The experiences of the Earl of Albemarle during the Boer War: Part 2

Albemarle and his battalion arrived in the ‘badly laid out’, ‘half savage’ town of Bloemfontein. The earl was especially happy to see the Union Jack waving above the town and the ‘pleased reaction’ of Lord Roberts after inspection. His cheerfulness did not last for long however as his men were soon after ordered to attack Schantzkraal. Heavy firing could be heard and Boers could be seen decamping in the distance but to Albemarle’s disappointment, the battalion did not engage with them.

Fortunately for the earl however the men would come into close contact with the enemy the next day at Welkom. With a force of about 10,000 men Albemarle finally came in touch with the Boers as they quickly fired upon them, After about an hour however the British soon shelled the Boers in return and they watched as the Boers bolted, shells bursting over them.

The battalion began to move towards Winburg. For seventeen miles in the sweltering heat the men persevered in the long hard march, being forced to carry wood for the last three. That night a party set off to cut off the railway from Winburg which if successful would prevent the Boers from escaping. It seemed it was a success, as Albemarle’s forces later occupied Winburg without opposition. The battalion continued marching each carrying minimal supplies, a blanket, mess tin, water bottle, haversack and an appropriate amount of ammunition.

At Kronspruit Albemarle expressed dismay at the way the troops were fed, ‘the meat is often uneatable, and it would be just as easy to eat india rubber. Tea and coffee are short. Bread we rarely see. Vegetables are unheard of, and it is most important that the troops should have them or lime juice, if they are to march from 12 to 18 miles a day in addition to fighting’. While tea and coffee may seem like luxuries to us today, British troops often had to depend on it since water was often disease-ridden and attracted malaria-carrying mosquitos. To make matters worse Albemarle’s troops were forced to spend the ‘bitterly cold’ and frosty nights in one blanket. Despite his men being uncomfortable however Albemarle ‘never heard a grumble’.

When Albemarle’s men attacked at Doornkop the main body of his battalion remained under cover while the mounted infantry were subjected to shellfire upon the heights of Florida, a suburb of Johannesburg. Soon the main body marched upon Florida. As the men approached closer however the Boers fired more accurately and their shells ‘burst most unpleasantly over the battalion’ their objective to Albemarle being ‘the extinction of the 76th Battery’. Briefly the men thought that Albemarle himself was hit, but he had just tripped over a stone causing him to roll ‘over and over’.


The Doornkop Fight. NRO, ACC Albermale 2/6/69

Before long the battalion was camped north of Johannesburg, things seemed to be quiet for the men before a woman ‘came shrieking towards us’, crying that two drunken soldiers had entered her house. In the long time it took for the town guard to arrive Albemarle and Ted Trotter were forced to tackle them and remove their bayonets, ‘Altogether, it was rather an undignified position for officers to find themselves in’, Albemarle commented before the two culprits were taken away. There were no major incidents among the men which occurred afterwards and the Earl expressed happiness when the mess cart was finally replenished in time for the battalion’s move to Pretoria. It would not be long however until the men were faced with danger yet again.

The battalion soon found themselves at Diamond Hill, not long after General Airlie had been shot there. The enemy was still in position and could be seen placing guns along the crest of the hill. Albemarle and his men were forced to spend the night near Boer occupied territory. As meals were prepared for the men the British guns fired upon the Boers above although it would be at least two hours until the foe actually responded. The challenge then was to locate where the Boers actually stood. As the men advanced it turned out they were 1,200 yards from the edge of the cliff, where they had a good firing advantage. For 3,000 yards the battalion was exposed. The ‘hellish’ fire became so bad that the men could not make any distinct progress. A soldier by the name of Alt received a wound and went back to have it dressed but was shot in the head and killed upon his return to the firing line. Several other casualties occurred in the fray and the surgeon and stretcher bearers were kept occupied. Thankfully the arrival of the 82nd Field Battery was able to buy some time for the shaken battalion. Soon after the Maxim gun was ‘ordered out’ due to the severity of the rifle fire it drew. Albemarle agreed that the Maxim gun was indeed, ‘an appendage of doubtful utility’. Boer fire finally decreased at sunset and the troops were ordered to encamp at Botha’s Farm. When the battalion was relieved by the Coldstream Guards, Alt and Private Ives the two men killed in the battle were buried and Albemarle counted about 19 casualties from the fight in total. Reflecting upon Alt’s death Albemarle lamented, ‘I believe he is the 4th generation of his family who has had one of its members killed in his first campaign’.

