Category Archives: Norfolk

Sixty-seven years

Very few dates stick in my ever decaying memory. But I know where I spent much of the day on 2nd June, 1953.

The story starts much further back. By my calculation in the late 1920s.

Two young demoiselles — let’s call them Betha and Mollie —  took the train each morning to Fakenham Grammar School. They looked forward to Monday mornings when a certain Harold Davidson would travel on that early morning train, and do their Maths homework for them. Harold Davidson? Ought to ring a church bell as the infamous (and arguably unfairly so) Rector of Stiffkey.

Betha and Mollie grew up, but remained friends. One became a midwife in London, and later my mother.

The other, once a Miss Fickling, later Mrs Marshall, continued to live at the family pub, the Carpenter’s Arms in Wighton.

So, on Coronation Day, 1953, I was with the Marshalls at the Carpenters Arms, where they had one of these new-fangled television receivers. Black-and-White, of course, very grainy and distinctly iffy — the East Anglian transmitter at Talcolneston (phonetically ‘Tacklestun’) didn’t come into service until the following year.

And that’s how I come to remember Coronation Day, 1953, Tuesday 2nd June, 1953.

The Carpenters Arms still survives and — despite rapacious brewers — prospers, more of a gastro-pub (but that reflects the change of population). For many years it was closed. Then it reopened under an assumed name, The Sandpipers, or something similarly fanciful. I’ll remember it when the choctaw bars, recently ‘off ration’, stood beside the till.


Filed under History, Norfolk, Wells-next-the-Sea

British Railways

I now realise I lived through the entire existence of British Railways, and its privatised after-life.

At the end of the Second World War the railway network was 17,500 miles of routes. My small natal town (Wells, on the top arch of the Norfolk coast) had two lines: one south to Norwich, the other west to Heacham to join the King’s Lynn line. Both were antiques.

The Heacham line went early: June 1952 (even before the devastating floods the following year). When I went to grammar school, we were pulled by a 4-4-0 Claud Hamilton. There’s one, pulling past the signal box: a real man reduced to the job of a snivelling apprentice. Soon the Clauds were replaced by Derby-built DMUs, which we thought modernity indeed.

Then, of course, came Dr Beeching:

After which thirty-odd lost years. By then I was a regular commuter along the north London line from Gospel Oak to Barking. There were any number of days without any service at all: the message was the Thatcher government wanted nothing more than the railways to go away. Instead we got privatisation: subsidies were lavished on private operators, who gave way to foreign nationalised companies milking the tax-payer. Conditions improved. Fares went stratospheric.

Yesterday I caught a BBC Yorkshire TV news-item. It was the state of services from Sheffield to London. Trains, it seems, are running — even on a reduced service — with an average of eight passengers. Most of the time East Midland trains are shuttling fresh air from St Pancras to Sheffield, and back again. Government pays the operator, and collects the minuscule income.

We have a transport system operating entirely as a social service.

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Norfolk trivia

The EDP does one of those monthly colour supplements, as is the norm filled out with property porn, cooking and what-nots. The cover of the May (doesn’t time fly when one is searching for lock-down distractions?) issue is a seller:

The image is from Brancaster, with the weather on the change.

At the other end one encounters the ‘Prize Crossword’ — where the most taxing of the clues involves spelling the name of Murial, Meril, Meryl Streep (the Norfolk connection is Castle Rising used as a location in Out of Africa). Even so, that is what provoked this posting.

18 Down: heir to the chocolate empire

This is Major Egbert Cadbury, third generation of the Birmingham chocolatiers-to-the-masses.

