The backside of a cottage’s history

Let’s start here:

House for sale in Stiffkey, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk – 2 bedrooms

Writer and author HENRY WILLIAMSON once lived here, his many published books include Tarka The Otter.
Persons of a certain age will dimly recall, without great enthusiasm, being force-fed Tarka as a compulsory reader, even more so when the class concluded with the non-optional homework, “Now summarise that chapter”.

A modern reader, in a masochistic mood, who feels moved to read more of Williamson will find no shortage of material. For instance, in late life he spread himself over five of the fifteen volumes of his A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight in fictionalising his First World War experiences. Anyone looking for a short cut to the same end might glance at The Patriot’s Progress, dating from 1930. This satire of “Private John Bullock” (geddit?) and his “vicissitudes” in the trenches starts to raise a tingle of concern about Williamson’s political leanings. With good reason (and — Malcolm promises — this will lead directly back to that Stiffkey cottage).

By the 1930s Williamson had come out as a fascist, a fully dyed-in-the-blackshirt supporter of the Mosleyites. Williamson was at the 1935 Nuremberg Nazifest and bought into Nazi myth of German economic and social progress, of racial unity, of freedom from the bankers. He saw ordinary Germans “breathing, extra oxygen”. Williamson contrasted this with the poverty and unemployment under Baldwin’s “National Government”.

Williamson wrote for Action, Mosley’s mouthpiece, arguing for Anglo-German amity. When T.E. Lawrence went over the handlebars of his Brough Superior, he had just been posting a reply to Williamson’s invitation to join in a peace-with-Germany campaign.

When internment came in 1940, Williamson was one of the fascists rounded up, to spend a weekend in the cells of Wells Police Station. He was released when he gave his parole to stay quiet. That didn’t stop him feeling that defeat of Germany killed hopes of a revived united Hitlerite Europe.

The Old Hall Farm, Stiffkey


At the end of 1936 Williamson bought Old Hall Farm, and set about dragging it back from the decrepitude of the agricultural depression. The cottage in this sale was one of the buildings he restored.

The folk of Stiffkey may then have been rustic (today too many are sharp city weekenders, of course), but they had Williamson’s number. They had good reason to resent his Nazi leanings, and suspect he was a spy. This, let us remember, is barely a mile from the North Sea coast; and was declared  a “restricted area” (if the restriction had lasted another few weeks, Malcolm’s alter ego would have needed a permit to get born).

And the evidence is still there.

This morning Malcolm had an email from an old (as in sixty years) acquaintance. Nearly at full length, omitting only the identifications, it read like this:

The circled double lightning flash of the SS is still there, on the back of the house that directly faces on to the main street, the A149. It was painted on in black pitch and tar, and has proved very durable – it must be about the same age as us.

There are many such cottages for sale in North Norfolk now, I suspect at the prospect of 40% capital gains tax on second houses worrying the flush twenty somethings from the City who have priced out the locals. Pity Labour didn’t make it 100% when they could have. The estate agents and banks keep issuing statistics showing that house prices continue to increase – the reality of the prices from the Land Registry tells a different story. Down at least 20% – couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of blokes.

There’s a choice detail that doesn’t appear in

Abbotts of 1 Market Place, Holt, Norfolk, NR25 6BE.

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2 Comments

Filed under Fascists, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea, World War 2

2 responses to “The backside of a cottage’s history

  1. Kaido

    I am a great fan of Henry Williamsons “A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight” especially his depiction of conditions in WWI.

    As for his attitude to WWII, I cannot but feel that his intentions were honourable, but way beyond the kind of political thinking and jingoistic scapegoating that marked this period.

  2. Pingback: Revisited: The backside of a cottage’s history | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

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