A Canadian Christmas: Christmas Festivities in Canada during the Second World War, as observed by Marion Cropley (Norfolk Record Office, MC 3139)

While many grandparents tell their tales of being evacuated to the British countryside during the Second World War there were a handful of children and teenagers such as Marion Cropley, who were sent overseas to Canada until the later years of the war when the Atlantic became too dangerous for such crossings. These children often experienced very different lives in Canada compared to their British counterparts, this was particularly obvious during the Christmas season. With rationing on the home front, families often resorted to crafting presents as the production of luxury items was put on hold, as many materials were used for the war effort. In Canada however, while the effects of the war were still felt and countless young men were conscripted, the economy was relatively stable. The evacuated young people obviously pined and worried for their families back at home, many including Marion, who had settled within walking distance of Niagara Falls, discovered that they could enjoy Christmas with much of the shadow of war gone. Much of this is evident in Marion’s diaries which fortunately she thought valuable enough to preserve. Today they are available to read in the Norfolk Record Office (NRO).

It is obvious that Marion was well loved and she received many gifts and trinkets from her family at home and by her adoptive family in Canada, often outside the holiday season. Her foster family, the Excells even bought her a kitten upon her arrival. When she was not at school or work she and her friends would often swim, eat ice cream, go to the cinema, dance or spend time with the Canadian troops stationed on home duty. Although she spent most of her time having fun and indulging in various pleasures and pursuits, Marion kept track of events back in Norwich. Her mother often had to reassure her when she saw the newspaper articles. In her Canadian neighbourhood too, citizens became anxious as news reports of husbands and sons being killed or going missing began to emerge. The war was ever prevalent in Canadian society and when America joined the war this was further reinforced when Marion could often see at her local station, trainloads of American troops, black and white passing through the country by rail. Even when Marion frequented the cinema she could not avoid being reminded of the current conflict, especially as in one peculiar diary entry she mentions viewing ‘Der Fuhrer’s Face’, one of Walt Disney’s now infamous World War II propaganda shorts involving Donald Duck being forced to work in a world seemingly made up of nothing but swastikas. But perhaps most iconic of all, Winston Churchill himself made an appearance on his Niagara Falls visit. Marion describes crowds of people and great excitement as the British Prime Minister held up his iconic ‘V’ for victory gesture.

An image of Xmas card, NRO, MC 3139/46

Xmas greetings from home, NRO, MC 3139/46

Despite the constant reminders of events unfolding across the Atlantic, she and her friends tried to find solace in the month of December. After taking many winter exams she must have felt some relief singing carols in the school auditorium and putting up Christmas trees. She helped her friend Eleanor decorate her tree before the Excells got their own which was was apparently so tall that the top had to be cut off just to fit inside. As Marion collected presents and cards from her new found friends and family the world of film also seemed to embrace the Christmas spirit as Marion and her school went to the ‘Hollywood’ cinema to see ‘The Christmas Carol’. Like countless teenage girls today, one of the first things that came to the mind of Marion was Christmas shopping. In December 1940, her first Christmas spent in Canada, Marion and her friend Betty had spent much time buying, posting, writing cards and wrapping up presents. On 23 December she made sure to do her fair share of last minute Christmas shopping to get more things for the tree. When she got home she became excited when all the lights came on, something that would have been unthinkable back in Norwich with the blackout. On the 24th she spent ‘all morning’ making a star for the tree before going over to Betty’s place and making plans for a party. When Christmas arrived Marion talks about the visit of the Excells’ friends, Mr and Mrs Carpenter before walking over to see Esther Van Garder and calling at the farm. On a busy day like Christmas she also helped ‘auntie’ with the housework. On Boxing Day she met a neighbour Marion Cudmore as well as Uncle Billy who apparently had another Norwich girl in his care, Olive Harris. The two seemed to get along quite well, probably because they could strongly relate to each other’s situations, they played games and slept in the same room.

An image of Xmas label,NRO, MC 3139/

Xmas label, NRO, MC 3139/46

From her late teens onwards, every December Marion would devote much of her time to Christmas shopping, mostly buying cosmetics and clothes for her friends and family. She seemed particularly pleased when her mother gifted her with a kilt, as she happily posed dressed in it for a photograph.

