April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday

Bowthorpe Cememtery 2019, as visited 40 years later.

I was born on Maundy Thursday (March 29 1956) and the Easter experience described (and I mean experience- I am no fundamentalist so wouldn't share it otherwise)  happened on Maundy Thursday 1979. I had some half-assed plan to work out what Eliot meant in "The Journey of the Magi" by "This Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death" by spending the night in Bowthorpe Cemetery in Norwich. I got  more than I bargained for: 

The day we met I stepped inside your door
To say goodbye forever, so hell bent
On every kind of unemployment,
Schoolboy-giggling at work so heaven-sure
But you knocked me senseless to the floor,
Saying heaven on earth was what you meant
Which rang an old school bell and testament
To the word on the street I was searching for.

Gaining heart, I crossed the city of the dead 
To Easter Thursday chancing on a grave
Dated the day I was born and lay down.
‘What’s lost in the wasteland is found there,’ it said 
‘Who loses himself for love will be saved,’
‘Who dies lives’ and my heart, lost to you, was found.

Norwich Cathedral, main window, 2019. The snake around the cross caught my eye. I asked a friend if he knew what it meant.

There are various interpretations of this window :-
>> Triumph over death.
>> A parable related in John.
>> Part of an explanation to Nicodemus who was as confused as I am.
>> Old Testament view of the saviour figure.
>> Image of Christ on the cross only appears commonly about 600AD. Before that it was the snake on the cross from Eastern iconography.
It is an image of Moses and the Brazen Serpent.
The Israelites had got weary of the"manna from heaven" which God had provided them in the desert. They complained! God angrily sent lots of snakes to punish them. They got bitten and died.... Moses appealed to God for guidance. He was told to make a brazen snake, put it on a cross and if anyone was bitten they should look at the image and they would be cured. Hence rebirth. Hence Christ on the cross and renewal of life. Book of Numbers, I think.

April 15, 2019

Desperately Researching Susan: The Thunderstorm at Sedgeford July 5 1819

The Ballad of Susan Nobes (video of bicentenary performance)

When I first came across the story of my erstwhile fellow-villager Susan Nobes (died 1819, aged 14) in the British Library, I was amazed that no-one else in Sedgeford had heard of it or her. A small village hosting a resident historical and archaeological project of 24 years standing (The Sedgeford Historical and Archaelogical Research Project) would surely have unearthed a story about a summer thunderstorm so infamous that its news report in the Ipswich Journal of 1819 was reproduced in the 1819 calendar of World News.  But no, no-one at SHARP or among the 600 odd  Sedgeford residents who heard our dramatic recreation "The Ballad of Susan Nobes" ever recognised the story and declared themselves mystified that it wasn't common knowledge.

Harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies and Poet Gareth Calway, composer/ writers of "The Ballad of Susan Nobes": a screenshot from the film of their January 2019 performance.

However, any smugness at my scholarly 'exclusive' (an accidental one, while searching  the British Library's Sedgeford annals for the construction date of our cottage) was conditioned by an anxiety that I had imagined it.

It was only when I shared my plans for a commemoration of Susan's tragedy with Tim Snelling, whose mother Janet Hammond was a custodian of village records and de facto village historian for decades, and asked if we could use the Ladywell at Hill Farm as a location for our bicentenary performance of The Ballad of Susan Nobes, that I found I was not the only one who knew about Susan and the thunderstorm after all. Gary Rossin of SHARP had suggested the contact and possible memorial venue.  Tim not only enthusiastically agreed but mentioned his own plans to feature the 1819 Thunderstorm in the village newsletter this summer; then proceeded to share a wealth of documents (including copies of BL and county records pertaining to the storm and local evidence of where Susan lived, names of parents, siblings, classmates etc. which I had only half established in my own researches.) He also unearthed some verses his mother Janet had written about the storm and Susan's demise which long predate mine.

The result is that the character and final hours I deduced for Susan and presented in the Ballad - based on the 1819 religious tract and baptismal records along with some educated guesswork - are now partly more and partly less certain. I now know where she she lived - in the village's Town House (Poor Housing) a row of four tiny houses opposite 'the Washpit' - which fits with my deduction that she was not a 'high status' or 'important' villager. ( Attendance at the school suggested this; the tone of the tract implied it and the lack of any official  village remembrance seemed to bear this out.)  

