A Murderer in the School: The case of Eugene Aram of King’s Lynn.

When I was a kid in Bradford, one of my favourite weekend outings was to York. Among its attractions was the Castle Museum and the condemned cell, where I first came across the story of Eugene Aram. At that time, it had no significance beyond being a gruesome tale; my only connection with East Anglia was that Bradford City signed a goalkeeper, Johnny Downey, from Wisbech Town, and I had no idea where Wisbech was anyway.

Recently, a pal of mine, Simon Beer, mentioned the story. Simon is something of a polymath, in some areas, self-taught, much as Eugene Aram was.

Eugene was born in 1704 in the village of Ramsgill, near Harrogate. He came from a humble family, his father being a gardener, but Eugene was something of a genius, teaching himself Latin and Greek, and later researching Hebrew and Celtic.

After spending some time without success in London, he returned to Knaresborough and became a teacher, marrying and fathering seven children. Then things went sour.

He made the acquaintance of a shoe-maker, Daniel Clark, whose wife was a woman of means.

Clark began spending lavishly, running up debts with local traders. On February 7 1744 Clark vanished.

At first it was thought he had run away to escape his debts. Nevertheless, Aram’s property was searched. Some of Clark’s booty was found in Aram’s garden as well as those of other friends. Aram stated that Clarke had left the goods there.

Clark remained unaccounted for, even a ‘no questions asked’ reward of £15 (more than £3,000 in today’s money) was offered for information.

Aram started to clear his debts, which set tongues wagging. By April 1745, Aram was starting to feel insecure, and he abandoned his wife and children, moving from town to town working as a teacher.

Turning once more to the minutes and memoranda of the King’s Lynn Town Council in the Hall Books, (in this story, KL/C 7/13), we find on folio 378v a note of Aram’s appointment as an usher at King’s Lynn Grammar School in February 1758:

1 kl-c_13-378 appointment

King’s Lynn Borough Archives, Hall Books, KL/C 7/13

At that time the school housed above the 14th-century Charnel Chapel, alongside St Margaret’s Church on Saturday Market Place. The chapel, demolished in 1779, was originally built in medieval times to house the bones of the dead.

In his finding aid, “Borough of King’s Lynn, 1524-1835: Chronological lists of Mayors, Aldermen, Common Councillors, Officials & some others”, Peter Sykes gives us a list of Grammar School Ushers:

2 Aram as usher

Jumping ahead in the story, it is worth noting that Aram was the last usher to be appointed by the Counsel, the responsibility thereafter residing with the Headmaster, as Peter Sykes points out:

3 Sykes Grammar School intro

Mike Walker, in his book King Edward VII School: A Centenary Celebration, also refers to this:

4 Walker

Unfortunately for Aram, a visiting horse trader recognised him, and the wheels of justice began to turn. In the same year, a skeleton was discovered in St Robert’s Cave near Knaresborough.

Information board, remains of a chapel built at the cave, and the entrance to the cave, my thanks to Simon Beer for the pictures.

Truly, as the saying goes, “hell hath no fury…” and Mrs Aram, Eugene’s abandoned wife, was quick to accuse him of the murder of Daniel Clark. There were rumours of an affair between her and Clark, which added fuel to the flames. Aram was taken back to Yorkshire and tried for murder. In spite of a clever attempt at defending himself, he was found guilty and executed in York Castle in 1759, his body being publicly exhibited in a gibbet “pour encourager les autres”, as was said of the unfortunate Admiral Byng. At the start of the Seven Years’ War, Admiral Byng, a successful naval officer, was sent to relieve a British garrison at the Siege of Minorca; ill equipped, he failed and withdrew. He was court martialled “for failing to do his utmost”, and executed by firing squad as an example.

There are three last bits to the story. For anyone interested, the Stories of Lynn Museum, next door to the Archives, has, in the old gaol cells, Aram’s skull, a fragment of Clark’s skull, and a small pill box made of the wood from the gallows on which Aram was hung.

8 Aram skull

Aram’s skull- my thanks to Dayna Woolbright, Lynn Museum, and the Norfolk Museums Service.

Returning to the Hall Book previously cited, we find an entry for 1st July 1760, on folio 423, of a “Certificate of Mr Knox’s Character. Mr Knox, as detailed in the first Hall Book reference above, was Headmaster of the Grammar School:

9 Knox

King’s Lynn Borough Archives, Hall Books, KL/C 7/13

This seems at first to be a propos of nothing, but then on folio 428, we find a note of the appointment of David Lloyd as Headmaster, noting that Mr Knox had moved to Holt:

10 Lloyd

King’s Lynn Borough Archives, Hall Books, KL/C 7/13

And there our story of King’s Lynn’s criminal Schoolteacher ends. Or does it? Eugene Aram and Simon Beer could both be called polymaths, and both were in some areas self-taught. Eugene came from Knaresborough to teach at the Grammar School in Lynn; Simon taught for a time at King Edward VII School and then went back to Yorkshire to live in Knaresborough. Both grew up in small Yorkshire villages. Now, I’ve never subscribed to the theory of reincarnation, but…

Written by Pete Widdows, NRO Research Blogger

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Call the Midwife in Loddon

At the turn of the 20th century, with no NHS, many towns and villages had their own Nursing Association. Loddon formed its own Nursing Association as part of the Norfolk Federation from 1907. A newspaper report of March that year minutes a meeting at the Town Hall where it was felt that they should affiliate to the Norfolk District Cottage Nursing Association.

