Reaching for the stars: An Account of Early Space Exploration

Would we have reached the moon without the courage of men like General William Kepner?

The Experiment

In 1934 General William Kepner took part in an experimental stratosphere flight, in which he tried to reach the second layer of the earth’s atmosphere, a staggering 40,000-50,000 ft, in a gondola attached to a balloon. A recording of his memories of this event, held in the Norfolk Record Office (NRO, MC 376/420), gives us a great insight into the technical research and training required to try such a flight, and explains just what happened when the experiment went disastrously wrong.

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New workshops for the Autumn Term 2021

We are really pleased to announce that we have received funding from the Paston Footprints project in order to create 2 brand new workshops. Defending the Castle and Tudor Shopping are initially availble for the first half of the Autumn Term only, in order to tie in with the current exhibition Finding Paston Footprints: 400 years of Norfolk Life.

There are limited spaces available and with 2 schools already booked in you will need to act fast in order to secure your place. Find out more about the sessions and whether they will benefit your pupils, below.

Defending the Castle

This workshop is aimed at both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 pupils so whether you are studying castles, following the topic with a curriculum provider such as Cornerstone’s Towers, Tunnels and Turrets topic or looking for a local history topic this is for you.

The session starts with a quick introduction to the Paston family and their ownership of various houses around Norfolk, including Caister Castle. Next, we move on to the siege of the castle. Pupils watch an animated video before having a go at story sequencing.

John Paston III telling us about the siege of Caister Castle.

Pupils get to discuss what makes a good castle, looking into building materials and defensive structures before deciding on whether the design of Caister Castle helped in the Paston’s fight to defend their property.

Finally we look at cracking the heraldry code. In which we talk though why people had coats of arms, and how these were divided up as marriages took place. We work with the Paston coat of arms to engage in some embedded maths, by looking at the fractions that the coat of arms was divided into.

One version of the Paston coat of arms

Key Stage 2 pupils follow a similar lesson plan, but using slightly trickier resources.

Tudor Shopping

This workshop is aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils studying the Tudors. In this workshop pupils will be introduced to the Paston family before meeting Richard Calle, the Paston’s senior steward, who will talk them through his journey to the local market town of North Walsham, to buy supplies for the coming week.

Pupils will talk about the differences of going shopping today compared to in the past and learn how shopping didn’t change for many years. Finally they will have a go at shopping in the Tudor period by playing our shopping game and visiting a number of different market stalls found in North Walsham at the time.

Miles Drake, the butcher in Tudor North Walsham

Finally pupils will get to have a look at an inventory from a local shop, discovering where different spices came from during the Tudor period. They will be able to smell and look at different spices in order to identify them.

If you would like to book either workshop, or need more details please contact the Education and Outreach Team.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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The Story of Sound part 4: Wire, War-time secrets, and Walkman’s

Previously on the Story of Sound blog series, we travelled back in time to discover the first invention to record and re-play audio, uncovered forgotten formats such as the wax cylinder, and learnt how American President Franklin Roosevelt is linked to the success of vinyl discs:

1: The Talking Machine

2: “Canned music” and a war of formats

3: Shellac to vinyl, how World War Two changed the record

In 1963 in Berlin, Germany, a new audio format was released that revolutionised the music industry. The compact cassette tape, developed by the electronics company Philips the previous year, was unlike any previous audio format. At a time when music was bought on vinyl discs at a cumbersome 7, 10, or 12 inches in diameter, the arrival of a small portable format that could be carried in a pocket or played in a car introduced a new era of commercial sound.

    While compact cassette tapes may be remembered in association with Walkmans, recording songs from the radio, or sending mix tapes to sweethearts, the magnetic audio tape inside has a long and important history; from transforming the BBC’s broadcasting abilities, to being a closely guarded secret of the Second World War.

Magnetic audio tape stems all the way back to the 19th century, when in 1898 the Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen created the first magnetic recording device, the Telegraphone. Unlike the audio tape we know today, the Telegraphone used magnetised wire, and at the 1900 World’s Fair Poulsen used the device the capture the voice of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, now the world’s oldest magnetic sound recording.

In 1932 the BBC launched the Empire Service [now the World Service], which required them to broadcast repeats of radio programmes several times for different time zones. The quality of dictating machines that recorded onto wire fell short of broadcasting standards, however in 1924, a film producer and inventor called Ludwig Blattner licenced a new machine, the Blattnerphone, that replaced wire with steel tape as its magnetic recording medium. The machine used 6 mm steel tape, and its basic audio signal was not considered good enough by BBC engineers for reproducing music, however it was adopted for recording and replaying speech. The Blattnerphone had several disadvantages. It required large and heavy spools of tape and operated at a high speed of 5 ft per second, making it hazardous to run; a break in the tape could result in razor-edged pieces of steel flying around the room. Recordings were not easy to edit, the tape itself requiring soldering. This was too laborious for regular productions using this technique, however in 1932 a programme was produced in the Blattnerphone room called ‘Pieces of Tape’ which compiled several tapes recorded that year.