The Town House of Sedgeford (extract from)

Janet Hammond
In 1960, in pursuance of a Closing Order, the greater part of what were then known as Numbers 3 and 4 Washpit Cottages, Sedgeford were demolished.  The remaining part was retained because the west gable of the condemned cottages was the east gable of the adjoining pair of cottages. These were not tied into the gable just butted onto it.  For this reason planning permission was applied for, and obtained, to leave sufficient of the walls under a sloping lean-to roof, in which to house a garage and downstairs bathroom; these would act as buttresses to the gable end.  So by chance about a quarter of the seventeenth century Town House was saved.
Towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth the problem of the poor was becoming urgent and in 1601 a law was passed which remained the basis for administration of Poor Relief until the nineteenth century.  One of the provisions of the act was the encouragement to build a Poor house where indigent parishioners could be housed and work found for them to do. These Town or Alms houses were frequently built by wealthy philanthropic landowners.  The Town house of Sedgeford was built by Richard Stubbs just before 1617, as in his will dated 1617 he leaves money to the poor of Sedgeford living in his alms house newly built. This house remained the Town House until 1837 when it and the Pest House (formerly standing on Goodmins next to the cottages opposite the church gate) were sold to defray Sedgeford's expenses in providing the new Docking Union Workhouse at Burntstalk1.  At this time the Town House was described as being two cottages and the Pest House as four cottages. Looking at early maps it would appear the latter was still standing until the early part of the twentieth century.

During the two centuries of its existence as a Town House odd glimpses can be
found of it in the manuscripts of the Le Strange and Rolfe families and the Parish. One is
a copy of a letter to Sir Nicholas LeStrange - a great grandson of Richard Stubbs - as
May the 29th day 1687
"We the Minister, Churchwardens, Overseers and Chief Inhabitants of the Towne
of Sedgford in the County of Norff whose names are hereunder written doe humbly
testifie unto the Right Worshipfull Sir Nicholas LeStrange of Hunstanton in the
County aforesaid Baronet that we have placed in your Almes howse in Sedgford
aforesayd during you worships pleasure theise persons whose names are hereunder
specified as followeth
Alexander Pawle and his familie; wid(ow) Robinson and her cripple; Anne
Bullocke and Alice (? ); Elizabeth (Tusnt?) Wid(ow) Minne: Alice Minne and
Mary Rice

Willi~ Waters, Vic(ar) Will Palmer ) Churchwardens
Edw. Smith ) Overseers Robt Collen )
Adam Roythorn ) Tho. Rose, ffra Holland. 2
Another was a small book made by Neville Rolfe in 1829, which, although called
a Census of the Poor, 3 seems to have listed all the inhabitants of Sedgeford except the
larger freehold and tenant farmers. In this several households are described as living in the town's houses rent free.

The father's tragic walk up to the church from what I call in my ballad "the crossways under baked Dove Hill" now presents a different village geography in my head than it did before, though the rapid swelling of floodwater along the valley coming off Dove Hill (as well as down the steep slope of what is now Goodminns estate) remains scarily apt. (And still current; notably in the storm of 2007, which brought 4 fire engines to Cole Green and kept local builders in work repairing the flood damage to the cottages there for months afterwards.) Susan's father is unnamed in the tract - again, perhaps suggestive of his low status - but is called Robert in the news report.  I named him Robert from a baptismal record in the British Library, an educated guess borne out by the newspaper but not in Janet's copy of the records which has him as Henry, Susan as Susannah and her mother as Mary. Unless Janet mis-recorded 'Robert' as "Henry"(unlikely) perhaps he was christened as Henry but known locally by a middle name, Robert.

Janet Hammond's copy of the Sedgeford Church baptism records.

Tim Snelling, Sedgeford Village Historian, with some of Janet's many documents pertaining the storm and Susan Nobes.

The site for Waywood's bicentenary performance of the Ballad scheduled for July 5 2019. The church tower will be visible across the water (see below) to the left of the picture.

I asked Tim if there was any evidence that the Ladywell had a sacred function in pagan Saxon times.

"there is no evidence as such, but I think Mum assumed it would have been 
regarded in such light given that the Well spring was marked by an erratic 
boulder that must have been hauled and brought over from some nearby ice-age 
glacial deposition site. But the Ladywell as we know it today would not have 
been the pond it is now - that has been widened out both in the past and in 
more recent times. It would have originally been a little spring fed rivulet 
meandering down to the main river course. Mum also wrote a poem about the 
Erratic Boulder in the vein of Beowulf." (Tim Snelling)

South view of Sedgeford Church and the tower. Susan died in the vestry below it.

