these were gathered by the women of Stiffkey. It was hard and potentially dangerous work as the tides race in, cruel and fast over these marshes. But the Cocklers of Stiffkey were tough women, they had to be. With their weathered faces, dressed in pieces of sacking for warmth, they trawled the marshes for cockles.
Once collected, the cockles had to be hauled back in large sacks to the village, without help of man or beast. It was no wonder that the women of Stiffkey were known thereabouts as Amazons, given their strength and hardiness. You had to be tough to be a Stiffkey Cockler. On one particular day the Stiffkey women were out as usual gathering the ‘Stewkey Blues’……
We all told her, but she wouldn’t listen, not her. Her mother was the same, stubborn as a mule. Her mother was a Stiffkey Cockler as well, but at least she died in her bed, not like her poor daughter.
It’s hard work cockling. You get paid by the sack so if you come back with only half a sack then you, or one of your children, might have to go hungry. We have to carry those sacks, full of cockles, all the way back to the village; you can’t get no mule out there, not out on those sand banks. But we’re tough, tough as old leather. That’s why they call us Amazons hereabouts. Though being tough don’t make it any easier when we lose one of our own.
But she wouldn’t listen……
We all saw that the tide was turning; turning fast and the weather was closing in quick. That’s why we packed up. None of us, apart from Nancy, had a full sack – but half a sack, your life and a night with an empty stomach is better than no life at all. So, we left the girl. Left her out there by herself still gathering cockles out on Blacknock whilst we all came back; came back home to our families and to safety.
There was nothing we could have done, she wouldn’t listen. Who could have known it was going to get that bad – and that quickly. Of course, when she realised the danger it was too late, the roke (fog) had descended. No way could she find her way back. I don’t even think Nancy could have found her way back in a roke like that. Not even with all her years of experience.
Our men folk tried to get to the girl. Well they could hear her see! Out there in their boats on the sea they could hear her calling and a screaming for help. My man said he even heard her cursing and swearing; raging against the roke and the tide – even against God himself! Then all of a sudden, he said, there was silence and he could hear her no more, none of them could. So, they turned back – had to – too risky in all that roke in a boat when you can’t see where the mud banks be.
She’s still out there of course! No, not her body; No!, that we found the next day. Still had her knife clasped in her hand and her sack, a way off still just half full. Seaweed there was, all tangled up in her hair and her eyes. Well, her eyes they were open, glaring one might say, glaring at the injustice of it all. No, it’s not her body out there, that be in the churchyard, but her spirit, her restless spirit, that’s still out there. Now I can’t spend my time gossiping I’ve got to get on, got to get back and feed my family.
No, it’s not ‘cause of the tide; the tide has already turned and it’s on its way back out…… But there’ll be a fog tonight; you can already see it beginning to roll in from the sea……It’s her, she’s always much worse on foggy nights, much more restless and noisier – probably ‘cause it was foggy when she drowned……No, she’s far worse on foggy nights. On foggy nights you may even see her; with all that seaweed still in her hair. So, you don’t want to be thinking about going out there, not by yourself, not out on Blacknock sandbank!
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.
On 7 April 2020 the Wisbech Standard published the sale of Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s former home in Emneth, Norfolk. It was The Old Vicarage and it was there, between the years 1953 to 1965, where Awdry wrote around half of his much-loved and popular children’s stories; principally, the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series of books which children, around the world, still enjoy today. The 8-bedroom detached house itself was built in 1858, using distinctive Victorian red bricks and set in 1.5 acres of grounds. This was where Awdry’s parishioners came on those occasions when they wanted to see their vicar. These visitors usually entered the house through the east side of the property, thus giving them access to his study. It was in this study where Awdry, not only attended to his day job of looking after his flock but also continued to write his famous books.
