Trawling the web, as they say, I came across an entry with the above heading. My interest was further aroused when it was thought to have been located South of Leiston in the Aldringham or Knodishall area.
The investigation was taken under the headwind of Griffminsters Great Walks, which entailed a 6 mile walk around the heaths and commons of Coldfair Green, where an old winter fair used to be held on the Feast of St Andrew. Another area of interest was to locate a part of heartland that was known in the 1600’s as Friday Market Heath. The only reference to this comes from an old book from 1910 entitled The Chronicle of Theberton which details the route past the Gibbet.
Changes to Leiston’s boundary over the years had to be considered, but the investigator became confident, although it was not definitive, that the site of the Leiston Gibbet must be on the south side of the River Hundred. It was probably alongside the footpath beyond Mill Hill in Aldringham and before thus meets with Fitches Lane, which was then thought to be known as Green Way. This placed it in the old Hazelwood parish.
One story in 1606 involving the Gibbet, concerned the Browne family, when Agnes Browne was said to have murdered her husband John. It was thought, however that their servant Peter, was gibbeted for the crime.
The word ‘gibbet' was usually described as gallows, with chains or a metal cage attached, to leave the victim hanging on public display to deter others.
Born in 1921 as one of five children to Percy and Lydia Drew, Sam spent his youth in and around Knodishall where he spent his school years, along with his life long mate Teddy Gisson.
Sam became a Builder/Brick layer to earn his living whilst Ted took up a farming career, at one time they both decided to join forces and breed rabbits for their meat and pelts amongst their many juvenile adventures.
As the clouds of war in Europe approached Sam joined the army as did his two brothers Charlie became a Royal Marine, Derek joined the Royal Engineers, and Sam ended up fighting in North Africa. It was Gen Montgomery who in order to save his armoured vehicles abandoned Sam along with hundreds of his comrades in the battle fields at Bizerta, they were soon overwhelmed by the advancing German Army.
So as not to slow down, the German advance thousands of prisoners were handed over to the Italian army who unlike the Germans showed the POWs no respect, so when German mobile water tankers arrived for the Axis forces, after the Germans had their fill; they ordered the water should go to the prisoners before their guards.
The POWs were herded onto trains before being packed on ships destined for Italy.
Sam found himself in Campo 66 a transitional camp before he could be shipped to Germany, The VATICAN Red Cross were able to confirm Sam’s whereabouts to his Mother and family. It was when Italy capitulated the prison guards abandoned their posts and disappeared into the local community leaving the inmates to flee before the Gestapo arrived. Orders were issued to shoot any escaping POWs on sight; Sam was posted missing presumed dead, unbeknown to allied news service, he and fellow inmates disappeared into the Apennine mountains for months evading capture and certain death if discovered.
Eventually on reaching Allied lines American troops were lining the poor souls up thinking them to be escaping fascists, a Canadian Officer stepped in and probably saved their lives.
On returning to the UK, Sam refused the NCO stripes that were awarded to him saying he could never be responsible for sending men to certain death; He also refused to take part in the Victory Parade in front of the King in London.
Like most of his comrades he just wanted to get home and try to forget and not mention the horrors he had seen ever again. He, like many of his brothers in arms were happy to let Montgomery and those around him have all of the kudos they obviously sought.
Here are some of the many poems he sent to his mum during his incarceration:
April 13th 1943
Another campaign is over
Another battle won
No more do we hear the cannon
Beneath the African sun
But do not let this victory
Dazzle to much our eye
And make us forget our comrades
Who now in Africa lie
Those men with whom we soldiers
In blood and sweat and toil
Must now stay forever
Enriching African soil
Each one a bit of England
And so they remain
Never to be forgotten
Until we meet again
There are many kinds of sorrow
In this world of love and hate
But there is no sorrow greater
Than a soldier for his mate
I wonder how you felt when that message came
Your Son “missing in the field” defending his countries name
Did you find it hard to believe as you slowly read each word?
And then pray to the Lord above your womanly courage stirred
I somehow imagine that you did as you played your motherly part
And faced the world with a smile
And an ache deep in your heart
LOCAL NEWSPAPER REPORT 1943
Coldfair Green Man
LIVED 9 MONTHS IN THE MOUNTAINS
Pte Samuel Drew of Bedwell Cottages, Coldfair Green has now been repatriated from Italy, where he has been a prisoner of war since the fighting at Bizerta, where he was captured by the Germans and handed over to the Italians.
Drew, who was with the Beds and Herts., was formerly employed by Messrs. Smyth Bros builders of Leiston. With some 3,000 other prisoners, he escaped when Italy capitulated and succeeded in escaping detection after living in a mountain village for nine months.
Whilst under the direction of the Italian partisans he helped the peasants in forming themselves into a Patriot Band, and conducted guerrilla warfare behind the German lines “The Padre,” says Drew," was a wonderful man,”
He got arms and ammunition from unknown sources, and even an electric wireless set which proved a god-send to us, until the Germans cut the electric cables.”
The Italian peasants who were very hard up for food, were willing to share their last crumb” with the escaped prisoners many of whom were re-captured by Fascists who once came very near to retaking Drew who was only saved by lying for some hours in deep snow.
Throughout his period of freedom Drew was with a Yarmouth man who was a prisoner with him at No.66 camp.
Back in civvy street Sam picked up the life he had left off over those turbulent few years He resumed his courtship with his sweetheart Winnie who had done her war work in the Marconi factory in Chelmsford.
They married in 1948 Sam moved from his home in Coldfair Green to Aldringham, to set up home
The family grew and grew 7 children in total. I will never forget what joyful time Christmas was Sam, would decorate the room after all of us kids were asleep in bed. Waking up Christmas day and the excitement as we all took our present into mum and dads bed at silly o’clock.Mum and dad making dinner, dad would have jellies lined up in individual trays, the turkey the tinsel, the games we would play after tea, wet flannel fights brilliant fun and memories.
