Voices from the Shore

The evacuees, a legacy

So why Norfolk, I am frequently asked?  My family were evacuated to Burnham Market and Burnham Overy during the war, I reply, and that sets me thinking once again what must it have really been like? And how many other residents or visitors to our sea and shoreline, “incomers”, like me, have that same deep association, shaped by world events?

The evacuee stories are part of my family legend.

Like many parents in war time my grandmother and grandfather sent their younger children, my uncles and my mother, who was some years older, away from the blitz in the east end of London, to what must have appeared as another world. Like other children, they were unaccompanied, and having been part of an extended east end family, suddenly very alone.

My working grandmother stayed in London, and was permitted only rare visits to her sons, and mother stayed only until old enough to begin her nursing training. As an air raid warden, grandfather did not see his sons until they returned to London, when the Ministry of …declared it safe to return.

The government order to “evacuate forthwith” was issued on the 31st August 1939. From September 1st 1.5 million evacuees were sent to the country, as the evacuation of cities began. The evacuation plan was aimed predominantly at children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers, disabled people, and sometimes ‘helpers’, which often meant teachers. Despite long-term planning there were errors, causing disruption in many communities. Rural areas who were expecting evacuees often found that those who were arrived were not who they expected, having been told several different things about the new arrivals, and it was not unknown for upper and middle class families to make their own alternative arrangements securing the most favourable billets, reducing suitable options and adding to the confusion.

Some areas received many more people than others and population changes in small rural villages became a real issue as local men and women left home to serve the war effort. Communities in East Anglia received large numbers from London and the surrounding area, and as the blitz rained down from September 1940, the population of the capital is thought to have decreased by 25%.

Evacuees who were from the same area did not always end up in the same location, meaning that immense stress and anxiety was rife. Thousands of families were faced challenging times. My family were by no means alone.

Subject to heavy bombing, and with increasing fear of civilian deaths as the war escalated London seemed unsafe and an unknown rural location far safer. Dutifully, labelled, and with the mandatory items, designated by the government, my uncles and mother joined the other children for transport to their unknown destination.

Enjoy the country, the hundreds of children were told, be brave and it won’t be long, don’t cry, were among the messages the thousands of evacuees heard as they left their familiar lives for their new adventure.

Clear identification, a gas mask, change of underwear, night clothes, plimsolls or slippers, toiletries, a warm hat and coat, all were to be included in a small bag or suitcase. We have no photographs of the farewell in our family, no records of this life changing event either, only the stories, the reminiscences, the nostalgia for the good parts of their experiences, and the clear wish to forget the pain, for there was much pain for the children and the adults, and the teenager who was my mother.

They arrived from Shoreditch to Burnham Market, by train, so I was told and were first billeted in Back Street, their host family were described as gruff, but kind. There was insufficient food, and the house was very cold, with an outside toilet, and very occasional baths in front of a cold fire. The children’s rations, were used to supplement the meagre family diet, with priority for the “man of the house”, and the two growing boys were always hungry. And, they were bored, it was dark, very dark compared to the city; there was little to do, little to play with, and they were often getting into trouble, making too much noise, or getting too dirty, playing out late, instead of reading quietly. Their school work suffered rapidly.

Chilblains and poor circulation made life a misery for my mother, she could never get warm often crying with cold and acutely painful hands and feet, when they did warm up. She was expected to help in the local school and undertake an array of chores in the now overcrowded house. The family were lonely, hungry and cold. Letters were allowed, but checked, and it was not until a visit from grandma, followed by “official” visits, the children were moved and billeted in Burnham Overy.

Laughter, and a big welcome is what stayed with them from that time on. Still often hungry, but wanted, and usually warm, my eldest uncle used to recall the times at Burnham Overy as an enormous improvement, my grandmother could stay with the children whenever she could be spared from the family business, and as time moved on my mother moved away.  The boys adjusted, they missed the east end, and other family members, but enjoyed the freedoms and beauty of the Staithe and the Harbour, and they did not always seem to be in trouble.

