Wroxham is the village in Norfolk where I grew up and to which I returned after a journalistic career in Fleet Street, writes KEITH TURNER. The idea behind this web site was, first, to preserve a talk I gave to The Friends of Wroxham Church at the Church Hall on June 3, 2010, so that readers can learn what it was like growing up here in the mid-1900s and compare it with their own lives. More importantly, its purpose is to encourage others to email (or send me) their own memories of the village which I can edit and add to those already published here. In this way we are building a useful historic snapshot of one particular era for future generations.
MY WROXHAM BOYHOOD
The first time I stood on this stage, I was wearing a brown rabbit suit with long ears and fluffy tail. I was seven or eight years old and playing the March Hare at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland* presented by the Wroxham scouts, guides, cubs and brownies.
Seventy years on, this is another first – the first time I have given a talk. But when I was asked if I could address you on the History of Wroxham, in support of a church where I was once a choir boy, it seemed ungracious to refuse.
However, as you have read in the church magazine, The Bridge, I will be recounting not the history of Wroxham, as I’m no expert on that, but a personal view of what it was like growing up here in the Thirties and Forties, naming people who shared these experiences with me in the hope that some of you here will have known them or know of them. As the fourth generation of the Curson family to have lived in Wroxham I decided to start with a few experiences from my mother’s life.
When my mother Muriel Curson and her identical twin sister Stella were young they would sometimes play a memory game in bed at night, trying to remember everyone in the village. They would start with the married couples with no children, then those with one child, then with two children and so on. It would of course have been easier then; impossible today. For when they were born in 1909 there were fewer than 150 houses in Wroxham at the turn of the century. In 1932 when I was born this had risen to around 250 houses. Today we know from the distribution of The Bridge that there are around 750 households.
They also knew the village so well because their father William Curson was born here and his father Charles Curson had moved to Wroxham from Norwich as a young man. Although the Cursons were primarily builders, grandfather also farmed a strip of land stretching to the Avenue from the bottom of Park Road, where the family lived at the rather sombrely named Bleak House ( he was a great fan of Dickens).
They certainly had cows on this land as my mother could remember as a girl taking milk round in a churn and measuring it out in pints or half pints to customers who would come to their gates with their jugs. Incidentally, she and Stella were so alike as children that their father would sometimes have to ask: which twin are you? And although they were twins, they celebrated separate birthdays. My mother was born at 11.30 at night on January the 5th and Aunt Stella at half an hour past midnight on January 6.
Stella and Muriel (or is it Muriel and Stella?) with Margery – the Curson twins and their older sister pictured around 1913
The girls attended the Notre Dame Convent in Norwich and so had to walk to the station to get the train to Norwich. If they were running late – quite literally – along Station Road, the station master would actually keep the train waiting for them to run up the hill and board it via the goods ramp into the guards van.
A tragic event they would never forget was the death of their older sister Marjorie, whose gravestone can be found in Wroxham churchyard. The outer edge of the pavement at that time was marked with rough stones. On her way to the station she grazed her ankle on one, got blood poisoning and because this was before the discovery of antibiotics died at the age of 11 from what today would be a very minor injury.
My sister Jean tells me that when Marjorie was at her most feverish and my grandparents had to take her to hospital, Mr Ormerod, who owned a garage in the village, volunteered to drive them in his car. And because it was so foggy his wife walked all the way to Norwich in front of it carrying a red flag to lead the way and warn any traffic coming towards them.
Now my mother’s social life. As teenagers the twins would go to church three times on Sundays. They would attend St Mary’s for morning service. After lunch they would walk to Salhouse Church past what villagers called “Bluebell Hole” ( the wood to the left at the bottom of the first dip in the road, which in the spring was carpeted with bluebells). Then it would be Wroxham again for Evensong. When I queried why they went so often, she said there was nothing else to do on a Sunday and anyway they both loved singing.
A fancy dress dance pictured, I’m guessing, around 1925 – as the Curson twins, seen third and fourth from the left sitting on the floor, would have been about 16
On Saturdays evenings they would join their friends, their parents and even grandparents, sometimes in fancy dress, at dances in the building which is now Interiors. It was then the garage owned by the Ormerods. After the mechanics finished work on a Saturday they would put down a sprung wooden dance floor. When the Jazz Knights weren’t providing the music, my great uncle Archie would play the piano for the dancing and my mother, as a girl, said that she always took over for the last waltz so he could dance with his wife.
Now my guided tour of the Wroxham in which I grew up.
Coming south from the river bridge that links us to Hoveton there was, on the right, where the launderette now stands, a grocery store run by the two Miss Woods – one of four such shops in the village.
Next to it was Stringers, Family Butcher, with sawdust on the floor. Did old Billy Stringer really serve meat with a pipe clamped between his teeth as I seem to recall? It was, after all, long before the advent of Health and Safety. Some of you will I’m sure remember his rather more flamboyant son Jimmy.
