“Each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds:” some Norfolk casualties of the First World War

In 2000-1, I was involved in a digitisation project for Norfolk libraries, which scanned, indexed and uploaded thousands of old photographs of the county. They have been available online (via the library website http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/Leisure_and_culture/Libraries/ ) for many years now – although I’m not sure that many Norfolk people are aware of them – and are now known collectively as Picture Norfolk.

One section of this collection comprises the Norfolk ‘Roll of Honour,’ photographs of every soldier and sailor (Royal and merchant navy) who was killed in the First World War. Most of the original photographs had potted biographies written on the back, some quite lengthy, and I found many of them very moving to read. I particularly remember the three brothers in south Norfolk, agricultural labourers, who were all killed. I believe there was another family where at least three brothers, sons of a clergyman, died too. The First World War did not discriminate according to social class.

The most upsetting thing, though, was when I read a desperate-sounding plea scrawled on the back of one photographs, along the lines of: “Please return this photograph. It’s all I have left of my son.”

Now that the last veterans of the First World War have died, and many of the children who remember them have also gone, we will forget them. That’s the way of things. But these are just a few of the young men of Norfolk who died in the First World War.

Please remember that the copyright on these images remains with Norfolk County Council and these images should not be reproduced without permission.

 1. First Class Steward Arthur Nunn, from Billingford


2. Private Walter J. Starling, 1st Norfolk Regiment, from Fakenham


Eldest son of Mr. & Mrs. W. Starling of Sculthorpe Lodge Cottages, Fakenham. Wounded and taken prisoner at Mons in 1914. Died in hospital in Russia (as a POW) in 1917, aged 23.

3. Private Benjamin Thorpe, 1st Norfolks, from Cromer


Born in 1896, he was killed in France in 1917 and buried in Roclincourt Military Cemetery, near Arras.

4. 1st Class Stoker Benjamin Watts, HMS Natal, from Acle


5. Private Walter Codling, Royal Army Medical Corps


Private Codling was an employee of Jarrolds. He joined a local detachment of the British Red Cross Society. He was lost on the Royal Edward, which was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea, in 1915.

6. Private Sydney Valentine Symonds, 1st Norfolks,  from Norwich


Private Symonds was born in Norwich in 1895, and went to  Thorpe Hamlet School. He enlisted in August 1912, and died from wounds at Mons in September 1914.

7. Captain Christopher Magnay, 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, from Drayton


Captain Magnay was born at Drayton, in 1896. He was killed in action at Vimy Ridge, 23rd April 1917

8. Corporal Robert Fisher, Coldstream Guards & Private Charles Fisher, Norfolk Regiment

http://bit.ly/uG0W7E                 http://bit.ly/smOPeJ

Robert – born at Fundenhall in 1892, the eldest son of Mr & Mrs Horace Fisher, of Barford, near Wymondham; enlisted 6 March 1911; died in London hospital, in 1915.

Charles – second son of Horace and Ellen M. Fisher, of Barford,  born at Fundenhall, in 1894; enlisted in 1913; killed in action 14 September 1914.

9. Lance-Corporal Alphonso Allison, 7th Norfolks & Corporal Horace Allison, Royal Marine Artillery,  & Private Dan Walter Allison, Scots Guards, from Bawburgh

http://bit.ly/vqhXY9      http://bit.ly/uB1MBD           http://bit.ly/vLweHC

Alphonso – Lance-Corporal Allison was born at Bawburgh, in 1893, the son of William & Maria. He enlisted in November 1914 and died of wounds in France, in October 1916.

Horace – the record only states he was from Bawburgh. Presumably, if not a brother of Alphonso & Dan, he was a member of the same family.

Dan – Private Allison was born at Costessey, in 1887, the son of William & Maria Allison. Killed in France in 1914.

10. Mrs. C. M. Fathers, Officer of Forage Corps


Mrs C.M. Fathers (originally Miss C.M.Spencer) was an officer in the Forage Corps, Royal Army Service Corps. It is not clear whether she survived the war.

11. Rev. Charles Ivo Sinclair Hood, Church of England Chaplain to H. M. Forces, 1/3 East Anglian Field Ambulance.


Reverend Hood was born in 1886 & enlisted in October 1915. He died in April 1918.

12. Lance Corporal James Rix, Royal Engineers


Lance Corporal Rix was killed in action in April 1918.


