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.

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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.

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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”.

1 kl-c_7-9_6

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”.

2 kl-c_7-9_24

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.

5 kl-c_7-9_111

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.

7 kl-c_7-9_127 plate

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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The Bells that Toll Beneath the Waves

David Stannard, local historian and Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation (NORAH) trustee has written this blog on an aspect of Norfolk’s coastal history, which is reflected in many of the talks on NORAH’s register of talks.

Legends of bells tolling beneath the waves surround many of the East coast churches which have succumbed to coast erosion over the ages. These include Shipden church lying off Cromer; St. Clements’s Church, Keswick offshore of Bacton; several of the churches lost at Dunwich in Suffolk; and the church of Eccles St. Mary-next-the-Sea between Happisburgh and Sea Palling.

Indeed, in this latter case Lieutenant-Commander RN A. Brooks, captain of HMS Boyne reported hearing a bell about 9.30 one morning in May 1930, followed a few minutes later by a second strike, which was also heard by his First Lieutenant.  With both men unable to account for this strange occurrence and knowing of a similar old tale of Dunwich Church, the Commander, on arriving in Great Yarmouth, wrote to the editor of the Eastern Daily Press from aboard his ship asking for help in explaining the sound he had heard. 1

When abreast of Sea Palling, at about 9.30 a.m., I very plainly heard one stroke of a deep toned bell … have [any of your readers] heard any superstition of Eccles Church bells being heard at sea?
Lieutenant-Commander A. Brooks of HMS Boyne


Historical Facts Versus Legend

Sadly, the historical facts do not bear out this or any of the other tales of Eccles church bells tolling beneath the waves. The 1552 Inventory of Church Goods, a national survey of all English parish churches undertaken at the behest of Edward VI confirms that on 31 August 1552  Eccles St. Mary-next-the-Sea held two bells valued at £6. 2

Item ij [2] Belles weyenge by estimacion Eight hundredes [8 cwt] wherof  the gret Belle weyeth vC [5 cwt] the ijde  [2nd] Belle iij C xvlb  [3cwt 15lb] – vjli [£6]
Inventory of church goods for the Hundred of Happing, 1552

However, within twenty years the church had been severely damaged by coast erosion and a decision was taken by the Diocese to dismantle the main body of the church and unite the parish of Eccles with neighbouring Hempstead.3 The steeple of the church, including in this respect the all-important belfry was not demolished, given its significant role as a seamark for aiding mariners to navigate at sea. The evidence for these actions comes from a copy of a deed of union contained in Tanner’s Index, a comprehensive set of administrative documents of the Diocese of Norwich, now held by Norfolk Record Office (NRO, DN/REG 31). The Deed of Union, dated 27 January 1571 (in new style dating), states that;

… the saide Church of Eccles by reason it is situate so near unto the Sea and for want of good Cliffes Walls seabanks and other defences the same Church is much decayed and not like long to stand  And also the soil of the manner within that Parish is also spoyld by the rage of the Sea.
Deed of union of Eccles and Hempstead, dated 1571

In providing arrangements for the combining of the two parishes the Deed also includes a reference to what should happen to the demolished church where,

… the scyte lead Bells and Buildings of the said late parish Church of Eccles and the glebe lands of the same if any there be with their appurtenances whatsoever shall remain and be imployed  to the use and behoofe of the aforesaid Thomas Brampton …
Deed of union of Eccles and Hempstead, dated 1571

As the Lord of the Manor of Eccles Thomas Brampton undoubtedly would have sold off the valuable bells, perhaps to be melted down, or they may still hang, unrecognized in another Norfolk belfry. It seems very unlikely that they would have been left at that time to disappear beneath the waves.


No Mention of the Valuable Bells

This may be confirmed by the probate inventory of Henry Hide, yeoman of Eccles, taken on 6 March 1593, and also held by Norfolk Record Office (NRO, DN/INV 9/314). Henry lived and farmed at Manor Farm, Eccles and he included the old church steeple as part of his property. When his ‘prisers’ [appraisers] made the inventory and valuation following Henry’s death they noted 40 codge swelles, or willow fish baskets; six drage rakes, probably used for gathering cockles or oysters. All the contents were valued at 18 shillings, but significantly no mention is made of any valuable bells.

dn,inv 9,314- ed2

In primis xxxx codge swelles, vj drage Rakes, iij new barrels with other implement[e]s thear – xviij s[hillings]. Probate inventory of Henry Hide, yeoman of Eccles, taken on 6 March 1593.  NRO, DN/INV 9/314.

rfm_1-4-4 ed

Map of circa 1602, which refers to the church tower of Eccles as a lighthouse. NRO, RFM 1/4/4.

The old steeple of Eccles St. Mary-next-the-Sea stood by the foreshore doing its duty as a humble store shed, sea-mark, warning beacon, lighthouse (it was marked on the circa 1602 map by William Smith, NRO, RFM 1/4/4) and Victorian tourist attraction for another 300 years until it too toppled into the teeth of a fierce Nor’Westerly gale on 23 January 1895. In all that time no known historical references refer to any bells still hanging in its belfry or lying at its skirts. 4


What did the Commander and his First Lieutenant Hear?