On 4 August 1918 the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte launched its final Zeppelin raid of the War. Three of the five airships were spotted from the lightship on the Leman and Ower shoal, off Yarmouth. Major Cadbury, and his gunner, Captain Robert Leckie, took off in a DH4 from Yarmouth Denes:

Immediately on leaving Yarmouth, I sighted three Zeppelin airships to N.E. distant about forty miles, steering west at a slow speed, and I gave chase. At approximately 21.45 the Zeppelins, which were ‘lying in “V” formation, altered course North. At 22.10 ‘Zeppelin abeam 2,000 feet above us at 17,000 feet. At 22.20 we had climbed to 16,400 feet, and I attacked Zeppelin head on, slightly to port so as to clear any obstruction that might be suspended from airship. My observer trained his gun on the bow of the airship and the fire was seen to concentrate on a spot under the Zeppelin 3/4 way aft.

[Cadbury’s report]

Zeppelin L70 caught fire, and crashed into the sea, killing all twenty-one of its crew, including Kapitän-zur-See Peter Strasser, the Führer der Luftschiffe. That was the third ‘kill’ by Cadbury and Leckie.

I mean, putting aside a night-chase on a darkening Norfolk late-summer evening, how difficult can that have been? The L-70 was over 200 metres in length, and pootled along at a maximum 130 km/h. It was kept aloft by 62,000 cubic metres of inflammable hydrogen gas — and the British had devised incendiary bullets. Its size and reflective skin made it highly visible. Its one advantage over the DH-4 was altitude.

The wreck was discovered in eight fathoms of water, off the north Norfolk coast, and all the bodies recovered or were washed ashore. Burials were at sea.

25 Across: Temperance Flowerdew

Oooh, yes! Now here’s a real find!

When Anthony Flowerdew of Hethersett took a wife, she was Martha Stanley of Scottow: all the way from the opposite side of Norwich. Some twenty kilometres distance. Their daughter was Temperance, born 1590: there may nee a clue to religious persuasion in that very Puritan forename. She married Richard Barrow, in London, on 29 April 1609. Together, in 2 June, the newly-wed Burrows embarked on the Falcon from Plymouth for the Virginia colony at Jamestown.

The attrition of the ‘starving winter’ of 1609-10 did for many settlers — and we can assume Richard Barrow was one. Eligible females were in short supply at Jamestown, and in the following years the widow Barrow married George Yeardley, very much the coming man. Yeardley had a military background — he had served in the wars in the Low Countries. He rose from the guard to be Lieutenant Governor, which seems to have required a trip back to London for confirmation (in the course of which he received detailed instructions on how to develop the governing of the colony). It also brought him a knighthood — so Temperance Yeardley became the first titled lady of Anglo-America.

The re-organising of the colony was desperately needed: Samuel Argall as acting governor had been near-incompetent. Yeardley promulgated the ‘Great Charter’ (no: not a royal document, but one prescribed by the Virginia Company). This installed English common law, rather than the previous military law, and established universal male suffrage — a form of democratic control had been introduced to America.

Yeardley had prudently snaffled a substantial land-claim for himself — something like a thousand acres. He needed labour: by coincidence a cargo of fifty or sixty Angolan captives came to Virginia: the Spanish slave-ship San Juan Bautista had been pillaged by two English privateers and their ‘take’ landed in Virginia. The prominent citizens of the colony bought for victuals these new arrivals. The precise status of these Africans was unclear, so the distinction between ‘slave’ and ‘indentured labour’ was left hanging. Yeardley had eight of these labourers on his estate, the ‘Flowerdew Hundred’.

Sir George Yeardley died, considerably wealthy from exporting 300 hogsheads of tobacco a year, in November 1627. By then he was Governor of the royal colony of Virginia. His widow remarried the following year, 1628, to the new Governor, Francis West. She had the determination to make sure the Flowerdew estate remained in her name until her own death, shortly after.

A couple of years ago, the still-intact 1323 acres of the Flowerdew Hundred, complete with the grandest of plantation houses (on the National Register of Historic Places), came up for auction. 




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Blessed Saint Margaret

This week, for family reasons, to King’s Lynn, and what was Saint Margaret’s and is now dignified as Lynn Minster.

