The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Committee Announcements

Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations.

The History of the Breeding of Budgerigars: 14th June 2016

We always knew that there was bird life in Pentlow but the full extent of it was only revealed to members of the District Society when they visited the home of Ghalib and Janice Al-Nasser in the village on 14th June. Ghalib and Janice are world renowned experts on the breeding and exhibition of budgerigars; a lifelong passion for them both which has earned them over 700 certificates and numerous awards and international recognition. A visit to their web site shows the extensive commitment and involvement they both have to their hobby and they hold many official positions in budgerigar clubs in the Home Counties and Midlands. Ghalib has lectured and judged in over 30 countries and is considered to be the world leading authority on colour mutation in the birds.

Ghalib gave a full account of the history of the bird from the time that John Gould (1804 to 1881) a British ornithologist brought a collection back from Australia where they were - and still are - prolific in the wild. There is thought to be about 5 million at present in the world of many colour variations. Their natural life span is between 5 and 8 years but in captivity they will usually survive a little longer. Being very social birds they exist in large flocks living - in the wild - on grass seed. When it comes to nesting they tunnel into trees, the hen laying usually about six eggs at two-day intervals making hatching and subsequent feeding a progressive business. In the 1950s budgerigars were the most popular pets in England - fascinating for their splendid mimicry (if one has the patience) but nowadays in third place after dogs and cats. At Woburn Abbey the Duke of Bedford kept a large aviary and deliberately released a number of budgerigars into the English countryside where some developed a homing instinct and returned to their cages.

At the end of this most interesting talk - and before some delicious refreshment - the 14 members present were shown around the enormous and impressive bird room. This houses about 400 budgerigars (very noisy!) at various levels of life from fairly newly-born chicks to birds being prepared for a Cambridge show at the coming weekend. All birds are tagged when just a few weeks old and recorded. Some are champions and others are being groomed for stardom. The hard work and devotion that the carers put in to this enterprise was evident and Ghalib and Janice were warmly thanked by Alan Fitch for a very special evening.

Next meeting: A visit to the mediaeval excavations at Goldingham Hall, Bulmer on Tuesday 12th July. Secretary Clare Mathieson will circulate details to members.

The Beefeater and the Tower of London in English History: 10th May 2016

About 28 members and guests of the District Local History Society were "sent to the Tower" on 10th May when Kevin Kitcher - Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (and Borley resident) gave a fascinating talk about the role of the Beefeater and the prominent part the Tower has played in English history. As one of 37 Yeoman Warders, Kevin's job includes the guardianship of the Crown Jewels, the security of the premises (the daily Ceremony of the Keys) and taking part in various state occasions for which different uniforms may be worn. All of these functions are centuries old but nowadays Beefeaters also act significantly as tour guides for which extensive knowledge of the Tower is required - and this was amply demonstrated in Kevin's address.<

The buildings comprising this London landmark occupy an eighteen and a half acre site the main structure being the White tower erected in 1078 by William the Conqueror. As well as being a royal residence this served as a prison from 1100 of which the first occupant was Bishop Ranulf Flambard; he was also the first escapee as he got the guards drunk and made off using ropes which had been secreted in the wine barrels he was able to import. In the Tudor period many notables were imprisoned in the Tower including Elizabeth 1, Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes - and, within living memory, Rudolf Hess for a few days in 1941. The building became less of a royal residence and more a place of confinement, torture and death. It was also used for the manufacture and storage of gunpowder. There were three established categories of prisoner: close prisoners were those in close custody (Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, for example, both executed); the second category were liberty prisoners meaning those who had a right of access to the outer boundary of the complex; thirdly there were pledgemen being those who had given a pledge to return (or to provide a substitute!)

King Henry VII formed the Yeomen Warders in 1485 and the Tudor rose forms part of their badge. All Yeomen (there is, at present, one woman!) Warders are senior NCOs retired from the armed forces after at least 22 years experience and with good conduct and long service medals. It is a requirement that they live in one of the 43 tied houses on the site. One of the warders is designated as Ravenmaster to care for the birds which have been associated with the Tower - and its superstitions - or some centuries.