Wilbert Awdry was born at Ampfield vicarage near Romsey, Hampshire on 15 June 1911. His father was the Reverend Vere Awdry, the Anglican vicar of Ampfield who was 56 years old at the time of Wilbert’s birth; his mother was Lucy Awdry (née Bury). More importantly perhaps is that the experiences upon which much of young Wilbert Awdry’s writings were to be based in later life began in 1917 when the family moved to Box, in Wiltshire when he was six years old. The family settled at “Journey’s End”, a house which was only 200 yards from the western end of Brunel’s 1841 Great Western Main Line ‘Box Tunnel’, through which the line passed on its way to Bath and Chippenham. Wilbert would lie in bed at night listening to the noise of the engines and he later described to Roy Plomley on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs how he and his father would engage in trainspotting the names of GWR engines, with a telescope aimed through his father’s dressing room window.
Railway enthusiasts would know that it is at this point where the railway climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for some two miles. A banking engine used to be kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker, as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way eastwards up the incline.
Here was where young Awdry’s imagination began to believe that all steam engines had definite personalities and that in their ‘puffings’ and ‘pantings’ he could hear the conversation they were having with one another. From this point, Awdry quickly developed his passion for steam engines. As the son of a vicar, of whom he was very fond, Awdry also grew gradually towards a vocation as a priest and was ordained into the Church of England priesthood in 1936. It was these two lines passion – steam engines and religious devotion – that were to run throughout his life of 85 years; two lines that were straighter than most railway tracks and, together, were to be the inspiration for the story that Wilbert first told his own son Christopher.
The origin of that particular story happened in Birmingham, in 1942; Wilbert having taken the curacy at St Nicolas Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham in 1940. Christopher was confined to bed with measles. Wilbert set about amusing his son with a ‘germ’ of a story about a little old engine who was sad because he had not been out for a long time. When Christopher asked what the engine’s name was, his father said that it was Edward – the first name that came into his mind. It was Edward who, in Awdry’s subsequent first story book entitled “Edward’s Day Out”, helped Gordon’s train climb an incline – the inspiration for that act of charity clearly came from the time when Awdry listened to the sounds at Box Tunnel.
After Awdry wrote ‘The Three Railway Engine’, he built Christopher a model of Edward, together with some wagons and coaches, out of a wooden broomstick and scraps of wood. Children being children, Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however, the wartime shortage of materials limited Awdry to just making a little 0-6-0 tank engine which he named Thomas because, according to Awdry, it was the most natural of names to give this particular engine – Thomas the Tank Engine was born! Christopher liked a train named Thomas and asked his father for more stories about Thomas; these duely followed. By the time Awdry stopped writing in 1972, his Railway Series numbered 26 books. They all featured what became ‘established engines’ – the impish Thomas, industrious Edward, argumentative Henry and proud and pompous Gordon – as well as introducing new characters in such stories as Toby the Tram Engine, Percy the Small Engine and Duck & the Diesel Engine from the 1950’s.
In 1946 Awbry and family moved from Birmingham to Cambridgeshire to serve as Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Elsworth with Knapwell which was near Cambridge.
Thomas the Tank Engine – in the Flesh!: In 1947 a 0-6-0T steam engine, No.1800 was built by Hudswell Clarke for the British Sugar Corporation (BSC) to work at Woodston at Peterborough. It remained at Woodston for all of its working life where it was in daily use, in the sugar beet season, pushing wagons of beet from the farms up the steeply graded line to be uploaded at the factory. It also marshalled lengthy trains in the extensive siding that BSC had near the Fletton Loop just east of Orton Mere Station. It was in the late 1960s when diesel traction took over the duties from this steam locomotive; fortunately, however, the pensioner was maintained in good condition.
Then in 1970 the newly formed Peterborough Railway Society (later to become the Nene Valley Railway) appeared on the scene, setting up their working base in a compound within the BSC sidings. The company then sold its steam locomotive No.1800 to the Society for a nominal £100, and it was sometime around this point when the engine acquired the nickname of ‘Thomas’ – because of its blue livery! Almost twelve months later, in 1971, the retired Rev Wilbert Awdry returned to Cambridgeshire to officially name the locomotive ‘Thomas’, thereafter to become the star of what is now the Nene Valley Railway.
