Memories of Christmas from a German Prisoner of War

Soon after the Second World War ended German POWs were released across the country. Over 100 prisoners were released from Mousehold Camp based in Norwich. One such prisoner was Hans Dittrich who was interviewed shortly before release. Dittrich obviously appreciated Norwich as seen in an attached newspaper and gives evidence that he and his fellow German prisoners were treated decently, ‘When we leave Norwich, in two days, we shall take with us memories of many happy hours spent in the city, whose inhabitants, in spite of the damage inflicted by the war, never showed any hostility to us’. After living and serving under a fascist dictatorship, Hans very much appreciated British attitude towards democracy, in the same article he says, ‘The younger generation of us particularly have been able to see for the first time what the way of life in a real democracy is’. More evidence that prisoners were treated fairly well is highlighted in letters to his friend Mrs Statham where he invites her and some other female friends to a Christmas concert being held at the camp, visits were also permitted. Hans delightfully replied to his friend, ‘I accept with pleasure your kind invitation for Christmas Day’.


Newscutting describing departure of German prisoners of war from Mousehold camp. NRO, MC 2386/1, 962X6

By the early summer of 1948, Hans finally arrived home after a long and difficult journey back to East Germany where his family lived. On June 10 ‘on my mother’s birthday’ a steamer carried him and other German POWs to Holland. Soon after he spent four days at a discharge camp in the British Zone before being transported to Leipzig where he and his fellow prisoners spent a miserable fortnight at a ‘so-called quarantine camp’. When Hans finally returned to the now Russian controlled Dresden, he was heartbroken by what had become of his city. He commented ‘there is to-day an area of 30 square miles of ruins. Not a single house or church from the inner city survived the raids. Over 400, 000 people lost their homes in one night and 150,000 lost their life. Only the suburbs are better off’. He acknowledged however that reconstruction despite being the hardest hit city in Germany was going along well. Meanwhile Hans lamented life under Soviet rule, arguing that life in the British zone was better and that availability of food, especially meat and fats, as well as clothing was scarce due to rationing, ‘Only children up to 5 years of age get half a pint (of milk) per day. There are children of 9-10 years who haven’t seen a banana, a pine-apple or a grape-fruit their whole life’. On clothing he described, ‘if you are lucky you will get one pair of shoes for instance every ten years or one suit every fifty years’, he had nothing to wear except some ‘new-look’ clothes, given to him by the Royal Army. Nevertheless he desired to return back to a carefree life of paying visits to relatives, writing, reading, swimming and sun bathing.

While continuing to send Mrs Statham various German stamps Hans expressed envy over her seaside holiday, ‘What a pity we Germans aren’t allowed to spend a holiday somewhere in Switzerland, Bavaria or Austria, for I love the mountains more than the seaside’. It is unlikely that Hans had time for a holiday regardless, since he was training to become a teacher, after the majority of teachers who were previous members of the Nazi Party were dismissed. Although he himself had been a Nazi member, his time in Britain likely made him a more preferable candidate to the Soviets as he took an exam for mathematics and grammar. As Statham and Hans remained in contact, he was overjoyed whenever his overseas friend sent him food parcels to him and his family, in a November letter he commented, ‘You can’t imagine what joy your parcel brought’, since they were a rare treat in Russian occupied East Germany, he said, ‘The tin of milk and the sugar my mother put away for X-Mas’. Dresden was slowly recovering meanwhile, a department store where ‘nearly everything you need’, except for meat and fat was available, but lamented that prices were too high, as a response to the black market. £3 today may seem reasonable for a pair of silk stockings, but in 1940’s war torn Germany, many people were unable to afford a decent pair of stockings for the upcoming winter. The State Opera house, re-opening with Beethoven’s Fidelis was also rebuilt but queues lasted for hours and tickets were difficult to obtain, probably because most entertainment facilities in Dresden were destroyed in the war. Hans also yearned to see English and American in the cinemas since only Russian and pre-war German films for the time being were available (or permitted) to be shown.