Bridge Broad was not hidden away as it is today but had just a rail slotted through concrete posts on which passers-by would sit and watch the wildlife. And it wasn’t filled then with lines of moored cruisers and houseboats. The only boats you were likely to see when I was a teenager were the rowing boats owned by Cecil Chamberlain and hired out by his son Roy from a little hut on the bank. Sometimes you would see Roy giving dinghy sailing lessons on the broad. I seem to recall his students were mostly attractive young women – but then Roy has always been a bit of a charmer.
I certainly remember people skating on the broad during hard winters. It was during one of those severe spells that Wroxham Broad iced over and Eric Stevenson, the blacksmith, drove his car across it.
Opposite Interiors, then still a garage but owned at that time by Brian Jermyn, there was a group of cottages with walls and windows right up to the pavement. Next to this was the grander house owned by Dr Shields, one of the two village doctors, which had a tempting garden gate set in the wall. I say “tempting” because as a child I had a habit of knocking on it each time I passed until one day it was opened too suddenly by an irate gardener.
The other Wroxham doctor at the time was Dr Bennet, who lived in the house on the corner of the Avenue. Both were much loved in the village not just for their medical expertise but also for their old-world charm and caring bedside manner. You could be confident in those days that if you were seriously ill they would visit you as soon as they could either day or night.
On the right where the library and Bridgewater Place now stands was a large triangular meadow often partly under water in the rainy season.
There was a dairy in Grange Walk which I learned to know well in the days before every house had a fridge. In the height of the summer, when the milk had gone sour overnight, I had to cycle there before I could have my breakfast, often having to wait while the milk was delivered and then filtered through a cooler.
Keith Turner and Bob Worby, with the ringed oak trees lining both sides of the Norwich Road, around 1950
Behind the dairy was Graham Bunn’s Boatyard which dated to the start of the century. It later adopted the name Windboats because all its cruisers had the word “wind” in their names, such as Whispering Wind.
By the time I was a teenager it was owned by Donald Hagenbach, who helped form the Wroxham branch of the Young Conservatives and let us meet in one of his offices. I don’t ever remember much political debate – it was mostly talk of tennis and dances. I certainly don’t recall ever discussing whether we should hold a joint party with the Young Liberals.
Between the Grange and The Mount, then the home of Stringers the butchers, was a wild flower meadow hidden from the road by a tall hedge. Behind the hedge was a footpath made by children who would leave their parents walking on the pavement while they nipped through a hole in the hedge, ran the other side of it, and emerged through another gap.
Hillside always had lots of House To Let signs. In those days you would never see a House For Sale sign because this was before mortgages were generally available for ordinary people. It was on Hillside that the Golders lived – and it was Mr Golder who started a boxing club in the hall where we’re meeting today. I went for a couple of sessions but after he had proved that my guard was not high enough by punching me on the nose I decided it wasn’t a sport for me. I was a fairly reedy youth and I certainly didn’t enjoy pain.
Just before the Avenue and behind the parish notice board was another field, always beautifully cut and looking more like a lawn than a meadow, at the back of which was the house of Bert Filby, the parish clerk.
The Church Hall – or the Village Hall, as I believe it was then – was the centre of entertainment in the Thirties and Forties, just as it is today. During the winters there was always a whist drive one week, a social the next, a whist drive again and then a dance.
Villagers of all ages attended the socials, from children to grandparents. We played party games and joined in dances like The Paul Jones. Jock Laurie would stand up and sing, unaccompanied, old-time favourites like “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”, which I see from the internet was written in 1885, and Rita Briggs, standing at the piano and accompanied by my mother or Hilda Dickenson, would sing the latest songs like Ivor Novello’s “We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again”.
Music for the monthly dances was provided by radiogram – first by the Gregories (father and son) then in later years by George Porrett.
Everyone could dance properly in those days – we could all do the waltz, the foxtrot and the quickstep. Jiving became very popular with the teenagers. We would also join the older folk in old-time dances like The Valeta, Gay Gordons and Dashing White Sergeant (although today that would probably have to be renamed “The Dashing Multicultural Sergeant” and I’m not sure what they’d do about the Gay Gordons).
I learned to dance at the age of 11 when an older woman came over and asked if I would like her to teach me. I’ve always been grateful to Audrey Haines for making an offer I couldn’t refuse. I say “older woman” as she must have been all of 15.
Of course we had all taken part in Country Dancing in the playground at school to a wind-up gramophone. We’d be halfway through a dance such as Sellinger’s Round when the music would start slowing down and the teacher would have to hurriedly wind it up again.
I once went with my friend Tony Harrison (brother of that delightful man, the late and much-missed Peter Harrison) to one of the whist drives at the village hall, to play what I think was called progressive whist. The losers had to move tables after each game – the losing male going one way and the losing lady the other. All seemed to be going well until the woman opposite said none too pleasantly: “Partner, you’ve just trumped my ace!” As she flounced off to the next table one way and I slunk off the other way I decided it was safer not to go again.