The second entry in the Association Minute Book, dated 15 March 1907 sets out the basic rules and the scale of charges (NRO, MC 3212/988).

image 1

Minute Book for Loddon Nursing Committee, 1907. NRO, MC 3212/988

During this meeting Mrs Cadge was appointed as secretary and Mr Cadge as treasurer. The Association needed to raise between £50 and £100 per year for either a Nurse from the Norfolk District Cottage Nursing Association or a Queen Victoria Jubilee Nurse. The Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses had been chartered in 1889 and had trained many nurses, known as ‘Queen’s Nurses’, by this date. The Cadge Family, local solicitors in the village, may well have desired that Loddon had a Queen’s Nurse in order to keep up with their close neighbours, the Beauchamp Proctors of Langley Hall Estate who had their own Queen’s Nurse.

The Committee Minute Book and the Annual Reports give us a detailed account of the state of nursing in Loddon from 1910 to the creation of the NHS in 1948 (NRO, MC 3212/988).

In 1910 it was reported that Nurse Featherstone had attended 73 cases and made 2,135 visits ‘but besides this she had paid many casual visits, helping cases of sprains and cuts etc. which are not included’.  Nurse Kate Mary Featherstone had been born in 1875 in Bowthorpe.  During her time in Loddon she lived in the street near to Bank House, now Farthing Green House.  She appears on the Electoral Rolls in Loddon from 1912 to 1914 as an occupation voter, able to vote in County & Parochial Elections. After completing her nursing career in Loddon she moved to Norwich where she died in 1917.

In 1913 Nurse Ayden took up the post, which she held for a total of 4 ½ years, before leaving in 1918 to take up a post in Ditchingham. She was presented with a clock by the Committee and her friends in Loddon.  During the previous year the funds raised had allowed for the purchase of a new bicycle and a new ‘District Bag’.

Nurse Turner arrived in May of that year and made 1,454 visits to the end of December 1918. In 1919 she made 1,827 visits. It was also reported that in conformity with a resolution of the Norfolk Nursing Association, midwifery fees would increase to 15/- for Class I, £1 for Class II, or £2=2=0 for Class III. Local families made quarterly subscriptions, which allowed them to access the services of the Nurse. These were related to the rental price of their homes. At the same date the scale of charges [quarterly subscriptions] increased to:

Class I Cottages under £7 rent      8d;

Class 2 Houses under £12 rent      1/4d;

Class III   Houses over £12 rent     1/9d.

The scale of monthly subscriptions for emergency visits was 3/-, 5/6 , or 7/6

Nurse Turner was replaced by Nurse Colman who left in September 1922 after ‘13 months good work’, paving the way for Nurse Goodbody to take over. The minute Book records that:

Arrangements through the County Association had been made for a new Nurse on a 3 month trial, she was to lodge with Mrs Dowe for 25/- per week. If found to be satisfactory the Nurse to be paid £120 per year with uniform and bicycle, but to pay her own board & lodging.  The Association also paid 10/- for an annual 3rd party insurance against claims up to £100.

It was also noted that the previous Nurse had been charging all Maternity & Midwifery patients at the Class I rate; Nurse Goodbody was to be made aware of the charges.

image 2

Meeting of 11 September 1922 from the Loddon Nursing Committee Minute Book. NRO, MC 3212/988

Nurse Goodbody was one of six children born in Ely, to William Goodbody in 1884. Her mother died in 1890.  Her father was a Brewer’s Agent, who by 1911 was landlord of the Six Bells Public House in Hemingford Grey near St Ives with his second wife. Ida meanwhile had moved to Saffron Walden; she appears as a Hospital Nurse there in 1911. She was registered in 1922 after taking the Central Midwives Board Examination. She was registered as a nurse on 15th June 1923, having qualified at Saffron Walden Hospital Essex, 1907- 1911. She would go on to nurse at Loddon for the next 22 years.

During this meeting Mrs Cadge was appointed as secretary and Mr Cadge as treasurer. The Association needed to raise between £50 and £100 per year for either a Nurse from the Norfolk District Cottage Nursing Association or a Queen Victoria Jubilee Nurse. The Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses had been chartered in 1889 and had trained many nurses, known as ‘Queen’s Nurses’, by this date. The Cadge Family, local solicitors in the village, may well have desired that Loddon had a Queen’s Nurse in order to keep up with their close neighbours, the Beauchamp Proctors of Langley Hall Estate who had their own Queen’s Nurse.

In 1925, at the age of 40 Nurse Goodbody paid 2,404 visits. In order to make work easier for her, friends supplied a tricycle. By December 1929 the Committee were looking to provide a fund to purchase furniture for a house for the District Nurse. She is listed in the 1930 Electoral Roll as living in Prospect Place, Bridge St, in the care of Mrs Eliza Dowe. However, by the 1931 Electoral Roll she has moved from Mrs Dowe’s house to Church Plain.

image 3-edit

Report for the Year ending 31 December 1924. NRO, MC 3212/988

And so year after year Nurse Goodbody served the Loddon community. By 1939 War seemed imminent and along with the other residents of Loddon Ida Goodbody appeared on the Register living on Church Plain and described as District Nurse & Midwife. Her home was a tiny cottage.

image 6

Home of Nurse Goodbody.

The 1943 balance sheet shows that Nurse Goodbody’s salary cost the Loddon Nursing Association £173=1=7. Whilst the purchase of a new tricycle for her cost £5=12=0.

image 9

Balance Sheet for Loddon Nursing Association for 31 March 1942-31 March 1943. NRO, MC 3212/988

The Balance Sheet for 1944 records £1=1=0 to Browne & Sons for repair to her tricycle, had she had an accident? It was later this year that Nurse Goodbody, now aged 60, retired. Nurse Sparrow from the Langley Association also resigned.  The two associations amalgamated & appointed Nurse Hewitt.  She was to be provided with a telephone, a bicycle and a car and to be responsible for the whole district.  In 1945 Nurse Hewitt became Nurse Frost when she married. She lasted for a further year until December 1946 when Nurse Burton took over temporarily. The records state that by this date ‘all the possible permanent replacements are married and need a house’.

