Notes on past events

Supplying the Beer: life on the road in 18th century Norfolk.

April 2014

For the Historical Society’s final meeting of the season we had a welcome return visit from Margaret Bird. Her title this time was ‘Supplying the Beer: life on the road in 18th century Norfolk.’ and was an account, gleaned from her great work on Mary Hardy’s diaries, of the lives of the ‘farm servants’ of the Cozens Hardy estate in the late eighteenth century.

Other farm and industrial workers were hired and paid by the day or the hour but these men were employed for the year. This seems a great advantage but meant that they were expected to do whatever work was required whenever it was required. As a result they ploughed, planted and harvested the barley, ran the maltings and the brewery and then delivered the beer to the Cozens Hardy tied houses and other customers from Morston to Mundesley, some of them 25 miles from the Letheringsett brewery. The family had had a brewery at Coltishall for six and a half years before they acquired Letheringsett and seem to have retained customers in that area.

The brewery’s horses were not huge like the Whitbread Shires but more like sturdy Suffolk Punches and they were not changed several times in a journey like post horses but they apparently often covered 500 miles in a month. The men must have been equally hardy working incredibly long hours and they were genuine jacks of all trades with the skills of farm workers and the expertise of maltsters and brewers who could also manage a wagon load of barrels in the snow of the ‘little ice-age’ and cope when the wagon broke down or one of the horses cast a shoe. They knew which routes were easiest; for instance, they went to Edgefield via Baconsthorpe to avoid the drop down from Holt to the Glaven on the more direct Norwich road.

I assumed that all this work was shared among a large workforce but there were in fact only three of them, or four of them if you include the man who ran the water-mill, and they weren’t at it every day. They were allowed two whole days off a year!

These are only a few of the bits I picked up from a fascinating talk but you can read the whole thing when it is published in the next edition of the Glaven Historian.

Members’ Talks

January 2014

January’s meeting was, as usual, addressed by three of our own members. First Will Savage talked about Ice Houses – an interest that had grown out of his work as one of the volunteer stewards at Felbrigg. He told us that they had been in use in Italy for 200 years by the time the Felbrigg one was built in about 1785. The first in Britain was built for James 1 in 1619, Charles1 had one built in St James’ Park and eventually there were about 3500 in Britain. It all seems to have arisen from the young gentlemen returning from the grand tour having taken a liking for Italian ice cream.

A typical ice house consists of a circular brick-lined pit with drainage at the bottom and a domed roof which was thatched or covered with soil forming a mound, usually in a shaded woodland site within reach of a lake or river. In the cold winters of the 18th and early 19th centuries they could be relied on to freeze and the pit would be filled with layers of ice and straw. The ice was mixed with salt which could bring its temperature down to about 18o C for use in freezing various creams and exotic deserts. From 1840 – 1920 large quantities of ice were imported from Norway and then along acme the refrigerator.

Diana Cooke told us about a strange little recess in an old wall in her garden which she has discovered to have been a ‘bee bole’, that is a place where a straw hive known as a skep would be placed. Her photographs showed that the brickwork around and behind the recess was anything up to 400 years old. She showed us illustrations of walls built with multiple recesses and said that it was possible that her wall might have extended further and might have had more such recesses. She also had borrowed a skep from a friend which had clearly been used as it had bits of honeycomb adhering to its inner surface. The Bee Research Association has knowledge of 1558 such bee boles in Britain but knew of only 12 in Norfolk. They now know of 13!

After our break for coffee Ian Groves brought us up to date on his research into deserted medieval settlements of which there are more than 3000 in Britain and at least 240 in Norfolk. Many have disappeared without trace but the definition accepts groups of three or fewer inhabited houses. He showed us photographs of clear traces of former buildings and roads etc. some visible on the ground and some seen only from the air. As well as those that have disappeared he spoke of villages that have shrunk and villages that have shifted. The Black Death sometimes suggested as a reason for desertion is, he said, very rare. In Norfolk we have examples such as Holkham and Houghton where villages were removed from gentlemen’s parks and rebuilt elsewhere and others such as Bawsey which were just obliterated by flockmasters to make more room for sheep. Others like Corpusty just drifted away from their original location round the church in that case just to be closer to Saxthorpe and the river crossing.