I wish I knew how many years they spent there, certainly it was for the duration of the war, and until the east end was declared safe and it was in Norfolk, they transitioned from children to boys, growing up in two very different environments, with changed customs and traditions, contrasting ways of life, returning to become hard working young men, to a capital city which needed to be rebuilt in the late 1940’s and 50’s.

Sadly, our family did not record or write up their memories, we have their stories though; and one they loved to recall, a visit which stood out from the rest, the day my grandmother introduced her sons to a babe in arms, only for them to find he was their new baby brother, the youngest addition to the family, remembering how, in their minds she was far too old, and they had too much to show and tell her, to take much notice of him anyway.  But the good thing was, she and the baby stayed and the family returned together.

What must they have thought and felt, firstly leaving their families and then the villages, land, sea and shore of the Burnham’s they had become accustomed to?  Leaving fields and gardens, a small village school, a safe environment and the open air, drawing water from a handpump, to return home to a water pipe in the street, witnessing first-hand the bomb sites of Shoreditch, walking past bombed homes, air raid shelters, and into the busy markets of east London. Their lives were changed yet again.

Many evacuees were traumatised by their experiences, both in this country and abroad, my family certainly had mixed memories, of hunger, loss and pain, but also of great adventures and eventually growing up with adult warmth and kindness.

The stories they told, the events they remember, in time became fond memories, they liked to come back, to re visit, and I guess pay tribute to the experiences they shared and the people they met, and it is that affection that stayed with me and I think it is that part of my history which brought me here.

But, there must be many others with a similar tale?

Christine Farley

The Granary Reflections of Wells

Pauline Kelly is a resident of Peterborough and was born in Wells in October 1945.  She has vivid memories being brought up in Wells. In this post, she recounts her memories of Wells from the Granary, of snowstorms and family.

In 1949 I was a young child of 4 or 5-years old.  I remember going to work with my Dad, Arthur Edward Newman.  We lived in Northfield Crescent, backing onto the railway line, and the train drivers always use to wave to us and whistle with clouds of steam.  From memory, not many trains ran during a day or even over a week. The highlight was when anyone got married and left on the train for their honeymoon when detonators were placed on the rails making a series of very loud bangs, no secrets there!

My Dad was employed to turn the grain in the Granary at the Maltings, which was done at intervals during the day and night, and I often went with Dad a couple times a day.  We went everywhere on his bike; I had a seat in front on the handlebars and when the weather was bad, he placed his waterproof cape over us, we were always cosy and dry.

The Granary floors were covered in grain probably 5 or 6 inches deep. I am not sure what sort it was either malt, corn, or wheat, but I’m sure it was not oats! The building was heated and always very warm, which I presume must have been to dry out the grain and stop it going mouldy.  The atmosphere was dusty, and dry, and Dad had a red and white neckerchief which he put over his nose and mouth. Using a wooden plough with several forks he used to get behind with a harness, like a horse and push the plough up and down the rows sometimes pulling it. https://www.warminster-malt.co.uk/

There were several floors, but I was never allowed up on the top floor. An open shoot was located at the end of the floor down to the sea, so when a boat was under the shute, it was ready to receive the grain poured from above.

I used to sit in the corner and watch my Dad, always having a stick just in case any rodents appeared, thankfully, they never did. I used to climb up the wall ladders, which were tricky, as Dad would have to do the next floor, or leave me where we were shouting to each other at intervals.

It was lovely in the building in winter, the building was snug, and often I use to stand by the door while my Dad stoked the boiler up. It was huge to me, and when he opened the door to shovel in coal, it roared and was fiercely hot.

Winters were hard, although as children, we loved when there was no school because of the weather. Dad often used to dig a path down the garden to collect fresh snow for us, melted snow was used for the toilet and for cleaning, and I can remember Mum panicking if we missed the water cart bringing fresh water round once or twice a day when all the pipes were frozen.  I never realised how much snow you had to melt to get a bucket of water.