Of Thomas’s lasting popularity, Wilbert Awdry wrote:
“Thomas is the eternal child! Thomas is given a prohibition; naturally, as all children do when they’re told not to do something, they want to know why and they find out why by doing it.”
As for Awdry, he served seven years at Elsworth with Knapwell before moving to Bourn in 1950 as Rural Dean and then, in 1953, as Vicar of Emneth, Norfolk, near Wisbech. According to the Wisbech Society:
“It seems that concerns about his daughters’ future schooling drew Awdry from Elsworth to the Wisbech area and St. Edmund’s Church at Emneth. Both daughters attended Wisbech High School, three miles from Emneth Vicarage, and his wife Margaret taught in Wisbech at the Queen’s Girls School for 10 years.”
‘Gordon the Big Engine’ was the first book published after Awdry moved to Emneth and 12 more were to follow during his incumbancy. Whilst there, he also maintained his enthusiasm for railways and was very much involved in railway preservation, building model railways, which he took to exhibitions around the country. At Emneth he created an extensive model railway network in his loft – it was based on Barrow-in-Furness layout. Fuelling his enthusiasm, Awdry’s Emneth home was also close to three Wisbech railway stations. The former Emneth railway station itself was on the EAR line from Watlington (formerly Magdalen Road Station) to Wisbech East. The GER Wisbech and Upwell Tramway tram engines, coaches and rolling stock were similar to ‘Toby the Tram Engine and ‘Henriett’ on the Ely to King’s Lynn mainline with Wisbech East (Victoria Rd) station. The M&GN Peterborough to Sutton Bridge via Wisbech North (Harecroft Rd) station. There were also harbour lines either side of the River Nene – M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch.
Time, inevitably, slipped away and in 1965, Wilbert Awdry “went into private practice” – retiring in other words. He moved to a smaller red-brick house in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where his study there became “an agreeable jumble of railway books, maps and timetables”, and was denoted by a “STATION MASTER” sign on the door. During these years, Awdry continued writing books for children, published a new Railway Series title each year until his last ‘Tramway Engines’ in 1972.
According to Awdry’s biographer, Brian Sibley:
“All these stories harnessed Awdry’s knowledge and love of railway engineering and history, which had to be “true-to-life”. Although the fictional engines had human personalities and voices, their activities always followed the rules of the railroad and virtually all the exploits described were based on something that had happened, somewhere at some time, to a real railway engine. Those adventures – mostly mishaps – included common derailments as well as more surprising disasters such as an engine running off the end of a jetty into a harbour or an unexpected disappearance down a disused mine. As often as not, however, these crises were brought about by the arrogance, stubbornness, jealousy or ambition of the engine involved. The morality of the stories was clear and Christian: misbehaviour led to suffering and retribution; however, provided the culprit showed repentance, restoration always followed. “The important thing,” Awdry said, “is that the engines are punished and forgiven – but never scrapped.
The analogies between the Christian faith and the ways of the railway are obvious: the engines are meant to follow the straight and narrow way and pay the price if they go off the rails. No wonder Awdry enjoyed drawing the parallels between railways and the Church: ” Both had their heyday in the mid-19th century; both own a great deal of Gothic-style architecture which is expensive to maintain; both are regularly assailed by critics; and both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting man to his ultimate destination.”
In 1983, Wilbert made his final visit to Wisbech when he opened the Tramway Centenary Exhibition at Wisbech Museum. In 1996 Awdry was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable to travel to London. He died peacefully in his sleep in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 21 March 1997, at the age of 85.
In Emneth, a stained-glass window was commissioned by the Awdry family and unveiled at St Edmund’s church in 2003; and in 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled by his daughter Veronica Chambers at The Old Vicarage where he had lived from 1953 and until 1965. Finally, in 2020, the Old Vicarage was placed on the market with an asking price of £895,000.
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.
The first 3 weeks of February 1916 were very unsettled, and often windy and wet; but it was very mild for that time of the year so it was confidently predicted by the weather forecasters of the time that ‘there was no chance of snow’ – sounds familiar! By 16 and 17 February, the temperature did settle close to 12°C in many places and there was heavy rain. However, on the east coast of England conditions were to be far worse – with gale-force winds and snow!