Diamond Hill

Diamond Hill. NRO, ACC Albermale 2/6/69

In the next few days it became obvious that many of the men would not make the remainder of the war.

Compiled by Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger.

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My Work Experience at the Norfolk Record Office

During my work experience week at the Norfolk Record Office, I have undertaken many different tasks in all areas of the work. This includes working in the search room, finding documents in the strong room, and learning about the conservation and preservation work that is done here. Before this week, I didn’t realise how many different jobs there are at the Record Office and how different many of them are to what I expected. I have also worked on two projects that are currently underway at the Record Office: the cleaning of their collection of maps, and the indexing of their birth records. These have both been fun as they gave me a chance to work with documents that are over 150 years old and so give an idea of what Norfolk was like almost two centuries ago. It has been interesting to see how different areas of the county, especially the area I live in, have grown so much in this time, from what were just fields to a now densely populated area.

One of the main tasks I have worked on is the cataloguing of an old document: a photo album created by Corporal Mechanic Cyril Morris of the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. This was very interesting as the album was very detailed and gave a clear insight to life at Snarehill airfield, near Thetford, during the First World War. It included pictures of the men who were stationed there, both while at the airfield and in their free time (when they played football, cricket, and other sports), and of the planes they flew and worked on. This is especially interesting as we do not see much about these early warplanes nowadays and these photographs show them in great detail. Furthermore, it also contains many photographs of crashed aircraft (which seemed to happen a lot) and includes the reasons for their crashes. The reasons were very intriguing as they show just how unreliable and uncontrollable some of these early aircraft were. This album is interesting as it brings to life an aspect of history that isn’t thought about as much now and those who took part in it, which wouldn’t be possible any other way.

Overall, it has been an interesting, enjoyable week in which I have learnt much about the Record Office and the work that is done here, as well as the history of Norwich and Norfolk. It has been especially surprising to find out how much history there is in Norfolk that I had no idea about, but is so easily accessible at the Record Office, and learning about the work that is done to make this history accessible and to preserve it.

Ollie Calver, Hellesdon High School

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My week at the Norfolk Record Office

Coming to the Norfolk Record Office a week ago I didn’t really know what to expect of the nature or varying roles within the building. This week has been brilliant in allowing me to experience aspects of not only historical content, but also to observe and undertake roles that directly use history skills attained at school. The most appealing feature of this week has been the opportunity to learn and understand the use of primary sources and historical evidence, far exceeding the scope of the school curriculum. Through doing so I have been able to index births in the district of Mancroft in the early 1850s, as well as enjoy cataloguing the collection of Frederick Parker.

Frederick Parker’s diary and a few other items in the collection express what life was like for a boy evacuated to Fakenham from London in 1941. His almost daily entries between January and November of 1941 show Parker’s thoughts on rural daily life, while he also has interest in the international affairs of the Second World War. Alongside the diary, the collection includes an edition of Parker’s School’s magazine, a transcript of his diary with a small biography, as well as three photographs. If you would like to further research into these items see the collection MC 3306. Cataloguing these items was enjoyable as it allowed for a more personal connection with the author of them. Being able to read Parker’s journal was important for really understanding the details of daily life for evacuees, which can often be underappreciated or become lost in statistics.

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Frederick Parker’s diary, 1941. NRO, MC 3306/1, 1067X3


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Photograph of Frederick Parker. NRO, MC 3306/4, PH52


I have enjoyed shadowing some of the jobs within the Norfolk Record Office and have been surprised in what they entail. These include: archivists, strongroom assistants and conservation and preservation. It was particularly interesting to observe the behind the scenes work in the strongrooms and searchrooms. With over 12 million items stored at the Norfolk Record Office and there being frequent requests and online enquiries the team has to be efficient and organised in finding and preparing documents.

It has also been interesting to improve my historical skills and understanding this week through activities such as a palaeography exercise, enabling myself to better read handwriting from centuries ago. Moreover, it was intriguing to observe the horrors of document preservation and the techniques used to preserve documents for centuries. I never knew that even paper clips and rubber bands can be very damaging to documents.