Between the avenue and the Castle Inn, where Marion Pardon and her neighbours now live opposite Heron Lodge, was a meadow which for years was the domain of one solitary horse.
Where Petals now stands was a greengrocers, owned at one time by Maudie Baine, and opposite were two village grocery shops, The Enterprise Stores owned by Mr and Mrs Smith and, a dozen doors further along, Carmen’s.
The village’s fourth grocery shop, Hall’s, which was also the post office, was around the Castle corner past the well that was still used by the people who lived in the cottages behind it (now Platten Court). It was to Hall’s shop we took our accumulators to be charged so we could continue listening to the wireless.
Mentioning Mr Smith reminds me of a custom that many people believe is unique to Norfolk: Father Valentine. This was much more exciting for children than Valentines Day cards. After dark on February 14 there would be a knock at the door and you would rush out to find something like a cabbage on the step. Another knock and there would be a present from Father Valentine. A third – and I remember once finding the head of one of my sister’s broken dolls. Then another knock until every child in the house had a present.
Mr Smith was the family friend kind enough to play Father Valentine for our house. Sometimes mischievous teenagers, if they could find a broom or rake in a garden, would leave it leaning against the door before they knocked and then hid to watch the fun. We’ve even heard of village boys leaving a dead rat on a teacher’s doorstep – but not in Wroxham, thankfully.
I lived at that time with my mother and sister Jean at my grandmother’s house, Woodlands, which was at the bottom of the loke opposite The Enterprise Stores, next door to the Taylors woodyard and behind what was then the Methodist Chapel, which had a grass tennis court behind it.
My grandmother’s bungalow had no electricity or mains water, like so much of Wroxham at that time. It was lit by gas in the kitchen and living rooms so we used to go to bed with a candle. We also had paraffin heaters to try to keep the house warm. It was easy to damage the gas mantle when trying to light it with a match; if you poked it by mistake it would disintegrate. For replacements we had to go down the passage at the side of the Enterprise Stores, turn right to pass the back of Mr and Mrs Smith’s living accommodation and come to the workshop in the garden of Donald Dickerson, who worked for the gas board.
We used to get our drinking water from our neighbour, Megan, who had a pump worked by a flywheel which could kick back viciously. For washing water, and the tin bath we used on bath nights, we had to heat water from the tubs. This often had little red creatures squiggling about which had to be scooped out of the saucepans first. Even when my mother, sister and I moved to a house opposite the castle in 1942 we still used to get our drinking water from a pump shared with a dozen or so neighbours; and of course clothes were boiled in a copper in the corner of the kitchen.
But back to the Methodist chapel presided over by the immensely likeable Mr Wilfred Watson, who was also manager of the tobacco department at Roys. It was Mr Watson who helped us form the Denburn Youth Club which eventually became the Denburn Cycling Club (see correction below following Jean Ingram’s memories). The cycling club was run by Teddy Collins of the boatyard-owning family and was popular with cyclists from both sides of the bridge. In fact there are several ex-members in this hall tonight – including one, who, not looking where she was going on the outskirts of Sea Palling, tumbled head first into the sidecar of a parked motorcycle combination. Fortunately we were travelling at a leisurely pace and neither she nor the sidecar were damaged.
Pamela Herbert, as she was before marriage, contributed this newspaper photograph from the EDP of experienced skaters helping out beginners on Bridge Broad, also known as Wroxham Little Broad. From left: Pamela is fourth, Jean Ingram, second, Mr Hunn and garage owner Brian Jermyn, fifth and seventh, blacksmith Eric Stevenson ninth. Can you name any of the others?
Those who came to hear the Old Codgers jazz band recently at the Masonic Hall might like to know that their guest singer, Annie Slater, then Anne Rivett, lived the other side of the passage from Smith’s shop.
Halfway along that terrace lived the Musgroves – Rayworth known as Rosie, Mandeville known for some unknown reason as Nozzy, Violet, Irene, Johnny and Bob. I mention them because Johnny took over the Enterprise Stores when the Smiths retired and then Bobby took over from him.
Crossing the Norwich Road, at that time lined with mature oak trees ringed with white paint to warn traffic away from them, past Mrs Omerod usually standing at the gate of 197 watching the world go by, past the fish and chip shop which stood adjacent to the other end of the terrace and past Mr Bailey the shoemaker, lived Spuddy Crane. He comes into this talk not only because his black and white bungalow may well have been the only village shop 100 years earlier, then run by a Hannah Crane, but also because of the incident of the pig.
On our way to the Broad, Tony and I found a pig running loose in the Norwich Road. We managed eventually to corner and catch it and not knowing where it had come from decided to take it to PC Thirkettle. News soon got around that it was Spuddy Crane’s pig and next day we were not a little worried when we met him in the street. But it was more in sorrow than in anger that he asked why we’d taken his pig to the police house. Apparently during the war every family was allowed to rear one pig. Mr Crane had obviously been rearing more than one and had inconveniently forgotten to apply for the licence.