It was on Thursday 17 February 1916 when newspapers gave accounts of the ‘violent weather conditions which beset Britain’ and the ‘extensive damage to property and the loss of life as a result’. The “windstorm”, as it was called also resulted in ships being lost at sea, as did the Lowestoft trawler, ‘Narcissus’, which went aground and sank. The “Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal” of Friday 18th February gave a local report of ‘a violent gale, a hurricane and snow across Norfolk and Suffolk and described the damage which was caused by the extreme weather conditions and the ensuing floods.
But it was on the morning of Wednesday 16 February 1916 when, amid those strong gale force winds and very rough weather, the “the large steamer SS Hjørdis” set off from the Alexandra Dock in Hull bound for Calais; it was fairly fully laden with a cargo of 495 tons of coal. In charge, as skipper, was Captain Jensen; his crew amounted to ten men, made up of nine Norwegians and one Dane. Of the Norwegians, Thor Halnessen was the Chief Mate, Peter Hammer the second engineer, Eugenen Andersen an ordinary seaman, and Nilsen the steward. Ralf Petersen, from Denmark, was the boatswain.
The SS Hjørdis seemed to have had very competent skippers throughout its forty-three years of battling the North Sea, skippers who had managed to survive the sort of extreme weather conditions of 1916, conditions that were forcing some ships to run into harbour to avoid being sunk or run aground. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to see the Hjørdis leaving port that Wednesday morning, and the best that could be said about Captain Jensen’s decision was that it reflected his feeling that his ship had an obligation to fulfil her charter as it headed due south along the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire shoreline. In due course, the ship passed the Wash and prepared to round the Norfolk coast towards the North Sea; she was, after all, sailing during wartime when movements may well have been restricted. It was a direct route which would have taken her north of Sheringham to arrive off Cromer, before continuing to follow the coast, to Great Yarmouth and then south to Calais.
Captain Jensen’s planned route for the Hjørdis would suggest that he intended to hug the shore, coming in to the lee of the land to take advantage of the shelter which the North Norfolk coast can offer from south-westerly gales; the plan and the worsening conditions left little room for error. The weather was expected to hinder the ship’s progress but, surprisingly perhaps – and based on the 75-nautical mile distance travelled between Hull and Blakeney and the twelve hours it took her to reach the North Norfolk coast – the Hjørdis had travelled at close to her normal cruising speed of 6 knots. However, the added loss of visibility seriously impeded the Captain’s knowledge of the ship’s true location.
About twelve hours later, shortly after seven o’clock in the evening, the ship did go aground at the west end of Blakeney Bar and was wrecked; only one of the eleven-man crew survived despite the Captain and crew managing to launch and take to a lifeboat. Unfortunately, the boat was swamped within minutes by a large wave; it was a matter of speculation whether the ten men were drowned in the lifeboat or when they might have taken to the water in an attempt to swim ashore. Ralf Petersen, the boatswain from Denmark, had the presence of mind to take off his boots and most of his clothes before striking for the shore.
Against immeasurable odds it would seem, he reached the beach and struggled along it for nearly two miles – apparently by following the telegraph poles which were positioned along the beach – before reaching the Blakeney Watch House. From there, a Mr Strangroom, a 45-year-old Auctioneer and Draper of Cley who was acting on behalf of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, arranged for Petersen to have new clothing and be taken to the “King’s Head” public house in Cley’s High Street. There, he was cared for by Frederick Baines, the 40-year-old Licensed Victualler. The “King’s Head” was the place to which bodies of those lost at sea were traditionally taken to be coffined before burial.
