Life in Norfolk

A few pictures to show life in the middle of last century in darkest Norfolk. When travelling due north from here the next stop is the North Pole. The weather is always two coats colder in Norfolk and you live ten years longer. "..........When I arrived there was one blade of grass and two rabbits fighting over it..." - Turnip Townsend.


Guns 'n Ammo

On location in the wild west of Norfolk with antique and dangerous firearm. Rats were the first target with a double barrelled hammer .410. Then a 16 bore and 12 bore. After that it was a .22 FN semi auto eight shot. This could be modified with a matchstick to fully automatic. Wildfowling on the East Bank was a good night's work but I rarely hit anything.

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Hill Top Cley Norfolk.

The picture shows a cottage in Cley which we renovated and gradually improved. Later on we amalgamated it with the one next door. The internal walls were made of local reeds roughly plastered. You could punch a hole on the wall with your fist, as my brother demonstrated one day. We arranged piped water to the house by means of a submerged pump in the well. Later on when mains water was laid on we filled the well in the garden with old pianos and other rubbish. There was a cottage along the lane that still had oil lamps instead of electricity in 1955.

One of the neighbours used to sit on the front step of his cottage adjoining ours and play the mouthorgan every evening. He usually drank a bottle of Guinness which he would share with his black labrador called Towser. One of the timber beams across the ground floor of the house had come from a sailing ship and the details were carved into the wood.

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Bramblewood High Kelling Norfolk.

In 1959 we moved to High Kelling, to a monster house called "The Oaks". We renamed it "Bramblewood" after the original name of the TB Hospital on the site. We had to cook breakfast over an open fire in the front room when we first moved in, as the premises were almost derelict and had been unoccupied for seven years. There were holes in the roof but the garden was paradise and there were acres of grounds including a Japanese water garden. A new toy was needed to clear the garden in addition to the Grey Fergie and the Austin Seven. This was a Fordson Major Crawler Tractor which we used to clear trees off the site for the next three years.

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Blakeney & The Pit

Learnt to sail here with my brother John in a gaff rigged clinker built dinghy. Sammy Long of Blakeney was the teacher - in his de-mob suit with a roll-up in his top pocket to keep it dry. Showed us how to pick up the largest cockles on the beach by observing the surface of the sand at low water. He also showed us how to go "dabbing" for flatties in the shallows with a three pronged "pricker." It was also easy to fill the bottom of a small rowing boat with dabs and plaice by using lugworm and hand lines. The fish used to flutter and flap about all the way back to Morston. we used to fry them up in the pan, back home. Today there is not a flatfish in sight

We had a few scary moments sailing here. One wintry September after a capsize in our "Sharpie" and no one in sight, a one gallon petrol can was tipped out and John was told to hold on to this if the boat went down. Jimmy Temple came to the rescue in one of the big Trip Boats. Later on we progressed to waterskiing over the shallows in the Pit We wrecked several engines due to sand ingress in the water cooling ducts in the head or mashed the props up on the mussel beds or broke the shear pin in the prop.

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Beach Boat

Norfolk Beach Boat

There were no edible crabs at Blakeney as they like a rocky sea bed and the nearest was Salthouse or Sheringham. Double ended, wide planked, clinker beach boats were used - painted in traditional red white and blue colours. As there are no harbours along this coast where crabs are present, the boats are worked off the beach. The picture shows a Field Marshall tractor getting ready to haul the boat up the beach. In earlier days, oars would be passed through the "Orrucks" and the boat physically carried over the sands.


Cromer Crabs

Beaching these boats when loaded with a catch was an art. The surf would broach the boat, turn it broadside on and capsize it. Cley was particularly dangerous, due to the massive shore break on the steeply shelving beach. We used to tease the giant crabs that Father brought home from fishing trips and they would easily crush a pencil in their claws. The crabs were dressed and sold in our cafe at Cley.

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Austin Seven

An Austin Seven made by Herbert Austin in 1933 and of 750cc capacity. The engine was a four cylinder side valve with white metal bearings on a three bearing crank with six volt ingintion. We converted the car into a pick up format by judicious use of a hammer and bolster. A one gallon petrol can acted as a fuel tank under the bonnet following removal of the original. I had to have wooden blocks on the pedals in order to drive it round the local fields. We took the doors and silencer off and would roar about with four or five "hangers on" enjoying the ride. The neighbours could hear us coming miles away. This vehicle was still in use by Father in 1985 at Hill Farm Sprowston Norwich - where this picture was taken.

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Austin Champ

This was a much more robust vehicle originally built for the British Army by Herbert's decendants. A three litre Rolls Royce engine and four wheel drive made for go anywhere ability, but excessive petrol consumption of about 25 miles to the gallon. A great summer vehicle but the whole of the engine electrics were sealed in order to allow the Champ to ford rivers etc. This made servicing and even points and plug changing a nightmare. There was a transfer gearbox in addition to the usual four speed ratios and this gave eight forward and eight reverse gears - quite impressive. In those days the only other four by fours were Land Rovers with their puny little engines.

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Fergie Ploughing

Ferguson Formula TE20

This tractor was invented by Harry Ferguson. The novelty was the hydraulic lift at at the rear which meant that one man could ship and unship a plough, harrow, bucket etc without assistance. The little tractor was more than a match for the old Field Marshalls and our old Fordson Major - all of which were much bigger but less effective.

The engine was made by Triumph and was the same unit as fitted in the Triumph TR4 and TR4A - basically a four cylinder petrol unit. The Ferguson had a manifold heater driven off the exhaust, to vaporise the paraffin juice and a side draught carburettor. The TR on the other hand had a twin carb set up with 1.25 inch SUs - but you couldn't pull an old hen off the nest with it - unlike the Fergie.

I learnt to drive the Ferguson in 1959, harrowing, tree clearing, ploughing and earthmoving with a rear mounted hydraulic bucket. You had to be careful not to stall it as it would only start on petrol. Once it was warmed up we switched over to paraffin, or Tractor Vapourising Oil (TVO) as it was called. You had to undo the tap on the carburettor and drain the TVO and then refill with petrol and restart it. This evolution caused the carrot diggers in Norfolk to realise the carrot fly could be cured by application of chemicals. TVO and Diesel were the forerunners of that.

Grey Fergie

The Grey Fergie

The popularity of this tractor can be estimated from one order for 106 tractors and implements placed by Weasenham Farms Ltd of Norfolk in the 1960's. The tractor was selling woldwide at the rate of 1200 units a year. Probably the most successful tractor of its day.

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Combining A Norfolk Field 1970

A typical Norfolk scene in the 1970's. Sensible cereal growers in the driest county of England have always adopted a policy of sowing, harrowing spraying and then shutting the farm gate while on holiday in the Bahamas until harvest time. Yields have been increased dramatically and the farmers in these Counties are some of the most efficient in Europe. However, the effect on the water courses and groundwater has been catastrophic. Nitrates pesticides and hormones are all recycled as water companies recharge rivers from acquifers in the summer and vice versa in winter. The CAP has made a mockery of efficient British farming. A return to farm gate sales and organic produce at premium prices could be one answer for a return to sustainable profitabilty. The other could be tourism and grassland.

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Last Updated: August 2000