Before we turn into Park Road I must remember to tell you that up until the outbreak of war it was most unusual for a Sunday to pass without cattle being herded up the Norwich Road to be sold at the Cattle Market in Norwich. Often they would be corralled into the Castle Inn car park while the herders stopped for refreshment.
The Castle at that time was run by Kitty Lake and her husband. Many of you will remember their son Rodney. I met him last year at the funeral of his cousin, and another great friend from my boyhood, Ken Webber, and learned that Rodney had retired early to teach disabled people, even blind people, to sail at Hickling Broad.
Opposite the Castle, on the same side of the Norwich Road, were two groups of old cottages, with their doors right onto a narrow, stepped alleyway. Not a great place to live when it was raining hard.
Cross the main road again into Park Road and halfway along on the right was the back entrance to Keys Hill which was for one period towards the end of the war a camp for Italian prisoners. I came round the corner one day to find a group of prisoners standing around the gate in a shouted argument with the locals. We all seemed to have learned two Italian swearwords at that time and these were now being used with increasing regularity by both sides. Then the two groups started lobbing stones at each other until one of the boys threw a thunderflash and the Italians scuttled off back up the drive. As they might have said today:
England 1, Italians 0.
Turn left into the unmadeup section of Park Road and there were many well-known Wroxham families living there – the Gorboulds, the Brennans, the Wisemans, the Taylors. Some of the mothers had a distinctive way of summoning their children home. They would stand in the street and with cupped hands would call “Mar….rey, Mar…rey”, repeating this penetrating cry in all directions, and even from as far away as the Caen Meadow Mary would run home dutifully for supper.
Back onto the Norwich Road, behind the thatched bungalow on the corner, was the blacksmith’s forge. It was owned and run by the man known to me as Skip Stevenson because he ran the sea scouts when the scout hut was at the bottom of Malthouse Hill, which is the lane that runs down to the river to the south of the former Wroxham Elementary School.
In addition to the ruins of the Malthouse there were also several cottages at the time in Slots Hole, as it was also called, with Sid Carley the postman living in one to the left. I knew him well because I used to do relief post rounds in the village during the school holidays – which is how I, like my mother before me, knew where everyone in the village lived. If I wasn’t waiting at my gate at 6.30a.m. when he passed my house he knew he would have to throw pebbles up at my bedroom window to wake me.
Back to Eric Stevenson the blacksmith, who around the age of 20 left his job in journalism when his father died to take over a business which had been in the family for generations. He was a great scoutmaster and his wife Lily a popular guide mistress. He was also an exceptional craftsman as you will know from the fact that he has examples of his beautiful metal screens in Norwich Cathedral, St Nicholas Church Yarmouth and even Washington DC. I also watched him do his share of shoeing horses.
Sometimes Skip would let me borrow the tretcart he’d made with its iron wheels so I could stand at the railway station on a Saturday morning and see if anyone wanted their cases wheeled to the boatyards. But the most popular way of making money – for all ages – was fruit-picking, mainly along the Horning Road. The great joy of this was that each time you filled a basket with blackcurrants you would take it to be weighed and once they had inspected it to check there were not too many leaves or even stones in the bottom to make extra weight they would pay you immediately in coins. So that at the end of the day you might have an aching back and hands stained black but you also had a satisfying amount of cash to take home with you.
The most reliable pickers were also allowed in the strawberry fields. But these were banned to boys. Did they think we were going to eat more strawberries than we put in the basket?
Back on the Norwich Road heading south towards the city there were no houses on the left once past the blacksmith’s forge. Instead there was a very active and noisy rookery in the wood which lined the drive to Keys Hill whose main entrance was just round the corner as you turned into Salhouse Road.
Nathanial Bircham, like his son John after him, was skipper of the wherry Albion when it was a commercial craft. He lived in one of the houses opposite the wood. I once saw Nat walking home with a dead coypu rat he’d caught at a time when these pests had a price on their heads because of the way they burrowed into the river banks. It was nearly three feet long from nose to tail and had ferocious looking orange teeth.
Past the Police House where we took the unlicensed pig and over the railway bridge, which we called “The Iron Bridge”, was the field in which a Mosquito fighter-bomber crashed during the war. All we boys went along to find bits of the windscreen to make into signet rings. We would push a red hot poker through a piece of micre and then fashion it with a knife and sandpaper. Older villagers would be looking for parachute silk for underwear.
Returning over the bridge, we now turn right into Salhouse Road and then left towards the Broad. On the right, about two thirds along, was a dairy farm – marked until recently by a collection of wheel trims – with a milking parlour which provided the milk I used to collect at the dairy in Grange Walk. The Broad was popular with young swimmers but not as popular as the Caen Meadow.