Lynn deserves greater notice that it gets. Much of the town-core has many fine buildings, all the way back to the medieval period. Of the baker’s dozen of Grade 1 listed buildings in the town, the 15th century Hanseatic Warehouse would be a treasure anywhere. The late-17th century Customs House, and its position on the old harbour, has to qualify as gem-like: Nikolaus Pevsner was bowled over by ‘one of the most perfect buildings ever built’. From Tuesday Market (now, inevitably, a parking area, and the Minster, one walk through High Street and Nelson Street: Nelson Street (renamed sometime — presumably c.1805 — for the Norfolk Hero, but originally Lath Street) can be little more than 150 yards in length, but contains two dozen listed buildings.

Why has Lynn been so fortunate to preserve so much of its history?

First, I suppose, because the Luftwaffe (who were the chief instigator of post-War British architectural horrors) had far too many better targets. Second, because — after its brief span as a Hanseatic port — the town became a by-water. The clue is in the wikipedia entry:

The town centre is dominated by budget shops reflecting the spending power of much of the population.

The corollary of that is the #Brexit vote: across the district, over ⅔ voted Leave.

St Margaret of Antioch

A remarkable number of English churches (a list is here) are dedicated to one or other of the Saints Margaret, but the unhistorical virgin of Antioch gets most billing.

Which raises an obvious question.

My assumptions were the confusion with Marina of the Orthodox Church, also, from the Latin, the sea.

Then Margaret, for being an impious young lady, was sent to mind sheep. Which gives the wool-trade connection.

But then, I belong to a generation which had yet to develop feminist studies. So I have to go with the mood: her cult grew after the first millennium because invoking her was a charm against the dangers of child-birth.

The cult of Margaret of Antioch appears, too, in the town arms. Legend has it that Margaret was devoured by a dragon, but, when she produced her crucifix, the dragon’s belly split apart, and she stepped out unharmed. For this miracle, she was — so the story goes — beheaded.

Which side are you on?

Back in the Minister, high above where the rood screen should be, is a royal arms. They are those of Charles II. And thereby hangs another tale.

The two Members of Parliament for Lynn were Thomas Toll and John Percival, both puritans. We can presume thereby a strong faction of the goodly burgers of the town sided against Charles I. By the nature of business, the parliamentarians were based in the urban trading and commercial classes. Added to which, there would have been considerable import of subversive protestant materials and tracts  — the illicit pornography of the time — from the Low Counties. The Norfolk countryside, however, was more royalist — as one might expect among the unenlightened land-owning gentry. The royalists had their supporters, too, in the population of Lynn. The result was, to put it mildly, civil commotion, with the royalists coming out on top. The royalist leader was Sir Hamon L’Estrange, who emerged from his feudal base at Hunstanton as “governor” of King’s Lynn.

During the summer of 1643, the parliamentarians had mopped up Lincolnshire and were ready to move on Lynn, by now the only royalist hold-out across East Anglia. Put on alert, royalist Lynn strengthened the defences. The Earl of Manchester rolled up with his besiegers, secured the roads and bridges into Lynn, and began occasional bombardments from across the river. On 3rd September one cannonball made a direct hit on the west window of St Margarets. Another ball was turned up in Nelson Street, and now features (as right) over the entrance of Hampton Court.

Manchester had the water supply to the town diverted, but Lynn held out on the hope of relief from Newcastle’s royalists across the Wash. Manchester issued his ultimatum on 15th September, ordering the defenders to remove women and children. After three weeks defying the siege, Lynn surrendered, and at day-break on 16th September 1643 the parliamentarians occupied the town.

Come 1660, the church-wardens of St Margaret’s. Mathias Welles and Thomas Thetford (making sure their names were prominent), rushed to make amends. Hence the royal arms high on the chancel arch. Jollier lions and unicorns are hard to find:



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Monkey business

… and so, from man’s inhumanity to man, I mused on the curious story of the Hartlepool monkey. If only to escape from the more immediate topics of recent days (as in the re-phrasing of the traditional Chinese curse, “Mrs May, you live in exciting times”).

