Looking at Gravestones

Gravestones can be one of the most interesting and informative objects that we family historians can find.

Most Churches are lovely to walk around and to feel at ease in, just being in a Church makes me feel peaceful and relaxed. To visit a Church that was used by my ancestors is always a very special event for me. Just thinking that my own family walked up that same pathway and through that same doorway into the same building and worshipped in that space is just mind-blowing. The Font in my local Church has the date 1603 on it and one of my ancestors was baptised in that very Font in 1620. Just think, those numerals were fresh when that event took place! Subsequent family members were baptised in that Font (not me though as I was baptised in the Methodist Chapel) and numerous members of the family have married and been buried in the village before and since.

Funnily enough though, there are very few Memorial Inscriptions (MI’s) to my family in the grave-yard, we were mostly from Agricultural Labouring stock and obviously didn’t spend the few pennies earned in the fields on memorials!

One of the best MIs I have seen was during a transcribing project I helped with in another local Church-Yard. I joined with other members of a local Family History Society and, luckily, I was given an area to “do” and I came across this stone much to my excitement. It was to a Crimean Veteran and his Army career as well as some details of his time in the Police force were noted on his memorial. I duly took down all the information and we decided that this was a good project for the Society to carry out more research on. Some other members and I set about finding as much as we could about this man and what a journey that was.

Norfolk Crimean Veteran

John Griffin's Grave-stone in Beetley Church-yard

 

From just one small insignificant stone in a mid-Norfolk grave-yard, we now have the story of this one man from his birth in bastardy, his service record, the details of where he fought and what was going on at those battles, his injuries, his marriage, his joining the Police force (with his signature on the form), his death and his wife’s subsequent marriage. Not only that, but we also found that his mother and her husband emigrated to Australia and we have a lot of information about the family in Australia.

All that stemmed from just one little stone in a Church-Yard in Norfolk.

Next time you are looking around the stones in a grave-yard, keep a good look out, you never know what you will find.


The Norfolk Coast

The Norfolk Coast, not just a kiss-me-quick hat and sandcastle destination.

Cromer
Cromer

When people think about the English sea-side, they often picture the brash, noisy resorts which were popular in the sixties, a seaside vacation can be that, but it could be so much more. The joy of the English coast, is that there are so many types to choose from. There are sea-side resorts, where you can go and play bingo, buy candy-floss and kiss-me-quick hats, spend your time on the beach and fairgrounds and live on fish & chips and do-nuts, but there are also idyllic fishing villages, with quiet creeks where you can go out to see the seals or go sea-fishing for the day. There are beautiful little pubs where you can try the local delicacies of crab or samphire and eat fish that were caught that very morning. There are nature and birding reserves, as well as many places to photograph or paint.

I will just go around the Norfolk coast with you, stopping off at a few places, to whet your appetite!

King's Lynn Customs House
King’s Lynn Custom House

Starting at King’s Lynn, an important large town, with a port and quayside that has been a of activity for over a thousand years. With buildings including medieval Churches through C16th and C17th Town Hall & Customs House to Georgian and Victorian shops and houses, right up to date with a modern shopping centre. The journey into town on the ferry, for some fantastic views and wandering along the cobbled streets, gives some idea of how our ancestors lived.

Castle Rising Castle
Castle Rising

A little way along the coast, we come to Castle Rising. Although it is now inland, originally it was near the coast and was a very important port, but the Castle here is well worth a visit.Once home to Queen Isabella who murdered her husband, King Edward II, it is now open to the public and a great place to see just how some Medieval Castles worked.

Just up the road from Castle Rising, is Sandringham, but that is covered in another of my articles. HERE.

As we go along the coast road, although it is inland now, we pass Norfolk Lavender at Heacham. This is where lavender is grown, milled and turned into hundreds of different items and it is amazing to see how the process works. Next along the road is Hunstanton, a sea-side resort, made popular in Victorian times and still popular with families. Fairground, candy-floss, caravans and fish & chips, are all available here, as is crazy golf and strolls along the cliff-top.

After Hunstanton, we get into the countryside, lots of little villages and marsh-land, ideal for bird-watching and quiet walks. We go through several places called Burnham, (there are seven Burnhams in Norfolk), but the one that most people head for is Burnham Thorpe which is the birth-place of Admiral Lord Nelson. A tiny village, but one worthy of a visit,if only to pop into the village pub to sample some of Nelson’s Blood, a local brew! Along a bit further, we arrive at Holkham, where the magnificent mansion that is Holkham Hall,in thousands of acres of park-land just has to be visited. Built in the early C18th,it is a classic stately home, with deer and ornamental lake, ice-house and estate cottages,views over the estate and lots of local produce. Holkham is a great afternoon out for all the family and especially interesting to those who are interested in the history of Norfolk agriculture as the estate was one of, if not the, largest landowner in Norfolk, owning entire villages and employing thousands of farm labourers and tradesmen.

Wells-next-the-Sea
Wells Quayside

Wells-next-the-sea is the first place, after King’s Lynn, that has an active port and it is great to see the boats landing their catches on the quayside. The beach is one of Norfolk’s finest too, with golden sand and lovely walks in the woods, just over a sand-bank.

