What makes a good Valentines Card?

ETN 4/14/2Did you send any valentines cards this morning? If you did you are following on from a tradition that evolved in the 18th century. Although the notion of sending cards, chocolates and flowers has remained the same since then, cards themselves have changed from handwritten valentines to predominately mass-produced greeting cards we know today.

In the UK it is estimated we spend around £1.3 billion of gifts including 25 million cards each year.

We may not have time these days to write our own valentine poem, or make a card, but it’s really interesting to see some of those handwritten messages. We have been looking through a collection of valentines cards collected and created by George Clayton Eaton (ETN 4/14/2). George married Mary on 17 September 1873, and had two children, Frederic, born 1874 and Florence, born 1878. The letters and cards in this collection date from around the 1830s-1890, so cover the period when George had Mary would have been courting. We thought we would share a couple of our favourites:


Valentines card from the Eaton Collection. Norfolk Record Office ETN 4/14/2




The transcript reads:

Open your eyes and look about

I do not think you’ll find me out

Through sometimes in your bedroom seen

And in your school room too I’ve been


I sometimes meet you in your walk

I do not say I hear you talk

Again a fish, add not a letter

A flower perhaps will please you better


I’m such a simple chattering elf

I almost name my very self

And were you frozen into ice

I’ve power to thaw thee in a trice


I’ll visit soon with gentle breeze

And will not let you longer freeze

Give one kind word I’ll not repine

But be your humble valentine.


Another poem was clearly written by an avid card player, it reads:


Come, cut the cards, and deal the pack,

To every player red and black,

Arrange your hand; observe with care,

What cards are played, and when, and where,

Be very silent, and give heed,

To what your partner first shall lead,

If second hand play very low,

If third, as high as you can go,

If adverse suit keep the command,

Discard from weakest in your hand,

Lead up to weak suit, though the strong,

And you will never far go wrong,

Bring in your long suit if you can,

Support your partner, like a man,

And thus the noble game of whist,

Of which I’ve given you the gist,

Will give you many a happy night,

Until the evening shall be light,

A word of caution too, I pray,

(Not to be found in ‘Hoyle’ or ‘Clay’)

But very useful in its way,

Remember, at this time of year,

Hearts always will be trumps, my dear.


Has this inspired you to write your own valentines poem this year? We would love to know if it did.

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Surviving the Holocaust: One Norfolk Woman’s Account

January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day, and this year’s theme relates to the survivors. The Norfolk Record Office holds the records of one such survivor, Elsie Marechal, born Elsie Bell.  She was born in Middlesex on 21 June 1894. Because of her poor health she was brought up by relatives in Great Yarmouth and attended the Priory School. In September 1913, she went on to the Teachers’ Training College in Norwich, then in College Road. She moved to London in 1915 to take up a teaching job. In the same year she met Georges Marechal, The couple married in 1920, and moved abroad to Koblenz. The family moved to Brussels in 1929. They were in Brussels when Belgium was invaded by the Germans on 10 May 1940: the Marechals became actively involved in helping Allied soldiers to escape from the Germans. They were caught and were taken to St Gilles prison, where they were interrogated and tortured: Georges was shot in October 1943, and Elsie spent the rest of the war, first in St Gilles prison in Brussels, then in German prisons and concentration camps, enduring many months of sheer hell.

These are the kinds of experiences that she went though:

At the beginning of February the old, the thin and ill were sorted out. We passed in a long queue stark naked one after the other before the doctor who put the medical cards on one side of all those picked out as unfit.  All these were sent to a camp, a ‘Jugend Lager’ as they called it, a few miles from Ravensbruck to be specially looked after.  This special treatment turned out to be starvation – no blankets and long poses in the cold.  Several died and after a short time all those who remained were sent on transport – the black transport – none of those in that transport have been heard of since.  Everything leads us to believe that they were exterminated in the gas chambers.

Later she was moved from Ravensbruck to Mauthausen, enduring a terrible journey:

One day, the 1st of March, everybody was ordered out, so in a few minutes we were outside with all our worldly possessions in a linen bag. We left Ravensbruck, a long column of 5,000 women marching five abreast. We each received a loaf of bread and a small packet of margarine and sausage as food for the journey which was reckoned to last four or five days. We waited for two hours until we were cold to the bone before the train arrived. Then we were pushed into cattle trucks – 70 or more women to a truck. Then followed the most painful journey of all. It started snowing and freezing once more. We journeyed south, crossing Czechoslovakia to Mauthausen in Austria, one of the worst reputed camps for men. In each truck was an SS and an offizierin who had the luxury of straw to sleep on; there were also two tin pails for lavatory use. The first day we were able to get water to drink, but the following days we had only snow to quench our thirst. As for washing, that was out of the question.