Finally the District Council was able to provide a house in 1946 and the Nursing Association felt that their reserves would soon allow for the purchase of their own house. At that point the preserved reports end. But we know that the National Health Service was launched on July 5th 1948, and nothing was ever the same again.

And Nurse Goodbody, sadly she did not have a well-deserved long and happy retirement as she died as the result of a stroke in December 1949. She was fondly remembered into the 1990s by Mrs May Crisp whose 8 babies had all been delivered by her. Many still living in Loddon will have been first held and bathed by her.  Her tricycle was remembered for being the signal that a baby was due when it was parked outside a cottage.

When Nurse Goodbody retired her tricycle went to Ellingham and was used by Mrs Elizabeth Hammond a Monthly Nurse, first in Ditchingham and later Loddon.   Elizabeth’s granddaughter Maureen remembers that she and a friend decided to try to ride the tricycle.  Not surprisingly she turned the tricycle over and cut her leg, but got no sympathy from either her gran or her mum!

Compiled by Elvie Herd, NRO Research Blogger



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Robert Henry Bollin: One Man’s Impact on Life in 19th Century King’s Lynn

Written by Christine Shackell

In July 2018, Stories of Lynn museum hosted an exhibition on the life of Robert Henry Bollin, 1812-1885. His story had been unearthed during family history research and showed how, by searching beyond dates of birth, marriage and death, a more interesting picture of the man could emerge. Robert was not a native of King’s Lynn but came to the town in 1847 as a result of the building of the railway and made his mark during his ten year stay.

robert henry bollin portrait

Photograph of Robert Henry Bollin. Private collection.

bollin signature

Signature of Robert Henry Bollin, as witness to a marriage in King’s Lynn, St Margaret, 5 September 1849.

Coming to Lynn

Robert was born on 15 August 1812 in Richmond, Surrey, the eldest of ten children of house painter and glazier, Charles Bollin and his wife Anne. Robert did not follow in his father’s footsteps, but pursued his love of horses. By the age of 26, he was advertising in the Cambridge and Peterborough Gazette as proprietor of a new stage coach running between Hitchin and Cambridge. Coach travel was then at its peak. As well as driving a coach, Robert part shared ownership of the coaches and horses needed to keep up a regular coach service. Robert and his partners later extended their route on from Cambridge to Lynn, arriving at the Globe Hotel in the Tuesday Market Place.

But the rapid expansion of the railways gave serious competition to long distance stagecoach travel  as coaches had to stop roughly every ten miles to rest or change horses. Once the railway came to King’s Lynn in 1847 the less comfortable stagecoach instantly ceased to be viable.

The reporter from The Lynn Advertiser and West Norfolk Herald (20 November 1847) recalled

We believe in the history of coaching no teams were better conducted than those driven by Mr Bollin and his colleagues who came up and down on alternate days. We have several times travelled on this road over which the traveller passed between Lynn and Northampton. The journey was greatly relieved by the sprightly and in many instances intellectual conversation of these literary coachmen.”

The Cambridge Chronicle (13 November 1847) conjured up the scene of the last journey of Mr Bollin’s coach, the Victoria, from Lynn to Cambridge. “There was a sadness in the face of the once merry driver, the reins hung loosely in his hands, and the whip dangled as if conscious of the fallen greatness of its owner, while the horses from their sober jog-trot seemed to sympathise with the coachee’s griefs.” But Robert’s skills afforded him new job opportunities.

He settled in King’s Lynn as a coach builder and landlord of the Albert Tavern. Soon after, an opportunity arose to run the posting department at the Duke’s Head Hotel, in the Tuesday Market Place.

30129028224831 duke's head

King’s Lynn, Duke’s Head Hotel. Norfolk County Council, image reference 30129028224831

Robert announced his new business venture in the Norfolk Chronicle of 24 December 1847. The advertisement indicates he was also running all forms of horse transport, with stabling and coach houses from the rear of the hotel. In 1850 he took on the running of the Duke’s Head Hotel, a much larger and more prestigious opportunity.

duke's head newspaper

Norfolk Chronicle, 24 December 1847

ds 166

King’s Lynn estate map: ground plan of Dukes Head Inn and East of England Bank, Tuesday Market Place. Norfolk Record Office, DS 166

A Death in the Family

In the census of 1851, Robert was Hotel Keeper at the Duke’s Head Hotel with his eighteen year old sister and assistant, Louisa. His maternal uncle, Robert Foreman, a retired solicitor, and Reuben Green, his brother in law, were staying as visitors. They had arrived for the funeral of Robert’s mother Ann, who died in Lynn on 28th March, two days before the census took place. Imagine Bollin’s horse drawn funeral hearse with ostrich plumes at each corner, on its solemn journey from The Dukes Head Hotel via the High Street to St Margaret’s Church for the funeral service on 31st March.

Lynn Races

Robert entered into the life of the town and in 1850 played a major part in the setting up of Lynn Races.

The new course was built on 50 acres of pasture in West Lynn on land previously the river bed before the River Ouse was straightened by the Eau Brink Cut. It was a mile long, with a substantial grandstand at the north end. Local worthies subscribed £150 towards the stakes for the 6 races. Robert became the clerk of the course and well as racing his own horse. The course opened on Wednesday 11th September. The Lynn Advertiser reported “a good day’s out-door amusement” for “our holiday-making and race going townsfolk”.  Special trains were laid on and it was said that 20 to 30,000 people came to town. Many spectators arrived in carriages and pony carts which allowed their owners a better view. The paper described ‘a motley crowd’, ‘all were dressed in their best – and you saw that they had made their minds up to be happy’. At the end of the day the crowd dispersed in a good humoured and orderly fashion. The success of that first days racing was celebrated with a banquet at the Duke’s Head for the sixty gentlemen who were the patrons, stewards and their guests, hosted by Bollin. Self congratulatory speeches and toasts were made before the gentlemen retired for the night.