Shortly before Christmas of 1948, Hans had his first ‘normal’ Christmas since 1941. From 1942-1944 he spent his Christmases with the German army, 1943 ‘alone on a little outpost’ and 1945-1947 as a POW in America and Britain. The festive season brought back nostalgic memories from when he was a child, he remembered the ‘boxing days days in our nice house, lots of presents under the ten feet – high X-mas-tree, which was decorated with dozens of burning candles. And to – day, no presents, no house’. Hans remained optimistic however, commenting that he and his family were happy, healthy ‘and able to wait for better times’. Also despite receiving no presents, Hans was more than grateful for a Christmas card and Christmas wishes sent from his British friends. His Christmas was quiet, ‘not so joyful and happy as before the war perhaps’, but he was happy to be unified again with his family. To add to his happiness, the government provided extra food, particularly sugar, flour and poultry. There were no wine or nuts at the shop but Hans shrugged, ‘but we could do without them’. A small Christmas tree with some candles was erected in his house, referring back to German holiday tradition he recalled, ‘It is an old German custom to have a Christmas tree decorated with about 10-20 burning candles, nuts, apples, silver bells etc’. On boxing day however while Hans and his mother visited family members, his father was forced to work. The unusually mild winter in his home city reminded Hans of ‘dear old Norwich’ although the cold weather was the kind ‘to catch a cold and keep it for some weeks’.

Things were still far from cheerful in Dresden, despite the disbandment of the Nazi Party the Soviet government used similar mind control tactics. Of Hans’ cousins for instance was ordered to appear before the Russian police for writing in a letter to a friend, ‘We still live, but for how long?’ Thankfully he escaped to the American zone where he took up a career as a salesman in a drug shop. Many others were not so lucky however, disappearing ‘without leaving a trace’. Hans feared that these men and women were in a concentration camp which were still open, or a Russian Labour Camp. On concentration camps he commented ‘thousands of good, brave Germans, who either are completely innocent or just did not do what the Russians ordered, or who were careless enough to tell a ‘friend’ or a neighbour about their feelings, fill these subhuman camps’. Many prisoners were locked up without a trial and died in these institutions, to make matters worse family members could not get permission to see or even communicate with them. A previously healthy and strong relative of Hans who stayed in one of these camps lost so much weight that he was unable to work. He complained of the hypocrisy of the ‘Russian beasts’, when they claimed to be of a nation of high culture and democracy. He assured Mrs Statham that many Germans contrary to what the Stalinist government believed, had ‘learned from their mistakes since Hitler came to power’. Although admitting to being a member of the Nazi Party he wrote that ‘Dictatorship is the most cruel and destructive form of government one can think of’. He expressed sadly that ‘After our capitulation in 1945 we wanted to become a democracy, to pay our debts and to establish a peaceful Germany. Now we see that our dream became true, but only in the three Western Zones’. Hans was bitter that East Germany suffered ‘under the terror-regime of the Russians and the Russian-sponsored Socialist Party (SED). When Hans refused to join the SED he was fined. Expressing anger over his ‘idiotic government’ he grieved, ‘We Germans see no way out of that misery, as long as the Russians are here’ and that most of the small level of production went back to Russia and other Eastern nations. Whenever East Germany rarely got something out of Russia’s ‘friendship’ the government according to Hans cried with joy, ‘’Thank you, dear Stalin’’ at the expense of the tax payers.

Christmas 1949 seemed to improve Hans’ mood however as he received presents, food parcels, with rare goods such as chocolate, fat and milk, and Christmas cards from Britain. Once again Christmas was ‘quiet and comfortable’ and a day in which family members greeted each other. Unfortunately there was no boxing day this time as there was in Britain and Hans would soon have to return to work, this time as a carpenter. One year later in 1950, Hans after a spending his first ‘nice and quiet holiday for me since 1939, when war broke out’, observed a snowy winter. Once again changing jobs, this time he served as a store keeper. He admitted that it was an ‘interesting job, but now before X-mas we have more than enough to do and overtime work is the rule’. It seems that despite living under a Stalinist dictatorship, this did not deter East Germans from carrying out their Christmas shopping as citizens in America and Britain did.