Legend has it that, during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was caught in a storm and wrecked off the Tees estuary. A monkey, dressed in a mock military uniform, was washed ashore. The locals (allegedly “fishermen”, but as likely shore-watchers or — crudely — wreckers) had never seen a Frenchman, held an impromptu court, declared the monkey a French spy, and hanged the creature from a convenient ship’s mast.

In my more-athletic, less-gouty youth, when we played one of the Hartlepool rugby teams, we referred to them derisively as “monkey-hangers”. Like all the best insults, it was adopted by the insulted: H’Angus the Monkey (as right) became the mascot of the soccer team — and Stuart Drummond, the occupant of the money-costume, was elected as the town’s mayor in 2002. It was H’Angus/Drummond’s other intrusion into the public consciousness: he had twice been escorted from the pitch for simulating sex with a blow-up doll.

All this appears on wikipedia, but the legend of the Hartlepool monkey has too many loose-ends (no dark humour intended) to be left there.

Ned Corvan was a mid-19th century music-hall artist and impresario in the North-East. He produced a series of song-books before his early death from TB. One of his songs was The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O!  This is adduced as the first public outing of the legend. There are doubts about Corvan’s claim to originality, though.

Nominal confusions

Corvan learned his trade as an entertainer with Billy Purvis’s Victoria Theatre. Purvis was born near Penicuik, just south of Edinburgh, and migrated to Newcastle — so the east coast of Scotland may be a significant connection. Then there is the earlier Blind Willie Purvis.

Life is too short to unscramble which, but one or other Purvis had a song from Aberdeenshire, which is a clear analogue of the The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O! —

Eence a ship sailed round the coast
And a’ the men in her was lost,
Burrin’ a monkey up a post —
So the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

Pauline Cordiner’s blog credibly claims the Hartlepool monkey story was transplanted from Boddam, near Peterhead. And makes the connections.


All the attempts to “explain” the story I find questionable. One sinister “explanation” (and there’s more here than meets the eye) is that ship’s boys were the “powder-monkeys”, and it was one of them who was the victim. And, we may see, for good reason.

Even this far, we already have pegs on which to hang any number of hats, and any odd theory. Bella Bathurst (page 262 in my paperback copy) makes a calculation:

… it is not Cornwall or the Pentland Firth which has the dubious honour of the highest number of shipwrecks per mile of coast. It is Durham, a tiny county with a tiny sliver of coastline, with 43.8 losses per mile. Further south, Norfolk has 25.6 and Suffolk 25, both of which make south Cornwall’s twenty wrecks per mile seem almost modest.

A law with unintended consequences

Add in the basis of “salvage”.

What immediately follows is from Bella Bathurst, but I see remarkable, even uncanny coincidences with Donald G. Shomette’s Shipwrecks, Sea Raiders, and Maritime Disasters Along the Delmarva Coast (see especially page 125).

In 1236 Henry III of England decreed that an owner of wrecked goods could claim them, within three months of a wreck. However, the same rule added that, as long as any man or beast escaped alive, the ship was not truly a wreck. This was repeated by Edward I’s First Statute of Westminster. The intent of the law, presumably as proposed by ship-owners, was to prevent the seizure and destruction of vessels that could be re-floated. The paradoxical result was to create a motive for murder. As long as the odd survivor was around, wreckers could not claim their expected dues. That Bella Bathurst  book (page 11) has:

The ‘man or beast’ ruling persisted for many centuries in different forms, and it was not until 1771 that it was finally and explicitly repealed. Even then, its effects lingered on in the common lore of the land. In more remote parts of the country, nineteenth- and even early-twentieth-century  wreckers were supposedly drowning their victims according to the old rule.

A local link

I was very young, probably still at junior school, when I came across a tattered book about East Anglia and its curiosities. It included a bit of doggerel:

Cromer crabs,
Runton dabs.
Beeston babies, 
Sheringham ladies,
Weybourne witches, 
Salthouse ditches, 
and the Blakeney people
stand on the steeple,
and crack hazelnuts
with a five-farthing beetle. 
Blakeney bulldogs, 
Morston dodmen, 
Binham bulls,
Stiffkey trolls.
And Wells bite-fingers.