Encouraged by their success, a two day event was planned for August the following year. A couple of weeks before the races, one of Robert’s horses, described by the Norfolk Chronicle as ‘a high spirited blood mare’, appeared to have got the better of him. Driving his two wheeled gig home one evening, the horse reared up, throwing himself and his passenger to the ground. The horse ran the mile home at speed, the gig bouncing along behind. At the final turn into the Tuesday Market place the gig struck a shop window breaking the glass. Fortunately no serious injuries occurred to horse or passengers, and Robert hopefully reimbursed the unfortunate shop keeper.

Undeterred, Robert threw himself into the race day arrangements. Prize money was raised, and extra trains laid on but the pouring rain deterred the crowds. The 3,000 race goers brave enough to attend were soaked and covered in mud. The second day fared better with the weather, but the crowds only reached about 10,000.  Throughout 1852 Robert and his partners planned to improve the event. “Nothing that could be suggested, or that there was any possibility of doing has been disregarded by Mr Bollin” said the Norwich Mercury. But the rain fell heavily in “merciless storms”, and “Mr Bollin was thoroughly soaked”.

lynn races

Poster courtesy of King’s Lynn museums.

The organisers decided not to hold an event in 1853 but the following year a day’s racing was set for the 4th October. The day was fine but the crowds only numbered a few thousand. The first race was delayed with subsequent races getting farther behind their starting time. It was dusk by the time the last race started leaving, the judge being unable to tell if Mr Bollin’s horse Addenda or Mr Higgin’s horse Hawk, was the winner. Hawk was the decisive winner of the next two heats and the final result was not in doubt.  The usual banquet, known as  ‘the stewards ordinary’ was held at the end of the day with fireworks in the evening, but the gentlemen decided not to risk the venture for a fifth time.


In January 1857 Robert was declared bankrupt. The report of the Court of Bankruptcy noted his occupation as coach proprietor, innkeeper and hotel manager. It seems his financial affairs had never been in good order, his accounts having started with a debt of £500 and closing with debts of £1790 and the court concluded that ‘trading had been improvident and otherwise unfavourable’ (Norfolk Chronicle, 23 May 1857).

To repay his debts, Robert’s thirty carriages of all different descriptions were put up for sale by auction along with planks and screws from his coach building business and his household furniture.  The list of goods for sale demonstrates the extensive business Robert had built up (Stamford Mercury, 13 March 1857).

Two aspects of Robert’s character come across clearly in his life story. One is his love of horses which defined his working life and leisure time. Secondly, his conviviality, which endeared him to his passengers, race goers, pub customers and hotel guests. I expect the inhabitants of Lynn were sad to see him leave.

Life after Lynn

Having left Lynn, Robert quickly re-established himself as an omnibus proprietor in his native Surrey, taking passengers from the railway station at Shalford to Godalming, a distance of about 3 miles, for four pence a trip.

In 1861 he was running the Old Hat Public House Ealing but in 1869 was made bankrupt again. By 1871 Robert was once more a Hotel Keeper, at the Bull Hotel, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. By the 1881 census he had given up hotel keeping and was back to being an “omnibus proprietor” in Acton, one of the new middle class suburbs, offering transport for commuters from the railway station.

Robert Henry Bollin died, aged 72 years, on 24 March 1885 at St George’s Hospital, London and was buried in Hanwell Cemetery four days later.

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The Will of the Distinguished Lawyer Reginald de Eccles

Norfolk Record Office holds the will of Reginald de Eccles [1] written in August 1380, an extensive document in Latin comprising two parts and entirely consistent with his position as a wealthy 14th century lawyer. Reflecting the beliefs of the testator in the pre-Reformation church, the first part of the document, the testament, deals exclusively with Reginald’s desire to ensure his celestial future with a wide range of intercessory bequests. Having first committed his soul to Almighty God, Reginald then requests to be buried in the chancel of the parish church of All Saints, Billockby, leaving one marke [13s4d] to the high altar there, and a further marke for the reparations of the church.

IMG_5940 cropped

Extract from the will of Reginald de Eccles (Norfolk Record Office, Heydon 186/9)

A New Bell for Eccles Church

As his family name suggests Reginald also held land and property at Eccles juxta Mare, accordingly he bequeaths one marke to the high altar of the church of Eccles St. Mary next the Sea, and ten markes [£6:13s:4d] for a new bell to be purchased for the church, where he says,

‘Item pro una nova campania emenda in ecclesia de Eccles x markes’

The word ‘emenda’, meaning ‘to improve’ is consistent with the fact that a new octagonal belfry in the architectural style of the late 14th century was added to the tower of Eccles St. Mary next the Sea, so perhaps this new bell was to celebrate the completion of this belfry? [2] Many of the other round tower churches in this part of east Norfolk were being similarly adapted, [3] in some cases with a complete rebuild to both tower and belfry.

Further bequests, suggesting that Reginald’s property extended to other east Norfolk villages include half a marke to the high altar of the church of Hempstead St. Andrew and a further marke for the reparations of that church; with similar bequests to both Rollesby and Palling churches. The second part of Reginald’s will deals with bequests to his family, notably his wife Agnes and son John, with the will subsequently being proved on July 7th 1381.

A Wealthy Self-Made Man Attracts Resentment

The names of Reginald de Eccles and his son John were cited in 1444 in a complex legal dispute over rent charges between Sir John Fastolf and Hickling Priory. One of Fastolf’s servants, his chaplain Thomas Howes who lived at Caister, investigated the two men and their heirs and wrote to Fastolf on October 26th 1447 with his findings. He revealed that Reginald de Eccles was a distinguished lawyer, ‘a sergeaunt of lawe or a prentys of court’ and was a self-made man who had ‘com up in poverte’. [4]

However, Reginald’s wealth was not gained without some resentment from the local population, particularly when he was appointed by the Crown as one of the peace commissioners to mediate in the uprising. [5] On June 17th 1381 he was attacked by rebels [6] and seized at his lodgings at the Bishop’s Palace of the Manor of St Benet de Hulm at Heigham in Norwich. [7] The rebels then moved on to Gt. Yarmouth, stopping at Billockby on the way to ransack Reginald’s property there.

