Mail-out Malady strikes again -and why e-mail has its advantages: Mary Rawitzer
Apologies to those few people who received their August Newsletter with a 2p instead of a 2nd class stamp. We’re still arguing about whose fault that was. Easily done -if you can ignore the difference in colour and what it says on the stamp. Compensation for added postal charges available by application to e-mail address below.
Now some 10% of our members and other Newsletter recipients are getting it by e-mail we would like to remind anyone else thinking of entering the internet age more fully that the Newsletter can be sent to them by e-mail instead of snail mail, with the added bonus of photographs likely to be included shortly. Just dropme a brief word: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lecture Series 2010 – 2011
Tuesday 12th October sees the first of our winter lecture series. This will be given by Raksha Dave and is entitled “Behind the scenes on Time Team”.
This is followed on Tuesday 9th November by David Divers with “Archaeology and the Olympics”.
Lectures are held in the Drawing Room at Avenue House, 17 East End Road, Finchley, N3 3QE, and start promptly at 8 pm, with coffee/tea and biscuits afterwards. Non-members: £1. Buses 82, 125, 143, 326 & 460 pass nearby and Finchley Central station (Northern Line), is a short walk away.
Looking at Finds Course
We are pleased to report that our weekly Practical Course in Post-Excavation Studies is fully subscribed .
Ruth appeared occasionally at our lectures and some of our outings, including last year’s trip to Hereford. Always very quiet, she never talked about herself. We knew so little about her. Attending her funeral, we found out so much more. Ruth came from a strong Jewish family, visiting her sister each Friday evening. She had for many years taught junior school children. She also played a part at her synagogue, including giving Hebrew lessons, and undertook other duties. She still played golf and tennis regularly and also played the piano. She was clearly much respected and much loved by her family who, with her friends, filled the synagogue at Hoop Lane.
Sunny Hill Park & the Borough of Hendon at War Gabe Moshenska & Stewart Wild
Compared to some councils in the 1930s, the Hendon Council arrived rather belatedly at the realisation that air-raid shelters would be required for the population in the event of war. While some councils took the bombing of Barcelona in 1936 or the Munich Crisis of 1938 as an urgent impetus to provide air-raid protection, shelter construction in public spaces in Hendon appears not to have begun until mid-1939. In April of that year the Council voted to reject a resolution, proposed by Southall Council, to push for the construction of deep, bomb-proof underground shelters. These had proved their worth in the Spanish Civil War, and a number of reputable engineers and scientists such as Ove Arup and J.B.S. Haldane were pushing for a British equivalent, particularly in dense urban areas. Elsewhere in London the pursuit of this enhanced protection in the interest of their residents, and in defiance of central government, led to legal actions against the Borough of Finsbury and some of its officers.
However, by 1939 the threat of war appeared more urgent, and by the end of May that year shelters were under construction in eight parks in the Borough of Hendon, and the Home Office had promised funding of £24,207 for shelters to accommodate some 12,000 people. It was planned that these would be built of corrugated steel with concrete walls, covered with a layer of earth for enhanced blast protection and located around the edges of local parks.
By mid-June of 1939 the shelters at Sunny Hill Park had not yet been begun, and elsewhere shortages of materials were holding up the construction process. In August of the same year the Council put the construction of shelters in public spaces out to tender, and accepted the bid of Rigg & Remington Ltd to build shelters of a capacity to seat around 12,000 people at a cost of £37,500.
The Council was obliged to provide shelters for ten percent of the resident population of the Borough: approximately 17,000 people. The initial plan laid out in early September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war, was for this to be divided up: 3,400 people would use the Council-built shelters from the first stage of construction, while another 1,500 would use empty shops in the Borough that had been converted into reinforced shelters. The remaining 12,000 would be accommodated in the shelters to be built by Rigg & Remington Ltd.