Altogether, spending a week at the Norfolk Record Office has been a great experience which has shown me a range of occupations within the historical field. While it has also been very enjoyable as I have been able to examine many documents from across Norfolk. One highlight was examining a map of my local area from 1842 and being able to notice the changes since this time in the population and landscape.

Connor Wright, Hellesdon High School

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Looking back on June and July 2017

Phew! We’ve had a pretty busy half-term, meeting lots of pupils and running a variety of workshops.

We kicked off June with Second World War workshops for year 3 pupils at Catton Grove Primary School. Pupils enjoyed learning about the evacuees from and to Norfolk, and how St Augustine’s School was bombed. They particularly enjoyed looking at some of the objects that staff took with them, with comments ranging from  ‘I liked the light because it was cool learning about the blackout‘ to ‘I liked when we held the bomb because I have never held one before!‘, one pupil even went as far to say ‘I had lots of fun doing everything!

The following week we were out at Kinsale Junior School to introduce their year 6 pupils to the work of an archivist. Pupils were about to see the types of documents we hold, what happened to the documents during and after the fire in Norwich Central Library in 1994. The most popular part of the workshop was discovering some of the issues we face when conserving documents that may have been stored in sheds, lofts and outhouses.

Pupils picked up on the issues with spiders and other insects, what happens when you try and repair documents with tape, and what happens to an elastic band once it has lost it’s elasticity. Pupils stated ‘I thought everything was awesome, especially the horrors box‘. One pupil summed up the whole workshop, saying, ‘I loved the workshop today because we learnt but also had so much fun. I wished we could do it again!‘.

We ran our first refugee workshop at Avenue Junior School, working with their year 6 groups. Pupils spent time playing the indenture game to discover some of the refugees who settled in Norfolk and Norwich, and their contribution to British society. Next they worked on a timeline in order to pin point the reasons many of these refugees fled their home countries. Finally, they learnt about Jewish Refugee Lewis Ekker and thought about the items that refugees might take with them when they flee. The pupils learnt a lot, and since the workshop staff have worked on changing to the timeline activity in order to run the session to other schools.


Packing a Refugee Suitcase


We had year 3-5 pupils from Bacton Primary School in to The Archive Centre in order to learn about their local area. Pupils had a local history workshop, and looked at some original documents, concentrating on Bromholme Priory and the Paston family. This emphasised work that they had started in the classroom.

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Discovering Real Parchment


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Looking at an Early Bacton School Log Book


Finally, just before the end of term, staff visited Bressingham Primary School to run 2 workshops. One for their year 2 pupils, and one for their year 6s. Looking at their local history. The pupils all worked really hard and found out a lot about their local area. You can find out more on their blog post for Year 2 Hedgehogs and Year 6 Kestrels.

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Finding out about Bressingham


We hope you all have a great summer holiday and look forward to seeing you in the new academic year.


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Messing about on the river 1878 style

On Monday 26th August 1878 four friends, including the artist Ernest Arthur Freeman, set off from New Mills, Norwich on a five day canoe trip down the Yare and up the Waveney via the New Cut. The tourist industry on the Broads and rivers of Norfolk (and Suffolk) was in its infancy in the second half of the nineteenth century but was to develop rapidly with easier rail access.  They kept an informal log in a notebook which has survived but, unfortunately, the sketches they made along the way have not. Norwich Castle Museum, however, has three of Freeman’s watercolours (not from this trip) one of which is of New Mills painted in 1877.

The canoe as a leisure craft was introduced to Britain in 1858 by Scottish explorer John Macgregor after an expedition in North America and was still a notable sight. At Reedham many people turned out to watch their departure and the ‘young ones’ of family yacht party on the Waveney ‘scarcely knew what to make of the craft’. Even some of who worked on the river were unfamiliar with the canoe, as when they passed through Geldeston Lock ‘the lock keeper was evidently not in the habit of passing such craft…as he let in such a lot of water at first that our vessels became almost unmanageable, and we went spinning round and round with the whirling waters’.