In his letter recording the events Thomas Howes somewhat gruesomely gives the enigmatic title for this piece, that Reginald had been ‘hefded in the Ryfying tyme’. [8]  In other words he was beheaded during the Peasants’ Revolt, with his head being put on display at Norwich.

Both Reginald and his son John were buried in Billockby church, [9] confirming that Reginald’s request for his body to be buried in the chancel there was indeed carried out, but presumably without his head?


David Stannard, October 2018



[1] Norfolk Record Office  NCC Heydon 186/9


[2] Dominic Summers [2011] Norfolk Church Towers of the Later Middles Ages Vol 1 of 2   pg 64  PhD Thesis  UEA

[3] Stephen Hart (2003) The Round Church Towers of England Lucas Books


[4] Cited by Anthony Smith ‘My Confessors have extorted me gretely ther too…’: Sir John Fastolf’s dispute with Hickling Priory.’ E. Scarff and C.Richmond editors [Windsor 2001] ‘St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle in the Later Middle Ages’. The letter of 26 October 1447 is Magdalen College, Hickling 140


[5] Calendar of Patent Rolls    4 Richard II    April 8th Westminster Volume 1 pg581


[6] Barbara Cornford et al [1984] ‘Studies Towards a History of the Rising of 1381 in Norfolk’ Norfolk Research Committee

[7] Edgar Powell [1853] The Rising in East Anglia in 1381. Published 1896 University Press


[8] Anthony Smith [2001] pg 61 quoting the letter by Howes from K B McFarlane Letters to Friends 1940-1966 ed. G L Harriss, Magdalen College, Oxford 1997 pp75-76

[9] Today much of the church is in ruins with only the chancel and porch used for services.

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‘From witchcraft to understanding your own electricity account’: The activities of The Electrical Association for Women

We live in a gadget driven age, today’s new technology quickly replaced by the next latest advancement.  However, back in the 1920s, simply having electricity in the home was a marvel in itself.

The Electrical Association for Women (EAW) was a national organisation co-founded in 1924 by Caroline Haslett and Laura Wilson.  Sussex born Haslett was an electrical engineer and a champion of women’s rights. Through using electricity in the home, she wanted to liberate women from household drudgery so that they could pursue their own careers. Haslett became the first director of the EAW which had a clearly defined focus – to promote the safe use of electricity in the home.

naest 93 09 01 02 - vol 02 no 02 oct 1930 - cover

Front Cover of the EAW Journal, October 1931. Image supplied by The Institution of Engineering & Technology Archives

The NRO holds records running from the 1960s to the 1980s for the Great Yarmouth, Kings Lynn and Diss & Scole branches of the EAW (NRO, SO 111).  Great Yarmouth had two branches; one met in the afternoon and the other met in the evening.

EAW meetings focused on its aim of promoting electrical safety with a wide range of talks and visits related to the increasing number of electrical gadgets making their way into homes over the decades.  As one speaker at a Yarmouth meeting said, ‘We tend to take electricity for granted and to get careless in using it’.

Topics included:

  • Using electricity in the garden
  • Consumer protection and safety advice when supplied with faulty goods
  • Freezing and microwaving foods. The records coincide with the time when freezers and microwaves were becoming a standard household item.
  • The cost of running household appliances and how savings could be made.
  • These talks included conserving electricity, preventing food waste and Schwarz herbs which had just become available at Tesco’s.
  • Complicated articles’ and how to work them. ‘Members were fascinated by the music centre’.

When the Kings Lynn branch reviewed its year of talks in 1973, it commented with some humour that they had ranged ‘from witchcraft to understanding your own electricity account – could there be some connection here?’ No record was found for the witchcraft talk!

naest 93 09 40 - suction cleaner leaflet 1971

Suction Cleaner Leaflet, 1971. Image supplied by The Institution of Engineering & Technology Archives

naest 93 09 40 - electric cooker leaflet 1964

Electric Cooker Leaflet, 1964. Image supplied by The Institution of Engineering & Technology Archives

Some talks were clearly promotional in their intent.  The Yarmouth evening branch had a talk on Ariel washing powder with free samples given and Mr Beaumont from Philips Ltd spoke about different types of vacuum cleaners – no doubt all of them made by Philips.  The Kings Lynn branch had a talk by the Electrolux Company with a demonstration on a revolutionary new vacuum cleaner where the motor cut out when the bag was full.

The women of the EAW did not just focus on domestic appliances in their own homes but took a wider, enlightened view on the impact of electricity on society.  Environmental issues were explored looking at the building of new power stations and conserving energy.  The branch recorded ‘Our slogan in future should be ‘Warmth without waste’.

Talks were given by various charities.  Shelter spoke on the poor living conditions endured by some with dangerous electrical wiring.  All branches raised money for a range of charities largely involved in improving the quality of life for others.  These included Shelter, the NSPCC, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

naest 93 09 01 02 - vol 02 no 09 jul 1932 - inside back cover ad

Advert in the EAW Journal, July 1932. Image supplied by The Institution of Engineering & Technology Archives

Other visiting speakers covered a range of topics that do not immediately appear to have an electrical focus. Some electrical link may have been made but the women may have simply welcomed more light-hearted talks occasionally.  A talk on bees delivered in a Norfolk dialect had one member ‘crying with laughter’ while a physiotherapist told the women that ‘to stand correctly we must tuck our tummys (sic) in and pretend we had a £10 note between our buttocks’.

All branches organized a range of visits, lunches and dinners for its members.  The Great Yarmouth branch was rather fond of dinners at the Cliff Hotel where a three course meal was booked for £1 a head.  Trips were largely local to places such the Wedgewood factory, Sizewell Power Station, Anglesey Abbey and to the Theatre Royal in December to see the pantomime.