Letter from Hans Dittrich of Dresden to Mrs Statham of Norwich. NRO, MC 2386/9

Adjusting to life back in Germany after a long time in Norwich was difficult for Hans Dittrich, especially as his homeland was in a war torn state which had seen one dictatorship replaced by another. Nevertheless his contact with Mrs Statham and her family helped to keep his morale up, especially around the Christmas season. Though he and many of his fellow East Germans lived under the shadow of Stalin, this did not deter Christmas spirit, even in a city like Dresden which had seen much devastation during the war. Even if they were not guaranteed presents and had to depend on rations for a Christmas dinner, family and unity alone was good enough for Hans and the citizens of East Germany around the festive season.

Compiled by Rebecca Hanley, NRO research blogger.

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Driving Sheep and Pulham Pigs: Just some of the topics covered by our workshops this half term.

Hello, What a busy end to this year! We hope you have all enjoyed your various nativity plays, Christmas concerts and general festivities over the last few weeks. This half term we have had a chance to bring out some of our old workshops and to run a brand-new one.

In December, two members of staff drove out to deepest Norfolk (just past King’s Lynn to be precise) to the lovely St German’s school. They worked with the year 3/4 class in the morning and the 5/6 class in the afternoon looking at Changing Landscapes. The pupils enjoyed discovering what the surrounding fields were used for in the 1840s using the tithe apportionment for the village. This included gardens, orchards, arable and pasture. The map even highlighted a number of rectangular fields, known as driftways which were used for driving sheep and cattle to market. Surprisingly, today the fields are used solely for arable use. Next, pupils looked at the changes to the coastline for the village of Happisburgh, Norfolk. They discovered that over the course of the last 150 years the lower lighthouse and the original coastguard station had fallen into the sea. Pupils said:

I’m surprised at how much erosion there is; I really enjoyed the tracing paper [activity] because it was fascinating

I was surprised about how are [sic] country has changed through the years’

‘ I learnt that the coast from 1840 was way different from the coast 3 years ago and also it was super fun. I loved doing this’.

We are really grateful to the staff at St German’s Primary School for allowing us to run the new workshop for their pupils. This had enabled us to see where we need to make some very minor tweaks to improve the workshop for future schools. The newly-improved workshop will be available from January 2018.

We visited both Surlingham County Primary School and Rockland St Mary Primary School for our First World War workshop.  Over the summer we had worked on updating the workshop for the new academic year, so this was our first chance to see how the changes worked. Once again, pupils had a great time drawing a First World War soldier from service records of real men. This time however, pupils were able to find out about the lives of two men who fought during the First World War, and compared their experiences in the trenches, using extracts based on real letters home. Pupils also looked at the home front; finding out about the role of women in manufacturing, working on the land and nursing. Pupils were surprised to find that some of the soldiers who fought in the trenches ended up in hospitals back in Norfolk. They also discovered the role of Pulham Airbase and the introduction of the ‘Pulham Pigs’ airships.

Once again, this was the first time we had run the updated version of this workshop, so all the feedback was invaluable. We will be making a few small tweaks over the Christmas holidays, and will be ready to run it to other schools from January.

Finally, we had Marsham Primary School in as our final school workshop before the end of the year. They were looking at Norfolk in the Second World War and particularly focusing on Marsham and the surrounding parishes. In addition to our usual Second World War workshop pupils were able to look at the School Admission Registers for Burgh next Aylsham, Register of Houses in Marsham from the Invasion Committee Papers, which gives number of occupants in each to be supplied with emergency rations in case of invasion and a letter dated 2/3/1940 which gives permission for the (soldiers) to exercise on the Heath. Pupils had already studied the topic in depth and also spent time interviewing people in order to create own animation based on these oral histories. Through this project pupils were able to consider the Philosophical question ‘Who are the real losers when we go to war?’. Overall it was felt that this was a great end to their topic, Teachers said ‘The children loved handling the documents and artefacts and it has really rounded off our topic brilliantly’.

All of our updated lesson plans will be available on request after Christmas, and we are happy to tailor parts of existing workshops to suit the needs of your school. If you have any questions or want to book a workshop please don’t hesitate to ask!

Have a great Christmas and we will see you in the New Year!


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Canned Turkey and other Christmas Meals of the Past

As well as hanging up the Christmas Decorations, sorting out the presents, and writing those cards, thoughts often turn to food at this time of year. We are used to our Christmas turkey with all the trimmings, or a vegetarian equivalent. However, this may not always have been the case. There are a few references in the archives to Christmas meals over the years.

