Tag Archives: Thetford

Yorkshire, A Return Visit to Bridlington and an Apology

Bridlingtonn Harbour

This post is going to be about a retraction and an apology and a very large slice of Humble Pie!

I first visited the East Coast seaside town of Bridlington in October 2015 and I didn’t enjoy it one single bit and ever since I have been rather harsh and scathing about the place. It wasn’t an especially nice day with no sunshine and  at the harbour the tide was fully out leaving it a horrible muddy mess with boats stranded on the clay and silt. Three children pestering to visit the beach front amusements didn’t help either so we had a very poor portion of fish and chips and an overpriced ice cream and then promptly left and moved on to nearby Filey which as I recall was a lot better.

I vowed that I would never ever return to Bridlington and ever since I have shared my unflattering reviews about the town and warned friends about going there – even those just thinking about going there.

Now I was in nearby Skipsea Sands and looking for something to do for the morning before inevitable beach time in the afternoon and I suggested to Kim that we take a ride to nearby Bridlington so that she could see for herself just what a dirty, ugly place it is.  Based on what I had said about the place she thought that I was crazy but agreed anyway.  It took about thirty minutes to drive there and then another thirty to find a car park with spaces available and I wondered why so many people would visit this place which from memory was somewhere to be avoided at all costs.

Bridlington Ganzee

Anyway, we parked up and walked to the harbour and I was shocked to discover a really charming waterside, the tide was in and the boats were lolling in the water, children were crabbing and people were strolling around the walls in the sunshine. Kim wondered if I had ever been to Bridlington before as it certainly didn’t match my unfavourable review of the place. It helped that the sun was shining, the tide was fully in and the children are older now and weren’t too bothered about visiting the funfair.

So we spent an enjoyable hour around the harbour, had an ice cream (still expensive but I was ready for it this time), watched the boats coming and going, rows of unsuccessful fishermen optimistically casting their lines and people avoiding the seagulls plotting attacks and looking to thieve fish and chips from unwary seafront diners and then we moved on.

The Old Town is about a mile away inland and I didn’t even go there on my last visit so we went there now. Free Parking! Where can you find Free Parking these days? Answer – Bridlington Old Town and by now I was feeling so guilty about what I had said previously.

Historical Bridlington

The historical centre of Bridlington is absolutely wonderful.

A cobbled street of rapid decay locked into a bygone age, the shop windows are grubby, the displays are many decades out of date, the window frames are flaking and pock-marked, no wonder then that they choose this location for filming the remake of the comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’ in 2014. Being a huge ‘Dad’s Army’ fan I was really happy about wandering along this special street and made a note to watch the film when I was back at home. And I did!

Bridlington Dad's Army

At the end of the High Street in the historical centre we found ourselves at Bridlington Priory soaring high into the blue sky and my burden of guilt got a whole lot heavier. What a wonderful place this was with a patient guide that helped the children with a hunt for difficult to spot mouse carvings, a prize even though they didn’t find them all themselves and a free cup of tea for Kim and me and lemonade for the girls.

In the days of its medieval glory, Bridlington Priory was one of the great monastic houses of England. Its wealth and possessions made it a key monastery in the North, one of the largest and richest of the Augustinian order.

The Priory is just a church now and a fraction of its previous size courtesy of the insistence of Henry VIII that it should be demolished in 1537 to remove the potential Catholic pilgrimage site of Saint John of Bridlington. St John enjoyed a reputation for great holiness and for miraculous powers and was the last English saint to be canonised before the English Reformation and Henry didn’t like that.

Saint John of Bridlington 1

We eventually left Bridlington and made our way to nearby Flamborough Head which, where it happens, is where the final scenes of the ‘Dad’s Army’ film were set. The fictional Home Guard platoon is based in the South of England and Flamborough Head provided a good alternative because it has the only ridge of chalk cliffs in the north of England. We spent an hour or so there down on the beach and climbing the cliffs before leaving and returning to the holiday park.

As I started this post I finish it with an apology to Bridlington, it is a fine place and I was completely wrong in my first assessment four years previously.

Flamborough Head

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East Anglia, The End of The Holiday

Suffolk 2018

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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!

Thetford, A Disappointing Hotel and a Revolutionary

Thomas Paine Hotel

After leaving Oxburgh Hall we headed south towards the town of Thetford where we would be staying overnight.

The road took us across a stretch of land called The Brecks which is quite possibly the most dreary piece of countryside in all of East Anglia with a landscape of gorse and sandy scrubland.  Eventually we came to Thetford Forest which relieved the tedious boredom of the open countryside.  The Forest was planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation.  Environmentalists complain that the Forest has destroyed the true nature of the area but I thought it was all rather attractive.  Even the surface of the Moon would be an improvement on The Brecks.

Arriving in Thetford we struggled with the confusing one-way system and drove around in circles for a while until we came eventually to our overnight accommodation at The Bell Inn.

The reason for staying in Thetford was mostly because the TV show Dad’s Army was filmed around these parts. This little nugget will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but Dad’s Army is one of the most successful sit-com programmes  ever from the BBC in the last fifty years and remains one of my personal favourites.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

I had chosen 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 but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.  Kim refused to stay there 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.  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 stayed there in the 1960s!

Close by we found (after inspection) a suitable alternative and checked in there instead.  This was the Thomas Paine Hotel.  I may not have got to stay in the same room as Captain Mainwaring but at the Thomas Paine we got the Ronald Regan suite!

Ronal Regan Room

I was happy about that because in 2005 in an American TV series poll of viewers Ronald Reagan was voted the Greatest ever American, coming in ahead of Washington, both Roosevelts and even Abraham Lincoln.  You might find that hard to believe and may need to Google it to confirm that I am telling the truth!

The 100 Greatest Americans

Before he turned to politics Reagan was a Hollywood actor; in 1951 he made a movie called “Bedtime for Bonzo” which was a silly film about a clever chimp living with an American family which is somewhat ironic because now all of America has to live with a silly chimp living in the Whitehouse.

Satisfied with our choice of hotel we wandered around the attractive town centre and 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.

In his writings he explored the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery, questioned the very concept of Christianity and inspired The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen of 1791.

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.

In a BBC television viewers poll in 2002 “The Hundred Greatest Britons” Paine was included as one of only two British political philosophers.  He was voted thirty-forth and Thomas More thirty-seventh, no place then for Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or David Hume.  By comparison the list included ten modern pop stars and a radio DJ!

Thomas Paine Memorial

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 Jacobins, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested.  He only narrowly escaped the guillotine during the reign of terror and was then (not being welcome in England) allowed to travel to the USA.

The Declaration is important, it 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 became 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 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 fast spin-cycle.

After dinner we walked around the town after dark and came across another interesting feature of Thetford.  It has one of the largest Eastern European communities in all of the UK and if you want to know what it is like to go out in the evening in Poland then Thetford will give you a clue as the town was busy and vibrant as people sat outside and spoke together in foreign tongues which created a very pleasing ambience in complete contrast to many bleak and soulless evening town centres across the UK and it seemed entirely appropriate that this was in the town of Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine Thetford Norfolk

Later I had great pleasure in giving the Bell Inn a really poor review on the Booking.com website.

Coming Up – A Week in Suffolk, UK

 

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Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents 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!

Suffolk

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