The most significant divergence between Religious Tract (which my and Janet's verse-account of the storm and Susan's demise follows) and the news report is that the Tract describes Susan's death as "there were black zig-zag lines on her side where the lightning had stuck her" and the newspaper suggests she died of fear. Either is sufficiently appalling for the victim, of course, and has the elemental implacability (death, fate, wild weather, human littleness in a vast universe) of the ballad form  but I, like Janet, followed the religious tract. A lightning strike fits better the tract's sense of a vengeful God so there is possibly some poetic licence or religious bias here and Tim is more inclined to trust the 'detached' news report  than a polemic (dogmatic and unsympathetic) but even then I'm not sure the local Curate (assuming it was he who wrote it) would get away with falsifying a detail that bereaved and grieving parents among his parishioners might  dispute; whereas the Ipswich Journal is reporting from what was then an awfully long way away. So if I was writing the Ballad now, I think I would still go with the local word and narrate that she died by lightning. But let Tim tell the complete story with all the documentary evidence we have-

Storm 200 by Tim Snelling

The 5th of July 2019 will mark the 200th anniversary of a catastrophic event that all but brought the village to its knees and sorely tested their faith. 

The following detail is drawn from four known sources:
                  1. A short newspaper report in the Ipswich Journal dated July 24th 1819.
                  2. 'The Thunderstorm That Took Place in Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819 with                          Remarks & Observations for the use of Sunday Scholars, and other young persons', a religious tract                            written shortly after the event for and published by the Religious Tract Society.(1819)
                  3. Sedgefordiana' - a brief history of Sedgeford by Rev. A. Ogle, (c.1895).
                  4. Rolfe Family Records Vol.II - compiled by RT & A Gunther (1914)
These four accounts in general agree, but with the odd glaring discrepancy. For the most part the tract must be seen for what it was, promoting the ideology of Christian beliefs and dogma re. 'cometh the day', whilst Ogle's account written some 76 years after the event, is drawn from the tract which, though author unknown, Ogle believes to have been 'written by Dr. Bacon, who was Curate at the time'. Ogle's entry in his Sedgefordiana will have inevitably been based on the already heavily slanted Christian dogma of the tract and hearsay tales that will have expanded and embellished the event over the ensuing 75 years. Gunther merely provides a much abridged version of Ogle's account. It would seem the truth of it lies closer to the event recorded in the short news item in the Ipswich Journal. There were no local newspapers at that time.

It is interesting to note that in neither the news item nor the tract, the two main characters are named, they are simply the lady teacher and the master. The Rev. Ogle however puts a name to these people after a leading preamble. The known copy of the tract is in the British Library, but a recent archive research reveals that another copy of the tract is in the Norwich Record Office under a reference title 'Life and Stewardship of Eustace Neville Rolfe, 1845 - 1908' (Ref. GUN 32 363 x 1) along with other 'notes' belonging to Mrs Catherine Frances Rolfe, Eustace's great-great-aunt who, as it happens, is the lady teacher so named by the Rev. Ogle. When Mrs. Rolfe died in 1837, such was her religious calling and devotion, she left relatively large bequests to many religious societies; indeed, one might wonder if it wasn't actually the 'lady teacher' who was the author of the tract. The master was named as William Harrison.

Monday the 5th July 1819 had been a typical mild warm summers day. Come the evening, folk were going about their daily tasks, working in the fields while birds sweetly sang. The teacher sat in the porch waiting for the schoolmaster to appear before Bible reading class could begin, meanwhile the attending children happily played, running up and down the churchyard, little knowing the impending doom that was to befall them. The schoolmaster duly arrived, readings began and when done was followed with a final hymn, 'Oh let me, heavenly Lord extend, My view to lif's approaching end... .'which, in view of what was about to happen, was very timely sung! Sometime before flashes of lightning had been seen through the church window. A warm summer storm was not unusual and nothing was to be feared of it, so the teacher continued to the end of the class and even as the lightning grew closer the master continued in prayer. Then at 9pm a thunderstorm was unleashed, the magnitude of which had never been witnessed in living memory. 