In the nineteenth century food may have been plentiful for some of the wealthier families living in the large country houses, and it seems that in 1835 the Lee Warner family were happy to share their provisions. The estate book of WW Lee Warner (NRO, BUL 7/5) contains a note of the meat the family gave away at Christmas. It talks about how they divided 2 sheep into joints including 2 heads, 4 legs, 4 shoulders, 4 loins, 4 necks and 4 breasts. Presumably some of the joints were already divided up, as they managed to get 4 necks from 2 sheep. The joints were then divided up even further to give out to local people, Guy Mace and boys received 1 shoulder, whilst Matthew Bales, Betty Wich, Mr Crane and Nathaniel George each received ½ breast, though it states that ‘first a small piece to be taken off for B Betts’

However, meat was not always plentiful. In Second World War Britain meat was often in short supply. This may have come as a shock to some of the American Servicemen over here fighting in the United States Army Air Force. The men were used to a fairly good diet compared to many of the British citizens, being able to get their hands on candy amongst other goods. However, the experiences of Robert Jacobs of the 93rd Bomb Group (NRO, MC 371/882/65), shows that as soon as the men were off base choices were much more limited. In his memoirs recorded in c.1985 Robert talks about how he got food poisoning from eating a canned turkey dinner in a pub near RAF Cheddington, Buckinghamshire in 1943.

Christmas dinner on the base was considerably more aimed at an American palette. The Christmas menu for the 392nd bombardment group in 1944 included roast turkey or baked ham, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, sage dressing, creamed corn, candied sweet potatoes and creamed asparagus (NRO, MC 371/220/1, USF 4/6). For pudding men could choose between pumpkin pie or apple pie cake and fresh fruit. This could all be washed down with, beer or tomato juice and followed up with coffee.

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Christmas menu for 392nd Bomb Group. NRO, MC 371/220/1


Whatever you are having for Christmas dinner this year, enjoy and don’t forget to think back to the Christmas meals of the past. See you in the New Year!

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Norwich Building Control Plans Indexing Project: a Volunteer’s Musings

As someone who loves studying twentieth century British social history (and has ambitions to become an archivist!), volunteering at the Norfolk Record Office was an opportunity I couldn’t resist.

Participating in the Norwich building control plans indexing project (NRO, N/EN 12/1) is both interesting and instructive. Each volunteer is assigned a box of building plans each week of the project. Predictably, much of the assignment deals with simply transcribing a street name, the architect or building contractor involved, and whether the application was ultimately approved or denied, and on what grounds. However, while doing the transcription work, there are occasions when the details in a given plan arrest my attention. Notations about the behaviour of some of the applicants, their premature and ramshackle erections and property amendments, their attempts (or lack of) to obtain approval for their new additions from neighbouring property owners were informative relative to the building regulation practices of the day. Also, when comparing the plans it is possible to detect some notable trends, for example the push towards greater sanitation and hygiene with the introduction of indoor toilets at the turn of the twentieth century.

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Correspondence from a neighbour criticising the untidy appearance of Mr Mutimer’s shed. NRO, N/EN 12/1/1/3519


I am often charmed by the intricate and precise architectural drawings that communicate the ideas and ambitions for the building project. Conventionally, these drawings are made in ink on tracing paper, coated linen or a similar material, and any additional copies had to be laboriously made by hand. The development of computer-aided design may have made manual drawing almost obsolete, but something quite beautiful remains in the complex geometry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century sketches and drawings.

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Plan of the proposed houses at Unthank Road for R.H. Flood. NRO, N/EN 12/1/3525

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Plan for the proposed house and shop at Denbigh Road. NRO, N/EN 12/1/3509



This project has certainly enhanced my appreciation for building control and the many stages that an application must pass through before a building assignment can be considered for approval. I have had the opportunity to get to know directly and in a ‘special’ way an aspect of Norwich’s social and economic history, and become part of a project that will open up this compelling collection to users via the online catalogue.

