Tag Archives: East Anglia

On This Day – The Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 3rd August 2018 I was in the Norfolk town of Thetford in East Anglia meeting a sort of hero of mine…

Mainwaring Thetford

I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The simple reason was that it is run by volunteers who, unlike me,  have jobs to go to during the week and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest, often repeated and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

Kim is not so keen I have to tell you.

Dad's Army

My plan was to stay in a hotel called the Bell Inn because  the cast of the show used to stay here fifty years ago and I wanted to stay there too.  I hoped I might get lucky and get the very room that Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) used to sleep in.

Sadly the Bell Inn turned out to be a massive disappointment, yes there was some Dad’s Army mementoes hanging on the walls but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.    A real shame, I was so looking forward to staying there but I had to agree with Kim that it most likely hadn’t been decorated or cleaned since Arthur Lowe himself slept there in the 1960s.  Kim refused to stay and sent me to reception to get a change of room.  I was told that this was not possible so we decided to leave immediately.

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‘Dad’s Army’ is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

Thankfully the Wehrmacht never invaded!

Thursday Doors – English Beach Huts

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

East Anglia, The End of The Holiday

Suffolk 2018

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East Anglia, Sutton Hoo and Rainy Day Caravan Holidays

Suffolk

Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk so this holiday was my opportunity to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

Today we drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutton Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England because it sheds light on a period of Dark Ages history that is on the margin between myth, legend, and emerging historical documentation.  It is the site of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

This is King Rædwald…

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The discovery is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  Local folk reported seeing ghostly figures wandering around the mounds and in response the initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers as labourers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

The most significant artifacts from the burial site were those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a collection of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

It is a good story but it has some holes in it.  These mounds had been there for a thousand years or so and must surely have generated some interest before Edith Pretty financed the operation.  And so it was because four hundred years earlier Henry VIII (no less) authorised a dig to search for treasure and those entrusted with the task began their excavations.  They discovered one tomb and made away with the loot but failed to make their way into King Rædwald’s ship and gave up rather prematurely.

The point is if people knew there was treasure in the field in 1540 why did no one look again until 1940.  Did everyone just forget?

So is it the most important archaeological site ever uncovered in England?  There are some challengers for the title.

The Staffordshire Hoard represents the largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. Consisting of over three thousand, five hundred items found by an amateur detectorist buried in a field in Staffordshire. The discovery is said to have completely altered our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England and the hoard accounts for over 60% of all the Anglo-Saxon items conserved in English museums.

The last Plantagenet King of England was Richard III and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and hastily buried somewhere in the city of Leicester. The Richard III Society are obsessed with the King with a bad reputation and one member in particular, Phillipa Langley, was convinced that she knew where he was. She persuaded the University of Leicester to finance an excavation in a city centre car park, pointed to a spot, the excavator started to work and bugger me there he was!

All we need to find now is King John’s Treasure lost in The Wash in 1216 somewhere between Spalding and King’s Lynn, somewhere down the A17 and whoever finds that is going to be very famous and very rich.

Watch this short clip to see what it is all about…

The Detectorists TV show.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply to say that we have been there for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artifacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift and most valuable made to the British Museum by a living donor.  Edith Pretty was either very generous, very stupid or very rich anyway.

After five days of glorious sunshine it was raining today, pouring actually, so this cut short our visit to Sutton Hoo and with no chance of any improvement we made our way back to the caravan at Kessingland and sat inside for the rest of the afternoon.

This was exactly how I remembered caravan holidays when I was a boy.

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East Anglia, Poster Art of Aldeburgh

 

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East Anglia, Poster Art of Southwold

 

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East Anglia, Dad’s Army and the North Sea

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I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The reason was that it is run by volunteers who have jobs to go to and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

This post isn’t going to make a lot of sense to overseas readers because Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

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It is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

In 2004 Dad’s Army was voted fourth in a BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom. It had previously been placed thirteenth in a list of the one hundred Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.

English humour is the finest in the World but doesn’t always travel that well but just watch this little scene which was voted the funniest ever Dad’s Army gag line of the entire series (over eighty programmes) to get a little flavour of the show…

Don't Tell Him Pike

Funniest Scene

American humour especially struggles to cope with British wit and interestingly a pilot US show based on Dad’s Army was tried and piloted.  It was called Rear Guard but flopped badly and never made it into a full series.  If you watch this disaster then you will understand why…

This is the US version of the same scene

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

The star of the show was an actor called Arthur Lowe who played the lead character of Captain Mainwaring.  There is a statue of both of them, as it were, in the centre of the town by the riverside (The Little Ouse) so after the museum we made our way through the town and the Saturday market and found the Captain sitting pompously as ever down by the waterside.