The Ipswich Journal: "During the dreadful thunderstorm on the Evening of July 5th the electric fluid struck the top of Sedgeford Church Steeple on the West Side, and precipitated to the ground several stones of considerable magnitude making a breach in the wall of about a yard square. The lightning also passed through the Church entering in at a window near the porch on the South side; and after crossing in a North East direction, it made its escape at two places in an upper window near the Chancel on the North side".The Rev. A. Ogle later recorded in his 'Sedgefordiana'that "The Church was struck by lightning, whilst a water-spout was falling upon it';  

One cannot be sure if he was merely alluding to an overloaded burst downpipe or to that most severest atmospheric accumulation of a water tuba spiralling down to make contact with the ground, in which case we are looking at a very rare event indeed for water-spouts very rarely occur over land to touch down. Tuba's could be described as reverse plug-holes that come about when a finger-like vortex forms from  a violent cumulonimbus cloud in an attempt to make contact with the ground, more usually over a large expanse of water, to create the aforementioned water-spout, and with lightning added makes for an ideal conductor to the ground and whatever the water-spout should happen upon, in this case the church tower. Certainly this catastrophic event was worthy enough for the newspaper report to find its way into the Annual Register of World Events 1819-20.
A comparable event in recent years would be the May 2007 deluge day when the entire village was cut off after a sudden and unprecedented downpour that within the space of 15 minutes, had brought the village to a standstill with roads cut off by hillwash and mud slides and all access roads flooded with waters amassing at the lowest point of Cole Green, submerging the ground floors of roadside cottages. In July1819 the villagers were dealing with something far more ferocious. 

Such was the force of the lightning strike that stones from the tower were dislodged and thrown down to the ground and "the water poured in almost deep enough to drown, forcing its way into the graves within the Church."That would have been bad enough, but this occurred at the same time Mrs Catherine Frances Rolfe, the village squires wife, and the Master, William Harrison, were holding a Bible reading class for the  young children, in the vestry which was situated immediately below and between the tower and the south porch where the lightning first entered the church. The news report continues: "An Evening School was being held previous to the occurrence, which happened about 9.p.m. The dismay may be better conceived than described. The children, nearly in a state of distraction, uttering the most dreadful shrieks; parents in search of their children, incessant lightning with peals of thunder, and torrents of rain such as had never been remembered, formed a scene truly terrific."

"Now some time before this they had seen flashes of lightning through the church window. It was very awful, but the lady thought that they were well enough employed, and she did not wish that they should go away before they had done. When the singing was over they all knelt down to pray. The lightning rapidly increased and seemed to fill the window with a blaze of light. But the master went on praying in a very earnest manner. He is one who loves Christ, and I dare say he thought that if he, or any of his little flock were to be struck dead, they could not do better than die on their knees, seeking mercy from Jesus. So he did not pray less because of the storm, but longer; though it was so very dreadful that all present really thought they should soon be killed. You may fancy how awful it was, when I tell you thata thunder­bolt struck the steeple and forced down a beam from the roof just over the door of the vestry where they all were. Large stones were also broken off the steeple. The noise was like the sound of a great gun close by, and there was a strong smell of brimstone. The lady, the master and two girls were struck down by the lightning. One of the girls, Catherine Frary, was in an agony of terror, crying out "Indeed, I will strive to sin no more." The children were so frightened that they began to scream and ran about as if they were beside themselves. The lady begged them not to run away from her... but they all ran away, except the master and the children who stayed with the lady in a corner of the church."

The Rev Ogle tells us that " A beam was displaced, large stones were displaced and fell down from the steeple, and Mrs Rolfe, the Master, and two children were struck down... Whereas the tract states that"By and by it gave over thundering and lightning. The lady and the master, and the children who had stayed with them, then knelt down and thanked God for having kept them safe among so much danger... the father of Susan Nobes came to inquire after his daughter. He had been waiting at home for some time, anxiously expecting her return for he was a man who dearly loved his children, and though he could not keep them from the dangers of such a dreadful storm, yet it was natural for him to wish to have them about him at such an awful time. So after looking for her in vain, he went to the church and not finding her, he went with the lady and the schoolmaster into the vestry, and, after looking about, they found poor Susan lying in a corner behind the  door and would fain have persuaded himself she was only in a fit; but her head hung back, there were black zig-zag lines on her side where the lightning had struck her, and he soon found that he was only embracing her dead body and that the soul had gone". 

The news report makes no mention of 'zig-zag lines' or any other scorch marks, in fact it clearly states that "Fear is supposed to have been the cause of death, as there was no appearance of the electric fluid having entered the room. A few pieces of mortar were detached from the ceiling, which in all probability was effected by the shock communicated to the steeple, or by the concussion of the stones falling to the ground."Susan father is named as Robert in the news report but parish records reveal that her father was a Henry Nobes, husband to Mary (nee Creed). Henry was a farm labourer and the family lived at "the little cottage called the Town House, at the foot of Corner Stone hill, pulled down and rebuilt by Mr Herbert Binks in 1888."The Town House was Sedgeford's Poor House for the most needy. In 1960, the site was a row of 4 cottages called Washpit of which the two nearest to the main road were condemned but partly saved under new ownership. In due course the remaining 2½ cottages were knocked into one. 