No television, in those days just the light programme on home service radio listening to sing something simple, the Billy Cotton band show, and the black and white minstrel show. Oh magic memories, sitting round the radio, although working as a builder with Steers, Smyth’s and most of the building firms in the area, Sam would love going up to the River Hundred (the Cottage)where he would work as a gardener handyman for his close friend Brig David Reid, the Brigadiers family thought the world of Sam so much so when he died they dedicated a wooden bench bought in his memory, and placed it over looking the swathes of lily of the valley he planted, and would always bring mum a bunch, it being her favourite flower.
During those long summer Sunday afternoons mum would walk us all up to the cottage to visit Patrick the pony and the three donkeys, we would run and play around the grounds and explore the outbuildings, but only when David’s family were not there, as we walked along the road mum had a small transistor radio hanging on the pushchair handle, we would stop and have a chat with Roy and Derdan Catchpole a really nice couple and good friends of mum and dad.
We would all as a family including my Nan walk to Thorpeness to enjoy a paddle in the sea although dad tried to discourage us from being to brave in the water, because his sister had lost her son to sea when he waded out in a low tide onto the sand banks and disappeared from view only to be washed up ashore a day or two later, I don’t think dad could ever really get his head around this tragic event.
Sam would always be building trailers for his bicycles, he would put us four elder kids in the trailer and cycle along with mum down to Aldeburgh to enjoy the carnival and fun fair when we had gotten home and had our supper he and mum would return to the funfair on their own, leaving us kids with nana.
He loved the motorbike scramble/hill climb at Mumberry hills he would put me on his crossbar seat and cycle with my siblings to Westleton to enjoy watching the likes of Dave Bickers and Geoff Smith racing their machines around the course, just like they did on the TV. which was a recent addition to our household on the proviso that we kids gave up our numerous comics so the money would pay the TV rental, Oh boy did he like the wrestling on Saturday afternoon, most of the radio shows we enjoyed moved over to TV plus he did enjoy watching Come Dancing.
The family would secretly dread when the Sprats and Herring were plentiful, Sam would bring them home by the bucketful (literally) the odour of the fish cooking would hang about the kitchen for ages.
He was well proud when I was a Cadet in the Air Training Corp our Squadron was chosen to parade for the Royal visit to Aldeburgh both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh present so he made sure my appearance was up to scratch Collars pressed badges and boots shining Beret on straight and ready for inspection he was in his element.
I remember the times I would help my dad do jobs around the village, he would borrow a tractor and trailer and collect any tree that had blown down, and we would bring it home and cut it up with a large bow saw, He was so chuffed with his first chain saw, I would then stack the logs in the wood shed for the winter, I can still remember the smell of that old shed, one of many he had built in the back yard, along with the dog kennel and rabbit hutch thinking back that hutch could have been an extension to the house, not forgetting the chicken run, my sisters collected the eggs, poor old mum had a phobia about the chooks. And would run a mile if they ever escaped.
Sam became the caretaker down at the Primary school until it closed being replaced by a new primary school in Knodishall, Brother John and I would go and help him on alternate nights, as he would do a day’s work. Then clean the school in the evening, this being before the “NEW” Toilet blocks were added, before that they relied on the ‘bucket and chuck it’ method. The new school year starting in the autumn was time to build fires in each of the class room grates for the coming winter that would mean going down to light them at 5 am each morning.
As the years went by Sam’s failing health started to show following a visit by the Doctor ‘No more heavy work and grow old gracefully!’ was the advice given but of course that wasn’t Sam he simply took over the shopping and chores around the house.
I will never forget the tender side of dad especially when brother John passed away in the middle of the night in the bed next to me, dad came into the room and held him as he died, and he sent me down the hill to phone the doctor, we had no phone in the house at that time I remember the rain lashing down as I ran to get help.
He and mum enjoyed their time together in their retirement, especially the Mystery tours, they both enjoyed having the grandchildren around them on Saturdays Mum would spoil them with dinner, Sunday morning would find Sam cooking full English for the mates and friends who stayed over or came early to enjoy a bacon butty, the family all agreed mums Sunday roasts were legendary.
Mum and dad did so enjoy having the family around them, sharing their love, the old house was never empty with the cats the dogs and budgies all of who were spoilt silly.
He loved the brand new bicycle we bought him, probably the first new bike he ever had, he made it clear when it was his time to go to his maker he wanted Teddy to have his bike and best chainsaw.
It was as if he knew his time was nigh against advice he cycled up to the cottage where a massive heart attack took him from us, he died in a place he loved and created and I’m sure Sam knew this was imminent and he would have wanted to save mum from all of the upheaval and heartbreak at home.
The Thorpe Fisherman's Bethel Hall was erected and given to the village by the Gannons of Stone House, Aldringham in 1890. It stood on the existing car park to the south of the Thorpeness Emporium, not far from where the Heritage Group intends to site a permanent centre.
In the 19th and early 20th century, Thorpe had a thriving fishing industry with 25 boats owned by families including Ralph, Harling, Alexander, Easy, Fisher, Westrup, Wilson and Dansie. According to the reminiscences of Harold (Hal) Neave, whose family lived in a cabin on the beach, the services in the Bethel went with a swing, led by the Moorehouse family who arrived in two 'gypsy looking caravans' with the Mild May Mission to convert the fishermen. Hal Neave described the caravans drawing into a hollow close to the cabin:- 'In the caravan was a stout man and a worn looking little woman, two grown sons, a girl in her teens and another girl about our age. We watched from a distance: the older girl stood in the doorway and juggled two water tumblers, throwing them up and catching them alternately. Jack, the oldest son, was a carpenter. They first built a reading room on the other side of the Alexanders' house, then a Bethel on the Meare side of it where religious services were held.' After the Moorehouse family had left, the services were carried on by the different denominations in Leiston. Hal Neave's father occasionally took the services 'with Joe Harling on the fiddle, sawing away with his beard getting in the strings and the bass fishermen's voices roaring out 'Jesus Saviour, pilot me', 'Will your anchor hold' and 'We are out on the ocean sailing'.' It is hoped that the proposed Heritage Group Hut will prove to be a worthy successor to the Thorpe Bethel on the car park site which once resounded to the fervent singing of the local fishermen and their families.
