Lowestoft Archaeological and Local History Society

Volume 38 Number 3 – NEWSLETTER – MARCH 2010

Society website: www.lowestoftlocalhistory.co.uk

What’s On in 2010

25 Mar 2010 "Finds on Pakefield Cliffs" by Paul Durbidge – The nationally important
discovery that humans occupied our area much earlier than previously thought.

22 Apr 2010 "The Southwold Artist – Reg Carter" by Hilary Huckstep – Local expert, Hilary
will talk about the work of this versatile and well-remembered illustrator.

13 May 2010 "The Rest", Reydon by Cynthia Wade – A detective story about the Arts & Crafts
style building in Covert Road, well-researched and presented by Cynthia Wade.

Most meetings are held in the SOUTH LOWESTOFT METHODIST CHURCH HALL, at the corner of
LONDON ROAD SOUTH and CARLTON ROAD, at 7.30 pm (Entry via LONDON ROAD SOUTH)

Please ring bell if the door is locked

Chairman’s Column

Our Museum will open for the season on Monday 29 March, a few days before Good Friday. I wrote to invite all the stewards to a meeting on 20 March at the Bowls Pavilion, opposite the Museum, and many of them were present.

It was decided we should alter the Museum opening times (now to be from 1 pm to 4 pm) that is half an hour earlier than previous years. I hope all arrangements are now complete and we look forward to seeing our helpers.

Tonight Paul Durbidge will tell us about "Finds on Pakefield Cliffs" – for humans occupied our area much earlier than we had realised.

The Museum is now being prepared ready to open and welcome visitors.

With good wishes, Lilian Fisher

Details of recent events:

25 February 2010 – "Smuggling on the Norfolk/Suffolk Coast" – by Jackie Clover

Members heard a relaxed but fascinating story from Jackie Clover about smuggling in Norfolk and Suffolk. This forbidden but common practice was only possible due to the presence of many corrupt officials, who were often appointed as ‘friends of friends’, and the public turning a blind eye wherever they also could benefit. Samuel Johnson, London lexicographer, described smugglers as wretches who conspired to import and export contraband without paying duty. Historically, the government often looked for ways to raise funds for prosecuting wars. As the general population was already poor, they decided to put a tax on goods sent or purchased from overseas. In 1275 the revenue department taxed wool, and hides related to their quality. The woolfells (fleeces) were weighed on a type of balance beam, known as a ‘Tron’, at 13 stations set up in England especially for the purpose. One of these beams (sometimes described as a King’s beam) is preserved at Woodbridge, Suffolk.

East Anglia’s coast had shelving beaches, fewer dwellings and quiet lanes giving an easy path for moving the contraband in or out. Great Yarmouth officials had to cover the coastline from Blakeney to Woodbridge, about 70 miles, and with just a handful of staff it proved impossible to catch all the cheats. By the 1330s, smuggling was commonplace and many of the controllers took bribes. "Owlers" specialised in night trafficking and must have had good profits. Much rivalry existed between Yarmouth and Gorleston with the former getting the lion’s share of income from revenue. Even when smugglers were caught in the act, many were able to arrange pardons or pay their way out of the situation via the ‘old friends’ network. William Warner of Knapton was caught three times selling woolfells on the beach. He was pardoned after the intervention of Queen Isabella on his behalf. No doubt she had benefited by trade with him at some time. Other revenue controls included a system of certificates of lading, but by cleverly diverting vessels to the wrong ports, deals could be arranged to get around the duties on their cargo.

In 1353, ten places in England were chosen to be ‘Staple’ wool towns that would control taxation. Norwich was the centre for East Anglia and the sign of the ‘Woolpack Inn’ is a reminder of those days. The control of duties was finally shifted to Calais in 1392. At this time the Yarmouth traders gave few, and very inaccurate receipts, annoying the King. The situation had worsened by 1411, when whistle-blower William Stokes revealed the scale of untaxed trade with Holland to the Privy Council. In the 1550s, a group known as the Merchant Traders appeared to continue the avoidance scheme. In 1572 customs officer Thomas Sydney reported searchers were paid £3 per ship to search ‘blindfold’, and forged copies of genuine documents were in use in Norfolk ports. Norwich lost much duty on combed wool and worsted shipped to the Continent in the 1620s.