Image of Marion in her Christmas kilt

Marion in her Christmas kilt – NRO, MC 3139/26/6, PH 23

These first hand accounts prove that even in one of the darkest periods of history, Marion and others like her were able to find solace around the month of December. Despite the constant reminders of the war surrounding her, Marion could indulge in the Christmas period as she pleased and her adoptive family would always make sure to make the most of the Christmas festivities within their steadfast Canadian community.


Rebecca, NRO Volunteer


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Gates fit for a Royal: The Norwich Gates by Barnard, Bishop and Barnard

The magnificent wrought-iron gates which guard the main entrance to Sandringham are called the Norwich Gates. They were made in 1862 for the International Exhibition at South Kensington, London, in the foundries of Barnard, Bishop and Barnard in Norwich, and took three years to construct. It gave Barnard, Bishop and Barnard an opportunity to show off both their craftsmanship and the design skills of Norfolk-born architect, Thomas Jeckyll.

The elaborate design of the gates incorporated roses, arums, oak leaves, acorns, vine leaves and tendrils, and the flowers and leaves of greater convolvulus. The supporting plinths were equally decorative, with panels of acanthus leaves and small quasi-Corinthian pillars in each corner. Each plinth is topped with a small dragon which holds a coat of arms. The gates are twenty-five feet high and forty feet wide.


The original design for the Norwich Gates with the Norwich coat of arms. Norfolk Record Office, BR 220/210


Detail from the Norwich Gates. NRO, BR 220/211 

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Meet the team: Colin Armstrong Digitisation and Digital Preservation Trainee

Howdy everyone, I’m Colin Armstrong and I’m part of the last ‘Cohort 3’ group of Transforming Archives trainees, working with The National Archives and based at the Norfolk Record Office. Following on fae Lizzie and Pawel’s wee blogs about their traineeship adventures last 2015-2016, I guess I’ll be doing the same!

My specialism is in digitisation and digital preservation; focusing on maintaining born-digital material for future use, as well as preserving and opening up access to traditional collections through digitisation. For the most part I’m finding ways to ensure that all those digital images, sound files, videos, and documents that folk have on their hard-drives stay preserved and usable in an appropriate format, and don’t degrade over the coming years given the pace of technology. I’m afraid to say if you still have a 15-year old box of dusty floppy discs and CDs sitting in yer leaky loft then the outlook might be a little grim….

Currently, I’m working on a trial run of ‘Archivematica‘ as an application to help preserve digital material, as well as learning the day-to-day activities of archive services. I also recently finished the ‘base camp’ week at The National Archives in Kew, along with the other 18 trainees (from The National Archives & Scottish Council on Archives). This was a pretty informative and busy week, involving workshops and seminars, site visits and discussion, as well as a wee bit of ‘archival swagger show-and-tell’ looking at some of the more interesting collections. We also saw behind-the-scenes at the National Theatre Archives and the Guildhall Library, as well as The National Archives itself.


Transforming Archives and Opening Up Scotland’s Archives Trainees at ‘Base Camp’ at The National Archives

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Top tips for using Manor Records to research family or house history

Manor records are a key source for anyone interested in family history, the history of a house, or who wants to know what it was like to live in their town or village in the past. In many cases they can actually be more informative than parish records – and they go back many centuries further. The earliest records begin in the 13th century and generally end some 700 years later, in the 1920s.

A manor is a unit of land owned by a lord and administered by his officials, with a court. Tenants held their land in a form of tenure called copyhold by which their ownership was recorded on the manor court rolls and a copy given to them as proof of title and of their obligation to the lord. This means that every time a property changed hands, this is recorded on the court roll. So, if a house or field was copyhold, it should be possible – and easy – to trace back its occupiers over many centuries. If the property was owned by the same family over several generations, you will at the same time be tracing the history of that family.


Part of a survey of Burnham manors and estates, made in the 1790s. NRO, MC 1830

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Norwich Shoemaking: From Howlett and White to Norvic


In 1846 James Howlett, a farmer, invested £10,000 (a large amount in those days!) into the leather currying business of Robert Tillyard, who was then in rooms on Elm Hill. The investment meant Robert Tillyard could move to larger premises in Princes Street, then Swan Lane, and finally St George’s Plain. This was the beginning of a shoe-making enterprise that was to become famous across the world and later became the Norvic Shoe Company.

