Tuesday
Apr262011

Uncle Thomas: Legend of Happisburgh (in more ways than one)

For this, my second blog installment of the week denoting memorable ancestors, I turn to an uncle by marriage, Rev Thomas Lloyd. 

Those that have heard of Happisburgh (pronounced 'Hayes-brough') often first think about homes at the top of cliffs and coastal erosion. However, there is of course far more to the village. A couple of years ago, a simple search engine request threw up Thomas Lloyd as a central figure in the parish history and sent me on a path of discovery. Supposedly, I found, he is remembered for baptising an awful lot of children at once, and for holding a party for the occasion. 

The church at Happisburgh has one of the highest towers of any in Norfolk, and the graveyard overlooks the sea.

 The village sign, not far from the church, is pictured below.


At the top, a vicar is depicted, baptising a child. This vicar is Rev. Thomas Lloyd. While I was fairly sure there was some truth behind the legend of his throwing a party and baptising as many children as possible on Whit Sunday, 1793, I wanted to find out for sure. I consulted the original register and found the following - 

“Memorandum – Observing a great reluctance in the poorer inhabitants of the Parish of Happisburgh to give their children full baptism, most chiefly owing to their inability to afford their friends such little entertainment as they imagined to be suitable and necessary upon such occasions and being seriously convinced that to general a neglect of that ancient Rite, was become very detrimental to the principles and morals of the times; I invited all such as would bring their children and friends to receive full baptism on whitsonday 1793 to an entertainment; and baptised on that day one hundred and seventy persons. Thos Lloyd.”

So, if your ancestor was resident in Happisburgh in the late 1700s and you have no specific baptism record for them, maybe they were at the party! 

I know little about Thomas’ early life so far. He married my 5xGreat Grandfather’s sister Susannah Walne in Redenhall in 1782, shortly after he became vicar at Happisburgh and eleven years before the village’s memorable shindig – perhaps she helped with the catering! 

Rev Lloyd was similarly efficient with his own offspring who were both baptised within 24 hours. The couple had two sons, Thomas Henry, who followed his father into the clergy, and Randall Walne (yes, that’s two surnames as Christian names – his grandmother’s maiden name Randall, who hailed from a gentry family in the Hempnall area, and Walne for his mother) who became an Officer in the East India Army. 

Their baptisms appear in the North Walsham register, and it’s great to note the extras that you can’t get from transcriptions - if Susannah had given birth only a few days earlier they could have saved a few pence: 

“The New Stamp Duty began on the 1st Day of October 1783 for Births and Christenings, Burials and Marriages, at 3d Each- 

October 4th 1783 - Thomas Henry Lloyd, son of Thomas Lloyd Cl and Susannah his wife late Walne of N Walsham; paid 3d”

and

“Randall Walne son of Thos Lloyd Clk and Susannah his wife (late Susannah Walne) was born March 13th 1789, baptised privately March 13th 1789 and received into the church August 1792.”

The Stamp Duty Act 1783 imposed a charge on all baptisms, marriages and burials of 3d in order to pay for the American War of Independence. Because paupers were exempt, you may find a larger than usual amount of paupers in the registers between 1783 and 1794. 

Both also appear, together, in the register at Happisburgh out of order with the rest of the entries:

“Thomas Henry Lloyd (son of the Revd Thomas Lloyd, Vicar of this parish and Susannah his wife (daughter of Daniel Walne of Harleston in this County, Gent) was born Oct 3rd and baptised Oct 4th 1783. He was born at North Walsham. 

Randall Walne (son of the said Thomas and Susannah Lloyd) was born and baptised March 13th 1789. He was born at North Walsham.” 

A history of the family included a passage, written in Thomas’ hand, as follows:

“Susannah, the fourth child, married the Rev. Thomas Lloyd, Rector of Westwick and Vicar of Happisburgh in Norfolk, by whom she has two sons, Thomas Henry Lloyd of King’s College, Cambridge, and Randall Walne Lloyd, who completes his 15th year this 13th day of March 1804 and is far advanced in his classical studies under my own tuition.”