'DOORS LOCKED AND VANDALS RAMPAGE IN SUFFOLK RESORT'
The above was a headline in the East Anglian Times dated Monday October 12th, 1981. It was reported that about 100 young people, from the Leiston area motor cycle group, were holding a disco at the Thorpeness Working Men's Club (now holiday homes). About 150 youths from rival groups, apparently intent on a confrontation with the Leiston group, attempted to gatecrash the disco but were banned from admission. This resulted in the Club, the Dolphin Inn and other properties and cars, including a police car, being damaged with windows and windscreens shattered and a telephone kiosk wrecked as the group went on the rampage. The Dolphin's landlord, Mr Alan Strong, locked the doors to the Inn to protect his customers, who sat out the disturbance for over an hour. Mr. Earnest Middleditch, steward of the Working Men's Club described the event as 'stupid and pointless'. The disco had been running for years and had never caused any trouble. Policemen, who had no protective equipment, had to dodge various missiles with two officers suffering minor head wounds. It appears that the police had some prior knowledge of Thorpeness being targeted and visited the village to warn residents of the danger. Detective Inspector Dave Moss reported the next day that a number of youths were being held in custody and we're still being questioned, admitting there were a lot of people to be seen. I would like to give my thanks to Sue Allan for providing me with the relevant newspaper coverage and relating her own memories of the incident.
Nigel Durrant and his account of the founding of the Marmalade Club
On a beautiful bright sunlit morning in July 1969 Peter Sneath called down the stairs to us: “Get up you boys! We’re taking the Persephone”, his 35 foot wooden built Dutch schooner down to Orford with Commander Taylor the owner of Drum Maid, a 38 foot fibre glass Camper & Nicholson sailboat We arrived at Slaughden Quay, meeting up with Mickey Steene and Neville Bromwich. The journey was delightful, with the weather as only the River Alde can be on a fine bright day. There was enough wind to sail well, with beautiful views of the pastures and the ripened corn. On arrival at Orford Quay Peter announced that he and Commander Taylor were meeting David Crockett and Jerry O’Donovan at the Jolly Sailor for a quick “pinkers”, saying to us boys “There’s plenty of beer in the fridge, back in an hour” Three hours later I noticed the three gentlemen walking towards the quay, arm in arm, giving the locals matey churchillian farewells Peter Sneath said, “Get ready to sail you boys, and Nigel, go down and make one of your special french salads for lunch”. I was making the nicoise when suddenly there was an almighty bump, we had gone aground. As it happened a stream of pink gin came down the galley hatch, missing my lips by inches. Peter Sneath said, “Bit of a problem here. You boys dive off and push the boat off the mud” All of us being products of a public school education in the fifties, we taught to blindly obey anyone six months older than us, so we duly dived off into the thick dark Suffolk mud, up to our shoulders. As we were laughing and giggling in the mud a local fisherman was on the bank and shouted, ‘You boys are stuck on the Marmalade. You little boys all be Marmaladers!” The club was duly formed and the first formal event was a dinner at the Plough and Sail in Snape. Edward Heath, the then Prime Minister, the Duke of Edinburgh and Sir Francis Chichester were all invited. They all replied on their formal notepaper, stating that they would have loved to attended but due to prior engagements were unable to do so, wishing the club every success Little did they know that the club then went into a period of total mayhem, appearing in Hoxne Magistrates Court for endangering the lives of people on a public service vehicle, Stradbrook Magistrates Court for shooting decorated pigeons. Having massive escargot fights with the Boulogne Sur Mer Gendarmarie, with Monsieur Ticket, the patron of Cafe Alfred screaming “Le club Confiture tout les personnes est maniacs!!” Falling asleep in the lifeboats of the P&O ferry service from Calais to Dover, only to find ourselves back in Calais! The dinner itself was a total catastrophe. The Commodore had invited a gentleman who had travelled across the Atlantic by sailing boat (whose name I cannot recall) to make a speech. He got his paperwork muddled and started to read a letter from his wife saying she had left him. he then burst into tears and a lump of hot coal was put on his beer. The rest of the evening descended into total madness After some time, Mick Cowlin took over some of the running of the club. His gentle ways and sensible attitude changed the Marmalade Club into the organisation it is today. He sorted out the finances which meant that Messrs Durrant and Sneath could no longer go into Soho clubs late at night, demanding the bill be sent to the Marmalade Club. He motivated the cub to change the Ball venue to the Meare, and is responsible for making this club such a success. I personally have many memories of crazy times, and thank the Marmalade club for keeping my teenage attitude up to the age of Seventy! With the younger members taking up responsibility and running the various events of the year, in liaison with the Officers, I wish the club every success for the next one hundred years.
Although Joshua Chard was not born in Suffolk or of Suffolk stock (he came here to live with an aunt at the age of three in 1815) we claim him as a true Suffolk hero. He lived on the Aldringham fens at Stone Cottage and as a young man was apprenticed as a carpenter at Smyth’s of Leiston. Soon however the pull of the sea became so strong that he was to give up his apprenticeship and with the princely sum of 50 shillings (£2.50) bought his first boat and became a longshoreman, this entailed filling his boat with supplies (food etc.) and rowing out to bigger boats in the Aldeburgh and Sizewell bay. His knowledge of this part of our coast also made him popular with local smugglers and he had many a close shave whilst avoiding the excise men.
