The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Committee Announcements
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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

A Child Caught Up in a War: 10th April 2018

The year was 1938 when Company Quarter Master Sergeant Charles Lines - Royal Engineers - was told that he was to be posted to the Far East. In due course he embarked upon the troopship HMS Somersetshire together with his wife and young daughter, Margaret. War clouds were gathering over the skies of Europe but relatives of the family told them not to worry; "If war comes to England you will be well out of it" Could anything have been further from the truth!

Some 32 members and guests of the Foxearth and District Local History Society were present on 10th April to hear Margaret Nice recount how her life changed from a junior school girl in St Helens, Lancs. to life in the tropics on the other side of the world. Two years in the Army School in Singapore was followed by a move up the coast of Malaya to Penang where Margaret went to the Anglo American Girls School in the capital Georgetown. Hitherto life had been peaceful; swimming in the pools, enjoying exotic fruits and the exciting experience of new cultures with Chinese and Indian friends. A bout of a type of typhus put Margaret in hospital for some weeks and she had just recovered - but not yet back at school - when heavy bombing of Penang by the Japanese began. When immediate evacuation was ordered there was time only to pack a small bag and in the ensuing chaos Margaret found herself in charge of a little girl aged 3 or 4 whose mother had just had another child and was being carried on a stretcher. Margaret was urged by her mother to keep up with the rest but complained that her charge kept falling asleep and had to be dragged. It was 3am!

A tortuous journey to the mainland was eventually completed via lorries and a ferry manned by sailors from the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse both of which had been sunk on 10th December 1941. Once on the mainland a train took the crowds of evacuees to Kuala Lumpur station-- where the Salvation Army were on hand to dispense food and clothes - and then on to Singapore. At this point it was found that Margaret's bag of clothes had been left on a lorry in Penang but the army wives rallied around and she was soon kitted out again. Constant bombing took place of the nearby army barracks at Changi and shelter in the married quarters was of the under stairs variety offering limited protection against bombs which produced a lot of shrapnel. Eventually the news came that Margaret and her mother were to go to Australia and they sailed on the SS Narkunda. Even this voyage was not without incident. A mine was spotted close to the ship and marksmen's attempt to detonate it failed until it was perilously close. The explosion caused the ship to tip so that all the passengers on deck ended up in an untidy heap at one end.

In Australia a much more settled and safer life beckoned for Margaret and her mother but the events of the previous year had left their mark. Both were almost bald and Margaret's face was covered in sores; whether this was stress or the long diet of corned beef and tooth-breaking biscuits we cannot be sure; there was certainly no need for a weight-watchers programme! Mention was of course made of Margaret's father. He was captured and held in Changi prison until he was sent to work in the salt mines of Korea. His diaries reveal the extreme hardship that these brave soldiers endured - the totally inadequate and poor diet, the cruelty of their captors who despised them for allowing themselves to be taken prisoner, the malaria and dysentery which was so rife, the extreme cold which meant that the wash rooms were permanently frozen in winter, the list goes on. On liberation by the Americans he was emaciated and taken to Manilla to be built up before returning to the UK. Sadly the ravages of 4 years savage incarceration could not be completely offset and he died in 1957 aged 56.

Margaret brought along some photographs and some shrapnel-damaged Malaysian pewter ware - and was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson for her interesting account.

Referring to the last meeting and the recently acquired 1855 indenture, Clare reported that a connection with a Pentlow family and one of the old names mentioned in the document had been identified.

Next Meeting: 8th May 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Corinne Cox will talk about the Archaeological Test Pit Excavations in Foxearth.

The 19th AGM of the F&DLHS: Tuesday March 13th


The 19th Annual General Meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society was held on Tuesday March 13th in Foxearth Village Hall. There was a good attendance of 24 members, representative of most of the area, who responded enthusiastically to an invitation to bring along old photographs of the villages; a varied and nostalgic (school photos) display.

Secretary Clare Mathieson welcomed all especially several new members and reflected upon the past season which had included talks about weaving with hair cloth, histories of the Quay Theatre and the Sue Ryder Foundation, an appreciation of Pentlow Church and its relationship to Pentlow Hall, the connections that artists John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough had with the Essex/Suffolk countryside and two war related evenings - the experience of a weaver who left his trade to fight at Waterloo and the effect of World War One on the Foxearth community. The visit to Harwich had been well-supported and full of interest. 2018 promised to be no less attractive with a wartime escape from Malaya, recent Foxearth excavations, astronomical artefacts of Bury St Edmunds and family history researching. President Ashley Cooper will delve into some of the heroic, villainous and colourful events in our local history. This summer there are three "outside" visits; guided tours of Hadleigh and of Sudbury Masonic Lodge and a day trip to Ely.