Shortly afterwards, as the urgent construction of shelters around the country put a strain on concrete and steel resources, these figures were revised: shop shelters would now house 5,000 people while another 2,950 would use the small number that Rigg & Remington had produced up to that point. It was decided that another 5,650 would be housed in surface shelters that would be built out of bricks and mortar -a more plentiful resource at the time. The fluctuating availability of metal frameworks from Steel Ceilings Ltd caused these plans to be revised repeatedly over the following few months.
In October 1939 heavy rainfall caused flooding in some shelters in the Borough, and the sloppy cleaning and maintenance of shelters by park staff became an issue of concern. Park keepers reported that on their early rounds at 7am there were still too many people sleeping in the shelters, so that cleaning had to wait until later in their working day, by which time many were reoccupied.
Construction of shelters continued through this period; shortly after the war began land next to St Mary’s
Church of England School on Church Terrace was requisitioned for the construction of a school air-raid shelter. By mid-March 1940 the Council recorded that all planned trench shelters in the Borough had been completed. The shelters in Sunny Hill Park can thus be dated with reasonable certainty to the period mid-June 1939 to mid-March 1940.
The construction of shelters was only one of the impacts of the Second World War on Sunny Hill Park: in October 1940 the railings around the children’s playground were removed for recycling to aid the war effort.
Many parks were turned over to agricultural uses: in the spring of 1941 land in Sunny Hill Park was allocated to form 31 allotments, while in November 1942 a standpipe was installed near the allotments at the request of residents. Several parks in Hendon were used for grazing animals, and in 1941 Mr Hinge of Church Farm applied for grazing permission on Sunny Hill Park. His application was refused, but a compromise was reached in which for an annual fee of £15 he could cut and remove grass from the park for animal feed. This arrangement was renewed annually through to at least 1947. In the summer of 1941 the 10th Company of the Home Guard laid a telephone cable along the eastern side of Sunny Hill Park, linking their depot on Great North Way with their headquarters, the location of which is unclear. By this time the war had transformed Sunny Hill Park from its pre-war role as a venue for public meetings, theatre, music and play, into a part of the Home Front: stripped of its iron and hay, and dug up for planting and for air-raid shelters. Our question was: what traces remain of these wartime uses?
Thus it was that in 2009, following a successful summer dig in the grounds of Church Farmhouse Museum, HADAS in conjunction with University College London’s Department of Archaeology decided to ask permission from Barnet Council to carry out an investigative dig on some strange surface structures (including what looked like the top of a filled-in concrete staircase) almost completely covered by nettles, brambles and ivy in nearby Sunny Hill Park.
Gabe Moshenska is a Research Fellow at UCL, with a particular interest in World War II archaeology, and Stewart Wild is a member of both HADAS and Sub Brit (Subterranea Britannica), so we agreed to remain in touch and to call on Sub Brit’s resources and expertise as required. (Sub Brit is a society devoted to the study and investigation of man-made and man-used underground places.) Barnet Council’s Parks Department granted permission for the dig and cleared away a massive amount of undergrowth and the local residents’
association was enthusiastic. It was agreed that digging would start on 12 July 2010 for a maximum of two weeks under the direction of Dr Moshenska.
It was soon realised that we were dealing with probably five parallel rectangular sunken structures, each with a stairway at one end and overgrown square concrete-capped brickwork at the other, the latter presumably some sort of alternative exit shaft to each shelter.
Digging commenced at the first staircase that was partially visible and necessitated the removal of a large quantity of rubble and earth, along with bits of rusty corrugated iron. It took four days hard work to reach the bottom of the stairs, at a depth of around three metres and to clear a way around the brick blast wall, which was in remarkably good condition.
Entering the shelter itself, Dr Moshenska was delighted to find that it was more or less empty of rubble, only slightly damp, and contained a few rusty artefacts -buckets, scrap metal, electric cable and suchlike -and a small amount of graffiti.
At the far end, a decaying vertical metal ladder looked up to the sealed surface hatch that had served as an emergency exit alongside a brick wall whose purpose was to screen off a compartment for a chemical toilet. There was no evidence of chairs or benches, and seemingly no holes in the walls to which benches might have been fixed. There was, however, a row of widely spaced holes centrally along the roof of the shelter perhaps
to secure a central dividing screen.