The EAW was also visionary in its aims.  Members attended annual conferences around the country.  In 1976 the theme was the role of the EAW in the community and how it could help young married couples and the elderly.  The Caroline Haslett Trust was formed.  It provided scholarships and did much to encourage schoolgirls to consider careers in science and engineering.  At one branch meeting in 1968 the President spoke of her attendance at a women’s engineers’ conference in Poland before presenting a copy of her book ‘Doors of Opportunity’ to local high schools.

The Diss and Scole branch continued meeting until 1986 when the EAW was formally disbanded; the other branches ended shortly before usually because of dwindling membership.  Any funds remaining in the accounts were given to charity or returned to EAW HQ.

It might be amusing to reflect that music centres were considered ‘complicated articles’ but in many ways the EAW’s aims are just as applicable today.  As one speaker had said, ‘We tend to take electricity for granted and to get careless in using it’.  With the use of social media, the internet, robotics, driverless cars etc. the issues surrounding electrical, or technological, safety are even greater today.


Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Blogger.











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Wish you were here! Runton Parish Council Minutes, 1927-1934

Runton Parish Council (PC) was responsible for the small villages of East and West Runton in north Norfolk.

Runton Map

During the 19th century both Cromer and Sheringham had developed into popular seaside resorts, especially after the coming of the railway in the 1880s. The Runtons, however, remained relatively undeveloped and seemed to appeal to holidaymakers who preferred a more ‘al fresco’ holiday whether from preference or financial necessity and the impact is reflected in the Minutes.

Conveniences and ‘arrangements’

Public conveniences were built at East Runton in 1930 and West Runton in 1931 both with attendants but this didn’t reduce the problem of ‘camping grounds’ and sanitation. In 1930 the PC agreed to send a ‘strong letter’ to Erpingham Rural District Council (RDC) ‘asking them to take any possible steps…to stop camps in Runton’. In August 1931, the situation was considered serious enough to ask the RDC to call in the Medical Officer of Health to visit all camps in the Runtons. A year later, after more complaints from residents, the PC asked if the RDC knew of any bye-law whereby camps must be at least 400 yards from houses – they didn’t. The situation was still unsatisfactory in 1934 when the Sanitary Inspector was asked to ‘make a close inspection of all camps in the Parish of Runton and that individual tents be examined to see if proper sanitary arrangements are made’.

 Septic tanks at West Runton

These were situated at the beach entrance (or Gangway) at the end of Water Lane and presented an ongoing problem from 1928 to 1931. It’s not clear exactly what the issue was but there is a reference to ‘sewage deposits’ on the beach at West Runton in 1930.

A quotation for remedial work in September 1928 (from May Gurney) proved to be a significant underestimate and the PC felt that it was ‘unfair’ that they should foot the bill as the tanks were still not working properly ‘and if any more expense is needed then it is for Mr. Scott [May Gurney] to meet it’. Responsibility for ensuring the tanks worked properly lay with the RDC and if they didn’t act the PC ‘will consider reporting the whole matter to the Ministry of Health with a view to them sending an expert down to report as to the working of the tanks’. By February 1930 the PC was ‘strongly opposed to any more expenditure’ but did agree to the lengthening of the outfall to the sea. They would not agree, however, ‘to Mr. Scott having anything to do’ with this alteration as ‘they have had more than enough of his wasting public money…when he should have known that the system…would not do what the Council expected it would’. A few months later May Gurney requested settlement of the account but the PC considered it to be ‘an absolute waste of public money’. In January 1931 the RDC stepped in but the PC was adamant that the outcome was ‘totally unsatisfactory’ and Mr. Scott should waive any claim for his services. In March 1931, however, the PC grudgingly agreed to the payment of £31 as ‘there are no legal grounds for refusing’ but put it on record that they ‘consider it most unfair for Mr. Scott to charge any fees for work which turned out to be a complete failure’.

Noise and subletting

It wasn’t only campers causing a nuisance. In 1932 the PC received complaints from residents living near the Church Hall, West Runton about the noise ‘from people who were living in the Hall during the first week in August’. Some residents, however, were keen to benefit from the influx of visitors as in 1930 the PC agreed to ask the RDC to reconsider allowing council tenants to rent rooms ‘to summer visitors providing there is no overcrowding’ but without success.

Control of the beach

In 1931 the PC submitted beach bye-laws, based on those in force at Mundesley, to the RDC for approval and in summer 1933 appointed a Beach Inspector (£2 a week) to enforce them. Duties included ensuring that donkeys and ponies for hire kept to their designated areas; stopping bottles or tins being thrown; preventing any climbing or making of paths on the cliffs that was likely to cause damage to same and generally preventing ‘nuisance’ on the beach.

Motor traffic

Motor traffic was also a problem and in 1928 the PC agreed to take measures to prevent ‘motors’ driving onto parish land on the cliffs and, in 1929, decided to erect posts to stop traffic driving over the Commons in West Runton. They, also, wrote to local landowners looking to rent land for car parks at both East and West Runton and in 1930 agreed to notices prohibiting cars from parking on the roads to the beaches at both Runtons. In summer 1932 the RDC was asked to schedule Water Lane, West Runton as ‘unsuitable for charabanc traffic’.   There are several references to roads having to be ‘made up’ or tarred and in 1929 the Minutes note that ‘the need to find work for the unemployed is so urgent’ that they could be employed on the roads. Speeding was a problem and in 1933 the PC felt it necessary to draw the attention of the police to ‘the dangerous pace of certain motorists through the village’ – nothing changes! There were also complaints about aircraft noise and in September 1931 the Minutes record that the PC had repeatedly asked the RDC to stop the nuisance and when, in May 1932, the PC received a request from the RDC to find a field suitable for (presumably light) aircraft to land near Cromer the PC declined to help.

br 3781047 charabanc-ed

Photograph of holiday makers in a Charabanc. NRO, BR 134/10/47

Compiled by A. Baker, NRO Research Blogger

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The Virginia Adventure

The Borough Archive in King’s Lynn has a wonderful series of large, leather-bound books called The Hall Books, which record the proceedings of the town council over several centuries.