From east-to-west, that’s a recital of the North Norfolk coast.

Even in the earlier period, before those small harbours silted up, there were no havens for larger vessels between Lynn on the Wash and Yarmouth at the mouth of the Yare. And certainly none one might wish to tackle in a pounding nor’easter.

So, two explanations there:

  • a “beetle” is Old English bíetel, an implement for beating: the kind of thing still used for levelling paving stones. Or used as a weapon — as John Lydgate (a Suffolk man, from … err … Lidgate) noted in The Pylgremage of the Sowle:

Somme were brayned with betels and somme beten with staues.

  • If a ship-wrecked corpse needed rings removed, the people of Wells are here alleged to resort to amputation by mouth. As one native-born, I’d demonstrate.

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Filed under Britain, East Anglia, History, Norfolk, Wells-next-the-Sea

Another op’nin

The 2001 London revival: It was superb. I had already been treated to the production on Broadway. It was already transferring to London, even before 9/11 had devastated New York theatre-attendances. So I paid real money to revisit it at the Victoria Palace

Few musicals beat that opening. But there are only half-a-dozen musicals worthy to start alongside Kiss Me, Kate —and at least one more has Cole Porter’s name over the title.

I can get something of the same thrill opening a new book for the first time.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend…

… Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Thank you, Groucho: don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Buying, on spec, a new book by a  previously-untried, even unknown writer is itself a venture.

I pluck the book from the pile or the shelf — perhaps because the cover or the title means something to me. I flick a few pages. I either return the book whence it came, rejected, or reach for the wallet and the plastic.

I did that last Friday.

iuMy two acquisitions were Ian Sansom’s Westmorland Alone and Tom Blass, The Naked Shore.

There is a tangential connection between those two.

The first in Sansom’s series was The Norfolk Mystery. Obviously a Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred type would be weak in the head not to snap at that. So I did, and found it wholesome — but not really much more — enough to go for the second in the series, Death in Devon.  Which I found harder going: the arch references to Arthur Mee and all those 1930s “cosy” teccies seemed to be wearing, and wearing a bit thin. Still, I went for this third one; and it went down quite nicely. If nothing else, it overcame the imminent reading-block that was sub-symptom of a winter chill.

So that was a re-visit. The “new” one was —


The connexion with the Tom Blass is also Norfolk (which features very slightly) and East Anglia more generally.

Ir reads very well, rather disconnectedly — but this isn’t a straight narrative. Blass shifts, idiosyncratically, from space to place, topic to topic, encounter to encounter. And then will return whence he came, a hundred pages of more later. The book tends, obviously, to the gossipy. I find little wrong or objectionable about that.

Above all, The Naked Shore is delightfully filled with small and informative detail. Here’s a very early one:

In Whitby once, among the stones of the ‘Dracula’ abbey, I was struck by the starkness of the difference between the accents of a visiting family from Newcastle and those of the natives. Geordie’s origins lies with the Teutonic Angles, hence ‘gan’ — as in ‘gan down toon’, from the German gehen for ‘go’, while their Yorkshire hosts’ linguistic ancestry lay further north (arse, bairn, dollop and flit all have Norse heritage). Some fifteen hundred years after their arrival, fifty miles of English coast still reflect ancient ethnic differences, the origins of which lie on the far side of the North Sea.

Blass returns another half-dozen times to Whitby, at one stage as part of the strange  class-divides between seaside resorts, even (as page 108):

Today the middle classes that seek out the evocative beaches of North Norfolk at Holkham and Blakeney studiously avoid not-dissimilar shorelines close by.

I’ll go with that: Wells is neatly sandwiched between those two “evocative beaches” — indeed, I challenge any in-comer to know where Holkham beach ends and Wells begins. I’d put it around where the old Coastguard look-out was. By the time, heading east, one reaches the beach-huts, one definitively is in Wells. And the reason for the “social” difference (consider, too house prices)? Wells had — before blasted Beaching — a train line. And a bit further back, GER/LNER ‘tripper’ specials all the way from London’s Liverpool Street. That, and the whiff of whelks being loaded into the guard’s van lowered the tone.