With limited time available it would only be possible to enter two of the five shelters and a decision was taken to try to smash the heavy concrete cap off the exit hatch of shelter number three. After a lot of hard work by students and members of HADAS this was achieved on Sunday July 18.
Shelter number three was, unsurprisingly, very similar to shelter number one. It contained some post-war debris -beer bottles and rusty cans for example -which were believed to have been left by persons unknown who had broken in, perhaps in the 1960s, before the Council had finally covered the hatch with a thick layer of heavy concrete, like an enormous mushroom. The dimensions of the two shelters were almost the same: 18.23m long (net interior of 14.40m excluding the staircase), 2.14m wide and 2.00m high. On the wall of each shelter could be discerned the remains of a wartime poster -perhaps listing the rules of the shelter and
public health matters. It may be possible to identify the original wording from archival sources.
On Thursday 23 July the staircase of shelter one was backfilled and the concrete cap replaced on the hatch exit of shelter three. Barnet Council has agreed that one of the shelters can be preserved for future visits and further study, and the concrete cap of the emergency exit of shelter three has now been replaced by a welded hatch secured by a padlock. We have to thank Middlesex University for this and for their interest in this aspect of local history; their predecessor, Hendon College in nearby Greyhound Hill, is known to have been the HQ of the
Home Guard in WWII.
The finds are being recorded and evaluated, but in the meantime one piece of ‘treasure’ arrived from an unexpected source. A local lad, six-year-old David Wolffe, told us he had found an original wooden sign that had once pointed the way to the shelters.
It is in remarkably good condition for a wooden artefact seventy years old, and bears rusty nails and holes that seem to indicate that it may have found later use as part of a fence. David had discovered it hidden behind a hedge near his house on the edge of the park The splendid sign will be incorporated, along with some of the finds, in a display later this year at Church Farmhouse Museum, Greyhound Hill, Hendon NW4 4JR www.churchfarmhousemuseum.co.uk
350 years at Church Farmhouse Museum Jim Nelhams
On 19th August, Gerrard Roots presented an entertaining lecture to the London, Westminster and Middlesex Family History Society at Lyonsdown Hall, New Barnet.
Gerrard explained that the exact date of the building was not known – the first reference to it is in 1680, but it must be slightly earlier than that. So 1660 had been chosen, hence the celebration of the 350 years Gerrard himself has been curator for 31 years, and was only the second holder of the job.
Hendon appears in the Domesday Book, though the church is not mentioned. The manor was held by Westminster Abbey and after the dissolution was passed to the Herbert family – who were the Lords of Powys. Most of the manor, but not Church Farm, was sold in the 18th century to David Garrick, who built Hendon Hall, now a hotel, but there is no evidence that he ever lived in Hendon – he had other houses in London and at Richmond.
The farmhouse passed through various hands and in the early 19th century it was a hay and dairy farm owned by Mark Lemon. His grandson, also Mark, was the founder of Punch magazine and a blue plaque on the front of the museum notes this connection.
The building became the museum of the London Borough of Barnet in 1965 and is the smallest London Borough museum – in the largest London Borough. As well as static displays, it hosts exhibitions, often based on private collections, and of local interest – from teddy bears to traction engines. It is important for a local museum to bring local interest to the wider context.
The building is listed – Grade II -and structurally very sound. It stands as a reminder of the very recent rural past of the area.
“Things” come to the museum and documents and art go to the borough archives.
Gerrard’s talk ended with a demonstration of a number of unusual artefacts.
