Notes on past events
Supplying the Beer: life on the road in
18th century Norfolk.
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.
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
but the definition accepts groups of three or fewer inhabited
houses. He showed us photographs of clear traces of former buildings
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
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
Ancient Egypt and the Blakeney
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
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
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
Camel, Eye of a Needle and Christmas
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
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
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 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
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
this seasonal offering when Dr Brian Ayers, who I told you
would be talking to us about medieval North Sea commerce,
was unable to leave his archaeological dig in Albania.
City Clerks or Ploughboys:
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;
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.