Note from the above, that although may dot from topic to topic, the book comes with a useful index for playing dot-to-dot.

A comparator

61ieuy24gfl-_uy250_Yes, we’ve been in these parts quite recently.

Only a couple of years ago, Michael Pye did nicely by, and nicely out of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We AreThat’s an equally subjective account, but organised on more orthodox — even “historical” lines. It’s a “deeper” book, in many respects a “better” book; but one more concerned with — as the title suggests — the anthropology, even sociology, of the North Sea coasts and peoples. So it is more rooted in what we used to be able to term, without apology or explanation, “the Dark Ages”.

I shall be keeping both on my shelves: not as rivals, but as complements.


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Filed under Britain, Detective fiction, East Anglia, fiction, History, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

Aemstelredamme revisited, and a personal trauma

This weekend involves a quick flight from Leeds-Bradford “International” (yeah: better believe it) Airport to Amsterdam. Since the other end is Luchthaven Schiphol, that’s a trip from the pretentious to the ginormous.

amsterdam“Aemstelredamme” came about when the river Amstel was … err … dammed, and a passage created over it. Makes sense, huh? Once you have a bridge, some bright spark will start charging to cross over. Whereupon the Count of Holland, Flores V (whose name alone would seem more redolent for an air-freshener) issued a decree that the local bods were exempt from such an impost. This document, dated 1275, proves the existence of a settlement at that time.

By the way, the last time the Lady-in-my-Life and I dropped in, Amsterdam was hosting some mega-LGBT freak-out. There wasn’t a room to be had, this side of Nebraska (another bitter, cryptic, personal joke, as in looking for a bed in the neighbourhood of Sturgis at the wrong moment). We ended up in a palatial, marble-bathroomed, penthouse suite: doubly-nice, since we beat them down to “superior” costings.

Broads, in any definition

When I was a bright young thing at Fakenham Grammar, I was not taught the Norfolk Broads were artificial. Only later did the business of peat-extraction get raised (or excavated). I see a similar suggestion being floated how Amsterdam got those concentric canals.

In all truth, I like Amsterdam — though I seem to get to the “Low Countries” only in winter. Now — and, I beg you, don’t take this amiss — in my recollection that means the visit can have its whiffy moments. Deploy the Flores V.

Born on the North Sea littoral, and not-quite-flooded in January 1953,  I have this fellow-feeling that drains across vaguely-sea-level zones always have problems of not-quite-managing. And so can be a trifle aromatic. The same problem occurs in Venice, of course — but there nasal and optical experiences are hardly improved by characters who never feature in the tourist guides, but who can emerge, at random, blackened, in full diving kit, from the city’s necessary cess-pits. At least the Venetians are explicit (and it must be a select but secure choice of career) about it. Perhaps, as well, it is to make sure the affronted tourist doesn’t return too soon. I’m sure the excellent Donna Leon must incorporate this in one of her Commissario Brunetti teccies.

The Belgians and the Dutch, though — as in other matters  — let it all hang out, and seem to let the miasma creep up on one. Memo to self: avoid De Walletjes, though I know for certain my outspoken daughter (who arrives two hours previous to her aged parents) will make a point of inspecting, and commenting. Myself: I just don’t wanna know.

OK: I finished Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (for the second time): it took over a full month, and two continents. Then, in a day (actually, an extended evening), the latest Rankin. That required an hour reorganising three shelves to get this new arrival to fit. As a result, I found Fleshmarket Close has gone missing from the assembled oeuvre.

Which brings me to the crunch here.

What’s for the weekend reading?

The Economist, in the post-Trump moment, has to be a must. I feel I ought to pick up the London Review of Books if only for the Neal Ascherson essay: though the problem is an early flight, and a very limited news-outlet at LBA.

I’m suddenly very aggrieved about the missing Fleshmarket Close.

So: what next? What next? Problems! Problems!

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