(Note – an exhibition is planned at the museum in 2011 to mark HADAS’ 50th anniversary)
HADAS at Friary Park Centenary Don Cooper
This year is the centenary of Friary Park in Friern Barnet Lane and there have been lots of events celebrating the opening of the park in May 1910. But the culmination of the celebrations was at the Friern Barnet Summer Show which was held on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd of August. David Berguer, the chairman of the Friern Barnet & District Local History Society, kindly invited HADAS to partake in the celebrations. A marquee called “Past, Present and Future” financially supported by a grant from Barnet Council was provided, and a table in the marquee was assigned to HADAS. This annual summer show attracts a large number of visitors (although numbers were down a little this year). HADAS set up the table with posters and photographs of recent excavations, books for sale and membership forms. Many visitors asked questions about our excavation (in conjunction with UCL) of the air-raid shelters
in Sunny Hill Park in July and told us many tales of their experiences during the war. It was interesting that some of the visitors thought that we only covered Hendon and did not realise that our remit is to the whole Borough of Barnet. The Mayor of Barnet, the Deputy Mayor, Chipping Barnet MP, Teresa Villiers, and many local councillors, including Kate Salinger (councillor for Coppetts ward, which includes Friary Park), visited and were interested in the work we do.
Events like this are invaluable in promoting HADAS and the work we do and my grateful thanks go to Vicki Baldwin (who laminated the poster and photos and spent a full day with us), Bill Bass (who answered the visitors’ questions over the two days), Peter Nicholson, Peter Pickering, Eric Morgan and my wife Liz (who set up the stall and did lots of fetching and carrying).
Enquiries Through Our Website Jim Nelhams
We receive a number of enquiries from people who find our website. Most of these are from abroad and refer mainly to Hendon rather than our broader area.
One recent question was regarding a Belgian soldier whose death was reported in Hendon in 1941. The soldier was named Amédée Van Ingelgem. A copy of his service records showed that he had died from tuberculosis at Colindale Hospital on 16th September 1941 and had been buried at Hendon Park Cemetery on 23rd September. Could we find the grave and provide a photograph?
Hendon Park Cemetery is now called Hendon Cemetery and is in Golders Hill Road. A visit there confirmed the burial and that there was no headstone. Disappointment! However, a note next to the record showed that after the war, on 13th October 1949, the body was exhumed, to be re-buried in the Belgian Section of Brookwood Military Cemetery near Woking in Surrey. This information was fed back, and within 24 hours, our correspondent had a photograph of the new grave and gravestone courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Job done.
We currently have three further inquiries ongoing, two from Australia. More of those in a later edition.
Hephzibah Revealed Jim Nelhams
In the newsletter in January 2006, I noted that, when investigating Jo’s family history, we had discovered that Jo’s great grandfather, William Willows, who spent all of his life in the Cambridgeshire village of Coton, had not one, but two marriages. His first wife had died in 1843, but had left a daughter named Hephzibah, who seemed to have been raised by her maternal grandparents. Her existence had been totally unknown to any of Jo’s family.
We discovered that in 1875, Hephzibah had married a William Williams. In 1881, the couple were living near Wakefield in Yorkshire where William was working on the railways. At the time of the 1881 census, they had two children, Ethel and Sidney. But then we could find no trace of the family after that date. In April last year, I was able to continue the story, as we had found emigration records showing their arrival in Sydney, Australia in 1883. Using the internet, we had been able to contact a gentleman named Norman Dyer, Hephzibah’s great grandson. Both Hephzibah and her daughter had died at Gosford, some 60 miles north of Sydney, close to Norman’s home.
Jo and I had planned a long holiday for the beginning of 2010 and in particular, we wanted to visit Jo’s niece in New South Wales. This would also give us the chance to meet Norman and visit Gosford, and perhaps find some more information. We sorted out dates and booked all the flights. Before we could book hotels, we found out that the niece would be in Ealing at the time of our visit, and separately, Norman invited us to stay with him for the three days we had allocated, and also offered to guide us around the area. So what did we find?
Most of the immigrant voyages are well documented. We saw that Hephzibah’s voyage from Plymouth aboard the Ellora (P & O Lines), took 75 days. Daughter Ethel celebrated her sixth birthday on board. There was also an outbreak of measles and croup, so that when the ship arrived at Sydney, it was quarantined for several days.