The Rescue Attempt: The newspaper reports which followed gave no information as to how emergency assistance was summoned, or the sequence of events which cause it to be instigated. The men in the Watch House may have seen the Hjørdis from their upstairs “look-out” room or it may not have been until Ralf Petersen reached the Watch House that the men there raised the alarm. What is known is that the Cley ‘Rocket Brigade’ was hastily assembled and hurried to the beach with five horses; under the supervision of Henry Parker, a 58-year-old Journeyman Butcher from Cley, and the rocket apparatus which was carried on a cart lent by John Everett of Hall Farm nearby. Battling against the gale, the Brigade’s progress along the shingle would have been slow, but they did manage to get to within 300 yards or so of the SS Hjørdis, but there was no response to signals sent up and the Brigade returned to their base.
Explanation of the Cley ‘rocket apparatus’: The system was simple but effective for the rescuing of shipwrecked mariners from the safety of the shore – lifeboats themselves would ground in shallows or be beaten back by crashing breakers. The system was invented by Captain George Manby, barrack master, of Bauleah House on St Nicholas Road in Great Yarmouth. In 1807 he witnessed scores of ships and crews being lost in appalling weather. One in particular was the gun-boat ‘Snipe’ which ran aground at Gorleston. Manby galloped there on horseback, seeing “entreating men clinging to her rigging and women thronging the forecastle with the most piercing shrieks, imploring our succour and assistance.” As he watched, helpless and frustrated, exhausted men were falling from the rigging into the cauldron of a sea which was sweeping women overboard to their deaths. That night 147 souls perished… all within 50 yards of safety!
Manby set to work. After much frustrating trial and error, he devised a system under which those being rescued were hauled ashore in a breeches buoy which hung beneath a pulley on an aerial line fired across the stricken vessel by mortar or rocket. He demonstrated it with himself as “the endangered mariner”, and also created a star shot for work in darkness. It was put into use for real in 1808 when the brig ‘Elizabeth’ grounded 150 yards offshore in a blizzard. The line was successfully fired across the brig and secured, and seven relieved seamen were hauled to safety by pulley-on-line through snow, sleet and rollers.
It would seem that, during the interval between the SS Hjørdis faltering on to the beach and the Rocket Brigade being summoned, the ship’s crew – possibly thinking that rescue from the shore was hopeless or would be slow to execute – took to their own lifeboat. They may well have been clear of the ship for a short time before the huge fateful wave overwhelmed them; some may have tried to swim to shore, others may have chosen to remain in the lifeboat – who knows?
While the Rocket Brigade was returning from the beach, which would have been about 11.30pm, a body was found by Corporal Bertie Hale of the 67th Provisional Battalion, approximately 150 yards east of the Watch House. An hour later, a second body was found about 2½ miles east of the wreck by a James White, Naval pensioner of Church Loke, Cley. Both bodies were recovered from the water and taken by the Rocket Brigade’s cart to Cley. They were examined the following morning by Police Constable Hewett, a retired (possibly because it was wartime) 56-year-old police officer from Norwich; he had them removed to Blakeney. Two more bodies were discovered soon afterwards at Salthouse.
News of the Disaster: Early, brief reports of the SS Hjørdis appeared in regional newspapers in the days following the ship going ashore. The extent of the loss of lives was feared but not confirmed:
“Lloyd’s Blakeney (Norfolk) message to-day says the Norwegian steamer SS Hjørdis, from Hull for Calais, went ashore on Blakeney Point last night. The crew left in a boat, which was swamped. It is feared that ten lives have been lost. One man swam ashore.”
Ralf Petersen’s own account of his courageous attempts to save his fellow crew members and of his own survival was recorded in the “Eastern Daily Press” of 18th February, two days after the disaster. According to the newspaper, Captain Jensen had said “Hard a starboard” (this was incorrectly recorded in the press report; it should have read “Hard a port”) in order to get into deeper water but the ship struck twice more and then a fourth time, so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. Ralf Petersen’s account suggested that Captain Jensen had been overwhelmed by events and that it was Thor Halnessen, the Chief Mate, who took control.