Clare expressed thanks to all who had helped with, refreshments, raffles, report writing and to Andrew Clarke for his maintenace of the web site. From the floor appreciation was shown for the work of Clare and Chairman Lynda Rumble (suffering tonight from severe croakiness) and relief that they were prepared to continue in these roles.

A financial report showing the income and expenditure in 2017 was presented by Mark Mathieson who had "kept the books" since John Geddes' serious illness. It was wonderful to welcome John back at the meeting. A surplus of £80 had resulted following last year's activities and this together with the fact that membership was holding up was encouraging. Mark was thanked for agreeing to continue as Treasurer. It was agreed that the annual membership subscription should remain at £10.

Lynda reported that she had received an original copy of an indenture dated 1855 which transferred land in Foxearth and Pentlow from one Samuel Viall - a Cavendish gentleman - to Robert Steadman of Sudbury. Andrew took up the story by describing his work of transcribing the manuscript - which does not benefit from punctuation marks - recalling that the Viall offspring have become infamous in local history for exhuming their father's corpse from Foxearth churchyard and reburying him at Belchamp Otten. This episode is fully documented in the web site under sacrilege and body-stealing. Study of the indenture had revealed a large number of land owners and some hitherto unknown place names e.g.Pollard's Cross, Barelands. This is clearly an important historical record which will in due course be lodged with the appropriate authority.

Ashley was delighted that the Society was so buoyant and that members were contributing talks.
Referring to last season's talk by Dr Judy Ivy on Thomas Gainsborough he said that he had been reading a recently published book about the artist by James Hamilton. In the book's index of references appeared the Society's web site - an indication of its spreading usefulness and popularity.

A mid-meeting break allowed wine, cheese and other savouries to be enjoyed while memers explored more of the photographs on view.

Next meeting: 7.30pm Tuesday 10th April in Foxearth Village Hall when Margaret Nice will talk abot her evacuation from Malaya in 1941. Members guests and new members are always welcomed at any meeting.

Ken Nice

Film archive evening "Yarmouth in days gone by": February 13th 2018

The Foxearth and District Local History Society began its 20th season on February 13th 2018 with a Film archive evening. As we watched "Yarmouth in days gone by" we were taken on a herring fishing trip in raging seas and on a hair-raising big dipper ride; these really were moving pictures and not for the faint-hearted!

Yarmouth was a town built on the abundant herring fishing at the height of which some 800 million fish would be caught in a season. Until the early years of the 20th century sailing boats comprised the fleet but the advent of the coal-fired steam drifter greatly increased the yield as these, much larger vessels, were not reliant on the wind; there were 1,000 registered drifters at one time.

This industry was highly labour intensive and hundreds of women were employed in cleaning and preserving the fish by salting and smoking. Many girls came down from Scotland to work and such "imported" labour swelled the population of the town by 10,000 in the season. The export trade thrived. To protect their hands girls bandaged their fingers and the experienced ones could gut herrings at the incredible rate of 65 a minute. The inevitable result was that they took back to their lodgings the stench of their workplace and put newspaper on the walls in an effort to absorb the odour. Herring fishing was considerably curtailed during the second World War with many of the drifters being diverted to patrol and mine detecting work and by the mid 1950s the white fish trade had largely taken over.

The other aspect of Yarmouth life from the beginning of the 20th century was its development as a holiday resort. Visitors had always come to bathe believing that the sea would cure many ailments and the provision of railway links led to the town's rapid transition to a major attraction with its two piers and associated amusements, rides, circus and theatre. Stars like Tommy Cooper, Charlie Chester and Arthur Askey brought in the fans. The harbour became a venue for pleasure craft taking holiday makers on tours and to the Broads and - away from the seaside - there was the race course and aeroplane flights over the area. All of this made Yarmouth the fifth wealthiest town in England for a period.

This was a very thoughtfully composed film, full of interest from start to finish and applauded by the 25 members in attendance. Members were reminded that a deposit of £5 was requested from those intending to go on the trip to Ely on 14th August.


Next meeting: Tuesday 13th March at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall. This will be the Annual General Meeting to which members (and new ones will always be welcomed) are asked to bring old photographs of Foxearth and surrounding villages.