Sadly to my knowledge (to date) neither son went on to marry or have children as both died young. In fact mother, father and sons all died within five years, and Thomas and his wife died 'within hours' of each other.

A large tablet in North Walsham Church reads as follows:  

“Near this place were interred the remains of the Rev’d. Thomas Lloyd, LL.B., Vicar of Happisburgh and Rector of Westwick, and an active intelligent magistrate for this County who departed this life November 26th, 1813; for Susanna his wife, who died a few hours before him, aged 62; for their eldest son, Rev. Thomas Henry Lloyd, A.B., Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge, bom October 3rd, 1783, died June 6th, 1808 ; also for Randall Walne Lloyd, their only other child, bom March 13th, 1789; died in the East Indies, May 23rd, 1808.” 

My next plans are to find out more about Randall Walne’s time in the East Indies (thank you to FIBIS who were very helpful at this year’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live) and also to follow up the rest of the Lloyd family. 

It seems Rev. Lloyd not only provided a legend, but potentially was a legend. As ever, if there are any family links reading this article, please feel free to contact me. I’d also love to hear about any other events like that at Happisburgh!

Monday
Apr252011

Cousin Albert Septimus: Queen Victoria's Consul in Cairo

To celebrate a few days of uninterrupted research, this week I hope to make up for a couple of weeks' blog absence with a series of posts about a few of my more intriguing ancestors. While I am fascinated by people of all places, occupations, walks of life and circumstances there are some that for whatever reason pique my interest more than others. So, tonight, I introduce you to Cousin Albert.

Even when I was little I was aware of having an ancestor who travelled further than most Walnes before or since. It made my lessons about the Egyptians from Mrs Ingate at Primary School even more enthralling, because I knew that somewhere I had an ancestor that had really been there. 

It is only more recently that I have begun to find out more about Alfred Septimus Walne. My first cousin, six times removed, he was born in Market Weston in Suffolk on 22 February 1806, the youngest child of Thomas Walne and Elizabeth Cole.

‘Ordinary’ records (by which I mean the census and parish baptisms, marriages and burials) give little away about his life abroad but give tantalising hints into his existence. The census for 1861 shows him staying at the White Lion Hotel, High Street, Bath, occupation “HM Consul Cairo”. Among the other guests are ‘gentlemen’ and a captain in the Bengal Artillary. Ten years later, he can be found at the United Hotel (19-25 inclusive Charles Street, St James Square) a similarly grand hotel, this time occupation “Landowner late HMC”. 

His lack of an appearance in earlier census’ is probably due to his being in Cairo at the time. In this post I can only scrape the surface of his life as Consul, but I hope to touch on a few of the things I have so far discovered about Cousin Alfred. 

It would appear that Alfred first ventured to Egypt not as Consul, but as a doctor, and specifically, an eye doctor. A book, online here, first published in 1837, entitled “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land” by John Lloyd Stevens (1805 – 1852) who travelled to Egypt in 1835, includes the following passage: 

“Nearly all the time I was at Cairo, Paul and myself were ill, and for a few days we were in a rather pitiable condition. Fortunately, a young English army surgeon [Dr Forbes] was there, on his way to India, and hearing there was a sick traveler in the house, he with great kindness called upon me and prescribed for our ailments….At that time there was no English physician in Cairo, and I believe none at all, except some vile Italian or French apothecaries, who held themselves fully qualified to practice, and were certainly very successful in relieving the sick from all their sufferings. On my return I found Dr. Walne, and though for his own sake I could wish him a better lot, I hope, for the benefit of sick travellers, that he is there still.

A post-script to the page adds:

“I have seen with great pleasure, in a late English paper, that Dr Walne has been appointed English vice-consul at Cairo. In the close relation now growing up between England and Egypt by means of the Red Sea passage to India, it is a matter of no small consequence to England to have at Cairo as her representative a man of character and talents; and I am sure I but express the opinion of all who know Dr. Walne when I say that a more proper appointment could not have been made.”