The books covering the 1600s are particularly interesting. It is here that we can read accounts of the Barbary Pirates and the building of St Anne’s Fort, and of the visit of Matthew Hopkins to purge the town of witches. There are also some interesting entries concerning the Virginia Adventure.

It has to be reiterated at this point that a lot of the handwriting in the old books is very difficult to read, and also that there seems at times to be anomalies in the dates- for example, September 1660 might occur before January 1660. This is because the records in the Chamberlain’s Accounts and the Hall Books run on a year which runs from Lady Day to Lady Day. Lady Day is another name for the Feast of the Annunciation and held on March 25th. There is still a residual use of the date today. After the adjustment of the calendars Lady Day now happens on April 6th and marks the change of the financial year.

The first entry is “An acquittance for the supplies for Virginia”, and records one Matthew Clark bringing a receipt “under the hand of Thomas Smith knight for the receipt of £25”, for the transport of supplies “for the advancement of the English Plantation in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 6

Later that same year, the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council agreed to “adventure twenty and five pounds in the new lottery at London appointed for the plantation in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 24

English settlers had first colonised Virginia in 1580, at Jamestown and Roanoke, and were granted three charters, in 1606, 1609 and 1612 by James I, which differed basically in the delineation of the territory granted to the colony.

The 1606 charter set up a council made up of members of the joint-stock Virginia Company, usually eminent merchants; members of council were ostensibly appointed by the king, in reality by the membership of the company, and more often than not by the inner executive group of the Company. The council in England appointed a council in Virginia for the day to day running of the colony, but when this proved ineffective, a governor, initially Lord Delaware, was appointed. By 1608, the governor was one John Smith.

The young colony faced many early difficulties- in the first winter, half the settlers died, food and supplies were running low, leadership was poor, no one knew how to farm, and the colony suffered from diseases and Indian attacks, as described here.

But to get back to the main thread of our story- the Third Charter, granted on March 12, 1612, is a long and wordy document. It can be read on online here.

Briefly, it names the members of the council, deals with supplies of food, arms and livestock, reports cases of fraud and false pretences, but more importantly for our story, authorises the setting up of a lottery or lotteries, initially for one year, but to be extended thereafter. The lotteries were to be set up in “London and any other city or cities in England and proclaimed throughout the country.

I was not able to find specific details online of how the lotteries worked, but the Archive holds a copy of an excellent small book- Mrs John Rolfe of Heacham by John Haden and the pupils of Heacham Junior School which provides information. The Virginia Company was an investment scheme- much like the later disastrous South Sea Bubble- for the exploitation of overseas territories. Given the long term nature of the undertaking, it was not attracting the necessary level of investment- priced at £12.10s per share; the solution was to organise lotteries- presumably at the same price per ticket, as King’s Lynn “adventured” £25. It is known that a first prize of £1,000, and a second of £500 were won. Not by Lynn, though the town obviously won something- see below on folio 126.

In October 1612, the Hall Book reports that the Chamberlain paid money to the Mayor to send to London, “for the discharge of the fee farmers, the Lord Chancellor’s fee and the Adventure in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 26

In September 1612 there is a receipt for money for the lottery.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 28

The colony obviously recovered from its poor start. In March 1616 there is an entry about the lottery, with a receipt for the lottery being taken out of the Hall and delivered to Mr William Atkyn. It is not clear, but I wonder whether this indicates that the investment was paying dividends.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 111

Again, it is difficult to decipher some of the entries, but as I read the one for January 30, 1617, there was delivered to the Mayor and Aldermen a sum of money from the Lord and others of the committee for the Plantation of Virginia. There is a reference to money which had been “adventured” in the lottery.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 126

In February 1617, there are two interesting entries. The first has the Mayor bringing to the Hall various items “that were gotten by that adventure” including one double gilt cup, one little silver cup and a gilt spoons, all with valuations attached, and money was “voted toward plate”. The town was investing its returns in civic plate, one presumes.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 127

The second entry records that money given by Gabriell Barbour, agent for the lottery, was to be “distributed by the Mayor and Aldermen of this town amongst the poor people of this borough”.

8 kl-c_7-9_127 lottery money to the poor

Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 127

There are two interesting links between this area today and the Virginia Adventure. On the way from the front entrance to the Archive and the Tales of Lynn, one goes through a gallery displaying civic treasures. There are various cups, and in a side gallery, behind the King John Cup, there is a large cabinet full of silver spoons of various designs. Were these some of the fruits of the Virginia Adventure? None remain on display of the relevant date, but Dayna Woolbright, of King’s Lynn Museum, tells me that in 1711, some old plate was disposed of to finance the purchase of the civic mases, which are to be seen.

The second link concerns John Smith, the governor in 1608, and the Indian attacks suffered by the colony. John Smith and a group of his men were involved in a skirmish with Pamunkey Indians. The Pamunkey were a sub-group of the powerful Powhatan chiefdom. Two Indians were killed; only John Smith survived, and he was sentenced to death. The story is well known- he was saved when Powhatan’s daughter interceded. Her name was Pocahontas, and she is featured on the Heacham village sign, having later married John Rolfe, son of a prominent local family.

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Heacham sign. Photo copyright Martin Pearman and licensed for reuse.

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

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‘My Italian Adventure’: Experiences of an escaped British Prisoner of War

Little did Trooper Gordon Lee, of the 44th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment, know of what was about to meet him when he, along with three other POWS, took the opportunity to escape back to allied occupied territory. The four men would journey across the vast and treacherous Italian landscape, getting to know the often friendly locals and evading hostile Nazi patrols at every turn. His memoirs (NRO, MC 2148/1, 925X6) explain his experiences.