March 29, 2019

The Ballad of Breck's Isle!

The Ballad of Breck's Isle    (click to hear it)

"No man is an island but a part of the main." John Donne

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a No Deal with Nil Points

The UK will win Eurovision again;
Cilla, with Ringo's hair.
The Tories will be Winston Churchill again.
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your French shtick, your double Deutch,
Your Dolce-clad discothèques
Your  tiqui-taca, your Peps and your Klopps
Your Lattes and Pilsners and Becks.

You can keep your fromage, your Nordic noir,
Your Breughel and Brendan and Brecht,
Your Christendom, culture and 'civitas,'
Let me live on the Isle of Breck

Where coiffure d'Albert is Albert's of Heacham
And le bistrot a gastritis-pub;
Where mange tout de chef is Chav's All You Can Eat 
 And pure white folk rules at the club.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

England will win the World Cup again,
Harry Kane will be the hot Spur
The Who will be Number One again
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your Rioja, your Pinot, your Brut,
Give us Spitfire and Bombadier
And Broadside and Bomber and Brexile Bitter
And rationing, hatred and fear.

It's the new party line, the new Civil War, 
Breaching kin, class, friend and Union
Eyes right, all salute the all-white flag
Of our half-mast donkey-led kingdom.

Full steam ahead to Breck's Isle, Ahoy!
A hundred percent right and sure
Or 52 on a confident day
Which it might not be anymore.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Wales will win the World Cup/ beat the All Blacks/ again;
Real Madrid/ Warren Gatland/ the Spur;
The valleys be home-grown and funded again
(Except that they never were.)

100 percent for a four point turn
Going back where we weren't before
Back from the Front and that Normandy beach
Home to Brexile's doughty white shore.

We will fight in the plazas where families dine out,
Kick over their wine and cuisine;
We will never surrender our country and cod
And chip on the shoulder and Queen.

We are the champions of Europe we were
And will be, by running away
Backwards up Winston Churchill Drive 
Though his soft 'Will' has shrunk to hard 'May.'

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Northern Ireland will win the World Cup again,
A backstop midfield be the Spur,
Our Lost Lands will be Arthur's England again
(Except that they never were.)


'Breck' is Middle English for breached, broken. 

A corner of a Norfolk field that is forever Europe

January 21, 2019

Around Creation in 80 Minutes - The Baba Lovers "6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love"

Sedgeford poet Gaz Calway has teamed up with the North Carolina singer-songwriter Gabriella Tal on an album of unusual lovesongs. The album - called "6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love" - begins on an Indian hilltop with a devotional chant before taking the listener through a hell at the centre of earth and out the other side to Eden and in a thrilling ascent of seven heavens, each more enchanting and ego-free than the last.

"Hell isn’t other people; it's ourselves, our self-fulfilling
Cock up conspiracy clouds, our I-land's alien nation."

In the process, the performers experience a growing self-knowledge and meet ideas and characters drawn from all over the world and from all arts, cultures and Faiths.  There are references to Dante's hell, purgatory and heaven; the Arthurian quest for the grail; the Sufi 'Conference of the Birds;' the soul-realising love stories of Leila and Majnun and Lancelot and Guinevere;  Celtic maidens, Homeric and Hindu gods, Judaic angels,  Shiva's snake;  Jacob's ladder; and an immortal Light glimmering beyond the dark forest of the material world.

Listeners voyage through (inner) space like grail knights, preparing to overcome the terrifying challenge of the fourth heaven where ego and love struggle for final supremacy and to avoid a great fall back to the start. 

Dante was guided on a similar path by Virgil and Beatrice. Gaz and Gabriella are guided all the way to the Seventh Heaven by the written works of the twentieth century Indian Spiritual Master Meher Baba, at whose Tomb-shrine the musical game begins.

The attractively packaged album with 24 page lyric booklet is released on 31 January and available via www.thebabalovers.bandcamp.com where an online version is also available for download.  The duo's online single "Heavenly Moon" featuring two tracks from the album is available there now. The album releases here on 31 January 2019 - https://thebabalovers.bandcamp.com/album/6-degrees-of-separation-7-degrees-of-love