From newspaper archives, we found that, after arriving, William and Hephzibah had run a boarding house at Millers Point in Sydney, close to where the Sydney Harbour Bridge now stands. At some stage William became the farm manager of a fruit farm at Gosford owned by Mr Jesse Dyer, who also had a provisions shop in George Street, Sydney supplying the ships in Sydney Harbour. As the farm produced oranges and lemons, needed to guard against scurvy during voyages, it is likely he was selling his own produce. The shop building is in a preserved area known as “The Rocks” so it still exists, though it is now a branch of Burberrys.
Jesse was at this stage married and his first marriage produced 7 sons, 4 of them dying in infancy. After his first wife died in 1901, he passed control of the shop to one of his sons and retired to his farm. In 1903, he re-married. His new wife was Ethel, Hephzibah’s daughter, with whom he had another 5 sons, including Norman’s father, John Willows Dyer, Willows being Hephzibah’s maiden name, and Jo’s also. While in Gosford, Norman took us to the “Pioneers’ Cemetery” where we found the grave of William and Hephzibah, so we had now traced her from cradle to grave.
But one surprise remained. On the following day, we went to visit Duncan, Norman’s cousin and another of Hephzibah’s great-grandsons. Duncan’s father had died in 2008, and when his house was cleared, they had found 4 large framed photographs – Jesse Dyer, Ethel, one of their sons, also named Jesse, AND HEPHZIBAH. Her photo was probably taken around 1905, and we could see the resemblance between her and her half-sisters, of whom we already had photographs. Norman and Duncan were both pleased to learn more about their ancestors, and to share their information.So the hunt continues, and together, we are now trying to establish Jesse’s origins.
Norwich 2010 Jim Nelhams
Our long trip this year was based in Norwich at the George Hotel. The hotel is part of the Arlington Group within Best Western Hotels. It is situated close to the A11 about 1 mile west of Norwich Castle. The hotel proved ideal for our group of 36 plus our coach driver, Dave. It gave us comfortable accommodation, and provided us with breakfasts, evening meals and the sandwiches for our packed lunches. Other packed lunch items had been provided by a Barnet greengrocer (fresh fruit) and newsagent, whose supplies included bottled water from ICENI WATERS Ltd. This did not seem to carry any royal warrant from Queen Boudicca.
During our planning, a number of themes emerged, linking together our various stops.
The North Sea provided good access to Norfolk for the Romans. But the area around Thetford was possibly the residence of Queen Boudicca (Boadicea), and it was inhabited by the Iceni. A hoard of Roman coins and other valuable items was discovered in Thetford in 1979.
The main Roman town in Norfolk was established at Caistor St Edmund (Venta Icenorum). On the coast, Roman Saxon shore forts were built at Caister on Sea and Burgh Castle to protect the access inland along the river Yare.
Norwich Castle and Cathedral both date from Norman times. We saw the remains of Cluniac Priories at Thetford and at Castle Acre, which also boasts a Norman Bailey Gate and a motte-and-bailey castle. And Wymondham Abbey, which survived the dissolution, was originally a priory founded in 1107
Our trip included the Ancient House (museum) in Thetford and the Merchants’ houses in Great Yarmouth.
Wind and Steam
We visited the Charles Burrell Museum in Thetford for traction engines. We took a steam train ride from Dereham to Wymondham, followed by a visit to the Forncett Steam Museum for static steam engines. And we visited Berney Arms Windmill, by boat (sorry -the boat was diesel powered).
And of course, the odd church (and pub) thrown in for interest.
Over the next few months, the Newsletter will carry notes written by a number of our pilgrims, covering our stops. If these catch your attention and you would like more information, perhaps to visit yourself, please get in touch with me and I will try to help. So off we go —
West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village Don Cooper
Our first visit of this holiday was at West Stow in Suffolk. This site, on a low hill near the banks of the river Lark, was occupied from Mesolithic times to the early Anglo-Saxon period but was abandoned in the 13th century when sand blows buried the farmed land. It was excavated in the 1960s. The excavations indentified the remains of an Anglo-Saxon village and produced a great many artefacts both of pottery and metal. Many of these artefacts can now be seen on display in the Anglo-Saxon Museum and some in the little museum by the visitor reception. However, for nearly the last 30 years the site has been used for experimental archaeology. As the original village structures were built of wood, all that was found in the
excavations were the post holes and beam slots. Based on the lessons learnt through trial and error, as well as evidence from elsewhere, constant reconstructions have been taking place to try and establish how an Anglo-Saxon village and its building structures might have looked in the early medieval period. Most of the latest reconstructions are on the footprints of the original buildings whose traces were found in the original excavations.