Mainwaring Thetford

It was always going to be hard to follow the visit to the Dad’s Army Museum and so it proved when on the way back to the car park we visited the Ancient House Museum which had a few interesting items but didn’t detain us very long and soon after we were on the road again and on the way to the caravan park destination.

Along the route we chose another National Trust property and forever keen to get maximum value for our annual membership we called in at Ickworth House bear Bury St. Edmunds.

It turned out to be an interesting stop at an unusual eighteenth century stately home built in the Italianate style with a huge central rotunda and two complimentary wings to the east and the west.  There are a sequence of rooms to pass through, first the servant’s quarters below stairs and then the largely Victorian rooms of the nobility and upper classes who once lived there.

We stayed for an hour or so and then completed our journey to the village of Kessingland on the extreme east coast of England.

Ickworth House

We had intended to arrive first at the caravan so that we could organise the arrival of my daughter and grand-children in an orderly way but we were delayed by supermarket shopping and they arrived before us and by the time we turned up Sally and the children had the place looking just the way they like it – rather like England would have looked like if the German Panzer Divisions had successfully invaded and passed through in 1941.

We dealt with the unpacking as best we could and then in early evening to satisfy the children made our way to the nearby beach and although it had been a very warm day I have to say that I didn’t expect to find myself swimming in the North Sea at seven o’clock in the evening.  This was probably my first time in the North Sea for about fifty years or so, since I was a boy on family holidays but under intense pressure from grandchildren…

North Sea Swimming

… the North Sea, let me tell you, is not the warmest water in the World!

A UK Holiday – Lincolnshire to Norfolk, Traffic Congestion and The Patron Saint of Escapology

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A couple of years ago a good pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I had taken quite a lot of persuading.  I remembered staying in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, I could see no pleasure in it whatsoever.

I am pleased to be able to report however that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation which had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, hot and cold running water, a bathroom with a shower, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

I instantly became a caravan fan.

Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents and not even willing to try it I turned the opportunity down but offered the alternative of a modern luxury caravan.  She didn’t take a lot of persuading, it turns out that she is not such a big fan of camping either!

Great Yarmouth Post Card 2

So, when the day arrived we packed the car and headed south to the county of Suffolk in East Anglia.  Traditionally in England families took one week holidays from Saturday to Saturday and my Dad used to like to travel on a Friday to avoid the traffic so fifty years later we did the same.  I thought that this was a good idea but it seems however that holiday habits have changed and now everyone travels on a Friday!

It was only a short journey of about one hundred and fifty miles but we had to use the A17 route which is a major English road which takes almost all of the traffic from the North of England into East Anglia and consequently some days it can become horribly congested.  This was one of those days.

Find an easier way I hear you say but sadly there is no way of avoiding the A17 because of the topography of the region.  To get into Norfolk from Lincolnshire it is necessary to pass close by to a stretch of water called The Wash which is a large chunk of water in the coastline of Eastern England that separates the north-east coast of East Anglia from the wetlands and the Fens of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.  Building roads over bogs is difficult it seems.

The Wash

Four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse and except for the most northerly, The Witham, which is relatively easy to get across, the other three are crossed by the single carriageway A17 and there is simply no sensible alternative route so all of the traffic converges close to Boston in Lincolnshire and then crawls along the A17 for about thirty miles or so until it gets past King’s Lynn in Norfolk.  It makes for a dreadfully frustrating journey.

When you finally get past King’s Lynn the A17 ends and joins the A47 which is another horrible road which brings all of the traffic into Norfolk from the East Midlands and everyone going for an East Coast holiday from the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Peterborough so even though there are no more rivers to cross there isn’t a great deal of improvement in traffic flow.

As a consequence of this our journey into East Anglia took considerably longer than anticipated and we were about two hours behind schedule by the time we finally arrived at our first planned stop, a National Trust property called Oxburgh Hall which is situated into the village of Oxborough.  I’m afraid I have no explanation to offer as to why the spellings do not match.

Oxburgh Hall Norfolk

Oxburgh turned out to be a fabulous place, nice gardens, woodland walks and a moated Medieval House in a good state of preservation. So we walked the grounds and visited the house and looked out for the highlight feature of the property, a Priest Hole, open for visit and inspection.

A Priest Hole was a hiding place in Tudor and Stuart times for Catholic Priests during the religious persecutions of the Reformation.  Several important members of the Nobility and their families remained defiantly but secretly true to the Catholic faith and in large important houses provided these hiding places for resident priests and various items of Catholic paraphernalia.  The penalty for being discovered and captured was severe with the certainty of horrible torture (almost as bad as driving the A17) and the liklihood of painful death so these Priest’s Holes had to very cunningly designed and built.