It was another great meeting for specialists and those of casual interest and John Peake made an impassioned plea for help in the arranging of our meetings. There is a real danger he said that without someone volunteering to join the organizing group the whole Society might cease to exist. We have at least the next few months organized and on 25 March Margaret Forester will be talking to us about birds, beasts and monsters in medieval art.


Recent coin finds from the Iron Age to Post Medieval period

October 2013

At the October meeting of the Historical Society Dr Adrian Marsden used slides of recent Norfolk finds of coins to give us a history of coinage. He started with ‘Norfolk Wolf’ Staters which predate the Roman invasion and finished with the ‘Swag Hoard’ which he said was probably stolen from a serious coin collector and then hidden sometime after 1878 but not recovered by the thief.

I was surprised to find that Roman coins were around in Britain before the Romans came and that finds of Iceni coins on the continent reveal that at that time they were already trading abroad. In spite of this, minting ceased in Britain after the Romans left until about 650AD when it revived in the various Anglo Saxon kingdoms. Apparently coins to the Vikings were just bullion but we were shown a 9th century Persian coin which probably travelled with them via Russia and Scandinavia to Norfolk while a Byzantine coin found in Norfolk probably came back with a crusader about 200 years later.

We saw much more, including coins in precious metals which had been clipped and even a few clippings which some clipper must have mislaid but I was most impressed by the brilliant, apparently mint condition gold coins in the ‘swag hoard’ which spanned in age from ancient times to the 19th century and in size from huge 5 guinea pieces to a tiny Victorian half sovereign.


Ancient Egypt and the Blakeney Connection

April 2013

The BAHS season of meetings came to an end on 30 April with a talk by Christopher Coleman on his passion for Egyptology which linked back to Norfolk and Blakeney via Frida Brackley who lived at Blakeney Old Rectory. Her husband was the distinguished flying pioneer, Air Commodore H. G. Brackley 1894-1948. After his exploits in WW1 for which he was twice decorated he was seconded as an adviser to the Japanese Naval Air Service, then with Imperial Airways he pioneered routes to Australia in the first four-engined flying boats. He held senior positions in Coastal Command and transport Command in WW2 and then joined BOAC from where he was made CEO of British South American Airways. Sadly he was drowned while swimming at Rio de Janeiro in 1948.

The connection with Egypt was via Mrs Brackley’s father. Sir Robert Mond who, with his brother Alfred who became 1st Baron Melchett, ran their father’s business Brunner Mond from which they formed ICI. Besides being a chemist, Sir Robert was a philanthropist and an active Egyptologist. Mr Coleman stressed several times that he was a systematic and scientific researcher not a grave robber. I lost track a little but I think he said that among other things he was involved with Hans Winkler in the discovery of important rock drawings which show there to have been a sophisticated society long before the time of the pharaohs and before the desert came into existence.

Our next speaker will be Dr Bryan Ayers on 24 September when medieval trade around the North Sea will be the subject. Meanwhile on the first or last Tuesday of each month the History Centre will be open where we will be able to view the latest acquisition — a metre long model of the Blakeney lifeboat, Hettie, which was on station on the Point from 1873 to 1891. It has been given to the History Centre by the late Constance Firth whose grandfather George Firth had paid for the building of the lifeboat 140 years ago.


Camel, Eye of a Needle and Christmas Colours

March 2013

I’m afraid I was unable to attend the Historical Society’s meeting on 26 March but I am reliably informed that it was, as expected, excellent. Dr Spike Bucklow of the Hamilton Kerr Institute talked about medieval rood screens and the significance of the colours used on them. I am particularly sorry to have missed it as we will be visiting two specially interesting screens at Barton Turf and Worstead on 22 April.