A year after his meeting with John Stephens, Alfred appears in the Gentleman’s Magazine, volume 5, online here, in June 1836:

 

At the time, Alfred must have been relatively new in post. As a little girl, the thought that a cousin of mine had been involved in investigating such things long before Howard Carter would have been astonishing. Today, I find it a little more difficult to be as excited, as I’m not so sure that at the time the excavations were handled as modern day ethics might require. Still, it is fascinating nonetheless to find an ancestor mentioned as such - ancient Egypt still hold me in some kind of enchantment which adds a magic of sorts to the connection. 

The Literary Gazette, Volume 20, also of 1836, contains the following article: 

“Egyptian Society – The Augsburg Gazette states, that a scientific society under this name has been formed at Cairo, by a British physician, Mr Alfred Walne, long resident in Egypt, and a zealous student of hieroglyphic and Coptic literature. The Society has hired a house for he reception of travellers, and are collecting a library of books likely to be useful to such as explore the Egyptian provinces in Africa and Asia. One Turk has subscribed, but the members are chiefly English, with some French and German.” 

One of my favourite discoveries to date has been a portrait, sold at Sotherby’s, which can be viewed here. The painting, by David Roberts, depicts an ‘Interview with the Viceroy of Egypt at his Palace in Alexandria’ and the inscription on the reverse states that one of the men is Alfred. The meeting took place on 12 May 1839. Alfred is the only Englishman ancestor I have yet found a portrait of (even indirectly!), my Bermudan and Belgian ancestors usually being those with the money and tendencies to indulge in such things. 

Another book, “State and Society in Mid-Nineteenth Century Egypt” by Ehud R. Toledano, first published in 1990, also has references to Alfred. At a meeting with other acquaintances on 1 February 1856 at his ‘country house near Cairo’ he was quoted as saying: 

'Abbas’ refers to Abbas I of Egypt, who had died a year and a half earlier, murdered by two of his slaves. Alfred was certainly involved in important circles, and must have been embroiled in all aspects of Egyptian, Indian and English politics for the whole of his time abroad, including outbreaks of violence as well as historical discoveries. It boggles my mind to try and imagine what his life must have been like in an era where so many things were so markedly different from today (and so many tensions are still unresolved?). 

A couple of years later, The London Gazette made a couple of puzzling announcements about Alfred’s career. On 9 February 1859, the Foreign Office, in Issue 22229 published that: 

“The Queen has also been pleased to appoint Alfred Septimus Walne Esq. now Her Majesty’s Consul at Cairo, to be Her Majesty’s Consul at Alexandria” 

This was swiftly followed by another on 2 May 1859, in issue 22229: 

“The appointment of Alfred Septimus Walne Esq. to be Her Majesty’s Consul at Alexandria, which was notified in the Gazette…is cancelled; and Mr Walne retains his appointment as H.M. Consul at Cairo”. 

This is just one of things I intend to investigate when I get my hands on the “Letterbooks of Walne, agent at Cairo, 1838-59” in IOR/G/17 at the British Library. The dates I believe are probably significant as I know he was awarded a parting gift in 1861 on his resignation of office. Amongst the dedication (painstakingly copied out by me as a little girl) are mentions of his involvement in the construction of the railway between Alexandria and Cairo in 1851, increased public security, the first regular conveyance of Indian Mail between Alexandria and Suez in 1853 and his appointment as Her Majesty’s Commissioner for the affairs of Guddah after June 1858 (nb I think possibly this refers to the Jidda Massacre?). He was certainly a busy man. 