Within a few days of the SS Hjørdis being wrecked, the scale of the disaster quickly became clear, and the newspapers reported accordingly. However, no mention was made of a lifeboat being launched from the shore which prompted a Mrs Susie Long to write to the “Eastern Daily Press” two days after the Hjørdis was wrecked to state that a boat did in fact go out to offer assistance:
“Sir – In your report in the “Eastern Daily Press” I see no mention is made of the lifeboat crew of this parish, who went out at 8pm and arrived home at 4am in the old lifeboat “Hettie”, belonging to Mr Holliday. They went up to the steamer, where all the lights were still burning both inside and out, and could and would have saved all the crew if they had not previously left. The steamer is ashore on East Point, (later corrected to say ‘West Point’). I may say that the men went on their own initiative, having had no orders. I think it is only fair to mention this. – Yours faithfully”,
Mrs Long’s husband, Charles Long, and her father-in-law, George Long, were both crew members of the RNLI Blakeney lifeboat ‘Caroline’. The “Mr Holliday” referred to was Richard Holliday, a Fisherman, aged 50, of High Street, Blakeney, also a crew member of the ‘Caroline’. At the time, the ‘Caroline’ had a crew of mainly fishermen who were too old for active war service; of eighteen crew members, the majority were over the age of fifty.
Plaques in Blakeney Church commemorate the Blakeney lifeboats and their rescues, up to 1924, but none refer to either the ‘Hettie’. or the ‘Caroline’ going to the aid of the Hjørdis, and it remains a matter of speculation as to how the fishermen of the ‘Hettie’ were alerted to the disaster; perhaps it was by communication from the Watch House or from the Rocket Brigade – and why did the “old lifeboat”, rather than the RNLI lifeboat ‘Caroline’, go out to the SS Hjørdis rather than the ‘Caroline’; was it because the latter was probably in the Lifeboat House and would have taken longer to launch?
The Lost Crew – Inquest and Burials: Of the ten men who drowned, the bodies of only four crew members were recovered and taken to the Guildhall in the High Street, Blakeney and where the sole survivor, Ralf Petersen would identify them. The bodies of the remaining six sailors would, probably, never found. On the Saturday following the disaster,19 February 1916, the inquest into the deaths of the sailors was held at the ‘Ship Inn’ in the High Street, Blakeney. It was conducted by the Coroner of East Dereham, Mr Walter Barton.
The ‘Thetford & Watton Times” of 26th February reported on the inquest:
“……. Ralf Petersen, boatswain on the Hjørdis, and the sole survivor of the crew of eleven, said …… When she first struck the captain said, “Hard a starboard”, to get her into deep water. The order was obeyed, but she struck twice more, and then she struck so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. The chief mate came up from below and said, “The only thing to do is to get the lifeboat out before it is smashed.” But the captain did not give the order as he was on the bridge crying like a little boy. They got the lifeboat out, and all got into her, but as soon as they had got clear of the bow of the steamer the sea half-filled the boat. Then another went right over her, almost filling her, and most of them were washed into the sea………He identified the bodies washed up at Blakeney as Thor Halnessen, aged 34, chief mate, and Eugenen Andersen, aged 20, ordinary seaman. Witness had also seen two bodies that came ashore at Salthouse; they were Peter Hammer, second engineer, and Nilsen, the steward.”
Following further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of “Death by drowning through misadventure at sea” and on their behalf the Rev. Gordon Rowe – Rector of Blakeney and Glandford who expressed great regret at the sad occurrence, and deep sympathy with the bereaved parents. The affair, he said, was “all the more deplorable in that if the men had kept on their ship for an hour or so after she struck all their lives might have been saved.”
Burials: At the time of the SS Hjørdis disaster, legislation – in the form of the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808 (also known as Grylls’ Act) and the subsequent Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 – ensured that the bodies of those lost at sea were decently, appropriately buried. The 1808 Act provided for “suitable interment in Churchyards or Parochial Burying Grounds in England for such dead Human Bodies as may be cast on Shore from the Sea, in cases or Wreck or otherwise”. It required that unclaimed bodies of dead persons washed ashore from the sea should be removed by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish and decently interred in unconsecrated ground. This act was amended by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 to extend its applicability to bodies found in, or cast on shore from, all tidal or navigable waters.