Blattnerphone Recorder, 1937

   Meanwhile, in Germany, advancements in magnetic recording were being made that would change the field entirely. In 1928, German inventor Dr Fritz Pfleumer experimented with applying magnetic powders to strips of paper or plastic film. This inspired the company AEG, who in 1932 began to use it as a principle on which to develop a device called the Magnetophone. AEG signed an agreement of collaboration with BASF: AEG developed the system, and BASF an appropriate sound carrier. In 1935 the reel-to-reel Magnetophone and its magnetic audio tape were first presented to the public at a Radio Fair in Berlin. Over the following years, further advancements (including the concept of AC tape bias) improved the sound quality and eliminated background hiss to a degree that made it difficult to tell whether a recording was playing live. During the Second World War, Magnetophon recorders were widely used in German radio broadcasts. Adolph Hitler used this to his advantage, performing what appeared to be live broadcasts from one city, while he was in fact in another. While the Magnetaphone had been released prior to the war, its improvements and advancements became closely guarded secrets. Allied forces were aware that Germany had a new system that could create pre-recorded material at a high quality and long duration, however, did not discover the full details of its construction or operation until the Allied invasion of Germany during 1944-45.

     One of the people to introduce magnetic audio tape to the West was American Major John “Jack” Mullin of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. In 1944 he heard a Radio Berlin broadcast of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. The quality and duration of the recording far surpassed anything in operation by the Allied Forces and sounded like a live recording, however, at the time it was playing it was 3am in Berlin. After the war Mullin was assigned to discover what communications technology Germany had been operating and discovered high-fidelity Magnetophones in operation at a Radio Frankfurt station in Bad Nauheim. Mullin returned to America with two Magnetophones and fifty magnetic tape reels, which he worked to improve and amazed the attendees of the annual Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) conference in San Francisco who were unable to tell whether the recordings they heard were live or pre-recorded. Not only this, but magnetic tape could easily be edited, by simply being cut and spliced together with tape. Mullin was hired by the singer Bing Crosby, who both hated performing live on radio and was attracted by the high fidelity of the Magnetophone. Crosby later became a key investor in the development of the first American reel-to-reel tape machines by the electronics company Ampex.

Two Studer reel-to-reel tape machines in the Norfolk Record Office Audio Preservation Studio

     Reel-to-reel magnetic audio tape was used predominantly for professional purposes such as radio. When the compact cassette tape arrived in 1963, it introduced magnetic audio tape to the mass consumer market. Initially primarily intended for dictation, its popularity came from music and early recording artists to adopt the format included Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, and Johnny Mathis. The first in-car cassette player was launched in 1968 and the portable cassette tape player the Sony Walkman was released in 1979. Commercial cassette tape recorders allowed the public to record music at home, recording songs from the radio to create their own copies and mix tapes, leading to the British phonographic Industry (BPI) launching a campaign called ‘Home taping is killing music’ in fear of declining record sales. Compact cassette tapes remained popular throughout the 1980s, despite the 1982 release of the first CD (Compact Disc). However, by the 1990s CD had began to monopolise the market and by the early 2000s most major music companies discontinued the production of pre-recorded compact cassettes.

   Through the audio preservation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, Norfolk Record Office is preserving collections of reel-to-reel and compact cassette tapes to ensure that their recordings can be safeguarded for the future. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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How Much Has School Really Changed In The Last 100 Years?


Adults often say “you have school far easier these days” to young people like myself. Making me wonder, how much has school really changed in the last 100 years? How does my modern experience of school compare to the general experience of a child in the early 20th Century? Using the Thorpe St Andrew Church of England (formerly National) School Infants’ school logbook from 1904 to 1918 (Norfolk Record Office C/ED 162/1), I have compared lessons, attendance records and school trips in the early 20th Century to those of modern schools.


Many lessons from the early 20th Century are still taught 100 years later. For example, geography, history, reading and scripture (better known as literacy) form integral parts of the curriculum today. Photographed below is a timetable of lessons, all of which still form a vital part of primary education – although recitation (repeating something aloud from memory) is usually conducted within lessons. Yet some lessons are no longer taught in schools – for example varied occupation and criticism lessons were given on a range of topics including coal, the moon, and laying a fire; not lessons you will find in a typical school today! Nowadays, these would either be taught as a project during a lesson, discovered in a club such as Scouts or wouldn’t be taught at all, instead being discovered through individual research/passion. Moreover, advancing technology has allowed for a multitude of new lessons including computing and T levels (a new course available instead of A levels). These lessons couldn’t have existed in the early 20th Century as computers weren’t invented yet!

The timetable of a candidate. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 20.

Another key difference between lessons in the early 20th Century and modern schools is their timetables. Between 1904 and 1918, the school timetable was constantly changing with extra-curricular activities and other events often cutting lessons short. For example, lesson times were changed to “enable the teachers to attend a garden party” on 18th July 1907. In the photograph below, an entry on 4th May 1911 details that “afternoon school began at 2.15 this afternoon to enable the choir boys to attend a Wedding”. In modern schools, timetables are fixed – lessons aren’t cut short for events unless pre-arranged and school related. Lessons start and finish at consistent times established from the beginning of the year and aren’t moved for social events such as Weddings or Garden Parties. Additionally, the school year ends in July in modern schools whereas in the early 20th Century, the school year ended on 31st January.