I was at the Broad with Tony during the war (the cruisers were mostly being used by holidaying American airman from the drome at Rackheath) when an American rowed ashore and said: “Hey guys, would you like this dinghy?” Would we not! He explained he was going back to the US so it was ours.
We secreted it in a creek and spent a happy few days rowing round the Broad until we heard an irate English voice coming from a cruiser: “Hey, you boys, what are you doing with my dinghy?” It was the end of a dream as we handed it over – I can’t remember now if the legitimate owner took us back to shore or whether we had to swim.
The Yachtsmen football team in the mid 1940s: Back from left: Ron Herbert, who is this?, Bob Blake, Walter Sword, Derek Wicks. front: Derek Bowman, Tony Harrison, Bob Woodcock, Bobby Musgrove,Frank Neal, Alan Hall [For the team from 1921 see foot of page]
Continuing round the Avenue you’d come first to the large field, opposite the footpath, where the local football team, The Yachtsmen, once played. Memorable players were Neville Yellop (now I believe aged 90 and still going strong) and later Derek Bowman, who would glide through the opposition with the ball at his feet and was given a trial for Norwich City.
Just past the football field was a smaller field called Little Acre where the local boys built a cycle speedway track. Perhaps we didn’t get proper permission because it lasted for only two or three matches with rival teams, like Horstead. It was not too much of a loss as the results of the matches were always very noisily disputed, with both sides claiming they’d won.
Further round the Avenue, opposite the house with the high walls which was once Colonel Charles’s kitchen garden, was one of the two entrances to his home, Wroxham House. It was here that the road had to skirt a traffic island of beeches. We used to call the parkland surrounding Wroxham House (now, of course Charles Close) “The Colonel’s Lawn”. At one time the annual village fete was held there before it relocated to the Caen Meadow, where it was then organised by a another popular local man, Sookie Wright.
Beech Road holds some personal memories – as did what we used to call the Seven Bridges which is the continuation of Beech Road where it becomes just a track and which then didn’t have Private Road signs everywhere. When I first met my wife, who was then aged 17, I took her there on her first visit to Wroxham and told her that local folklore had it that if you kissed on each of the bridges you would be together for life. I think I made the folklore bit up – but it worked.
If you’ll excuse another personal note, she may have been attracted by the way I dressed in those days; although she says not: light cord trousers, green blazer, white shirt and a cravat in the neck – which was often my old scout neckerchief. You can imagine then that I was somewhat dismayed one day as I jauntily strode down the road to be asked by Bob Blake’s mother in a concerned tone: “Got a sore thrut, boy?” I consoled myself that she was probably just getting her own back for Mrs Blake was the lady whose ace I had trumped.
The other memory of Beech Road was of the flooding in the early 1940s. With a friend, Richard Sutton of Southernhay (now Heron Lodge), I cycled down there having heard that the Seven Bridges were under water. But the dip at the bottom of the hill was also too flooded to cycle through. So we went back for my canoe to get across the dip, then carried it until we reached more flooding and were then able to paddle it along the track there. Living as I now do by the river, I can’t imagine I’d be so excited if this happened again.
The Seven Bridges was also where my great grandfather Charles Curson and my grandfather William Curson built all the old wooden riverside bungalows on the Wroxham side of the Bure** and also more substantial properties in Beech Road and elsewhere including the Sheriff House and, on the bend, Burewood. This was recently pulled down to make way for new properties although I notice they reused the original decorative chimneys, which were a Curson trademark.
George Formby’s old house Heronby also looks to be in their style. I met the Lancashire singer and comedian of “When I’m Cleaning Windows” fame while doing the Beech Road post round. I was most excited to find a packet of mail for him but very disappointed when nobody came to the door. So I decided to go round the house and down the garden path to where his cruiser the Lady Beryl was moored. I knocked on the wheelhouse door and we had a short but memorable conversation. I said: “Here’s your post, Mr Formby.” And he replied “Thank you, son.”
In Staitheway Road, Overbury House was a recuperation centre for wounded soldiers during the war and they would be seen walking round the village, often with a solicitous young woman on their arm; or sometimes a young woman with a soldier on each arm. Perhaps their fetching uniforms of bright blue suits with white shirts and red ties was an added attraction.
There was quite a stir in the village when St Margarets, on the corner of Staitheway Road and the Avenue, with its then extensive grounds, was sold to someone termed “a rag and bone man from Horning.” It turned out that Mr White was indeed an early advocate of recycling – but probably of scrap metal rather than rags and bones. He very soon earned our gratitude by allowing us to play tennis on his hardcourts which were the other side of Overbury House near to the footpath.
Back up the Avenue to cross the Norwich Road to Church Road and School Lane. In those days you didn’t have to wait ages to cross, hoping that someone would stop the traffic at the lights further up the road or at Roys. There were just a few passing cars and delivery vans and perhaps you might have to wait for the paraffin man to pass on his horse and cart.