Elsie’s account of her years in German prisons and concentration camps. Norfolk Record Office, KHC 114


Elsie survived, and lived in Belgium after the war, from where she wrote this account of her experiences which she sent to the Teachers’ Training College. It is now held by the Norfolk Record Office, one of the most moving and tragic of the many thousands of stories held there.


Norwich Training College, where Elsie was trained as a teacher.                             Norfolk Record Office, MC 2532/2

Happy stories, sad stories, inspiring stories, the Norfolk Record Office has them all – come along and see for yourself!

Compiled by Frank Meeres, Archivist, Norfolk Record Office

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Two pamphlets and two letters – “The Hooker Hoard”

Botanical Correspondence of J. D. Hooker

Printed letter to J. D. Hooker from Baron Alexander von Humboldt, on his proposed journey to the Himalayas and Tibet, and printed article on Dr Hooker’s botanical mission to India. Norfolk Record Office, MC 2847/J1/10/4/1-3

Located within the notable collection of the Turner, Palgrave and Barker Families, these pamphlets, written in French and English, hold valuable information about the early plant and geographical study of J D Hooker. They concern ‘Dr Hooker’s Botanical mission to India’ and preparatios for the expedition through correspondence with Baron Humboldt¹.’

So why is this of interest to us in Norfolk?  Sir William Jackson Hooker was born in Norwich and he married Maria (nee Turner). They moved to Halesworth where their son (Joseph Dalton Hooker) was born on 30 June 1817. We owe a significant amount of our botanical knowledge to the eminent Hooker family.

Joseph Dalton Hooker had collected plants from an early age following his father’s interest in Botany (William Hooker was the first official director of Kew Gardens, 1841).

He had gained credibility as a surgeon and botanist on the HMS Erebus expedition 1839-43 to the Antarctic, Tasmania, New Zealand and South America under the command of James Clark Ross and was therefore the right candidate to be selected for this plant hunting trip to India, to a region called Sikkim between Nepal and Bhutan in the Himalayas. Continue reading

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Disgruntled of Ditchingham: Stories from the correspondence of W. Carr

William Carr of Ditchingham Hall was a Magistrate of many years standing, for Norfolk, Suffolk, and the West Riding. He was chairman of the Norfolk Quarter Sessions, vice-chairman of Norfolk County Council and a Deputy Lieutenant for Norfolk. Hidden among his correspondence for the period 1912- 18, amid election and military matters, is a very odd letter with the postmark October 29th 1917 from a disgruntled resident of Ditchingham (MC 166/37).


Correspondence of William Carr. Norfolk Record Office, MC 166/37.

I have attempted to retain some of the errors to capture the flavour of the letter itself. It begins simply enough, with the author saying “thought I would just drop you a line as (you are) chairman of the bench at Loddon. I think the lights in the parish ought to be seen into more by the policeman in Ditchingham as you cannot tell when the raiders are over, my house is in danger and so are your housings in danger too.” However, as the writer gradually gets into his stride, his spelling and punctuation becomes increasingly erratic. His next complaint is about “bicycles having no rear lights, and no lights at all, I have seen it several times now along the Broome Road, where is acting sergeant Howlett not looking into things as he ought to do”

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Meet the team: Digitisation Work Placements at The Norfolk Record Office

Thanks to funding from MAP and South Norfolk Council, since July 2015, the Norfolk Record Office has been able to offer voluntary 6 week digitisation work placements to young people not in employment, this is for one morning per week. Over the past year, the project has evolved to become a partnership project with Asperger East Anglia and so far 10 young people have successfully completed the scheme. Each young person receives data protection and document handling training prior to beginning their placement.

The project aims to digitise a private collection documenting the personal stories of the 448th Bomb Group, who were stationed at Seething airfield from 1943-1945. The collection consists of a series of folders, which give an insight into the part Seething airfield played in the fight for freedom during the Second World War. The aim of the collection is to document what life was like for the 3000 personnel that were stationed at the base and ensure that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Lauren, one of the trainees, shares her experiences of working on the project:

‘Hello, my name is Lauren and I have been working on the Seething Project for around 4 months. I have a great passion for history but I must admit that before starting this project I knew very little about The Archive Centre before Lizzie showed me around. I was shown behind the scenes to the three strong rooms where the documents are stored away safely from anything that may damage them, the search room where the general public can request and view documents from the strong room and the digitisation room where documents are photographed to make them easier to access.


Lauren working in the digitisation room at the Norfolk Record Office.

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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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