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Tag Archives: Norfolk

  • Norfolk's Military Heritage by Neil R. Storey

    September 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and after  five years of special events, exhibitions and projects to commemorate the First World War this book looks at the long military history of the county of Norfolk from its early fortifications and conflicts between the Iceni and the Roman occupiers right up to the end of the Second World War, hopefully there will be many stories and images that will be new to the reader, even if they have enjoyed studying local military history for many years. That's the enduring grip such a subject has on a historian, there is always something new to discover, even if you think you know a subject well.

    Iron Age fort at Warham, near Wells. (C. John Fielding, Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Norfolk is one of England's largest counties, it still has thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land and has had human settlements since the earliest times, along with their resulting conflicts. Add to this a coastline stretching nearly 100 miles from The Wash to Hopton-on-Sea with a number of natural harbours and navigable waterways and dear old Norfolk has been a target for raids and invasions down the centuries too. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Norfolk people have a natural propensity for standing up for themselves and what they believe is right. Famously, in ancient history the Iceni were led in battle by Queen Boudica in a campaign that almost drove the Roman occupiers out of the British Isles and that fighting spirit remains in the blood, mingled with that of the Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

     

     

    Castle Rising, built more as a symbol of power and status than a fortification, is surrounded by some of the most impressive earthworks in Britain. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    I wanted to show a variety of perspectives of the earliest fortifications, not just those visible at ground level and John Stevens kindly allowed me to use some of his brilliant aerial photographs of Norfolk's remarkable early fortifications such as the Warham 'Ring,' Burgh Castle and Castle Acre, and even took a few more especially for the book. Notably, during our exceptionally dry summer of 2018 the marks of the ancient roads buildings and walls of Venta Icenorum the Roman administrative centre that was established over the old Iceni settlement at Caister St Edmunds, had not been quite so clearly seen for years and having seen many of the old images of the site in black and white from when it was first discovered it was great to see them in colour at last.

    Norfolk people have risen in rebellion on numerous occasions against oppression and to defend their way of life, notably during the Peasant's Revolt in 1381 and Kett's Rebellion of 1549. Ultimately they faced forces that were larger and far better armed than them but rise they did and made their point.

     

    Members of the Norfolk Riflr Volunteers striking camp 1872. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    During the English Civil War despite being predominantly in favour of the Parliamentary cause both Royalists and Parliamentarians made their stands in the county and many Norfolk men joined Regiments that fought in some of the notable actions of the war around the country. Captain Robert Swallow raised the 'Maiden Troop'of Cromwell's Ironside cavalry in Norwich and ultimately Norfolk formed part of the Eastern Association which proved to be the backbone of the Parliamentarian forces by late 1644.

    Norfolk fighting men have demonstrated their steadfastness and courage in battle again and again, notably through two World Wars. Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks summed this up in his special introduction to the volume on The Royal Norfolk Regiment in the Famous Regiments series in which he said:

    'The Royal Norfolk Regiment has always been renowned for its steadfastness and reliability in difficult situations. In fact it is the sort of Regiment which all commanders like to have available in order to plug a difficult gap. This staunchness has been developed over the years, for wherever the fighting was fiercest, climatic conditions most vile and the odds against victory most daunting, the 9th Foot was sure to be there.'

    The unveiling of the Thetford War Memorial by Major General Sir Charles Townshend on 4 December 1921. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    This spirit is also reflected through the service of Norfolk personnel in the Royal Navy, in the Royal Air Force and even among those on the home front through dark times, danger and disaster.  The veterans many of us knew from the First World War are now all gone and sadly those who answered the call on both the home front and on active service during the Second World War are fading away too. I hope, in some small way, this book will encourage new generations to appreciate their experiences and sacrifices and will provide inspiration and a good starting point for future research.