Gordon Lee was captured by enemy forces in Libya on the 5th June 1942. As a POW he was transferred to Macerata, Italy where he became friendly with three other men, Ernest Johnson, Philip Millard and Jim Farnsworth. On the 3rd September, 1943, the Italians made an armistice with the allies and the camp guards became surprisingly friendly towards the prisoners. Two weeks later German troop transporters were spotted flying south, obviously seeking to take control of the country themselves. Noticing this the Italian guards retreated and the camp was left unguarded. Contrary to the wishes of the Senior British Officer, Lee and his three companions seized the opportunity to escape. They shouldered past the military police placed there pretending that they were simply collecting firewood for the kitchens, Lee exclaims ‘So, no exciting Colditz-style escape for us!’. Two hours later as they began their journey on the run, they saw swathes of German troops swoop upon the camp and take the place over. The remaining POWs were later transported to Germany.

In order to stay concealed Lee and his three companions travelled westwards towards the Apennines aiming to meet up with the advancing allied forces. On the way to the mountains, Lee and company walked through vineyards, taking whole bunches of grapes as they did so. In order to be provided with shelter Lee’s company resorted to begging the locals for a place to stay for the night. According to Lee the response was usually good, especially as many Italians from that region felt sorry for them and hated Mussolini. Lee felt this may have been because these locals were country folk and that the city folk may have held different viewpoints.

Some ‘special memories’ soon followed when they spent an evening with the villagers of Pianella working in the maize field. This work left them with a heap of maize cobs and ‘empty wine bottles’. However, their afternoon siesta was interrupted by a German patrol, causing everyone to scatter in various directions. Lee was badly scratched after jumping into nearby bramble bushes to hide but avoided capture and was soon greeted to a bed and some delicious gnocchi. Unfortunately, the next village they arrived at had more inhospitable residents who called the local police to arrest them. The men escaped their assailants by hiding in yet more bushes.

Most of the villages the company came across ultimately ended up being welcoming and one of them would end up being their home for nine months. One of Lee’s fellow travellers Phil slipped while descending a steep and rocky slope and ended up with a bad leg injury. Thankfully a group of local people arrived and assessed the damage, instructing them to stay put. Not long after a ‘stocky little chap’ told the group to wait until the next day when they would be taken to the nearby village. This village turned out to be Tresungo and they befriended and rested in the house of Erbe Petrucci. Alongside his wife he took care of the four men, providing adequate food and shelter. The village itself had the river Tronto running through it and a ‘self-supporting’ population of about five hundred. They lived off the land, growing their crops in the areas around the settlement and keeping numerous animals. Fuel supplies came from the nearby woods where firewood would be stocked by the houses ready for the winter, while chestnuts were collected to feed the pigs.


View of Tresungo taken in 1982

For the majority of their stay they lived in small stone huts just outside the village and dined on the local cuisine which was often ‘very filling’. In good weather Lee remembered the sounds of the tinkling bells coming from the animals as they were taken up the mountain slope to graze. However, there was still the constant threat of sudden German patrols from the town of Ascoli. The consequences if one was caught harbouring prisoners was terrible, as a nearby village experienced when their houses were burned down. Thankfully ‘a bold and fierce character’ a black marketer called Alessandro who regularly supplied the villagers with goods from Ascoli, was able to determine when patrols would visit, and would inform Lee and his companions when to ‘disappear’. In these times the group would wander into nearby valleys and villages before it was safe again to travel to Tresugo. On Christmas Eve they met their new-found friend, Antonio who they had helped previously with the grape harvests when he was ill. Upon meeting him that day Lee describes how Antonio ‘put his thumb to his mouth, the invitation to have ‘’un bicchiere di vino’’ (a glass of wine). Looking forward to starting the Christmas festivities the group followed him into his wine cellar where they started to sing a combination of the local songs they had picked up, together with our own offerings, including ‘’Oh, oh Antonio’’ which of course he loved. Lee spent Christmas day hung-over, something he later felt guilty about, he ‘regained consciousness in a sorry state and they never let me forget it. And neither did I!

Stone Hut home

The stone huts in Tresungo in 1982

Antoino and wife

Photograph of Antonio and his wife in 1982

Gordon spent the rest of winter in Tresungo where starting on New Year’s Eve the ‘white stuff’ fell and left many of the villagers snowed in. Due to the heavy snowfall a German truck consisting of two privates and a sergeant ended up having to camp in the village until the snow cleared, Gordon commented ‘we had neighbours wearing swastikas’. The Germans found out about the four escaped English prisoners and Lee and his friends were invited to meet with them, but they politely declined not wanting to take any chances and were happy to see them leave when the snow finally cleared. Soon after however the four escapees heard on the radio that the Germans were finally retreating and decided that it would soon be time to re-join the British forces. Although sad to leave the former POW felt relieved when they finally met up with a Royal Engineers unit in a nearby town. They were sent to a rest camp in Bari with other escapees to await a return to England. Gordon became bored and managed to hitchhike his way back to Tresengo where he desired to give Erbe a ‘gift of clothes and boots as ‘thank you’ for his kindness’ and was greeted with much delight by the villagers.

Upon returning to Bari the authorities were obviously displeased with his absence stating that as an ex-POW ‘I was not quite sane!’ In 1982 Lee returned to Tresugo one last time with his family. To his surprise and delight, many of the villagers remembered him chanting ‘E Gordoni!’ (It’s Gordon). Antonio was still there too, and they vividly remembered that glass of wine in the cellar.

extract from the journal

Extract from Gordon Lee’s memoirs about his return to Tresungo

Compiled and written by NRO Research Blogger, Rebecca Hanley

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