An extract from May 4th 1911. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 112.


However, lessons and timetables aren’t the only parts of school to have changed in the past 100 years – acceptable reasons for poor attendance have also changed. Between 1904 and 1918, wet weather was an acceptable reason for poor attendance. Children were often absent due to the “threatening state of the weather” or “general bad conditions of the weather”. Nowadays, school is only closed due to weather if it is unsafe to travel or the site is unsafe.

Furthermore, whilst illness has always been an acceptable reason for poor attendance, the illnesses themselves have changed over the past 100 years. Whilst colds, chicken pox and fever are still common childhood illnesses, other illnesses such as diphtheria, whooping cough and ringworms are not as prevalent as they were in the early 20th Century.

Yet attitudes to attendances haven’t only changed regarding absence – rewards congratulating good attendance have drastically changed since the early 20th Century. The logbook records half-holidays given at the beginning of some months for good attendance. In a modern school, certificates are awarded at the end of each term to congratulate only those with 100% attendance. This is a stark contrast to the half-holidays awarded to any child with good attendance 100 years ago; it was accepted that children wouldn’t be in school daily in the early 20th Century. The number on the books, attendance and percentage were taken weekly – the photograph below shows two examples of the attendance records being taken – not once between 1904 and 1918 was the percentage at 100%. Sometimes, if very few children have 100% attendance for the year in a modern school, book tokens are gifted as a special reward to children with perfect attendance at the end of the year.

Example of attendance records. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 126.

School trips and special events

Not all has changed since the early 20th Century, one core element that has remained much the same are school trips. Between 1904 and 1918, the logbook details visits to museums and nature walks, it also recorded the annual outing to Cromer. In modern schools, nature walks and museum trips still form an integral part of the curriculum. Whilst the destination may have changed, an annual outing is still commonplace today. Residentials also form a key part of the calendar in many modern schools – usually weeklong, it’s a time for the children to bond and have fun. Residentials weren’t part of school life 100 years ago; there are no records of overnight trips in the logbook from 1904 to 1918.

Whilst school trips form exciting opportunities away from the classroom, there some special events are celebrated inside the classroom. For example, in the photograph below, November 30th 1904 was St Andrew’s Day, Miss Birkbeck visited the school during the morning and “gave to each child a gingerbread cake and orange”. Whilst cake and fruit are no longer gifted to each child by a visitor, each school has its own way to mark days of importance.

The final verdict – has school really changed?

School has changed a lot over the last 100 years. Thanks to advancing technology, new lessons now exist and lesson times alongside acceptable reasons for absence have changed significantly too. Yet in many ways, school has remained the same to its core. School is a place where children come to learn both inside and outside the classroom, make new friends and have fun. Perhaps not much has changed after all. 

A good example of a typical page in the logbook. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 79.

Written by Kendra Payne

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Fear of Invasion

“He who would all England win, should at Weybourne Hope begin.” 

Norfolk has always been vulnerable to invasion from the sea, particularly in areas like Weybourne with its steeply shelving beach giving deep-water anchorage close to the shore. A map of 1588, when the Spanish Armada threatened invasion, noted amongst the coastline defences, the ‘Black Joy forte’ at Weybourne. It was also recorded that Blakeney, Cley and Wiveton offered 36 ships for naval service against the Spanish forces, showing the extent of local commitment before the formation of the Royal Navy in 1660. Despite the growing British naval power, coastal communities were still fearful of attack from foreign privateers and possible invasion, given that the French planned, prepared and even attempted several invasions between 1744 and 1805.

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How did football come to Carrow Road

On this day in 1935 the first football match was played at Carrow Road. In this blog we will be looking at why the ground was built on this site and some of the changes which have taken place to both the stadium and surrounding area over the following 90 years.

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Entering Australia: The Life of a 19th Century Criminal

Australia, like the rest of Oceania, has been working hard at keeping its borders closed over the past 18 months to stop the spread of COVID. However, this was not always the case.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many, many British people entered Australia- these were as convicted criminals. Between 1787 and 1868 approximately 4000 Norfolk citizens were transported as part of this scheme. For some of these people details of their life before, during or after transportation can be found at the Norfolk Record Office.

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‘Le Strange’ Lockdown Life – Discovering the World of Eric Mackay

A young clerk working for the Steward of the le Strange Estate in North-west Norfolk in 1863 left a diary recording a year of his life, but failed to put his name to it.

The diary, held at Norfolk Record Office (NRO, MC 287/1, 774×5) remained unattributed until it turned out to be a vital piece of a puzzle being worked on by three local historians. When they realised they were working on different bits of the same picture, they teamed up to give personal histories not only to the diarist but also the people he wrote of in his unique record.

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