In Church Lane you would pass the beautiful Manor House owned by Mrs Clifford Gilbert, who was a great supporter of the church and choir. Next came a yard full of farm machinery with a large pond flanked by crab apple trees where the vicarage stands today.
A picture taken in the boys’ playground at Wroxham School in 1923. There are no names but is your grandmother or grandfather one of them?
Wroxham schoolboys 1928. Teacher Mr Easton. Back row: Ernest Benton, Billy Buck, Arthur Daynes, (who’s this?), Sydney Loynes, ? Haines, Stuart Delph, Teddy Hardingham, Cecil Lake. Middle row: Kenneth Dyball, Norman Haylett, (who’s this?) (who’s this?) (who’s this?) Jimmy Stringer (who’s this?) (who’s this?) Sonny Jeffries (who’s this?). Front row: Roland Ormerod, Lewis Woodward, Percy Haines, Reggie Hall
Wroxham School – what an excellent education I received there which enabled me to win a scholarship to Paston. Mr Clouting the headmaster was a stern but kindly disciplinarian. He would just need to come out into the playground and clap his hands twice and everyone would freeze in their tracks. In those days boys played in one playground and girls in the other.
The teachers were Mrs Durrant, mother of the popular Tunstead farmer and North Norfolk independent councillor, Cyril Durrant; Miss Wright, who cycled in every day from Salhouse; and Polly Bowman from Ashmanhaugh. The main room at the school was divided into two by a curtain so that two classes could be held there – which could be a bit distracting at times as you had to cut out what was happening on the other side of the curtain and concentrate on your own teacher. One of the tortures for those who couldn’t spell must have been the lesson where you all stood around the walls of the classroom, moving either up or down the line if you spelled or didn’t spell a word correctly. I can’t imagine that being allowed today. I also recall having to learn the 61st chapter of Isaiah off by heart over one weekend.
All the double desks had two inkwells, as we had to dip old-fashioned pens into the ink to write. Ballpoint pens hadn’t been invented. We were given a new nib each term but if anything drastic happened, like dropping it like a dart into the floor, we were allowed a replacement. It was the job of the ink monitor to fill the ink wells but invariably there were spills, so most of the desks, as well as the exercise books, had ink smudges on them and most of us went home with inky fingers. It’s hard to believe now that one of the treats was to be given a clean sheet of blotting paper. You would immediately write your name in the corner so no one else could take it.
Every year the greatest horror was the arrival of the dentist’s van, which would be parked like a bit grey monster in the corner of the playground. We would all sit in dread waiting for our name to be called, first for a check-up and then for any necessary extractions or fillings. Injections didn’t seem to be at all effective and there were no high-speed drills. Some children would emerge in tears holding bloody handkerchiefs to their mouths – hardly reassuring for the next patient.
It was the headmaster Mr Clouting who suggested I should join the church choir where I stayed from the age of eight or nine until my voice broke. Those were the days when a young woman named Ivy manually pumped the organ*** and the church was lit by gas. I remember having to enter a pitch black church to light the gas lamps for choir practice. I also recall an occasion when the church was lit by something even brighter.
One of my fellow choir boys had found a flare at the site of the crashed plane I mentioned earlier and decided to set light to it on one of the tombstones to see what would happen. The whole churchyard was lit up by a blinding white light and the Rev Davies, seeing these silhouetted figures against the gravestones, came rushing out wondering, someone said irreverently afterwards, if he was beholding the Second Coming.
The Caen Meadow in the 1950s, when we could picnic, sunbathe and swim along the whole length of the riverbank. An enviable contrast to the summer scene(below) taken in 2015 which shows how the trees and bushes have taken over. If you recognise anyone in the 1950s picture, please email me.
Next, the Caen Meadow, everybody’s favourite place in Wroxham as it still appears to be from the first findings of research undertaken for the Wroxham Parish Plan. I don’t think I ever felt happier as a child than when running down the hill on a lovely sunny day carrying a towel, a packet of fishpaste and tomato sandwiches I’d made myself and a bottle of red corona to join my friends on the riverbank where we knew we would be spending every day of the school holidays.
Most of us learned to swim there and eventually felt brave enough to venture across the river, first with company and eventually solo. We didn’t feel quite so brave standing in the mud on the other side and hoping we could get back again – particularly as we would first be swimming over banks of reeds and there were tales of people getting caught up in these and drowning.
To the left of the meadow the hills and dales would be thick with hawthorn bushes – and we called this part “The Sloes”. This is where the girls put on their swimwear while the boys changed on the opposite side of the meadow.
What we enjoyed most though was getting a tow in the days when most cruisers had dinghies behind. You would be sitting on the bank when there would be a shout of “A tow; a tow” and as a boat came round the bend everyone would rush into the river. It must have been an unnerving sight for the amateur skippers to see all those heads bobbing about but they had to make it past us if they were to get to Coltishall, so some came carefully and some pushed the throttle wide open.