In 1857, John Godfrey Howlett, son of James, joined the business, having studied the leather trade. John cut uppers for harness and heavy boots at the factory and within two years had become a travelling sales rep. It was during this period he met his future business partner, George White, son of respected customer Thomas White, whom John had met in Lincolnshire. George joined the company in 1856 as a junior clerk and worked his way to the top, becoming general manager and finally a joint partner with John Howlett in 1876. The firm became Howlett and White and a factory was built to remove the outwork that had been necessary.


Many plans are available at the Norfolk Record Office which show how the Howlett and White factory developed as expansion took place. The range of plans under the reference BR 35/2/59/17 cover alterations to factory premises for Howlett and White from 1856-1859, 1876, 1894-1895, 1907-1909, 1912, and 1921.


The west elevation plan of the Howlett and White factory, August 1856. Norfolk Record Office: BR 35/2/59/17/29

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Archives Inspire: Creativity at the Norfolk Record Office

October was a creative month for the Education and Outreach team. Early in the month, Archive Assistant Abby Erwin, led our first archive inspired creative writing workshop for adults and last week it was the children’s turn to get creative through our ‘Skills with Quills’ school holiday activity. Through the Norfolk Record Office’s programme of activities and events we hope to open up the collections to new audiences, in new ways and are looking forward to participating in the Explore Your Archive Campaign throughout November. This starts with our Colour our Collection’ event on Friday 4 November and Archivist Tom Townsend’s Lunchtime Talk on Wednesday 9 November ‘Rediscovered! Exploring hitherto hidden gems from the Norwich City Archive.’

What makes the perfect quill?

In our Skills with Quills half-term activity we learned of recipes for ink from Rev Thomas Lloyd’s memorandum book, 1787-1810, and that the best quills are those which are round and clean with the first three quills in the wing. We also learned that rainwater can be used to make good black ink, whereas for red ink Rev Thomas Lloyd recommends to use stale beer:

Take a pint of stale beer; three ounces of Brazil wood ground to powder; two ounces of rock alum; and one ounce of gum Arabic. Boil them together over a gentle fire, for about a half an hour; then strain the liquor through a piece of flannel, and put it into a bottle, well cored to be kept for use.

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One of King’s Lynn Borough Archives’ earliest documents: The Charter of King John to the burgesses of Lynn, 14 September 1204

In our blog post in September 2016, on the refurbishment of the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, we mentioned one of the oldest records in the archive: the King John Charter of 1204. The charter granted Lynn the right to be a free borough forever and was a milestone in the history of Lynn; providing the legal and economic framework for an already thriving town to continue to develop successfully as an urban community and a commercial centre. Lynn celebrated the 800th anniversary of this charter in 2004, a charter that evidences the status and privileges of the borough which it created.


King John’s Charter to the burgesses of Lynn, 1204. King’s Lynn Borough Archives: KL/C 2/1 

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Top ten things about being a Transforming Archives Trainee

This week I was fortunate to attend the DCDC Conference 2016 ‘Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities: Collections, Connections, Collaboration-from potential to impact’. This is a collaborative conference between The National Archives and Research Libraries UK and shares how archives and the wider heritage sector are exploring the wider impact our collections can make and how they are reaching new audiences, in new ways.

On Monday night, Pawel (Digitial Preservation trainee) and myself, were presented with certificates for completing our Transforming Archives Traineeships along with a number of the other Cohort 2 trainees. You can read the introduction to our traineeship Pawel and I wrote here. The conference was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the skills and experience I have gained over the past year and my ‘Top 10 things about being a Transforming Archives Trainee’ are shared below.

  1. The people

Over the course of my traineeship I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of age-groups, schools and community groups, through events at the Norfolk Record Office and outreach activities. I have had the opportunity to learn from the team of staff at the Norfolk Record Office, the Transforming Archives and Opening Up Scotland’s Archives trainees and other archive professionals through training events. Equally importantly, I have also engaged with a range of volunteers and service users; everyone in the sector has been truly welcoming and supportive and seeing the many ways people respond to our collections is a priceless experience.


Transforming Archives and Opening Up Scotland’s Archives Trainees at the Skills for the Future Basecamp, General Register House, Edinburgh. March 2016.

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