Compiled by NRO Volunteer and Research Blogger, Hollie Wilson





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A Walker’s Guide to 19th Century Snowdonia

In this day and age holidays in the UK are taken for granted. The combination of high living standards, low travelling costs and easy access to the European mainland (at least for now!) has allowed for increasing number of British citizens to explore the world around them. In fact, the Office of National Statistics published records stating that 45 million people enjoyed a holiday last year; that’s 69% of the population.[1] It’s hard to think of a time when holidaying either abroad or locally was rare and reserved solely for those richest in society.

This diary of an unknown individual and his/her travelling partner, Eliza, gives us an insight into holidaying in its earliest formations (NRO, ENF/Z 1). Believed to have been written c.1809-1829 the two travellers took their trip in a time of booming seaside tourism.[2] However, this was not the case with the Northern Welsh lands they explored, which would not see a development in tourism until after the Chester to Holyhead Railway in 1848.[3] Instead what we have is a very in-depth, romantic description of the rural region that will persuade you to choose beautiful North Wales for your next holiday.

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Map created showing the outline of the travellers’ journey


Following the map I drew up from reading the entries, we can see the pair started off from the River Mersey and moved on through the Vale of Clwyd to Abergele. The first landmark they come to is Conwy Castle. As told by the narrator this is one of Edward I’s many Welsh castles (and is still a popular tourist site today). What is truly fascinating though, is the anecdotes that the writer includes in their journey. Either avid historians or lovers of stories, Eliza and her companion are certainly well-versed in the folk-tales of the region. The writer tells us Conwy Castle was besieged by Oliver Cromwell, who supposedly discovered a pipe that led up to (what is thought to be) Queen Eleanor’s dressing room. By cutting said pipe Cromwell was able to force the garrison to surrender and victory was his.

The pair carried on towards the town of Beddgellert which took them directly past Snowdon. Here the writer describes the ‘swampy plains’ and ‘beautiful vallies’, comparing their fertility to the ‘heathy barren and rocky’ mountains which seem like the ‘ruins of a vast amphitheatres’. The visual imagery is immense, almost transporting the reader to those very valleys. In one of these valleys lies Gellert’s grave. This legend tells of Llewelyn who came home one day to see his child’s cradle upturned, blood on the floor and Gellert (his dog) with blood on his mouth. In his rage Llewelyn drew his sword and killed Gellert, thinking he had mauled his child. Yet, hearing the baby’s cries, Llewelyn turned the cradle over to find the baby unharmed and a wolf lying dead beside it. A common legend still told today, yet somehow in context with the dynamic descriptions of the Welsh country it seems more magical.


The description of the famous Ladies of Llangollen


From then on the adventure continues with a week-long visit to Caenarfon for the birthplace of Edward II, and a pony ride up Snowden with a stunning view of the Sygun copper mines and Llanberris Lake. As shown on the map the couple move South, running into more ancient castles and beautiful landscapes until they reach their final location: Llangollen. The incident they describe here is actually an extremely important historical insight into women of the time. What they witness is two ladies, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, proceeding through the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey with ‘wands’ of flowers. These women were the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ who had deserted their life in Irish society to live together in the late 1770s. Described as the ‘two most celebrated virgins in Europe’ they had completely upturned the conventional ideas of society life by opting to seclude themselves and to live together in which some have believed to be a lesbian relationship. However, instead of rejection from society the ladies enjoyed the attentions of curious philanthropists, politicians and, on one occasion, the Princess of Wales. Poets such as Lord Byron and Wordsworth even dedicated some of their works to them.[4]

What is clear from this diary is that these two travellers were living at a time of great cultural shift: the concept of family holidays were growing and, more importantly, a differing attitude towards women and social structure. In this short journey through the North of Wales they have seen evidence of significant historical events as early as Edward I right through to the famous Ladies Butler and Ponsonby, and tales of folklore along the way. This is the beauty of Britain: stunning views with a local history waiting to be told.

So the next time you decide to take the family away for a few days, think of Wales.

[1] Table 5.01 from 2016, ‘UK Residents Visits Abroad’, Office of National Statistics, (Last Accessed 04/07/2017)

[2] Fred Inglis, The Delicious History of the Holiday (London, 2000), p.16.

[3] Tim Gale, ‘Modernism, Post-Modernism and the Decline of British Seaside Resorts as Long Holiday Destinations: A Case Study of Rhyl, North Wales’, Tourism Geographies 7 (2005) p.95.