A man called Nicholas Owen is famous for carrying out this work in a number of great houses and so crafty were they in their planning that even today it is suggested that they may not all have been found.  At Oxburgh he came up with a sort of sunken pit concealed in the solid interior brick work of the house and with access through a false floor and just a tiny corridor.

The really interesting thing about this one is that visitors are allowed to go down through the floor and narrow entrance and go inside to have a look.

I sent Kim down first to check it out…

Oxburgh Priest Hole

It is quite a tight squeeze but once inside it isn’t so bad although I wouldn’t want to spend a few days down there in the dark with no bathroom facilities.

Nicholas Owen was captured in 1606 and taken to the Tower of London where he was mercilessly tortured for ten days as the authorities sought to discover all of his Priest Hole stories.  He never gave in and eventually died and all of his secrets went with him.  Owen was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Today, Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic consider Saint Nicholas Owen to be the Patron Saint of Illusionists and Escapologists.  His Feast Day is celebrated on 22nd March.

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East Anglia, Rebellion, Revolution, Sedition and Defence

Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” – John Adams (Second President of the United States)

After four nights it was time to leave our luxury caravan holiday home and return to Grimsby so after we had cleaned up and made sure everything was spick-and-span I took a last look around to make sure we had left it in good order before locking the door and moving on.

I had really enjoyed it here in Great Yarmouth and I was already looking forward to my next cheap caravan holiday in Whitley Bay in Northumbria the following month.

We had a full day ahead of us now so whilst in East Anglia we planned a day which took in both eastern counties of Suffolk and Norfolk.

My pal wanted to drive into Yarmouth but I didn’t agree that this was such a great idea through the morning rush hour traffic so after visit to McDonalds for breakfast buns we abandoned that part of the plan and drove directly west which was generally against the flow of traffic making its tedious way into the bottle-neck town.

Framlington Castle Suffolk

We drove now to the Suffolk town of Framlington which is a small, rather unremarkable place except for the fact that it has an impressive medieval castle with imposing walls and towers which was once the home of the Dukes of Norfolk who were forever scheming and stirring up rebellious trouble in Tudor England.

It is a good castle, not the best, it reminded me of Richmond in Yorkshire, there are no internal buildings left, all long since demolished but there is an impressive stone wall and 360° walk around the top of the castle walls and defences from which there are fine views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

After stopping briefly for a drink in a nearby pub where my pal almost caused a riot by asking the local drinkers what made them different from Norfolk people we moved on directly back to Norfolk and the town of Thetford which is only just across the border in the neighbouring county.

Framlington Casle Door Suffolk

Thetford also has a castle but we weren’t looking for that today, instead we were interested in the two most famous things about the town – The revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine and the television comedy programme, Dad’s Army which was filmed around these parts.

Captain Mainwang Thetford Norfolk

We looked first for the riverside statue of Captain Mainwaring, the officer in command of Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard and found it which will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but which is one of the most successful sit-com programmes from the BBC in the last fifty years. I had a row with my pal here because he seems to be incapable of taking a straight photograph, always excusing himself with the explanation that what he is doing is art. Every picture on a slant as though I was standing on the side of a hill.

We found the hotel where the cast of the TV series used to stay when filming and then the ‘Dad’s Army’ museum which was sadly closed today but only make me promise myself that I would plan a return visit to this very fine town.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

As we wandered around the attractive town centre we came eventually to the statue of Thomas Paine, the most famous son of Thetford and arguably of Norfolk and all of East Anglia, perhaps even of all of England.

Paine was a radical revolutionary, a sort of proto-Marxist, a latter day Leveller, a real trouble maker, an all round (excuse the pun) pain in the ass to the establishment of late eighteenth century England and he didn’t come from London or Bristol, not even Ipswich or Norwich but from sleepy little Thetford.

He published a pamphlet called Agrarian Justice exploring the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery and questioned the very concept of Christianity, as a consequence of which only six people attended his funeral.

How wonderful it is that history often delivers theses delicious little curve-balls and reminds me that I am privileged to live in the greatest country in the modern World.

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.  In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention.  The Girondists regarded him as an ally, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested but escaped the guillotine and was allowed to travel to the USA

The Declaration is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the  philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is considered so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That I suggest is a fairly important legacy and it is rather smug to sit here and think that an Englishmen shaped the American Revolution and the Constitution of the USA except of course we now have Donald Trump and poor Thomas Paine in his grave somewhere in the state of New York is probably on a permanent Hotpoint spin-cycle

Thomas Paine Thetford Norfolk00

East Anglia – Norfolk and Suffolk