As time went on and probably funded by these ‘shore line activities’ he was able to buy bigger and faster boats. Being an opportunist and seeing a gap in the market arming himself with a book on piloting and some sea charts covering our coastline down as far as the Thames Estuary he set himself up as an unlicensed pilot. This was much to the annoyance of Trinity House who supplied, at a price, a licensed pilot to navigate our dangerous coastal waters. It is noted that from time to time he was brought up in front of Newson Garrett in Aldeburgh who was ruler of the local licensed pilots and given a warning to stop these illegal activities. Undeterred though he continued carrying out his ‘piloting duties’ and saved and salvaged many a boat and its crew along the way.
Soon saving lives and salvaging boats were making him famous and in 1869 after losing his own boat a public subscription was raised headed by the Bishop of Norwich and other prominent locals to raise the sum of £200. This was to build him a 28ft. craft at the Aldeburgh boatyard of Hunts that was suitable for fishing as well as lifesaving. Mrs. Margaret Ogilvie presented him with the new boat, which was named ‘Rescue’ and 5,000 people came to Sizewell beach for the launch. Up to that time Joshua had saved no fewer than 109 lives. During his career, it was noted that he had piloted over 100 boats to safety. This is thought to be a record unsurpassed by any other longshoreman in Great Britain. Joshua was to lose his own life on December 21 st 1875 at the age of 63, after safely piloting a boat down the coast to Gravesend. It was on his return journey, and virtually home that his own boat, the ‘Surprise’, was found unmanned and full of water and his body was later washed up on the beach at Thorpeness. Sadly, for a man who had saved so many lives no one was there to give him a helping hand when he needed it most. His grave, in St. Andrew’s church yard, Aldringham can be found quite easily by standing with your back to the 2nd World War Memorial that is set into the south wall of the church. Take 12 to 14 paces into the graveyard and stretch out your hand and you will almost touch a weathered stone cross, and at the base of the cross and only just visible, his name, Joshua Chard.
The following are a number of random memories by some people in the village who, without exception, have recalled Hetty and her shop with a smile.
Hetty lived in one of the South Cottages in The Dunes area of Thorpeness, a little lady with metal rimmed glasses. The shop consisted of one small room containing a large table and numerous boxes around the room and they progressed up the stairs as well. This gave the appearance of chaos but Hetty knew exactly where everything was. During the warmer months pots of tea were sold from a small table in front of the shop.
Sweets, tobacco and general haberdashery were sold and she was renowned for expecting, even requiring, politeness from her customers, especially the children. When they wanted to buy sweets Hetty would form a cone out of newspaper to sell the sweets in. One lady remembered her mother insisting that she only bought individually wrapped sweets because, as the shop did not have running water laid on, Hetty's hands were not always as clean as they could be. Another person remembered being sent to buy elastic, Hetty stretched it out first before measuring it, obviously keeping an eye on the profit margins.
In her later years she used a magnifying glass to identify the coins being paid to her. She lived to the great age of 88 and died on January 28th 1962. She is without doubt one of those memorable characters who has contributed to the special history of Thorpeness and is buried in St. Andrew's churchyard.
Whilst finding this picture of Hetty’s house TAHG committee member Hilary Chandler added the following memories of her own…..
Here’s a photograph of the tiny cottage where she lived, hers being the end one to the right. I remember she was very small in stature and quite bent over and she would sell stuff on a Sunday that was not usually allowed like washing powder which had to be put in a paper bag to conceal it! The cigarettes were kept on the little stair-case that appeared when she opened what looked like a cupboard door in the kitchen and she sat in a big old wooden chair covered with cushions in the corner of the front room which was the shop itself. Surrounding the chair on shelves were old fashioned jars of sweets ready to be got down and weighed out on the scales.
Thorpe, or Thorpeness, is now a busy seaside resort with a club house and all the up to date amenities.
When I was a boy it was just a small fishing village between the Commons and the Sea.
The Neave cabin stood alone. It had one front room, one bedroom and a small kitchen, and there was a lean-to pony stable on the back. Later on, the building had another bedroom added making the front elevation look like an inverted W.
In the eighteen seventies, there was a scourge of smallpox in Leiston. Father with a family of small children was very alarmed, so he bought a small lumber building from ‘Grandfather’ Bicker who had been a ship’s carpenter. As a youth, he had been a shepherd’s boy in this district and had often been awakened at night to drive his flock of sheep along the sandy lanes behind the smuggler’s carts to cover their wheel marks.
The building was at Sizewell and Bicker used it as a workshop, and Father had it converted into a dwelling for his children and their nurse. After the smallpox had disappeared it became a holiday cabin for our family. Other people caught on to the idea and so several cabins appeared on Sizewell Bentlings.
Mrs Ogilvie, the Lady of the Manor, whose residence overlooked the cabins, objected and turned them off with the exception of ours which she offered to move to any other site on
her property. She had her men load our one roomed cabin onto wheels hitched to horses to
take to the site that father decided on. Father was wise and chose a site just outside Mrs
Ogilvie’s bailiwick in the municipality of Aldeburgh.
The boundary was marked by the piece of an old wreck dug into the sand and leaning at an angle of forty five degrees, so the cabin was dumped just on the Aldeburgh side of this mark and a small bedroom and kitchen added and in it our family spent most of their holidays running barefooted amongst the fishermen.
The Cabin was on a rise with the sea in front and behind a tidal mere fed by the Haven and bounded on the landward side by the high earth dykes.
A narrow wooden footbridge crossed the Haven and joined a path that led on to the cottage and windmill where the Aldeburgh Crag Path began.
Ben Harling had a little grocer shop in Thorpe village a quarter of a mile from the cabin where we spent our pennies on candy and pop. The nearest house to ours was the Alexander’s untidy dwelling about one hundred and fifty yards away and facing the sea.