On resignation from his post in 1861, Alfred returned to England and seems to have spent much of the remainder of his life in gentleman’s clubs, grand hotels, and on his country estate. He died twenty years later, his probate calendar entry stating: 

“Walne Alfred Septimus Esquire Personal Estate £70,486 7s 10d 20 August. The Will with three Codicils of Alfred Septimus Walne formerly of the Union Club Trafalgar Square but late of 72 Guilford Street Russell Square both in the County of Middlesex Esquire who died 17 June 1881 at 72 Guilford Street was proved at the Principal Registry by John Henry Hill of 39 Old Broad Street in the city of London solicitor Amelia Elizabeth Gimingham of Broomfield Villa Weston-Super-Mare in the County of Somerset spinster and Thomas Walne of Pulham St Mary in the County of Norfolk Esquire the Executors” 

Although Alfred died in London, he was laid to rest in Brockdish in a handsome red tomb, not far from the family vault containing several more of my ancestors.

The Grove estate in Brockdish, one of several owned by the family at the time, was passedfrom Alfred to Thomas Alfred Walne (known as Alfred), his cousin’s grandson and his own adopted son (the latter according to a stone in Brockdish churchyard). 

When I come to write my first book, I think Alfred would be a wonderful candidate for research. I would welcome comments from anybody that can provide more leads, or help fill in my knowledge of Egypt in the 19th Century which I am very willing to admit is somewhat limited to date. 

I can’t imagine many places more different than Brockdish, a leafly little village of just 434 souls in 1881, and the rapidly growing city of Cairo upstream of the Nile delta. Alfred must have seen incredible things, both good and terrible. I am sure there is an enormous amount waiting to be discovered on a spectrum from the deep to the more mundane – why did he go to Egypt in the first place? What were his political views? Why didn’t he marry? How did he cope with the heat?! What drove him to take on his career? What was he like as a man? 

I hope over time, these, and other questions, will begin to reveal their answers.

 

Wednesday
Apr062011

Are you ever too young to be a 'genealogist'?

A few days ago I happened to tweet that someone had told me I looked “too young to be a genealogist”. It was perhaps originally a throwaway comment, but it got me thinking. 

The response I had from people out there in twitter land was quite astonishing. It seems that I am by no means the only one that has been occasionally irritated by this generalisation and certainly not the only “young” family historian out there. 

Yet, the stereotype exists. Is genealogy cool? Well, I think it could be. I think it ought to be. In these days of people moving to the other side of the world, travelling great distances just for a meeting and connecting to people across the oceans in a second on social media, I think it is perhaps more important than ever to understand where we come from and what our ancestors went through in order for us to be here at all. 

Sadly, a straw poll amongst friends suggested that most of them were also of the opinion that family history is for old people. The phrases “blue rinse” and even “slightly dusty” were associated with people interested in the past. (I must note here that I also think you are never too old to be interested in genealogy and I have never met a ‘dusty’ researcher!)  

Yet almost everybody I’ve spoken to wants to know about their heritage. 

When questioned, very few even knew their grandparents’ names, and this appears to be common with people of all ages, not just younger people. Many are not interested in researching as far back as possible at all, but rather in finding out more about people who were with us in living memory. It is all too easy to think that our grandparents and great grandparents were never young. 

Why then, if these people are so interested in finding out about their family’s past, have they not done anything about it? Because record offices are scary, researchers jealously guard their papers and because they can’t access information online? Well, while these ideas came up, it was often for more mundane reasons – not knowing where to start, thinking it would be too difficult and expensive and simply not having the time were far more common responses. 

At this point I will be open and say “My name is Elizabeth. I am 26, and I love family and local history”. I will also come out and say that I do not have a history degree. My partner does, but what he knows about genealogy would fit on a postage stamp (“I know my mother’s maiden name!”) . I am actively pursuing an MSc in Genealogy however, and I do have a BSc (hons) and existing post graduate qualifications in other disciplines, some of which overlap, mostly in my favourite subject – maps! 

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been intrigued by family history. I have read books, joined societies, written histories, sat in record offices, contacted all sorts of people, travelled the length and breadth of my home counties (I now class both Norfolk and Suffolk as home) and further afield looking for places, people, folklore and things to photograph. I am embarking on my first book, combining my loves of photography and history and through Your Local History am aiming to inspire others to start researching themselves by giving them a helping hand with getting started and completing research locally. 