Historically, fishing and merchant seafaring were the most dangerous of all professions and each year many fishermen, mariners and ships’ passengers lost their lives at sea. Prior to the 1808 legislation, it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen, without shroud or coffin, and in unconsecrated ground. Uncertainty about the religious faith of those washed ashore, the considerable financial burden which burials placed on the parishes, and the pragmatic local response to these losses, resulted in the widespread practice of shoreline burials in all coastal communities.
The Parish Registers for Blakeney recorded that Eugenen Andersen and Thor Halmersen/Halnessen, whose bodies were recovered by the Rocket Brigade, were buried on 21st February; the Parish Registers for Salthouse recorded that Peter Hammer and (name) Nelsen/Nilsen, whose bodies were found on the beach at Salthouse, were buried in Salthouse churchyard on the same day. It is believed that the men were all buried “with a minimum of ceremony” in probably the equivalent of a pauper’s funeral – in a grave marked, if at all, with just a wooden cross.
The Cause of the Disaster? With only the one first-hand, contemporary account of the disaster, conjecture still remains about what caused the ship to go aground in 1916. Other ships had been sunk during that particular gale so, the disaster could have been caused by weather conditions alone. However, in his statements at the time, Ralf Petersen made no mention of any panic or efforts to prevent the ship floundering on a lee shore; he also stated that the ship’s position was not known when she went aground and that, on leaving the ship, the crew did not know which direction to strike for. Does this confirm that it was a navigational error which was to blame?
According to Sue Gresham of the Blakeney Harbour Association:
“The two – East and West – towers of Blakeney Church were used to guide ships into the navigable channel between the inlet’s sandbanks, the light on the top of the East tower serving as a leading light to guide vessels into the harbour (the “leading light” practice later achieved by using pairs of lighthouses at different levels). When viewed from the sea, in daylight and in darkness, Blakeney Church is the only prominent point on a barren stretch of coastline and a visual aid for mariners to easily identify their position for many miles. If the Hjørdis was closer to the shore than Captain Jensen thought, it is possible that he mistook the light on the smaller, East tower of Blakeney Church for the Cromer lighthouse, further along the coast. This would explain why the Hjordis was so close inshore; the water is very deep close in to Cromer, but not close in at Blakeney.”
Petersen had also described the Hjørdis bumping over a sand bank, then of having only a few moments to alter course and attempt to get seaward into deeper water before the ship struck for the last time. The press reports, based on Petersen’s remarks, referred to “the tide carrying her in… … she struck the west side of the bar and came over it”.
The press reports of the time were somewhat misleading. Reported high water that day was at approximately 5.00pm so, at the time of the grounding, the tide would have been flowing from west to east along the coast and flowing out of Blakeney Harbour. It is more likely, therefore, that the Hjørdis struck one of the many sand bars in that area and then bounced over the first bar into deeper water and pushed on by the east setting tide. This would have made it more difficult for Captain Jensen to have altered course in order to save the situation before Hjørdis grounded on the next sand bar.
There also appeared to be an anomaly in Ralf Petersen’s account of Captain Jensen having given the order, “Hard a starboard” to get the ship into deep water; this would have put the ship further on to the shore! The words might, of course, have been either a reporting error by the newspaper – for the assumed order would be “Hard a port” – or an early indication of the Captain’s confusion or panic in the unfolding disaster. Then there was Peterson’s account of the lifeboat being carried out to sea after the crew had abandoned the Hjørdis; this would further support the fact that the wind direction was south-west and not west-north-west as local newspapers had reported. Therefore, the greater likelihood of the Hjørdis grounding as the result of navigational error was indeed borne out by the lifeboat being carried out to sea. This too would further support the belief that the gale was south-westerly, rather than west-north-westerly.
A Different Outcome Maybe: Mrs Susie Long’s letter to the “Eastern Daily Press” suggested that the crew of the old lifeboat Hettie “could and would have saved all the crew” of the Hjørdis. When the ship struck, the tide was ebbing; therefore, could the crew have remained on the ship and awaited rescue, or simply waded ashore at low tide?