This was an extremely entertaining talk delivered with wit by Kevin and containing a great mass of facts, dates and anecdotes - but can we really believe some of the questions that American tourists are reputed ask of the tour guides! Alan Fitch thanked Kevin for his fine contribution and all present showed their warm appreciation.

Next meeting: 14th June 7.30pm in Pentlow at the kind invitation of Janice and Ghalib Al Nasser who will talk about The history of the Budgerigar

The History of WalnutTree Hospital 9th Feb 2016

The District Society had the pleasure, on 9th February, of hearing local author and historian, Phyllis Felton, talk about Walnutree hospital. Mrs Felton dealt in general with the origins of the hospital and more particularly with nurse training there. Her very interesting talk displayed deep research of the former aspect and authoritative knowledge of the latter as she had been a member of the nurse training school in the 1960s with a subsequent long career at the hospital.

Traces of Iron Age and Saxon habitation indicate that the site goes back about 4,000 years but modern history dates from 1702 when the first workhouse was established. This was demolished in 1837 and a purpose-built workhouse was erected. In the 1930s it became a hospital and Poor Law institution with overnight accommodation for vagrants. In 1955 it was formally designated as a geriatric hospital. In 1960 it had 140 beds, a dispensary run by the sisters and other supporting services such as pathology, laundry, catering, portering, maintenance and two gardeners to cope with the extensive grounds. A full-time medical officer and a physiotherapist each served the hospital for 30 years giving the facility an admired reputation for consistent service to the community.

Nurse training at Walnutree began in 1942. Classroom work was combined with "hands-on" experience at the bedside. Supervision of trainees was given by the Matron who would stress the qualities required and expected of a nurse. First and foremost was the vocation - you had to want to be a nurse. Along with this went compassion, tolerance, observational skills etc. Training had to given in manual lifting techniques as there were no hoists available and before the coming of sterile packs, sterilization methods had to be learned. Nurse training at the hospital ended in 1970. Mrs Felton had an enormous selection of photographs on show. Inevitably for an amenity which had been a vital part of community welfare for so long there were recollections of some of the associated characters which sounded a chord with a few of the 15 members present! Nostalgia reigned!

Secretary Clare Mathieson thanked Mrs Felton warmly for her fascinating contribution to the evening.

Next meeting: Tuesday 8th March 7.30pm in Foxearth VIllage Hall for the Annual General Meeting with cheese and wine.

Floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953 - 12th January 2016

On 12th January the 2016 season got underway with an archive film about the floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953; a topical subject in view of the dreadful situations which occurred before and after Christmas in northern parts of England and Scotland. Secretary Clare Mathieson is to be congratulated on finding film so relevant to the recent tragic circumstances.
The film opened with scenes of the Fens in 1912 when water levels rose by 8ft, following over 4 inches of rain, which washed away defensive banks built in Roman times. Then in February 1938 the Norfolk coast was lashed by terrible storms and 1947 saw the coldest winter in memory with heavy snow and later persistent rain causing the rapid thaw that did so much damage to arable land. At one time the water was rising by 1ft an hour. All of these events had been filmed mostly by talented amateurs to show houses submerged to the eaves, fishing boats in the middle of village greens, people being rescued and debris everywhere.
Perhaps the most awesome pictures were those dating from 31st January 1953 when a freak tidal surge - with a gale measured at 113 mph - hit the East Anglian coast causing widespread flooding. There were many deaths from Harwich to Hunstanton. The people of Norway donated timber houses and American servicemen based in the area helped in the enormous clear up operation. Industry was badly affected particularly the large margarine factory at Purfleet. where the factory floor was 15ft under water.
As the water receded the full horror of the damage and contamination was revealed and it is an incredible fact that moving from disaster back to normality took just 43 days. In this time every piece of equipment had to be completely dismantled and cleaned or replaced; gallons of anti-bacterial chemicals were used in repeated procedures in which all the staff and many volunteers helped.
It should be remembered that this was a generation for whom memories of the blitz and warfare were still vivid and it is to their great credit that they just got on with the job. In 1953 there was no central warning system of floods - but this was to be set up within a year or two. This was a gripping film albeit with some very sad reminders of the past.

