Sunday, 26 June 2011

Kayaking the Tas: don’t bother

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I WAS looking forward to this stretch of the Tas – from the bridge at Lakenham, heading upstream. The plan was to make it to Caistor St Edmund and perhaps get some good pictures of the Roman walls into the bargain. But sadly, what looks like a decent channel on the OS map, is in parts little better than a field dyke. It starts well next to the railway line (see above) but it soon gets too narrow for a comfortable paddle.

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Throw in some barbed wire across the river and some get-off-my-land security guards at the Arminghall car boot sale (pictured) and this one proved a bit of a wash out. In the end the fluorescent jackets agreed that while the landowner owned the riverbed, he didn’t own the river itself. So I ploughed on. But thick reeds right

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across the river soon made me wish I hadn’t bothered. The Tas Valley is beautiful and the river does seem to be wider up at Caistor. But despite the high praise of Literary Norfolk, I’m afraid today cured me of any Tas-mania - at least when I’ve got a paddle in my hand.

* More Kayaking Kapers here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Before they flew The Nest

The Nest
I’M CHUFFED to bits to have found the relatives of the last ferryman at Pull’s Ferry. It really feels like the website is doing its job. So the next impossible task is to find some of his customers. Specifically I would love to find Canary fans who can remember seeing Norwich City play at their home at The Nest. The Nest - a disused chalk pit on Rosary Road – was the home of Norwich City until May 1935. Those ancient fans are likely to have been customers of Cecil Mollett because hundreds of them used Pull’s Ferry to get to the ground – it was very much part of what we would now call the matchday ritual. For top marks your 80-something grandad will remember the ferry too. But now perhaps I’m getting greedy.  Please email me direct at if you can help.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Pull’s Ferry …in action

Early Ferry
A HUGE thank you to Stuart Henning, a grandson of the last ferryman at Pull’s Ferry for getting in touch. He has provided me with a number of great pictures of this picturesque spot on the Wensum in Norwich as well as a wealth of info on his fascinating family. This photo shows the ferry in action at, well what do you think ..the turn of the 20th century? Stuart is in fact one of three grand-children to email me after I asked for help on the ferry’s history last September. Just a reminder that we think the service (where passengers and ferryman always stood up) was operated by Cecil Mollett until 1943. Thousands of Norwich City fans remember it from when the team used to play at The Nest which was almost directly opposite. Dorothy's wedding to Herbert Henning
Cecil and his wife Lily had five daughters. And they’re all visible on this second photo from 1934 when Stuart’s parents got married – and then set off via the ferry. Yes this shot is posed for the news cameras, but it’s a cracker nonetheless. I’ve still got a call or two to make to nail down some details, but thanks to all the family for their help so far. It’s a classic case of how having a website makes researching this sort of book a whole lot easier – and more satisfying.

Norwich at war

GOOD quality local books have a remarkably long shelf-life. Take “Norwich at War” for example by Joan Banger. First published in 1974 it it now in its third incarnation and seems to be something of a best seller at the excellent City Bookshop in Davey Place, Norwich.  I would imagine a lot of the latest wave of interest has been sparked by the incredible mash-up photos which merge old and new in an eerily poignant way. Then there’s a new book – according to this Evening News article – being planned by Steve Snelling to tie in with the 70th anniversary of the raids next April. I’d love to know how many new eye-witnesses Steve has unearthed, because the sad fact is that generation will not be with us much longer. I need to know more about the impact of the bombings in the Heigham area for my book and Norwich at War is packed with devastating detail. Walking around both central Norwich and Heigham will never be quite the same again. 
* More on those mash-ups here.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Baedeker memories please

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HEIGHAM is a funny old part of Norwich these days. Too close to be a suburb, yet not far enough away to have its own identity. Its north-eastern boundary is the Wensum of course, so the Heigham chapter will come after Hellesdon and before Norwich Over the Water. In earlier generations Heigham was much more of a community, but It quickly becomes clear that this section will be dominated by what happened on April 27th 1942. That was the first night of the so-called Baedeker bombings on the city (in retaliation for the Allied bombing of Lubeck the previous month). Heigham copped it big time. Among the buildings hit was St Bartholmew’s Church. As this modern picture shows, only the tower survived. As for the wider damage, this is one account from “Joan P” recorded for a Women’s Oral History Group pamphlet on Heigham Street published in 1991.
“Of course everywhere was devastated, that took a long while. Bullens was on fire, Cushions was on fire, Wincarnis was on fire, the Picture Palace at the back. The Mayfair was on fire – Old Mother Reilly was on there then. But everywhere was devastated. We actually saw Bullens burn down and we could have put it out but there was no water.”
And through our consumerist eyes I find this section poignant too:
“We had no clothes, just what we were standing up in. Mother, she salvaged the settee and two chairs and of course all the bed linen. They were not much good. But a tracer bullet went through the settee, so we had that marked afterwards. We had that for quite a while afterwards because there was nothing else.”
I love the fact that even a bullet through a sofa wasn’t a good enough reason to get rid of a piece of furniture, such were the hardships.
So can anyone out there remember that awful night in Heigham? Has anyone got any photos – particularly any before and afters? Do get in touch if you or a relative can help. Email me direct on
Oh and just finally, there’s much on the church and the raids, on Simon Knott’s ever-erudite website. Here’s a taster: 
“As St Benedict's Street becomes Dereham Road, it does not make for one of central Norwich's more attractive districts. The vast Toys R Us superstore and its companions are an unlikely and unwitting legacy of the Luftwaffe's work.”