There were several fishermen’s ‘shods’ along the shore where they kept their nets and boat gear, fastened on the outside walls of the shods were strings of drying flatfish to be used for crab-pot bait. There were no other cabins so we were pretty much alone surrounded by sandy dunes called Bentlings covered with a very coarse grass and whin bushes. There was bedstraw convolvulus and lots of other wild flowers, while nearer the shore grew the
sea-holly and horned poppy. The shingle whin bushes and sea-holly were very hard on a
child’s bare feet which toughened up till the soles got as hard as boards and when school
started getting a shoe on was quite a painful business.
Soft water was collected off the roof in barrels, but drinking water was rather a problem and was carried from a well on the Common by a fisherman’s wife who used a wooden yoke across her shoulders with two pendant chains on which hung two pails. This lady stood inside a wooden hoop that rested on the top of the pails up to their bail handles so
spreading them apart and preventing them from swinging on her legs. We went easy on the water which had a very strange taste to it.
The Cabin bathroom facilities were pretty primitive but we didn’t need much washing as we were in and out of the water most of the time. The W.C. was a small building in the yard with a galvanised bath under the seat that had to be emptied into a hole dug underneath a whin bush darkly at the dead of night.
One time in my youth when I had a date to meet a girlfriend amongst the whin bushes I was elected to take one handle of the bath and the shovel and I believe that was the quickest funeral that ever was, but I got through undetected with romance unblemished.
The lean-to stable had sand for the floor and ‘Rosso’, father’s driving horse, would dig a
hole in it every night that had to be filled up.
The cabin faced east towards the sunrise and in the mornings when the door was opened the sun poured into the room with the smell of the sea that swish swished as it licked at the small shingle on the beach.
The ships were mostly sailing ships or paddle wheelers that you heard going ‘thump, thump, thump’ as you fell off to sleep.
But the Meare was the greatest attraction. It spread up to the Leiston Road and was held in bounds by an earth wall that was generally used as a footpath. A wide ditch led into the mere that nearly reached up to the cabin with bare squares of hard mud alongside where
the turf had been removed and in which samphire grew.
The main channel of the Mere ran inland and underneath the Great Eastern Railway arch and washed over the back road to Aldeburgh under a little wooden bridge and then in a wide ditch across marshes and commons towards Coldfare Green. The water was salty and muddy and we messed about on it and in it and knew every inch of it and generally got home mud up to our eyes.
Mother didn’t mind the water but hated the mud, so if I was too muddy I would often climb into the soft water barrel to get the worst off when no one was looking, but if Mary was in charge I went in mud and all.
Very few visitors came along, just a few people for a swim on a Sunday. Ben Marling had a bathing machine on wheels that could be shoved out or pulled in as the tide dictated, and this my mother and sisters used when they wanted to bathe all clothed in heavy serge garments with white braid trimmings. The bathing machine had a long rope on each side so the ladies could walk out with it beyond the breakers and jump up and down.
My earliest recollections of bathing is being carried out by either my mother or a sister with
promises that they wouldn’t duck me - and then getting totally immersed.
The old yawl was beached in front of the Cabin; and a stove-in ship’s boat with ‘Trixiwee’
painted on her stern.
There were no other houses until a large stone and concrete dwelling named the ‘Haven House’ was built close to where the Haven ran into the sea. It was some distance from the Cabin so didn’t bother us much: we still thought ourselves and the fishermen owned Thorpe. Then it happened and progress butted in with an old railway carriage dumped where Seacote now stands. It had a corrugated iron yard built onto it and belonged to a man named Tarrel. They were quite nice friendly people but Mother was furious and we looked upon them as intruders.
Close to the Cabin was a hollow known the ‘Hol’ where we played cricket and rounders and
one day two gipsy looking caravans were drawn into it and Winnie and I were most
intrigued. In the caravan was a stout man and a worn looking little woman, two grown sons, a girl in her teens and another girl of about our own age. We watched from a distance: the older girl stood in the doorway and juggled two water tumbler throwing them up and
catching them alternately.
We ventured to become acquainted and found the outfit to belong to a Colonel Moorehouse with the Mild May mission and had come to Thorpe to convert the fishermen.
Jack, the oldest son, was a carpenter. They first built a reading room on the other side of the Alexanders’ house; then a Bethel on the Meare side of it where religious services were held.
Jack went to work for Botwright at Aldringham and then came home and built the ‘Shanty’ next door to the Cabin on the Thorpe side. The fat Colonel got up a cricket team and played proper cricket with the village boys with pads and all accessories and the reading room had magazines and newspapers.
The services in the Bethel went with a swing and even after the Moorehouses had left they were still carried on by the different denominations in Leiston. Father would take the
service occasionally with Joe Harling on the fiddle sawing away with his beard getting in the
strings and bass fishermen’s voices roaring out ‘Jesus Saviour pilot me’, ‘Will your anchor hold’ and ‘We are out on the ocean sailing’. Father used to say this was his favourite hymn.
After the Moorehouse’s departure, Thorpe started to settle up. A London jeweller named Cross came and built a real house with concrete foundations and a well. He was a very generous man and gave the fishermen watches and rings. The weekend parties there were pretty lively, one of the sisters had no legs and when the family went swimming one of the brothers would carry her down and dump her in the sand like a sack of coals. Mr Cross bought a small steam launch in London and took Alfred Alexander up with him to bring her down to Thorpe but somewhere off Felixstowe she caught on fire so Mr Cross and his small son swam ashore leaving Alfred who couldn’t swim with the launch. Alfred got the fire extinguished and they all continued on to Thorpe Haven where all the inhabitants had gathered to watch them come in.