So what exactly was it that Lieutenant-Commander Brooks heard on that May morning in 1930? A further letter printed in the Eastern Daily Press on 23 May 1930 suggested that it was the tenor bell of Hickling church, with the sound carried by an offshore wind, which the seafarers had actually heard. The informant, who signed the letter ‘The Tenor’, claims that this heavy one-ton bell was rung twice that evening as the bell ringers left the tower, ‘and the time corresponded with the time that Commander Brooks heard the bell.’ 5   However, as observant readers will note, the good Commander said that he had heard the bell at 9.30 a.m. in the morning, not in the evening – so perhaps the jury is still out on this particular strange occurrence: but it surely couldn’t have been any bell of Eccles St. Mary’s church.


David Stannard, September 2018


  1. Brooks A. (1930) ‘Eccles church bells?’, Eastern Daily Press, 14 May
  2.  Walters, H.B. (1952), ‘Inventories of Norfolk church goods (1552)’, Norfolk Archaeology, XXX, pp 370-8
  3. Stannard, D., (2014), ‘The timing of the destruction of Eccles juxta Mare’, Norfolk Archaeology, XLVI, pp 45-54
  4. Stannard, D., (2014), ‘The timing of the destruction of Eccles juxta Mare’, Norfolk Archaeology, XLVI, pp 45-54
  5. The Tenor (1930) ‘Eccles church bells’, Eastern Daily Press, 23 May
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King’s Lynn’s Bohemian Rhapsody

The Borough Archive in King’s Lynn has an important series of large, leather-bound books called The Hall Books. They record the proceedings of the town council over several centuries and are the subject of a new volunteer transcription project.

The books covering the 1600s are particularly interesting. There is an entry for January 1612 referring to Bohemia. It is reported that the council was presented with a letter from the Bishops of Canterbury and Prague, and another from King James I asking for donations for, “the building of a church and great college in Bohemia”.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

A donation of £8 was duly made, £3 from the Borough treasury and £5 collected from the inhabitants of Lynn, as was reported on 19th February

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

I was not able to find a definite reference to the church in question, but a good candidate would be the Church of Our Lady Victorious, the first Baroque church in Prague, built for the Lutheran community between 1611 and 1613.

Religion at the time, as so often, was in a state of growing conflict; the Protestant Union was formed in 1608, and in response the Catholic League in 1609. England did not have a direct link with Bohemia until 1618- more of which later.

King James’ daughter Elizabeth married the Calvinist Frederik, Elector of Palatine, in 1613, and took up residence in the Court in Heidelberg. Frederik was Director of the Protestant Union in 1610.

Bohemia at the time was part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was rebelling against its Catholic overlords. On the death of Emperor Matthias, Frederik was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia.

Elizabeth of Bohemia, as she was now known, and Frederik had eight children.

In 1618, the Defenestration of Prague- the “throwing out of the window” of emissaries from the Emperor, triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Frederik had been hoping for armed support from England, the Dutch Republic and the German Protestants, but none was forthcoming.

Bohemia crops up again in the Hall Book in January 1621 when an appeal was recorded for a collection for the relief of Bohemia- no doubt funds to support the war effort.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

£100 was raised, “as a benevolence for the King of Bohemia” and recorded as being passed to Elizabeth’s representative at her residence in London in May 1621.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

Lacking the armed support he had hoped for, Frederik saw his forces routed by the Imperial army in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain, and the couple, henceforth known as the Winter King and Winter Queen, due to the brevity of their reign, had to flee, and found refuge in The Hague.

Frederik died in 1632, and Elizabeth in London, while visiting her nephew Charles II after the Restoration.

There, it would seem, King’s Lynn’s connection with the story ended- except that it didn’t.

When the House of Stuart died with Queen Anne, a Protestant successor was required, under the terms of the Act of Settlement, and the nearest qualifying relative was Elizabeth’s daughter, Sophia of Hannover. Unfortunately, she died two months before she was due to take the crown, and the succession passed to her son, who ruled as George I, from whom our current Queen claims descent. Her family has had a close connection with our town since the time of Queen Victoria through the ownership of the Sandringham estate and generous donations to King’s Lynn Museum over the years.

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

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The Appliance of Science: Using Science in Conservation

Back in October we were really pleased to run our first ever workshop as part of the Norwich Science Festival.

The workshop looked at how science was used on a practical level within the workplace; in this case focusing on how we conserve our documents. A-level students from Hethersett Old Hall School and Taverham High School participated in the workshop, which included an introduction to the Record Office to help the pupils understand what we do and gave a chance to see some of the documents in our care. Next pupils had a tour of the building and a demonstration of various pieces of equipment in the Conservation Studio.


Learning how Documents are Conserved


Exploring the Equipment in the Conservation Studio

After that the real work started as the pupils and our Conservator, David, explored acids and bases, talked about what pH is, and discussed the dissociation of water. David explained how the more acidic the paper the harder it was to preserve. He went on to demonstrate the 3 ways of testing the pH of paper. Using these techniques the students themselves tested a variety of different papers and then compared the results to see how accurate each method of testing was. Pupils also made a de-acidifying agent used in paper conservation in order to halt the process of deterioration caused by the acidity in the paper.


Making a De-acidifying Agent

Finally pupils put their new found knowledge to the test by building their own conservation kit. Pupils had to think about why some materials were more suitable for preserving and conserving documents than others and work out which of the items given to them should be included in their kit.


Creating a Conservation Kit

Overall the pupils enjoyed the workshop saying:

‘I found the demonstration of equipment and the strong room viewing very interesting’

‘[I]enjoyed the practicals

and ‘Very well explained! Very interesting’.

This workshop is available all year round and we hope to be back as part of the Norwich Science Festival again next year. If you would like to book for your own school or would like more information please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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