Our April meeting at which Christopher Coleman will talk about the connection with Egyptology of the Blakeney Old Rectory is the last of the season. We reconvene on 24 September when Dr Brian Ayers will talk about medieval commerce around and across the North Sea. This is the talk that had originally been scheduled for last December. It should make a great start to the 2013-14 season.


River Bure

February 2013

Philip West’s talk to the Historical Society’s February meeting taught me a lot that as a Norfolk resident for nearly thirty years I felt ashamed that I did not know. He showed us old and recent photographs taken along the course of the River Bure from Melton Constable to the sea via its junction with the Yare.

I discovered that there were interesting and beautiful places around the Coltishall area that I have never visited and that in 1912 there was a devastating flood that I had never heard about. On 26 August 1912 the upper reaches of the river were at the centre of a storm that produced seven inches of rain in 29 hours! Several substantial bridges were washed away and the five locks on the Aylsham Navigation were destroyed and never repaired, ending the ability of wherries to trade between Aylsham and Yarmouth as they had done since the navigation was opened in 1779.

The headwaters of the Glaven, of course, adjoin those of the Bure so was the deluge very localised or are there tales of problems in our area in August 1912 of which I am equally ignorant?


Mardle Night: History in the Making

January 2013

The Historical Society’s January meeting saw a full hall with some standing at the rear as Bernard Bishop, Graham Lubbock and Johnny Webster each gave a brief illustrated account of lives spent around Blakeney Point and Harbour and the Cley Reserve.

Each has seen big changes: for Graham notably the thousands of Pink-footed Geese that now come each winter to his Blakeney Freshes, for Bernard it is the thousands of visitors now attracted to the reserve and the new Visitors’ Centre but for Johnny it is the hundreds of Grey Seals now competing for his fish and the tons of sand now accumulating on his mussel beds. In spite of these and other set-backs to his way of life Johhny kept everyone amused and reassured that he will continue to make a living, however precarious, from the natural resources of the shore. We wish him well.


Painting the Nativity

December 2012

Margaret Forrester explained the history and derivation of the various components which go to make up the nativity scenes which adorn our churches and art galleries and which in a variety of forms and reproductions drop through our letter boxes at this time of year. She explained which traditions came to us via Byzantium and which through Rome and I was surprised to learn of important Swedish influences.

She had kindly stepped in with this seasonal offering when Dr Brian Ayers, who I told you last month would be talking to us about medieval North Sea commerce, was unable to leave his archaeological dig in Albania.


City Clerks or Ploughboys: c1820-1940

November 2012

Susanna Wade Martins tackled a subject of which most of her large audience probably had personal experience. We may not have started in a Dame School which was where her history of primary education began but many of us had sat in the benches in village schools which she illustrated with photographs and often with plans. The Dame Schools had a poor reputation; one poor soul was described in a report as ‘very ignorant and imposing rather than enlightening’.

In 1808 The British and Foreign School Society was founded and started building village schools. As it was a non-conformist charity it was followed just three years later by a Church of England rival, the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor. Many of these early buildings still exist and Mrs Wade Martins based her talk on the survey carried out largely by members of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group with Norfolk Record Office.

These early village schools had one large rectangular room with three or four rows of benches ranged along the longer wall and a generous space in front for pupils to come forward and recite their lessons. Usually boys were at one end of the room and girls at the other with infants in between. The large room was sometimes later divided with glazed screens and by the 1890’s many schools had had a second classroom added and often a stepped area of seating known as the ‘infants’ gallery’.

Although there was no compulsion to attend school and there was often friction between the school and the local farmers who needed labour, it has been estimated that by 1830 half the population could read. There was tension between those who saw the role of education as helping children to achieve their potential and those who just wanted children to be taught to accept their place in society. There was emphasis on gardening for boys and patching and mending for girls and children were expected to be ‘lowly and reverent to their betters’.