After our arrival (in our enormous Red Chariot!), we assembled in the site’s education room for an introductory talk by Hannah Simmons the resident experimental archaeologist. We were shown a video designed to recreate the atmosphere and location of the site in its original time and landscape and then off we went to explore the site. As it was a Bank Holiday weekend re-enactors and experimental archaeologists were demonstrating their experiments in the various houses, which enabled us to ask many questions and proffer and discuss our ideas.
After exploring the reconstructed buildings and garden plots, packed lunches were eaten in the picnic area outside the visitor centre in the sunshine. The café on site also so did a good trade in teas, coffees and cakes! The café overlooks a RSPB sponsored bird-feeding point so that those bird-watchers amongst us could eat their food while observing the wild birds. There are also bird hides around the site. To work off the food, many of us explored the walks and trails around the site. These include a nature trail, (West Stow is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)) and a lake walk around the large artificial lake created from gravel extraction pits by the river Lark. Then at about 13.30 we reassembled in the education room for a twenty
minute question and answer session with Hannah. This session produced fascinating answers to our questions, demonstrating, if that were needed, the important role experimental archaeology plays in helping us to understand the way our ancient ancestors lived. Having thanked Hannah and her colleagues, we rejoined Dave, our enormous Red Chariot driver, and set off for Thetford.
The Charles Burrell Museum Andy Simpson
On a drizzly afternoon in Norfolk, and as a definite contrast to a morning spent in early Saxon England, what better place to visit than here, to be welcomed by friendly volunteer staff and the evocative smell of steam and warm oil – one of the exhibits, a road roller, was still in light steam having run into the museum earlier that day. The independent Charles Burrell Museum – see www.culture24.org.uk/se000137 -opened in March 1991, and is housed in the original Burrell Works paint shop on Minstergate, just a five-minute walk from the ruined Priory. Though containing three of the renowned Burrell traction engines, including a
magnificent showman’s engine that used to power pre-war travelling fairs, complete with electric dynamo on the front, the museum is strong on local and social history. Full prominence is given to owners and workforce, including the many women workers employed during the Great War, as well as the devastating effect of the protracted wind-down and final closure of the three-acre works in 1930 on the local community, as internal combustion engines replaced steam. Before that, some 4000 stationary and road engines had been built there and exported around the world, including specialist showman’s, ploughing, and road tractor types. Happily, many survive in preservation and can be seen at vintage rallies throughout the UK and beyond. Other products, such as agricultural equipment, are covered, and there is even a link to the RAF
Museum at Hendon, as both the Grahame White factory at Hendon and the Burrell paint shop have timber ‘Belfast’ roof trusses. A nice exhibit is the sparsely equipped contractor’s ‘living van’ towed by engines when out on the road or working on farms etc. After a thorough inspection of the displays, HADAS members dispersed to inspect several other Thetford sites of interest.
Walmington on Sea -and The Ancient House Jim Nelhams
On our way to The Ancient House, Jo and I took a small diversion along Bridge Street to cross the splendid iron bridge dated 1829 which crosses the river close to the confluence of the Thet and the Little Ouse. Just across the bridge, we found a life size bronze statue of Captain Mainwaring seated on a bench and posing for a photograph with Stewart Wild.
