Two Writers’ Encounter with Norfolk.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sylvia Warner (Fishermans Return)

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

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

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

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

Warren Farm, Horsey: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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Onesiphorus’s Wealth and Folly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

Myngs: The ‘Pivateer’ from Salthouse!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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