The Norwich Strangers: 16th century refugees

This is World Refugee Week and so I am going to write about some refugees who came to Norwich (and elsewhere) in the 16th & 17th centuries from the Netherlands, fleeing persecution.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

Norwich has always been multi-cultural. In the early mediaeval period, for example, it had a large French quarter, known as the “French Borough.” Following the Norman invasion, the new rulers had tried successive measures to quell the local populace, including building the hugely dominant castle – it looms over the city centre now and must have been an extremely strong symbol of power when it was first built in the late 11th century. Even so, the Normans still had problems suppressing the locals and so they decided to bring in an influx of French settlers (a policy that was similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to the plantation of Ulster in Ireland at a later date). The French Borough was situated where the Forum is now and, up to the 13th century, when its prosperity declined, it was one of the wealthiest parts of the city.

 The arrival of the “Strangers” from the Low Countries (roughly Holland and Belgium) in the 16th century was the result of the persecution of Dutch Calvinists by the Catholic Spanish rulers of that region of Europe. The Duke of Alva ruthlessly pursued them as heretics and many of them were raped, murdered or burnt at the stake. There were two main reasons why these refugees were broadly welcomed: under Elizabeth I, England was a Protestant country and it had not long been the case that Mary I had persecuted “heretics” in a similar manner. There are several monuments to this in East Anglia, for example at Bury St Edmunds.

Memorial to Protestant martyrs in Bury St. Edmunds

The Martyrs' Memorial, Bury St. Edmunds

 The second reason was that, with their skills in weaving, the new immigrants were of immense economic value. The asylum seekers had first settled in Sandwich, Kent, in 1565, and the City of Norwich elders invited them to the city because of their renowned skills in textile weaving. Much of the prosperity of Norfolk after this period can be traced to this influx of refugees.

 The arrival of the Strangers was described by W. Moens in his book The Walloons & their Church at Norwich (1888):

 Invited by the Duke of Norfolk and the Corporation of Norwich, the strangers on obtaining letters patent from the Crown, came to Norwich in 1665 from Sandwich, where they first settled, and soon increasing in numbers restored to the city, by the manufacture of their various fabrics, that prosperity which had been lost by the ravages caused by the mortality from the black death at the close of the 14th century.

 In 1566 an accord was made by the Duchess of Parma with those of the reformed religion in the Netherlands, who, on attaching their signatures to the terms before the magistrates of the various towns, were allowed to attend the Services of their own ministers. Many returned from England to the Low Countries on this concession, but in the following year faith was broken with them, and the unscrupulous severity of the Duke of Alva’s rule caused a flight of all who could escape the vigilance of the authorities. … The details of the conditions under which foreigners were formerly allowed to settle in this country and to follow their trades are interesting and very different from the custom of the present day, when they are on the same footing as natives, but from their frugal habits are able to (and do) work at rates, which in many eases bring misery and ruin to whole districts…. The old custom of hostage, revived by the grant of 1576 to William Tipper, compelled to reside with appointed hosts who received payment for their entertainment and who supervised and received a percentage on their purchases and sales. The Corporation of Norwich purchased this right in 1578 for the sum of £70 13s. 4d., but did not exercise it against the strangers. The strangers paid double subsidies or taxes on the value of their personal property; they paid their own ministers, by whom they had to be furnished with a voucher before permission to reside in the city was granted to them, all their names being registered; they had to pay all the expenses of their churches and the entire support of their poor besides twenty pence in the pound on their rentals, towards the pay of the parish clergy. … As in the present time in London, where the old jealousy against foreigners seems to be reviving, there was always a party in the Corporation of Norwich opposed to the strangers, but the manifest benefits derived by the city from their manufactures and trade always induced a large majority of the Council to watch over and protect them.

 The strangers at Norwich from the first were placed under a strict and special rule; a book of orders was drawn up by the Corporation and settled by a committee of the Privy Council, From time to time these articles were varied, but it was not long before they were allowed in a measure to fall into abeyance, on account of the prosperity brought to the city by the successful trade of the strangers.

 Norwich was not free from xenophobia. As early as 1144, the death of a boy had led to accusations made towards local Jews of ritual murder and sparked anti-Semitic rioting. Despite the undoubted benefits that immigration had brought to the city – many of its finest buildings, for example – there was still some resentment. In 1567 the mayor of Norwich, Thomas Whall, made inflammatory statements, which sound all too familiar today, that the Walloons had “sucked the living away from the English” and greater restrictions were placed upon them. Interestingly, though, when the 16th century equivalent of the BNP tried to foment attacks on the refugees in 1570, it was the ring-leaders of the anti-Stranger faction who were executed.