Ralf Petersen’s accounts conveyed the desperate situation which the crew encountered, where events were happening quickly, in uncertain circumstances: one of their lifeboats had been smashed before she grounded; there was no time to send up flares; the ship was taking in water; the crew did not know where they were; the skipper had lost control; and the ship was showing signs of breaking up. With the benefit of hindsight and with clearer heads at the time, there would have been little doubt that if the crew had remained on the Hjørdis, they would probably have survived – either by being rescued by the “Hettie” or by remaining on the Hjørdis until low tide.
The SS Hjørdis Now:
The wreck of the SS Hjørdis still lies off Blakeney Point. Gradually, over the years, it sank beneath the sand, with more local sand regularly moving in to almost completely covered it. Eventually, in September 1960, a survey from an unknown source produced a report which is held by the Blakeney Harbour Association; it gives the following information about the wreck:
“Iron Norse steamship 200 ft long 30 ft beam lying in a deep pool on dry bank heading 20 deg true with a list to port and one mast standing at the fore end. The hull, which is broken in two amidships, is about 9ft out of water………The boiler and engines are showing, also a cat davit is standing near the stern…… The wreck extends approximately 40 ft North West and 130 ft South East of pole carrying a light erected on wreck position…….(Trinity Superintendent Great Yarmouth 13.11.58).”
Apparently, the position of the wreck was checked again by Trinity House on 2 October 1969 when the SS Hjørdis’s position was found to lie 259 degrees 1.75 cables from position 525902N 005825E in position 525858N 005812E. Then in October 1993, Trinity House – in whose possession the wreck then was – carried out another survey which showed that the wreck was lying in a NNW/SSE direction in depths of between 2.0 to 2.5 metres at low water springs.
A further observation made by Trinity House in 1995 – referred to a suspicion that Hjørdis had been ice strengthened for the Baltic winter trade – suggesting that this would account for the fact that her low section had lasted for so long. In August 1995, a proposal was submitted to Trinity House by a local company, offering three options to remove the wreck between the “fair weather months” of April to October 1996. In the event, the Hjørdis was not removed and the wreck has remained in situ off Blakeney, always marked with a buoy, which was continually destroyed by the strong tides. It was removed but continues to serve a useful purpose – more than 420 miles away in a Cornish coastal village. It is now securely fastened on dry land and put to use as an honesty box at a car park in Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula. As for our Norfolk wreck, it is marked with a Trinity House beacon.
Aerial photographs commissioned by the Harbour Association in 2016 showed that much of the ship’s structure still remains, despite the fact that the Blakeney Harbour mouth regularly changes position. Currents push the mouth towards the east, producing a lengthening peninsula of sand between the entrance channel and the sea. Tidal currents then break through towards the west and the eastern mouth fills up again.
In recent years, the harbour entrance channel has been moving towards the east, bringing it nearer to the wreck. In April 2016, this movement reached the wreck, scouring through it, so that SS Hjørdis lay in the middle of the channel at the entrance to the harbour; by December of the same year, the channel was moving east of the wreck and beginning to bury Hjørdis in the sand once again. The movements in the sand peninsula and the changing position of the harbour mouth determine whether Hjørdis is either almost completely covered by sand and lost to view – or is still a visible reminder of the lost ship jutting from the sea.
The Hjørdis has lain off Blakeney Point since 1916 and, as the local sand moved in, the wreck became almost completely covered. Between 2015 and 2016, the channel moved half a mile to the east and the flow of water over the wreck scoured her out. Large sections of the vessel’s hull and deck were uncovered. It would appear poignant that, in 2016, one hundred years after the ship went down, the SS Hjørdis showed herself once again.
Source: This blog is based almost exclusively on Sue Gresham’s research and subsequent report written for the Blakeney Harbour Association in 2016/18. The full report can be viewed via the following link:
Banner Heading Photo: An Aerial photo of Blakeney Point, Norfolk – by Mike Page
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