The sand bar at the Haven mouth was too shallow for them to come in, so she had to be dragged across the bar with a rope and beached just inside the Haven mouth close by the Haven House. She was a nice little craft with a nice cabin with a small piano in it and a collapsible dinghy on her deck. That was her final resting place. She never went to sea again, she just lay there and rotted away and years after I gave her boiler a poke with a walking stick and it went right through.
Mr Cross also had a beautiful little canoe on the Mere that sailed like a charm and Harry
Harling, then a boy, could really sail her.
Then all the Crosses disappeared and we heard that he had gone broke and the house changed hands.
Most of the fishermen had two boats, a large one around twenty feet long used for dragging a trawl and a smaller one for attending their lobster pots.
I would sometimes go out with Alfred Alexander or William Marling and his partner Harry Spindler. Alfred bought himself a brand new boat, all a yellow varnish, she was twenty feet long and cost him one pound per foot, that was over sixty years ago and she is still in use on Thorpe beach with an engine in her.
It often puzzled me how in a fog they located their own string of corks marking their pots
and find their way home again without a compass. I don’t think any of them carried one.
The lobsters were measured on a piece of stick and the small ones thrown back; they often gave me some small ones to take home. The crabs had little wooden pegs driven into their claw sockets so they couldn’t nip, and the lobsters were kept in a floating box called a cauf and this was anchored close inshore until it was time to ship them.
The coastguard station was on a low cliff overlooking the Ness and once in a while they would all turn out dragging a cart up to where a high pole stood dug deep into the sand on the Bentlings. The cart was stopped about one hundred yards from the pole and a rocket would be fired at the pole carrying a light cord, then some of the men stationed beside the pole would haul in the cord to which was attached a double rope which was rove through a block at the top of the pole and a ‘britches buoy’ which was a pair of pants inside a round lifebuoy. This britches buoy ran on the double rope. A man would climb the pole and get inside the buoy and be hauled along the rope to the cart, the men alongside the cart would run out and grab him and drag him up to the cart and roll him backwards and forwards in a blanket and then give him a good swig of brandy. This practising life-saving was good fun watching.
Ted had a duck punt (that he had made himself) on the Mere and afterwards I had a small skiff, and I thoroughly agreed with the water rat when he told the mole ‘There is absolutely nothing more worthwhile doing as simply messing about in boats’.
The Haven was a favourite spot to swim in, and one time a lot of our friends were swimming there when along came one of the Leiston Geater girls with her small sister to join them for
a swim, so I sailed then up to the Haven in the skiff, and when the boom came over the little girl started to howl. Years afterwards she became my wife, and I have often teased her about our first boating trip.
Mrs Cleveland lived in a cottage close to Harling’s shop and kept geese on the Bentlings. The geese’s home was an old inverted boat resting on sod walls and full of fleas. She knew Grandfather Clark when he was at Dunwich. Her cottage had a spare bedroom that we rented when the Cabin was overcrowded.
William Alexander lived next door to the Cabin and was coxswain of the lifeboat that was kept in a shed half way between Thorpe and Sizewell. He had all kinds of medals for life saving and could tell some really good smuggling yarns. He couldn’t swim and one time when the lifeboat capsized on the shoal and I asked him how he got ashore he told me that he walked along the bottom.
His shod was full of nets and boat gear, and was between his house and the shore, it was a great place to sit in and yarn and the strong smell of Stockholm tar and Irish twist tobacco made a lovely overall aroma.
When Alfred Alexander and his brother Armond came in from a night’s fishing they wouldn’t sleep on the nets but straddle a hard bench with both feet on the floor then lay back and go to sleep and I used to wonder why, until I realised that was the way they slept on the thwart of a boat.
Alfred gave up a lot of his fishing and gillied for one of the young Ogilvies looking after his guns and taking him wildfowling on the Marshes. He owned a clever little English black spaniel that was always with him. The fishermen were very poor and glad to make an extra shilling wildfowling and selling the birds at Leiston work’s gates on a Saturday noon when the men were paid.
Old William’s gun was a single barrelled muzzle loading fowling piece. One autumn when he took it off the hooks, he didn’t think it was loaded and held the nipple against a candle and blew down the barrel with no result - it was blocked up. Then he put a percussion cap
on the nipple and snapped the hammer and off it went taking the back off a chair and all his
old lady’s geraniums off the window sill on to the beach.
When old William was too old to cox the lifeboat, young Ogilvie appointed William’s son Alfred in his place and the crew were sure they would most likely have elected Alfred anyway but objected to having him wished on them, so next time the gun went off at the Coastguard Station signalling a wreck and all the young folk for miles around ran to the lifeboat shed to help launch the boat, there was no crew; only the Coxswain had turned up.
He collected a scratch crew mostly of young men from Leiston works. The boat was run down on greasy skids. There was a kedge anchor out at sea with a rope ashore which was a running block with a short line attached to the bows of the boat to hold her bows into the breakers. The crew in cork life belts took their places and everyone shoved taking her right out till all the helpers were wet to their middles, and the boat floated clear and the oars dipped and took over.
There was a lot of bad feeling about the crew not turning up, and the next time there was a wreck the crew did show up but there was an ill feeling and fighting amongst themselves over the lifebelts so after that the Lifeboat Association took the boat away.
This boat was what was called a surf boat, propelled with oars or two sails, a lug and a misson. There had previously been a self-righter that if capsized righted herself, but the men didn’t like her; when I asked them why they said they wanted one that wouldn’t turn over at all.
The Aldeburgh surf boat did turn over on the shoal and came ashore upside down with all her crew inside; the onlookers jumped on her upturned bottom with axes and cut a hole and dragged out the crew all of whom were drowned. They were buried in the church graveyard next to our school playground at Aldeburgh.
Starting school from Thorpe was a painful job trying to get shoes on to feet with soles like boards.