Thetford, and the surrounding area, was used for much of the filming of the Dad’s Army television series and has a small museum dedicated to the subject. See www.dadsarmythetford.org.uk for more information. This museum is also manned by volunteers and, sadly, was not open at the time of our visit. So back to The
Ancient House – the Museum of Thetford Life. Like Church Farmhouse Museum this is a museum about Thetford and its past, and is inside an old building. Approaching the entrance to the house/museum, which dates from around 1490, lurks a surprise. Modern technology automatically opens the front door for you. Just one illustration of the wide spread of years on show. The house itself is worthy of study, with carved ceilings and some of the original walls showing how they were constructed.
The building became a museum thanks to the beneficence of a local resident. Maharajah Dulip Singh was the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab. When he gave up his kingdom and the Koh-i-noor diamond to the British in the 1840s, he moved to England, where he befriended Queen Victoria. He settled with his family at Elveden Hall near Thetford. His second son, Prince Frederick, bought The Ancient House and paid for it to be restored, before presenting it to the town in 1924 to be used as a museum. Being a local museum, it aims to help local schools with displays, including a 1901 kitchen.
Although the Roman hoard discovered in 1979 is in the British Museum, there is a display giving information about it. There is also a small collection of ornate clay pipes, not to mention a large carved narwhal tusk.
Thetford’s position on the old London to Norwich Road means that many travellers have passed through, some without stopping. The Romans were here. So, it is said, was Boudicca with her tribe, the Iceni. Clearly the Normans came – building the Priory.
The Cluniac Priory of Our Lady of Thetford Vicki Baldwin
Lowering skies and intermittent rain accompanied our visit to Thetford Priory. Although enough remains of the walls for one to be able to discern the differences between the buildings, there is little standing to any great height save the remnants of the west towers, a portion of one side of the east window frame, the façade of the Priors’ Lodgings and, in a separate area in the garden of a private house, the gatehouse. Nevertheless, there is still an overwhelming sense of the power and prestige that once was attached to this place. The gatehouse in particular seems especially imposing, representing as it does the threshold between the life the monks led and that of the ordinary people.
The Priory was founded on the north bank of the Little Ouse at Thetford in the early 12th Century by Roger Bigod. He had been allowed to commute a vow of pilgrimage to the Holy Land by using the money to found a monastery. The Abbot at Cluny was unable to send monks from France for the new establishment, but welcomed the addition of a daughter house and asked for a yearly payment in recognition of its dependent status. In 1104 the Prior of the Cluniac Priory at Lewes sent twelve monks, with Malgod as their Prior, to Thetford to form the new community. The foundations of the new Priory were laid in September 1107 and Roger Bigod is reported to have died eight days later. By 1114 the community was able to move
from its temporary residence in the cathedral church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
The plan of the Priory follows the conventional layout of a monastery. Buildings are arranged round a cloister with covered walkways on its four sides. These include the church, chapter house, refectory and first floor dormitory. In addition there is the infirmary with its own cloister and the Priors’ Lodgings. Brewhouse, bakehouse, store rooms, kitchens and granaries are among the other buildings that would have supported the daily life of the community. Alterations and extensions to the buildings continued throughout the life of the Priory and it is known that the nave was not completed until at least 60 years after the monks took up residence. The impressive gatehouse was a 14th Century addition, and the remains of the Priors’ Lodgings (which have recently undergone conservation work) clearly show the many changes in building style over several centuries.
The Cluniac order followed a rigorous interpretation of the rule of St Benedict. The Divine Offices and Mass were celebrated every day. There were two meals: dinner at late morning and a lighter supper in the early evening. The timing of these meals meant that there was approximately seventeen hours between the last meal of one day and first meal of the next. However, Cluniac houses were amongst the finest and most influential in Europe. The Priory church at Thetford was one of the most impressive with two towers flanking the west façade and two rows of massive columns dividing the interior.
One way of ensuring a good income was to have relics with proven efficacy. In the 13th Century a craftsman had a dream that if he could cause a Lady Chapel to be built at the Priory his ailment would be cured. Once the Prior had been persuaded to have the chapel built, it was necessary to install an image of the Virgin Mary. Wishing to minimise costs, rather than commissioning a new statue the Prior selected one that had come from the temporary home of the community when it was founded. When the statue was cleaned a large collection of relics was discovered in a compartment behind a hitherto unnoticed silver plate. Within a fairly short period of time, at least three miracle cures were credited to the statue and relics, making it a
popular place for pilgrims and increasing the income of the Priory.