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Sketch map of the route from Norwich to Earsham

Nothing was booked in advance and beds and food were found in the inns along the banks of the rivers, many of which still exist. On Monday they had beer and biscuits at the ‘famous Thorpe Gardens’ (now The Rushcutters at River Green in Norwich) and enjoyed a ‘substantial dinner’ (lunch) at The Woods End Inn at Bramerton. At 5pm they stopped at The Ferry House (now the Beauchamp Arms) at Buckenham for a ‘consultation’ and decided to press on to Cantley. Unfortunately, The Red House (now The Reedcutter) at Cantley was full so they took their bags and walked the mile to The Cock. On Tuesday they stopped at the The Nelson at Reedham for a bread and cheese lunch before pushing on to The Duke’s Head in Somerleyton where they stayed that night. The pub could offer beds but not dinner so, after changing, they caught the train to Lowestoft which is described as ‘a most enchanting spot’. The town was ‘full and the pier especially gay with the evening costumes of the highly respectable folks who throng this fashionable watering place’. They caught the last train back to Somerleyton at 9.20pm. At least one member of the party had done this trip before as when they decided to stop at The Duke’s Head he ‘took us up a creak where he had left his boat in the charge of the cottagers on a previous excursion’. The White Lion in Beccles, where they spent Wednesday night, is no longer an inn but the name can still be seen although painted over. They stayed both Thursday and Friday nights at the Fleece in Bungay. There is a large meander in the Waveney after Bungay which is not easily navigable and it took them five hours to reach Earsham. So, after much debate, the decision was taken to return to Bungay for their final night as the current would be with them. The journey back to Bungay was ‘most exciting’ and ‘excessively rapid’.

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Photograph of The Duke’s Head, Somerleyton ©A.Baker

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Photograph of the railway station, Somerleyton ©A.Baker

The boathouse at Bungay was just outside the station and they ‘chartered a covered truck’ which would be put on the goods train to Thorpe Station. On Saturday morning they loaded and packed the canoes onto the waggon themselves and then returned to the Fleece for lunch. After lunch they were apprehended by a local ‘antiquarian’ who insisted on showing them the ‘borough well’. He was a ‘maudle’ and kept them talking so long that they had to sprint for the train!

Their visit to Lowestoft was probably the highlight of the trip in terms of entertainment. Other diversions included a demonstration of two clockwork black dancing girls at The Cock in Cantley whilst at Beccles the Volunteer Artillery, headed by their band, marched down the street and were a ‘smart body of men, and their band was exceptionally good’. Thursday was market day at Bungay so the Fleece was unable to provide food until 6pm when ‘the market tea’ would be served. They sat down with fifteen or so farmers and ate ‘a rare good bit o’ beef’ carved by the chairman. It seems to have been a jolly affair. Other diversions included swimming in the river and a romp with the pub dog at Somerleyton.

They suffered the usual trials of holidaying in an English summer – wind and rain. They set off in ‘beautiful August sun’ on Monday but Tuesday saw rain just before Reedham and they got very wet despite having ‘rigged up’ the waterproofs. Wednesday was windy which made the water very rough but the canoes ‘floated over the waves’. Thursday was sunshine and showers but on Friday there was a severe storm – ‘doubtless that [which] touched nearly every part of England on that day and did much damage in London by flooding’.  They sheltered for an hour under some overhanging trees but the storm did not abate and they were ‘fully occupied in nailing the knee coverings to the deck as the high wind would have blown them away had they not been fastened; the sponges were …kept constantly on the go, sopping up the water on the coverings and thus helping to keep out the rain; we weathered the storm beautifully…the knee coverings kept out the water splendidly and our black waterproof capes kept our bodies dry’.

The equipment they carried included a paddle each and an iron spike with a ring to which was attached about 10 yards of cord which was used to tie up. Black, waterproof haversacks held clothes and whatever wouldn’t fit in these was in tins – sketching apparatus, novels, pen, ink, log book, writing paper (latter seldom used!). They also carried a ‘brandy flask’ which ‘was the only medicine chest’. They wore white jerseys or shirts with something else over the top if wet or cold and a straw hat or ‘cloth helmet’. A ‘wrapper’ was worn around the neck and shoulders to protect from sun and chilly breezes and ordinary trousers and shoes.

This trip preceded Jerome K. Jerome’s trip on the Thames by 10 years – all they were missing was the dog!

Compiled by Anne Baker, NRO Research Blogger.

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Update on 2017-18 Schools Programme

A good number of schools completed and returned our questionnaire at the end of June, so we thought it was time to update everyone on the results. The most popular choice for new workshops were:

  • Refugees in Norwich
  • Changes to an area
  • Leisure and entertainment in the 20th Century
  • Crime and Punishment

Most popular other suggestions included a workshop on the Victorians.