The old Cabin still stands looking like a poor relation amongst sophisticated surroundings. The Mere is now an artificial lake, the Haven is filled up, and the old wooden footbridge, with the newer traffic bridge, have disappeared. The Alexander’s house, Marling’s shop and most of the ‘shods’ have gone. And my old fishermen friends - Alexanders, Spindlers, Marlings, Ships and Easys - have gone to pluck on ‘Golden Harps’ and no doubt feel like Kipling’s mariners whose hands were rough and tarred and the tune somewhat hard and wanted their sea back again.
Well, so long and good luck to them all
Hal Neave, 1883-1967
The Neave family
Hal Neave’s father had at least 8 offspring, the eldest born in 1867. Hal Neave married a Leiston girl and emigrated to Canada. In old age he visited England a few times to see amongst others Dick, who lived near us (see below) where as a boy I remember meeting him.
The family was Quaker, and as such knew other Quaker families including the Headleys of Ashford Kent. Quite what the connection was I don’t know, but in due course two of the sisters, Bertha and Wini, married two of my grandfather’s brothers and so moved to Ashford.
Dick (1872-1970) became a pharmacist and practiced in Witney until retirement, when he moved to Kent to be closer to relatives. His first home there was just a few hundred yards from where a nephew of his farmed; and we lived a few hundred yards in the opposite direction. I never knew him well - as a boy I was always a little in awe as he was very deaf and one had to shout into an ear trumpet. In the late 1950s he moved to Ashford, but after a year or two decided to return to his roots, so moved with his one remaining spinster daughter Mary to Leiston. When asked a while later what his next move was going to be, the sardonic reply was “I think my next move is going to be underground”, but that didn’t happen until he reached the ripe age of 98.
Another brother emigrated to Australia. One of his daughters, Mary, returned to England and subsequently married one of my father’s brothers, so ensuring convoluted blood relationships between Neaves and Headleys.
There’s one reference in Hal Neave’s memoir to ‘Mary’. She was a local girl who was
‘rescued’ from apparently unfortunate circumstances and lived with the Neaves for the rest of her days, ending up with Wini in Kent. She brought up three generations of Neave children and became enough of a member of the family to be buried in the Quaker burial ground in Kennington, Ashford despite not being a Quaker.
There are also references to the Harlings, local fishermen. Harry was still fishing when my father was a boy, in boat registration no IH146. He was born at 1 Beach Cottages, but when getting married moved to the other end of the street - but home-sickness got the better of him and they moved back in again some time later. On occasion HH took my father out on his boat - it’s said that on one such occasion when it was a bit rough HH pronounced that my father was ‘proper tarned up’ by the time they got back. He also mended the boys’ model yacht when it needed attention. One way and another the boys formed a fond attachment to HH, and my father carried on calling in on him until HH died, I guess some time in the early 1960s.
The Neave-Headley link ensured that the Cabin was available to Headleys for use. My grandmother took her 5 offspring there during the 1920s (my grandfather didn’t much care for such a lowly life style and if he came at all would stay at the White Lion). Later on, my mother brought Peter and me there every Easter from 1950 (but as it was lambing time on the farm at home my father rarely made it).
During the war the area was threatened with invasion, so the beaches were cleared and mined. It didn’t seem a good idea to keep paying the ground rent on a hut that couldn’t be used and was likely to be flattened, and the then-owners didn’t. The result was that when the 99 year lease expired in (I think) 1976 the family were not in a strong position to keep it on. Mrs Wentworth refused to renew the lease and demanded an exorbitant price for the freehold, the result of which was that the family lost the Cabin, which lay derelict and looking very forlorn for a decade or so before the Wentworths finally sold it into private hands. It’s now very different to the rather primitive hut that I remember very well.
The eldest of the Neave children, Lydia (‘Lillie’, 1867-1958) and her husband Alfred Deane owned (built?) Seacote (next door to the Cabin) which then passed to Wini’s family. I’m not sure of the history; but, as with the Cabin, that too was lost to the family during the 1970s.
Max Headley, 2011
I wonder what it is about the local environment that has engendered such innovative (or dare I say indulgent?) architecture within this relatively small coastal parish? Notwithstanding the playful designs of G S Ogilvie, F Forbes Glennie and W G Wilson for Thorpeness, Cecil Howard Lay FRIBA is responsible for some highly unusual and delightfully quirky buildings in and around Aldringham. Cecil Lay was born in Aldringham School House in 1885 and spent most of his life in the parish. Although Lay is best known for his architecture, he was an equally talented artist and poet. Full details of his life and work, including a splendid film made in 1964 and presented by the broadcaster Lance Sieveking, are available on the parish website.
The most prominent of Lay's buildings is the late Art Nouveau house Raidsend (now Aldringham Court Nursing Home) which was designed for his widowed mother in 1912. This building shows the influence of William Morris and Edward Lutyens with inspired touches all of Lay's own. Hidden away on the common to the south of the B1353, is a
remarkable group of houses comprising Colts Hill, Pantiles, Pan Cottage, Bird's Farmhouse
and Fen Cottages.
Another one of Lay's architectural surprises is the seven-bay, brick, nominally Neo- Georgian, former Providence Baptist Chapel (now a private house) on the common to the north of the B1353. It has three tall round-arched windows to either side of a three-bay porch and the seven bays are separated by giant pilasters whose capitals and the frieze between them is chequers of brick and stone. I will not forget my amazement at encountering this classical, essentially urban edifice emerging from the heathland as I walked over the common towards The Follies.
The existing chapel, which was erected in 1914-15, replaced a much plainer building of 1812. The old chapel was far more restrained and traditional in design, with two front entrances leading into small vestibules giving access into the chapel and galleries by separate doors. The sittings were within high box pews and across the front of the chapel on either side of the pulpit were rows of two-seat pews; the one nearest to the pulpit being reserved for the appointed Deacon who announced the hymns. The galleries were on both sides and at the rear, one side being reserved for the Sunday School scholars. The seating capacity was about 800, which was well occupied during the 19th century but was totally inadequate for special occasions such as the Sunday School Anniversaries.