Dad had an allotment attached to our garden and grew everything, except pea pods, because I use to eat them all. He very carefully wrapped tomatoes and apples in newspaper and put them in the loft these and these gems were retrieved at Christmas, the apples were a bit wrinkly, but were very sweet.

I remember it clearly, even though it was a time ago, and am pleased these reminiscences will be saved as part of our heritage for future generations.

Pauline Kelly.

What do volunteers do?

Hello and welcome to a perspective about a volunteer for the development of the Maltings.  I thought it might be a good idea to introduce myself, some of you will already know me but equally quite a few may not. I am the Theatre Sound and Lighting Technician for the Granary theatre, or wherever we currently use for productions, one of the Screen-next-the-Sea projectionists and a sound/lighting Technician for Creake Drama Group, Cley Amateur Dramatic Society and Wells Panto Crew. I am one of the Volunteer Run Directors every Saturday morning at Holkham Park Run and Chairman of the Wells Croquet Club, yes there is a Croquet club in Wells, and a volunteer Flood Warden, a member of the Wells Christmastide Committee and involved with the annual Pirate Festival.

And in my spare time I will be writing and posting about our work at the Maltings.  This is the first of many posts I will be publishing during the refurbishment of the Granary and the building of the extension. During the building and fit out phases I will be talking to some of the people involved in the build and also the companies, designers and consultants involved in the fit out, hopefully explaining what is being done and why particularly that.

I moved into Norfolk in 1980, having been born in the Midlands, following a boating holiday on the Broads in 1979. Up to this time my working background had largely been involved with Electrical and Control System fit outs of new buildings and refurbishment of existing buildings.

In 1999 I moved to Warham; I was unemployed, having previously been made redundant 4 times in 5 years, and decided a change of career might be in order and became aware of the existence of the Granary Theatre. I soon helped Ray Smith and stage managed some productions, joined the Carnival Committee, the Lifeboat Guild and the Warham Reading Room committee.

I also started teaching adults how to use computers, and some may remember me teaching in the Library in Wells for a period in the 2000s. I was also employed as a Trainer with the County Community Archive and was heavily involved in the Introduction of the Community Archives in Wells, Fakenham and many other communities around Norfolk. I continued teaching Adults until being made redundant again in 2012 and joined Holkham as Visitor Services Supervisor, where I worked until ill health retirement in 2015, and am delighted to say, my health is now much improved.

Outside of work, https://www.voluntarynorfolk.org.uk/opportunities  and the other activities that I am involved in I am now in my 27th year as a  volunteer boat skipper/instructor for a charity on the Norfolk Broads.

If you have any questions for me, please contact me via Becky or Ben or Mary in the Wells Maltings Trust Office. mary@wellsmaltings.org.uk to express your interest, or call 01328 711378.

In my next post I am hoping to have interviewed the builders site foreman and had a look at progress on site, if there are specific aspects of the refurbishment you would like included in a post, or to learn more about, I would be delighted to hear from.

Until the next time, I will leave you with this thought: No-one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Dave Barber

Volunteer, and Theatre and Sound Lighting Technician, amongst other roles.

The Wells Maltings Quilt and Heritage Banner

Beach Hut Quilt

The writer of this post, Dierdre Amsden is a recognised needlewoman and quilter, whose work has inspired the delightful contributions which comprise the Wells Maltings Quilt, and herald the Maltings Heritage Banner. In doing so, she captures art traditions of the past, which bring history and events alive, and celebrate life, achievements and occasions through stitch craft and embroidery, telling vivid stories through needlework.

Indeed, the art of needlework has been a way of telling stories throughout the ages.  A pair of Sicilian linen quilts, showing scenes from the Legend of Tristram, are dated circa1395 and the Bayeux Tapestry chronicling the Battle of Hastings of 1066 was embroidered in the 1070s. It was sewn by English needle workers,  who perhaps one might suggest stitched some of their bias into the tale.

More up to date are the small arpilleras, appliqued and embroidered panels sewn by Chilean women to tell their stories of the “disappeared ones”, during the Pinochet regime.  Eventually the government outlawed the ownership and display of arpilleras, but not before many of them had been sent overseas by the Catholic Church who supported what the women were doing.