    Norfolk has been the scene of riots, rebellions, sieges and military actions over past centuries and the landscape is dotted with earthworks, defences, moats, fortified manor houses and latterly pillboxes and other fixed defences from the First and the Second World Wars. Some of these are now long gone, others are ruins and some remain remarkable bastions to this day. This book does not attempt to be encyclopaedic but I hope it will highlight some of the most interesting places and inspire a visit to those open to the public. Above all I hope it will introduce the story of our local regiments and our military past to anyone with a budding interest in the subject be they Norfolk born and bred, resident or visitor and deepen their appreciation of Norfolk's rich military heritage.

    Neil R. Storey's new book Norfolk's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • King's Lynn From Old Photographs by Robert Pols

    King’s Lynn – Putting Names to the Legacy

    Amy Purdy took a risk when using volatile flash powder to illuminate the gloom of the Clifton House vault. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    My recently-published King’s Lynn from Old Photographs is not the first book to offer an early pictorial record of the town, and I don’t suppose it will be the last. Lynn’s rich past is still evident to any resident or visitor prepared to explore a little further afield than the town-centre shops, and a wealth of photographs has survived from that past. There really is room for a number of books investigating the borough’s heritage through pictures. Any one book, however, needs to have its own identity and character. The writer will, naturally, want it to be a bit different from the others, and when I started to explore the pictorial possibilities for King’s Lynn from Old Photographs, I knew what I wanted that difference to be.

    Books of old photographs routinely comment on what the illustrations show. They also, quite rightly, give credit to those who have allowed images from their collections to be reproduced. There is often, however, something missing: credit is rarely given to the people who took the photographs, and that has always seemed to me a great pity. Often, of course, the photographs (particularly those on postcards) are anonymous. Many, though, can be attributed, and I was anxious, whenever I could, to use attributable photographs in the book. Where possible, I was also keen to say a little about those photographers – about their careers, about the way they marketed themselves, and about the practical problems they faced when they took their cameras away from the studio and out into the field. Clearly the book was not the place for any lengthy discussion of these pioneers and their working lives, but some passing glimpses into their world seemed justified.

     

     

    A Lynn amateur photographer records the genteel custom of taking tea in the garden. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    To strengthen the books attention to those who created its images, I suggested – and Amberley agreed to – chapters devoted specifically to their studio and out-of-studio work. I’m not sure how often one can expect the publisher of an established and successful series to humour authorial whims, but it’s certainly a humouring for which I’m grateful, and I believe it has helped create a distinctive character for the book.

    The focus on photographers has been reinforced in two other ways. One of these is the use of images from a collection of glass negatives by an early Edwardian amateur photographer from the town. His name remains undiscovered, but his pictures allow us to meet his wife and family, show us a privileged way of life, and give an insight into the pleasures of what was, for those who could afford it, a golden age. Since his curiosity also took him beyond house and garden, his pictures make a telling contribution too, to the record of local places and events.

    The second boost comes in the form of words rather than pictures. From 1898 to 1900 James Speight, a young member of a Rugby family of photographers, worked as assistant to Lynn photographer Jasper Wright, and James kept a diary. Some of the entries deal with studio life, but his social life and events in the town are also reflected, and it is these latter aspects of the diary that have been used in the books captions to illuminate such diverse topics as modern traffic, fires as a spectator sport, public interest in the Boer War and the pleasures of dressing up.

     

    No name appears on this postcard of the Bentinck Dock, but the caption’s distinctive handwriting points firmly to ‘The Don’. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    In a variety of ways, therefore, I have been able to place some emphasis on King’s Lynn’s photographers, and I am indebted to Amberley for allowing me to indulge this enthusiasm. The final total of attributed images in the book is comfortably over 60 per cent. I’d like to have reached a higher percentage, but many of the illustrations derive from postcards, and a very high proportion of postcards was published anonymously. Indeed, some of the attributed postcards in this book have been rescued from anonymity only by captions in recognisable handwriting.

    The overall result is, I hope, a book that not only provides a snapshot of King’s Lynn in Victorian and Edwardian times (and sometimes a little later), but that also goes some way towards celebrating the men and women who have given us such a varied and vivid view of the town’s past.

    Robert Pols' new book King's Lynn From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

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