At the time of the Reformation, although the Duke of Norfolk, then patron of the Priory, petitioned Henry VIII with his proposal to turn the Priory into a church of secular canons with a dean and chapter because members of his family and indeed the King’s natural son were buried there, his request was denied and the Priory closed. The buildings swiftly fell into decay through disuse and the subsequent reuse of the materials for other buildings. The Priors’ Lodgings continued as a private residence for another two centuries but were recorded as a roofless ruin in the 1820s. Later in the 19th Century the remains of the Priory were
incorporated into the grounds of Abbey House as a romantic ruin. Now the site is cared for by English Heritage and has information boards detailing the main areas within the Priory. And I suppose it has once again become a place of pilgrimage for those interested the history of the
area as well as a convenient location for dog owners to exercise their canine charges.
And so on to our hotel.
2011 – Isle of Wight? Jim Nelhams
Jo and I have been looking at the option of a trip to the Isle of Wight in 2011.
Possible places to visit include: –
Isle of Wight Postal Museum
Brading Roman Villa
Fort Victoria (including maritime archaeology museum)
Burgh Castle and lighthouse (by boat)
Calbourne Water Mill
Arreton Church and shipwreck museum.
And on the mainland –
Portsmouth Naval Dockyard including
•The Mary Rose Museum
(The Mary Rose is closed until 2012)
Our trips to Hereford last year and to Norwich have shown that hotels can work and fit to our ideas. We will need to find a suitable hotel on the island. We are also looking to move the date of the trip to mid-September which would save costs for members. Ferry and hotel prices drop once the school holidays end.
We would welcome other suggestions or comments.
Talk by David Robinson at Bishopsgate Institute
“The Weasel”: Some Incidents in the life of Chief Constable (CID) Frederick Porter Wensley (1865-1949).
A talk at the Bishopsgate Institute on Tuesday 26 October by HADAS member David Robinson.
David has been working on an extensive archive pertaining to the life and times of Wensley for some years. This talk is to mark the occasion of its permanent deposit at the Bishopsgate Institute (see http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/). The event will start with tea and coffee at 5pm, with the talk taking place between 5.30 and 6.30. Please note that these timings are provisional. Any member of the Society is cordially invited to attend.
Note: Frederick Porter Wensley was born near Taunton in Somerset but came to London at the age of 14. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1888 and spent the first 25 years of his career as Constable, Detective Constable, Detective Sergeant and Detective Inspector, successively, in the East End of London. He was involved in dealing with a number of the major causes célèbres of the period including the Sidney Street Siege. On promotion to Detective Chief Inspector, F.P.W. was transferred to Scotland Yard where he served until 1929.
London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Local History Conference.
The LAMAS 45Local History Conference will take place at the Museum of London on Saturday 27November from 10 am to 5 pm. The headline for the conference is “London Under Attack: Wars and Insurrections”
The lectures scheduled are:
•Enclosing Londinium, the Roman Landward and Riverside Wall – by Harvey Sheldon (our
•“Londoners at Arms” from the Viking Wars to the Wars of the Roses – by John Clark, Curator
Emeritus, Museum of London
•Revival, Division and Restoration: The Artillery Company of London, 1611-1660 – by Ismini Pells, Honorable Artillery Company
•London’s Citizen Soldiers, 1757-1908 – by Peter Boyden, National Army Museum
•First World War in Sound and Film, from the Imperial War Museum Archive – by Dr Cathy Ross, Director of Collections & Learning, Museum of London.
There will also be displays of work and publications by Local History Societies.
Tickets cost £10 and can be obtained from Pat Clarke, 22 Malpas Drive Pinner, Pinner, HA5 1DQ, or from the LAMAS website www.lamas.org.uk, or on the day. Refreshments can be purchased in the Museum restaurant and a picnic area will be available if you take your own food.