John Pym devised a new tax (similar to VAT) in 1643 that was applied to ale, beer, cider and strong waters – also tea, coffee, chocolate and playing cards. The Felony Fine followed, a £450 charge, of which £250 went to the informant. The fine could also be levied on the Parish. It was not until 1699 that the revenue employed more efficient and larger forces, including 299 riding officers who were paid £25–£50 per annum according to rank, out of which they had to maintain a horse and groom. Even then it took another century before the public outcry, in press and parliament, put an end to the ‘golden age’ of the Free Traders. A number of writers, including Norfolk’s Parson Woodforde, recorded the type of illegal goods most in demand – these were principally wool, tea, coffee, wine and spirits, and tobacco, although later fish and also bullion were listed. Wars came to an end in 1816, ex-military men were taken on and taxation reduced, as were the benefits of smuggling. 500 coast-guard stations were built around the country in 1822 bringing better control, stability and fairer trading conditions everywhere.

11 March 2010 – "Treasures of East Anglian Churches" – by Kate Smith

A good turnout of members enjoyed this superbly illustrated talk by Kate Smith on treasures surviving in the churches of East Anglia. Kate has spent many years travelling the area to research and photograph a range of items covering the history of worship throughout the last millennium, and related a number of amusing encounters experienced during her outings. Her talk outlined the main historical periods, and the relationship between the public and clergy, giving examples of how churches were built and architecturally styled, also the part played by royal patrons of varying religions in succession. She also explained the enormous effect of the Reformation on the use and style of churches.

The change and general decline in worship during the last century has led to many village churches being underused and their fabric neglected, due to lack of funds. Currently many are locked, outside times of weekly worship, to deter the criminal element in our society who would vandalise them, or steal items that are of value to collectors or dealers. (For this reason, the LA & LHS Newsletter refrains from listing the sites illustrated in the talk.) Enthusiasts can often gain access to locked churches, sometimes accompanied, by looking up the keyholder or seeking advice in the area. Obviously, care should be taken to avoid mealtimes etc. when choosing the time of the visit.

Kate has been a regular churchgoer from her schooldays, and is sad that the days of large congregations and regular services appear to be over – she treasures the memories of those days, recalling the leather fire buckets that hung at the entrance to her local church suffering mischievous use by children. However, they survived intact and are still in place today. A well-preserved consecration cross was illustrated, also an exceptionally old, metal-bound poor box, both rare survivors. Another church has a chiming clock with its exposed movement beautifully restored and visible in the base of the tower. Carved characters ‘Jacks’ appear in some localities, usually linked to clocks, and the ubiquitous Angels are present in East Anglia in a stunning range of shape, size and colour.

Donors have supported churches since the beginning, and rich and colourful glass has long been a favourite gift. The glass usually features the donor’s family but, especially in the early windows, could also relate biblical stories to a non-reading congregation. Numerous parish churches have bells recording the dates and names of donors, and the foundries where they were cast. A fine peal is often as much of an asset as a decorative font (many fine and rare examples of the latter exist locally) an ancient lectern, fine pews or a well-decorated rood screen. The craftsmen of medieval times spent a lifetime working with wood and stone, the materials of the age. So good was their technique that much survives today, including magnificent wooden hammer-beam roofs, delicate stone flying buttresses and decorative pinnacles. Kate reminded members that East Anglia has an almost unrivalled selection of larger churches which they may visit, with comparatively little effort, due to its having been a rich area for trade in monastic times.

 

The splendid ‘Doom’ painting on the restored, ancient chancel tympanum at Wenhaston in Suffolk

Please note: Due to the Easter break, the talk by Hilary Huckstep is scheduled for Thursday 22 April.

The Society’s Annual Report detailing last year’s activities is available from the Treasurer, price £2.00.

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Bring any items you have for inclusion in the Newsletter to Don Friston, at the Society meetings.