[4] Coyle, Eugene, ‘Lifestyles: The Irish Ladies of Llangollen: ‘the two most celebrated virgins in Europe’’, History Ireland 23, p. 18.

Compiled by NRO Research Blogger, Sorrel Robertson


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From Medieval Churches to Victorian Railways: A Recap of the First Half of the Autumn Term

Hope everyone enjoyed their half term break and returned to school relaxed and refreshed.

We had a really good start to the school year, with a number of schools visiting The Archive Centre and staff going out to see some of you in your classrooms, including Woodlands Primary School and Happisburgh Primary School.

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Learning about the impact of the railway on Cromer


We have ran our first two Drawing Norwich’s Churches workshops. Year 5 and 6 pupils from both Hempnall Primary School and Shelton with Hardwick Community School and Year 6 pupils from Great Dunham Primary School spend their mornings working with two local artists in order to take inspiration from our current exhibition.

Pupils started by creating three ‘thumbnail’ sketches on anything in the Long Gallery. Many chose to sketch items in the exhibition, but other drawings included the Long Gallery itself and one of the fire extinguishers. Once they had completed the initial sketches the pupils used their detective skills to work out the theme of the exhibition. Pupils also spent some time considering the works of other famous artists before creating a number of other drawings. The workshop allowed time for the class and the artists to critique some of the pupils’ work before children moved on to their final drawing which was displayed in the Green Room.

The pupils had a great time during the workshop, and learnt a number of valuable lessons. Feedback included:

‘I learnt that not all art has to be complex’

‘[I learnt about] smudging the charcoal on my drawing and using different tones’

‘I got better at drawing’

‘[I learnt that] every picture doesn’t have to be perfect’

‘[I learnt] to concentrate more’

We look forward to welcoming the final two schools for their Drawing Norwich’s Churches workshops next week.

Hingham Primary School also visited The Archive Centre for a History of your Village workshop. As a start to their Victorian Hingham topic, the class found out about people in their village from the census and trade directory. Next they looked at original documents showing a variety of Victorian schools in Norfolk in preparation for looking at the history of their own school, which is a former Victorian Board School. The documents included an exercise book of Thomas R Salmon, c. 1865, a Plan of Narburgh and Narford School, 1870, and monthly attendance forms for Catfield School, 1899-1900. The pupils found the latter document particularly interesting, as it showed how many children were absent around this time of year in order to help with the harvest.

All our slots for school workshops for the remainder of this term are currently fully booked, but we are already taking bookings for Spring 2018. We look forward to seeing some of you over the next couple of weeks.


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‘An Infestation of Rats’ A History of Investigating Witchcraft in Norfolk

As Halloween approaches thoughts turn towards witches and ghosts. A number of references to both have been recorded in the archives. The parish register for Wells next the Sea (PD 679/1) records the burials of fourteen men in December 1583. According to the register these men

‘[Perished] upo[n] ye west coaste co[m]ming fro[m] spaine whose deathes were brought to pas by the detestable woorking of an execrable witch of Kings Lynn whose name was mother gable, by the boylyng or rather labouring of certayn eggs in a payle full of colde water’. The incumbent continues by stating that the case was ‘approved sufficientlye at the araignement of the saide witch’.

One document (C/S 3/box 41a) was used as evidence in the court case of Christopher Hall, in 1654. Norfolk Archaeology, volume 30 gives a transcription of the case. One witness, John Smithbourne, stated that ‘about 10 weekes since his wife [had] a very great sore upon her breast’. This had troubled her for two years and prevented her from working. In order to find a cure ‘he was perswaded by his sister… and others to go to Hall of Harpley a shooemaker who was reported to be a wise and cuning man to be advised by him concerning his wifes illness’.

Hall claimed the problem was the work of a witch. The next day he went to Smithbourne’s house and ‘desiring to see this informts wifes breast he says he could do her no great good butt gaue her a powder to use and send her a paper wch was written to weare about her’.

It is this piece of paper, containing circular symbols, which has found its way into the archives. The large number of pin holes in the document show Smithbourne’s wife must have followed the instructions and attached the paper to her clothes. However, whether she was cured remains a mystery.