I do not pretend to be a professional researcher with decades of experience, but I do try and open records to everybody, meet requests with enthusiasm and inspire confidence in people that have never set foot in a record office before. I am quite happy to show them how. Equally, I am quite happy to show them how to research records online and how to contact distant relatives and other interested parties through websites and forums. 

What’s more, I am of course still learning every day and hope to carry on doing so for a long time to come. After all, I’d like to be an ‘old dude’ genealogist too, one day. Of course, by the time I’m 85 I’ll have been researching for 70 years and will hopefully be a ‘go to’ expert in an age where cars fly, the Vulcans have made first contact and people are looking at ‘print systems analyst’ and ‘west area travel plan officer’ on old records (probably not the census, although I hope to see myself on one eventually) and looking them up in a 3D virtual representation of library. 

I am aware that there will be those that argue that there is much more to family history. I do not disagree. I will cite sources and interpret manorial records quite happily. However, what I really want to do is help others satisfy their curiosity and ask questions of themselves, their relatives and their history – and if they can write their own book to pass down to future generations, with their own experiences in life, so much the better... 

This has been a somewhat unusual blog post for me and I am sure that it will raise some debate as to what makes a ‘genealogist’ (which I think can be quite different to a ‘family historian’) and the merits of experience vs enthusiasm and qualifications. I hope that it will go some way to eliminating the stereotypes that exist – after all, librarians up and down the country are sporting “shhhh” tattoos on their fingers and seem to have eliminated something of their old fashioned image. It’s high time genealogy did the same! 

So, as I pursue my career, I will not just be visiting archives, but geotagging photographs, embracing the ancestry iPhone app (which is a boon in graveyards) and keeping an eye out for developments in DNA research. 

What I hope to inspire in people is that anyone can be a family historian, regardless of age, occupation and circumstances.

Just start asking questions! 

Tuesday
Mar292011

Big Cats, the Black Shuck and Rampaging Elephants: Norfolk's Menagerie

This week, the local news once again featured a sighting of a Big Cat (capitals added for effect) in Norfolk. Those of us from these parts have seen a large number of these reports in the press in recent years, and indeed going back further – move over Beast of Bodmin! Norfolk and Suffolk have creatures to rival you... 

This time the Norfolk Puma (or Panther, depending on your preference) was reportedly sighted on the Bayfield Hall Estate near Holt. (See Evening News here). Apparently, Norfolk often has more than 50 reported sightings of big cats a year, just ahead of Suffolk, and has one of the highest rates of sightings in the whole of the UK. (For more on this see www.bigcatsinbritain.org/englishnews347.htm).

Big cats are technically those of the ‘Panthera’ genus – lions, tigers, leopards, jaguar and snow leopards. Again technically, pumas and lynxs are not big cats – they are of the ‘Felix’ genus and therefore small cats. Of course, as you might expect, ‘proof’ of these big cats, whether Panthera or Felix, is hard to come by. Scores of people swear they have seen large felines roaming the countryside though, and I would never take it on myself to declare their sightings false. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before someone with a smart phone manages to film such a beast and prove the doubters wrong!

Keeping exotic creatures in menageries was common well before the advent of the modern ‘zoo’. The Tower of London’s collection was thought to have been in existence as early as 1204. Who knows, with our wealth of beautiful country houses and estates in Norfolk and Suffolk, could any of the local aristocracy have indulged in owning exotic cats like William the Conqueror, or Elizabeth I? Could any of these hypothetical animals have escaped? Later on, could the changing of laws in the 70s, requiring licensing of big cats, really have encouraged less well off owners to dump their pets in the East Anglian countryside? And if so, in either case, could they have survived in the wild?