The trick was to grab hold of the dinghy and be pulled though the water for the length of the meadow and then swim to the bank and run back for the next tow. Sometimes you missed but it was a great feeling when you caught a tow. I never heard of anyone being injured in any way but today, like so many things, it’s banned.
I read in the Bridge some months ago a theory that the Caen Meadow was named after a local family. I always understood that the stone for St Mary’s archway came from the town of Caen in Normandy**** and that, as the land behind the church was boggy, the meadow was the natural place to land it.
There were even well-worn stakes across the main bays when we were young which suggested that at one stage there was a wharf there. I’m not suggesting these dated back to Norman times, but who knows?
We’ll finish our tour in Skinners Lane. On the left, after the castellated house, there were probably allotments. Certainly Wroxham School’s gardening lessons took place on what is now the football field.
At the end on the right was the Priests’ House which was originally occupied by the priests who ministered to the Traffords but by then was the home of our cub mistress Miss Cook. When she married the Reverend Grubb she left the church under an archway of cubs’ staves. Afterwards we went back to her house for the reception and I remember a telegram that was received with laughter: “We hope the Cook doesn’t spoil the Grubb!”
Finally you will have to excuse me for ending on an intellectual note.
I was reading a Times leader the day after Messrs Cameron and Clegg of the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition had addressed the press in the garden at No 10 and was most impressed that at the end of the leader the writer was able to find an apt quote from a poem by TS Elliot:
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the Rose Garden
If only, I thought, I could find something equally appropriate to end this talk. I wracked my brains but all I could come up with was:-
The Lavatory man
[Added later: For those who don’t know any more of the rhyme, it goes on:
Washed his face with a frying pan,
Combed his hair with the leg of a chair…]
The only unpleasant side of living in Wroxham in the Thirties and early Forties was the weekly visit of two men with their horse and trailer who would collect what is euphemistically called “the night soil”. My sister Anne tells me that if there was a man in the family they visited twice a week; and hopefully they also did so where there were lots of children. There were tales of people sitting on the toilet when the hatch would be opened and the pail dragged out from under them – although I seem to recall the men used to whistle loudly to warn you they were on their way.
With this thought I wish you a pleasant journey home. At least those walking will know that in 2010 they won’t at some stage have to hold a handkerchief over their nose and make a run for it
* Alice was played by the Cicily Leeming, daughter of Colonel Charles’s head gardener; the Mad Hatter was Henry Sparrowhawk, an evacuee from London’s Bethnal Green; and we ended our scene by trying to tip little Vernon Wiseman, the Dormouse, into a giant teapot. Does anyone remember who else was in the pantomime? Or the names of any other of the evacuees and where they were billeted?
** According to Gordon Curson (son of Archie, the pianist at the “garage” dances) when my greatgrandfather and his sons started building houses along the bure they cost £350 each while a wet boathouse cost £50.
By 1933 when these “strikingly handsome” riverside boathouse, bungalow and house, designed and built by the Cursons, were featured in the Town and Country News, the prices ranged between £150 and £1,000.
*** The hand pumping stopped after Mr Couzens, local dentist and longtime organist at St Mary’s, left money in his will for the organ to become electric
****This folklore would appear to get some backing from the late Phillipa Miller’s fascinating book, Norfolk Broads – The Golden Years, in which she states that limestone from Caen used to build Norwich Cathedral was transported upriver to Pulls Ferry. If it came by the Yare to Norwich around 1100 why not by the Bure to Wroxham in 1150? A simpler explanation for the name Caen Meadow, wouldn’t you think?
Correction: I thought when writing this talk that the youth club started in the Methodist Chapel by Mr Wilfred Watson was the Denburn Youth Club but following Jean Ingram’s memories I now recall it was the St Andrew’s Youth Club. Can anyone else remember being a member apart from me and how long did that club last?
Wroxham antique dealer Spencer Brooke, the third generation of his family to trade in antiques, reminded me that the Wroxham telephone exchange used to be situated in one of the houses on Hillside. It was the kind of exchange you see in old films where the telephonist would ask for the number you required then connect you by plugging it into a giant board filled with what looked like a mishmash of cables. Who, having heard her, could forget Miss Bidwell’s lanquid almost bored “Number, please” when you picked up the receiver? Spencer said that his parents had friends in Coltishall and on one occasion, when they asked for their number, she said: “There’s no point in calling them – they’re gone to Norwich for the afternoon.”
Florence Bidwell on her 100th birthday in 1979. She loved her job so much, she didn’t retire until she was 86, when the exchange became automatic.
Hoveton historian Roy Chamberlain told me that when he was on weekend leave during National Service he would call his parents to let them know he’d arrived safely back at camp. Miss Bidwell had once informed him that his parents were out but that he shouldn’t worry about phoning again as, when they got home, she would let them know that he’d called. You don’t get that kind of service with an automated exchange.