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Extract from Norfolk Quarter Sessions Roll, 1654. NRO, C/S 3/box 41a


Ghost stories also crop up in the archives. In 1957, Revd Fourdrinier was asked to investigate ghostly activity recorded over 100 years earlier in Syderstone pasonage. His investigation (MC 5/6, 386X6) revealed that twice people had reported seeing the ghost of Revd William Mantle, the curate in 1797. Staff and house guests had also heard noises during the night. William Ofield described noises ‘resembling the dragging of furniture about the room accompanied with the fall of some heavy object on the floor’. Phoebe Steward ‘plainly heard the footstep as of someone walking from the sleeping-room door, down the stairs, step by step, to the door of the sitting room below;… she distinctly heard the sitting room door open and the chair placed near one the windows moved and the shutters opened, but on going downstairs found everything as she had left it.’ These noises apparently stopped for months before reoccuring.

Some felt the noises were the work of a hoax by household members. However, Revd Fourdrinier concludes the noises had been made by sudden infestations of rats, accounting for the stopping and starting. What do you believe?

Sleep well tonight!

First published in the Eastern Daily Press, October 2006

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‘Even some pressed seaweed’ – A historical student’s revelation.

This is the wonder of archives: you never know what you might find. I was lucky enough to study an early 19th century document which combined a variety of wonderful elements including diary entries, poetry, drawings, a butterfly fact file, and even some pressed seaweed! Although I enjoyed reading through this eclectic collection, it did make starting to create a blog post that much more daunting – where was I to start?

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‘Even some pressed seaweed’. NRO, BUL 7/20, 615×1


These papers were from a women named Mary Anne Lee Warner (NRO, BUL 7/20, 615X1). From flicking through her pages it is easy to see she had a very curious and creative mind. She was eager to study and explore nature as shown in her writings on the various types of butterflies and moths. It is also clear that she loved to express this passion for nature in a variety of original ways, in her poetry and – my favourite – in her pressed seaweed pictures.

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Butterfly Fact File. NRO, BUL 7/20, 615×1


It was extremely interesting to read this document, but looking at an early 19th century document from the perspective of a history student realised itself in an attempt to analyse and explain all elements about the life of Mary Anne Lee Warner and what this reveals to us about society at the time. Whilst reading this document I was eagerly scavenging for as much information as this document would reveal to me. It does show us a deeply personal snapshot into someone’s life, her personality and her interests, but I could not help myself wanting to know more. And then I discovered something to change my way of thinking.

Recently I was looking through my aunt’s house and her enormous collection of diaries, scrapbooks and notebooks. One such folder that I enjoyed immensely was a scrapbook of all her teddy bears. It was a hugely decorative document with detailed descriptions of each one’s appearance and origin all accompanied with various photographs, tickets and leaflets. It could also be described as a snapshot of her life but through her teddy bears- a collection of where she brought them, why and what was happening in her life at that time. It was looking at this marvellous collection that changed how I was to view the papers of Mary Anne Lee Warner. Previously, I was looking at the document wanting it to give me answers but now I realise it doesn’t necessarily have to have these answers. My aunt did not create this book for any other reason than enjoyment just as Mary Anne Lee Warner did not scribe down her musings for any other reason than her enjoyment. She did not write it in mind of a history student reading it 200 years later. She wrote it because it gave her pleasure, and that, perhaps, is the greatest reason of them all.

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Look at the handwriting! NRO, BUL 7/20, 615×1


The next time I looked through this document, I just enjoyed it. I marvelled at the huge difference in handwriting from then and now (and also struggled to decipher it!), enjoyed the range of poetry (especially the Valentine’s poem for a dear Frank), and amazed at her delicate drawings (and very much envied her artistic talent). Apart from struggling to read it, it was as if it was just a piece I’d discovered in my aunt’s collection, to be loved and enjoyed, and I thoroughly did. It did inspire me to try harder to do more things purely for pleasure and for intellectual curiosity and I would encourage others to do the same. Happiness is the best reason to do anything, whether that’s reading someone else’s works or creating your own collection of pressed seaweed.

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‘Love Blinding Innocence’. BUL 7/20, 615×1


Compiled by NRO Research Blogger Eve Staton

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