The arpilleras inspired the women of the Zamani Soweto Sisters in South Africa to make similar panels and quilts explaining their culture before being herded into the townships. They were also made to highlight brutalities such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, so, powerful was their message, when exhibited in St James’ Church in Piccadilly the South African Embassy were not happy, at all.

Needlework is easily dismissed as women’s art, made from the humblest of materials, it makes the perfect medium to smuggle out subversive messages.  Since the American Bicentennial in 1976 encouraged the revival for making quilts many contemporary quilt artists have written their feminist, political or social ideas in cloth or just told their story, Judy Chicago’s 1979 Dinner Party, being one extraordinary talented example.

The Wells Maltings Heritage Banner will do just that, tell the story of Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast through the ancient art of needlework.  But before that there is a quilt to be made and raffled to raise money towards the making of the banner.

The Wells Beach Hut Quilt will be made in the traditional manner. Traditionally, a quilt is a simple textile concept comprising three layers sandwiched together with stitching, the centre layer is padding and the top and bottom layers are cloth, either patched or whole. Today, quilts are mostly still made of cloth but very often from fabric specially designed for quilt making rather than dressmaking off-cuts. Other materials are often used such as foil, paper or plastics, and techniques such as stencilling, painting, photographic transfers and photocopying, and buttons, beads, and trinkets are used as embellishments. Basically, anything goes if it is pieced and, or layered.

Our Wells Beach Hut Quilt will be made from cloth and constructed from units, each unit is a patchwork block of a beach hut, designed and sewn by local people.

Once the blocks are finished they will be assembled into a design with strips of fabric sashing to separate and frame each block.  These form the quilt top, which will then be put together with a wadding padded layer and a backing.  These layers will then be stitched together, the process of quilting which several people can help with at the at the same time, fondly known as a quilting bee.  The quilt will be tacked into a frame resting on chair backs.  Making a quilt in this fashion makes lighter work of a lengthy process.

The Maltings quilting bee will take place in the Sackhouse over two days, 28-29 May and readers are very welcome to come and try their hand at quilting.

The quilt will be raffled over the summer and the draw will take place in September

Proceeds from the quilt will help to fund the Wells Maltings Heritage Banner which will hang in the Maltings Heritage and Learning Centre. The banner will also be made by local community groups and individuals and unveiled when the Maltings opens its doors again in the Spring of 2018.  Artists and designers will be invited to submit their ideas and designs and the chosen artist will then oversee the making of the banner.

The main themes of the banner are to be ‘People of the Sea, People of the Shore.  The design will portray the stories of fishermen, mariners, shipbuilders, smugglers, pirates, whalers and life boatmen and women as well as the malting industry, the people who worked in the malt houses and the farmers who were at the forefront of the agricultural revolution.

The banner will also capture the wild life of the marshes, the floods and the part played by Norfolk in times of war, and in political and economic life, and in peace time, a wide ranging and on-going story.

Other similar textile stories can be found in The Overlord Embroidery about the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy appliqued by the Royal School of Needlework in 1968, The Great Tapestry of Scotland, a series of embroidered cloths depicting aspects of Scottish history from the end of the most recent ice age 8,500 BC until 2013 with Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey Millennium Tapestry involved the whole community in making ten embroidered canvas work panels each depicting one century of their history and The Prestonpans Tapestry celebrated the journey Bonnie Prince Charlie made from France through the Scottish Highlands to victory at Prestonpans.

More recently, Turner prize winner, Grayson Perry’s 6 amazing tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, depicts the British fascination with taste and social class embodying how needlework and embroidery play an important part in chronicling ot only the past but our present.

And so, from individual contributions in that ancient art of quilting for a community quilt which celebrates local art, and local artists, echoing a special feature of our coastline, to the creation of the Wells Heritage Banner, a large-scale heritage piece, which will reflect the maturity of Wells and the sea and land surrounding it, and celebrate this lovely town and those who have made it for future generations.

Deirdre Amsden