Descendants proud of ancestral village home

One of Filby's public houses, pictured 110 years ago in 1906. The man leaning against the post was v

One of Filby's public houses, pictured 110 years ago in 1906. The man leaning against the post was village blacksmith George Ayres. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

Always spell the surname right and get the initials correct! Nothing annoys people more than finding them wrong in the paper.

Ready to row on Filby Broad in the early 20th century. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION

Ready to row on Filby Broad in the early 20th century. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

That was one of the first “musts” instilled into trainee journalists (the word “cub” is never used in the newspaper industry). It was the young reporter’s equivalent of the school pupil learning up to the 12 times table.

For perhaps a decade-plus after I entered journalism, initials rather than Christian names was the office style we had to follow scrupulously: for example, the year I started work in Great Yarmouth, 1955, the Mayor was always “Mrs L. M. Gilham” in the Mercury columns, never Laura. I didn’t even know her first name.

In general, first names were used only for defendants and witnesses in court reports, for entertainers, and in obituaries and wedding reports. Footballers and other sports folk were “A. Smith” or “Brown J.”

Eventually my company’s morning, evening and weekly newspapers covering all Norfolk and fringe territory like Lowestoft and Beccles over the border in Suffolk embraced the less formal style and first names became the approved norm. Thank goodness it had become that way by 1968 when I covered the inaugural weekend gathering of the Filby worldwide family in the village north of Yarmouth where they claim to have originated.

A placid paddle in tranquil Filby Broad. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION

A placid paddle in tranquil Filby Broad. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

I cannot recall whether local radio and television were present; if they were, they had a distinct advantage over me because Filby sounds the same however you spell it. But this print reporter had to be ultra alert because there were at least five different spellings of the name!

There were the straightforward Filby, plus Filbey, Filbee, Philby, Philbey and possibly Philbee. Thank goodness for Christian names to help distinguish one from the other!

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I covered subsequent triennial pilgrimages of members of the Filby Association to their so-called founding village in Norfolk in 1971 and 1974, and in recent years had occasionally wondered if they had continued unabated or had petered out, perhaps through the deaths of prime movers in the organisation.

So I was pleased to see in a recent Mercury that the Filby Association had returned to the village for its 2016 reunion and annual meeting, a quick bit of arithmetic confirming that it seems to have followed in that original pattern of every three years...assuming, of course, that there had been no interruptions in the meantime.

So the 2016 assembly might have been the association’s 17th.

As with those gatherings which I attended in the Sixties and Seventies, All Saints’ Church was the focal point this summer. The church service included the dedication of a bookcase presented to All Saints’ in memory of two of the association founders, Len and Mary Filby.

In its first and early visits to the village, Ellsworth Filby and his wife Marion were the principals. He was a retired waterworks engineer in the United States who devoted many long hours to tracing his genealogy back to 1650, and knew his forebears were settled in the United States by 1830. Computers were in their comparative infancy, so he probably had to do his research the hard old-fashioned way.

He was positive that the Filbys descended from a family that held the manorial rights of Filby seven centuries ago.

On the association’s subsequent visit in 1971, Fred Philbey – from Essex – brought with him his three young children, one only a few weeks old, to be christened in the church. It was the first time a Filby of whatever spelling had been christened there since 1300!

American Filbys were present in numbers on the two or three times I reported their visits to the village which at that time had nobody of that name living there. Only occasionally was a Norfolk resident with a Filby name present.

Although the visitors were friendly and forthcoming, welcoming the publicity, their demeanour altered when we Press reporters inquired about the best-known Filby of all: the infamous traitor Kim Philby, the high-ranking British intelligence officer who was a double agent, spying for Russia and defecting to there in 1963, dying in 1988.

The expected question did not faze them. Unsurprisingly, their responses were pleasant but cool, aware that it might take decades before the man who besmirched the Filby/Philby name had faded into obscurity.

At one of the gatherings in the Seventies, the visitors included a Kim Filby, a four-year-old girl whose father, headmaster of a school in Lincolnshire, explained: “Basically we called our daughter Kim to try to redress the balance a bit.”

Perhaps of greater newsworthiness one year was a du-different visitor in true Norfolk tradition: a Cairn terrier, welcomed to the gathering because its name was...Kim!

My 1937 copy of Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk includes the information that the village of Filby was given by William the Conqueror to Rabell, the engineer officer in charge of the balistae and other military engines.

And the entry adds: “The parish is famous for its excellent raspberries, many hundred of pounds’ worth of which are sent to London and other towns during the season.”

Filby’s chief crops were wheat, barley, oats and fruit.

To conclude, let us journey south a few miles from rural Norfolk into rural Suffolk and the village of Blundeston which I have mentioned here a few times recently after reporting on my conducted tour of the old Blundeston Prison, now earmarked as the site of a new residential estate.

Among the inmates there was the notorious London gangster, the late Reggie Kray; and I wrote about readers who had encountered him in Blundeston Prison during their official business at the jail.

One outcome of my references was an e-mail message from a Paul Kray who wrote: “Nice to read your saga on Reginald ended with true facts, and respectfully, good work.”

Thank you, Paul.