Film Archive evening Tuesday Feb 13th 7.30pm

Film Archive evening


Formerly a wealthy town with a herring fleet industry and an unrivalled holiday trade

Tuesday Feb 13th 7.30pm
Foxearth Village Hall
For more information:
Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

Clare Mathieson 01787 311337

2917 Christmas dinner at the George at Cavendish

The 2017 activities of the Foxearth and District History Society came to a festive conclusion on 12th December with the annual Christmas dinner at the George at Cavendish. Twenty-eight members enjoyed a varied menu in a convivial and happy atmosphere. A notable absentee was John Geddes recovering from two episodes of major surgery. He is reported to be disenchanted with hospital food but appreciating the  nurses. We raised our glasses to his speedy recovery.

Lynda ran through the programme for 2018 which includes suggestions and ideas from members. Sufficient hands were raised to support a proposed visit to Ely on 14th August for which names and deposits (£5) are requested by the time of the film archives evening on 13th February.

President Ashley Cooper appeared in Shakespearean garb and rendered a soliloquy, composed during the meal, about the achievements and personalities of the Society; well done Ashley! He also suggested that an open invitation be issued to anyone to bring along old photographs of Foxearth and surrounding villages to the annual general meeting on 13th March.

Clare explained that our web site is attracting in the order of 6,000 new visits per month - an incredible amount of interest and a credit to Andrew's expert management Thanks were expressed to the Parish Council for their financial support.

Powers of recall were tested in a quiz about national events in 2017 and a small general knowledge section. The winner was Chris Donelly with an impressive 70% correct but two runners-up came within a point of him.


So we look forward to next year's list of events with a reminder that our meetings are open and that new people bring in new ideas. If you want more details before coming along  Clare ( 01787 311337) and Lynda (01787 281434) are the people to contact.

Programme of events for 2018


All meetings held in Foxearth Village Hall 7.30pm (unless otherwise stated).

Jan Tue 9th No meeting.
Feb Tue13th Film Archive evening.
Mar Tue 13th A.G.M. - Cheese and Wine
-Please bring your old photos of Foxearth & District.
Apr Tue 10th President's talk   Ashley Cooper
May Tue 8th Archaeological Test Pit Excavations in Foxearth Corinne Cox
Jun Tue 12th Guided History of Hadleigh - Jan Byrne
Jul Tue 10th Guided tour of the Sudbury Masonic Lodge - Peter Thorogood
Aug Tue 14th
or Sat 11/18th Visit to Ely ?
Sep Tue 11th Astronomical Artefacts of Bury St Edmunds - Richard Young
Oct Tue 9th Who am I ? Family History Research - Kelly Cornwell
Nov Tue 13th My evacuation from Singapore 1941 - Margaret Nice
Dec Tue 11th Christmas Festivities




New members and friends always welcome.
Visitors £2   Members £10 per year
For more information on recent events and current programme,

contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787  281434.

Foxearth in the Great War. by Corrine Cox: 15th November 2017


Even though about six regular members were missing, the Society had a record attendance of 32 for Corinne Cox's talk about Foxearth and the Great War on Tuesday 14th November. The talk described the effect of the First World War on the lives of the people of Foxearth, villagers, farm workers and Brewery workers. We were first taken back in time to the peaceful days before the Great War, when the Brewery was prominent in Foxearth with many social activities such as football, cricket, and quoits being played against other villages. In January 1914 a new reading room, The Men's Club opened; it's now a private residence. Later that year all changed as shooting began in Europe and 78 Foxearth men joined the forces to fight in 23 different regiments. Twenty were killed and these are remembered on the War Memorial in the churchyard. Many were injured and lived on with the mental issues from the war. We should not forget these sacrifices.

In particular Corinne mentioned the Leggott family, two of whom received the DSM and the DCM ; a Military Medal was awarded to a member of the Chinnery family. Corinne outlined the effects of the war on people living in the village, the way in which tribunals were held to consider exemptions from military service and the plight of non-combatants and conscientious objectors. She listed and discussed the war-wounded who were awarded the silver war badge upon discharge so as not to be the target of white feathers whilst not in uniform. Corinne related the sad tale of the hardships endured by the Sidney Deal family and gave an account of the experiences of the only female service person from the village, Nurse Eileen Carter. The Zeppelin raid during which incendiaries were dropped over Foxearth also got a mention.

This was a fascinating and detailed talk - well illustrated with photographs, anecdotes and artefacts and demonstrating Corinne's deep level of research into an important piece of local history. Already an estabished author with her earlier book "Foxearth Treasures"- a social history of the village - Corinne is preparing to publish "Foxearth Pals" upon which her talk tonight was based. Her research has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and all proceeds go to the Parish Church restoration fund. A most interesting and suc.cessful evening for the Society. Many present complimented Corinne on the excellence of her presentation and she has been booked for a return visit next May to give an illustrated talk on the archaeological excavations in Foxearth of 2013/14 and 2017.

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