The Christmas Dinner of the Local History Society

Once again the Cavendish George was a comfortable and festive venue for the Christmas dinner of the District Local History Society. On 8th December 25 members and guests enjoyed traditional fare - with crackers of course - in a relaxed and happy atmosphere. Chairman Alan Fitch reflected upon an active year for the Society which had included a guided tour of historic Long Melford, local explorations with metal detectors, President Ashley Cooper's talk on the excavations at Goldingham Hall, a dog walker's view of East Anglia and the history of Sudbury's department store, Winch and Blatch, as well as a couple of archive film evenings. Secretary Clare Mathieson gave an outline of the 2016 programme when there will be talks on the dissolution of the monastries, Foxearth in the Great War, the Tower of London ( by our locally-living Yeoman Warder), the history of the Harwich picture palace, local history through Essex ballads, Nurse training in the 1960s at Walnut Tree hospital and some facts about budgerigars by a member! In prospect are possible visits to the Whitechapel bell foundry and Ely. Clare will communicate with members about these. The President expressed appreciation for the way the Society was progressing and in particular for the leadership shown by the Chairman.

The evening provided a convivial end to an interesting season and the promise of a full and varied diary of events for the coming year.

Ken Nice

Programme of events for 2016

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

Jan 12thTue.Archive Film Evening
Feb 9th Tue.Do you know what goes on in the Tower of London?
Yeoman Warder, Kevin Kitcher
Mar 8th Tue.A.G.M. with Cheese and Wine.
Apr 12thTue.History of Harwich Picture Palace Chris Strachan
-----TBC(Cavendish Hall? Landmark Trust - lunchtime visit on a Monday or Friday)
May 10thTue.Beyond the bricks of Walnutree Hospital Phyllis Felton
Jun 14thTue.The History of the Budgerigar Janice & Ghalib Al Nasser
Jul 12thTue.Visit to mediaeval excavations, Goldingham Hall, Bulmer
Jul 23rdSat.Visit to Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Coach trip)
Aug 9thTue.Day trip to Ely in a Vintage Bedford
O.B. Felix coach?
Sep 6th----Day trip to Ely in a Vintage Bedford
O.B. Felix coach?
Sep 13thTue.Suffolk Dissolution of the Monasteries
Pip Wright
Oct 11thTue.History through North Essex Ballads Keith Lovell
Nov 8th Tue.Foxearth & The Great War Corrine Cox
Dec 13hTue.Christmas festivities

New members and friends always welcome.

Visitors £2 Members £10 per year

For more information on recent events and current programme,
contact Alan Fitch 01787 311913 or a committee member

Visit to Long Melford Heritage Centre 9th June 2015

In August last year members of the Foxearth and District Society visited Long Melford Heritage Centre and had a conducted tour of the village from the Village Hall to the Old School. This relatively short walk proved to have so many interesting features that we resolved to re-visit to take in more of this centuries-old, historic settlement ; we did our second tour on 9th June when some 20 people walked another stretch. On a very chilly evening, our most knowledgable guides were- as before- Trudi Jeffs and JulieThomson and we began at the Roman Way Green where the building of the Roman road was explained and the way that the village developed from the roadside stalls that peppered the wide thoroughfare to Bury St Edmunds.The first distinctive building pointed out was Melford Place, home for about 200 years to Sir Roger Martin (1667) and his successors. On the other side of the road was the site of a wooden chapel thought to be the oldest part of the village. A hermit was said to have lived there for some years.

Many of the dwellings along the street are mediaeval in origin being timber framed with Tudor, Georgian and a few Victorian facades and this variety of styles adds great character to the village.
A number of houses are of mediaeval hall house design consisting of a central living area with a buttery or pantry on one side and a space for the animals on the other. Over the years windows took the place of shutters and ceilings were introduced to conserve heat: both words have mediaeval English origins.The village has a field which is a scheduled ancient monument and upon which excavations have revealed evidence of a Roman settlement. The village had many alehouses and maltings - indicative of a thriving residual and passing trade.

Our tour ended at the Co-operative store where our guides told us of the night in 1939 when the store burnt down - not through enemy action but probably some carelessness with stored paraffin. Trudi and Julie produced many old photographs - including one of the Co-op ruin -which showed how the village had changed. We look forward to having the company of these two well-informed and helpful ladies at some time in the future when the middle part of the village will be explored.

by Ken Nice