 In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I made a state visit to Norwich, which appears to have been a specific attempt to demonstrate her support for the Strangers. The Dutch community presented her with a pageant and a silver-gilt cup worth £50. Although there were further difficulties and conflicts between their community and the established population of Norwich, it was probably the beginning of their assimilation and, as with most influxes of immigrants and refugees, they gradually disappeared as a separate entity. In 1633-4, the Norwich rate book listed many names which were probably Dutch or Flemish in origin, such as Vanrockenham, Vartingoose, Verbeake, Vertegans, Vinke, Dehem, Dehage. By 1830, the Norwich poll book includes very few: possibly only Adrian Decleve (goldsmith) and  John De Vear (draper).

 To this day, the people of Norfolk have profited from the labour of migrants and, even fairly recently, there have been nasty incidents such as the attacks on Portuguese people in Thetford following England’s defeat by Portugal in the 2004 European football tournament. Other foreign workers have been exploited and abused by gangmasters. Overall, however, the story of the Strangers in Norwich was a very successful one and indeed there are many historical examples of refugees, not only helping the economy but also of adding to the cultural variety and vibrancy of the communities in which they settled.

The Dutch Church, formerly AUstin Friars in Norwich

Austin Friars, which became the Dutch Church in Norwich

William Cobbett defends the labourers of Little Massingham, Norfolk in 1823

Whilst transcribing Rev. Ronald McLeod’s parish history Massingham Parva Past & Present (1882), I came across some information about social unrest amongst the labourers of the parish in 1823. Being partial, Rev. McLeod regarded the labourers as little more than criminals, stirred up by outside agitators. He concludes that “the time of disaffection was the moment of prosperity for the working class – the year in which they were in a position to purchase more meat and comforts than in any other.” Another words, they’d never had it so good.


There was more to it than that, though. Enough for William Cobbett to come to the defence of the labourers of Little Massingham in his inimitable style:

From Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, 5th June 1824:

“To Parson Brereton,

of Little Massingham, in the County of Norfolk.


“On his pamphlet, which contains, like the book of Parson Malthus, an attack upon the labourers, who are paupers only because they are oppressed with taxes.




“Your book, or pamphlet, is no more than a sort of hash of a part of the disgusting, bloody-and-raw and half-cooked mess of your brother Parson, Malthus.  Mr. Copeland has given you a complete answer; and I should not have noticed your book, had it not afforded me a fair opportunity to give a blow to a Parson; to one of that tribe, from whom I have received so many blows, and whom the whole nation begins now to see in their true light.


“Parson, your object is to prevent parish relief being given. This is your object. You and the rest of the parsons have been pushed a good deal by the rating of your tithes! This has set your wits to work; and those wits seldom travel out of the direct path of your interests. The taxes, necessary for the purposes of the parsons, have robbed, and do rob, the labourers so much, that they must get from the parish, or starve. You dare not push them to the latter.  You would not like open rebellion. Therefore, you hate the labourers. You cannot tell why; but you hate them. I will tell you why: they cause deductions from the amount of your tithes. That is the true and only cause of your hatred towards them. Your scheme would make them half-naked, like the Irish.  You forget, but you must have them shut up in their houses from sunset to sunrise, and, besides this, have a bayonet and a red coat ready at every corner of the street! You are puzzled, Parson; but, you will be a great deal more than puzzled by-and-by. You smell danger; but, I am convinced, that you have not the scent so strong as you ought to have it.


“Parson, why ought not poor labourers to be relieved? A very large sum has been voted, partly out of the taxes laid on the labourers, to relieve the poor clergy; and why should not something be given to the poor labourers?  You talk of idle labourers. Are they more idle, Parson, than non-resident parsons are?  You, Parson, have two livings yourself, I fancy, and can you take care of the souls of the people in both these parishes?


“But, Parson, I have not time now to deal with you in a proper manner.  I promise to do it shortly. I will take the side of the labourers; and if I do not place the parsons in a proper light, may I have to endure their blessings! I will show a little more plainly than you have, what it is that makes paupers: I will show, as clearly as day-light, that it is the church parsons, and the church parsons only, that have been the cause of the paupers.”