The road along the coast from Wells goes through lots of quaint little villages, each with their own histories and each worthy of a visit, but I will continue along to Cley, a lovely picturesque village with windmill and fantastic views over the marshes.

Moving along a little quicker now, again we pass through many little villages and arrive firstly at Sheringham and then Cromer. These are both large towns which were originally fishing villages, becoming popular with visitors during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Many large C19th houses, hotels and guest-houses face out to sea and it is well worth taking time to stroll along the promenades and the pier at Cromer, to take in the sea air.

From Cromer to Great Yarmouth is a journey of contrasts, passing through villages with only a few houses as well as villages which are home to several thousand people, but all of the places we go through have their own character and history. Some of the villages we pass have been almost totally lost to the power of the sea, with a lot of this part of the coast, still being taken. It is also here that the fossil of an elephant was found in 1990, parts being washed from the cliffs during a storm, it was recognised and properly excavated. Agriculture is still very important in Norfolk, but there is a new interest in a renewable source of power and this new trade is bringing in a lot of work to this part of the coast. We have a large wind-farm off the coast at Sheringham and another near Winterton, so history meets today along this part of the journey

Gorleston
Gorleston beach

Great Yarmouth is a typical resort, with fairground, fish & chips and amusement arcades. Although there is an historical side of Great Yarmouth, well worth a visit, it is hidden away from the sea-front. This town was a very important port and has recently been improved with an outer harbour. It is being considered in an application to become an Enterprize Zone and there is a lot of investment going on in the area, so Yarmouth is on the cards to become Great again very soon.

Sandringham

Sandringham  House, the home of Her Majesty The Queen.

Sandringham, The Queen's Home in Norfolk.
Sandringham, private home of Her Majesty The Queen.

The house itself, is only open from April to October, with exceptions, as the family still live in the house when they are in Norfolk. It is always closed for the Sandringham Flower Show in August, but there is the compensation for visitors at that time, of being able to bump into members of the Royal Family while walking around the Flower Show itself.
Now, let’s look at the house and estate which was purchased in 1862, for Prince Edward,
later to become King Edward VII and his bride, Alexandra. The house, at that time,
was a lot smaller than it is today and, although, very different, it can still be seen in parts,
 concealed amongst the much enlarged and improved version. The Prince and his new wife moved in after considerable work had been carried out to improve it, in 1863.

Sandringham c1865
An early photograph of Sandringham House

The estate needed hundreds of workers and houses were built to accommodate them in the villages on the estate. Some new houses were also built closer to the main house, for the visitors as well as for the senior household and one of those was Park House.
 This house was the home of the Althorps and their  youngest daughter, Lady Diana Spencer who later became the Princess of Wales, was born there. Many other members of the Royal Family were born or died at Sandringham;
 King George V and his mother, Queen Alexandra both died there and King George VI, was born in York Cottage and died while at Sandringham on the 6th February 1952. There is a very famous photograph of the coffin of King George VI, laying Sandringham Church, guarded by estate workers, awaiting the journey back to London.

George VI, guarded by Estate Workers Sandringham Church
The Body of King George VI, Guarded by Estate Workers before it is taken to London.

The gardens of Sandringham are magnificent and, walking along the pathways and through the arches, it is a pleasure as well as an honour to be allowed to tread in the footsteps of the many hundreds of thousands of people who have visited Sandringham over the last 150 years. Those visitors have included people from every corner of the globe, members of the Royal Families of Europe, Heads of State, Church Leaders, Celebrities, the Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom since 1862 and, of course millions of people like you and I.
 Just across the road from the main house, is a walled Kitchen Garden which is not generally open to the public and just up the road, are the Stables, definitely fit for all the Queens Horses.

Sandringham House Across the Lake
Sandringham House and Lake

Just across the park, is a little Church, which was a simple Norfolk Parish Church up to the time that became the place of worship for the Royal Family of this country. The building has undergone a lot of renovation and improvement since then, but it is still a Parish Church and is attended by the inhabitants of the area. There are several furnishings that are not commonly seen in Churches of this size, the solid silver altar and pulpit along with the memorials to members of the Royal Family tend to give the game away,that this isn’t just another little Norfolk Church!

If you would like more information about vacations in England, or even staying on the Sandringham Estate itself, contact me HERE.

Spring is on the way

Spring is on the way.

I love this time of year because so much new life is bursting out of the ground all around. In Norfolk, at this time of year, we have so much to see that confirms that we are coming out of the winter and turning the corner into Spring.

Wild Flowers Primroses

Primroses growing in the Norfolk countryside

It doesn’t mean that we can take off our coats yet though, the old saying, “Don’t cast a clout ’till May is out.” is a very sensible one. That saying has its origins from the days when men took off their coats to fight. In other words, don’t challenge anyone to a fight before May is out or you will get cold as well as risking getting beaten up!

Lots of our sayings have obscure meanings:”Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.” for example goes back to the method of telling how old a horse is by looking at the teeth. If someone gives you a horse, the last thing you really should be doing is checking how old it is!