Mervyn Jermy emailed: I well remember the old telephone exchange. As a boy of around 10 years old in 1955 we would go into the local telephone box in Wroxham, pick up the receiver, wait for the operator to say “Number please” then ask: “Is that the operator on the line”. When she replied “yes” we would say “Get off quick there’s a train coming!” Probably aggravating for the operator but we found it funny at the time.
PENNY’S THOUGHTS (March 2012)
Penny Hagenbach as she was then (email@example.com) wrote: Thank you for wonderful memories…
1) Does anyone remember the way Mr Clouting, the headmaster, turned the word Constantinople into Istanbul?
2) As a child I was taken to tea with Mrs Clifford Gilbert and couldn’t take my eyes off two receptacles on the mantle-piece, one of which contained her husband’s ashes, and the others parts of her knees removed in an operation. She was a lovely lady and I still have the book she gave me when I was confirmed. When my parents later bought The Manor House we discovered it was actually Manor Farm before she and her husband moved in and up-graded it – and they rented the house from the Trafford Estate.
PENNY’S HAS SECOND THOUGHTS (May 2018)
I occasionally have a happy evening remembering Wroxham on your website! Seeing Sylvia Gorbould’s photo reminded me that I have never seen it noted that when I started at Wroxham School, I guess 1947, the two youngest classes met in the village hall. Sylvia was one of my classmates and I remember Pamela Carmen, Diana Shrieve and Ann (Brown I think) who lived next door to Diana. I have disconnected memories: occasionally the verge caught alight from a passing steam train in the summer and we had the excitement of a visit from the fire engine though not allowed out to see it, of course. Occasionally the chip van came at dinner time and if we had the wherewithal we could buy some chips. The school nurse visited and the nit nurse, who may have been the same person. My mother was once taking me home with my friend Barbara and we told her the nit nurse had been and Barbara proudly said she had nits and was delivered back to her house rather promptly. (Nowadays my grandchildren and their friends suffer far more from nits in their hair than we did.). When it was our turn to go up to the “big school” I can remember meeting at the Hall and walking up proudly hand in hand in a crocodile. By the time my brother Keith started school the new canteen and classrooms had been built opposite the school, later knocked down.
DOES ANYONE KNOW?
Rachel Roper writes: I recently discovered that my ancestors lived in Wroxham in the 1800s and early 1900s. Hugh, a surgeon/doctor, and Julia Matilda Taylor lived in Avenue House up to around 1910, by which time they’d both passed away and I believe are buried in Belaugh. Their son Charles Taylor with his wife Kate and two children Margaret and Madeline may have continued living there for a short time after. If anyone has any information about the Taylors I would be grateful to hear from them firstname.lastname@example.org
CALLING THE SHOTS
Since the 1950s photograph of the Caen Meadow appeared on the cover of the August 2016 edition of The Bridge magazine there has been some dispute about Nick Walmsley’s reference to “Slot’s Hole”, the more common name for Malthouse Hill – with local old-timers claiming it to be Sotts Hole or even Shotts Hole. Checking the 1871 census returns for Wroxham [transcribed by Rose French for the St Faiths District in August 2000] I found it listed against William Ives, 23, malster, and others who lived or worked there, as Sotts Hole, which would seem to end the argument. That census was dominated by the Jermys, Haineses and Gorboulds, names still much in evidence when I was growing up, with descendants in Wroxham in 2016, notably Barry Gorbould who has a wealth of information about the village. In 1871 John Blackwood, 37, ran the Castle Inn, Edward S Trafford, 32, landowner, lived at Wroxham Hall, Henry Haines, 38, was a disabled hawker, Henry Stevenson, 46, ancestor of Eric, was the blacksmith, and William Knapp, 58, and his son James, 18, were vermin destroyers. An interesting addition to several names was, for instance, Robert Turner, 66, husband, unmarried (should be married?”) and Sophie Turner, 64, wife, unmarried (“should be married?”) Was this just the view of a disapproving census-taker because they had four children? There were no such comments in the 1861 or 1841 census. To see the full 1871 list
Last word on “Slot’s Hole” from Nick Walmsley
THE CUP-WINNING WROXHAM SOCCER TEAM FROM 1921
Back, from left to right: Mr Johnson (landlord of Kings Head), F Pegg, F Brown, A Filby, C Watson, H Press, S Loynes Middle: F Brown, W Cuttings, R Mills, W Nunn, L Brown, H Nicholson, E Brown Front: E Nunn, A Stringer, G Boyce
EXPLAINING THE CHANGE OF WEBSITE
The contents of this Wroxham History site have been transferred from My Wroxham, a Norfolk Parishes/gov.uk website, which was online from June 2011 to April 2014 and then October 2014 to May 2017, until it was decided that only official government sites could use you.gov. TO CONTRIBUTE YOUR MEMORIES OR OLD PHOTOGRAPHS OF WROXHAM, or if you can identify the unnamed people in any of the pictures, PLEASE EMAIL email@example.com or contact me at 01603 784719