The old chapel was illuminated by a chandelier of oil lamps hanging from the centre and smaller oil lamps hung on the walls. Outside the chapel was an enclosed burial ground, a thatched-roofed stable on the east side and a well on the west side. Despite the chapel's isolated position, it was within view of Stone House, a gentleman's residence to the rear (north) who owned the land bordering the chapel. He was so annoyed at the prospect of a Conventicle barely visible from his drawing room that he planted a screen of fir trees to hide the chapel from view. Additions to the old chapel were made over the years and it was reconstructed in 1856, but by 1914 it was considered unsafe and demolished. Lay's chapel was erected on the same site, but with the pulpit on the east side instead of the north side as in the old chapel. Fundraising over the previous eleven years resulted in a tender of £1,228 5s 6d from Mr. G A Smyth, a Leiston builder, being accepted in March 1914. A
large congregation of Strict Baptists assembled on April 5th 1915 for the opening of the new chapel, which was named 'Providence' as an outer token of the Providential care and guidance that had led the worshippers to that day.
This article would be incomplete without a glimpse of Cecil Lay's diverse creative gifts. He travelled to Belgium and The Netherlands to study painting, becoming a close friend of Frank Brangwyn who influenced his work. He also corresponded with the poet Ezra Pound. As a Suffolk countryman, Lay was a keen observer of nature and made a detailed study of the behaviour of his pet tortoise, discovering that it performed a ceremonial dance after emerging from hibernation. He submitted his observations to the Illustrated London News, 4th July 1953, less than three years before he died on 6th February 1956. Cecil Lay is buried in Aldringham churchyard with his wife Joan, who died in 1980.
The Shellpit Cottages were built in the 1870's by instruction of Margaret Ogilvie to provide a healthy environment for children displaced from Ipswich. The cottages are named after crag pits mined for their fossil shells which were ground up and given to chickens as a cheap form of calcium feed to harden their egg shells. I understand that, at some time in their history, part of the cottages were used as a laundry, however by the 1930's they comprised of 7 dwellings with number one being a tied cottage occupied by the Estates game keeper and his family. The rest of the cottages were rented out. During the Second World War the cottages were severely damaged when a bomb exploded close to them and the occupants were evacuated. The army then took over the area using one of the pits to conceal battle tanks. Over the years the pits have been filled in and are overgrown, although at least one remains with its attendant spoil heap. The area with its heaths and woodland is now governed by the RSPB and the Shellpit Cottages are privately owned holiday lets.
Robert Charles Wilson
A Very Interesting Thorpeness Personality
A very interesting personality in Mr Robert Charles Wilson, was buried at Aldringham churchyard on Monday afternoon. Better known as “Keedive,” Mr Wilson, who was 81 years of age, died at his home at Thorpeness the previous Friday. “Keedive” was a born sailor. At the age of eleven he went to sea in the Aldeburgh cod smacks, and it was the Harwich men who gave him his nick-name when the cod smacks used to take live fish back to that port. He was one of the last remaining Thorpeness
Lifeboat men. “Keedive,” who was always fond of a joke, and amused hundreds of people with his songs, step-dancing or mouth organ solos, sang his favourite song “One of my homesteads I can see,” a few hours before he died. It was his wish that he should do so, and he expressed one other- that an anchor should be placed on his grave, and one of the wreaths was in the form of an anchor.
The paragraph above was taken from a newspaper cutting, probably the Leiston Observer, in 1951.
Robert Charles was baptised at Aldringham on 10 September 1871. He was grandfather to Russell Middleditch to whom the photograph belongs and shows “Keedive” outside the Dolphin Inn sometime in the mid-1930s.
Unprepossessing Structures or Officers' Quarters?
These 16 single-storey, black weather-boarded properties are often the subject of speculation by visitors. From the privacy of my garden hedge, I have heard various suppositions: railway carriages? Fishermans’' huts? post-war pre-fabs?
Well, this is Thorpeness and they were actually former officer's quarters from the First World War aerodrome at Hazlewood. Money was tight after the war and G Stuart Ogilvie had the ingenious idea of re-cycling the timber huts to provide accommodation for visitors and estate workers. George Cook, who was the Company Secretary, recorded details of all the properties in the village including The Uplands, in a large ledger, complete with photographs.
The Uplands were built on Thorpeness Common in 1919-20 and the architect is unknown but was probably H G Kemp advised by G S Ogilvie. The properties varied in size to sleep 3, 5 or 8 persons and internally all walls were of soft or concrete blocks and the roofs of ruberoid. The timber components were carted from Hazlewood by steam tractor or horse and cart by employees W Vincent, T Easter and R Wolf. According to size, costs were: Nos. 1, 2, 12 & 12A at a total of £2,200; Nos. 3, 5, 9, 11, 14, 15 & 16 at a total of £2,318; Nos. 4, 6, 7, 8 & 10 at a total of £2,185.
In November 1940, a string of 28 bombs fell across Thorpeness, commencing in the channel to the Caribbean Sea and falling on 6 Lakeside, No. 5 The Uplands, across the cricket field into the area north of the sports field. No. 5 The Uplands was flattened but fortunately no one was injured. It was completely rebuilt by W C Reade of Aldeburgh under architect J Adams in 1951 to a higher standard than the original.
Although the Thorpeness Conservation Area Appraisal (2010) describes The Uplands as 'comparatively basic and unprepossessing structures' they are acknowledged as 'an important feature, not only from an historical point of view, (appearing as a fore-runner of the sort of accommodation provided at the mass market holiday camps built years later) but they also contribute to the essential character and appearance of the Conservation Area
(Historic photographs by kind permission of Mrs H Chandler from the George Cook collection).