In 1870 the Government set up school boards aiming to provide a place for each child and at the beginning of the twentieth century there was an intensive building programme by the County Councils who had taken over responsibility for education. The state took over the training of teachers though denominational training colleges had existed for some years. Teachers started as assistants or pupil teachers and had to have two years experience as such before being accepted for college.

There was much more information and enjoyment in the talk than in this piece and it was obvious from the questions that Mrs Wade Martins had awoken many memories.


Past-time withe goode compnaye – King Henry’s Band

October 2012

Our October meeting was an entertaining concert by King Henry’s Band. Anyone who has never heard one of Robert Fitzgerald’s performances should try to catch the next one. The stage is set up for five musicians but Mr Fitzgerald explains that the other four have failed to turn up. By himself playing a variety of krummhorns, recorders, cornamuses, korholts, a stringdrum and an ear-splitting rauschpfeife (I don’t often find myself typing five consonants in a row!) and adding in the rest of the band via tapes he has pre-recorded he gives a full evening’s authentic Tudor music.

It was very enjoyable but I wish, as it was a Historical Society meeting, he had shared more of his knowledge of the history of, and the differences between, the various instruments some of which he has made himself.


Archaeology in Glaven Villages

September 2012

The first meeting of the Blakeney Area History Society’s year on 25 September was, as usual, a brief AGM followed by a thoroughly interesting talk. The former confirmed that the Society is in a healthy state apart from being over reliant on the interest and energies of a limited number of people. This was brought home to us by John Peake’s retirement from his joint positions as Commissioning Editor for the Glaven Historian Events Organiser.. He well deserves a rest but his energy and expertise in both rolls will be sorely missed.

The AGM rounds off the 2011-12 year and the new season was launched by Andrew Rogerson whose roll at Gressenhall is to bring together all the strands of the county’s archaeological field-work, recording and research. He illustrated his talk with maps of the lower Glaven valley showing the sites of finds from each of the prehistoric and historic periods and with photographs of found objects from neolithic hand-axes to medieval coins all found in the area. The highlight perhaps being the Nordic gold bracteate found during the excavation of the ‘Chapel’ site on Blakeney Eye.

It was clear from the maps that far more finds had come to light in and around Wiveton and in the Glandford/Bayfield area than in either Blakeney or Cley. Mr Rogerson explained that this illustrated only the amount of investigation and searching that had gone on in those areas. It seems that if we all knock down our houses and dig up our gardens the spread of finds will even out across the area.


Our Changing Coast: Past, Present & Future

April 2012

I am afraid I failed to report on the Historical society’s interesting meeting in March at which Stuart Warrington and Angus Wainwright of the National Trust reviewed the Trust’s hundred years on Blakeney Point. This was the first of three collaborations between the Society and the Trust to mark this centenary.

The second event was no less successful with a large audience in Blakeney Village Hall on Saturday 28 April to hear Professor Kenneth Pye talking about Our Changing Coast. His talk concentrated on the past, present and future of the stretch of shore from Weybourne to Stiffkey which he has studied since the late 1970’s and which is generally accepted as one of the largest expanses of undeveloped coastal habitats in Europe and as being as important for its flora and fauna as for its continually changing geomorphology.

His marvelous collection of maps and very detailed graphs were not always very easy to interpret from where I was sitting at the size that they were able to be projected, but his explanations were easily understood and I doubt if I was the only one who felt that he had learned a great deal. From what I understood there did not seem to be a great deal of support for the prophets of doom. Changes there will undoubtedly be but not, it seems, disaster.

The third joint venture will be a four day exhibition in Blakeney Village Hall from Saturday to Tuesday 18 – 21 August entitled Tidal Lands. It will attempt to cover the history and natural history of Bakeney Point, the harbour and the surrounding villages. It will be open each day from 10.30am to 4.00pm and refreshments will be available.