Since the deadline for the questionnaires we have been:

  1. Working hard on creating and running a refugee workshop at Avenue Junior School in Norwich.
  2. Working with the UEA and a freelance artist to create a workshop to run alongside our Drawing in the Archive exhibition.
  3. Updating our existing school workshops and creating our new-look booklet.

We are hoping to spend the summer working on the new workshops and will be sending out a completed programme to schools in September.


Finally, we have made the draw for the Behind the Scenes vouchers and the winning school was Moorlands Primary School. We look forward to meeting teachers from that school in the near future.


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‘Personally I have not yet seen an armed Boer, but we live in hopes of doing so before long’: The experiences of the Earl of Albemarle during the Boer War

It is common to think of the high status Victorian officer as a snob who cared little for his men, yet Arnold Allan Cecil Keppel, the 6th Earl of Albemarle and lieutenant colonel commanding the Infantry Battalion City of London Volunteers challenged this popular stereotype. While he, being the product of an imposed class system, obviously had his fair share of prejudices and access to privileges that many men below would have lacked, his letters and accounts while stationed in South Africa present a down to earth individual who often displayed great compassion for the officers and men around him, all of which came from a large variety of backgrounds and professions.

In mid-January, not long after the disaster that was known thereafter as ‘black week’, when the British forces faced three devastating defeats in a short period of time, Albemarle and his men made their way by sea to South Africa. The troopers as laid down by army regulations consisted of young men who were ‘first class shots’, had passed medical examination and were primarily single. The journey was relatively easy-going for the soldiers, despite the high rates of sea sickness as Albemarle ensured their morale remained high, usually by means of music.

Becoming bored with his fellow passengers, Albemarle must have been relieved when he and his battalion finally planted their feet upon South African soil. Exhausted from the long journey he had lunch with many aristocratic and military associates at a hotel in Cape Town. When he returned to his military duties the Earl was happy to find out that the ‘men are very happy and well, and look very different from the pale faced people you saw in London’. Eventually an order came in for half a battalion to leave Cape Town and by the end of February, around 330 men had reached Orange River Station. The train he later returned on was full of refugees from the Siege of Kimberly which consisted of 140 wounded and 199 prisoners. A ‘well-dressed lady’ seated next to him described her experiences and told him sombrely that mortality rates among children was high due to a lack of milk. Attached in his diary is also a copy of a memo found on a Boer prisoner from the Free State region. The situation for the Boers seems generally dire when looking at this one letter. Despite a mention of capturing a British patrol, the prisoner admits to ‘having utterly failed to drive the British back at any one point’. The writer of the memo was hopeful that General Cronje would evade capture despite being surrounded, ‘by God’s grace he thinks he will get out’, but this was not to be, Cronje unconditionally surrendered shortly afterwards and a large number of Boers were taken prisoner.


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From the Kimberley Defences. NRO, ACC Albermarle 2/6/69


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‘Such Facts as Seem to Throw Light Upon Each Other’ Conserving The Papers of Dr Richard Bright

On the 30 May our collection care team welcomed a project conservator, David Parker. For the next two years, he will be working for the new project involving the conservation of the 19th century papers of Dr Richard Bright.

Richard Bright is a key figure in the history of medicine and intellectual life, famous for his work in nephrology and discovery of Bright’s disease, but also active in other areas, including natural history, geology and travel. He is particularly noted for his geological work, especially in connection with his early voyage to Iceland with Sir George Mackenzie. Bright was a notable figure on the London medical scene and was particularly active at Guy’s.

The Bright paper collection held at the Norfolk Record Office contains notebooks, sketch books and letters written, drawn and received by Richard Bright. Together they chart the early years of Bright’s career as a doctor and author. However, the collection is in danger of being lost forever because of its dire condition; 78% of the collection is in need of extensive conservation work before all but a small part of the collection can be handled. To make this resource accessible the project aim is to conserve around 700 letters, 800 pages of notebooks and a sketchbook.

A grant received from the Wellcome Trust has enabled the NRO to employ David to carry out the conservation treatments. During a two year period we aim to complete approximately half of the archive as the first phase of the project.


David working on the material

Conserving this significant collection is a major step towards the next phase of the project, during which we will digitise and catalogue the archive. Once the project is complete it is anticipated that the collection will attract interest from historians of medical science, geology and natural history as well as making Bright’s key contributions better know.

Yuki Russell, Project Coordinator



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