It wouldn’t have been the first time that an unfamiliar animal had wandered lose in Norfolk. The wonderful book “I Read it in the Local Rag” by Pip Wright includes the following passage taken from the Suffolk Chronicle on January 25th, 1845:

“On Friday evening, My Hylton, owner of the caravans of wild beasts on the Castle meadows, Norwich was showing the elephant to the company; the beast showed signs of insubordination. He was directed to kneel and confess his submission to his keeper, but did not obey….the mighty beast just then aimed a tremendous blow at the side of the booth, which at once gave way…and the giant of the forest walked off in spite of all opposition, going through the streets, out of St Stephen’s Gates, on to the London Road…After about two miles to Harford Bridges, he sought pleasure or food amongst the umbrageous woods and scanty foliage of Mr. Alderman Thurtell as if enjoying his pristine liberty in his native wilds.”

It seems on this occasion that the elephant was recaptured but according to the author there were complaints from the public who had already noted that “a lion had already nearly escaped earlier”.

The Tower of London’s menagerie, mentioned above, did not close until a few years after the Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826. You might be surprised to learn that Norfolk had its links with lions in London at least as early as Victoria’s reign, and not through the local gentry but through a working man born in 1828 in a little village. 

Seth Sutton, born in Topcroft, was one of only a few men recorded as working as a “keeper in a menagerie/zoological gardens” in the Victorian census returns. What’s more, he did the job for a very long time -  the 1861, 71, 81, 91 and 1901 censuses all show him in Marylebone – probably working at the gardens we now know as London Zoo. Seth had begun his life as an agricultural labourer, the son of George and Mary Sutton. Based on his children's birthplaces and the census, he must have left have left Norfolk behind for the city between 1851 and 1857.

The Sutton family lived at 2, Calvert’s Cottages, Marylebone, Pancras. Seth resided with his wife Maria (born in Flixton, Suffolk) and their children, less than ten minutes’ walk from the Zoo. By 1901, aged 73, Seth was recorded as “Pensioner (Lion Keeper at Zoo)” and still in London. As an aside, it seems that the census analysts must have had trouble working out what to class his occupation as in the statistics, which required occupations to be split into somewhat inflexible categories. Next to both his occupation and his son Harry’s (who had by then followed in his father’s footsteps) is written the word ‘Dog’, probably so that he would be categorised along with dog breeders and trainers! 

Of course Norfolk doesn’t just boast sightings of big cats and links to lion keepers, we also have big dogs. 

“And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring, And its wild bark thrill’d around, His eyes had the glow of the fires below, Twas the form of the Spectre Hound”

At least, we have one in particular: the Black Shuck, known by some through its relatively recent addition in a Darkness track (which also namechecked Blythburgh in Suffolk - the “town in the east”) and by many more through its inclusion in myth, legend and folklore for centuries before a few Lowestoft rockers borrowed our Hell Hound for a song.

The beast has been argued to have been part of Norse mythology and the word ‘Shuck’ is said to have derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘scucca’ meaning devil or demon.  (For more see http://norfolkcoast.co.uk/myths/ml_blackshuck.htm). Whether or not either (or both) is true, these suggestions nevertheless point to a longstanding belief in the creature. I’ll be watching out for the Grim next time I’m on the road from Overstrand to Cromer as this is where he is said to spend much of his time. Overstrand even used to have a carving of the Black Shuck on its village sign and there is still a ‘Shuck’s Lane’ leading to Runton. 

As you can see from this somewhat varied post, Norfolk’s cat, dog and indeed elephant sightings have taken place over many years and have been discussed by many generations. Doubtless too, they will carry on as the topics of conversations for many years to come.

To conclude, where do I stand on the Big Cat debate? Well, I think that not knowing might be more exciting than knowing the truth!

Tuesday
Mar222011

The Rise, Decline, and Rise Again (?) of Market Gardens

Last spring, some colleagues and I began a gardening group in the grounds of our workplace growing potatoes, onions, squash and a little bit of everything else we fancied. Some of us were completely clueless (myself included – I entered into the lunchtime activities armed only with an iPhone app) while others already knew a fair amount about the art of ‘growing your own’. The group has developed and prospered, and a year later we are digging a further bed, allocating vegetables to people and looking out for an extra water butt (nb if you’re Norwich based and you can help, let me know!)

