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Tales from the riverbanks

PUBLISHED: 18:04 27 September 2007 | UPDATED: 12:01 30 June 2010

MESSING ABOUT ON THE RIVER: Potter Heigham in 1981

MESSING ABOUT ON THE RIVER: Potter Heigham in 1981

THE Midland and Great Northern Railway that meandered across rural Norfolk to link Yarmouth with the towns in the heart of Britain has been extinct for nearly half a century but still lingers in the memory of many members of the older generation who affectionately dubbed it “the Muddle and Get Nowhere”.

THE Midland and Great Northern Railway that meandered across rural Norfolk to link Yarmouth with the towns in the heart of Britain has been extinct for nearly half a century but still lingers in the memory of many members of the older generation who affectionately dubbed it “the Muddle and Get Nowhere”.

The entire line, nationalised in 1948, found itself “part of the largest single closure in railway history when, at one stroke, passenger services on the former M&GN system were withdrawn from nearly 100 miles of railway”.

Thus wrote Richard Adderson and Graham Kenworthy, authors of Melton Constable to Yarmouth Beach, part of the Country Railway Routes series produced by the Middleton Press. In summer, my review of this book prompted a letter from Patricia Munday, of Weston Rise, Caister.

Among photographs from the publication with which I illustrated my review was one of the old rail bridge over the river at Potter Heigham that, says Mrs Munday, “for two reasons jogged my memory of times in my past”.

Mrs Munday, aged 72, writes: “Firstly, trains that came across the bridge 60 years ago carried me to school at North Walsham where I was a pupil at the girls' High School. Secondly, the bridge - although elevated slightly to allow boats through - was the cause of a very amusing incident there around 1950 involving my father, Vernon Le Neve Painter, at that time landlord of the Falgate Inn in Potter Heigham.

“A holidaymaker who was not very experienced went to go under the bridge and then decided to raise the mast on the sailing vessel he had hired. Unfortunately he was a little too quick in doing it and the top of the mast went straight through between the railway lines. Try as he might, he could not lower it again and was truly stuck.

“It would not have caused a derailment but the top of the mast would certainly have been snapped off by the next train. What to do?

“Someone had an idea that if the boat could be lowered in the water they might be able to free the mast. To do this they rounded up a few of the heaviest men in the village, including my father who at the time weighed nearly 20 stone, and rowed them across to the stricken yacht.

“If my memory is right, I think there were about seven men, and the boat certainly went down well in the river so there was a fear it might capsize. However, it certainly did the trick and they were able to get the mast down from the railway track. It certainly caused much amusement among the villagers who had gathered to watch the proceedings.

“Who said village life was dull!”

Her family appears to have lived at the Falgate for the two decades from 1934 to 1954. Her parents were Vernon and Violet, whose three children were Patricia, the eldest, plus Valerie and Michael.

“While we lived there the house had a beautiful thatched roof which was renewed once during our time but which was destroyed in the dreadful fire in 1993. When the housed was rebuilt, the roof was tiled. The wooden frame surrounding the front door was added about 1938 and has a Latin inscription meaning 'Welcome or rest, traveller'.

“I have so many happy memories of my old home.”

Thank you for those recollections, Mrs Munday, and your gratitude to me “for all the memories you bring”.

The book, Melton Constable to Yarmouth Beach, costs £14.95 and is obtainable from the publisher at Easebourne Lane, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ (tel 01730 813169).

From happy memories to sad ones...

In August I recounted the Hambling family's lucky escape during the war when a low-level German raider dropped two bombs on the Newtown area of Great Yarmouth. One passed completely through their Cradock Avenue home before killing two people in neighbouring Hawkins Avenue, the second exploded in the Hamblings' garden.

Robin Hambling, now of Lawn Avenue, told me his father suffered a split eardrum and nearly lost a finger, his mother - seven months pregnant - sustained a cut face although the bomb passed through the bedroom where she was trapped, and he too was cut while hiding under a sofa.

That wartime recollection brought a letter from Beryl Browne, of Wedgewood Court, Gorleston, calling Robin Hambling “a name from the past” for she lived on Hawkins Avenue when the hit-and-run raider struck.

“On that morning the plane arrived without warning,” she tells me. “We heard it coming and my mother dived under the sink and my brother and I into the Morrison (indoor) shelter.

“We heard the bombs dropping close and then the sound of one whistling overhead which, as Robin said, was a direct hit on a house across the road where the Wraggs lived. Mrs Wragg's daughter was killed and Mrs Wragg badly injured.

“We, and others around, had a lot of damage - roofs off, ceilings down, windows out. My father, George Bell, who was a sergeant in the police force, was sleeping upstairs, having just come off night duty, and awoke to find that a piece of shrapnel had made a hole in the wardrobe across the room exactly where he would have been if he had stood up sooner.

“He at once went across the road to help and rescued Mrs Wragg and daughter.”

My mention last week of the perplexing Burraway epitaph in Martham parish church led readers unfamiliar with the convoluted inscription to ask me to explain it. It is not easy to condense the story of Christopher and Alice Burraway who died in the 18th century and were the victims of two dire coincidences.

The inscription on his tombstone now almost concealed by the church organ states that Alice “was my sister, my mistress, my mother and my wife”.

Alice, teenage daughter of the lord of the manor, had a son after incest with him and, to hide the disgrace, the child was taken from Martham Hall and placed in a foundling hospital. The boy grew up to be a farm labourer and, by complete chance, came to Martham and was given work at the hall farm now owned by Alice upon the death of her parents.

So industrious and efficient was Christopher that he became steward of the property, and his mistress was induced to become his wife - perhaps more a business arrangement than a romance considering the age gap. After the marriage he became a figure of importance in the parish.

Despite being his wife for 20 years, Alice had obviously never seen her husband other than when he was fully dressed. One morning as he was changing clothes she inadvertently entered his bedroom and saw a two peculiar moles on his shoulder...and immediately recognised him as her son, fainting with shock and horror.

She died without leaving his chamber but did try to explain matters to him. The realisation caused him to die the following year.

It seems incredible that this true story, once described as “the Norfolk Oedipus”, could have happened, but it did, and remains a source of great interest to visitors to Martham parish church.

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