I’ve recently come across Norfolk market gardeners in my own family tree, and spotted several listed in trade directories in villages I’ve been doing research on. For this blog, I thought I’d delve into the history of the industry locally in the hope that it may be of interest to others.

While different to modern day land shares and community groups through their commercial nature, employees of market gardens of another age were nevertheless using many of the same skills as modern day gardeners - and doing so far better than many of us. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to see a return to more localised, seasonal and organic farming, and it would be wonderful to ensure that the East Anglian market garden heritage and skills aren’t completely lost to history.

A ‘market garden’ was historically a term for farming aimed at producing vegetables and berries, rather than grain, dairy or orchards; in other words farming by the hoe, not the plough. Although the word ‘garden’ may suggest a small set up, this was not always the case. Most gardens, especially towards the beginning of their rise to prominence, were necessarily located close to their markets. Those of the mid 1800s were growing all kinds of produce for local consumption and, by the time of the expansion of the railways, urban areas much further away.

Great Plumstead (arguably meaning ‘dwelling place near plums’) was one of many Norfolk villages to boast successful market gardens – other locations included Mulbarton and Bracon Ash. All three were within striking distance of regular markets in Norwich. In Suffolk*, one of the most wellknown villages for market gardening was Belton, and the recent discovery of market gardener and grave digger Richard Pole’s diaries (see article here) has reawakened interest in an industry which boomed with the railways and the need to feed an ever-growing population. Richard’s diaries describe growing wheat, barley, potatoes, beet, turnips, peas, lettuce, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, gooseberries and other fruit….showing just how varied the produce of a market garden could be. Richard, like others in Belton and villages like Filby, further north, were able to sell their produce in Great Yarmouth and later export their goods by train to London. A hundred years after the surge in market gardening took hold, the industry started to decline. The end of the Second World War brought foreign imports into the country and the growing move towards largescale monoculture encroached on previously market garden dominated areas.

(*I should note that Belton was part of Suffolk until 1974, when the border moved and it became part of Norfolk.) 

A key word search in the census for ‘market gardener’ reveals the growth of this type of farming as an occupation across the country during Victoria’s reign. About a thousand were recorded in 1841. This figured tripled over the next decade, and almost doubled again over the next (by 1861 there were 5100). The total more than doubled all over again during the next twenty years to 1881. By 1901, a total of 28,700 individuals were employed as market gardeners – and those are only the ones captured by the census.

Somewhat entertainingly, several of the men recorded also had the surname ‘Gardener’!



On a more local basis, Suffolk, and particularly Norfolk, were strong market gardening counties. Then, as now, being known for their agricultural produce.

During the middle of the Victorian period, Norfolk contributed a little over 5% of the Country’s market gardeners, and Suffolk was about 1.5% behind its neighbour. Based on Norfolk’s population, market gardening rose from the occupation of less than one in every ten thousand people in 1841 to one in every 500 by 1901. In Suffolk, proportions were roughly half that recorded in Norfolk. 

The 1908 map of Norwich South shows acres of Allotment Gardens which are today underneath modern-day developments. Nowadays, the local council has a waiting list chock-a-block with local people wanting to get hold of a piece of land – and what some of them wouldn’t give to have that growing space back!

So many of my blogs have shown just how much history repeats itself – not least where it comes to corsets, first names and vegetables in recent times! As we strive to cut carbon emissions, know more about where our food comes from and support the local economy, we are (hopefully) beginning to learn from the past while moving forward into the future. The tide appears to be turning on some of the processes which we once called ‘progress’ and we are perhaps beginning to appreciate how much better some of our forebears may have understood the environment that we live in.

It seems quite right that the Bracondale Gardeners (perhaps soon the Knucklebone Gardeners – but that will need the honour of its own post!) are making the most of a patch of land which was once in the middle of a thriving market gardening area. Hopefully we will soon be proving that we can produce just as many fabulous vegetables as the original Lakenham vegetable growers. One thing is for certain though. None of the fruits of our labours will find themselves on the train for London’s markets. If last year is anything to go by, they’ll be enjoyed much closer to home!  

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